It has become something of a routine for the Los Angeles Angels this season to see a key contributor be ruled out due to injury. For outfielder Justin Upton, this routine has been all too familiar in a rollercoaster of a season.
Upton started the year healthy, but furiously struggling to get offensive production. Then, he was moved to the leadoff spot in the lineup, and dominated. From May 23 to June 22, he slashed .326/.420/.600 as the team’s leadoff batter.
This hot streak ended when Upton was placed on IL with a minor back injury. After missing a full month, he came back and simply wasn’t the same player he was in June. He played for another month before a back injury forced him out of the lineup on September 1.
“He’s up there [in the clubhouse] working out, but I don’t anticipate him back,” Maddon said.
“His back started to hurt, and the whole thing changed,” Maddon said. “And when he came back, he wasn’t quite the same.”
Upton has one year remaining on the five year, $106 million contract he signed with the Angels. It’s unclear exactly what his role will be next season with Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh on the roster, but Maddon anticipates he’ll be around.
“I like the guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I like him in the dugout. He does have leadership qualities. And I’d like to believe that there’s more of what we saw when he was really hot. He carried for us for about a month. It’s just been a tough year physically for him.”
Sadly, it’s safe to say at this point that the Upton contract extension did not go as planned. Through four years of the deal, Upton batted over .215 with an OPS over .725 just one time, in 2018. From 2019-2021, he slashed a combined .211/.299./.414. That simply is not good enough for a player making $21.1 million per season.
The Angels could also go with the Albert Pujols route if they choose not to have him on the roster next season. The Angels paid Pujols about $30 million so that he could play the 2021 season with the L.A. Dodgers.
Upton will be one of the more interesting story lines heading into 2022, but he won’t be seen again this season.
Jaime Barria becoming part of 2022 conversation
The Angels are doing almost daily evaluations trying to figure out what the plan is for 2022. Pitching remains the biggest concern, and Jaime Barria is doing what he can to be included in next year’s game plan.
Maddon spoke about Barria’s 2021 performance, saying that he’s become a part of the conversation, but no official decisions have been made about him or any potential roles in 2022.