ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Luis Valbuena fills several needs and opens up several possibilities for the Los Angeles Angels while they wait for Albert Pujols to get healthy.
Valbuena and the Angels completed a $15 million, two-year contract Tuesday. The power-hitting corner infielder will play both positions for the Angels, who are coming off their worst record since 1999.
The 31-year-old Valbuena spent the past two years with the Houston Astros, batting .260 last season with 13 homers and 40 RBIs despite missing the final two months with a hamstring injury.
He gets $6.5 million this year and $8 million in 2018, and there is an $8.5 million mutual option for 2019. He would get a $500,000 buyout if the Angels decline the option.
The option price would escalate by $500,000 each at three levels based on plate appearances in 2018 or 2017-18 combined: 425-800, 450-820 and 475-875. He would get a one-time $500,000 assignment bonus if traded.
Valbuena sounded thrilled to land with the Angels after an offseason of free agency, citing his friendship with Pujols as a big attraction in Orange County.
“I feel good, because I like that team,” Valbuena said. “I wanted to be here because I’ve got a good relationship with a couple of guys on the team.”
With Pujols possibly sidelined past opening day following offseason foot surgery, Valbuena is likely to play extensively at first base for the Angels. He also provides a valuable left-handed bat in a lineup heavy with right-handed hitters.
“Luis knows he’ll be in there in that lineup very regularly, and I would say pretty much the entire time against a right-handed pitcher,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “He’s going to play. We signed him for a reason — that power and that selectivity and the ability to impact the baseball.”
Eppler confirmed Pujols’ recovery is on schedule, with the three-time NL MVP currently taking part in physical therapy to strengthen his leg. The Angels don’t know whether Pujols will be ready for opening day in his 17th big-league season, which he begins with 591 homers.
C.J. Cron also could play first base along with Valbuena in Pujols’ absence. All three sluggers could be the Angels’ designated hitter as well, or the club could have ingredients for a trade to bolster their rotation.
“I know we have roster flexibility,” Eppler said. “We could potentially have a surplus, and we have some options from a handedness perspective as well.”
Yunel Escobar is back for another season as the Angels’ third baseman, but Valbuena is likely to play there occasionally. He also could fill in at second base, where Danny Espinosa will begin his first season as Los Angeles’ starter.
“I can play all positions on the field,” Valbuena said with a laugh. “I have to be ready for wherever he needs me. I’ll be ready to play first, second, third base. If he needs me to pitch, too, I’ll be ready.”
Valbuena started his big league career with Seattle in 2008 before stints with Cleveland the Chicago Cubs. The Venezuelan was Houston’s starting third baseman on each of the past two opening days, but he also played first base regularly for the Astros.