After losing out on Zack Greinke, the Angels decided to just take the money they had ticketed for a pitcher and sign Josh Hamilton instead. It’s certainly a bold move, and even with all of Hamilton’s red flags, he should probably project as something around a +4 win player for 2013, though of course the variance around that mark is probably larger than with most hitters. However, for the Angels to realize the full value of adding Hamilton to the roster, this can’t be their last move, because they already had an outfield full of useful players, and paying $125 million for the right to bench Mark Trumbo or Peter Boujos just doesn’t make any sense.
The Angels still have a gaping hole in their starting rotation. With Hamilton in the fold, they now have four outfielders who deserve to play regularly. A trade seems inevitable. Now, the Angels just have to decide which player to move.
Mike Trout’s obviously not going anywhere, and Vernon Wells wouldn’t even bring a batting tee in return, so it’s likely going to come down to one of three options – Bourjos, Trumbo, or Kendrys Morales. There are only two line-up spots for those three players, and all three are good enough to be big league starter. So, who goes and who stays?
Each player comes with their own pros and cons. Let’s break them down individually.
Peter Bourjos, CF
Bourjos is an elite speed-and-defense center fielder, but then again, so is Mike Trout, and they can’t both play center field in Anaheim. But, as teams have begun to realize over the last few years, there’s nothing wrong with having two center fielders in the outfield, as range in a corner position can still save a lot of runs. Three of the four teams to make the LCS this year had a guy with center field skills playing in a corner; the Giants with Gregor Blanco, the Yankees with Ichiro Suzuki, and the Tigers with Quintin Berry. The days of every successful team having 35 homer guys in both right and left field are long gone. Bourjos and Trout can play next to each other, and it can work.
But, there are some diminishing returns associated with having a speed-and-defense guy in a corner. Corner outfielders have fewer opportunities to run balls down than center fielders. In general, Bourjos would probably be more valuable to a team that didn’t already have a star center fielder, so there’s a chance for a win-win trade with a team who can maximize Bourjos’ value. If Bourjos is a +2 to +3 win player for the Angels, maybe he’s a +3 to +4 win player for a team that can use him in center field. Unlike with Trumbo and Morales, the difference between Bourjos’ value to the Angels and to another team might be enough to make him the best guy to move.
Mark Trumbo, OF/1B
Trumbo has been something of a sabermetric whipping boy over the last few years due to his low OBPs, but he’s legitimately one of the best young power hitters in the sport, and if you look at his overall production rather than just his ability to avoid making outs, he’s graded out as an above average player in both 2011 and 2012. And, aggressive young hitters can turn into patient older hitters, with Trumbo already showing some signs of increased selectivity, as his swing rates and out-of-zone swing rates both improved last year. Of course, his contact rate also sunk, but Trumbo has shown enough to believe that he can be an above average hitter going forward, and has the potential to perhaps turn into a legitimately good bat.
However, he’s never going to be anything more than adequate in the outfield, and his long term position is probably first base or DH. If the bat doesn’t take a step forward, he might never be more than the +2.5 win guy he is now, and there are more teams looking for outfielders than looking for good-not-great first baseman – just ask Adam LaRoche. If a team views him as a capable corner outfielder, however, he could potentially fetch a nice piece in return, since power hitters are often overpaid in the free market and acquiring a cost-controlled slugger who isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2016 season could be quite enticing.
Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH
With just one year left on his contract, no ability to play the outfield, and lingering health concerns, Morales will certainly have the least amount of trade value of the three. Like Trumbo, his overly aggressive approach at the plate limits his overall offensive value, but he is a switch-hitter on a team that is mostly right-handed in the middle of their batting order, and if the Angels think he can get back to 2009 form, then he probably provides more value in 2013 than Trumbo would. Moving him and keeping both Trumbo and Bourjos might be the best long term decision, but would help them the least in 2013, as he’d likely only bring back a marginal rotation upgrade and might be a better DH for the Angels than Trumbo next year.
With both Bourjos and Trumbo, the Angels would be selling four years of team control for above average Major League players, including one league minimum year and three arbitration years. For a team with a hole in center field — hello, New York Mets — Bourjos is probably the better player, and the Angels can point to what Ben Revere just cost the Phillies as evidence that speed-and-defense center fielders are getting more valuable every year. With R.A. Dickey as the #1 trade candidate on the starting pitcher market, the Mets are almost certainly going to be team most heavily linked to the Angels, and which player gets moved might depend on their player type preference. But, don’t count out a team like the Braves, who are looking for a left fielder who can also lead off and have pitching to spare.
Adding Hamilton makes the Angels a little bit better than they already were. Giving them another valuable trade chip to fill a hole in their rotation could make this move pay off in a significant way for the Angels. In that way, the follow-up to this signing could be just as important as the signing itself.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.