With Shohei Ohtani and reportedly Kevin Maitan, Angels have set up potentially prosperous future

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could have conceivably taken steps backwards this offseason. Now, the club is set up to contend for the foreseeable future.

Heading into this offseason, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s future was far from certain.

Sure, the Halos had Mike Trout and hung around in the Wild Card Race until late, ultimately finishing five games out of the Minnesota Twins.

However, with Albert Pujols just turned in a -2.0 fWAR and still has four years left on his contract—per Spotrac.

Additionally, outside of Trout, Andrelton Simmons, Kole Calhoun, Cameron Maybin and Martin Maldonado, no Angels position player registered an fWAR north of 1.0.

What’s more, much of Anaheim’s success was attributed to a patch-work bullpen that was surprisingly successful. Blake Martin and Yusimero Petit led the way for Mike Socia’s relief corps after joining in under-the-radar deals.

Still, both Martin and Petit are 32, and the latter recently signed with the division-rival Oakland Athletics. 

While Petit departed, the Angels could have also lost another key piece in outfielder Justin Upton.

However, Upton re-signed with the club, starting a trend of results that have set the Angels up for an extremely bright future.

The Halos acquired Upton from the Detroit Tigers in an August 31st trade that cost the Angels pitching prospects Grayson Long and Elvin Rodriguez.

The trade was the latest in a series of moves that have left the Angels’ farm system more than depleted.

Past trades for complimentary players like Maybin, Danny Espinosa, Yunel Escobar, Jefry Marte and Jhoulys Chacin sapped Anaheim’s farm system of even more talent,

Anaheim also arguably overpaid for Simmons, flipping Erick Aybar—who was one season removed from an 4.2 fWAR campaign—and a pair of prospects that included Sean Newcomb.

The left-handed Newcomb, 23, was widely regarded as one of the game’s best pitching prospects, and recently made his debut in the majors, striking out 9.7 batters per nine innings to go along with a 4.19 FIP in 100 innings.

Simmons brings plenty of value defensively, but 2017 was the first time he registered a wRC+ north of 100, finishing with a 103 stat.

FanGraphs lists an average wOBA to be .320. Simmons’s career wOBA sits at .300, while he’s eclipsed the .320 mark just once in a full season.

Catch 22

Anaheim’s thin farm system has been one of the reasons the club has been forced to rely so heavily on trades and high-priced free agents like Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson.

As of late, the Angels’ most notable home-grown products include Cam Bedrosian, Kenyan Middleton and Kaleb Cowart.

While the trio are plenty useful to Anaheim, none have the ceiling to be able to step in next to Trout as a franchise cornerstone.

Now, things have changed for the Halos.

The future

Upton’s re-signing with the franchise certainly improves the short-term outlook considerably.

The lineup is obviously top-heavy with Calhoun, Trout and Pujols, but teams’ best players should be drawing the most at-bats, and hitting that quartet at the top of the order does just that.

Long-term, there’s also reason to believe that the Halos can contend.

According to Spotrac, Upton’s deal runs through 2022. The 30-year-old showed no signs of slowing down last season,

Hitting .273 with a .361 on-base percentage, a 137 wRC_ and a .378 wOBA.

Upton also tied his career best with an 11.7% walk rate while notching a 5.0 fWAR. He set new career highs in both slugging percentage (.540), ISO (.268) and home runs (35).

The Angels now have another star to pair with Trout and Upton in Shohei Ohtani. Anaheim tweeted the following from the team’s official Twitter account on Friday:

Not only will Ohtani help shore up a rotation that has been ravaged by injuries and lacks a clear ace, but he’ll provide more depth to a lineup that falls off after the top of the batting order.

Following the aforementioned Calhoun/Trout/Upton/Pujols quartet, the rest of the lineup is comprised of the likes of Simmons, Phillips (72 wRC+ in an Anaheim uniform), Martin Maldonado (73 wRC+), Luis Valbuena (.308 wOBA) and C.J. Cron (.316 wOBA).

World beaters they are not.

How often Ohtani hits and pitches obviously remains to be seen, but he provides the Angels with another key core piece to build around.

That should help the organization find success in the future, as they’ll have to worry more about finding complimentary pieces than star players.

Moving forward, another name that could join Trout and Ohtani in the lineup is Kevin Maitan.

The young infielder, and former Atlanta prospect, reportedly signed with the Halos—according to a tweet from ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Olney tweeted the following on Tuesday, December 5th:

Baseball Prospectus wrote the following about the infielder when ranking Atlanta’ top prospects in an article last November:

“He has above-average bat speed with some natural whip and could be a plus hit/plus power bat that plays on the left side of the infield, somewhere.”

