Angels first baseman C.J. Cron has come up as a possible trade candidate in the wake of the team’s agreement with free agent Luis Valbuena on Thursday, but the Halos’ decision to add another corner infielder has more to do with Albert Pujols’ uncertain status, according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. Pujols could miss the beginning of next season as a result of December foot surgery. In the meantime, the Angels will play the lefty-swinging Valbuena against right-handed pitching and deploy him at Pujols’ positions – designated hitter and first base – as well as third base, writes Rosenthal. When Pujols returns, the club could take advantage of the fact that Cron and Jefrey Marte have minor league options remaining and send either to Triple-A Salt Lake City, Rosenthal notes. Looking ahead a year, third baseman Yunel Escobar could depart in free agency next winter. That would enable Valbuena to take over at the hot corner on a full-time basis in 2018.
The Angels have struck a deal with free-agent infielder Luis Valbuena, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). It’s believed to be for two years with an option attached, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (Twitter link). The connection between Valbuena and the Halos was first reported by Venezuelan journalist Efrain Zavarce (via Twitter).
Valbuena, 31, will join an infield and DH grouping that now features multiple options. Los Angeles had previously dealt for second baseman Danny Espinosa, who’ll join Andrelton Simmons in the middle-infield mix, and already employs Yunel Escobar at third. Cliff Pennington remains available as a utility option. Meanwhile, Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron had figured to handle first base and DH, though the former will be working back from foot surgery to start the year.
While it’s a bit of an odd match at first glance, it’s easier to see the rationale when you look more closely. All of the players just listed hit from the right side, excepting Espinosa and Pennington, both of whom are switch hitters. Though Pennington has performed better against right-handed pitching historically, the opposite is true of Espinosa.
Even if Pennington offers one option to slot in the lineup against tough righties, he’s a light-hitting, part-time player. Certainly, Valbuena might be expected to do quite a bit more damage. It’s particularly interesting to note the situation with Pujols, who may not be available by Opening Day and could be a greater concern given his age and prior history of foot difficulties. At the very least, this signing represents an insurance policy there.
Plus, while Valbuena has spent most of his time at third, he’s also capable of playing second base, having logged 209 games there over his nine seasons in the majors. It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that both Espinosa and Escobar are slated to hit free agency after the 2017 season, so Valbuena will not only deepen the roster in 2017 but will also provide a ready replacement — presumably, at the hot corner. It’s also possible that the club could deal Cron, as Jon Heyman of Fan Rag notes on Twitter, though it’s far from clear just how much demand there would be for his services.
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Los Angeles will undoubtedly be adding a talented hitter in Valbuena, who posted an excellent .260/.357/.459 batting line in his first 342 plate appearances of 2016 before going down to a season-ending hamstring injury. That was his third-straight season of above-average offensive production. There are some limitations, too. Valbuena has also fared much better when hitting with the platoon advantage. And though he used to grade quite well with the glove at the hot corner, he has slipped to average or slightly below-average metrics in recent years.
Despite his solid platform, the injury no doubt harmed Valbuena’s earning power. Of greater importance, perhaps, was the lack of clear demand around the league. Teams such as the Giants and Braves could have pursued upgrades, but neither has to this point. That same general market situation has kept Todd Frazier with the White Sox, despite the fact that he’s an obvious trade candidate as he enters his final year of control on a rebuilding team. Plus, the abundant stock of less defensively flexible sluggers has likely reduced the demand for Valbuena purely for his bat.
Taking the opportunity to add Valbuena does make sense for the Halos, as explained above. But the team still seems to have some needs that remain unaddressed. The catching situation is far from optimal, the bullpen could stand to add an arm or two, and the rotation depth could certainly stand to be bolstered. Certainly, there’s still time left for more moves, though springing for Valbuena will take some of the available resources, particularly assuming that the organization continues to fly beneath the luxury tax threshold.
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Both Graterol and Parker have now changed hands multiple times over the winter. The former, a 27-year-old receiver who reached the majors for the first time in 2016, will return to the Angels — who lost him earlier in the offseason. Ironically, he lost his 40-man spot in Arizona to former Halos backstop Chris Iannetta.
Parker has seen even more movement, bouncing from the Yankees to the Angels to the Brewers and then back to Los Angeles. Clearly, the Halos will hope that he can be outrighted successfully, though there is obviously ongoing interest from other organizations as well.
The Angels have agreed to a three-year contract extension with right fielder Kole Calhoun, per a club announcement, covering the 2017 through 2019 seasons. Importantly, the deal includes an option for 2020, which means that the team will pick up an added season of control while buying out all of Calhoun’s remaining arbitration eligibility.
Calhoun will be guaranteed $26MM in the agreement, while the option is valued at $14MM, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (via Twitter). He will be paid annual salaries of $6MM in 2017, $8.5MM in 2018, and $10.5MM in 2019, per SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (via Twitter). There’s also a $1MM buyout on the option year.
The deal represents a bit of a surprise given its structure. The sides had already agreed upon a $6.35MM arbitration salary for the coming season after Calhoun earned $3.4MM in 2016 as a Super Two. While arb-only agreements do occur from time to time, it’s not often that a mid-arbitration, high-quality regular gives up the rights to a free-agent eligible season just to lock in two more seasons of guarantees over arb-eligible years.
While it’s important to note that Calhoun’s future free-agent earnings were limited somewhat by his age — he’d have hit the market in advance of his age-32 season — this still looks to be a rather notable bargain for the Halos. There’s relatively little risk in the deal, given Calhoun’s track record and relative youth (he just turned 29). And promising just under $20MM for his final two arb years likely represents a discount on what he’d have earned through arbitration — barring a total fall-off in play. Adding a reasonably priced free-agent season, without taking on any lengthy commitment, provides a lot of value to the organization.
