TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays acquired outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., and the money to cover the vast majority of the nearly $22 million he’s still owed from the San Diego Padres on Tuesday for rookie-ball right-hander Hansel Rodriguez in a trade designed to add depth, speed and versatility to the roster.
Talks between the clubs started when Jose Bautista hit the disabled list with turf toe June 17, but only reached fruition when they settled on the financial component. Upton is due the roughly third remaining on his $15.45 million salary this year plus another $16.45 million in 2017, and the Padres will reportedly cover $17 million of that.
“It got to the point that the acquisition cost was right,” was how Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins put it. “The bulk of the acquisition for us in this was actually finances. You never like to part ways with a player, but we have some financial flexibility and we were able to take on a little bit of money in the deal and now still have some players to deal from in our system.
“If there’s a way to improve our pitching, we feel as flexible as we were yesterday.”
The exchange of money also helps minimize the risk for the Blue Jays in a pricey trade market, and allows them to move in another direction if Upton reverts back to his struggles of 2013 and 2014, when he struck out 324 times while hitting 21 homers in 910 at-bats for the Atlanta Braves.
The 31-year-old is enjoying a nice bounce-back year in 2016 with a .256/.304/.439 slash line and 16 homers, 45 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 25 attempts, but will be moving from an everyday to a complementary role.
“Coming into a winning environment … should offset” any issues about not playing every day, said Atkins. “What we’ve learned about Melvin is only positive, we’ve learned that his teammates embrace him, he’s a good person, people like being around him and the talent is certainly there.”
The Blue Jays like Upton’s combination of “defence at all three outfield positions, speed, the base-running, base-stealer, power, versatility and depth.” At the same time, he adds a measure of protection for next year, when only centre-fielder Kevin Pillar under club control.
Upton’s arrival doesn’t guarantee pending free agents Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders won’t return next year, but much like the re-signing of first baseman Justin Smoak with Edwin Encarnacion’s contract expiring, it sets in place an option in the event the players aren’t re-signed.
The Blue Jays have long talked with the Padres about multiple players including Andrew Cashner, who’s slated to start Tuesday, and injured right-hander Tyson Ross, who is working toward a mid-August return. Pitching remains the most obvious area of need, but Upton’s speed adds a dimension the Blue Jays currently lack and his .913 OPS against left-handed pitchers this year is sure to help.
“We’re not done in any way, if there’s a way to make our team better, we’re going to continue to do it,” said Atkins, who added that Padres “have interesting pitching, as well.”
The trade market right now has more options in relief pitching than starters and Atkins made the point that “as it stands right now we’re a difficult rotation to upgrade.”
“A lot of the pieces that are available are not perfect, it’s not like the market of a year ago,” said Atkins.
Upton was expected to be in uniform Tuesday but had to travel to Buffalo to leave and re-enter the country.
Rodriguez, signed as an international free agent on Jan. 6, 2014, posted a 3.06 ERA in six starts at Bluefield, with 26 strikeouts in 32.1 innings of work.
The Blue Jays are believed to have the capacity to add some payroll. With Drew Storen in DFA limbo, they also have some sunk cost that can be traded away to defray incoming money.
Storen is due the remainder of his $8.375 million contract this year, but the Blue Jays are only on the hook for about $2 million of the remainder since the Washington Nationals kicked in roughly $2 million to cover the salary difference between the right-hander and outfielder Ben Revere.