Wednesday, January 26, 2011

By David Saltzer - Senior Writer

As a fan, sometimes you want to see the team do moves because they are sentimental. For example, giving Tim Salmon one last shot to hit number 300 was a sentimental move for him and for the fans. Both earned the right to see what could happen one last time.

But, as a fan, the bottom line is always about seeing the best team on the field. I want to see a winner. I root for the team name on the jersey, not the guy’s last name above the number. Sometimes, though, sentiment can be what’s best for the team. Case in point: Big Daddy Vladdy. It’s time to bring him home for one more stint with the Angels in 2011.

Of all the players that have come and gone in my lifetime, the one player on another team that I coveted the most was Vladdy. It wasn’t that I wanted him—I coveted him. Watching him in his prime was something special. When he stepped up to the plate, you didn’t turn away. His at-bats were just that magical.

After the 2009 season, I understood why the Angels let him go. He was asking for too much money and too many years. He was coming off of injuries. He still wanted to play in the field. And, he was a shell of his former self.

Up until this week, I would have dismissed the thought of bringing Vladdy home to the Angels for 2011 as a sentimental ploy, not a smart managerial decision—one that appealed to the fanbase to sell tickets rather than improving the team. But, since the Vernon Wells trade, my thoughts have changed. I now believe that bringing Vladdy home would be a difference-making decision—one that could tilt the Angels towards being the favorites to win the A.L. West.

First off, there is money in the 2011 budget to afford Vladdy. Tony Reagins said that the Angels still had some payroll flexibility to make another move or two when the Vernon Wells deal was announced.

With Texas just trading for Mike Napoli, and not many other teams looking for a full-time DH, the likelihood of Vladdy getting a substantial offer is minimal. So, at most Vladdy could be had for a very low price—maybe $5 million dollars or less for the season. While it’s a low-ball offer, it may be the last or best offer that Vladdy will receive, especially from a contending team.

More importantly, as has been revealed recently by Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman, the Angels received $5 million back from Toronto as part of the Vernon Wells deal—the same amount of money that it would probably take to sign him. The money is there to sign him for 2011, so the deal could be done.

To understand why the deal should be done, one has to look at some splits for the players currently on the team. Defensively, there’s no question that an outfield of Wells in left, Bourjos in center, and Hunter in right is the best. But offensively, there is a glaring hole—one that was exposed in the analysis of the Vernon Wells trade. Vernon Wells does not hit lefties well. In 2010, Wells posted a .643 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) against lefties.

But, guess what? Vernon Wells isn’t the only Angels OFer/DH who doesn’t hit lefties well. Last year, Bobby Abreu was even worse. In 184 ABs, Abreu posted a .638 OPS against lefties.

Who did hit lefties well? Big daddy Vladdy. In 154 ABs last year, Vladdy crushed lefties to the tune of a .931 OPS. He only struck out 15 times against lefties last year, whereas Abreu struck out 51 times! Vladdy hit 7 HRs against lefties versus 4 HRs by Abreu. The difference is astounding.

Looking at Vladdy’s 2010 season, another split is well worth noting. A lot of analysis has been devoted to Vladdy’s pre and post All-Star Break splits. Prior to the All-Star Break, Vladdy posted a .913 OPS and after the All-Star Break, it dropped to .748. What that tells us is that Vladdy is no longer suited for a full-time job, but is still quite dangerous in a limited role.

Amazingly, Abreu showed the opposite trend in 2010 as well as for the past three years. In 2010, Abreu posted an .818 OPS after the All-Star Break compared to a .765 OPS prior to it. That split is in line with his 3-year averages of .848 after the All-Star Break versus .796 prior to it.

Combining all these splits, the Angels could greatly benefit by playing Vladdy against left-handers and earlier in the season and playing Abreu against right-handers and later in the season. This would keep both Vladdy and Abreu fresh throughout the entire season and generate the greatest offense for the team. Scioscia, the master of juggling lineups, could arrange it so that Abreu would get about 400 ABs over the course of the season, and Vladdy would get about 250-300 (with Wells, Hunter, and Bourjos getting some days to rest or to avoid facing bad matchups and Abreu or Willits getting a very rare start in the field). On days when Vladdy doesn’t start for the Angels, he could be the power-bat off the bench that the team sorely needs.

By engaging in such an approach, the Angels could manage to save some money long-term. Under Abreu’s contract, if he makes another 433 plate appearances in 2011, his option for 2012 vests for $9 million. If it doesn’t vest, the Angels can buy it out for $1 million. By platooning Abreu and Vladdy, the Angels can save several million by preventing Abreu’s option from vesting while boosting the total team offense. This would allow the Angels to open up a spot in 2012 for Mike Trout if he is ready to play in the Major Leagues.

As a fan, I would welcome the chance to see Vladdy in Halos red one last time. With Vladdy back in with the Angels again, it more than likely guarantees that if he makes it into the Hall of Fame, he would go in wearing an Angels’ uniform. This would be especially true if he helped the team reach the post-season one more time, and maybe even played a vital role in getting the team back to the World Series.

In commenting on the Vernon Wells trade, Mike Scioscia said “We have a much deeper lineup than any time last year with Vernon." If the Angels truly want to have the deepest lineup that they can reasonably make for 2011, the best move that they could make right now would be to sign Vladdy. It’s time to bring Vladdy home.
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