Tag: Justin Upton

Justin Upton Injury: Updates on Tigers LF’s Calf and Return

The Detroit Tigers announced outfielder Justin Upton left Monday’s game against the Minnesota Twins with a left calf strain.

Continue for updates.

Upton Ruled Day-to-Day

Monday, Sept. 12

The Tigers noted Tyler Collins replaced Upton in left field and called their starter “day-to-day” after the setback. Upton dealt with right quad tightness earlier in the season, which forced him to miss some action.

The Tigers brought the three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger to Detroit in the offseason to add some pop alongside Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Upton was slashing .239/.297/.424 with 22 home runs and 70 RBI entering Monday’s game.

He played for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres before joining Detroit and boasts five seasons with 25-plus home runs, including his strong 2011 campaign, when he hit .289 and drilled a career-best 31 long balls for Arizona. He counts five seasons with at least 18 stolen bases on his resume as well.

Upton is also a solid defensive outfielder who was responsible for eight total defensive runs saved above average in left field last season, per FanGraphs.

The Tigers will likely continue to rely on the versatile Collins while Upton is out. Collins can play all three outfield spots and gives manager Brad Ausmus the ability to mix and match his lineups on a daily basis.

However, Collins doesn’t bring the type of offensive and defensive prowess Upton does on a daily basis. Detroit has postseason aspirations and needs its starting left fielder to be healthy as it attempts to make a charge in the American League Central.

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Justin Upton Injury: Updates on Tigers LF’s Quad and Return

Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton is dealing with a quad injury, and it is uncertain when he will be able to return to the lineup.

Continue for updates. 

Upton Out vs. Phillies

Wednesday, May 25

Upton did not play Wednesday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Tigers Will Miss Upton’s Bat in Lineup

Upton was one of Detroit’s big offseason acquisitions—starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann was also signed away from Washington—and signed to help add depth in the middle of a lineup that already included Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. 

The Tigers also needed to get younger, as Cabrera, Kinsler and Victor Martinez are all 33 or older. Upton, despite being in the big leagues since 2007, is just 28 years old. He’s also been durable, playing at least 149 games every season since 2011. 

There were early struggles for Upton as he played in the AL for the first time. He had just one home run in his first 18 games, as well as 31 strikeouts in his first 73 at-bats. He only has two home runs on the campaign and is hitting .223.

Upton’s only significant injury was a strained oblique in 2010 that caused him to miss most of September. His past ability to remain healthy certainly made him an attractive option to the Tigers, but his absence will test their lack of outfield depth. 

Steven Moya and Mike Aviles both have the ability to handle left field on a short-term basis, though neither one can come close to matching Upton’s offensive upside. 

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Scott Miller’s Starting 9: The Winter’s Bests and Worsts (So Far)

Why, some things aren’t even worth the paper they’re printed on! Good thing you’re reading this on your computer or phone…


1. Best Paper Tigers

Remember last winter at this time, how we all loved the Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres? And to think, we weren’t even buried under a blizzard back then. So yes, things might look way different when the summer sun starts melting stuff. But for now…

Mets: Re-signing Yoenis Cespedes tipped the NL East scales back toward Queens. We saw what Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz could do last year. Add a presumably healthy Zack Wheeler at some point this year, along with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and former Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker, and it all looked pretty good. Then the brilliant Sandy Alderson figured out a path that led back to Cespedes. Bravo.

Tigers: On his own, Justin Upton isn’t a guy who will carry a team. Which is why his complementary role to Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez is absolutely perfect. OK, so Mike Ilitch is paying $21.25 million a year to a complementary piece, but he also shelled out for starter Jordan Zimmermann, and new general manager Al Avila strengthened the bullpen by acquiring Francisco Rodriguez. A healthy and productive Justin Verlander remains vitally important.

Cubs: Add Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey to a team that won 97 games last year and whose young players are still improving, and what’s not to like? If the uber-consistent Cardinals win another NL Central crown this year, it will be their most impressive feat yet.

Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt is to Arizona what an in-his-prime Albert Pujols was to the Cardinals a decade ago. A.J. Pollock is the best player too many have never heard of. Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller are terrific adds. And second baseman Howie Kendrick, still lurking on the free-agent market, would be a perfect final piece (hint, hint).

Giants: Arizona got all the pub, but adding Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to its rotation and Denard Span to the top of its order puts San Francisco in terrific shape for 2016.

Red Sox: They swiftly addressed key areas of need under new president of baseball operations David Dombrowski. David Price is the ace Boston was missing last year. Closer Craig Kimbrel elevates their bullpen. Outfielder Chris Young adds depth. This could become one of Boston’s last-place-to-first-place seasons.


2. Best Winter Intrigue

Very interesting that the Tigers, who in December indicated they were probably done spending the big bucks, veered toward Upton and not Cespedes when they decided to add one more big bat.

All things being equal, the Tigers knew far more about Cespedes than Upton simply because they employed him for the first 102 games of 2015. And when a team gets that kind of insight into a player, it is the kind of inside intelligence that few others are privy to.

Which is why it was so interesting when the Tigers signed Upton to a monster six-year, $132.75 million deal and left Cespedes out there to fall to the Mets on a three-year, $75 million deal that includes an opt-out clause after one year.

Clearly, in putting their efforts into Upton, the Tigers judged him a better all-around player and better all-around value than Cespedes. At 28, Upton is two years younger than Cespedes (30). And statistically, Upton has produced a better on-base percentage (.352 career) and OPS (.825) than Cespedes (.319, .805).

Furthermore, clubs appeared wary of making a long-term commitment to Cespedes for many reasons. As one American League executive told Bleacher Report last week, among other things, the quality of Cespedes‘ at-bats often declined the longer he stayed with one team.

