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Angels trade catcher Martin Maldonado to Astros

The Angels confirmed their fading status in the American League playoff race Thursday by trading a player who was part of their highly valued defensive backbone.

Catcher Martin Maldonado was dealt to Houston in exchange for Class-A pitcher Patrick Sandoval and $250,000 in international pool space.

The Angels (51-52) began Thursday 15½ games behind the Astros in the AL West and 10½ games in back of Seattle for the league’s second wild-card spot. Since opening the season 13-3, they went 38-49.

“You can call it what you want to call it,” said general manager Billy Eppler, explaining that his intent is to always do what’s best for the organization.

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“The calculus that we had to weigh was 60 more days of Martin Maldonado and whatever could possibly come after that versus the opportunity to add what we consider an impactful arm,” Eppler said.

The Angels chose the latter, opting to look ahead as their 2018 possibilities appear limited at best.

With the nonwaiver trade deadline coming Tuesday, the team could remain active. Like Maldonado, second baseman Ian Kinsler is an impending free agent and could be appealing to a team in contention because of his defense.

The Angels also have several relievers who are under team control - Blake Parker, Jose Alvarez and Cam Bedrosian among them - who could be moved.

“One of the tasks that myself and my front office is charged with,” Eppler said, “is to remain opportunistic and see if there’s something that can better the organization.”

Maldonado, 31, spent five seasons with Milwaukee as a backup before the Angels acquired him in a trade in December 2016.

He emerged last season as a more than capable everyday catcher, winning a Gold Glove while hitting 14 home runs. He routinely is lauded for his extensive preparation and ability to communicate with pitchers.

“A little bit of a surprise,” Maldonado said Thursday morning. “At the same time, I know I’m going to be a free agent and we haven’t played the way we wanted to play. It’s a business. They have to do what’s best for the team.”

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Maldonado was second in baseball in innings caught before the deal, trailing only Willson Contreras of the Chicago Cubs.

But he had permitted just 15 stolen bases - compared to 35 for Contreras - while throwing out 12.

Among starting catchers, only Kansas City’s Salvador Perez has a better caught-stealing percentage this season than Maldonado does.

“There’s no doubt that Martin had the respect of everybody, not only on the coaching staff but the players,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He contributed greatly to where we need to be on the defensive side.”

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For the remainder of the season, the Angels will rely more on rookie Jose Briceno, with veteran backup Rene Rivera expected to return from a knee injury next month.

To take Maldonado’s roster spot, they promoted catcher Francisco Arcia from triple-A Salt Lake. The 28-year-old had spent his entire career in the minors, starting in 2007.

In Sandoval, the Angels added a left-hander who, Eppler said, has a “chance to move quick” through their system. He was assigned to Class A Inland Empire.

Eppler said Sandoval has a 94-mph fastball, while also praising his curve and slider and saying his changeup is “a real weapon.”

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A native of Mission Viejo, Sandoval appeared in 19 games (13 starts) this season between two of Houston’s Class A affiliates. He’s 9-1 with two saves and a 2.56 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 88 innings.

Sandoval had a 42-inning scoreless streak that ended in mid-July. He was 6-0 with 48 strikeouts during that stretch.

Though he is now a former Angel, Maldonado leaves Anaheim on amicable terms, making it possible that he could return as a free agent in the offseason.

Eppler refused to speculate, pending the completion of this season and the composition of the market once all free agents have filed. Maldonado was more forthcoming.

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“The doors are open,” he said. “I understand his [Eppler’s] part of the situation. This is best for the team at the time. It’s something where we’re going to keep talking and see what might be best for both sides.”


UPDATES:

1:05 p.m.: This article was updated throughout.

This article was originally published at 10:10 a.m.

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