The battle for the bench

It feels like everyone, including you and me, assumed that Andrew Romine was almost guaranteed the utility job for the 2013 season. Baseball is a game of constant and unforeseen change, and following with the usual script two players in camp that aren't named Andrew Romine are making a strong case to win the utility job themselves. Both Brendan Harris and Bill Hall are both former major leaguers in camp as non-roster invitees, and with their fantastic springs as of today as well as their big league experience they might be putting themselves in line to win the job themselves. The Angels have kept Romine waiting for his chance at the full time utility position, and at age 27 could they really keep him waiting anyBill Halllonger? Romine is a product of the Angels system and it's quite common for the organization to hold confidence in their players, whether blind (B. Wood) or justified (P. Bourjos). Romine has a very attractive skillset, and with some major league development he can turn into a monster of a utility-player; much like Maicer Izturis pre-2012. 

If Bill Hall and Brendan Harris put up far better springs than Romine would the Angels hesitate in giving the job to either of the other two candidates? The Angels may not have to since it's a strong possibility they will carry two utility players in the season, which gives Romine a far stronger chance of making the club. Although Romine has just recently given up on switch-hitting  in order to "improve his average and lessen his stress". Normally this would take considerable value from a utility player, though Romine's preference to bat lefty still gives him the edge over Bill Hall and Brendan Harris as the Angels still have a very righty heavy lineup. Romine is also somewhat of a defensive wizard; I only say somewhat because while he has shown to be an incredible defender he still has to prove it will transition to the majors over a full season. Brendan Harris is also a valuable defender as he can back up every infield position, though his prowess with the glove is not nearly as defined as Romine. Bill Hall is the least talented defender of the three, though he can player the outfield too. Given the Angels depth in the outfield I'm not sure if having Bill Hall backup the outfield is so much a necessity, though it is a nice plus. 

Despite Andrew Romine putting up a great performance in Spring Training so far both Harris and Hall are a step, or perhaps a leap ahead of him. Both Harris and Hall have put up a 1.000+ OPS so far, while Romine's OPS falls a few hundred points short behind at .722. Both Hall and Romine have posted a .333 OBP while Harris has shown an edge in his ability to get on base. Despite Harris being out of the big leagues since 2010 he's shown that he can still play the game at the big league level, if anything Harris is looking sharper than ever. I don't know what I can say about Bill Hall except that he is smashing the ball this spring. Hall's power has shown to be nothing stronger than "warning track power", though when it's any kind power coming off the bench you'll take what you can get. He won't be coming off the bench to crush homers, but he'll be able to drive the ball and provide excellent value as a potential RBI man off the bench. To me it seems like Bill Hall will win one of the two utility gigs just based off the fact that he can hit for power from the right side coming off the bench. 

This, in turn, would make Brendan Harris less valuable as the second utility man if the Angels already have a right-handed hitter that can come off the bench with power (unlike Harris). Romine's left-handed bat, improved defense over Harris, and his youth as well as ties to the organization make him the more attractive option for the second utility gig. Unless Harris makes it very apparent that his bat is far more developed than Romine then it wouldn't be a shock to see him come away with the utility job. Yeah I know it's fairly obvious Harris' bat would be more developed, but that isn't that point. IF it is unmistakably clear that Harris would bring considerably more offensive value than Romine I wouldn't put it past the Angels to give the job to Harris instead. 

This doesn't mean that Romine wouldn't see big league action in 2013 if he failed to make the club, which seems to be a longshot unless he plays himself out of the job. If Romine were to fall back to the minors there is a good chance that he would be called back up at some point to the season to cover for an injured backup man. Both Harris and Hall are over the age of 30, which makes them more susceptible to injury than the young Romine. 

There is a secret option I think we should all at least consider. Since the Angels lost out on some pretty highly touted prospects in the Greinke deal, namely Jean Segura, could it be possible IF Romine weren't to stick to the majors that the Angels could use him as a trade chip? I can think of a quite a few teams that would love a young, agile, major league ready utility infielder. Let's say the Angels hold on to him in the minors come the trade deadline, let's say the Angels are Andrew Rominelooking to improve an underperforming bullpen or starting rotation, who could be the centerpiece in that kind of deal? That would require prospects the Angels don't have, and major league players they aren't willing to move. It's a very real possibility the Angels will have to improve some aspect of their pitching staff come the trade deadline. Wouldn't it be wise to have a trade chip like that ready to go in case of emergency? 

Let's say the Angels do have the idea of using Romine as a trade centerpiece in case of emergency, but they decide to give him the utility job regardless. What happens if he tanks or is just overall an underwhelming performer? That could destroy a good part of his value and hurt the Angels chances at making an impact trade if need be. There is also the possibility that he kills it or just does a fine job coming off the bench, which could improve his momentary value considerably and get a team to jump on a trade because he has high value "at the moment". I've seen plenty of teams trade for a player who expresses strong value during a short stretch of time, that's just something that happens. 

Andrew Romine is more than likely to make the club alongside Bill Hall, with Harris either accepting or declining a minor league assignment. It would be wise for Harris to stick to the Angels system, because come mid-season the Angels could suddenly have a hole at the major league level that they need filled by Harris.

Either way I see all three players getting some time with the Angels at some point in the season, though the real question is where each player will end the season. Could it be back in some minor league system? That's a strong possibility for Harris and Hall. Romine will end his season on a major league roster without a doubt, either during the regular season or the playoffs (more likely if he sticks with the Angels). 

Will it be with the Angels, or will we be seeing a mid-season change of uniform to another hungry competitor?

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