GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Like the majority of major league players, Melvin Upton Jr. has taken issue with the frozen free agent market this offseason.
Owners and front offices across the majors have been reluctant to offer lengthy, lucrative contracts to big-name players, with former Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, All-Star Mike Moustakas and J.D. Martinez, who hit 45 home runs last year, all still unsigned.
All-Star Eric Hosmer recently left the list, signing an eight-year deal with the Padres for a reported $144 million.
“I think it’s rather ridiculous, personally,” said Upton, a veteran outfielder who is in camp with the Indians on a minor league contract worth $1.5 million should he make the major league roster. “I got to catch the last wave of big free agency (in 2013) and I was part of seeing it kind of heading in the direction it’s heading now and it’s unfortunate to see. Obviously, being where I’m at in my career, I’m more concerned about the guys behind us. I want them to be treated fairly.
“I feel like some guys definitely sitting out on the market right now have put themselves in a position where they shouldn’t have to deal with this. It’s definitely unfortunate that they’re dealing with it, but I think us as a players union, we’ll figure it out, we’ll get to the bottom of it, but we’ve got to find a way to manage it for these next four years and when it’s time to renegotiate, there’s going to be some things we need to discuss.”
Right now, though, the 33-year-old Upton has his own career to worry about. He missed the entire 2017 season after suffering what he called a fluke hand injury in extended spring training, and now he’s fighting for his big league life in an attempt to win a spot in a crowded Cleveland outfield.
“Man, I am not worried about that at all,” he said. “If I go out and play and do what I know what I can do, the rest will take care of itself. Minor league deal, major league deal, fourth outfielder, whatever it is, I’m here to play baseball.
“Man, I haven’t lost anything. I can play this game as long as I want, that’s the way I feel. I got the body to do it, still got the skill set to do it. It’s just a matter of going out there and performing.”
Upton spent the first eight years of his career in Tampa Bay, where he was known as B.J., before landing the big free agent deal with Atlanta. He failed with the Braves over two seasons and was traded to San Diego in 2015.
Upton hit .238 with 20 homers and 61 RBIs in 149 games two seasons ago for the Padres and Blue Jays, who released him at the end of the year. His best years came in Tampa Bay when he hit .300 with 24 homers and a career-high 82 RBIs in 2007 and .246 with a career-high 28 homers and 78 RBIs in 2012.
“I told you guys it wouldn’t surprise me if he came in and really showed well (this spring),” manager Terry Francona said. “I just think he’s in a good place and I think he wants to go out and kind of prove that he can help the team win.”
Rajai Davis wouldn’t say he missed playing with the Indians last year, but it was pretty clear.
“It was definitely a difference,” said Davis, who signed a minor league contract Saturday to return to Cleveland after spending last season in Oakland and Boston. “There’s obviously a lot of familiar faces from when I left. Not much has changed with player personnel. They’re familiar with me, I’m familiar with them. It’s just the right fit.
“Obviously, this team’s good because they have the leadership and they have the right people running the show. Obviously, they’ve got a lot of talent.”
During a cold free agent period, Davis said conversations with the Indians went on for much of the offseason.
“It was a challenge, but I knew I was going to go somewhere,” said Davis, who hit .235 with five homers, 20 RBIs and 29 stolen bases in 117 games last season. “I’m just glad it was here.
“I just want to be able to deliver now. I want to be able to help us win a World Series. That’s my goal, that’s my mission. I’m going to do everything within my ability to do that.”
Davis did his best to deliver the Indians a coveted world championship when he hit a game-tying, two-run homer in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series — a feat that has made him a cult hero in Cleveland.
Davis said he has the bat from that memorable moment hanging “nicely” in his office. He was asked if the Hall of Fame wanted the keepsake.
“I’m sure they did. Unfortunately, they didn’t get it,” Davis joked. “They got some other stuff.”
Francona was asked what he thought of Major League Baseball’s decision to shorten spring training. The Indians will play their first exhibition game Friday, just four days after their first full-squad workout today.
“I’m not a fan of this,” he said. “I know some people think spring training is too long, but we’ve got a game on Friday. The league’s trying to really crack down on making sure you have enough regular players in (exhibition) games and I’m having a hard time because I don’t know if I really want our guys in there yet.
“I mean, four days is not very long. We’re going to have guys that are competing for jobs that haven’t even done all our fundamentals yet. So it’s a little quick. You might see guys playing three innings for a few days.”
Francona confirmed the plan is for Jason Kipnis to return to second base and for Jose Ramirez to shift back to third.
“We had a real good meeting with (Kipnis), the same thing with Josee. I told Josee, ‘Hey, the idea is you’re probably playing third,’” Francona said. “I told Kip, I said, ‘What I don’t want to do is ask something that’s unfair. … Go out and be a second baseman. … If there’s a need, that something comes up, that something happens … we’ll sit down together and figure it out.’
“Because at first, he said, ‘Just tell me and I’ll go,’ and I’m like, ‘I’d rather not do that.’ Because of who he is and what he’s accomplished and what he can accomplish, I think it’s better if we do it together. He’s a second baseman and if something ever changes, it won’t be a secret, but the idea is for him to play second.”
MLB Network released it’s list of the majors’ Top 100 players, with the Indians grabbing six spots -- Corey Kluber (12th), Francisco Lindor (17th), Jose Ramirez (22nd), Edwin Encarnacion (41st), Andrew Miller (42nd) and Carlos Carrasco (50th). The top five spots went to the Angels’ Mike Trout, Houston’s Jose Altuve, Washington’s Bryce Harper, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto and the Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton.