CLEVELAND -- The Indians are in need of a right-handed bat to complement their outfield and have found one possibility via a reclamation project.On Friday morning, sources confirmed to MLB.com that Cleveland agreed to a Minor League contract with veteran outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., who will receive an invitation to
CLEVELAND -- The Indians are in need of a right-handed bat to complement their outfield and have found one possibility via a reclamation project.
On Friday morning, sources confirmed to MLB.com that Cleveland agreed to a Minor League contract with veteran outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., who will receive an invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league club. MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reported that Upton will receive a base salary of $1.5 million with incentive bonuses available based on plate appearances.
The Indians have not confirmed the deal.
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The move is reminiscent of a year ago, when the Indians signed outfielder Austin Jackson to a Minor League pact after his injury-shorted 2016 campaign. Jackson earned a spot on the Tribe's Opening Day roster and then became an important part of a Cleveland outfield that collectively fought health issues last season. Jackson hit .318 (.869 OPS) in 85 games overall, but was especially effective against left-handed pitching (1.013 OPS).
Coming off his solid showing, which did include a few minor injury setbacks along the way, Jackson is a free agent this offseason. The Indians met with him during the Winter Meetings earlier this week and have expressed interest in keeping him in the fold. If that reunion does not come to fruition, Upton presents an alternative.
Last season, thumb and shoulder injuries limited the 33-year-old Upton to 12 games with Triple-A Sacramento for the Giants, who released the outfielder on Aug. 21.
Upton's last full campaign was in 2016, when he turned in a .238/.291/.402 slash line with 20 home runs, 15 doubles, three triples, 61 RBIs, 64 runs and 27 stolen bases in 149 games between the Padres and Blue Jays. He posted an 86 OPS+, indicating that he was 14 percent below league average as a hitter. Upton has mostly been a center fielder in his career, but spent the bulk of the 2016 season in left.
Upton's ability to play multiple outfield spots and hit left-handed pitching fits a need for the Indians. He hit .275 (.874 OPS) against lefties, compared to .226 (.634 OPS) against right-handers in 2016, and has hit left-handers (.760 OPS) better than righties (.708 OPS) over the course of his 12-year career in the Majors. That could be useful for a Cleveland outfield that currently features multiple left-handed hitters.
As things currently stand, the Indians have Michael Brantley or Jason Kipnis as options for left field, Bradley Zimmer in center and Lonnie Chisenhall in right. They all hit from the left side. Outfielder Brandon Guyer bats right-handed and specializes in facing lefties, but he is recovering from left wrist surgery and his status for Opening Day is unclear. Those factors combined make Upton an interesting, low-risk addition to the spring mix.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.