That said, he still smashed a combined 35 homers with 105 RBI for the Tigers and Mets last season. He inserted himself into NL MVP talk by September despite the fact that he wound up playing only 57 games for the Mets.

Did the Tigers make a smart move by committing to Upton over Cespedes for the next six years?

Did the Mets make a mistake by giving Cespedes an opt-out after only one year?   

With both teams intent on contending, and with Cespedes and Upton being mirror images of each other in some ways (both are streaky hitters, that’s the main way), this debate won’t be settled anytime soon.


3. Best Winter Chuckle

Here we go again: The Kansas City Royals have played in two consecutive World Series, won it all in 2015, and yet in the first projection for this season, FanGraphs has the 2016 Royals winning just 79 games.


We laugh with them, not at them, even if coming out of spring training last season I picked the Royals third in the AL Central (though, in fairness, I did write that any of the four division teams other than the Twins could win the title).

No, what’s particularly humorous about this FanGraphs prediction is that the good folks at Baseball Prospectus went through the same thing last year, predicting that the Royals would win just 72 games. And…

I imagine the line outside of their doors waiting for the 2016 predictions announcement is longer than the lines when the new Star Wars movie premiered.

Hey, as my therapist Jimmy Buffett sings, if we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.


4. Worst Winter Impression of a Filthy Rich Team

The New York Yankees did not spend a dime in the free-agent market.

Didn’t spend a nickel. Didn’t even spend a penny.

It’s true. They were one of five clubs to sit out the entire free-agent market. Their company? The Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays.

“Everybody knows in the next few years we’ve got significant amounts of money coming off the payroll just with a few guys,” Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner and managing general partner, said during last week’s owners meetings, per MLB.com. “We’re going to do as much as we can to put as much of that back into the team as we possibly can.

“There’s money coming off, and it’s going to give me a chance to do a lot of things, have a lot of flexibility that we just haven’t had.”

Those to whom Steinbrenner is referring: Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million a year) and Carlos Beltran ($15 million) both are entering the final year of their contracts in 2016. Alex Rodriguez ($20 million) is up after the 2017 season.

In the meantime, CC Sabathia ($25 million for 2016) will be tied to the Yankees in 2017 at $25 million if his contract vests in ’16. His 2017 salary is guaranteed if he does not finish ’16 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury, if he does not spend more than 45 days in ’16 on the DL with a left shoulder injury or if he does not make more than six relief appearances in ’16 because of a left shoulder injury.

Despite the Yankees sitting on the sidelines during free agency, waiting for contracts to fall off of their payroll like autumn leaves from trees, they absolutely improved.

For one thing, Starlin Castro, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Cubs, lines up at second base.

For another, Aroldis Chapman, acquired in a trade with Cincinnati, joins Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in what could be the game’s best late-inning bullpen combination.

“We’re definitely a better team,” Steinbrenner said at the meetings. “We’re a bit younger. What we did at second base, I’m excited about. We were certainly struggling there. So we’ve improved some positions. In any given year, I think health is one of the biggest factors anyway.

“Again, I think if we had not lost [Nathan] Eovaldi and Teixeira at the end of the season, we might have had a better chance. Who knows? But you’d better stay healthy.”


5. Best (and Worst!) Allocation of Resources

With an intriguing number of free agents still out there, here, courtesy of this cool portion of ESPN.com, are the winter cash standings:


6. Worst Premature Rumor

The designated hitter is coming to the National League…soon?

When MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred floated the idea at the owners meetings and Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told fans at St. Louis’ Winter Warm-Up that momentum for the DH in the NL is increasing, it began to look like the NL might adopt the DH as soon as the next collective bargaining agreement. Play under that would begin in 2017.

While most people in the industry believe it is just a matter of time before the NL adopts the DH, maybe (and, yes, hopefully) the change isn’t as imminent as we thought a week or so ago.

“The most likely result on the designated hitter for the foreseeable future is the status quo,” Manfred told ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick this week in an interview centered around Manfred’s one-year anniversary on the job. “I think the vast majority of clubs in the National League want to stay where they are.”


7. Best Winter Promise

At another winter warm-up function, the Red Sox’s Winter Weekend at Foxwoods Resort and Casino, Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said he again will be a man in motion.

“I’m going to run more,” he said, per MLB.com’s Ian Browne.

Pedroia is 32 now, so that’s an intriguing strategy.

So is the fact that after swiping 20 or more bags in four different seasons, Pedroia logged only two steals in 93 games last summer and six in 135 games in 2014.

Did he discover a Fountain of Youth this winter? Nah, it’s just based on what the Red Sox are doing.

“The last couple of years, when I was running, David [Ortiz] was getting walked,” Pedroia said. “I kind of want him to hit. So that stuff changes. But certain parts of last year, [Xander Bogaerts] hit behind me, so it’s time to go.”


8. Best Potential Trade Bait

The Angels spoke with several clubs earlier this winter about dealing left-hander C.J. Wilson, according to Bleacher Report sources, but no trade was made.

They do not want to go over the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, but they’ve got a Disney-sized issue in left field: Right now, the Angels are looking at a platoon of Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry in left field, two players who combined for one (one, count ’em, er, it) home run last summer.

In fact, Gentry has zero homers over the past two seasons, which covers 314 plate appearances.

Nava‘s one homer last season came in 166 plate appearances.

By trading Wilson (yes, still), the Angels would clear at least part of the $20 million they owe him for 2016 off the books. Dealing Wilson perhaps could bring back an outfielder in return or, at the very least, clear room for the Angels to pursue Dexter Fowler (they also need a leadoff man).

