It seems the Angels are fixed on working in pairs* this winter. The club has made two trades with the Dodgers, two waiver claims from the D’Backs, a trade and a waiver claim with the Astros, a trade and a Rule 5 Draft selection with the Rockies, and, now, two trades with the Rays: The Halos acquired veteran outfielder Matt Joyce from Tampa Bay in exchange for Kevin Jepsen on Tuesday, giving the team some much-needed depth at designated hitter and an extra lefty bat to man the outfield corners.
Joyce, 30, immediately bolsters what were very low expectations at DH next season. ZiPS projected the tag team of C.J Cron, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and Efren Navarro to combine for 0.7 WAR at the position in 2015, which was the second-lowest expected total for an AL team. With Joyce added to the mix, that total jumps to 1.6 WAR, right into the middle of the pack.
Jerry Dipoto is saying that Joyce will serve as the primary DH, but I’d be surprised if that title is more than semantic. In a league that’s still dominated by right-handed pitchers, of course the lefty hitter would be the primary guy. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll start every game. For as good as Joyce is at crushing righties (.355 wOBA!), he’s undeniably terrible (.257 wOBA) against southpaws. Knowing that—and you can bet the Angels are well aware of the dichotomy—there’s no reason for Mike Scioscia to start Joyce against lefties when Cron is waiting in the wings. For all C.J.’s troubles with plate discipline, I think he can be counted on to at least be better than Joyce vs. LHPs. Cron didn’t have much of a platoon split in 2014, but his K rate was seven percent better when he had the handedness advantage.
Oddly, Joyce has always been a much better player in the first half than the second. Over the last four years he’s averaged a 145-point drop in OPS after the All-Star break, and for his career holds a .356 wOBA vs. a .325 wOBA between the two halves. There’s no way of knowing what causes his annual second-half dip in numbers, but I think it’s safe to say it’s more than just random noise, and thus is something to be addressed. Just how the Halos plan on dealing with his seemingly inevitable post-ASB decline is unknown, but it should be interesting to keep an eye on.
Joyce is expected to make ~$5 million this winter–his final season of arbitration–which represents only about a $2.5 million pay hike over what the club would have paid Jepsen. If we assume Jepsen would have earned roughly $4 million next season, his final arbitration year, then the Halos just saved a couple million. Sort of. Not really.
In Kevin Jepsen, the Angels lose a late-innings reliever who appeared to be finally coming into his own in 2014. The right-hander, also 30, posted career bests in just about every meaningful statistical category last season, including earned-run average (2.63), innings pitched (65), and strikeouts per nine (10.4). If you believe that Jepsen is a safe bet to repeat that performance next year, then his loss is pretty massive hit to the bullpen. If you’re like me, though, and believe that relievers are the biggest gambles in the game and that there was a slim chance he’d ever be that good again—Hello, .547 OPS-against!—then his jettison to St. Petersburg looks like a master stroke. Two years of a solid but injury-prone reliever for one year of an affordable, quality lefty bat? Yes, please.
Even without Jepsen (and Jairo Diaz), the Halos still have a powerful and deep relief corps on their hands. Huston Street, Joe Smith, Mike Morin, Cesar Ramos, Cory Rasmus, Fernando Salas, and Hector Santiago/Vinnie Pestano should be more than enough to keep teams off the board in the late innings. And should one of them get hurt? There’s still Cam Bedrosian, Drew Rucinski, Jeremy McBryde, Danny Reynolds, and Trevor Gott standing by to fill in. Mourn the loss of a long-tenured Angel, but not what it might mean for the bullpen. It’s still in very good shape.
The one thing that gives me pause about this deal is that it’s cemented in many minds the notion that Mike Trout will hit third in 2015. This is a terrible idea. As I’ve written before, optimal lineup construction isn’t the big game-changer that many want it to be, unless it involves Mike Trout. He has been so much better than everyone else the last three seasons that willfully choosing to give him fewer plate appearances—which is all moving to the three hole actually does for sure—should be grounds for excommunication from Major League Baseball. With the combination of Iannetta and Aybar at the bottom of the lineup, Trout gets all the run-producing opportunities he needs batting second—he did just lead the league in RBI, did he not? Slotting Matt Joyce into the two hole, .342 OBP and all, isn’t going to make a difference on that front.
A potential Opening Day lineup, as things stand:
*I guess we should expect a second transaction with the Rangers any day now…