After a 2016 in which the team put up an offensive fWAR of -18.4 (the Mariners, by contrast: 37.2 fWAR in offense), the Angels needed to do some off-season tweaking of their lineup. Curiously, despite a strong defensive team (fWAR of 24.2; in contrast: the Mariners, -44.0 defensive fWAR), the Angels focused this off-season on targeting position players who would aid in run prevention rather than those who represented large offensive upgrades. Here’s their projected starting nine (as always, projections are from Fangraphs’ Steamer projections and MLB’s depth chart):
Catcher - Martin Maldonado
2016 numbers: .202/.332/.351 (77 wRC+), 0.8 fWAR
2017 projections: .224/.311/.354 (80 wRC+), 1.2 fWAR
Catcher was sort of a black hole for the Angels in 2016. Carlos Perez got the most starts at the position, with 82, but slashed a dreadful .209/.244/.325. The young, 6’4” Jett Bandy got the next most starts, at 68, but his numbers weren’t much better, at .234/.281/.392. Having lost their depth by DFA’ing catcher Juan Graterol and with Geovany Soto electing free agency (he would eventually sign with the White Sox on a minor league deal), the Angels were in need of an upgrade at the position, and so traded away Jett Bandy and RHP Drew Gagnon to Milwaukee in exchange for former Angels 27th-round draft pick Martin Maldonado. Maldonado doesn’t bring much upside in terms of the bat, as a career .217 hitter, but last year pushed his BB% to almost 14%, giving him an OBP of .332. His defense is an upgrade, as well, with 5 DRS last year and a reputation for being an excellent pitch-framer. It’s still somewhat of an odd move, considering that Bandy is much younger, has years of team control remaining, and the Angels also threw in a pitcher to get Maldonado; this might speak to the premium being placed on run prevention in Anaheim.
1B - C.J. Cron
2016 numbers: .278/.325/.467 (115 wRC+), 1.7 fWAR
2017 projections: .264/.311/.451 (107 wRC+), 1.5 fWAR
C.J. Cron spent some time on the DL last year and had surgery this off-season for thumb impingement, which sounds like he had a bad experience with one of those fingertrap thingies that dye your fingers pink. He’s a perfectly serviceable option at 1B although his career .267/.308/.453 is not exactly dazzling at a position from which one would like more offensive fireworks, and he’s coming into his age 27 season having only played more than 100 games in a season twice. Chalk that uninspiring OBP number up to a very high (38%) O-swing rate and a crazy low 5% BB rate—Cron has never come anywhere near a double-digit BB rate, not even in rookie ball. He hit 16 HRs last year before going down with a broken hand and Steamer likes him for 24 this year, which seems...generous. He’s a candidate for a breakout season, but if he can’t learn to not swing at garbage, he won’t have a chance to hit those dingers. When Cron was drafted he was said to have 80-grade power; it hasn’t manifested yet in the bigs, but Angels fans are hoping this is the year he puts it all together.
2B - Danny Espinosa
2016 numbers: .209/.306/.378 (79 wRC+), fWAR 1.0
2017 projections: .214/.292/.357 (76 wRC+), fWAR 0.9
The Angels traded two minor-league arms to acquire Espinosa in December, who will be playing outside the National League (and outside of the Nationals organization) for the first time in his career. Espinosa is considered to be a glove-first infielder, slashing a career .226/.302/.388, but will be able to move back to his natural position of second base after playing shortstop for a season. He does bring some power, although that comes at a perilously high (career 28%) K rate. Again, acquiring Espinosa shows the premium the Angels are placing on defense in 2017.
SS - Andrelton Simmons
2016 numbers: .281/.324/.366 (91 wRC+), 3.1 fWAR
2017 projections: .272/.321/.383 (94 wRC+), 3.8 fWAR
Andrelton Simmons is (somewhat arguably) the best defensive shortstop in the entire AL. He also has a single digit K rate, and a single digit BB rate, and essentially no power. He can hit for average, possesses plus speed, and his slash line from last year was almost a career high. His positive WAR, however, comes entirely from his superb defense, which cancels out his negative offensive numbers.
