Justin Upton designated for assignment

MESA, Ariz. — The Los Angeles Angels’ decision to designate veteran Justin Upton for assignment Saturday was not so much a commentary on Upton, as it was a belief in the talent and readiness of young outfielders Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh.

Angels general manager Perry Minasian, who talked to reporters before Los Angeles’ 5-4 loss to the Cubs, said Adell, 22, and Marsh, 24, have played their way onto the regular-season roster with their performance in Cactus League games.

“It was more about [them] and what they’ve done this spring,” Minasian said. “Jo, I think anybody that’s seen him play this spring [would think he’s] been pretty impressive on both sides of the ball. And obviously Brandon, too, especially the last couple of days swinging the bat — left-handed bat. Defensively, the athleticism they both bring and, on the bases, they both give us a different dynamic that we haven’t had in the past. So we felt like there they were really good fits.”

Still, Minasian acknowledged having a “very difficult” conversation with Upton, who signed a five-year deal with the Angels after the 2017 season and was a popular veteran presence in the clubhouse.

“The better you get as a club, the more depth you have as a club,” Minasian said. “This was a really, really difficult decision we spent a lot of time on, thought about and talked about. We just felt like Jo and Brandon are both ready to go.”

The Angels now have seven days to either trade the 34-year-old outfielder or place him on irrevocable outright waivers. Upton has one year and $28 million remaining on his five-year, $106 million contract, and Los Angeles will be on the hook for that money if no team trades for him or claims him off waivers.

The Angels made a similar move last season when they designated Albert Pujols for assignment. Pujols, who was in the final season of a 10-year, $240 million deal, went unclaimed and was released before signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Asked about the possibility of being responsible for the rest of Upton’s contract, Minasian said, “We’re trying to win games. We’re trying to put the best team on the field that is going to win us the most games.”

Los Angeles manager Joe Maddon said Upton had a great camp and was in the best shape he’s been in over the last several years, but Adell and Marsh were “ripe.”

“You’ve got young guys on the horizon,” Maddon said. “That’s just the natural order of things. That’s how this works.”

Minasian said the decision to keep Adell and Marsh rather than Upton was about “fit.” Adell and Marsh can play multiple positions in the outfield — Marsh can handle all three — and both are considered better defenders than Upton at this point in his career. Their versatility gives the Angels essentially a four-man outfield, along with Mike Trout and 28-year-old Taylor Ward.

Minasian declined to say how the playing time would be split among the three corner outfielders. Maddon said his goal is to get Adell, Marsh and Ward all 450 to 500 at-bats.

“For a three-man outfield, you need four guys,” Minasian said. “We feel good about the outfield defense with that group.”

Upton was 5-for-15 with three homers in Cactus League games, but he hit .211 with a .705 OPS last season and was on the injured list twice with back problems. Adell is hitting .273 this spring with three homers, Marsh is hitting .303 with two homers and three stolen bases. Ward, who’s hitting .296, also has two homers.

Selected first overall by Arizona in the 2005 MLB Draft, Upton played for the D-backs, Braves, Padres and Tigers before the Angels acquired him from Detroit in a ’17 trade. Upton signed a five-year deal with the Angels after the ’17 season.

In 15 big league seasons, Upton has hit .262 with 324 homers, 1,000 RBIs and an .814 OPS, including 75 homers and a .764 OPS over 366 games with the Angels.

“I hope he catches on if that’s what he decides to do,” Maddon said.

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