-- The Los Angeles Angels have jumped back into the American League wild-card race by going 18-10 in August, and now they've added some offensive support for Mike Trout, acquiring All-Star outfielder Justin Upton from the Detroit Tigers for minor league pitcher Grayson Long.
The Angels' offense has been much better in August, averaging 5.07 runs per game (ninth-best in the majors in August). But overall they rank just 12th in the AL in runs. The only regulars with an above-average OPS are Trout, Andrelton Simmons and C.J. Cron. Meanwhile, Albert Pujols, hitting .232/.278/.387 with a league-leading 21 double plays hit into, ranks 147th out of 154 qualified regulars in wOBA, but has continued to hold down the No. 3 spot in the lineup behind Trout.
It would make sense for manager Mike Scioscia to slot Upton behind Trout and slide Pujols down in the lineup, but given his reluctance to move Pujols so far, Upton could take over the cleanup spot.
Upton is hitting .279/.364/.542 with 28 home runs and has been blistering the ball in the second half with a .304/.382/.631 line, including 13 home runs. Angels left fielders rank 28th in the majors in wOBA and last with seven home runs, so Upton is obviously a huge upgrade for the final month (and acquiring him on Aug. 31 means he's eligible for the postseason). Given the tight nature of the wild-card race, the extra win Upton could provide might be the difference between making the playoffs and missing out.
Upton still has four years and $88.5 million remaining on his contract, so this could also be a long-term acquisition for the Angels. Josh Hamilton's $26 million salary finally comes off the books after 2017, although Trout's salary bumps up from $20 million to $34 million. Still, a big-market team like the Angels that annually draws 3 million fans should be able to absorb Upton's deal.
The only hitch is that he has an opt-out clause after this season. It's kind of a coin flip on whether Upton would get more in free agency. His $22 million per year is reasonable for a player of his value, but he might be able to get a fifth year tacked on. On the other hand, he might like Los Angeles. This will be his fifth team in six seasons, so may prefer to stay put.
Either way, good move by the Angels. Long was the team's third-round pick in 2015 out of Texas A&M and has had a solid season in Double-A with a 2.52 ERA. MLB.com, in its midseason rankings, ranked Long No. 9 in the weak Angels system, citing a strong build and a 90 mph fastball that he can crank higher at times, plus an above-average slider.
For the Tigers, the necessary housecleaning continues. With a 58-74 record, it's clear the best days of the Justin Verlander- Miguel Cabrera era are over. In fact, the Tigers would probably love to trade Verlander as well, but he makes $28 million each of the next two seasons. With huge outlays still on the books for Verlander, Cabrera (signed through 2023) and Jordan Zimmermann (signed through 2020), the Tigers don't have a lot of payroll flexibility in the near future. It's likely a long haul back to respectability for this franchise.
Angels grade: B . Upton, 30, is a notoriously streaky hitter, although he's been much more consistent this season. Still, given how hot he's been since the break, you wonder if he's due for one of his cold spells. But you have to like this trade for the Angels. They have to go all-in to win while Trout is in his prime. His grade could even bump up to an A if Upton decides to remain with the Angels (although given his body type, you wonder how he'll age as he gets deeper into his 30s).
Tigers grade: B. Their hands were sort of tied, as Upton would undoubtedly have opted out after the season, unwilling to stick around with a rebuilding Tigers team. They were able to get a sleeper pitching prospect in Long, whose numbers probably outperform the scouting report, but who should get a chance to prove himself as a starter in the majors.