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ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Signed IF-L Luis Valbuena to a two-year, $15 million contract. [1/24]

The best team to acquire a player like Valbuena is a team that doesn’t need him. Over the past four years, the versatile lefty has made his bones as an above-average part-time player, filling in at the infield corners and against right-handed pitching. While he’s no savior with the glove at any of the positions he plays, he can handle his business at third and first while picking up the occasional inning at second base or in an outfield corner. But all of that is merely a way to get his bat into the lineup, an excuse to let him unleash against northpaws and leverage 20-homer power and a respectable approach.

Batting average is actually the key for Valbuena—when he’s able to reach base on hits rather than just on walks, he can tip his OBP north of .350. When that happens, he’s very valuable even in seasons like 2016, when he suffered a serious injury that wiped out several weeks; a 2.6 WARP in just 90 games is nothing to sneeze at. Though the Angels already have starters in place at every position and Ben Revere backing up the outfield, Valbuena gives them a complementary piece or a righty-facing starter that may be slightly better than a second-division starter.

It’s getting mighty trendy to start pumping up the Angels as a potential 2017 contender. Despite the Astros perched atop the division like data-loving vultures, the Rangers’ continued ability to develop talent and win close games, and the Mariners’ swap-meet superstar roster, people are talking up the Halos as a dark horse in the American League. To wit, BP's own Jarrett Seidler:

Hmm. Can we fact-check this real quick?

So we’ve got three mid-to-high-80s-or-better teams in Trout’s Angels career, but just one team that made it out of third place in the division. I think it’s fair to argue that the 2016 Angels were decidedly not “otherwise MLB average” around Mike Trout. (I mean, Rafael Ortega and Johnny Giavotella!) The 2013 Angels weren’t quite as bad as the 2016 team on paper, but had large holes (J.B. Shuck, Jerome Williams, Joe Blanton) there too. Given how “good” the rest of the team was in ’12 and ’15 (meh), I think Jarrett got this right.

Valbuena continues this team’s very recent trend of not having large holes, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Valbuena, Revere, and Cameron Maybin to shore up the offensive weaknesses gives this team depth for the first time in a long time. They can sustain an injury to Albert Pujols or Yunel Escobar. Bringing in Danny Espinosa and Martin Maldonado might help them do a little on the run prevention side, but there’s still a huge open question: the entire pitching staff. As much as I love the potential of guys like Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, every starter worth his salt in this rotation is a big injury risk or Ricky Nolasco.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: Valbuena is a huge upgrade over someone like Kaleb Cowart, and could make a respectable platoon with Jefry Marte in case Pujols or C.J. Cron goes MIA. If the rotation breaks right you can certainly see a path to contention; even a mediocre staff and solid but unspectacular lineup can be propelled by a player of Trout’s pedigree. Valbuena’s a great acquisition and role player who doesn’t need to play every day to make a difference, but man could this team use the equivalent of a Valbuena for the rotation.

DETROIT TIGERS
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Acquired OF-R Mikie Mahtook from Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. [1/18]

Every so often, a team vultures a useful spare part for almost nothing. This often comes as a result of a glut of players at a given position, an unexpected windfall, or a late-game deal that leaves a team needing to shed salary. In the case of the Rays, their moves to sign free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus and trade for Atlanta’s Seattle’s Mallex Smith left them overwhelmed with outfielders, and one had to disappear. It only makes sense that the one to leave would be the versatile-but-vanilla Mahtook.

After an excellent run at LSU, Mahtook was one of the more prominent parts of the Rays’ infamous 2011 draft class. That class was supposed to be an intravenous injection of talent for a team that desperately needed it. Instead, it was one of the great draft-and-develop disappointments of the millennium. But at least Mahtook made the majors. He had a wonderful brief run in 2015 when he hit nine homers in 41 games and posted the kind of .351 True Average that makes Josh Donaldson envious. Of course, that wasn’t the real Mahtook, who’s a soft-side platoon bat with enough speed to cover center field.

I’m not sure the 2016 version of Mahtook was the “real” guy either—his .184 True Average and complete inability to reach first base isn’t indicative of his future as a likely role-45 guy who can play two games out of five. Perhaps Mahtook will be the Detroit’s Opening Day center fielder, which would be a very strange turn of events indeed. I mean, it’s not that strange that the Tigers would roll with an unproven second-division starter/fourth-outfielder type manning the short grass on an everyday basis; rather it’s strange that this appears to be the only move that they’re making.

