With the addition of Albert Pujols at first base this off-season, the Angels found themselves with a surplus of hitters in certain areas. Pujols immediately displaced the first baseman from last season, second-year slugger Mark Trumbo. Trumbo has been seeing limited work this spring at third base and has been named as a candidate for the DH role early in the season. The first baseman before Trumbo, Kendrys Morales, looks to be coming back this season after missing most of 2010 and all of 2011 with a broken leg, and is being looked to as the main designated hitter for 2012, with possible stints in the field when Pujols needs a day off. That makes last years designated hitter, Bobby Abreu, the odd man out it seems. He doesn’t hit for power like the other DH candidates and is not good enough defensively to crack a deep outfield roster. So what are the Angels going to do with him?
As the designated hitter last season, Abreu was less than stellar. He hit just .253 with an SLG of .365 and OPS of .718. He hit just 8 home runs, failing to hit for double digit homers for the first time in his career since becoming an everyday player in 1998. His biggest asset last season was his ability to take pitches, driving up pitch counts and forcing opposing pitchers to throw strikes to get him out. He also provided the Angels with a left-handed bat, which is something they are still light on.
However, the other options at DH just offer too much more for the lineup for Abreu to fill the position again this season. Trumbo is coming off a rookie season in which he led the team in home runs and RBIs, but saw his OBP drop below .300 and spent the off season recovering from a stress fracture in his foot. At just 26, Trumbo will look to improve on those numbers. Morales was an MVP candidate the last time he finished a season. If the switch hitter can return to that form in 2012, he’ll have a strangle hold on the DH position (though he won’t get nearly the consideration for MVP). Either player offers a more potent option at DH than the 37-year old Abreu.
The Angels seemed to feel the same way about their DH position, and just spent several weeks trying to package Abreu in a deal that would trade him to New York in exchange for A.J. Burnett. That deal fell apart when Burnett used his limited no-trade clause to block any trade to the West coast and the Angels kept the $9 million contract of Abreu heading into Spring Training. It’s difficult to imagine too many other potential trades for the aging slugger, as his diminishing numbers at the plate, advanced age, and high price tag won’t make him an attractive commodity to too many teams.
Working in Abreu’s favor as far as his future with the club may be his left-handed bat. One of the weaknesses of the Angels’ lineup last season was the lack of left-handed hitters outside of Abreu. This season, they are still a predominantly right-handed club, with the exception of switch hitting Kendrys Morales. The Angels are relying heavily on Morales to provide power from the left side of the plate, but may want to keep Abreu’s bat around for situations where his lefty bat would come in handy. This, along with his untradeability make it seem like he’ll be a Halo for at least one more season.
But do the Angels really need three designated hitters on their roster? If Trumbo doesn’t work out at third (which will be a big surprise if he does), then DH and spot starts in the outfield will probably be his role with the team, the same role Abreu will be in. While it would be great to hold onto the big bat of Trumbo and teach him to be more selective at the plate to boost his OBP, his youth, power, and minimal price tag will probably make him a more attractive piece of trade bait. If the third base experiment fails, expect the Angels to start shopping Trumbo (while also continuing to shop Abreu), and I expect the market for a 26-year old first baseman with legitimate power to be more welcoming than the one for a 37-year old former slugger who saw his offensive production fall off a cliff last season. For better or worse, it looks like the Angels are stuck with Abreu for at least one more year.