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December 12, 2016

Transaction Analysis

Angels Load Up On Infield D

by Matthew Trueblood, Kate Morrison and David Lee

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American League
National League

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Acquired IF-S Danny Espinosa from Washington Nationals in exchange for RHP Austin Adams and RHP Kyle McGowin. [12/10]

The most important fact about the Angels is that they have Mike Trout. General manager Billy Eppler has approached this offseason with that in mind. Far from listening to trade offers for Trout and looking to rebuild, Eppler has dedicated himself to building around Trout. It’s not the way many people would be navigating the predicament Eppler’s team is in, but it’s certainly not an indefensible choice. This kind of gambit pays off or blows up in one’s face based on execution, and given the presumed constraints Eppler faces right now, he’s executed well.

In 2016, the Angels got -2.4 WARP from their second basemen, a group comprised of Johnny Giavotella, Cliff Pennington, Gregorio Petit, and Kaleb Cowart. Meanwhile, Espinosa continued his offensive recovery in Washington. He cratered in 2013 and 2014, but he’s now been an average hitter for an up-the-middle defender two years in a row. He also got his first full season in at shortstop, and proved to be a good one.

This move thus patches a gaping hole in the right side of the Anaheim infield. It mirrors the move Eppler made when he traded for Cameron Maybin last month, with the intent of plugging him into left field. (Angels left fielders had -0.8 WARP last season. Maybin, mostly playing center field, racked up 2.4 WARP.) The process is pure genius:

  1. Find players whose teams have no room for them, either on the budget or in the lineup.
  2. Pay the discounted price attached to those players because of their clubs’ desire to move them.
  3. Slide them down the defensive spectrum, knowing that even if they’re not being put to their highest possible use that way, they can still deliver at least the value shelled out in talent and money to acquire and play them at their new(ish) positions all.

As a result, the Angels should be able to field a stronger everyday lineup in 2017 than they have since they were the best team in baseball in 2014. Here's a possible version:

  1. Yunel Escobar - 3B
  2. Mike Trout - CF
  3. Albert Pujols - 1B
  4. Kole Calhoun - RF
  5. C.J. Cron - DH
  6. Cameron Maybin - LF
  7. Danny Espinosa - 2B
  8. Andrelton Simmons - SS
  9. Carlos Perez - C

I can’t get this team into AL West favorite territory, or anything. The Rangers have broken the relationship between run differentials and wins, and the Astros are probably the most talented team in the division. I’ll save my delirious love letter to Jerry Dipoto for another time, but suffice it to say that I like what the Mariners have done, too, amassing oodles of depth everywhere to complement their star-caliber core.

On the other hand, it’s no longer impossible to imagine the Angels emerging from a pack of flawed clubs and winning that division, or at least a Wild Card spot. Starting with Trout is a huge leg up. The Angels’ poor decisions under previous management (Dipoto, under duress from above and from below, but Tony Reagins, too) have hamstrung them a bit, but Eppler has now made two fine moves to help the team move past those mistakes. They have a chance again, because having Trout can make winning pieces out of Espinosa, Maybin, and Escobar.

Hey look, a new definition of valuable! —Matthew Trueblood

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Acquired RHP Tyrell Jenkins and LHP Brady Feigl from Atlanta Braves in exchange for RHP Luke Jackson. [12/9]

Jenkins gets unfairly judged based on his minor-league peripherals. That needs to be said right away. Yes, his walk and strikeout totals have been poor as he’s moved up the system. Yes, that’s an indication of his below-average command and a lack of impact secondary pitch. No, it shouldn’t be the end-all to his major-league future.

Jenkins isn’t likely to be a successful starting pitcher in the major leagues. It’s OK to hold out hope for that annual no. 4-starter ceiling that’s placed on him, something this author did as recently as May, but it’s based on the same attributes (athleticism, flashes of quality stuff) each year while the same weaknesses (command, inconsistency) continue to pop up in starts. His fastball can be a plus pitch and holds well at 92-94 mph with sink while occasionally hitting 96, but his command limits the sink’s effectiveness when he lives up in the zone.

The same applies to his secondaries. Jenkins has a serviceable slider and changeup. The breaking pitch was developed this season to get hitters off the fastball after his long, deep-breaking curveball proved to be more of a change-of-pace to advanced bats. The slider came along well and he flashed an average one with good tilt by the end of the season, but it’s still inconsistent. His changeup flashes average but usually isn’t. He tends to go away from it.

The athletic right-hander should have a major-league future, though. His fastball can hit the mid-90s in short spurts, and the slider has enough potential to be a usable secondary in relief. Let Jenkins fly in the bullpen and see if he becomes a late-inning guy. The stuff might not get later than the seventh inning, but there’s a usable reliever here. —David Lee

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Acquired RHP Luke Jackson from Texas Rangers in exchange for RHP Tyrell Jenkins and LHP Brady Feigl. [12/9]

Jackson might be best known among non-prospect-focused Rangers fans for his incredible hair and inability to actually get into a game. Among prospect hounds, though, he’s a bit of a “what if” after never seeming quite able to get it together at the major-league level. A moderately built, high-effort right-hander, Jackson throws in the mid-90s, with the traditional changeup, slider, and curveball off-speeds.

Jackson spent most of his minor-league career as a starter, converting to relief in 2015 after struggling with consistency and efficiency when asked to begin a game. Even as a reliever he never managed to put everything together at once, struggling with fastball command and control of his off-speeds. The talent to be an effective major-league reliever is still there, and this trade to Atlanta may be the fresh start Jackson needs. —Kate Morrison

Matthew Trueblood is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here
Kate Morrison is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kate's other articles. You can contact Kate by clicking here
David Lee is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see David's other articles. You can contact David by clicking here

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