The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are just 1.5 games out of the second AL wild card spot but are making moves as if they already own one of the berths and want to maintain a lead.
GM Billy Eppler made not one but two key trades yesterday and instantly put his team in a better position to make a strong push for a wild card berth.
Eppler first acquired power-hitting outfielder Justin Upton from the Detroit Tigers for a minor league pitcher and future considerations. He then landed veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips from the Atlanta Braves and immediately upgraded the Angels’ infield.
Make no mistake, fans. The Angels mean business and aren’t going to go down quietly over the season’s last month.
The role of Upton
The bigger acquisition for the Angels is, of course, Justin Upton. The four-time All-Star just turned 30 and is having a wonderful season to the tune of a .279 batting average, 28 home runs, and 94 RBI. Upton also has a WAR of 5 on the season and has looked more confident at the plate after batting just .248 from 2015 through 2016.
The man gives the Angels a proper power bat to complement star Mike Trout, not to mention offer the two-time MVP some much-needed protection in the lineup. If all goes according to plan, a Los Angeles offense that currently ranks 23rd in runs scored and home runs and 26th in batting average will receive a much-needed boost. Moreover, the fact that Upton’s next home run will be the 250th of his career adds some more pizazz to the deal.
But Eppler is also taking a big risk with his new outfielder. Upton signed a six-year, $132.75 million contract with Detroit prior to 2016 and the deal contains an opt-out clause after this season. Per multiple sources, Upton was traded from Detroit because of his plans to opt out of the deal, a move that makes sense on his part given Detroit’s rebuilding phase.
And Upton did not opt in for the remainder of his contract upon being traded, meaning that he could just wind up being a rental for the Angels. That could change if the team winds up making the postseason, but even then Upton might opt out and look to earn more than the $22.1 million a year he would earn upon opting in.
But the truth is that we are at the point in the season where no risk means no reward so when push comes to shove, Eppler did the right thing in landing Upton.
“They call him Phillips”
Acquiring Phillips was done for much simpler reasons. The Angels had a hole at second base that needed filling and the Braves were willing to part ways with Phillips, who had also been seeing time at third base.
Phillips is 36 years old and isn’t going to provide much value going forward, but he still has performed quite well this season. He comes to Los Angeles with a .291 batting average to go with 11 home runs and 52 RBI, plus a career resume that includes four Gold Gloves and three All-Star selections.
Phillips only carries a 1.1 WAR with him to the City of Angels, but keep in mind that the combined WAR of every man who has played second base for Los Angeles this season is an atrocious -1.4. That said, the Angels will take what they can get from Phillips. Even better is that all but $1 million of his $14 million salary is being paid by the Cincinnati Reds this season, so the man is costing Eppler practically nothing.
Thus, between Upton and Phillips, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are setting themselves up for what could be a miraculous September run into the postseason. Lest other teams want to be on the receiving end of a Halos hot streak, they should prepare accordingly for the new lineup.
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