3B - Yunel Escobar
2016 numbers: .304/.355/.391 (108 wRC+), 1.6 fWAR
2017 projections: .279/.340/.382 (102 wRC+), 1.7 fWAR
Yunel Escobar and his dumb Instagram account everyone thinks is soooo funny for whatever reason can both suck my big toe. He’s also the only member of this infield who provided any sort of offensive threat last year, which is probably why the Angels exercised their option on him this off-season. He still doesn’t bring any power to speak of (ISO .087 last year), but barely ever strikes out and has a decent BB rate. The fact that he’s spoken about in such glowing terms while having a lower ISO than Shawn O’Malley tells you something about the Angels’ infield offense last year.
Utility: Jefry Marte, Chad Pennington
Marte, who now inherits from Jett Bandy the mantle of “Angel with the most annoying first name to spell” doesn’t hit for average as well as Cron but takes a few more walks, although his BB/K of .31 is pretty gnarly. He did bash 15 HRs in just 284 PAs last year, which gets people excited about his .229 ISO. He’s listed behind Cron on the depth chart but is a natural at the hot corner, making him or Escobar a possible trade candidate.
Chad Pennington, who wins for “Angel with the name that sounds most like a lacrosse player,” is an older, worse version of Shawn O’Malley.
LF - Cameron Maybin
2016 numbers: .315/.383/.418 (120 wRC+), 2.0 fWAR
2017 projections: .259/.326/.369 (94 wRC+), 0.8 fWAR
Maybin bounced back in a big way last year, hitting .315 after never before topping .267 and being worth more than 1 WAR for the first time since the 2012 season. Needless to say that after the Halos dealt pitching prospect Victor Alcantara, a flamethrower with no control, for Maybin, they’re looking for an improvement in the MLB-worst LF production through him, and though he won’t be as good as his BABIP-fueled 2016 campaign, almost anybody can improve on a .574 OPS. (Stay tuned for more on Cameron Maybin later!)
The Angels also signed Ben Revere (projected: .275/.312/.347, 82 wRC+, precisely 0.0 fWAR) to a $4 million deal to serve as a backup outfielder, and I imagine most of his appearances will come in left. No, I don’t think he deserves any further write-up, since we’re talking about a guy who had a wRC+ a year ago of 47. Yeah. Forty-seven.
CF - Mike Trout
2016 numbers: .315/.441/.550 (171 wRC+), 9.4 fWAR
2017 projections: .304/.419/.568 (168 wRC+), 8.6 fWAR
It’s absolutely ridiculous that a projection system is predicting, as the median outcome, an 8.6 WAR season with a 168 wRC+. For 99.99% of all major leaguers, that kind of a season is a pipe dream. For Trout, it would represent a drop-off.
There really isn’t much to say: Mike Trout is the best player in the game. He draws entirely fair comparisons to Mickey Mantle. He’s a two-time MVP, a five-time All-Star and Silver Slugger, and he’s done all this before he turns 26. As long as the Angels have Mike Trout, barring EPIC ownership failure (think hiring Bill Bavasi and making him manager/GM/third base), they should be at least somewhat competitive.
RF - Kole Calhoun
2016 numbers: .271/.348/.438 (118 wRC+), 4.0 fWAR
2017 projections: .262/.330/.430 (110 wRC+), 2.9 fWAR
The apple in collective Mariners’ fans eyes, Calhoun has long been a dream trade target for teams looking for OF help, and with good reason - the 29-year-old has three more seasons of club control and contributes a solidly above-average bat to go along with somewhere between average-to-good defense. Steamer thinks he’ll drop off ever so slightly from a year before, but if Calhoun can maintain his career-best 10.0% walk rate from 2016, he could easily remain a standout, and perhaps even garner some All-Star hype.
DH - Albert Pujols
2016 numbers: .268/.323/.457 (111 wRC+), 0.9 fWAR
2017 projections: .267/.326/.471 (115 wRC+), 0.9 fWAR
After a mostly healthy 2016 season where Pujols played in 152 games, it was announced in December that the slugger had surgery on his right foot, which should keep him out for roughly four months. Based on that timeline, the Halos can reasonably expect their $26 million dollar man to be ready for Opening Day; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d rather forget all about Pujols and the five years remaining on his deal.
How badly has this contract gone for Arte Moreno? In the 11 years he spent with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols averaged - averaged! - 7.9 bWAR per season. He’s gotten to half that just once in his five years in Anaheim, and all for the low low price of $100 million.
Anyway, Steamer expects Pujols to bounce back ever-so-slightly this season (he’s projected for just 117 games, so the fWAR/PA is higher in 2017), but the outlook on his year, much less future, is grim.