On Friday, August 30th in Milwaukee, WI, Kole Calhoun started for the Angels from the cleanup position, and I dare say not a one of us in the Halosphere could have predicted that at the beginning of 2013. Due to injuries great and small, neither Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton were in the lineup, but resident Halos masher and erstwhile All-Star Mark Trumbo was, but hitting behind our gritty lefty ginger in the lineup. And Calhoun didn't disappoint. He was on base 3 of 5 times, hit a dinger, and scored two runs. Mark Trumbo meanwhile was 1 for 4 on a single; he struck out twice.
Today, Saturday the 31st, Scioscia has Calhoun pencilled in at cleanup, behind wunderkind Mike Trout, <em>again</em>. As of this writing, he's on with a walk.
Over the past week, we've seen the Angels win 6 of 7 games with its three most expensive position players largely on the bench. Hamilton has been enjoying a small resurgence over the past three weeks, but a flaky shoulder has him out and Calhoun in. So the Angels have been winning largely on the formula that sustained them through the mid-2000s: strong pitching, and just enough offense from homegrowns and fringe players to keep them afloat. J.B. Shuck and Kole Calhoun have been a big part of that short streak (Trumbo not so much.)
The mind reels.
While I've been among the biggest Trumbo boosters on this board – I admire his native intelligence, his emerging leadership, and his power, which is a valuable commodity in a market where power is in decline on average – it's impossible not to notice two straight seasons of second-half fade-out. Mark Trumbo's first halves are marvelous things, with promise of developing patience and discipline, and displays of elite power. But something pumkinacious happens after the All Star Break, and the man trades all that early morning seed capital in for late night hat-in-hand fan forgiveness. And sometimes, it's difficult to forgive.
So let's just ask the obvious: Does Kole Calhoun make Mark Trumbo expendable?
Neither man was expected to be much of a prospect. Trumbo was a raw prepster with two tools (power and an arm) and Calhoun was a college outperformer with no outstanding tools, but adequate everything and trademarkable GRIT. At best, with Trumbo, one could imagine a Cecil Fielder ceiling -- a high-strikeout strongman with limited defensive upside, who might ride his power for a decade if he could only learn to walk a bit. With Calhoun, one might imagine a slightly more agile Matt Stairs – a short-statured lefty with 20 HR power who can move around the field enough to make himself useful for 15 years or more in the league. Who would you say is more valuable?
Increasingly, I wonder if Calhoun might not be the better package. His .317/.402/.541 minor league slash (albeit in fortunate hitter's leagues), with 15-20 steals over an average season, suggests an optimally balanced player – yes, maybe the ideal fourth OF, but also a more than acceptable regular in a pinch. At the moment, he's looking all the world like a Nick Swisher clone, with the same energy and occasional over-aggressiveness – and there's nothing particularly wrong with that.
Calhoun (2013): .253/.340/.462
Swisher (Career): .255/.359/.461
Stairs (Career): .262/.356/.477
I've made these comps before. I think they still fit.
Meanwhile, Trumbo's power is indisputable. He's on pace for 35 HRs and 100 RBIs – and that's a third straight season of 29+ HRs. However imbalanced his seasons are, that has value. That puts him among the top seven players in the league in both categories. (Of course, he's also among the top ten in strikeout rate.)
But in a season where the Angels are #4 of 15 in wRC+ and #5 of 15 in SLG – while having allowed the 4th most earned runs in the league -- are those 10 or 15 more HRs that Trumbo might hit over Calhoun a luxury? What might a Mark Trumbo, along with a Peter Bourjos and/or Howie Kendrick, net on the starting pitching trade market in 2014?
Because going into 2014, what the Angels needed most in 2013 is what they still need now: a deep, competent rotation.
So among the options there's Garza and Vargas – both of whom would require no draft pick compensation – critical for a team that has been passing up draft picks like a vegan passes the buffet table at an Armenian wedding. But with three relatively cost-controlled chips in Trumbo, Bourjos and Kendrick – a group delivering 6-8 WAR in a typical season – what might the Angels net in return?
Almost everyone assumes the Rays will trade David Price (who is making $10M+ this season, and entering arbitration, which will likely earn him more than the above three players combined) in the offseason. While an unambiguous ace, he's too expensive to keep, and many assume Texas or the Cubs will reel him in with a boatload of blue chip prospects. But might the Rays, who lack a true power threat outside of Longoria, be intrigued by a 35HR first-baseman and elite defensive CF they can control for three years? How about a veteran 2B who excels with the glove and the bat, and can play the corner OF or 1B in a pinch?
Is it a dream? We know the Rays tend to covet Angel refugees. Could the Angels stand to lose all three players? Could Calhoun stand in for Trumbo? Could Green or Lindsey substitute for Howie? The flashy glove of the speedy diminutive Cowgill sufficiently replace Bourjos, who seems like a fifth OF and defensive replacement anyhow these days?
It's the the last day of August, the final day before September call-ups (which look to be uninteresting or uneventful), so let the offseason trade speculation begin!