Thursday, December 20, 2012

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

My uncle John just recently passed, and he has been on my mind a lot. Our families would spend Christmas together, and the holidays just aren’t the same without him.

My uncle John was an insurance agent. He always told me never buy anything expensive if I couldn’t afford the maintenance and the insurance on it. He’d tell me that it’s better to go with a more reasonable car than to go with an expensive sports car without servicing it regularly or buying the insurance on it. Maintenance would make my investment in the car last longer, as it would perform better. And, in the event of an accident, my insurance would get most of my money back that I spent in buying the car.

Well, it turns out my uncle’s advice applied to a lot more than just cars. In fact, it applies to everything in life, including baseball. And, understanding that principle explains why the Angels traded Kendrys Morales instead of Peter Bourjos.

Over the course of the 162-game season, there are bound to be accidents and injuries (ironically, one of the most recent major ones involving the Angels was to Kendrys Morales). Because of that, all teams need “depth” which was one of the goals for General Manager Jerry Dipoto during this offseason.

Depth, though, is more than just having a body to plug into the lineup, it allows for maintenance and insurance on star players. In Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the Angels have $50 million reasons to maintain and insure their health. Add in how much Mike Trout means to the success of this franchise, and the obvious choice for the odd man out becomes clear.

At the Josh Hamilton Press Conference, Josh Hamilton commented about how much he loved playing defense and diving for the ball. At that point, Mr. Moreno, sitting to Josh’s side, and Josh had an interesting side conversation. Josh’s response, though, was clear “Yes, we talked about the wall thing.”

Hamilton and Trout are centerfielders;  They are trained to go hard after the ball, even if it comes at great risk to their bodies. In particular, their style of play creates the potential for many leg injuries as they sprint after balls and dive to make catches.

The problem is that Hamilton and Trout mean more to the lineup than just their defensive acumen; They are far more valuable for their offensive contributions than for their defensive. Anyone who has tried to hit knows that one cannot hit without a strong foundation in the legs. For Trout, a leg injury would be particularly damaging because it would hinder his ability to cause havoc on the basepaths.

Placing Bourjos in centerfield means that he can afford to crash into walls, dive for catches, and make the highlight-real plays in order to save runs without exposing the team to the major loss in the lineup. Bourjos is far less expensive than Hamilton and his bat isn’t as potent as Trout’s (that’s not to say that Bourjos is a slouch at the plate either). If Bourjos is injured, he is the most easily replaced; the Angels could briefly shift Trout back to CF and play Trumbo, Calhoun or Wells in the outfield instead.

With Bourjos as the centerfielder, Trumbo shifts to the DH spot. That provides maintenance for Pujols and Hamilton. With Trumbo as the DH, the Angels can rest Pujols about 20-30 times a year, especially on day games after night games. They can also do the same thing with Hamilton in right field. As Pujols and Hamilton become older, having that flexibility in the lineup will go a long way in keeping both in top shape and performance. And, if either Hamilton or Pujols need to miss a few games, Trumbo provides the bat to replace either in the lineup without a substantial drop in the team’s performance.

Some fans are upset about seeing Kendrys Morales go. They believe that the Angels will miss the offense that he will provide. I disagree for a couple of reasons.

First, some fans believe that Morales will have a “walk-year” type of year, in which he will vastly overproduce in order earn a bigger contract as a free agent. Fans who believe that must be talking to a different breed of ballplayer than I have met because I have never met one who could turn on his production in just his walk years as opposed to every other year. More importantly, every ballplayer that I have ever met said if they could turn their skills on or off like that, that they would do so every year and never turn it off because they would earn more money and play for a longer period of time.

Second, those fans who are upset are forgetting that baseball is played on the field, not on paper. Unlike fantasy baseball, moves in one area affect how other parts of the team perform.

The Angels have several prominent flyball pitchers. Having the best outfield defense makes the pitchers better. A pitcher like Jered Weaver benefits immensely from having a stellar outfield defense behind him. He doesn’t have to pitch tight, as if he needed to strike out every batter, making him more calm and confident on the mound. That security means that he, along with the other flyball pitchers will perform better over the course of the season, giving the Angels more chances to win.

Overall, I am pleased with the trade. Vargas was not a target that I thought would be available, and I like how Jerry Dipoto made an out of the box move. As a lefty, he gives the rotation an improved look. Every series the Angels can start a lefty, making it tougher on the opposition.

I am also pleased for another reason; As much as I like watching homeruns, I like watching stellar defensive plays even more. Looking forward to an outfield of Trout, Bourjos and Hamilton means that I will be seeing plenty of homeruns and stellar plays. As a fan, I find that prospect thrilling.

With this move, the 2013 Angels team seems to be assembled. This team is built more solidly than last year’s and should perform much better. They have depth at a variety of positions and an improved bullpen. As a fan, I can hardly wait for the season to begin and to watch this team take on the rest of the American League.
Love to hear what you think!

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