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Opting out could be best move for J-Up

Free agency enticing for Tigers outfielder enjoying best season of his career
MLB.com @jonmorosi

Justin Upton hasn't said whether he will exercise an opt-out clause in his contract with the Tigers at the end of this season.

But the prospect of becoming a free agent has become more enticing for two reasons: Upton is enjoying arguably the best season of his career, and his team is on pace for its worst record in more than a decade.

Justin Upton hasn't said whether he will exercise an opt-out clause in his contract with the Tigers at the end of this season.

But the prospect of becoming a free agent has become more enticing for two reasons: Upton is enjoying arguably the best season of his career, and his team is on pace for its worst record in more than a decade.

Even after Thursday's turbulent victory over the Yankees, the Tigers' .437 winning percentage is their lowest since 2003 -- when they lost a franchise-worst 119 games.

Detroit's 8-14 record in August is tied for the worst in the American League, and the Tigers' pitching staff has permitted the most runs of any team in the AL (second in the Majors) over that span. An arduous rebuild in Detroit appears increasingly likely; the opt-out would allow Upton to sign with a team offering a better opportunity to reach his first World Series.

Video: NYY@DET: Upton leaps to rob Hicks of a three-run HR

Upton, who turned 30 on Friday, will have earned roughly $95 million in his Major League career by the end of this season. So he has the financial security to forgo the guaranteed $88.5 million he's due to receive over the next four seasons -- especially given market conditions that should enable him to make as much (or more) on the open market.

The Giants, Angels, Cardinals and Nationals are among the teams expected to pursue power-hitting corner bats this offseason -- either Giancarlo Stanton via trade, or free-agent options such as J.D. Martinez and Upton.

The contract Yoenis Cespedes signed as a free agent last offseason -- when fewer big-spending clubs were in the market for slugging outfielders -- is an encouraging sign: Cespedes was entering his age-31 season, with slightly inferior offensive numbers to Upton over the preceding four seasons; he still signed a four-year, $110 million deal with the Mets.

Cespedes' experience in center field was factored into his value -- he started 61 games there in 2016 -- but he has yet to play the position since signing his latest contract with the Mets.

Both Martinez (145) and Upton (124) have a higher OPS+ from 2014-17 than Cespedes (121) had from '13-16 -- which undoubtedly will be accentuated in their agents' conversations with general managers this offseason.

That is, as long as Upton opts out.

Jon Paul Morosi is a national columnist for MLB.com.

Detroit Tigers, Justin Upton