Justin Upton made sense for the Giants before the 2016 season. He made sense for them before the 2017 season. He’ll make sense for them before the 2018 season. He’s a long-term solution with right-handed power who plays left field. The Giants have been looking for that for, oh, a decade.
So in one respect, this rumor makes sense:
In another, larger, respect, it really doesn’t. Let us count the ways.
1. Upton can opt out after this season
He has four years, $88.5 million left on his contract after this season, but he’s also having one of the best seasons of his career. Upton is currently hitting .280/.363/.546 for the Tigers, with 28 home runs. The nerd stats even like his defense in left, too, so you can understand why the Giants might be interested.
But that means his agent might want to test the market and see if he can get four years, $100 million. Or four years, $88.6 million. It’s a super-weak market for outfielders, as evidenced by the lack of trades in July, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a team looking to spend on a middle-of-the-order slugger this winter.
Even if Upton doesn’t opt out, though, the possibility that he can makes this a messy deal. What in the world would the Giants send to the Tigers for an outfielder who might be around for a month in an lost season but could be making scores of millions over the next four years instead?
2. Upton has a list of 20 teams that he can reject a trade to
Considering his well-known aversion to hitting at AT&T Park, I would bet at least $20 that the Giants are on that list.
Players can be convinced to waive their no-trade clauses. It usually takes money. That means the Giants would be throwing money after money to acquire an outfielder who just turned 30. That seems unlikely.
3. Upton isn’t going to be cheap, either way
While a four-year deal at $22.25 million per season isn’t absurd, it’s the kind of deal you would expect a team that’s a) contending and b) not close to the salary-cap tax. The Giants would have to pay Upton over $31 million after penalties, and it would get them further and further away from the ability to result their luxury status, which would cost them millions more for every player they sign.
Think of it like this: The Giants getting Upton doesn’t just mean that they pay him a ton of money. It means that they would pay someone like Nick Hundley $5.6 million if they wanted to sign him to a $4 million deal. This will affect everything the Giants do in the offseason, from building the bench to shoring up the bullpen.
The Giants might throw that kind of money at this roster. It would still surprise me, though.
I’ll write about the Giants’ willingness to reload instead of rebuild later today, hopefully, but it doesn’t bother me that they would commit to an over-30 player at this point. It doesn’t bother me that the Giants would add salary. And when it comes to a target, consider that Upton’s worst season by WAR was 1.6, which would rank third on the 2017 Giants. That’s his worst season. Even when he’s bad by his standards, he’s pretty good, and in a season like this, he’s great. If the Giants could get two or three solid, powerful years out of Upton within the next four years, it would be a huge help in creating a watchable team, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect him to provide that kind of value.
It’s just unlikely that the Giants can make this work. The opt-out and the no-trade clause combine to form a bizarre situation that the Giants won’t be able to talk their way out of. Credit them for checking in with the Tigers, just in case, and they might do it again in the offseason. If Upton opts out, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants call. But it’s still hard to imagine how they thread this particular needle right now.