Possible Trade Partner: Los Angeles Angels

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The Angels and Yankees have developed a long-distance rivalry over the last decade or so, and as a result they’ve only made two trades with each other since 1996: Jeff Kennard for Jose Molina (2007) and Bret Prinz for Wil Nieves (2005). That’s it, two swaps involving spare arms and backup catchers. The Halos have since appointed a new GM however, plus they haven’t made the playoff since losing the 2009 ALCS to the Yankees, so perhaps they’re a little more open to the idea of trading with a rival for the sake of improving the club.

Los Angeles Anaheim spent big bucks on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson last year but fell into the trap of being top heavy. They had little depth, especially on the pitching side, meaning they had few alternatives when Ervin Santana stunk and while Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Scott Downs were on the DL. The end result was a third place finish and another offseason spent trying to figure out how to compete with the Rangers (and now the Athletics as well). The Angels have a few pieces who could help the Yankees, so perhaps the two sides could get together for the rare deal.

Alberto Callaspo & Andrew Romine
The Yankees are said to be seeking a utility infielder this winter, specifically someone who can play shortstop and third base a combined 100 times next year while representing an upgrade over Jayson Nix. It sounds simple enough, but that will be one very tough position to fill. The “super-sub” player who can play a different position everyday and actual hit doesn’t really exist. It’s a┬áromanticization of what people used to think Chone Figgins and Mark DeRosa were.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Anyway, the Angels do have some infield depth despite the defection of Maicer Izturis. The 29-year-old Callaspo has taken over as the Angels mostly full-time third baseman in recent years but has plenty of experience at the other infield spots. He’s just a .266/.338/.358 (96 wRC+) hitter over the last three seasons, but he’s also a switch-hitter who can at least hold his own on both sides of the plate (108 wRC+ vs. LHP and 92 vs. RHP). Callaspo’s strength is his command of the strike zone (9.8 BB%) and freakish ability to get the bat on the ball (90.9% contact rate). He’s walked (126) more than he’s struck out (120) over the last three years, and only nine hitters have swung and missed less often since 2010. One of them is not Ichiro Suzuki (90.2%), just for perspective.

The problem with Callaspo — more than the utter lack of power (.096 ISO) and speed (17-for-24 in steal attempts since 2010) — is that he hasn’t played shortstop at all since 2009 and regularly since basically ever. He’s a career second and third baseman who could probably fill in at short in case of emergency, kinda like Nix. He’s also had several run-ins with the law in the past, which might not satisfy the whole “good makeup and character” requirement. Callaspo projects to earn $4.2M in his final trip through arbitration this winter, so he’s not exactly cheap either.

The Angels also have the 26-year-old Romine (Austin’s older brother) on the infield depth chart, but he’s far less established that Callaspo. Romine owns a 49 wRC+ in 51 career big league plate appearances and a .283/.350/.367 (86 wRC+) in over 800 career Triple-A plate appearances. He’s a left-handed hitter and a true shortstop (his defense is his best tool by far) with experience elsewhere on the infield. With all due respect, I think I’d rather see the Yankees try to make Eduardo Nunez into a utility guy again rather than play the elder Romine as much as they seem to looking to play their utility infielder.

Kole Calhoun
I wrote about Calhoun in-depth prior to the trade deadline, so I’ll point you to that and give you the short version here: he’s a left-handed hitting corner outfielder who can hold his own against southpaws, spot start at first base, and offer both patience and some power. He’s also gotten slapped with the “gamer” tag because he’s short, white, runs really hard, and hasn’t gotten a big contract yet. The Angels are still being hung by the Vernon Wells noose and will likely use him as the fourth outfielder behind Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout, and Peter Bourjos this year, meaning Calhoun will probably spend another year in Triple-A waiting for someone ahead of him on the depth chart to get hurt. The Yankees are looking at life after Nick Swisher right now, and the 25-year-old Calhoun offers pretty much everything they’re looking for in Swisher’s replacement, at least on paper.

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The Angels were reportedly seeking a quality left-handed reliever prior to the trade deadline and are said to be focusing on pitching in general this winter, meaning both starters and relievers. The Yankees don’t have much starting pitching to offer at the moment, at least not until Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are re-signed/viable replacements are acquired, but they do have some left-handed relief depth. Boone Logan, who is coming off a career-high workload (55.1 innings and 80 appearances) and is due to be a free agent after 2013, is theoretically made expendable by Clay Rapada, the recently-claimed Josh Spence, and the soon-to-be healthy Cesar Cabral.

Obviously it’s very unlikely that one year of Logan can fetch the Yankees any of the players above, but at least he’s a piece who might entice Angels GM Jerry Dipoto. A conversation starter, something like that. I have no reason to suspect the Angels would have interest in acquiring Alex Rodriguez even if the Yankees ate a big chunk of his contract, so I’m not even going to discuss the possibility. Finding the right prospects or young big leaguers to package with Logan in a trade would be the key for New York, who could theoretically plug their utility infielder and right field holes in one fell swoop. It takes two to tango, of course.

