Posted on March 23, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Los Angeles Angels were hit hard by injuries in 2016, and that trend appears to be continuing in 2017. The club announced Thursday that infielder Luis Valbuena will be sidelined for the next four to six weeks because of a hamstring strain.
Valbuena was forced to leave Wednesday’s spring training game upon feeling tightness in the hamstring. The club was initially optimistic that the injury would turn out to be a minor setback. However, an MRI performed Thursday indicated a strain that will keep Valbuena out for at least the first month of the regular season, possibly longer.
“Hamstrings are a different animal, so you’re always concerned,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Thursday prior to the severity of the injury being announced. “When he left here, it seemed mild, but you just want to find out exactly what’s going on.”
The injured hamstring is the same one that ended Valbuena’s season with the Houston Astros last July. The Venezuelan slugger was in the midst of a career-year last season until suffering the injury that ultimately required season-ending surgery. An injury to the same hamstring is a huge blow for Valbuena personally, as well as the Angels, as he was one of their more important offseason acquisitions and appeared to be a big part of the team’s plans in 2017.
The Angels signed Valbuena to a two-year deal worth $15 million over the offseason. The plan appeared for Valbuena to get most of his at-bats as a first baseman, although he’s also capable of playing third base and has enough power to justify spending time in the DH spot. Valbuena became even more important to the team with the news earlier this winter that Albert Pujols underwent foot surgery, putting his status for the start of the season up in the air. The good news is that Pujols has returned and doesn’t project to miss significant time at the start of the season.
However, the Angels will now have to figure out how to proceed without Valbuena, who may not be ready to return to the team until deep into May. C.J. Cron figures to step in as the primary first baseman while Valbuena is unavailable. Cron started 93 games at first base for the Angels last season but missed time in the middle of the season with a broken hand. When healthy, Cron hit .278 with a .792 OPS.
Jefry Marte also figures to see more at-bats while Valbuena is out. The 25-year old is having a strong spring after showing signs of breaking out last season. Like Valbuena, Marte is capable of playing both first base and third base, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Angels give him more time at the hot corner with Valbuena out. Yunel Escobar is projected to be the team’s primary third baseman, however, he’s struggled this spring and offers little power, potentially opening the door for Marte to play more. Valbuena could have ended up playing a lot at third base had Cron emerged as a strong candidate at first base.
Even with several options as far as replacing him, the loss of Valbuena for at least the first month of the season is a huge blow for the Angels. He was expected to provide another power hitter in the middle of the lineup, in addition to bringing positional flexibility. He will be missed early in the season, and the fact that he hurt the same hamstring that ended his 2016 season is an area of concern for the Angels.