One other obstacle in dealing Wilson: He missed much of last year following surgery to have bone chips and spurs removed from his elbow. Clubs potentially interested in him may want to see him pitch some Cactus League games before deciding whether to try to deal for him.


9. Best Pimping of an Advice Columnist


Alert readers of the “Ask Amy” advice column noticed the other day that Feeling Foolish had an awfully familiar problem: Met a famous sports figure at the gym, said sports figure wanted to have coffee, then said sports figure wanted to date his new friend’s ex-girlfriend, new friend reluctantly said OK then found out that the sports figure canceled plans so he could go out with the ex-girlfriend and….

If this all sounds exactly like the plot of a Seinfeld episode, well, ask Amy. It’s real, and it’s spectacular!


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

A theme song for the many free agents still unsigned? Why, here’s guest artist Chris Stapleton, whose disc Traveller is absolutely tremendous if you like good, old-school country:

“You only need a roof when it’s raining

“You only need a fire when it’s cold

“You only need a drink when the whiskey

“Is the only thing that you have left to hold

“Sun comes up and goes back down

“And falling feels like flying till you hit the ground

“Say the word and I’ll be there for you

“Baby, I will be your parachute”

Chris Stapleton, “Parachute”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Justin Upton to Tigers: Key Takeaways from OF’s Introductory Press Conference

The Detroit Tigers and Justin Upton made their partnership official on Wednesday, as the 28-year-old outfielder officially signed his six-year contract and met with the media for his introductory press conference. 

First things first, per MLB GIFs, Upton had to show off what he looked like in his new Tigers threads:

One topic addressed by Upton’s agent, Larry Reynolds, was the opt-out clause after 2017, per Matthew B. Mowery of the Oakland Press:   

Before Upton had an opportunity to discuss his new home, Tigers general manager Al Avila praised team owner Mike Ilitch for pushing the deal, per the Tigers’ official media relations department:

Avila added that the Tigers had Upton very high on their wish list if they opted to make another move this offseason, per Mowery:

Sticking with Ilitch, Upton also gave praise to the Tigers owner for being aggressive, per the Tigers’ official media relations department:

Ilitch, who is 86 years old, has been happy to spend money in hopes of bringing Detroit its first World Series victory since 1984. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Tigers are spending a franchise-record $184.6 million on talent this season after signing Upton. 

Regarding the fact the Tigers are nearing MLB’s luxury-tax threshold of $189 million, per Mowery, Avila said it’s “a good question for Mr. I(litch). He’s comfortable with it, and that’s what counts.”

Looking at how the money is being spent, Upton made an astute observation about Detroit’s hitters, per MLB on Twitter:

With the addition of Upton, the Tigers are boasting a lineup that features Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez. That’s an old core, as J.D. Martinez (age 28) and Upton are the only players under the age of 32, but if they play close to their potential, it will be a scary group. 

Another aspect of Detroit’s lineup that’s drawn some criticism lately is the platoon splits against right-handed hitters, something Upton addressed, per the Tigers’ official media relations department:

Avila also touched on the platoon question around his lineup, making a great point that isn’t mentioned much, per Mowery:

According to FanGraphs‘ ZiPS projections by Carson Cistulli, the Tigers project to have nine players hit at least 15 home runs and have six hitters with an above-average (100) OPS+. 

Upton is at an age where his skills can reasonably be expected to get better. At least, he can be expected to maintain his 25-homer production from the past three seasons and increase his batting average (.251) and on-base percentage (.336) from last year now that he’s out of the vast wasteland of San Diego‘s Petco Park. 

The Tigers have no reason to think that Upton will be anything less than a solid hitter in the middle of their lineup. He’s been a three-time All-Star and a two-time Silver Slugger winner, so this is a great marriage between a player who wants to win and a team built to win now. 

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Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Why Won’t Anyone Take a Chance on Yoenis Cespedes?

One month before pitchers and catchers report, we’ve still got several things to settle…


1. What’s Up with Cespedes?

While Justin Upton has surfaced, it seems Yoenis Cespedes is stuck somewhere on Mars with Matt Damon. Golfing, maybe.

What gives?

Five months ago, Cespedes was emerging as a last-minute National League MVP candidate. He joined the New York Mets at the trade deadline and immediately rocket-launched them toward the World Series.

Today, Cespedes is more invisible than Punxsutawney Phil.

Will he emerge this week? Next week? By, ahem, Groundhog Day (Feb. 2 for all you non-believers)?

The icing of Cespedes is freeze-drying into perhaps the winter’s biggest story. While Upton found a soft landing in Detroit on a six-year, $132 million deal, the man who hit a combined 35 homers with 105 RBI and a .328 on-base percentage in Detroit and New York last summer continues to scan Craigslist.

For one thing, Cespedes last summer landed at the wrong place at the wrong time. He probably could have parlayed his second-half World Series charge into untold riches in nearly any other market. Popular demand would have pressured the club to keep him. But in New York, where Mets ownership has been off balance since the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, the Mets continue to toss nickels around like one of George Halas’ (Mike Ditka’s?) manhole covers.

“The Mets are a debacle right now,” one agent told Bleacher Report. “It’s a shame that family still owns the team.”

The Mets telegraphed at season’s end the fact that they probably wouldn’t be players for Cespedes on a long-term deal, so their lack of engagement this winter is not surprising. Most projections going into this winter pegged Cespedes for roughly a six-year deal around $140 million, which would be just a bit more than Upton got from Detroit this week.

But other than a sudden interest by Baltimore last week, there hasn’t been much noise around Cespedes. And the Orioles’ interest in hindsight appeared to be simply a maneuver to roust slugger Chris Davis, who agreed with the Orioles on a seven-year, $161 million deal over the weekend.

