Let’s take a walk down winter memory lane, giving the Angels GM a grade on the basis of process, results, and circumstance.
Cameron Maybin trade
The Angels relinquished a power reliever with menial command in Victor Alcantara, and he is still struggling with the same issues (a 4.40 BB/9 in AAA this year) despite good raw stuff. Maybin, meanwhile, started off slow but used properly in the leadoff spot, has roared back to last season’s productive ways. Getting on base at a .376 clip, stealing bases at will, and playing better defense in both left and center field, Cameron Maybin has performed admirably. He puts pressure on the pitcher and defense, and is the best baserunner the Angels have had since a young Trout. In a weak second tier of outfield options, Eppler did as well as he could have done here.
Signing Jesse Chavez for 1 year, $5.75 million plus incentives
Chavez was signed as a starter capable pitching in long relief if necessary. He’s had a rough go at it this year, allowing a .365 average the third time through the order, struggling to pitch out of the stretch, and surrendering 17 home runs. He has a 4.85 ERA and 5.45 FIP despite mainly pitching in the AL West, which makes absolutely no sense. That being said, he was signed as a fifth starter in a free agent class whose highest-paid starter was Rich Hill.
The Danny Espinosa trade
Acquired in exchange for an intriguing reliever and a fringy at-best starter, Espinosa looked like a steal. It has been anything but. Touted as a well below average bat with good pop and elite defense, Espinosa has not delivered. Batting just .148, striking out at one of the highest rates in the league, and less power, the Angels second base acquisition has been a big disappointment. His -1 DRS and 1.7 UZR defense have him around average defensively, though the eye test indicates he’s playing fine there. His 48 wRC+ means his offense is 52% below league average, a stunning drop from his 79 a year ago.
The other options weren’t as bad, though they haven’t been good either. Neil Walker was unavailable, Yangervis Solarte and Kolten Wong were too expensive, and what were thought to be among the better options (Cory Spangenberg, Derek Dietrich, Greg Garcia) have all struggled heavily. The reasons this grade isn’t lower? 1) a lack of better options and 2) the Angels didn’t give up much, if anything.
The Jett Bandy for Martin Maldonado swap
This move shook up Angels fans everywhere, as it meant the trading of a cost-controlled catcher for a 30-year old defensive specialist catcher that had never started more than 80 games in a single year. As this initial reaction thread shows, most weren’t thrilled with the move, as it traded away an 80-grade name and a catcher who could hit. As Bandy mashed over the first few weeks in a Brewers uni, the noise deafened.
Fast forward to today, and Bandy has cooled off to the tune of a .676 OPS as a platoon player. Maldonado has a .701 OPS as a full-time player, not to mention the elite pitch framing and blocking skills, throwing out baserunners with ease, functioning as a second pitching coach, and calling an excellent game for his pitchers.
Given that hitting isn’t even Maldonado’s calling card, it’s safe to say the Angels won this trade. Even though Maldonado hits free agency after 2018, it wouldn’t be difficult to give him an extension with the Angels, the team that gave him his first starting gig in his career.
Ben Revere signing to a 1 year, $4 million deal
After being signed as a bounce-back candidate, he made the team as a 4th outfielder but has struggled since. The slap hitting outfielder has struggled to hit the ball hard, spraying weak grounder after weak grounder that gets eaten up by middle infielders. His inability to take a walk (only 2 all year despite 136 plate appearances, that’s a 1.5% BB) means he can’t get on base and use his speed to do any damage. He’s got a 31 wRC+, hitting .203/.213/.293. Furthermore, he has below average range even in left field and his weak throwing arm is the biggest culprit for his -9 DRS. The crazy part? He has only spent 280 innings in left, the equivalent of 31 games.
The Luis Valbuena deal
This signing was always interesting because the Angels already had their corner infield set between Yunel Escobar, C.J. Cron, and Jefry Marte. Lo and behold, Valbuena was brought in to primarily play first base against righties, putting him at first base instead of third for him to hold his own on the defensive side. Defensive metrics put him around average there, and he could improve with time. Make no mistake, though: he was brought to Anaheim for his bat, which has been disappointing. From 2014-16, he posted well above average power marks, good patience, and below average strikeouts.
That has not been the case this year. Valbuena has a fundamental swing problem with popups where he is getting under the ball and opening his front hips, causing popups every time he hits the ball. Valbuena, when he’s going well, is the epitome of a slight uppercut line drive hitter. He’s going to have to correct his swing to do what he has done well as an Astro. It’s in there somewhere, but for now he’s slashing a paltry .185/.295/.311, though he’s still taking his fair share of walks.
Billy Eppler has excelled at finding useful players on the scrap heap. This year it’s Blake Parker, one of the best relievers in baseball this year (by FIP, he’s 3rd in all of baseball). Bud Norris and Yusmeiro Petit were signed as non-roster invitees, and though David Hernandez was acquired in April, he has been excellent as well. Eric Young Jr. has impressed in every way, and without JC Ramirez being converted to a starter, the Angels would never have gotten his 8-9 good starts out of 13. Even though some of Eppler’s signings/trades have flopped, this miscellaneous column has been a primary reason the Angels are treading water in the first place.
It was a weak free agent class last year and Eppler had to make the most of it. What say you?