Justin Upton Elects Free Agency

The Mariners announced they’ve reinstated outfielder/designated hitter Kyle Lewis from the concussion injured list. To clear an active roster spot, they attempted to option Justin Upton to Triple-A Tacoma. As a veteran with well over five years of MLB service, Upton exercised his right to refuse an optional assignment in favor of free agency. In effect, the transaction is akin to a release, as Upton heads back to the open market while Seattle frees a spot on their 40-man roster.

Lewis has missed nearly two months after suffering a concussion in late May. It was the latest in a number of health woes for the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year, who lost the bulk of last season due to a meniscus injury in his right knee. Lingering knee concerns kept Lewis from making his season debut until May 25, and he suffered the concussion within four games of returning. He’ll obviously hope for a lengthier stay now that he’s back with a Seattle club amazingly carrying a 14-game win streak into the season’s unofficial second half.

The 27-year-old worked exclusively as a designated hitter in his four MLB games, but he’s gotten a little bit of work in left field on his latest minor league rehab stint. The M’s have used carlos santana as their primary designated hitter since acquiring him from the Royals last month. Right field has primarily been the purview of Sam Haggerty. Seattle will surely be cautious with Lewis’ workload easing him back in, but that duo seems likeliest to see their playing time reduced by his presence. That’ll be even more true when Mitch Haniger makes his return from a high ankle sprain; Seattle’s High-A affiliate announced yesterday that he’d begin a rehab assignment of his own there this weekend.

As for Upton, the move brings a rather quick end to his time in the Pacific Northwest. Released by the Angels at the end of Spring Training, he latched on with the Mariners on a big league deal six weeks into the season. After some time spent working into game shape, he was recalled to the major league roster just over a month ago. That stay didn’t prove fruitful, however, as Upton stumbled to a .125/.263/.208 line with just one home run in 17 games. He didn’t have the benefit of regular playing time, but it was the continuation of below-average production that eventually ended his time in Orange County.

Upton is making $28MM this season on the final guaranteed year of his original expansion with the Halos. Los Angeles is on the hook for essentially all of that sum, with Seattle paying him only the prorated portion of the $700K league minimum for his month on the roster. Another club would owe him the same amount if they were to bring him aboard, although Upton seems likely to be limited to minor league offers after struggling with the Mariners. If he wants to continue playing, he shouldn’t have an issue finding a non-roster opportunity.


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