The Angels have had “extensive” internal discussions about the possibility of acquiring Ian Kinsler from the Tigers, reports Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. While Fenech notes that it’s not yet clear if the two sides have opened negotiations this offseason, he adds that the Halos’ interest in Kinsler dates back to late last season.
While Kinsler is certainly a logical target for any club in need of a second baseman, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register casts some doubt onto how seriously they’ll actually pursue a trade for the 35-year-old (Twitter link). Fletcher points out that Kinsler is probably a genuine consideration, it’s unlikely that he sits atop the Halos’ list of targets due to the fact that he’s a right-handed bat and would only represent a one-year solution.
Two players that also appear to be on the Angels’ list of targets are free agents Neil Walker and Zack Cozart, per ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link). As Crasnick notes, though, it’s not clear if Cozart would be willing to move off of second base. He’s also a right-handed bat, though perhaps the Angels would live with that in order to have a defensively gifted middle-infield duo of Andrelton Simmons and Cozart for the foreseeable future.
Kinsler had a down year at the plate in 2017, hitting .236/.313/.412 in 613 plate appearances. Though his average, OBP and slugging marks all fell off considerably from a superlative 2016 season (.288/.348/.484), Kinsler still connected on 22 homers this past season and exhibited other encouraging signs.
For starters, the nine percent walk rate Kinsler logged in 2017 was his highest since the 2011 season, and his 14 percent strikeout rate was not only an improvement over the ’16 campaign but also tied for the 27th-lowest mark among qualified big league hitters. Kinsler’s 37 percent hard-contact rate was the highest mark of his career as well, but despite the uptick in hard-hit balls his BABIP plummeted to .244. Granted, some of that is attributable to a career-worst 14.4 percent infield fly rate, but the rest of his batted-ball profile suggests that Kinsler could be due for some better fortune in 2018. On the defensive side of the coin, Kinsler remains an excellent option and one of the more underrated defensive players in all of baseball, regardless of position.
Walker, 32, is the most obvious fit on the free-agent market. The switch-hitting second baseman would add the lineup balance that the Angels seem to crave, and he’s been an above-average hitter and steady defender at second base throughout his big league career. The limited number of teams aggressively pursuing second base upgrades and some recent durability issues could suppress Walker’s price point as well; we pegged him for a two-year deal worth $11MM per year on our top 50 free agent list, and while a third year is possible, it’d be a genuine surprise to Walker command anything longer than that.
Cozart is perhaps the most intriguing option of the bunch. The longtime Reds shortstop had a breakout season at the plate in his age-32 season, batting a ridiculous .297/.385/.548 with 24 homers in just 507 trips to the plate. Durability is a very real knock on Cozart, who hasn’t played more than 122 games in a season since 2014 due to a torn knee ligament (2014) and myriad hamstring and quadriceps issues across the past two seasons.
There are also skeptics when it comes to Cozart’s age-32 breakout, but even if his bat settles in at the .271/.340/.480 (115 OPS+) that he’s averaged across the past three seasons, that above-average output and Cozart’s strong glovework would make him an immensely valuable asset. As Crasnick alludes to, however, Cozart is a sterling defensive shortstop and it’s not known if he’d be willing to change positions to better position himself on the open market.
Regardless of the order of their preferences, it seems clear that the Halos are likely to add a second base upgrade this winter. The position is an easily identifiable area of need, as Angels second basemen collectively posted a ghastly .206/.274/.327 batting line in 2017, making them one of the two least-productive second base units in all of Major League Baseball. (The Rangers, weighed down by a dismal season from Rougned Odor, struggled similarly.)
In addition to the options listed by Fenech and Crasnick, the trade market contains options such as Dee Gordon and Cesar Hernandez, as well as more speculative candidates like Scooter Gennett, Jonathan Villar and Joe Panik (to name only a few).