One major league executive believes clubs like Cespedes more on a short-term deal than on a multiyear contract because of concern with how he will produce long-term.

The fact that Cespedes has played for four teams in the past four years also adds intrigue.

“The pattern has been real good initially, then some form of backing up as it goes along,” an American League executive told Bleacher Report.

“When this guy is engaged, he’s a terrific player. When he is not, he lacks the effort on defense and the at-bats aren’t as good. He has been streaky, which is not abnormal for power hitters, but the at-bats weren’t as good the longer he was somewhere.”

After Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 with 17 homers and 44 RBI in just 57 games with the Mets last summer to lead them to the NL East title, his autumn turned weird. He became embroiled in a mini-controversy on the day of Game 4 of the NL Championship Series when, after he left the game with a sore left shoulder, it was revealed that he was seen playing golf in Chicago the morning of the game.

Then he left Game 5 of the World Series in severe pain after fouling a ball off his left knee.

As for the golf, it turned out that it was business as usual for Cespedes. He’s become hooked on the game, playing often during the season, to the point where Mets hitting coach Kevin Long last summer would ask Cespedes when he arrived at the park whether he played golf that day. And if he had, Long smiled.

“If he played golf, most of the time he hits a home run,” Long told the Wall Street Journal.

But the autumn issues may have left a lasting memory that carried into winter negotiations as well.

“Obviously, how things went in the playoffs didn’t help,” the AL executive said. “Taking himself out of the clincher with the Cubs early in the game, then [being] seen in the dugout with goggles around his neck wasn’t a good look.”

Recent industry speculation included the Tigers, but they opted for Upton. The Orioles are out after signing Davis.

The Los Angeles Angels clearly need a left fielder. Though owner Arte Moreno has steadfastly maintained he prefers to remain under the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million, if Cespedes is to get a monster contract, the Halos are one of the few organizations left that could afford it. On the other hand, Albert Pujols already is weighing down the franchise with a long-term deal, and they just got out from under another bad contract in Josh Hamilton, so there could be some aversion to romancing Cespedes long-term.

The St. Louis Cardinals, after losing Jason Heyward, have a need. So do the Houston Astros. And Cespedes would bolster a Chicago White Sox lineup big-time.

The Washington Nationals, who struck late for ace Max Scherzer last January, also are thought to be considering a similar late-winter strike this year for Cespedes.

“There are a lot of yellow flags around him,” the executive said. “Not the dark red ones, but caution flags.

“I don’t think he is a star. He’s a very good major-league talent. But he disappears too often.”

He has absolutely disappeared this winter.

When he will re-emerge has become the most interesting question of all.


2. Mike Ilitch Does It Again

Justin Upton can be an impact bat in the middle of the order, and if Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Miguel Cabrera can stay healthy, the Tigers have a chance to recapture the division title from Kansas City in an AL Central that gets more intriguing each week.

Whether Upton does or doesn’t work out, though, say this: Detroit’s owner Mike Ilitch is the kind of owner every fan has to wish his or her team had. Year after year, Ilitch has laid out millions in pursuit of the one goal that continues to drive him, bringing a World Series title to Detroit for the first time since 1984.

From Pudge Rodriguez to Miguel Cabrera to Justin Verlander to Prince Fielder to Jordan Zimmermann (and beyond), Ilitch has thrown money at one star after another. In that regard, he’s reminiscent of the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who poured every ounce of energy he had, year after year, into attempting to bring New York a Yankees World Series title.

While teams in larger markets continue to do calisthenics to avoid going over the $189 million luxury-tax threshold (the Yankees, ironically, and the Angels, to name two), Ilitch thinks nothing of it.


3. Of Tanks and No Arms Race

As we edge closer to the glorious sunshine and pitchers and catchers reporting to camps in Arizona and Florida, some serious questions are on the horizon in the National League.

Mainly, spring training, that time of hope and optimism, isn’t going to bring what it once brought to several National League clubs. And how damaging might that be to the integrity of the game?

Friend Jayson Stark over at ESPN.com wrote a riveting piece on the subject last week, noting that at least four teams (Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves) and possibly as many as six (Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres) are shifting into, basically, non-compete mode while rebuilding.

It was bad enough when the Houston Astros stripped things down to the studs and foundation a few years ago, losing at least 106 games in each of three consecutive seasons (2011-13).

The Cubs caused some grumbling as well in the early years of the Theo Epstein regime, finishing fifth in the NL Central for five consecutive seasons.

Now, with both the Cubs and Astros roaring back in 2015 and boasting some of the game’s best young talent, enough other clubs appear to be following suit that baseball might wind up with an embarrassing situation sooner rather than later.

“I think it’s a problem for the sport,” an executive for an American League contender told Stark, speaking of the NL. “I think the whole system is screwed up, because I think it actually incentivizes not winning. And that’s a big issue going forward.”

At the very least, it is an issue baseball must closely watch. As things stand now, it’s good to be a member of the NL Central and NL East—because only three of the five clubs in each of those divisions really are trying to compete in 2016.

In the NL East, you’ve got the Mets, Marlins and Nationals on one side, while the Braves and Phillies are stripping things down.

In the NL Central, you’ve got the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates with chances to win, while the Brewers and Reds will resemble Triple-A outfits.

Given that clubs face each other 19 times because of the unbalanced schedule, that’s a lot of extra wins the front three clubs in each of those divisions will pick up. Enough, probably, to guarantee that the two NL wild-card teams likely will come from the East and the Central, not the NL West.

Commissioner Rob Manfred told Stark that rebuilding is just part of the cyclical nature of the game.

