It could be argued that, when Atlanta sent Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. to San Diego last April, it was neither Matt Wisler nor Jordan Paroubeck nor the draft choice they received from the Padres which represented the greatest benefit of the deal for the Braves, but rather the relief from Upton Jr.’s salary. At the time, Atlanta owed more than $45 million to Upton Jr. through the 2017 season. Getting out from under the contract made sense for a club that appeared unlikely to contend anytime soon. Upton Jr., who possessed negative trade value, was nevertheless traded.
Quite a bit has changed in the meantime, it seems. Since arriving in San Diego, Upton Jr.’s on-field performance has improved as the total remaining cost of his contract has decreased. Once a liability, Upton Jr. became a hypothetically tradeable asset — one who was actually traded today, to the Blue Jays, for right-handed prospect Hansel Rodriguez.
There is, of course, some cost to the Padres, who will pay $17 million of the $22 million still owed to Upton Jr. through next season, per Jon Heyman. But that’s not entirely surprising: the trade market currently features a great number of outfielders, something that was true last summer and carried over into the free-agent market last winter. The cost to acquire outfielders simply isn’t very high, and Toronto is benefiting from that glut.