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The Alberto Callaspo Trade: Angels Perspective

The Angels entered play yesterday with a .262 wOBA from their third baseman, the worst mark in the major leagues, largely thanks to the terrible play of Brandon Wood. In order to rectify the situation, which they have previously attempted to patch with the utility men Kevin Frandsen and Maicer Izturis, the Angels have acquired Kansas City Royals third baseman Alberto Callaspo in exchange for starters Sean O’Sullivan and Will Smith.

Callaspo’s offensive game has taken a major step down from last season, as the walks are down and his BABIP has dropped from .312 to .278. ZiPS projects a slightly above average .329 wOBA going forward. At this point, Callaspo’s only real hitting skill is his ability to make contact, as his 8.6% career strikeout rate is well below the league average, which is enough to make Callaspo an above average hitter at a premium position.

The question is if his glove can play there. Callaspo has recorded a meager 99 games started at 3B and about 900 innings, making his +5 UZR essentially meaningless. The Fans Scouting Report had Callaspo as one of the league’s worst fielding second basemen last season, for reasons which likely prompted this move to third base. One of the reason’s Callaspo was rated so poorly were his “Hands/Catching,” which along with mediocre “Reactions/Instincts” doesn’t exactly project well at the hot corner. It’s certainly possible that, for some reason, Callaspo is simply much better at third, but I’m not buying it until I see a significant sample, and the underlying opinion of Callaspo’s defense around the league seems to be that it’s poor.

That said, if “poor” means something like -5 runs per 150 games, that still makes Callaspo a decently valuable, roughly league average player. A 2.0 WAR player like that would be a blistering 6.9 wins above Brandon Wood’s terrifically abysmal -1.5 WAR in 185 PAs this season, so this should be a significant pickup for Los Angeles. If Callaspo’s defense isn’t what they hoped for – in the -10 to -15 zone, then Callaspo turns from a legitimate starter into more of a role player in the grand scheme, but short term he still represents an improvement. If his defense turns out to be better than average or even great for some reason – just some sort of deep, inner zen with third base, or something like that – then Callaspo could be a key, 3.0 WAR+ player, but I wouldn’t wager any sort of significant sum on that kind of outcome.

Callaspo’s contract status is favorable, as he will enter his first season of arbitration in 2011. The raises that he looks to get in arbitration may not have been the best way for the Royals to use their limited funds in the upcoming seasons, but it’s a small price for the large-market Angels, and Callaspo certainly hasn’t put up the kinds of seasons worthy of a huge arbitration reward, nor does his skillset suggest that he will be overvalued by the system.

The pitcher leaving Los Angeles, O’Sullivan (21) and Smith (20), are both young starters with slight promise, but they aren’t system toppers by any means. There is a good chance that each of them turns out to be organizational depth, which certainly isn’t worthless, but given the chance to improve the big league club at a position of extreme need, it’s not a steep price to pay. Callaspo should fit right in with the Angels, and although this certainly doesn’t make them a contender with Texas in the AL West yet, this move improves the club for this year and ostensibly the next three as well.