It wasn’t the blockbuster deal many have been expecting, but July 22 did bring us a fairly significant trade between the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels. The Angels picked up utility infielder Alberto Callaspo for minor league pitchers Sean O’Sullivan and Will Smith.
The Angels, Callaspo’s original team, are clearly banking on a return to form from the two-time .300 hitter. In any case, he’s an upgrade at third over Brandon Wood and his .165/.185/.225 line and 52/4 K/BB.
Of course, they have to give up something to get something, and that meant parting with O’Sullivan, who was talented enough to pitch in the majors at age 21 last year, and Smith.
Follow me after the jump to look at things a bit more in-depth.
Callaspo is something of the antithesis of Wood, as he’s a contact-oriented hitter with just gap power. He almost never strikes out, with just 114 career K’s in 1324 at-bats.
The 27-year-old switch-hitter hit .305/.361/.371 in 2007 and then .300/.356/.457 last season, as he added some power in 2009 and cleared the fences 11 times.
Callaspo, however, isn’t the second coming of Troy Glaus at the Angels’ hot corner, nor is he another Chone Figgins. He’s batting just .275/.308/.410 this year, and although his defensive numbers at third are solid, most observers believe that he’s a below-average defender at any infield position (he’s also seen time at second and short in his career).
In the context of an upgrade on Wood, though, it’s huge. Callaspo’s .308 OBP is poor, but it’s a .123 improvement on Wood’s, which is staggering. That means that every eight plate appearances, Callaspo is likely to reach base once more than Wood.
The primary player in return for him is O’Sullivan, a righthanded pitcher who posted a 5.92 ERA last year in 12 games (10 starts) for the Angels. He also threw 13 innings of 2.08 ERA ball in the majors this year, and had a 4.76 ERA in Triple-A at age 22.
What’s the reason for Callaspo’s offensive downturn in 2010, you ask? Optimists may point to a BABIP drop from .312 to .278, but it should be noted that Callaspo’s once-great line drive rate (26% in 2008) has cratered to 16.6%, making the low BABIP fairly reasonable. For a contact hitter who rarely strikes out, that’s a shockingly low rate of actually squaring up the baseball.
Callaspo’s walk rate was steady in 2008-09 at 8.1-8.2%, but it’s fallen badly this year, to 5.1%. Callaspo’s chased more pitches outside the zone each year since 2008, from 21% to 25.4% to 28.6%, which has coincided with a three-year decline in percentage of pitches to him that actually find the zone, from 52.6% to 48% to 46.2%. So he’s seeing fewer pitches to hit, and swinging at more bad pitches. No wonder he isn’t hitting as many hard liners or walking as much.
It’s also worth noting that Callaspo is a very BABIP-dependent hitter who’s now going to move to a division in which all three divsional opponents have strong defenses. That’s going to be a big change from the AL Central, which features the MLB-worst Indians defense, as well as a subpar Cleveland unit. Seattle and Oakland also have unfriendly parks.
The bottom line is that the Callaspo of 2010 is demonstrably worse than the 2008 and 2009 incarnations, and unless he reverts to past form, he’s not a starting-caliber MLB player. He’s a solid utility guy who struggles defensively and can hit better than most utility guys, much like former Royals castoffs Esteban German and Ruben Gotay. Given the Angels’ situation at third, he’s certainly an upgrade, but he doesn’t make third base a position of strength by any means.
Both O’Sullivan’s curveball and changeup are major league pitches already, and he has solid command for his age. He’s got a few problems, however. His curveball is a hard curve that doesn’t have plus movement, so it acts more like a slider and is more of a groundball pitch than a swing-and-miss offering. His fastball has decent velocity, around 88-93, but it’s straight, so he has to command the pitch precisely or get hit around. He’s toyed with a two-seamer, but it doesn’t have plus movement either.
O’Sullivan has years to refine his command from good to great, though, and he already throws strikes, with just 20 walks in 64 2/3 MLB innings. He’s allowed 13 home runs, though, which underscores the need for him to throw quality strikes given his lack of an out pitch.
His career could go three directions. The bleakest is that he never learns command and is stuck wandering Triple-A for years, a la Josh Banks. The most optimistic is that he starts painting the corners with every pitch and turns into a Kyle Lohse-esque dependable fourth starter. The middle ground is that he’ll need to move to the bullpen, where he could pick up some velocity, to miss enough bats to have success, much like Tim Stauffer.
O’Sullivan alone seems like a reasonable, if underwhelming, price for Callaspo–you’re trading a 22-year-old possible fourth starter for a 27-year-old solid utility player. However, the Royals also get Will Smith, a 21-year-old pitcher who has seen Triple-A but will report to High-A, no doubt triggering many lame jokes about his name in Wilmington.
Smith, a lefty, was ranked as the Angels’ 15th-best prospect entering the year by Baseball America. He’s similar to O’Sullivan in that he’s advanced for his age–he actually made nine starts in Triple-A before his 21st birthday and wasn’t awful, with a 40/20 K/BB in 53 innings. He managed a 4.58 ERA and 31/13 K/BB in High-A for the Angels, which isn’t bad for the Cal League.
Like O’Sullivan, Smith throws in the 88-93 range and has a power curveball that works better for grounders than for strikeouts. He’s still refining his changeup.
Smith looks almost like a lefthanded carbon copy of O’Sullivan on the scouting reports, and thus, he has similar career possibilities, although his lefthandedness likely bumps his career prospects up a notch.
It’s clear that something had to be done about the Angels’ third base situation, and Alberto Callaspo certainly stabilizes the position. However, Callaspo is still a below-average starter for the position, and the Angels gave up two pitchers who each have the potential to be as good as Callaspo is–essentially, a nice player to have, but not the sort of guy you build around by any means.
I can certainly see why the Angels made the deal, and the staggering difference between Wood and Callaspo could help them out in the standings the next two months, but anything can happen in the next two months. Callaspo could hit .350 and push the Angels into the playoffs, or he could slump to .200 and be Wood 2.0. Most likely, he’ll provide a significant boost, but isn’t likely to push the Angels past Texas in the West.
No matter what happens in the short run, the long run seems to favor Kansas City here, as they get two potentially okay players for one okay player. Two is better than one, and Callaspo’s salary is about to escalate as he hits arbitration, so he’s going to start getting paid market value for his services, while O’Sullivan and Smith will still be cheap for years. The only way this deal favors the Angels in the long run is if both O’Sullivan and Smith can’t improve their command and/or Callaspo tightens up his strike zone again. I’d think the Angels could get a better solution to their third base hole with other deals.
For another perspective on the deal, check out Michael Engel’s post on the trade at Kings of Kauffman.