By Ryan Falla, AngelsWin.com Contributor
The Angels are currently hard up for quality talent in many spots across the roster heading into 2024, yet one place that needs little reinforcement is their current infield situation. With a talent stream featuring the likes of Nolan Schanuel, Brandon Drury, Zach Neto, Anthony Rendon, and Luis Rengifo there is clearly little room for addition in this tightly packed, talented infield. Yet recent offseason stove burnings have the Angels smouldering with interest in former White Sox infielder Tim Anderson, an athlete once known for his league best contact abilities who now stands at the crossroads as the light begins to dim on his career. His beleaguered bat, coupled with known character issues, and a league worst glove at shortstop, make a Tim Anderson partnership seem rather questionable for the Halos.
However, when you break down the minutiae of the Angels present paths going forward there is little to indicate the organization has many, if any options at all, in improving current roster conditions. Digging deeper into the potential benefits and consequences of a Tim Anderson signing points towards the Angels potentially receiving the greatest asset in which they currently have little of, that asset being versatility in roster construction opportunities as they plunge headfirst into the long winter off-season.
First we must evaluate the strength of an Anderson signing on it’s own accord. The former All Star once swung a league best bat back in 2019 as he produced an MLB best batting average of .335 with flashes of power promise that saw the young star collect 32 doubles with 81 runs scored, though his 18 HR’s would be an underachievement as he hit 20 the year before while swinging just .240. Tim Anderson, at his best, showcased a world of promise, though even then the cracks were already present in the league leading 26 year old. Though he managed a .335 average his OBP sat at .357, which to be fair is a nice OBP for most athletes, though when you’re swinging .335 to begin with it becomes clear there is something there that is not quite sustainable. Aside from his contact prowess Tim Anderson was not getting on base in any significant manner. You don’t have to look far to make sense of this aberration, through 518 PAs in 2019 Anderson managed just 15 walks, a mark so overwhelming egregious it is almost commendable in its absurdity. This of course was paired with 109 strikeouts on the year, setting the tone for unsustainability going forward. Though Anderson would maintain his productivity the next few seasons (hitting over .300 from 2020-2022) this all came crashing down come in 2023. Last year saw Anderson struggle immensely as he lost every conceivable offensive tool in his belt; his slash of .245/.286/.296 paints the entire picture clearly enough without need for advanced peripherals or linguistic athletics. Though he would state injury as a factor in his lost season (a torn hand ligament limited his 2022 to 79 games while an MCL injury stole time in 2023) this was only the tip of the iceberg in burgeoning concerns.
"I had an MCL injury[...] that kind of messed with me hitting. I kind of was not really hitting up against anything on the front side. I'm really not trying to make that excuse. This year has been a lot of searching. The body is working a lot differently, especially coming off injury. I could never grab hold to what I was searching for." -Tim Anderson (quote by Scott Merkin @ MLB.com)
There are a few factors regarding the massive drop off in 2023, injury being a large one, yet even outside of his IL woes Anderson's BB/K rate alongside certain batted ball factors had his production primed for a leveling off. Aside from having the 4th worst walk rate in the Majors at 3.7% (through 2019-2022) Tim Anderson also ranked in the bottom of the league with the 10th worst GB% as 53% of his batted balls registered as ground balls. It’s hard to say Tim Anderson benefitted from luck through an entire four year span, though a hitter who profiles as a high groundball, low walk, high strikeout type would not be due for as much offensive success as Anderson saw were it not due to outlying factors such as luck.
Defensively Tim Anderson was one of the worst shortstops across the Majors through this span; overall he ranked 4th in errors among qualified shortstops (54 errors), was bottom 4 in assists (906), bottom 10 in putouts (498), while ultimately registering the 6th worst Defensive Runs Saved total of -8 DRS. Speaking on peripherals there is little to love about Anderson; can’t walk, strikes out far too often, doesn’t lift the ball, has no range, no arm, and generally no defensive touch. So what exactly is there to gain from a Tim Anderson signing for the Angels?
The true quality of such a move comes through opening up the Angels ability to sell either Brandon Drury or Luis Rengifo on the trade market without facing massive consequence (i.e fielding less than replacement level Minor Leaguers all year). Brandon Drury was one of the MLBs best offensive second baseman as noted by his 7th best wRC+ of 114 thanks to a consistent, hard hitting approach at the plate. Drury ranked as the MLBs best 2nd baseman when it came to HR/FB ratio as 19.1% of his flyballs went yard in 2023, a value that would be rather easy to play up on trade market. Overall Drury's .262/.306/.497 slash with 26 HRs and 83 RBIs would mesh well on any contender light on consistent and quality 2B AB's (Los Angeles Dodgers?). On the other hand you have Luis Rengifo, who may not command as much up front value as Drury, though his years of team control (under team control through 2026) alongside his super-super-utility ability to play six positions across the outfield and infield combined would mesh well on a contending team looking for quality support behind their starters. Rengifo’s offensive ability carries a surprising ceiling as the last three months of the 2023 season saw him bat well over .300 each month as he finished the year slashing .262/.339/.444 with 16 HRs and 51 RBIs alongside 41 BBs to 82 Ks. Of course there is an inconsistency to consider with his bat as his first three months saw him hit .200, .197, .209 respectively, though with 12 of his 16 HRs coming in the final three months there is plenty of room to negotiate his offensive value in trade talks. The real question to consider is not who would get the most value back, but which trade would put the Angels in the least vulnerable position in 2024?
Tim Anderson cannot play defense whatsoever and should not be expected too, making it difficult to see the team sending off a glove who can play all across the infield and outfield in favor of fielding two incumbent second baseman. Zach Neto covers shortstop with exceptional ability, meaning Anderson would only see SS AB's on Neto’s days off or in emergency situations. Realistically you cannot account for many outings at shortstop for Anderson, and if Rengifo is traded over Drury then you really are selling Anderson short because he will get almost zero time at 2B with Drury and Neto healthy. Drury can work some days at 1B when Schanuel needs time off, though it would not be nearly enough time to open the AB's needed at 2B to justify Tim Anderson. This leaves Anderson playing as utility man behind Drury and Neto, yet with defense so egregiously awful and a bat no better than Rengifo's there is less than no benefit to utilizing Anderson as a utility option. Especially considering Anderson would likely make more money than Rengifo, who made 2 million through 2023 and is currently set for arbitration this offseason. At what point can you truly justify signing Anderson as a utility option? The only reasonable solution would be to trade Drury and employ Anderson as an everyday 2B, leaving Rengifo to do what he does best and cover whatever is most in need on any given day, which is an incredibly valuable asset that Angel fans should not discount. There is also argument that Anderson could be signed without a trade as a stash in case of injury, but this in itself would require either an option on Neto or Schanuel or a DFA of Rendon or Rengifo, and with Tim Andersons inability to play third there is little logic in DFA'ing Rendon or Rengifo. There is no logical path towards an Anderson signing without a following trade.
There is some chance he could bounce back and achieve a glimmer of his former star under Ron Washington, though that is not to be heavily considered when you evaluate the true value of an Anderson signing. Acquiring the former favorite son of the White Sox would signal a new era in Anaheim, not one where the team excels under the power of his revived productivity, but one where the organization takes a realistic stance on their internal ability and values going forward and subsequently engage in the unglamourous decision making process that ensures long term success. Is this the longwinded way of saying a Tim Anderson signing signals a rebuild in Anaheim? Somewhat. A Tim Anderson acquisition gives the Angels options where they had little before, and for this beleaguered organization any step forward, no matter how insignificant, brings fans closer to seeing the favorable days shine down on Anaheim once more.