Halos must wait and see with Trumbo, Morales
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com | 02/01/12 11:02 AM EST
ANAHEIM -- Later this month, every team in baseball will be deploying to their Spring Training facilities to make key decisions toward their 25-man rosters. For the Angels, Tempe, Ariz., will be the site where they'll pick a fifth starter, map out their bullpen and bench, and decide the immediate futures of outfielder Mike Trout and catcher Hank Conger.
But most critical this spring -- by far -- are the decisions Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales can help make for them.
Trumbo and Morales, the two former first basemen with hazy futures now that Albert Pujols is on board, control their own destinies in many ways. If Trumbo can learn third base, manager Mike Scioscia will have a much-needed avenue to insert his bat in the lineup. If Morales can regain his form after missing the last 1 1/2 seasons with a broken left ankle, he can get a lot of plate appearances as the designated hitter and perhaps protect Pujols by batting cleanup.
With the stress fracture in his right foot not healing as quickly as expected, Trumbo hasn't been able to get as many reps at third base as he would've liked this offseason. But he has done limited work at the position and had been estimated to at least be fully healed by late February. Morales recently started taking live batting practice and his progress has been quite positive throughout. But, well, you've probably heard that before.
In other words, the Angels won't really know the fortunes of Trumbo and Morales until they get a firsthand look in Spring Training.
With 19 days left until the first reporting date, here's a look at what their options can be in each circumstance (barring trades, of course):
Trumbo learns 3B and Morales is healthy
We'll start with the best-case scenario. If Trumbo is an option at third base and Morales is an option at DH, then the Angels can have that deep, fluid rotation general manager Jerry Dipoto wants and that Scioscia is usually good at handling.
Trumbo isn't expected to be an everyday third baseman, per se, but he'd get plenty of action at the hot corner if capable. When he's not there, Alberto Callaspo -- the Angels' leader in on-base percentage last year -- or Maicer Izturis would start at third, and Trumbo can either DH, give Pujols a spell at first base, take the day off or maybe even play a corner-outfield spot.
If healthy and productive, Morales would get a lot of time at DH and would be very valuable as probably the only member of the Angels' lineup who can provide power from the left side of the plate.
Simply put, Trumbo and Morales both panning out allows the Angels to set up the best matchups on a daily basis and keep everyone as fresh as possible.
Trumbo learns 3B but Morales isn't healthy
That's when, all of a sudden, Bobby Abreu regains value.
If Morales has another setback or struggles after missing so much time, then switch-hitting infielders Callaspo, Izturis and Erick Aybar are the only everyday-type players who bat from the left side -- and none of them are what you would call power hitters.
Abreu has been perceived from the outside as trade bait since the Pujols signing. But the $9 million left on his contract makes him difficult to move, and the fact he can produce from the left side and was still second on the Angels in on-base percentage in 2011 could make him useful if Morales isn't a factor.
It wouldn't be as great as having the Morales of old -- or something close to that -- but Trumbo and Abreu could be a solid platoon of sorts at DH. And on nights when the matchup gives the nod to Abreu at the spot, Trumbo can see time at third base.
Trumbo can't learn 3B but Morales is healthy
This is when it gets tricky.
If Trumbo can't grasp the hot corner, then Callaspo is probably the everyday third baseman, like he was while batting .288 with a .366 on-base percentage and 46 RBIs in 141 games last year.
Then the Angels would really have a logjam, with Pujols playing first base every day and Trumbo and Morales both at DH.
At that point, one of them could become expendable -- and given their price tags, both would be desirable. Teams like the Indians, Athletics, Mariners and Orioles, just to name a few, would probably be interested.
But given the circumstances and the potential gain, you have to think the Angels would give Trumbo plenty of rope at third base.
Trumbo can't learn 3B and Morales isn't healthy
It's the most dreaded scenario of the four, but also the most unlikely.
The assumption here is that even if Trumbo can't adjust to third base, he'd be healthy enough to be an option at DH. If Morales isn't, then the assumption would be that the DH spot is all Trumbo's, who would make the occasional start at first base to give Pujols' legs a break.
Even in this worst-case scenario, the Angels' lineup would project to be much better than last year's, given that they're basically replacing the bat of Abreu (38 in March, .717 OPS in 2011) with the bat of Pujols (widely considered the best hitter on the planet).
Abreu could still have a role on the team as a lefty bat off the bench who can spot-start when the matchups are in his favor. But most of the time, the Angels' lineup would be leaning very heavily to the right, and Scioscia's options would be nowhere near as vast.