The trade heard round the world. A mere hours before the start of the 2015 season, the man who had the whole baseball world on edge from mid-December into early April made one last trade to complete a whirlwind off-season. The final piece in what was supposed to be a San Diego Padres playoff team.
Obviously hindsight is always 20/20 but looking back the Padres had a lot of high expectations that were quickly squashed once reality set in. From the top of their roster to the bottom, the Padres have had struggles and under-performance from nearly every one of their regular starters. Surprisingly the player who has perhaps surprised the most in other direction is one Melvin Upton.
From his time in Tampa Bay, Melvin Upton Jr. was a bright young talent. In his six full seasons with the Rays, Upton put up five seasons of 3+ WAR with two of those seasons exceeding 4 WAR. Following another above average season in 2012, Upton decided to leave the Rays for greener pastures, signing a five-year, $75.2 million dollar contract with the Atlanta Braves.
Upton’s time in Atlanta was an absolute disaster to say the least. In two full seasons with the Braves, Upton had WAR values of -0.6 in 2013 and 0.3 in 2014 with batting averages below .200 in 2013 and barely above it in 2014. To say Upton needed a change of scenery was an understatement.
In his first attempt to change his fortunes and perhaps try to change his career trajectory, Upton changed his name from his long time nickname B.J. (which literally stands for Bossman Junior) to his birth name of Melvin (named after his father Melvin Upton Sr.). Many saw this as quite an odd decision and following the change Upton was once again sidelined with a foot injury that was to sideline him the first portion of this season. This was all before A.J. Preller made the blockbuster trade bringing star closer Craig Kimbrel to town; the only catch was Melvin Upton would have to ride along as a part of the deal.
Due to his previous foot injury, Melvin Upton missed the first two months of the season and did not see his first in-game action until June 8th against his former team the Braves. Due in part to his large layoff from playing due to injury, and his trade to a new team, Upton finished the month of June with a slash line of .147/.237/.294 and a wRC+ of 49.
He followed up a poor June with a much improved July where he hit for a slash line of .260/.327/.380 an a wRC+ of 95, which is only 5% worse than the league average. As a whole in the second half, Melvin Upton has a slash line of .262/.319/.449 and a wRC+ of 113 which are respectable numbers even with the large sum remaining on his contract.
In terms of WAR, Melvin Upton is worth 1.3 wins above replacement despite playing in less than half the Padres games up to this point in the season. These numbers are close to or even better than several other Padre acquisitions including Matt Kemp (0.5 WAR), James Shields (1.4 WAR), Derek Norris (1.7 WAR) and even the main piece in the trade that brought Upton to town, Craig Kimbrel (1.0 WAR). Upton has been a respectable backup in his playing time and if his numbers are extrapolated to a full season, he would be having an above average season in terms of both WAR and wRC+.
With Upton’s numbers in mind, both his improved discipline and approach at the plate as well as his improved defense and still strong speed, the Padres have to be thinking that Upton may be a viable option to garner more playing time in 2016 or perhaps be used as trade bait for a team willing to eat some salary in order to upgrade in the outfield following the season.
The main issue with Upton is still the amount of money remaining on his contract (two years and approximately 32 million) but this number seems much more manageable than last year especially given his improved performance on the field. Realistically the Padres could use Upton as a starter in 2016 or could even find a potential suitor for him in a trade. Who would have thought Melvin Upton would be useful for the Padres in 2015 and beyond.