2015 Statistics: 150 G, 620 PA, .251/.336/.454, 26 HR, 81 RBI, 19 SB, 120 wRC+, 3.6 WAR
2016 Age: 28
It's no secret that the outfield was a bit of a letdown for the Yankees in 2015. Jacoby Ellsbury failed to stay healthy, and played terribly when he managed to get in the lineup; Brett Gardner had a horrendous second half; and Carlos Beltran was the best of the bunch despite basically not showing up until May. The Yankees could probably stand to get better in the outfield in general, so is Justin Upton the answer to solidifying the squad? Let's take a look.
Upton has been surrounded by a lot of hype ever since the Diamondbacks made him the number one overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft. Arizona was so impressed with his skills and makeup that they brought him up in 2007, and Justin made his big league debut at just 19 years old. He became a staple of their outfield over the next six seasons, until the Diamondbacks traded him, along with Chris Johnson, to the Braves for Nick Ahmed, Randall Delgado, Brandon Drury, Martin Prado and Zeke Spruill in the winter of 2013. After two years with the Braves, the Norfolk, VA native was traded to the Padres prior to last season, along with Aaron Northcraft, for Max Fried, Dustin Peterson, Mallex Smith and Jace Peterson. He put up a solid season with the Padres this past year, and now he hits free agency for the first time as a .271/.352/.473 hitter with 190 home runs, 115 stolen bases and a 121 wRC+ in 1,184 career games–all before the age of 27.
Those numbers pretty much tell the story. Upton has great power potential, and will probably put up between 25 and 30 home runs for most teams, with the possibility of more if he finds himself in a hitter-friendly stadium to play in moving forward. He also has good speed, although he's more of a pick-and-choose base stealer who will nab around 20 bases or so in a given year, rather than an everyday threat. He's a three-time All-Star, has always stayed healthy, and he's been worth 10.6 wins above replacement over the past three years. Also, despite signing an extension early on in his career, he's still a relatively young free agent at 28. A lot of guys are already 30 or over when free agency rolls around, especially if they've signed extensions early, so this isn't a very common case. Because of his youth, there's a chance he's still getting better, as he is now at the age when most athletes hit their primes.
Like any other player, Upton comes with some weaknesses to his game as well. First of all, he strikes out a ton. Over his career, he's struck out in 24% of his plate appearances, while only seven qualified players have struck out more often in the last three seasons (25.8%). Secondly, he's an average defender at best, depending on what metrics you're using. His range helps him get to a lot of balls that many corner outfielders don't get to, but he makes a lot of misplays, and does not have a great history of throwing base runners out, or even keeping them from advancing to extra bases. He's not a horrendous outfielder by any stretch right now, but his defense will continue to decline as he ages, so teams will really be signing him for his bat, not his glove.
Because of his talent, age and makeup, Upton should be receiving a lot of attention from a lot of teams this offseason, but should the Yankees be one of them? With all the talk that the Yankees are "strapped for cash" this offseason, and only looking to make personnel changes through trades, the answer to the "should" question shouldn't matter, but I'll answer it anyway. As nice as it would be to have a guy like Upton in the lineup and on the field, I don't think Upton is the guy I would want the Yankees spending the money on. At this point, if they're going to go down that road and spend big money on an outfielder, I'd rather they spend it on Jason Heyward, who is younger, much better defensively, and I think profiles as a better overall hitter. Either way, they'd have to get rid of an outfielder to make room, which might be easier said than done at this point.
Despite all he brings to the table, I think the Yankees should pass on Upton. He's a great player, but I don't think it's meant to be.