“Obviously, you don’t want to have too many teams in a rebuilding cycle at one time in one league, and I accept that,” Manfred said. “But the fact of the matter is, when you have 30 teams, it’s not unusual that you have five or six in a rebuilding cycle. I think if you look back historically, that would not be a number that’s out of line.”

That the Astros and Cubs had so much success with their dramatic rebuilds is to each of their credits, of course.

It just becomes a problem if the rebuilding highways become gridlocked with copycats.


4. Where Have You Gone, Mariano Rivera?

Yankees GM Brian Cashman says newly acquired flamethrower Aroldis Chapman will head into spring training as the team’s closer, because that’s where he adds “max value.”

However they divvy up the work, there’s no question the Yankees should be awesome in the late innings with Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller aboard.

There’s also no question that Mariano Rivera is becoming smaller and smaller in that rear-view mirror. As statistics whiz Bill Chuck points out, Chapman could give the Yankees their fifth different saves leader in the past five seasons in 2016: Rafael Soriano (42) in 2012 (the year Rivera missed most of the season with a knee injury), Rivera (44) in 2013, David Robertson (39) in 2014 and Andrew Miller (36) in 2015.


5. The World Champs Get Better

Make no mistake: Ian Kennedy is not David Price or Zack Greinke. It’s not like the Kansas City Royals signed a guy who will become a favorite to win a Cy Young Award.

But in agreeing to terms with Kennedy on a five-year, $70 million deal, the Royals unquestionably took a step in the right direction after losing Johnny Cueto to free agency.

Kennedy is coming off a down season in San Diego but should be able to give Kansas City exactly what James Shields did a couple of years ago: a summer of 200 innings and a solid veteran rotation presence.

He surrendered a career-high 31 homers last season, which is saying something given that he pitched some of his early years in hitter-friendly Arizona. But from that perspective, Kansas City is a good landing spot: Kauffman Stadium was the most difficult park in the American League to homer in last summer, surrendering an average of 1.60 homers per game.

It’s also hard not to look at Kennedy’s splits last year and give him the benefit of the doubt that an Opening Day hamstring pull threw him off balance during the first half of 2015. Before the All-Star break, he went 4-9 with a 4.91 ERA and 20 homers allowed in 84.1 innings pitched in 16 starts. After the break, he went 5-6 with a 3.64 ERA and 11 homers allowed in 84 innings pitched.


6. Free-Agent Rankings

Here’s my weekly take as agents bluster, suitors cluster and bean counters muster the courage to write those checks as the winter (gulp) deepens…

1. Yoenis Cespedes: A guy needs to know where to schedule his tee times this summer.

2. Dexter Fowler: C’mon, Joe Maddon will even write a letter of recommendation.

3. Howie Kendrick: The last second baseman the Dodgers jettisoned went on to win the NL batting title. But Kendrick is no Dee Gordon.

4. Yovani Gallardo: The leftover bin of starting pitchers remains pretty well stocked.

5. Doug Fister: One year ago, he was slated to be part of one of the greatest rotations in recent memory. Cough, cough.


7. Pete Rose in the Hall

Yes, the news bulletin you saw Tuesday is true: Pete Rose is going to the Hall of Fame.

The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

Not only that, the club will retire his No. 14 during the Reds’ Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, June 24-26.

Good for them, and good for MLB for allowing this to happen.

While it is true that Rose is banned from the Baseball Hall of Fame for being on the game’s suspended list, individual club Halls of Fame are a different, more localized version. They don’t necessarily have to play by the same rules as they do in Cooperstown.

Reds owner Bob Castellini said in a statement Tuesday that this will be “a defining moment in the 147-year history of this storied franchise. He is one of the greatest players to ever wear a Reds uniform and it will be an unforgettable experience watching him be honored as such.”

Incidentally, word of the honor did reach Cooperstown. And not everyone there is opposed to this, or even greater honors, for Rose:


8. The Mo-Man Reappears, Long Live the Mo-Man!

There is only one Mo-Man, the long-retired Mike Morgan, who pitched for 12 teams (then a record) between 1978 and 2002.

The fourth overall pick by Oakland in the 1978 draft, he went straight to the majors, never looked back and pretty much had a rubber arm the entire way through. I came across him in Minnesota when he was playing for the Twins and I was covering them. He had a very unique way of viewing the world and of speaking.

What I most remember is when he had a poor start. He’d meet the media afterward, shrug and simply say, “Bob Seger, man.” That was his code for one of Seger’s most well-known songs: “Turn the Page.” Yep, forget about a bad start, turn the page and get ’em next time.

There were dozens more just like that.

Now 56, Morgan has been gone for a while: When there was no interest in him following the 2002 season, he went home to Utah, hurt (not physically—his feelings were hurt) and went into a sort of self-exile.

He reappeared at the Diamondbacks’ fantasy camp last week.

“I can still throw seven days a week,” he told MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert. “I can still throw the hammer [curveball]. It’s not 12-to-6 anymore, it’s 12-to-3. Four-seamers, two-seamers, sliders.

“I still get guys asking me to throw the hammer so they can see it out of my hand. And I always tell them, ‘Just tell me where to meet you and I’ll come throw to you.'”


9. Farewell, Monte Irvin

One of the first African-Americans to play in the majors and a mentor to the great Willie Mays, Monte Irvin passed away last week in Houston at the age of 96. A Hall of Famer as both a player and a person, Irvin spent three years in the Army during World War II and, as Commissioner Rob Manfred said last week, “was a true leader during a transformational era for our game.”

