The Angels’ Corner Conundrum

While the Angels’ signings of C.J. Wilson and LaTroy Hawkins didn’t displace anyone, Albert Pujols‘ new deal has created quite a logjam at the corner positions for his new team. And now someone is going to have to go to make it work.

There are five spots — first base, designated hitter, left field, right field and one two bench spots — for six players: Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, Kendrys Morales, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Vernon Wells. Here are the options that seem to be at hand:

Morales doesn’t make it all the way back

I think, secretly, this might be the solution the Angels are rooting for, because it would mean they don’t have to hurt anyone’s feelings. If Morales is unable to play again, the rest of the guys on the list can get a decent amount of playing time without anyone being seriously inconvenienced.

Bobby Abreu gets traded or he gets released

This is another way of saying: “Morales is healthy and needs the lion’s share of plate appearances at designated hitter.” This is the scenario that Mike DiGiovanna hinted at yesterday, and it makes sense. Abreu has one year left on his deal, and he was worth only .4 WAR last season.

With Abreu gone and Morales at DH, Trumbo would get turned into a really tall Swiss Army knife — filling in at third base and in the outfield. Now, when I first heard that Trumbo might play some third base, it struck me as a bit hinky. After all, that’s going the opposite way on the defensive spectrum, and things don’t usually work like that. But then Jeff Zimmerman (who is just the awesomest) ran a query for me. He found that — in the past five seasons — 46 players have put together 56 seasons with at least 100 innings played at both first base and third base. There were a good number of young-player seasons in there, which is encouraging.

What also is encouraging is that Ty Wigginton popped up on the list four times — and Wigginton is no one’s idea of a good defender. In fact, his cumulative -61 UZR at third base is the game’s worst since the statistic was recorded in 2002. But if there’s one rule that applies for baseball players on defense, it’s this: if Ty Wigginton can do it, anyone can do it. Trumbo would probably be fine at third base. Not great, but he could handle it.

The one caveat here — and it’s admittedly minor — is that it leaves the Angels pretty right-handed at the plate. Last season, the Angels’ 93 wRC+ against righties ranked 18th in the Majors. Now, if Morales is healthy, he’ll help remedy that situation — as will Pujols. But for all of Abreu’s faults, he was the team’s third-best hitter against righties last season, trailing only Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick.

Mike Trout gets another year on the farm

Dave mentioned this yesterday in his excellent breakdown of Pujols’ deal, and while it’s probably not optimal, it would be an easy move to spin. After all, Trout hit only .220 in the major leagues last season, and he’s has never played in Triple-A. You don’t want him sitting on the bench in the majors when he could learn more with an everyday spot in a minor-league lineup. All of these things are true facts, so the soundbytes practically record themselves. Still, that probably isn’t the best option. Trout was worth 6 DRS and 3.2 UZR in fewer than 300 innings of major-league ball, and while arguing on the behalf of small-sample defensive metrics is one of the flimsiest arguments you can make, everything in Trout’s resume supports the idea that he’ll be an outstanding defender. And while he might not play every day, if the Angels want to win a championship, they need their 13 best position players in a major-league uniform. Trout is one of those 13 guys.

But if not, we will see him again, and it will be soon. In 2013, Hunter and Abreu are gone, and Trout can join the Angels as a starter. He’s kind of gumming up the works by developing so quickly, but that’s what you call a good problem.

Hunter gets traded

Nope, not an option. He has a no-trade clause. Just thought I should clarify that.

Vernon Wells gets released

The shame of this is that Wells still has some value, as he showed last season in a part-time role. Wells can’t effectively play defense in center any longer, but he had good short-term returns playing in a corner and scored positive marks in both DRS and UZR. It’s just that, on this particular team, that skill pales in comparison with the skills that Trout or Hunter have. Similarly, Wells proved that while he’s absolutely dreadful against right-handed pitching, he still has some stick against lefties — he hit .284/.320/.531 against them. That translated to a .364 wOBA and a 131 wRC+, marks that both were second-best on the team against lefties. The only problem is that the one player who was better was Hunter, and Trout slugged .490 against lefties in limited plate appearances. On a team with a bunch of left-handed outfielders, Wells would be a positive. But on this Angels’ roster, it’s difficult to justify his roster spot.

Right now, the Angels are going to monitor Morales and see how he does. At the moment, he has started swinging a bat and running on a weightless treadmill. If that goes well, he could be on the road back to the majors. If he’s unable to play, then the decision has been made for the Angels. If he’s ready, though, then the team has to figure out this roster conundrum.

Whether the Angels make the bold move and release Wells — or they seek out a safer choice, like optioning Trout or trading or releasing Abreu — one thing is certain: It’s a happy kind of problem, and it beats the position that the Angels were in a year ago.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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Colin
Guest
Colin

Why is Hunter getting released not an option? One year left just like Abreu, obviously a big difference in fielding between the two but Abreu is a lefty.

JeffMathisCera
Member
JeffMathisCera

Why would you release Hunter when releasing Vernon Wells is an option?

Colin
Guest
Colin

Because Hunter has one year left at 18 million while Wells is owed 63 million over the next three years, that’s why.

JayT
Guest
JayT

But Hunter still has Pretty good value. There’s a decent chance that he is worth his salary next year. It’s less likely with Abreu and Wells.

Colin
Guest
Colin

Well Jay,

It’s almost no chance that Wells reaches his value based on his salary, but that isn’t the issue. These are sunk costs at this point.

Colin
Guest
Colin

I should add the other difference is about 9 million in eaten salary in favor of releasing Abreu over Hunter.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd

LAA would revolt. Hunter is a fan favorite and leader in the clubhouse. Plus he’s better than Wells.

AA
Guest
AA

Hunter is a much better player than Wells and has more tools than just a batting eye, like Abreu. Not worth cutting.

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