Scouting The Trade Market: Kole Calhoun

The trade deadline is now officially less than a month away, and the Yankees figure to spend most of their energy upgrading this year’s pitching staff and bench. The 2014 payroll plan looms however, and the impending free agencies of Nick Swisher (after this year) and Curtis Granderson (after next year once his 2013 option is exercised) mean the team is likely to be looking for a young, affordable outfielder in the next 18 months. Domonic Brown of the Phillies has been a popular name as a potential target, mostly due to his status as a former elite prospect, but he’s not the only guy out there.

The Angels are flush with young outfielders, obviously highlighted by the ultra-dynamic Mike Trout. They also have the powerful Mark Trumbo and speedy Peter Bourjos, giving them a very nice core of homegrown outfielders. Those three draw all of the attention and rightfully so, but down in Triple-A they also have the 24-year-old Kole Calhoun, who Baseball America ranked as the team’s 20th best prospect in their Prospect Handbook before the season. John Sickels ranked him as the team’s 11th best prospect this spring.

Calhoun’s minor league numbers are pretty dynamite, a .404 wOBA in 274 Triple-A plate appearances this season. That works out to a 140 wRC+, which is adjusted for ballpark and league. His Rookie League (141 wRC+) and High-A (142 wRC+) numbers are right there as well even though the Halos completely skipped him over Low-A and Double-A. We’re talking about 1,100+ minor league plate appearances that have consistently been ~40% better than league average after the necessary adjustments. That said, stats do not tell the entire story. Let’s look at the ins and outs of the former Arizona State Sun Devil…

The Pros

  • Calhoun, listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 lbs., offers some power and lots of patience. His 39 career minor league homers are inflated by hitter friendly home parks, though he’s also hit for plenty of doubles and has strong road numbers as well. An 11.9% walk rate backs up the patience part, and his strikeout rate isn’t outrageous either (17.2%). “He sees his share of pitches and knows what he can handle, seldom missing a pitch he can drive,” wrote Baseball America in the 2012 Prospect Handbook.
  • A left-handed batter, Calhoun has held his own against southpaws over the last two seasons: .300/.367/.500 with nine homers in 230 plate appearances. Obviously that’s not a huge sample, but it is encouraging. “He’s confident and doesn’t dwell on bad at-bats,” added Baseball America.
  • Defensively, Calhoun has experience in all three outfield spots as well as first base. Baseball America said he offers “at least average range on the outfield corners and at first base, and his plus arm strength is a good match for right field.”
  • Calhoun got a taste of the big leagues earlier this season — eight games and 14 plate appearances — but still offers all six years of team control, the first three as a pre-arbitration-eligible player. “He wins admirers not for his raw tools but for his blue-collar approach, plate discipline and professionalism,” wrote Baseball America.

The Cons

  • Calhoun’s walk (7.8%) and strikeout (19.0%) rates in Triple-A this year have taken a big step back compared to the first two years of his minor league career — 13.3% walks and 16.8% strikeouts. Big league pitchers struck him out four times in those 14 plate appearances (28.6%).
  • Baseball America says he has “fringy bat speed,” which limits his long-term power potential. Yankee Stadium could help to a certain extent since he is a lefty, but anytime you’re talking about a long-term corner outfielder with questionable power you have a potential ‘tweener.
  • Although Calhoun can steal the occasional base, he isn’t terribly efficient — 33-for-47 (70.2%) in his minor league career — and Baseball America says he “he grades out as a below-average runner.”

The Yankees do not have anyone in the upper levels of their farm system who projects as an everyday big leaguer, which is why they’re likely to be stuck scrounging the trade market for a Swisher/Granderson replacement. The Angels have enviable young outfield depth and seem like a logical trade partner*, though they’re reported looking for a rotation upgrade and a left-handed reliever better than Hisanori Takahashi. The Yankees don’t have that to offer, not unless they’re willing to dangle Boone Logan. Can’t say I would recommend that when we’re talking about a kid with zero big league success to his credit. The goal is still to win this year.

Prospect-for-prospect trades are very rare because every team loves their kids more than everyone else’s. Maybe GM Jerry Dipoto likes Adam Warren or D.J. Mitchell enough to do a one-for-one swap, which would be a cool little “you need a pitcher, I need a hitter, let’s trade” kinda deal. Think Jesus Montero-for-Michael Pineda on a smaller, Triple-A scale. That would be neat. Either way, I do like Calhoun quite a bit because he’s well-rounded and has shown signs of being able to hold his own against same-side pitchers, plus he offers the Yankees trademarks of left-handed pop (assuming Yankee Stadium shows him some love) and patience. He’s not a sexy name, but he’s a definite fit.

* Just to be clear: There are no reports or evidence that the Yankees are trying to acquire Calhoun or that he’s even available. This is me just throwing a name out there.