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Angels like Johnny Giavotella, but would like to upgrade at second base anyway

Angels second baseman Johnny Giavotella fields a ball during a game against the Seattle Mariners on July 10.

Angels second baseman Johnny Giavotella fields a ball during a game against the Seattle Mariners on July 10.

(John Froschauer / Associated Press)

— Billy Eppler got a little defensive last week when reminded that his first three moves as Angels general manager were to acquire three players known primarily for their defense, slick-fielding shortstop Andrelton Simmons, utility infielder Cliff Pennington and catcher Geovany Soto.

“I’m probably getting a little bit of a rap for being all defensive-oriented,” Eppler said. “You contribute on both sides of the baseball. Defense isn’t everything.”

But it’s something, especially for players up the middle, which brings us to Angels second baseman Johnny Giavotella. He was surprisingly strong at the plate last season, batting .272 with 25 doubles and 49 runs batted in, but is hardly the second coming of Roberto Alomar with the glove.

Though Giavotella made some nice diving stops in the final two weeks of the season, his overall play rated poorly according to Fangraphs’ advanced defensive metrics.

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Giavotella’s defensive runs above average, which measures a player’s value relative to the league average, was -5.4, 17th among 18 qualifying major league second basemen.

Does the discrepancy between his bat and glove make Giavotella, 28, difficult to evaluate for a new GM who must fill a gaping hole in left field, another hole at third base and might not have enough resources left, in dollars or trade chips, to upgrade at second?

“No,” Eppler said Tuesday at the winter meetings. “You evaluate every player on an offensive component, a defensive component and a speed component. You homogenize it all together and spit out a grade.”

And how does the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Giavotella rate?

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“Solid,” Eppler said. “He’s solid defensively, he’s got plate discipline, he’s got pop.”

Eppler chooses his words carefully. The Angels would like to upgrade at second base with a player who would be a better defensive complement to the spectacular Simmons.

They’re open to a reunion with Kendrick, or they could trade for a second baseman such as Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker, St. Louis’ Kolten Wong, Arizona’s Brandon Drury or Chris Owings or perhaps Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips.

But if Giavotella retains the job, Eppler doesn’t want to show a lack of confidence in him. Asked if he considers second base a position of need, Eppler said, “In any spot around the diamond, if you can improve, it’s our duty to do that.”

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Same goes for third base, which was vacated by free-agent David Freese, whose defense was so suspect the Angels replaced him with rookie Kaleb Cowart in the late innings of games in which they held a narrow lead in September.

Two potential trade targets — Arizona’s Jake Lamb and Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier — would be good fits.

Of the 25 third basemen who played at least 700 innings last season, Lamb rated sixth in defensive runs above average (10.0). Frazier rated sixth in defensive runs above average (9.6).

Frazier, 29, who will get $7.5 million next season, also has power — he hit .255 with 35 home runs and 82 RBIs last season. The left-handed-hitting Lamb, 25, batted .263 with a .331 with six home runs and 34 RBIs in 107 games.

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If the Angels don’t trade for a third baseman, Cowart, a better defender, and fellow rookie Kyle Kubitza, a better hitter, will compete for the job.

Whoever flanks Simmons, 26, will be playing with a shortstop who has no peer. Gifted with great hands and range, quickness and a cannon for an arm, Simmons, acquired from Atlanta in November, has been the Wilson defensive player of the year at shortstop for three years. In his first three full seasons, he accumulated 94 runs saved, easily the best in baseball.

Asked how good Simmons is, Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “How much time to you have? It’s not only the great plays, but the instincts, the awareness. There are plays that don’t even make the highlights that he makes, the stops of a runner going for another base that turn your head and you go, ‘Did we just see that?’ ”

Short hops

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The Angels signed speedy outfielder Quintin Berry, 31, to a minor league contract with a spring-training invitation. Berry spent most of last season in Boston’s farm system before being released in August. He signed with the Chicago Cubs and appeared in eight big league games in September. Berry has been successful on 27 of 28 stolen base attempts in parts of four big league seasons.

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Eppler said Bill Stoneman, the former Angels GM who served as interim GM after Jerry Dipoto resigned July 1, would be retained as a senior adviser.

Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna

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