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Can Angels Infielders Avoid Long-Term Injuries?

As Opening Day nears Halo Hangout will evaluate the key players, position battles, and offseason moves that will make or break the 2014 Los Angeles Angels. Today we look at the importance of a healthy infield.

Three springs ago, the St. Louis Cardinals began their World Series campaign behind Albert Pujols and David Freese’s leadership. Pujols, a stalwart at first base who seldom took days off, placed fifth in the NL MVP voting while Freese had a breakout year, becoming the sixth player to win the LCS and World Series MVP awards in the same postseason.

This, however, isn’t 2011 and they aren’t the cornerstones of the Cardinals’ organization anymore.

Freese and Pujols reunite this spring following a trade that sent the third baseman to the Los Angeles Angels; both eager to leave their injury-plagued 2013 season behind. They are tasked with leading a team that missed a fourth consecutive playoff appearance and earned south of 80 for the first time since 2003.

Having a healthy infield will go a long way in avoiding another inauspicious season, but that’s easier said than done. With a depleted farm system and defensive-minded reserves filling out the 25-man roster, long-term injuries to Freese, Pujols, second baseman Howie Kendrick, or shortstop Erick Aybar will be detrimental to the team’s success.

Let’s take at what we can expect from Angels infielders in 2014:

Albert Pujols – 1B

Year

Age

Tm

G

AB

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

2013

33

LAA

99

391

17

64

.258

.330

.437

.767

116

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com

Slowed by plantar fasciitis, a foot condition that ended his season in mid-August, Pujols’ underwhelming stint in Anaheim has many wondering whether he could live up to the 10-year, $254 million contract signed in December 2011.

Dubbed “The Machine,” Pujols only played 99 games last year after not missing more than 19 in any given season with the Cardinals. In that time his WAR has dropped from a career high 9.7 in 2009 to an innocuous 1.5 last year, complementing career lows in nearly every offensive category.

Pujols arrived in Tempe, Ariz. last month claiming that he was fully healed, but that could mean anything with a 34-year-old slugger whose best years are behind him. Spring training hasn’t proven otherwise. Pujols’ slash line through 12 Cactus League games is .258/.351/.323, figures on par with 2013 totals. Spring numbers don’t mean a whole lot when the regular season begins, but in Pujols’ case, they signal a continued downward trend.

David Freese – 3B

Year

Age

Tm

G

AB

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

2013

30

STL

138

462

9

60

.262

.340

.381

.721

101

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com

A better script couldn’t be written for Freese’s time with the Cardinals; a Missouri native whose 2011 World Series Game 6 heroics drove St. Louis to their 11th title. Unfortunately, Matt Carpenter’s stellar play made Freese dispensable.  

After starting the season on the disable list, Freese held a 20-game hitting streak that ran through June 12.  Still, a loss of playing time led to diminished offensive numbers across the board. It was a down year for Freese but one the Angels would welcome.

The Angels ranked last in the American League in home runs (8) and slugging percentage (.333) last season. And while Albert Callaspo played a majority of the hot corner, he was sent to Oakland at the trade deadline leaving a committee of Andrew Romine, Chris Nelson, and Luis Jimenez to helm the position. With Freese, the Halos have their first stationary third baseman since Troy Glaus.

It won’t take much more than his .286 lifetime batting average to make Freese worth the bait that brought him here, especially with outfielders Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton penciled in for the long run. The Cardinals acquired highly sought-after outfielder Peter Borjous, but the Angels have peace of mind at third base for the first time in a long time.

Erick Aybar – SS

Year

Age

Tm

G

AB

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

2013

29

LAA

138

550

6

54

.271

.301

.382

.683

93

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com

Aybar has been a model of consistency in Anaheim for the better part of eight years. More importantly, he’s started over 130 games at shortstop in each of the last five seasons.

Before Jean Segura was traded to Milwaukee at the 2012 trade deadline he was seen as Aybar’s immediate replacement. Since, trade rumors sounding Aybar have dwindled and his status as a mainstay isn’t in question, especially with a farm system bereft of major league ready shortstops.

The 30-year-old Dominican is having a solid spring leading the team in runs (10) and walks (7) through 13 games, and his Gold Gloves caliber defense is also in regular season form as he turned a team-high five double plays. Then again, Aybar did get a head start by playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. That only means that he’ll be ready for Opening Day well before his teammates are.

Howie Kendrick – 2B

Year

Age

Tm

G

AB

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

2013

29

LAA

122

478

13

54

.297

.335

.439

.775

118

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com

The Angels have been waiting for Kendrick’s breakout year since he became a full-time second baseman in 2010. However, spurts of greatness have been marred by an inability to stay on the field.

Hamstring strains forced Kendrick to the DL twice in 2008 and once in 2011, and a hyperextended left knee last season kept him out of action for most of August and September. If healthy, Kendrick makes his second career All-Star game appearance.

Like Aybar, Kendrick is a constant focal point of trade rumors, and with prospects Taylor Lindsey and Alex Yarbrough waiting in the wings this may be the year he is finally dealt. He is in-line to be one of the Angels all-time greatest second baseman, and this year he may surpass Adam Kennedy for second-most game played at the position, but it won’t happen unless Kendrick gives the Angels a reason to their prospects at bay.

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Tags: Albert Pujols David Freese Erick Aybar Howie Kendrick Los Angeles Angels

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