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Don’t Sleep on the Angels

The Los Angeles Angels have already made one big move this week, acquiring Chris Iannetta from the Rockies to hopefully solve their offensive woes at catcher. Now, they have been tied to free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez. A Ramirez signing would give them a glut of infielders with him, Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo and a healthy Kendrys Morales all established as MLB players. With Kendrick establishing himself as a premiere second baseman, the odd man out would probably be Callaspo. Let’s take a quick look to see if swapping out Callaspo could help turn the Angels into a legitimate post-season contender.

Last season, the Angels missed the Wild Card by five games and finished ten games behind the AL West champion Texas Rangers. They had the sixth-best run differential in the AL at +34, and as usual outperformed their Pythagorean record, although only by one win. The Rangers and three AL East beasts are expected to be strong again next year, but it is possible to see the Angels making up the five-plus wins they need for a playoff spot.

While the Angels are loaded at the top of the rotation, they don’t have the most depth, and in 2011 only found 2.7 WAR after Dan Haren, Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana. Now 1.9 of that WAR is no longer on the roster with Joel Pineiro departing as a free agent and Tyler Chatwood used as trade bait in the acquisition of Iannetta.

Ramirez and Callaspo were both worth 3.6 WAR last season, so if you want to call that a wash, the Angels could easily improve the number four spot in their rotation by flipping Callaspo for a 2-3 WAR starter. Even if you view Callaspo as more of a 2.5 WAR player, he probably has more than $10 million worth of excess value in his contract over the next two seasons before he becomes a free agent. His name doesn’t jump out for most baseball fans, but his contract is valuable enough that he could bring back a solid pitcher.

When combining this with the 3-4 WAR they have gained by upgrading to Iannetta from their 2011 trio of catchers, who combined for -0.8 WAR, it’s possible to see the Angels pushing their way into 90-win territory. This is before even considering a full season from an improving Mike Trout, or the possibility of Vernon Wells being less than horrendous.

At the end of the day, it comes down to money. Callaspo will probably earn $4-5 million in his second arbitration eligible season, while FanGraphs Crowdsourcing pegged Ramirez for a three year, $36 million deal. The Angels already have $103 million committed to their 2012 squad before inking their arbitration eligible players, which include Kendrick, Aybar and Morales. However, Angels owner Arte Moreno has shown that he is not afraid to spend money when he thinks it is going to help the team, forking out tens of millions for guys like Gary Matthews, Scott Kazmir and Wells.

While this scenario is a long shot, and the Rangers, Rays, Yankees and Red Sox are still the class of the AL, the Angels have never been a team to stand idly by and re-build. Don’t be surprised to see another grizzled veteran like Ramirez on the field for the Angels next season, and maybe even playing October baseball.