And, he said this, and amen, amen, amen:


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

We’re barely halfway through January and already 2016 has been painful. Last week we lost David Bowie, this week Glenn Frey. Though he’s a little more known, you might say, for his great hits like “Tequila Sunrise” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” there was a time, believe it or not, when Frey wanted to become a baseball broadcaster. Not only does he do so for a day here with Vin Scully in 1985, he gives a tremendous home run call:

 You left us way too soon, Glenn, but thanks for the words and music.

“City girls seem to find out early

“How to open doors with just a smile”

— Eagles, “Lyin’ Eyes”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Justin Upton Gives Tigers a High-Priced, All-in Roster with Uphill Climb Ahead

The Detroit Tigers entered the offseason with a handful of expensive long-term contracts already in hand, and they have since added two more amid a flurry of offseason moves that has overhauled their roster.

As such, it’s a little strange we can only look at them as a team with a fighting chance rather than as, you know, a favorite.

But first, the news! Roughly a month-and-a-half after Detroit added star right-hander Jordan Zimmermann on a $110 million contract, the word Monday night was that the club added star left fielder Justin Upton on a $132.75 million contract. Bob Nightengale of USA Today had the scoop:

With Upton aboard, Detroit’s Opening Day payroll for 2016 figures to be roughly $200 million. In a time like this, one recalls what Tigers owner Mike Ilitch said after he signed Zimmermann, via Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press“It might sound silly, but I don’t care about spending money.”

But as is usually the case these days, there’s a wrinkle in Upton’s deal. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the former Arizona Diamondback, Atlanta Brave and San Diego Padre can opt out of his contract after his second year—in 2017.

So, rather than a six-year contract, think of this as a two-year pact with a four-year player option. And that’s just one reason to like the move for the Tigers.

Another is the simple fact that a deal worth a little over $22 million per year isn’t outrageous for a player like Upton. The 28-year-old is more youthful than your typical free agent, and he offers a solid mix of patience, power and speed. 

While we’re noting positives, we can also grant that Upton gives Detroit a lineup that looks pretty sweet on paper.

Upton is joining a Tigers offense that finished just 10th in the American League in runs scored in 2015 but was a much more impressive third in OPS. The only notable absence now is Yoenis Cespedes, who was shipped to the New York Mets at last year’s trade deadline.

As it happens, Upton is a good candidate to replace the .829 OPS and 18 homers Cespedes gave Detroit in his four months with the team. Upton owns a career .825 OPS and has averaged about 25 home runs per season since 2009. 

According to FanGraphs, the Steamer projection system sees much the same in store for Upton in 2016, pegging him for an .811 OPS and 27 home runs. He should also give the Tigers more steals than they got from Cespedes, as he’s pegged for 12 stolen bases after swiping 19 in 2015.

In short, Detroit is adding a good offensive player to its 2016 lineup. Count Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports among those who like how the rest of said lineup looks:

Indeed. Upton does what he does. Miguel Cabrera is still an elite hitter when healthy. Victor Martinez is only a year removed from being arguably the best hitter in baseball. J.D. Martinez built on his 2014 breakout by slugging 38 homers in 2015. Ian Kinsler is one of the league’s better top-of-the-order hitters. Jose Iglesias showed in 2015 that he can be an outstanding bottom-of-the-order hitter.

The rest of Detroit’s roster doesn’t sound too shabby on paper either. The Tigers finally have some bullpen depth after acquiring Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson. And with Zimmermann leading Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, Detroit also has a rotation that could be pretty good. If these pieces click alongside the Tigers’ lineup, the AL Central could be theirs once again.

As strong as Detroit’s roster sounds on paper, however, there is the inconvenient reality that the games aren’t played on paper. They’re played in reality, which has been known to be less forgiving.

Let’s remember that this is a team that’s coming off a 74-87 record that put it in last place in its division in 2015. And though Upton is part of a larger trend of upgrades, there are lingering questions that are still, well, lingering.

For one, there’s the question of whether Detroit’s lineup will be done in by its same-sidedness. With the exception of the switch-hitting Victor Martinez, the Tigers’ projected lineup is entirely right-handed. Perhaps that would be a wise move in a division filled with left-handed starters, but the only team in the AL Central that has more than one of those is the Chicago White Sox.

For two, there’s the question of how much some veteran hitters can be counted on. Cabrera and Victor Martinez are coming off a year in which injuries limited them to 119 and 120 games, respectively, and both will be another year into their 30s in 2016. The same goes for Kinsler, who may be due for some regression after his 2015 season outpaced his recent track record.

For three, there’s also some uncertainty in the Tigers’ starting rotation. Zimmermann should be his usual reliable self at the top, but health and effectiveness have eluded Verlander and Sanchez the last two years. After them, Daniel Norris is an unproven youngster, and Mike Pelfrey is a merchant of “meh.”

Where did the Tigers fit in the AL Central before they signed Upton? Had you asked Richard Justice of MLB.com, he would have told you fourth behind the Cleveland Indians, the White Sox and the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals. This happens to be the same opinion of FanGraphs’ WAR projections for the 2016 season.

Neither Justice’s appraisal nor FanGraphs’ math sound out of whack. Detroit is better with Upton, but not to an extent that it’s now clearly the AL Central’s top dog. It’s a crowded division, and the only way the Tigers will end up on top of it in 2016 is if they get Lady Luck and Father Time to cooperate with the expensive, high-risk, high-reward roster they’ve constructed.

This is not, however, to say Detroit is wasting its time. It went into this offseason with the choice to either let an aging roster decay into nothing or to prop it up as best it could. Door No. 2 was the easy call, and it’s hard to say the Tigers could have done any better than they have. They’ve taken a roster that was pretty bad and made it respectable.

