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Position/Role Battles: The Angels' Designated Hitter

The Angels find themselves in a position common to fantasy owners --- too much talent stockpiled at one position. Were the Halos a fantasy team, no doubt they'd be pestering you to acquire one of Bobby Abreu, Mark Trumbo or Kendrys Morales for your utility or corner infield spot in exchange for an outfielder.  (In real life, of course, Vernon Wells can't be so easily or cheaply released.)

A positional logjam is a small price to pay when it is caused by the addition of a superstar like Albert Pujols. It's very possible the Angels could still swing a trade to move at least one of their DH candidates; just within the last week, an Abreu-for-A.J. Burnett deal was floated with the Yankees, though Burnett rejected the deal since the Angels and other West Coast teams are on his no-trade list. If a trade doesn't happen, however, let's see how Abreu, Trumbo and Morales might all fit into the Los Angeles lineup ...

Abreu: It may be tough for Abreu to reach Cooperstown, but he is a charter member of the Underrated Fantasy Player Hall Of Fame. Abreu has averaged 102 runs scored, 101 walks, 20 homers and 28 steals per season over the past 13 years, and yet always seems to be available about a round lower than you'd expect. After years of consistency, however, Abreu has finally started to slip, batting .255/.352/.435 in 2010 and dropping to a .253/.353/.365 line last season.  Abreu turns 38 in March and is simply no longer a viable everyday option, as his numbers against left-handed pitching have especially slipped in recent years.

This didn't stop LAA from playing Abreu enough for him to unlock a vesting option in his contract, extending his deal through 2012 and guaranteeing him a $9MM salary. At that price, it's going to be hard for the Halos to unload Abreu in a deal, especially with so many other DH types like Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui, etc. still on the free agent market and available at a much lower price.  Swapping Abreu for another bad contract (i.e. Burnett) might be the only way the Angels would make a trade work.

If Abreu does remain an Angel, however, his days of 600-plus plate appearances are over.  Expect him to be used much more sparingly, more or less exclusively against right-handed pitching. Fantasy-wise, I'm not sure Abreu holds much value, even as a part-timer.  His numbers even against righties have slipped in recent years, so there are better options out there if you're looking for players with pronounced splits as streaming options.

Trumbo: Despite 29 homers and a second-place finish in the AL Rookie Of The Year balloting, there isn't a great sense that Trumbo is a big part of the Angels' future. Trumbo's power was countered by his .254 average and a disturbingly low .291 OBP -- getting on base has been issue for Trumbo throughout his career, as he carries a career .330 OBP in the minor leagues.  This said, Trumbo is just 26 years old and is theoretically entering his prime, so the Angels are committed to seeing if his overall batting skills develop into something special. Even if he doesn't, there are worse fates for a player than following the Mark Reynolds career path.

Reynolds could become an even closer comparable to Trumbo since the Angels will be working Trumbo out at third base during Spring Training in an attempt to find him a regular spot in the lineup.  Trumbo would displace regular third baseman Alberto Callaspo, who should still find some playing time against left-handed pitching (Callaspo is a switch-hitter, Trumbo is right-handed) and spelling Trumbo as a defensive replacement. 

Third-base eligibility would give Trumbo a big fantasy boost, as third basemen with 29-homer potential are hard to come by.  If he proves he can handle the job during Spring Training, he is definitely worth a pick during the later rounds of your fantasy draft.  There is risk attached to a Trumbo pick, however, as he'll provide virtually no fantasy value if his power wanes. Also, if he can't handle third base, it leaves Trumbo as a part-time DH at best and greatly limit his value.

Morales: Here's the big x-factor. Morales suffered one of the most infamous injuries in recent baseball history on May 29, 2010, when he fractured his lower left leg leaping onto home plate after a walkoff grand slam.  Two surgeries later, Morales may finally be ready to return, but the Angels will treat him with kid gloves. In other words, don't dream that Morales will be healthy enough to take over from Wells in left field since it'd be a surprise if the Angels play him anywhere other than the DH spot this season.

Even if Morales is fit, you can't expect him to regain his 2009 form after missing essentially two years of action. Morales was hitting .290/.346/.487 before he went down in 2010, and optimistically, that's probably his ceiling if he can stay healthy in 2012. An .833 OPS is nothing to sneeze at, but again, that represents a best-case scenario for Morales, who might not be ready for Opening Day.  I'd expect Los Angeles to bring Morales along slowly, keeping him in a DH platoon until he proves he's healthy enough to handle more playing time. It all adds up to a classic "draft him in the last or second-last round" scenario, and in most leagues, I'd guess Morales to last that long given the sheer uncertainty about his injury situation.

Fantasy outlook: It's easy to foresee a scenario where Morales isn't healthy, Abreu continues his decline and Trumbo fails to develop, turning the Angels' "logjam" at DH into an even more pressing problem of having nobody to fill the spot. It's also worth citing the names of Wells, Torii Hunter and super-prospect Mike Trout in the conversation.  If none of Abreu/Trumbo/Morales working out, you could see Hunter or Wells added to the DH mix, creating an everyday job for Trout in the outfield. 

For now, however, we'll save Mike Scioscia some lineup juggling and presume that it will indeed be some combination of Abreu, Trumbo and/or Morales rotating as the designated hitter. Trumbo's possible third base eligibility gives him the most fantasy value of the three players, with Morales' potential making him the second-best choice and Abreu's decline putting him in back.  Given the number of question marks surrounding all three players, LAA general manager Jerry Dipoto may want to hold off on trades until he sees which (if any) of his DH candidates will perform in 2012. In fact, if it turns out Morales can't play, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Halos sign someone like a Damon or a Guerrero late in Spring Training to help fill the void.



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