Detroit — Justin Upton hasn’t been in a Tigers’ uniform since he was traded to the Angels on Aug. 31 of last season.
But before the game Tuesday, in the Angels dugout, he was presented the 2017 Tiger of the Year Award by the Detroit Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
“They are going to tell me to turn the page,” Upton said with a laugh when asked what his teammates will think of the honor.
Upton hit .279 with 28 home runs and 94 RBIs in 125 games with the Tigers last season. Nothing that happened in a dreadful September changed the fact that he was the team’s top player last year.
“I enjoyed my time here,” Upton said. “I enjoyed the city. We didn’t accomplish what we set out to, but I made a lot of great relationships and played in a lot of fun baseball games. That’s all you can ask for.”
He also discovered just how mentally strong he was during his 278-game run in Detroit. He signed a six-year, $132.75 million contract with the Tigers before the 2016 season and then for the first half of the season struggled mightily.
At the All-Star break he was hitting .235 with 112 strikeouts and nine home runs. He finished the year with 31 homers and 87 RBIs. An incredible turnaround.
“The second half of that season, after the struggles I had, meant a lot to me,” Upton said. “You never want to come into a situation where you are supposed to help a team and you don’t. But, I am glad I could show and be the player I set out to be when I signed that contract.”
Upton negotiated an opt-out in that contract after three years and he was straight-forward with general manager Al Avila, notifying him that given the Tigers had decided to rebuild, he would have exercised the opt-out.
That gave the Tigers a chance to get something for him — pitchers Grayson Long and Elvin Rodriguez. It worked out for Upton, too. He’s on a contending team, hitting in a lineup that features Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, and he parlayed his opt-out into another five-year deal worth $106 million.
“I loved coming to this ballpark,” said Upton, who is hitting .251 with 11 home runs. “We knew we’d have a good crowd and there’d be a lot of energy in the park. As a player, you love to have that.”