Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE
The outfield/first base/designated hitter logjam that has plagued the Angels for each of the past two seasons has finally been cleared, after the club traded Kendrys Morales to Seattle for left-hander Jason Vargas on Wednesday.
If you said you saw this one coming, you're a liar.
Jerry Dipoto has done it again.
By trading designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales to the Seattle Mariners for left-hander Jason Vargas, the Los Angeles Angels not only rid themselves of a logjam at designated hitter, but they shored up the back-end of their rotation and answered a few looming questions about their roster heading into 2013.
Dipoto went into ninja-mode again and pulled off a deal that very few (if any) people saw coming. Vargas hadn't been mentioned as a player the Mariners were looking to move, and while Morales was certainly a potential trade chip, Seattle never seemed like a possible destination.
But when Dipoto is wheeling and dealing everything changes.
The 29-year-old Morales had a better year in 2012 than most people woud have expected, hitting .273 with 22 homers, 73 RBI and a .787 OPS after missing nearly two full seasons following a broken left leg suffered (ironically) after a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners in 2010. The Cuban-born slugger could have slotted as the Halos every day designated hitter, but at the cost of the Angels shoving Trumbo into left field and saddling them with a worse defensive outfield than Mike Trout-Bourjos-Josh Hamilton would have been. Morales posted a 121 OPS+ last season, which is above average, and exactly what an awful Mariners offense needs. (Although it's safe to assume that they don't need two designated hitters. Hello, Jesus Montero.)
Vargas, a former teammate of Jered Weaver's at Long Beach State, is an innings-eating fly-ball pitcher who is a solid back-end of the rotation starter. He and new teammate C.J. Wilson are two of only eight A.L. pitchers who have thrown 200+ innings in each of the last two seasons. Sure, his home/road splits are a bit disconcerting (2.74 ERA at home in 2012 as opposed to 4.78 on the road), but with an above-average defense behind him within the confines of a pitcher-friendly park (ESPN's Park Factors ranked Seattle No. 30 and Anaheim No. 27), those splits should stay fairly consistent. And what you get with that consistency is a reliable No. 4 or 5 starter who posted a 97 ERA+ last season, which is a few ticks below league average, but is exactly what most back-end starters are ... and exactly what the Angels needed.
So there you have it. Need, filled. At a reasonable cost.
Now 24-year-old Garrett Richards can focus on being a reliever (a role in which he was fairly effective last season) or go apartment hunting in Salt Lake City and focusing on further developing as a starter. Either way, the Angels win by having a strong young arm that isn't yet ready to step into the starting rotation be given a little more time to figure things out.
The person happiest about this deal is probably center fielder Peter Bourjos. After the Angels inked Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million deal last week, it looked like the team was ready to move forward with an outfield of Hamilton in right, Trout in center and Trumbo in left field. Bourjos was faced with the likelihood of being moved in a trade or assuming the role that he filled for much of 2012, as a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch runner. Now, we can assume Bourjos will be the Angels' starting center fielder, with Trout sliding over to left field and Hamilton staying put in right field, giving the Angels an outfield of three players who were groomed as center fielders, a marked upgrade from anything they've fielded in a couple of years. A comforting situation for one of the best (and most underrated) defensive outfielders in baseball.
In short, the Angels benefit by trading from a surplus to address a deficit. And that's why having Dipoto pulling the strings in the front office (as opposed to Bill Stoneman and/or Tony Reagins) should be a very comforting thing for Angels fans.