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The Giants signed Melvin Upton, and he’s probably a good idea

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A better idea than Chris Marrero, at least.

San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Do you remember spring training? I vaguely do. It’s almost like a dream. I think Gordon Beckham was there? And Michael Morse was there. And my middle-school teacher was there, but he wasn’t really my middle-school teacher, you know? Anyway, during spring training Chris Marrero hit a bunch of home runs, and he made the Giants’ active roster.

Cut to the regular season, and Marrero has one hit in 13 at-bats. Granted, that one hit drove in two runs on Sunday, and it was a very important hit, but if you’re having second thoughts about him, you’re not alone. The Giants signed Melvin Upton, Jr. to a minor-league contract over the weekend, and before you laugh the idea off, take a moment to evaluate the move. It’s probably a good idea.

Upton is 32 years old, and he’s a career .243/.321/.402 hitter, so if you’re less than excited, I don’t blame you. This is not someone who will be the difference between the Giants winning 85 games and the Giants winning 90. The right-handed outfielder has a substantial strikeout problem, and he’s pretty far removed from the five-tool talent he used to be.

However, let’s make a chart that compares Upton to Marrero and Morse:

Giants LF options

Player Has power Strikes out a lot Low OBP Hits left-handers better than right-handers Plays average-to-good defense
Player Has power Strikes out a lot Low OBP Hits left-handers better than right-handers Plays average-to-good defense
Melvin Upton X X X X X
Chris Marrero X X X
Michael Morse X X X X

You might be convinced that Morse can put up similar numbers to his 2014 season, and I’m not going to sit here and argue with you. I would love that! Baseball is funny and wonderful, when it’s not unfunny and awful, and I could totally see Morse having a surprisingly effective season.

As for what I would plan for, though, I would plan for Morse to be a low-average slugger with poor defense and a penchant for strikeouts. I would plan for Marrero to be a low-average slugger with poor defense and a penchant for strikeouts. And I would plan for Upton to be a low-average slugger with solid defense and a penchant for strikeouts.

It’s the defense that hooks me. We know that Morse and Marrero are serious defensive liabilities (at least in left field). Upton is usually solid, if not above-average in left. If you’re preferring either Morse or Marrero, it would be because you’re expecting their offensive contributions to be so important, they would make Upton’s defensive contributions irrelevant. I’m not there.

If there’s a twist, it’s that all this applies to Drew Stubbs, who was also recently signed to a minor-league deal. The difference there is that Stubbs has profound lefty-righty splits, whereas Upton has notable platoon splits. Considering the job description is to be Jarrett Parker’s platoon-mate, it’s reasonable to prefer a true lefty-masher like Stubbs, even if he’s mostly useless in any other situation.

For me, I’ll take the guy with reasonable splits against righties. You wouldn’t need to pinch-hit for Upton in the late innings. Want to? Sure! Need to? No. With Stubbs, you would absolutely need to get him out of there as soon as the left-handed starter was pulled, which puts a strain on the bench. Marrero’s defense is a similar late-inning concern, too.

It’s not an ideal option. If you were told in November that the solution to left would be Melvin Upton and Jarrett Parker, you might have thrown a chair out the window. Those feelings are still legitimate. However, if the Giants need a right-handed hitter to play left field when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound, this is probably the best option they’ve come up with in a while.