Anaheim’s current farm system offers little in the way of potential impact prospects, so Maitan won’t be blocked.

At just 17 years old, the infielder could eventually replace the 28-yea-rold Simmons at shortstop, or move to third base or second base where the Halos don’t have anything in the way of long-term solutions.

In Conclusion

It’s been a significant turnaround for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The franchise could have conceivably lost Upton in free agency while missing out on both Ohtani and Maitan in free agency.

Now, with all three in tow joining Trout and company, the Angels set up a potentially prosperous future without dipping further into the team’s razor-thin farm system.

Why Leonys Martin is the perfect signing for the Detroit Tigers

Newly-signed outfielder Leonys Martin could provide plenty of value for the Detroit Tigers.

In an offseason that has been stagnant to say the least, the Detroit Tigers have actually been active.

Well, “active” doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture.

“Relatively active” is probably more apt.

In the early stages of a rebuild that was kick-started by a number of high profile, mid-season trades, the Tigers front office has largely stuck to signing free agents on minor league deals this winter.

There have been some potentially useful finds among the haul of players who have recently joined Detroit on minor league contracts from former first-round pick Kevin Comer to ex-Twin Niko Goodrum and longtime Yankee prospect Mark Montgomery.

Comer and Goodrum are both just 25, while Montgomery is 27.

The Tigers are unlikely to find another J.D. Martinez-type player—in terms of impact— in free agency, but they could very easily stumble upon a bench piece or two, a platoon starter, a back-end rotation arm or a relief pitcher.

Comer, Goodrum, Montgomery and Ryan Carpenter, who signed a Major League deal, all look like quality additions that will provide new Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire with improved depth.

Up until Tuesday, Carpenter was the only player the Tigers signed to a big-league deal.

That changed, as the club announced in a tweet that outfielder Leonys Martin has joined the organization on a Major League deal.

The tweet also included the signings of four other players to minor league deals, including outfielder Jim Adduci and former All-Star Derek Norris, but Martin is the most intriguing of the group by far.

In a rebuild, franchises need to throw as many low risk, high-upside players at the proverbial wall as possible to see if anything sticks.

Whether said players develop into long-term pieces, trade chips or are simply designated for assignment or cut at a later date, teams like the Tigers need to be taking fliers on players with high ceilings.

That’s certainly what Martin has.

High Ceiling

A 29-year-old outfielder, the veteran previously spent parts of five seasons with the Texas Rangers from 2011 to 2015. He was a regular starter in both 2013 and 2014, while seeing significant playing time in 2015.

Martin was also an everyday player for the Seattle Mariners in 2016, before splitting last season with the M’s and Chicago Cubs.

His 2017 stats (-0.4 fWAR, 35 wRC+ and a .224 wOBA) won’t show it, but the outfielder has plenty to offer at the Major League level.

As recently as 2016 he notched a 2.2 fWAR. It was the veteran’s third season in the last five campaigns with an fWAR north of 2.0.

Part of what has made Martin so valuable in the past has been his ability to make an impact on the base paths and in the field.

Since the beginning of the 2013 season—when he started seeing consistent at-bats—only 12 players have stole more bases than Martin.

The former Ranger is tied with a certain Mike Trout with 112 swipes over that span.

If raw stolen bases totals don’t tickle your fancy, perhaps some more advanced metrics will. Martin ranks 13th in Major League Baseball over the same span with a collective BsR of 21.9.

That 21.9 BsR includes respective outputs of 7.7, 6.6, 2.7 and 4.6 from 2013 to 2016.

In the last three seasons, Detroit’s leaders in BsR include the following:

2015: Yoenis Cespedes, 2.3.

2016: Ian Kinsler, 3.6.

2017: Mikie Mahtook, 3.2.

The three, along with Cameron Maybin in’s 2.5 BsR in 2016, are the only players to even come in above the 2.0 mark.

In that regard alone, Martin’s addition could provide instant dividends.

Another area where the 29-year-old could make an impact is in spacious Comerica Park.

Detroit’s defensive struggles have been well-documented, and the team’s outfielders struggled mightily at times in 2017.

Overall, Detroit outfield players ranked 18th in UZR/150 (-1.8), 20th in collective DRS (-10) and 29th in ARM (-14.2).

