In a mildly surprising move, the Los Angeles Angels designated longtime outfielder Justin Upton for assignment on Saturday, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN. Given that the SF Giants are seemingly in need of another right-handed bat, is Upton a fit for San Francisco?
Is longtime outfielder a fit for the SF Giants in 2022?
The 34-year-old outfielder is in the final year of a five-year, $106 million pact that he signed after the 2017 season. He is owed $28 million for this upcoming season, so he will clear waivers and become a free agent.
Several notable Giants position players departed this offseason including Buster Posey, Kris Bryant, and Donovan Solano. Posey retired, whereas Bryant and Solano signed with the Colorado Rockies and Cincinnati Reds, respectively. All three players hit from the right side, so the lineup against left-handed pitching is a bit thin.
This issue is compounded by the fact that Evan Longoria is expected to miss the first six weeks of the season following surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right hand.
This is all to say that the Giants look thin on right-handed-hitting depth as the season is approaching. Adding a player like Upton certainly checks that box, but it would be an imperfect fit.
As a team, the Giants slashed .247/.331/.421 (103 wRC+) against left-handed pitching in 2021, so there is definitely room for improvement. Overall, Upton registered a .211/.296/.409 line (92 wRC+) with 17 home runs, 47 runs scored, and 41 RBI in 362 plate appearances last season.
However, his numbers against lefties were more promising as he posted a .225/.355/.483 line (130 wRC+) with seven of his 17 home runs in only 107 plate appearances. This comes with a strong 15.9 percent walk rate against a 29 percent strikeout rate. His slash line from last year is consistent with his career mark (.852 OPS) against southpaws.
In one sense, Upton could help a lineup that needs more power from the right side, so the Giants are a reasonable fit, so long as his exposure against right-handed pitching (.652 OPS in 2021) is limited.
However, in another sense. Upton does not have a position at this stage in his career. In 2021, the 14-year veteran appeared in 87 games in the outfield and the defensive metrics painted an unfavorable view of his work. He recorded -11 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and -6 Outs Above Average (OAA) last year and that is a downward trend that has spanned multiple seasons.
He is best suited to play primarily as the team's designated hitter against left-handed pitching, but has little value outside of that role. For a team that values defensive versatility, Upton seems like an imperfect fit at best.
He offers leverage against lefties but should not see much of the field. That is a niche role that I do not think that the Giants front office wants to limit themselves with. Given his track record against left-handed pitching, the longtime outfielder should be able to find a role with a team, but that team likely is not San Francisco.