Luis Valbuena is officially a member of the Angels. Tuesday afternoon, the 31-year-old infielder signed a two-year, $15 million deal with a mutual option.
Reports began as early as late last week, when Venezuelan reporter, Efrain Zavarance, noted Valbuena was en route to Anaheim for a physical.
Albert Pujols may have been a key factor in the signing, but not due to his health concerns.
"I wanted to be here because I have a good relationship with a couple friends on the team," Valbuena said in a conference call. "Especially (Albert) Pujols and [Mike Scioscia]. I'm happy to be part of the team."
Questions arose of Pujols' health and if he'd be ready by Opening Day, which may have sparked the signing on Valbuena, but Angels General Manager, Billy Eppler, quickly put those rumors to rest. Eppler noted that he'd been in touch with Valbuena's parties since the first day of General Manager meetings in early October.
"Luis was a guy that we gravitated to since the start of the winter," Eppler said. "He brings flexibility in his ability to move around the diamond... There wasn't anything directly related to Albert and his situation that made us finish the thought."
As for the health of Pujols, Eppler said he'd been in touch with his 37-year-old slugger as early as Tuesday morning, via text, and noted he has no set backs in his recovery from surgery on his right foot for plantar fascia.
"We're approaching it marker-to-marker - Albert is on schedule right now."
The Angels now possess four key players who can play a mixture of first and third base, including Pujols and Valbuena, along with C.J. Cron and Yunel Escobar. Eppler was not shy about the amount of time on the field Valbuena will get, even with the surplus of depth.
"He's going to play," Eppler stated. "We signed him for a reason. At the outset, I told Luis he needs to prepare to play a lot of first base and some third base... He knows he'll be in the lineup very regularly and the entire time against a right-handed pitcher."
With a heavy right-handed lineup, Valbuena can be used in platoon situations with both Escobar and Cron - right-handed hitters - at first and third base. With the two-year contract, he could take over third base full-time with Escobar's contract ending after the 2017 campaign.
Another option that has been heavily rumored would be a trade of the planned first baseman of the future, C.J. Cron. Eppler noted that the team is not expecting to make such a move - did not specify Cron's situation - until after Spring Training.
"We have roster flexibility, we could potentially have a surplus," Eppler said about the current depth. "I'm going to let it organically happen. We want to get ourselves to Spring Training and see what manifests."
With all four key options available, and with progressing health, the Angels lineup is deeper than it ever has been in Eppler's time as General Manager.
Coming off a season with the Houston Astros where Valbuena saw a career-high in OPS, at .841, and on-base percentage of .362, a hamstring injury took him away from the field, where star prospect, Alex Bregman took place. The season prior, Valbuena hit a career-high 25 home runs.
Valbuena possesses a .208 ISO since 2015, an analytical statistic to measure isolated power, which ranks him 47th of 200 players with the same or more amount of plate appearances as the Angels' new infielder.
The hamstring issue may have caused Valbuena's market to fall, as he noted in the conference call, multiple teams called asking primarily about the health of his hamstring. Valbuena also noted that the Baltimore Orioles were a team of serious interest in signing him.
Valbuena's deal was explained by his agency, Elite Sports Group, where his $15 million will be spread over two years. In 2017, Valbuena will make $6.5 million, and the following year, $8 million. The $8.5 million mutual option for 2019 has a $500 thousand buyout.
In other Angels news, Eppler said in the conference call that he could not comment on the team's potential of signing a free agent catcher. Matt Wieters, the most well regarded free agent catcher, has been reported to have interest from the Angels, including his agent, Scott Boras, making a trip to Anaheim.
The Angels have signed utility man, Eric Young Jr., to a minor league contract with a Spring Training invitation, as reported by Los Angeles Times writer, Mike DiGiovanna. The Angels have also signed 21-year-old shortstop, Manuel Guzman, to a minor-league contract. Guzman was released by the Minnesota Twins on January 12.