The outfield stats were largely weighed down players like J.D. Martinez (-16.4 UZR/150, a -6 DRS and a -4.9 ARM), Nicholas Castellanos (-80.5 UZR/150, -7 DRS and a -3.2 ARM) and Alex Presley (-8.0 UZR/150, -11 DRS and a -0.5 ARM).

These statistical outputs overshadowed players who were actually quite dependable in the outfield grass, including Justin Upton and his +13 DRS, Andrew Romine and his team-leading 7.9 UZR/150 and JaCoby Jones.

Despite seeing considerably less playing time, the rookie logged a 4.3 UZR/150 and a +5 DRS in Comerica Park’s spacious center field.

Still, whichever way you slice it, the Tigers needed defensive help in the outfield.

Upton was traded to Anaheim on the eve of September, while Romine also now calls the American League West his home division after being claimed on waivers by the Mariners.

Jones is still a Detroit Tigers player, but his offensive struggles—which we’ll get to in a bit—make it somewhat difficult to play him every day.

Gardenhire and the Tigers should have no problem playing Martin every day, especially considering he can make a serious impact in the outfield grass.

Among center fielders with at least 4,000 since the start of the 2013 season, Martin ranks fourth behind only Billy Hamilton, Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Gomez in Def, or defensive runs above average.

The ex-Ranger checks in with a 41.3 stat in the category.

He also ranks behind Cain, and only Cain, in DRS, with a positive output of +48.

In terms of ARM, Martin finally comes in ahead of the longtime Kansas City outfielder, along with all other outfielders, with a 34.7 metric.

Offensive Boost

Now we’ve circled back to the JaCoby Jones offensive production portion of the column. The former Pirates farmhand shows considerable potential, but struggles mightily at the plate.

In 154 plate appearances, the 25-year-old managed just a 34 wRC+ and a .229 wOBA. He also put up a .240 on-base percentage and a .270 slugging percentage.

While struggles at the plate are nothing new for players breaking into the Major Leagues, Jones continues to swing and miss far too often.

The center fielder posted a 42.2% strikeout rate in 2017, which was only a slight improvement over the 42.9% rate he logged in 28 plate appearances in 2016.

Jones’ defense and base running ability will continue to play at the Major League level, but until he can develop at the dish, he may be better suited as serving as a defensive replacement and pinch runner late in games.

With Mike Gerber and Christin Stewart far from locks to play early for the Tigers in 2018, Mikie Mahtook looks slated for the starting gig in left field.

That left Jones the sole starting option in center field.

Now, with Martin in the mix, Detroit’s offensive outlook in center field is much improved.

Offensive upside

The former Mariner is by no means an offensive force in the Majors, but he brings some power to the game as a center fielder, a trait that gives him intriguing potential.

Martin clocked 15 home runs in 2016, and has registered ISO stats over .120 in two of his three seasons as a starting player.

What’s more, he’s coming off an excellent 88 game, 388 plate appearance stint with Triple-A Tacoma, in which he swatted 11 home runs to go along with 63 runs scored, 39 RBI, 25 stolen bases, a .361 wOBA and a 114 wRC+.

Those numbers may not be sustainable in the Majors, but Martin is a prime candidate to bounce back.

His 2017 production was severely hampered by an exceedingly-low .207 BABUP that was well below his career .306 number.

Low BABIP-induced down years are nothing new for Martin.

His BABIP dropped to .270 in 2015.

Following a strong 2014 campaign, his offensive production dropped off considerably.

Leonys Martin 2014 production: .274 batting average, .325 on-base percentage, .364 slugging percentage, .306 wOBA and a 91 wRC+.

Leonys Martin 2015 production: .219 batting average, .264 on-base percentage, .313 slugging percentage, a .254 wOBA and a 52 wRC+.

After an offseason trade to Seattle, Martin bounced back in the Pacific Northwest as his BABIP returned to a more-normal looking .313 number.

In 576 plate appearances for the M’s, the outfielder hit .247 with a .306 on-base percentage, a .378 slugging percentage, a .298 wOBA and an 88 wRC+.

If the BABIP can come up again, Martin has a chance to make a significant impact for the Detroit Tigers in 2018 in multiple facets of the game.

USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale tweeted about Martin’s reported salary in 2018 in a tweet on Tuesday.

Nightengale tweeted the following:

Even if the Tigers end up paying all of Martin’s reported incentives, a reported $2.85 million could turn into a significant bargain if Leonys Martin can regain his past form.

More MLB Columns: With Shohei Ohtani and reportedly Kevin Maitan, the future is bright in Anaheim.