Given that, arranging for a fighting chance is a turn for the better.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Justin Upton to Tigers: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Free-agent outfielder Justin Upton signed with the Detroit Tigers on Monday. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the deal is for six years, and Bob Nightengale of USA Today noted Upton will get $132.75 million.

Nightengale also reported Upton will undergo his physical on Thursday and a press conference is scheduled to follow.

Upton has proved over his nine-year career that he is one of the most well-rounded outfielders in the majors. He earned a trip to his third All-Star Game in 2015 during his first and only season with the San Diego Padres.

While a change of scenery can sometimes slow a player down, Upton continued to produce with the Padres, batting .251 with 26 home runs and 81 RBI after the Atlanta Braves traded him in December 2014.

The Padres, who tried to build up their roster in the offseason to compete in the National League West, didn’t live up to the hype, going 74-88 and finishing fourth in the division.

The 28-year-old is a consistent power threat, having hit at least 17 home runs in each of the last six seasons. Still in his prime, he might be able to replicate the career-high 31 home runs he bashed in 2011.

Upton also has speed to complement his power. He stole 19 bags in 2015, two off his career-best mark from 2011.

This was a difficult offseason for an outfielder to hit the market with the likes of Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon and Jason Heyward also searching for suitors, and those players being available could have delayed Upton’s deal with the Tigers.

But with the addition of Upton, the Tigers are a dangerous team again. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports weighed in on their potential lineup next season:

Even with all those high-end names, Jon Morosi of Fox Sports pointed to one possible concern:

Righty-heavy lineup or not, Detroit needed to make a move on the offensive side after it finished a dismal 74-87 last year and in last place in the American League Central. Adding a power bat like Upton will help an offense that tied for 15th in the majors in runs scored and was 18th in home runs in 2015.

The Tigers need to produce better offensive numbers in a division that includes the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals, and Upton should help them do just that.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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Mets Can Ace Offseason with Short-Term Justin Upton Coup

We’re wading past the middle of January, and Justin Upton still doesn’t have a job.

It seems crazy: We’re talking about a five-tool 28-year-old here, and baseball is littered with teams that could use a power bat and an outfield upgrade.

But that’s been the nature of this winter’s hitters market. Chris Davis, MLB‘s reigning home run leader, didn’t ink a deal until Jan. 16. As of this writing, Cuban masher Yoenis Cespedes is sitting with Upton in the unemployment line.

This could be the moment, then, for the New York Mets to pounce. Not on Cespedes, last season’s trade-deadline hero, but on Upton.

Davis wound up landing a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles. And MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported Sunday that there is “a lot of interest/activity” in Cespedes, meaning there’s “no chance” he’ll sign a short-term pact.

Upton, on the other hand, might be willing to accept a one-year deal and re-enter the market next year, when the pool of marquee free agents will be much shallower. If so, the Mets should make a play, add a bat to complement their arsenal of aces and, in the process, ace the offseason.

So far, the Mets have mostly subtracted from the team that won the National League pennant a few moths ago.

Second baseman and postseason dinger-monster Daniel Murphy jumped to the division-rival Washington Nationals, though the Mets did acquire his replacement, Neil Walker, from the Pittsburgh Pirates. And Cespedes, who ignited the offense after coming over from the Detroit Tigers in July, now appears to be out of New York’s price range.

The pitching staff remains top-notch, with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz headlining a rotation that should also get Zack Wheeler back from Tommy John surgery sometime in 2016.

That’s as strong a starting five as you’ll find. But the Mets will have to score enough to support them if they hope to keep last year’s playoff juju going.

Upton seems like a perfect fit.

Michael Conforto impressed during his rookie season in 2015, hitting .270 with an .841 OPS in 56 games. He’s currently atop the depth chart in left, and he looks like an important part of the Mets’ future.

Upton, though, would represent a step up and slot nicely into the middle of New York’s lineup. Last season, while playing his home games at pitcher-friendly Petco Park, Upton clubbed 26 home runs with 81 RBI and swiped 19 bases, his highest theft total since 2011.


His defensive reputation is mixed, though he put up eight defensive runs saved in 2015, per FanGraphs, and is an excellent overall athlete.

Mostly, he’d take pressure off the likes of Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson and David Wright, capable hitters but not guys you can necessarily count on to carry an offense.

(Speaking of Wright, he and Upton played together on a high school travel squad once upon a time, for what that’s worth.)

OK, back to this one-year-deal business. Is it actually possible that a player of Upton’s talent and relative youth could be had for a single season? It seems crazy, but there is precedent.

In 2014, Nelson Cruz declined the qualifying offer and became a free agent, but wound up signing a one-year, $8 million pact with the Baltimore Orioles, for whom he went on to bash 40 home runs.

It’s not a perfect analogy. Cruz was five years older than Upton is now and was still trailing the stain of a 50-game PED suspension in 2013. 

The point, though, is that it’s not unheard of for premier hitters to sign so-called pillow contracts to increase their value. And, again, next year’s free-agent class is weak overall, meaning Upton would likely have far more suitors, assuming he remains healthy and productive.

Speaking of suitors, there could be more with cash to burn next winter, as MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell pointed out:

Part of the reason it’s taken so long for Cespedes and Upton to sign is that the marketplace has been short on buyers. That could change next offseason, when Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira come off the books for the Yankees. The Cardinals will most likely lose Matt Holliday, leaving them with a hole to fill in their outfield. And the Giants, Blue Jays and A’s could all find themselves in need of corner-outfield help, given some of their pending departures.

Undoubtedly, Upton and his camp will attempt to exhaust all possibilities for a lucrative long-term deal before they settle for less.

His agent indicated as much, telling Heyman on Jan. 8, “We are not considering shorter term deals at this time.”

