It took a little while but the Angels have finalized their deal with infielder Luis Valbuena. Here are the terms via Angels beat writer Jeff Fletcher:
“#Angels complete Luis Valbuena deal. It’s 2 years, $15M, including a mutual option.”
In Fletcher’s link, he says the Angels also have a club option for 2019 on Valbuena that’s worth 8.5 million dollars that comes with a 500,000 dollar buyout. The Angels will pay Valbuena 6.5 million dollars in 2017 and 8 million in 2018. By all accounts, this looks to be a very solid deal for the Angels.
First, lets look at the statistical aspect of Valbuena. Since 2012, Valbuena has averaged between 1.3-2.9 WAR a season, coming with the Cubs and most recently the division rival Astros. What’s interesting about Valbuena is the way he has accumulated his value over those years. From 2012-2013, he was a sub replacement hitter who walked a lot to make up for his poor power and low batting averages. His above average defense at 2nd and 3rd base is what led to productive seasons. The Valbuena the Angels are getting now is much different. Like many players, Valbuena has declined defensively to the point where he might be a 1B/3B now but he has seen his power surge in every year since 2012. His slugging percentage has rose every year since then and he’s now settled in as a .200 ISO bat who can take walks. Had Valbuena not tore his hamstring in the middle of last year and missed the rest of the 2016, he would’ve rose past his career highs in numerous categories. He posted a career best 123 wRC+ along with a .260/.357/.459 line, which were also career bests in each category.
The aforementioned injury is most likely the reason why Valbuena came at such a cheap price tag. There’s a little uncertainty over his defensive skills now since he’s been declining in that regard but he was still just slightly below average defensively my most measures(-1 DRS and -3.6 UZR). At age 31 and coming off a surgery, it’s no guarantee Valbuena will move around the same but even if he doesn’t, his bat will play at most positions.
Valbuena is being brought in for one big reason: he’s a lefty bat who can mash righties with a power/walk combo that the Angels are sorely missing. From 2014-2016, Valbuena owns a very good 126 wRC+ vs right handed pitching, thanks to a .344 OBP and .473 SLG. Angel Stadium may put a damper in those numbers just a bit but he’ll still provide a much needed left handed presence in the lineup. Another reason he was brought on board is his aforementioned versatility. With Danny Espinosa and Yunel Escobar being free agents after 2017, Valbuena will have a chance to start in 2018 and he’ll have plenty of room to play in 2017.
That leads to the next reason why this signing is very good. Albert Pujols may miss the start of the season so Valbuena can fill in at 1B/DH to start. Yunel Escobar was dinged up for several stretches of 2016 so Valbuena can fill in there. If Danny Espinosa struggles or is hurt, the Angels may even feel like Valbuena can fill in at 2nd base. You can see the theme here: Valbuena could be a huge cog as a depth piece that can play all over the infield for the Angels and will still start plenty of games. Another cool caveat is if the Angels are struggling at the trade deadline, you can move Escobar and Espinosa out and just plug Valbuena in at one of those positions. The Angels boast a ton of infield depth now and it’s possible that Jefry Marte is ticketed for AAA or Cliff Pennington is shipped out soon.
Assuming the Angels pick up the 2019 option, Valbuena will get 23 million dollars over 3 seasons. If you assume Valbuena is a 2 win player for 2017, then loses half a win per season. he’ll accumulate 4.5 wins over 3 years, which is worth about 36 million dollars in the open free agent market. The injury definitely plays a role here as I’m sure some teams were scared off. For the Angels, this is a smart risk because if Valbuena is healthy, they own a very solid asset for a cheap price.
It’s hard to not like this deal for the Angels, as they have totally revamped their position players this offseason in a good way. With this signing, the Angels sit 12 million dollars below the luxury tax threshold, which is realistically enough to add another ok starting pitcher and solid reliever. Billy Eppler has shown he knows what he’s doing this offseason and it’s totally reasonable to think the Angels will have added a few new pitchers by the time Spring Training rolls around. Baseball season is near and the Angels are slowly starting to look more formidable as the season approaches. Welcome aboard, Luis Valbuena.