On the first day of the offseason, the Angels re-signed Justin Upton to a five-year, $106-million contract, extending the slugging left fielder’s agreement another year to keep him away from free agency.
Upton, 30, had the right to opt out of four years and $88.5 million left on his contract. He signed that deal two years ago with the Detroit Tigers, who began to rebuild this summer and dealt him to the Angels on Aug. 31.
The Angels sought Upton in an attempt to sneak into the American League’s second wild-card slot. He hit .245 with an .887 on-base-plus-slugging percentage over 27 games, but the club fell below .500.
After the disappointing finish, the Angels carried two plans into the off-season: one governing what they would do if Upton exercised his opt-out clause; another if he returned. The morning after the season ended, once he stressed how much he wanted to improve his team’s on-base percentage, Angels general manager Billy Eppler acknowledged that signing Upton to another deal was a secondary option.
Along with a steady track record of power production, Upton owns a career .348 on-base percentage, above the .330 mark Eppler has mandated as a minimum.
“Justin embodies our offensive philosophy,” Eppler said, “which is to get on base and hit the ball hard.”
One advantage of the new contract is the additional payroll flexibility it provides. Upton’s old deal called for him to earn $22.125 million in each of the next four years. The contract finalized Thursday is significantly backloaded. It starts at $16 million in 2018, and rises to $18 million in 2019, $21 million in 2020, $23 million in 2021, and $28 million in 2022.
“Reconfiguring the cash flow of the deal was important for us, and we articulated that throughout the process with Justin,” Eppler said. “To really capture Justin’s commitment to winning, he was on board with that.”
The Angels have held their opening-day payroll around $165 million in recent seasons. Even without Upton, they already had more than $110 million in salary commitments for 2018 between their veteran, arbitration-eligible and minimum-salaried players.
The $6 million saved on Upton for next season represents a significant increase in available money to dole out to free agents or trade acquisitions.
In the long term, Mike Trout’s six-year extension expires after 2020 and Albert Pujols’ 10-year deal expires after the 2021 season, leaving space to pay Upton in 2022 when he will be earning the most.
In signing the longest contract Eppler has ever committed, Upton become the first Angel to sign a contract extending beyond Pujols’.
Eppler noted that Upton will be only 34 for most of the 2022 season, and he praised the player’s long-standing commitment to conditioning.
Early action has become an Eppler signature. One month into his ob, Eppler swung a November 2015 trade for shortstop Andrelton Simmons. A year ago, the Angels also made the off-eason’s first move, acquiring Cameron Maybin from Detroit the day after the season ended. They ceded Maybin on waivers to Houston minutes after acquiring Upton. Maybin won a World Series with the Astros on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.
Eppler said he felt comfortable with the idea of pairing Upton wth Trout for the next five years. Waiting out the market to suss out the competition for outfielders J.D. Martinez or Jay Bruce did not carry as much appeal.
“It’s nice to cross objectives off the list,” Eppler said. “One of the things that we wanted to do was address offense. You look at championship-level offenses and they tend to have a pretty heavy punch in their order. I think that we were able to do that by keeping those two guys in the middle of the order.”
Pujols has already started his winter conditioning program, Eppler said. Pujols has been hindered by offseason surgeries in recent years. …The Angels lost third base coach Ron Roenicke to Boston, where he becomes the bench coach. It is the second consecutive season an Angels staffer has left for that job; first base coach Gary DiSarcina departed a year ago. DiSarcina was not brought back by new Boston manager Alex Cora.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura