On Saturday evening, the Los Angeles Angels traded first baseman C.J. Cron to the Tampa Bay Rays for a player to be named later. Cron suffered an off year in 2017, hitting a career low .248 and striking out 96 times in a 0.8 WAR campaign.
Cron, once one of the top prospects in the Angels development system, essentially had to be traded, for more than one reason. His troublesome numbers being one, and the potential emergence of two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani being the other.
Cron only played one defensive position for the Angels in his entire tenure in Anaheim: first base. With a stacked infield that already included Gold Glove recipient Andrelton Simmons as well as offseason acquisitions Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler, the 28-year-old from nearby Fullerton, California couldn’t move to another position.
He is somewhat athletic, but Cron cannot move to a corner outfield spot with Justin Upton and Kole Calhoun manning the grass. Account for future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols and Ohtani slated to get at-bats at designated hitter and Cron’s days were really numbered.
This is great news for the Ohtani camp, as the 23-year-old denoted as Japanese Babe Ruth has an open void on the lineup card to fill. Angels manager Mike Scioscia has stated his intentions are to use Ohtani primarily off the bench, but this was prior to the Cron transaction.
A talent like Ohtani has never before been seen in Major League Baseball, and without Cron in the clubhouse, the lefty hitter and righty pitcher will blossom like the second-ranked prospect in baseball is supposed to. The Cron deal was almost neccesary in order for Ohtani to succeed.
On his non-pitching days, Ohtani is now free to start at first base, or play the DH role with Pujols at first, and appear at the plate far more often than a typical bench player would. It is imperative to examine all of the moving parts of this, but Ohtani is better suited for success at the plate with Cron out of the picture.
The Angels will reportedly begin 2018 with a six-man rotation — such is becoming increasingly common within MLB. The staff itself has yet to be finalized as spring training is still getting into full gear, but the 2016 Nippon Professional Baseball Most Valuable Player is projected to be amongst the six arms.
His innings as a pitcher are not the concern, as play on the hill has been the downfall of the youthful Angels over the past few seasons. Nonetheless, the pitching deployment of Ohtani has a large impact on his performance with a bat in his hands.
He will not bat the night after a start on the mound, as the young gun needs rest and acclimation to the major leagues. It is also difficult to imagine him hitting during his starts as a pitcher unless the game occurs in a National League ballpark.
Still, that gives him four games in between starts to swing the bat. Let’s say Ohtani makes 27 starts as a pitcher in their six-man rotation; that means in 54 games, accounting for the starts and the game after, Ohtani will not appear as a batter.
That leaves 108 games for the most intriguing overseas prospect since Ichiro Suzuki to hit. That will likely place him around 375 plate appearances, whether that comes at first or at DH (Ohtani is serviceable defensive player, keep in mind, and probably better suited for first base than Luis Valbuena or Pujols).
Let us not forget: if Ohtani is league-average on the rubber, and league-average digging into the batter’s box, he will be around a four- or five-WAR player, and already a more valuable asset than Cron.
The Ohtani situation is a cloud of unknowing. How Scioscia and the Angels plan to use him, how be performs on both sides of the ball, and how many starts/plate appearances he is given remains to be seen. Still, Los Angeles throwing away Cron for pennies on the dollar opens up every possible door for the success of Ohtani.