TEMPE, Ariz. — This time the Angels didn’t even wait a month to cast off a veteran who had lost his grip on a significant role.
The Angels designated Justin Upton for assignment Saturday, less than a week before Opening Day. The Angels could still to try to trade Upton, but most likely he will become a free agent, and the Angels will be on the hook for almost all of his $28 million salary this season, the final year of his five-year contract.
If Upton finds a new team after reaching free agency, his new team will pay him the major-league minimum salary of $700,000, and the Angels would pay the rest.
In May, the Angels made a similar move with Albert Pujols. At that time, they said that move was more about making sure there was playing time for Jared Walsh at first and Shohei Ohtani at DH.
This time, general manager Perry Minasian said the Upton move was mostly a reflection on their confidence in young outfielders Jo Adell, 22, and Brandon Marsh, 24. Both will see significant playing time in the corner outfield spots, along with Taylor Ward, 28, while Mike Trout will play center.
Minasian gave Upton the news Saturday morning, and Upton left the ballpark before the media had arrived. Asked how he handled the news, Minasian said Upton was “an absolute pro.”
Presumably the Angels already tried to trade Upton before reaching this point. Upton has a no-trade clause, so that could have complicated a potential deal.
“Really tough decision,” Minasian said. “I love Justin as a person. Just looking at the construction of our club, we think Brandon and Jo are ready to go. And we’ll have Taylor in the outfield. We’ll have obviously Trouty in the outfield. And between those four guys, we felt like that was the best group going forward for this particular club.”
Those four are all significantly better outfielders than Upton, and run-prevention is a key for the Angels.
Also, Upton had not shown much with the bat in recent seasons, in part because of injuries.
Upton, 34, hit .211 with a .705 OPS and 17 homers in 89 games last season. He was on the injured list with back problems twice.
In 2020, Upton had one bad month and one good month during the shortened season, finishing with a .204 average and a .711 OPS. In 2019, he missed most of the season after suffering a toe injury just before Opening Day, and he ended up hitting .215 with a .724 OPS.
This spring, Upton had provided some encouraging signs, going 5 for 19 with three homers. He had hit all three homers this week. He had also been working out at first base, potentially to be a platoon partner with the left-handed hitting Walsh.
Adell (9 for 33, three homers), Marsh (10 for 33, two homers) and Ward (8 for 21, two homers) had all been looking good at the plate and in the field this spring.
“Jo, I think anybody that’s seen him play this spring, it’s been pretty impressive on both sides of the ball,” Minasian said. “And obviously Brandon too, especially the last couple of days swinging the bat. Left-handed bat. Defensively, the athleticism they both bring and on the bases. They both give us a different dynamic that we haven’t had in the past. So we felt like there they were really good fits.”
Minasian wouldn’t say how the playing time would break down among the three corner outfielders, but that all would get “significant” playing time.
If the move works out as well as last year’s decision with Pujols, the Angels will be in good shape. Ohtani and Walsh ended up being the Angels’ two All-Stars.
“The better you get as a club, the more depth you have as a club, the tougher the decisions become,” Minasian said. “This was a really, really difficult decision that we spent a lot of time on and talked about thought about. We just felt like again, Jo and Brandon are both ready to go.”
The Angels reinstated right-hander Ty Buttrey from the restricted list and optioned him to Triple-A. Buttrey retired a year ago, but then decided over the winter to try to come back.
Buttrey had said that he felt like he needed some more time for his stuff to return, so it’s no surprise the Angels will start him in the minors.
“I’m excited,” Minasian said. “I think he’s in a great place physically. I think he’s in a great place mentally. I think for not pitching as long as he has coming into camp, you wouldn’t notice. He came in really good shape. Getting his feet under him is going to take a little time, but I fully expect him to help us at some point.”
Buttrey took the roster spot vacated by Upton.
The Angels have set their rotation for this weekend’s Freeway Series and the first six games of the regular season. Noah Syndergaard, José Suarez and Michael Lorenzen will start the three games against the Dodgers, in that order. In the regular season, Ohtani will start Opening Day, followed by Patrick Sandoval, Syndergaard, Suarez, Lorenzen and Reid Detmers. …
Manager Joe Maddon gave a little more clarity to the roster by saying that Jaime Barria would be in the bullpen. Barria, who is out of options, had been competing for the No. 6 starter role. Maddon also said that second base would be a platoon with left-handed hitting Tyler Wade and right-handed hitters Matt Duffy and Jack Mayfield. …
The Angels’ final roster decision would appear to come down to whether they want to keep Jose Rojas or a 10th relief pitcher. The five candidates for the ninth (and 10th) bullpen spots are José Marte, Oliver Ortega, Jimmy Herget, Kyle Barraclough and Brian Moran.