Angels sign Luis Valbuena, their probable opening-day first baseman
Luis Valbuena languished on the free-agent market into the new year, but he figures to be the Angels’ opening-day first baseman.
The Angels made their signing of Valbuena official Tuesday, a two-year contract for a guaranteed $15 million with a mutual option for the 2019 season, and General Manager Billy Eppler left no doubt where the infielder would play this season.
“At the outset, the lion’s share of his at-bats will come at first base,” Eppler said.
Eppler said the signing of Valbuena did not reflect additional concern about the condition of Albert Pujols, who is coming off foot surgery. Eppler said Pujols’ rehabilitation is on schedule but it “remains to be seen” whether Pujols would be ready for opening day.
Valbuena’s left-handed bat helps balance a heavily right-handed lineup and also gives the Angels a surplus of corner infielders and designated hitter types. The Angels could platoon Valbuena and C.J. Cron at first base.
Pujols, 36, played 152 games last season but a career-low 28 at first base. He played 120 games at first base in his first season in Anaheim, in 2012, and that number has decreased every year since.
The Angels’ priority is keeping his bat in the lineup; he is nine home runs from becoming the ninth player to hit 600 home runs.
The Angels could trade Cron for pitching help — or, less likely, trade Yunel Escobar or Jefry Marte — but Eppler said he is inclined to “get through spring training” before deciding whether to deal from that surplus.
For now, the Angels catchers are Martin Maldonado and Carlos Perez, neither of whom has played more than 87 games in a minor league season.
The Angels have considered free-agent Matt Wieters, a switch-hitter who hit 17 home runs and played 124 games for the Baltimore Orioles last season. Eppler would not say whether he is in discussions with any free-agent catchers.
“We’ll see what the next 25 days brings,” he said. “We’re always looking to help the club in any way.”
Wieters, 30, a four-time All-Star, has been above the league average as an offensive player in one of the last four seasons, according to the OPS+ statistic. The Angels prioritized defense in trading for Maldonado and retaining Perez.
The Angels also agreed to terms on a minor league contract with utilityman Eric Young Jr. He will be invited to major league spring training.
Staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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