As a national writer, come playoff time, you end up with a skewed perspective. Just about all of your attention is concentrated on the playoffs, and so nearly all you’re writing about has to do with the playoffs. The easy assumption is that everyone out there is in the same boat, following along just like you are, but baseball is a game of regional interest, and the majority of teams quit after game 162. And then teams continue to drop out every week, until there are two, until there is one. The playoffs last for a month, and as a writer, they’re exhausting. For so many fans, though, that very same month is boring. You’re just waiting for the playoffs to end. Waiting so baseball can get on with things.
When I chatted during the postseason, I’d always get questions about when the offseason would begin. I’d get questions about free agents and trade rumors, even though I’ve been mostly prepared to talk about the Cubs and the Indians. So many of you have been looking ahead. So many of you have wanted to see what lies beyond, when all the games are over.
All the games are over. Cameron Maybin has been traded. The offseason is here. Welcome back.
I know that there have been DFAs and waiver claims. Even just today, Nori Aoki was claimed by the Astros from the Mariners, and Aoki is a player of a certain profile. If you’d like, you could say Aoki marks the start of it all. I find the Maybin trade just a little more newsworthy. Maybin is more likely to start. And regardless, both moves have happened the day after the World Series. The point is, we’ve arrived. The signal last year might’ve been the Brad Miller trade. That happened four days after Game 5. We’ve got less than 24 hours of separation, but already, the Angels think they have a left fielder.
This move is wonderfully simple. The Angels were in need of an outfielder, and had no internal options. The Tigers were in need of some flexibility, and had some internal options. So Maybin is off to the Angels, with one remaining year of control, while the Tigers are getting Victor Alcantara. Alcantara is 23 and his numbers are bad. He also throws hard, and he’s long been a starter. Relief work has felt inevitable, and he could make a seamless transition as soon as next March. On most offseason days, this exchange might go by barely noticed. On the first day, it’s just fun to have something new to think about.
Why Maybin? There’s some value, probably, in addressing some needs as fast as you can. This is now one less thing for the Angels to worry about, and you could say the same of the Tigers. One day in, the offseason left has become that much more simple. And as far as the Angels are concerned, I feel obligated to show you something. The team has existed since 1961. Here’s how their left fielders have hit, relative to the league-average left fielder:
There was really no reason for me to go so far back, but I’m a stickler about being complete. You’ll notice the recent divergence. In 2014, Angels left fielders were bad. In 2015, they were worse. In 2016, they were worse still. Over the last three years combined, Angels left fielders have posted a .602 OPS. Second-worst are the Phillies, at .645. Then you get the Astros, at .682. The Angels were the worst this year, and they were the worst last year, and over these three seasons, no baseball team has had a greater number of left fielders suit up. For some teams, certain positions are catastrophes. That corner of the outfield in Anaheim has been a train wreck.
The thing we always say about the Angels is that when you get to start with Mike Trout, you get an enormous leg up. Trout gives the Angels an incomparable advantage — the last three years in center field, the Angels have been several wins better than any other team. Yet so much of that has been given right back by the left fielders collectively being something around replacement-level. Trout doesn’t make for a good team by himself. He needs support, and while the Angels don’t have the resources to go get another elite, Maybin should at least be acceptable.
Acceptable. It’s a low bar, but the Angels haven’t met it. All they’re trying to do here is eliminate a black hole. Maybin, for his career, has averaged 2.2 WAR per 600 plate appearances. He currently projects for 1.7 WAR per 600 plate appearances. He’s 29 years old, so he’s much younger than Aoki, and though the two are similarly-productive hitters, Maybin can run, and Maybin can field. What Maybin apparently can’t do is throw, but that’ll matter less in left. He should track baseballs down, having been a regular center fielder. Maybin makes the Angels what they might call “more dynamic,” and though he’s not a power hitter, he does walk some, and he makes contact. He’s something like adequate across the board, maybe with a little lingering upside, and while no one gets jazzed about adequacy, I don’t know what more the Angels can strive for. They’re limited, you might’ve heard. These are the moves you make when you don’t know how else to improve.
There’s nothing to be taken for granted. In the 2014 preseason left field positional power rankings, the Angels ranked 12th. Then Josh Hamilton kept on being a bust. The next year, the Angels ranked 14th. Matt Joyce was a nightmare for seemingly no reason. Coming into this last year, the Angels ranked 26th — no one was particularly high on a Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon. Even that, though, you could talk yourself into. The leader in left-field games wound up being whoever Rafael Ortega is. Gentry finished seventh.
So it feels like you can safely plug Maybin in for a certain number, but, no, you can’t, I’m sorry. Every player is volatile. The Angels have seen this go wrong before. But Maybin’s at least a different player, and they simply didn’t have many options. He’s no long-term solution, but the Angels are working on being able to develop those, and it’s going to take a while. In the meantime, they want to make sure that they’re decent. Decent can win 89 games.
For the Tigers, a door’s been opened for JaCoby Jones. He might even deserve it. That door could’ve been opened anyway just by not picking up Maybin’s option, but now they get Alcantara, and whatever he could be. It’s almost like getting a free prospect, but for the fact he wasn’t really free, and the fact that he’s not anything great. Crazy things happen when starters relieve, though. They can get good, and they can go fast. The Tigers are forever accepting of bullpen arms, and a big fastball would get anyone noticed.
I’ve written this much. I’ve written this much about Cameron Maybin for Victor Alcantara. And you know what? You’ve read this much. We were all ready for this. Hello, second season.