If you can believe it, the Angels second base position was significantly worse than the Angels left field position last year. Filled by journeymen and utility infielders such as Johnny Giovatella (rip), Gregorio Petit, Kaleb Cowart, Cliff Pennington, and Kaleb Cowart, it’s no surprise that the spot combined for the third-worst production in the league - trailing only Atlanta and Oakland. Yikes...
Unfortunately, there aren’t many appealing options out there for a team looking to contend next year. In terms of full-time second basemen, it’s just Neil Walker and Chase Utley. Platoon or super-utility options aren’t looking great, either, as they are limited to Sean Rodriguez, Stephen Drew, and Kelly Johnson. Keep in mind, though, that this would mean paying players such as Rodriguez for past performace or counting on a career year from them.
And then there’s this news.
Heard today the #Angels turned down an offer for a 2B who has a better bat than glove. Think defense is definitely a high priority at 2B.— Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) November 10, 2016
Whoa! It seems this is referring to former Angel Howie Kendrick, who seeks to be traded from the Dodgers. I would love to see Howie in a part-time role, but as a full-time second baseman? No thanks.
With that said, here’s a few reasons why Walker is the right choice moving forward.
Chase Utley could be nearing the end of his career.
Utley experienced a career resurgence with the Dodgers last year, rebounding from a poor 2015 season to post 2.0 WAR. But there are warning signs that his performance may not be sustainable, including his extreme struggles against left-handed pitchers (.154 against LHP), home struggles (.216 at home), and a .238 batting average in the second half of the season. He also struck out much more than he had done in previous seasons (K% increased by 5.3%) and gradually drew less walks over the past few seasons. And while he experienced a rise in power and hard contact, he pulled an alarming magnitude of pitches to right field than ever before (47% compared to ~43% the past three seasons), potentially indicating a different, unsustainable approach to hitting.
And even though he is a positive baserunner, I don’t think any Angel fan can forget this.
Neil Walker is easily worth the acquisition cost.
Walker’s first big league season came in 2010 and he has consistently been an above average second baseman for seven years, as shown by his above 2 WAR throughout this time. Although he was sidelined by a bad back for the last six weeks of the season, Walker was on pace to be one of the best second baseman in the league. Even though Walker is transitioning to the American League, he is a stage in his career where he can overcome that hurdle as opposed to Utley, who may very well flop in the AL.
Walker would take a second-round pick to sign since the Angels’ first rounder is protected, but it would be well worth it considering the Angels have nobody to fill the spot for the foreseeable future and minor league depth at the middle infield positions are extremely shallow in the Angels’ farm system. Going from a -0.6 WAR to a perennially 2-4 WAR player would be a tremendous gain for the team, as it would instantly elevate the Halos firmly in the wild card race while solidifying them for multiple years at a position of dire need.
The Angels also have a competitive advantage on Walker than most teams in being able to give up a second round pick instead of a first rounder as the Dodgers and Royals have to. The Mets, on the other hand, would not have to surrender a draft pick, although there is hope as they seek to resign Yoenis Cespedes and their owners, the Wilpons, have been historically stingy with payroll.
Without the qualifying offer, Walker would cost around $16-18M per year for three to four years. And in this free agent market, that’s a conservative estimate. But once teams factor in the value of a first-round draft pick, the price of Neil Walker will come down by around $2-4M per year. While the farm system is important, contending in the Mike Trout is a higher priority. And with the new regime being better at drafting, the team might as well embrace the second baseman and hop into the wild card hunt while we can.
The Cameron Maybin trade was a nice move to begin the offseason, but that alone isn’t enough. Revamping the bullpen and signing a fifth starter is important, but not pursuing Walker would be a grave mistake and a missed opportunity.