The Los Angeles Angels officially released outfielder Justin Upton over the weekend, ending his five-plus-year run with the club. The Angels, per Major League Baseball's rules, will remain on the hook for the $28 million left on his contract. Upton can only hope to follow in the cleatprints of Albert Pujols, who was released by the Angels last May before finding greater success in an optimized role with the Dodgers.
Upton, a four-time All-Star who will celebrate his 35th birthday in August, has underwhelmed in recent seasons. Dating back to the start of the 2019 campaign, he's hit .211/.299/.414 (90 OPS+) with 38 home runs and a 29 percent strikeout rate. His below-average defense has done him no favors, either, and he's been estimated to have contributed two wins below replacement, according to Baseball Reference.
Unlike Pujols, whose numbers against left-handed pitching made him an obvious short-side platoon candidate, Upton lacks a carrying skill. His .738 OPS versus left-handed pitching over the past three seasons ranks in the 27th percentile among right-handed batters, alongside the likes of glove-first players like outfielders Oscar Mercado and Delino DeShields Jr., and infielder Freddy Galvis, who now plays in Japan.
Teams can still talk themselves into Upton having more to offer than those numbers indicate. His .838 OPS against lefties last season was his highest since 2017, and his multi-year ball-tracking metrics suggest he should've had better topline results. Given that the transaction cost is the prorated league-minimum salary and a roster spot (at a time when they have two more to spare than usual), it stands to reason that he is going to find a new home and return to the majors sooner than later.
Which teams would make the most sense for Upton? Below, CBS Sports has named five who should be checking in with his agent over the coming days. It should be noted that Upton makes sense for more than five teams, and it's conceivable that he winds up signing with a team that was not presented here below. So it goes.
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1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Hey, it worked for Pujols, right? The Dodgers are currently sporting a three-player bench that boasts Hanser Alberto as its top right-handed pinch-hitting candidate. Upton's addition would not only give Dave Roberts another option, it would eliminate the monstrosity that is the 16-man pitching staff. Everyone wins.
You can make a reasonable case that the Rangers should be No. 1. Their starting nine includes left-handed hitters in both corner-outfield spots (Brad Miller and Kole Calhoun) and at DH (Willie Calhoun) who require a right-handed caddy. Besides, the Rangers are currently relying on the likes of Charlie Culberson, Nick Solak, and Eli White in their lineup against lefties. That's not likely to work if the Rangers are serious about chasing down a playoff spot in a crowded American League.
The Twins are also rolling with a 16-man pitching staff. Disgusting. Their bench is arguably lighter than the Dodgers', as Rocco Baldelli's two non-catcher options are Nick Gordon and Gilberto Celestino. Upton could give either Max Kepler or Alex Kirilloff some days off against lefties. Heck, he could even get a spot-start here and there at designated hitter, depending on if the Twins like the matchup for Luis Arraez.
The White Sox just saw veteran outfielder A.J. Pollock pull his hamstring during Saturday's game against the Detroit Tigers. You might think that makes them a logical landing spot for Upton, but we're not 100 percent convinced. Why's that? Mostly because the White Sox could just roll with Andrew Vaughn, a former top prospect and draft pick who offers greater upside than Upton could at this stage of his career.
You can never go wrong by assuming that A.J. Preller will have interest in a notable veteran. Upton could bump starting left fielder Jurickson Profar back to the bench and reserve outfielder José Azocar back to the minors, thereby improving San Diego's depth in the process.