But the more you think about it, the less crazy it sounds for Upton to go somewhere for a season, put up his typical numbers and dangle his services again in 12 months.

Of course, if he’s willing to go somewhere on a shorter deal, the number of interested clubs would likely increase. And you could argue he’d be better served going somewhere other than Citi Field, the third-worst hitters yard in the game last season, according to ESPN’s Park Factors statistic.

With the Mets, though, Upton would have a chance to play for a winner. And few things increase your profile and value as well as shining on the October stage.

We’re a long way from that, obviously. But as February creeps closer, Upton’s options may begin to dwindle. And the Mets should be there waiting with arms—and wallet—wide open.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Updating the Hottest Questions of the 2015-16 MLB Offseason, Week 10

Another week. Another round of questions about Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Davis and Justin Upton—baseball’s unfortunate free-agent trio.

As Week 10 of the 2015-16 MLB offseason draws to a close, the future remains murky for those prime-time mashers who are still hanging out in a winter purgatory. The good news for one of those guys (and the bad news for another) is that there’s a new five-year offer to report.

There’s also room in the conversation for talk about yet another impact outfielder, whose name just keeps popping up in the trade rumor mill. Plus, with arbitration hearing looming on the horizon, some All-Stars, Cy Youngs and even an MVP are set to cash in.

Begin Slideshow

Why Is 3-Time All-Star Justin Upton Being Left Out to Dry in Free Agency?

Just this week, baseball’s public relations folks sent out a handy list of spring training reporting dates. Yes, it’s getting to be that time of year.

So why doesn’t Justin Upton have a job yet?

He’s not alone, of course. This winter’s free-agent market moved slowly overall, and very slowly when it came to outfielders. The Dec. 15 Jason Heyward signing was supposed to get things going, but it didn’t. Now here we are in the middle of January, and Upton and Yoenis Cespedes both remain unsigned.

It’s never safe to speculate that a lack of rumors indicates a lack of interest or that a long stay on the market means a player will settle for a cut-rate contract. Max Scherzer didn’t sign his record-setting deal with the Washington Nationals until Jan. 21 last year.

Still, there’s been little enough buzz about Upton that it’s hard to even come up with a favorite to sign him. And there’s been enough chatter that maybe Upton should take a one-year contract that agent Larry Reynolds felt the need to respond.

“We are not considering shorter-term deals at this time,” Reynolds told MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

In fact, an official of one team that has talked to Reynolds said the agent is looking for a “long, long” contract and suggested the lack of apparent movement on Upton may in part be due to an asking price that has been too high for the current market.

That may be, but at a time when many teams seem to be flush with cash and power hitting is supposed to be at a premium, Upton really should have plenty of options. He shouldn’t have to take a one-year deal, even though he could go back into what will almost certainly be a much weaker free-agent market next winter.

The outfielder-heavy market this winter didn’t hurt Heyward, even though he hit fewer home runs the last two years combined than Upton hit in 2015 alone. And while the market may have kept Alex Gordon’s contract in a range where the Kansas City Royals could afford to keep him, Gordon still signed for $18 million a year.

Heyward and Gordon are both better defensive players than Upton and partly because of that, both are more popular with teams focused more heavily on analytics. But Upton’s defense is nowhere near bad enough to account for the lukewarm interest.

Then again, this isn’t exactly a new story. The San Diego Padres never found an Upton trade offer they really liked last July, and they held on to him even though he was a pending free agent almost certain to leave at the end of the year.

It’s all enough to make you wonder if there’s something else going on, if there’s something about Upton we don’t know but many teams do. But when I asked an official from one of Upton’s former clubs if he understood the seemingly low level of interest, he said he didn’t.

“I like Justin a lot,” the official said.

Just not enough to sign him to a big contract, it seems.

It’s not Upton’s age. He’ll play most of next year at 28, so even a long-term deal now should carry him through the prime years of his career.

What’s more likely is that trends in the market and in the game have worked against Upton. Analytics work against him, especially on the defensive side.

But there also seems to be something of a perception issue. The official from Upton’s former team praised his character but admitted some baseball people who don’t know Upton well mistake his quiet demeanor for a lack of leadership skills.

Another executive who knows Upton well said he likes him, but not as the focal point of the team.

In fact, the question of what type of player Upton is has followed him from club to club, ever since the Arizona Diamondbacks made him the first overall draft pick in 2005 and watched him debut in the big leagues at age 19.

“There were some people who wanted him to be [Ken Griffey Jr.],” one of the executives said.

When Kevin Towers, then the Diamondbacks general manager, traded Upton to the Atlanta Braves in January 2013, Towers cited the expectations as one reason for making the deal. He felt there would always be added pressure on Upton in Arizona and expressed hope that getting away from his first team might help.

The Braves had already signed Upton’s brother, then known as B.J., to a club-record five-year, $75.25 million contract. The story of the two brothers playing together was a spring training special that year, with the Braves expressing hope that both players would thrive.

Instead, B.J. badly underperformed. He later asked to be called by his given name of Melvin Upton Jr. By April 2015, the Braves traded both Uptons to the Padres.

The brothers are different players and different people, but you almost wonder if Melvin’s bad contract has teams wondering about signing Justin for big money, too. That shouldn’t be the case, especially since when Justin signed his big contract with the Diamondbacks in the spring of 2010, he made it look good by finishing fourth in the Most Valuable Player balloting a year later.

He signed that six-year, $51.25 million deal on March 3, which was no problem because he was already in spring training.

By March 3 of this year, will Justin Upton have a spring training camp to go to?

You’d think so. Then again, you would have thought that he’d have a team by Jan. 13, too.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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