So, we’ve told the story of Mikie Mahtook, fourth outfielder. Now it’s time to tell the tale of Al Avila, general manager. At the start of this offseason there were rumblings that this old, mid-tier Tigers team might finally be ready to break it down and rebuild. And while I don’t think anyone expected this team to trade away their future Hall of Famers Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, you could easily see them moving away from their other valuable parts in Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, and Jordan Zimmermann.

But after dumping Cameron Maybin’s contract on the Angels the Tigers have done … nothing. (Well, until this trade.) Instead of breaking down, you might expect that the Tigers would build up; that’s what they’ve done in each of the past several seasons. Nope. The Tigers have swapped Maybin and Anthony Gose for Mikie Mahtook, and that’s it.

A wise man with a vaguely baseball-sounding name once made a very passionate recommendation against half-measures, and while it’s a little strong for our purposes I think the wisdom of Mike Ehrmantraut holds strong here. The Tigers have made a half-measure move at a time when they need to go all-out to win or start the painful rebuilding process. Yes, Mahtook is free talent, and quite probably an upgrade over Gose. The problem is that soon they’ll learn what the Rays already knew: he just isn’t enough.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Signed OF-L Michael Saunders to a one-year, $9 million contract. [1/19]

Michael Saunders is the equivalent of comfort food for armchair baseball analysts like me. He’s had the aura of “breakout” for almost a decade and he’s a former Mariner (meaning he got plenty of coverage at places like U.S.S. Mariner over the years). People like me have been writing about people like Saunders—fawning over his potential and underratedness, breathlessly penciling him into hypothetical trade proposals—since the blogosphere emerged.

Entering his age-30 season and finally a free agent, Saunders lands in the baseball purgatory of rebuilding Philadelphia just in time to shed his skin as a tout and become just another post-hype regular. And that’s fine. See, the Phillies desperately needed a post-hype regular of average abilities and Saunders is a perfect fit. Despite the presence of the talented Odubel Herrera, the Phillies were third-worst in baseball by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Average in the outfield last season, thanks in no small part to guys like these:

Player 2017 PA 2017 WAA
Tyler Goeddel 234 -2.2
Cody Asche 218 -1.4
Darin Ruf 89 -1.1
Peter Bourjos 383 -1.1
Aaron Altherr 227 -0.9
NO PLEASE STOP

Saunders isn’t a complete player and he isn’t the most reliable kid on the block, but he’s nowhere near that level of bad. The Canadian lefty had a torrid start to 2016, posting a .298/.372/.551 line in the first half en route to his first All-Star game. It was exactly the type of half-season pundits had hoped he’d have as a hitter: power, on-base skills, the whole package.

While a platoon hitter by nature, he even beat up on lefties a little bit. Of course, everything wasn’t wine and roses. Coming off leg injuries, Saunders’ defense suffered. The second half of the season was almost as bad as his first half was good. And, as I’ve noted previously, Saunders was inhumanly un-clutch. Still, his overall .273 True Average was about in line with his career norms: it makes him a roughly average corner outfielder when he can muscle through a full year.

Don’t look now, but the Phillies have put together an outfield that’s a far cry from the garbage they tossed out there last season. With Howie Kendrick in left, Saunders in right, and Herrera shoring up the middle, you can squint and see a competitive offensive core, and only one extended deal past this coming season. The only concern about this outfield might be that there’s not much room for young talents like Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens, or Roman Quinn to grow. To that, I say fie. The next season where Saunders gets 600 plate appearances will be his first, and if he or Kendrick hits well enough leading up to the deadline they can be moved for a prospect or two. Adequacy, with just a hint of trade potential and a clear payroll after the season: that’s the name of the game in Philadelphia. There are much, much worse ways to run your rebuild.

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Chiefsnark
1/26
At least from what's been reported locally (Detroit), the Tigers are at least contemplating beginning the season with a Tyler Collins-Mikie Mahtook platoon in center field. This may be an answer, but not to the question, "Who should play center field?"
jfranco77
1/26
OK, I thought maybe my eye test had failed me, because I watched Collins "play" CF a couple times last year and he did not look good. DRS has him at -4 runs in 207 innings last year. That's not good. UZR isn't quite as bad, giving him -11.4 for UZR/150. Oh, and Fangraphs lists him at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, which is great if you're Kirby Puckett, but otherwise less ideal for a CF.
collins
1/27
Love the Mike Ehrmantraut!