As far as minor offseason signings go, the Jordan Luplow one was pretty exciting for some of us: as a mix-and-match role player that had previously shown the ability to be highly productive in specific situations, bringing Luplow on board suggested a creative attempt to solve the team’s challenges in left field.
However, nothing really went according to plan: Luplow suffered an oblique injury in Spring Training, was roster crunched away from Atlanta, and ended up getting just 90 major league PAs across two other teams over the course of the year.
The Braves signed Luplow to a one-year deal worth $1.4 million on December 19, 2022. Luplow had previously been designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks before the signing, despite being team-controlled and arbitration-eligible.
What were the expectations?
Expectations for Luplow probably varied based on what you chose to focus on. Luplow’s production had been modest, never exceeding 0.5 fWAR in any season aside from his 2019 breakout, where he had 2.5 fWAR in just 261 PAs, so for some, there was little to expect but a mediocre bench fill-in. On the flip side, Luplow came in with a career 126 wRC+ against lefties, which suggested he could provide solid production if limited to a strict platoon role, something akin to 1 WAR in 150-200 PAs.
Given that the Braves retained Eddie Rosario for the 2023 season, it seemed possible that Luplow was going to be a platoon partner. Rosario did end up in a platoon for much of the year... but Luplow had nothing to do with it.
Things for Luplow in Atlanta went south in a hurry... in fact, while he and the Braves were down south, and before they got to Atlanta. During Spring Training, Luplow suffered an oblique injury, and essentially fell behind his competition for a platoon/bench role. Luplow’s possession of a minor league option may have been a reason the Braves targeted him, and they optioned him to minor league camp on March 20, before the completion of the Grapefruit League slate.
Luplow played three games at Triple-A Gwinnett before the Braves needed to do a bit of a roster shuffle and add Dylan Dodd to the roster to start the team’s fourth game of the season; Luplow ended up getting DFAed and was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays. But, his whirlwind season wasn’t done yet. He started in the Jays’ minor league system, but then was called up and appeared in four games. He was then optioned back, then DFAed and outrighted, choosing to stay in the organization, put on the minor league Injured List, eventually activated and brought back to Toronto for three games, and then DFAed again and claimed by the Twins on waivers. The Twins also ended up sending him to the minors for a brief spell, but largely kept him up, as 73 of his 90 PAs on the year came as a Twin.
Overall, Luplow finished with 0.3 fWAR on the year, with an 83 wRC+ and slightly positive defensive value, across 90 PAs.
What went right?
Luplow got some playing time down the stretch for a contender, and was in demand enough to spend time in three playoff-bound organizations despite getting roster crunched away from two of them.
What went wrong?
Getting just 90 major league PAs probably wasn’t what Luplow was hoping for. That wasn’t the only thing, though. He got over 200 PAs in the minors for the Blue Jays, and managed just a 94 wRC+, which is not particularly heartening for his future outlook. Perhaps more concerning is that for the third straight season, he completely failed to make a dent against lefties, which was his main calling card. He now has three straight sub-.290 xwOBA “seasons” against lefties, and when you combine that with the fact that he hasn’t hit righties at an average clip xwOBA-wise in the last two seasons as well, it’s becoming less clear as to why a team would want to roster Luplow. The Braves seemingly had a plan for him but were roster crunched out of implementing it, and then it turned out the plan may not have worked out anyway, if his 50 or so PAs against lefties over the rest of the season were any indication. Oh well.
Plans regarding using Luplow as the right-handed portion of an outfield platoon look more suspect this offseason than they did this time last year. Luplow seems primed to do next year what he did last year: hang out on the roster fringe, get a few PAs, accumulate a few decimal points of WAR in some manner (maybe even by hitting lefties again), but he’s now over 600 PAs away from his 2019 breakout, has a .302 wOBA/.296 xwOBA in that span, and a near-identical and not useful .309 wOBA/.289 xwOBA against lefties in his last 337 PAs against them. He’ll latch on somewhere for his age-30 season, but he may not even get a guaranteed, above-league minimum salary at this point, and is running out of time to get those types of looks again unless he can find some success in the immediate future.