Though he was never hyped as a prospect, the former eighth-round draft pick has done nothing but perform as a professional. Calhoun showed plenty of promise during his first extended stay in the majors, back in 2013, and hasn’t looked back since. In over 2,000 trips to the big league plate, he carries a .266/.328/.436 batting line with 69 home runs. With solid glovework and baserunning added into the mix, he has steadily checked in with between 3 and 4 wins above replacement annually, making him one of the Angels’ best players.
With this move, the Angels have two-thirds of their outfield under control through 2020 at very appealing rates, given the quality of the players involved. That’s also the last season of the organization’s six-year deal with star center fielder Mike Trout. For a club that is attempting to remain highly competitive while managing some significant salaries, not all of which have gone according to plan, these extensions both represent strong values.
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- The 2016 season ended prematurely for Angels right-hander Matt Shoemaker, who exited a Sept. 4 start after taking a line drive to the head and didn’t pitch again. The damage from that liner, which came off Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager’s bat at 105 mph, forced Shoemaker to undergo surgery to repair a small skull fracture and stop the bleeding on his brain. Fortunately, Shoemaker hasn’t felt any ill effects this offseason, he told Jason Beck of MLB.com. “The nice thing is mentally, I think I’m in a good state where I don’t think about it,” Shoemaker said. “It’s like it’s just something that happened. I’m thankful the recovery has been great, able to be back and ready to go.” To help guard against another potentially disastrous injury in the future, Shoemaker is considering wearing protective headgear in 2017. “I know a lot of stuff is being developed. For me, everybody cares about how they look a little bit, but I don’t really care how the look is as much as the feel and the comfort,” he stated. “Like, when I’m pitching, I don’t want to think about it. So if that can be achieved with something, if something works, I’m willing to try it.”
JAN. 13: The Angels have avoided arb with right fielder Kole Calhoun and right-handers Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, reports Heyman (all Twitter links). Calhoun will earn a $6.35MM salary in his second trip through arbitration as a Super Two player, while Richards will earn $6.85MM and Shoemaker will receive $3.325MM.
That’s a slight bump over the $5.3MM that MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz projected. Though Espinosa, 29, turned in a below-average overall offensive season last year, slashing .209/.306/.378, he did pop 24 home runs over his 601 plate appearances. That helped to drive a solid raise over Espinosa’s $2.875MM salary from 2016.
As he entered his final season of arb eligibility, Espinosa was dealt to the Halos from the Nationals — the only organization for which he has previously played. While it’s a fairly hefty salary for a player with his strikeout tallies, Espinosa is also regarded as a top-quality defender. That doesn’t pay in the arbitration process, but helps justify his earnings for the season to come.
The Angels announced that first baseman Ji-Man Choi has rejected an outright assignment in favor free agency. The 25-year-old was designated for assignment back in late December when the Halos signed Ben Revere to a one-year deal.
Choi, who will turn 26 in May, was a Rule 5 pick out of the Orioles organization in 2015 (although he’d signed a minors deal in Baltimore just prior to being selected). The Angels designated him for assignment last May and retained him by outrighting him to Triple-A. Choi eventually made his way back to the big league roster but struggled in his first exposure to Major League pitching, hitting just .170/.271/.339 with five homers in 129 plate appearances.
While those numbers are unsightly, Choi did walk at a solid 12.4 percent clip in the Majors against a not-unreasonable 20.9 percent strikeout rate and a solid .170 isolated power mark. He also comes with a nice track record in Triple-A, where he’s slashed .304/.399/.446 with 13 homers in 627 plate appearances. Certainly, he’s not entering any sort of favorable market for first basemen and corner outfielders (he does have 349 minor league innings in left field as well), but his respectable minor league track record and somewhat encouraging K/BB numbers in the Majors should allow him to latch on elsewhere as a depth option.
The Angels have at least had internal discussions regarding the possibility of pursuing free-agent catcher Matt Wieters, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag. Whether the team will emerge as a serious bidder remains to be seen, however.
As things stand, the Halos would open the year with Martin Maldonado and Carlos Perez atop their catching depth chart. Maldonado was acquired in a swap earlier this winter that sent fellow backstop Jett Bandy to the Brewers. Both of those players have historically served in part-time roles; neither has reached 300 plate appearances or ended a single campaign with league-average offensive production.
Wieters, meanwhile, has seen much heavier usage over his career with the Orioles. And as a switch hitter who traditionally fares much better against right-handed pitching, he’d pair rather easily with either of the existing players. Though he missed significant time in 2014 and 2015, and ultimately required Tommy John surgery, he was able to return to post a full 2016 campaign in which he logged 117 games behind the plate.
Of course, it’s not clear whether Wieters is still quite the player that he once was. He has turned in several quality offensive seasons, but hit just .243/.302/.409 last year — though he did contribute a healthy tally of 17 home runs. And while Wieters has long been considered a sturdy defender, he doesn’t rate well at framing pitches.
It is certainly interesting to hear of the Angels’ interest. There hasn’t been much chatter surrounding Wieters, who has watched as several potential suitors pursued other routes to fill their needs behind the dish. But there are a few possible landing spots elsewhere; the Diamondbacks have some interest, as might the Nationals in the right circumstances.
- The Angels have re-signed lefty reliever Cody Ege to a minor league deal. They had previously non-tendered him even though he had far less than three years of service time and was very effective in 8 2/3 innings for them last season, although he struggled in three innings with the Marlins and posted a modest 4.50 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and 5.5 BB/9 in 44 innings at Triple-A.