Eppler says left-handed hitter will play mainly at first base
By Daniel Kramer
The Angels signed veteran infielder Luis Valbuena to a two-year contract on Tuesday afternoon, finalizing a deal that was first reported on Thursday.
Valbuena, 31, spent the past two seasons with the Astros, though his 2016 season was cut short due to season-ending hamstring surgery related to an injury sustained in July. Before his season ended prematurely, he posted a career-high .816 OPS. In '15, he belted a career-high 25 homers.
"I wanted to be here, because I've got a good relationship with a couple friends on the team," Valbuena said in a conference call. "I'm just so happy to be a part of the team."
A nine-year veteran who also had three-year stints with the Cubs and Indians, Valbuena gives the Angels a left-handed bat with experience across the infield. He's a career .232/.317/.394 hitter with 83 home runs and 269 RBIs.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler said he expects Valbuena to see the majority of the at-bats at first base -- particularly against right-handers -- while also filling in at third, and in an emergency, at second.
"Luis is a guy that we gravitated to since the start of the winter, and he brings flexibility in his ability to move around the diamond," Eppler said. "He'll be in that lineup very regularly, and I would say pretty much the entire time against a right-handed pitcher."
"I have to be ready for wherever they need me," Valbuena said. "I'll be happy if he needs me to play third, second, shortstop, first base. If he needs me to pitch, too, I'll be ready."
With the Astros promoting top prospects Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel, Valbuena's return to Houston this season was unlikely. Valbuena said he drew interest from several teams this offseason, naming the Orioles among the clubs that spoke to his agent.
Eppler dismissed the notion that uncertainty surrounding Albert Pujols' status had any impact on Valbuena's signing. Pujols had surgery to address the plantar fascia on his right foot in early December and is expected to return to action near the start of the 2017 season. Eppler said the veteran slugger is on schedule in his recovery, but he wouldn't commit an Opening Day availability.
"We'll just kind of determine [that] once we get our hands on him and once we see him on a daily basis and just really listen to him, like we have in the past," Eppler said.
With Valbuena in tow, the Angels could potentially have a surplus at the corner-infield positions once Pujols is healthy, with C.J. Cron and Yunel Escobar also in the mix. That surplus could be used to strengthen another position via trade.
"We just want to get ourselves into Spring Training and see what manifests," Eppler said. "I know, one, we have roster flexibility. We could potentially have a surplus. We have options from a handedness perspective as well.
"I think all of those things are good, and they'll allow us to put a more complete ballclub on the field."
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.