The Los Angeles Angels recently traded for Cameron Maybin, and in doing so sent pitching prospect Víctor Alcántara to the Detroit Tigers. The acquisition cost the Angels a low-end reliever prospect and Maybin’s $9 million 2016 salary. It is a small price to pay, to be sure, but it does not exactly make the Angels the favorites to win the division next year.
With Mike Trout in center and Kole Calhoun in right, Maybin will be the everyday left fielder, which is probably the best spot for him anyway, as his center field defense has declined in recent years. The problem is that his bat won’t play there. His 120 wRC+ in 2016 was the best of his career, but it was only the second time he was an above-average hitter, and his .383 BABIP is unlikely to be repeated. He did make some real improvements, such as improving his contact and walk rates, not to mention his mechanics. However, his batted ball percentages are roughly the same as 2015, when he hit for a 93 wRC+. Sure enough, that is where Steamer measures his true talent for 2017. I doubt that the projections are aware of his mechanical adjustments, so I would conservatively project him to be at least a league-average hitter.
Though the Angels’ left field situation was a mess in 2016, I am not sure how much Maybin is going to help. Maybin’s 2.0 WAR per FanGraphs is far better than the cumulative 0.5 WAR that Angels’ left fielders were worth in this past season, and that was in only 94 games played. I struggle to say that Maybin will be more than a one-win improvement as a result of his injury history and some likely offensive regression. There is upside there, though, and he can be a 3-4 WAR player if he can stay healthy and maintain his progress at the plate. There is so little risk involved given how little was paid for him, and the reward could be pretty high.
Some have pointed out that Maybin’s WAR was deflated from being forced to play center field, where the advanced metrics rated him very poorly. It is possible that his WAR would have been better in left field because he would presumably be better defensively there, but that argument ignores the fact that the offensive standard is much higher in a corner. As a result, the difference in positional adjustment between center and left field is 10 runs. That is one whole win. Everything else being the same, Maybin would have to be an excellent defensive left fielder to make up the difference. Perhaps he can be that effective there, as he does have the speed for it, but his arm isn’t great.
I would have been interested in seeing how Jefry Marté could be as an everyday left fielder. He hit .252/.310/.481 in 2016, which is good for a 114 wRC+ and 1.5 WAR in only 88 games played. The Angels would be sacrificing some OBP in playing him over Cameron, but they would be getting a big boost in power. It is true that he hit much better while playing third base as opposed to left field, but the sample sizes of those splits are way too small to draw that conclusion. While I am not panning the Maybin trade, it could have been worthwhile to try Marté instead and save the $9 million. Marté is also under control through 2021, and Maybin will be a free agent after 2017.
The above point becomes moot if the Angels decline to pick up Yunel Escobar’s option. He was fine at the plate in 2016, but he is a poor baserunner and his defense at third base has plummeted. The Angels might be better off spending $1 million to buy out Escobar’s $7 million option and play Marté everyday at third. ESPN’s Keith Law had an interesting idea, suggesting that the Angels try Escobar at second base. You don’t generally think of moving a poor defender up in the defensive spectrum, but Law used his scouting acumen to cite how Escobar’s lack of reaction time would be less of an issue at second base. The Angels have had a black hole at second every since they traded away Howie Kendrick, so it might be worth a shot.
It is worth pointing out that the Angels more or less replaced the lost Alcántara by picking up Vicente Campos on the waiver wire from the Diamondbacks. He is currently recovering from surgery on a broken Ulna, but he has the chance to provide the Angels with some pitching depth in 2017.
The strongest criticism that can be levied against the Maybin acquisition is the puzzling rationale behind improving a 74-win team by one or two wins, especially in a competitive division like the AL West. Their third-order win percentage had them as a 72-win team. A full season of Andrelton Simmons could add a couple more wins, but even the most optimistic outlook doesn’t look good for the Halos. They have too many holes on the roster, and Mike Trout can only do so much to cover up for that.
Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will be freeing up a combined $40 million of payroll, but this is the weakest free agent class in as long as I can remember. Acquiring Maybin likely means that the Angels will not pursue Dexter Fowler or Yoenis Céspedes for the outfield. There are some nice fits out there for the Angels, such as Wilson Ramos at catcher or Justin Turner at third base, but the players will have all the leverage in such a weak crop of free agents. It would cost a fortune to make this a competitive team in the AL West this winter, and that is assuming that it is possible at all. Furthermore, with such a weak farm system, the Angels have nothing to trade in exchange for an impact player.
If it were me, I’d throw the switch on a rebuild right now, but the Angels seem determined to give it at least one more shot. While they would need everything to break right, I could see them squeaking in a Wild Card slot.
Short of that, the Angels’ front office needs to consider trading Mike Trout. I know, I know, Angels fans, it is an unthinkable idea. Unfortunately, it appears to be the only way to escape the mid-70 win mediocrity that is likely to continue throughout the end of the decade. Even with his $34 million AAV through the last three years of his contract, he could bring back an enormous haul of prospects. As is, the Angels have little to no shot of being a consistent playoff contender through 2020, when Mike Trout becomes a free agent.
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Luis Torres is a Contributing Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.