Matt Joyce hasn’t played a game for the Angels yet. Heck, he doesn’t even officially have a uniform number yet. Despite that, the Angels need think long and hard about giving Matt Joyce a contract extension.
What? A 30-year old, platoon bat? How does a Matt Joyce contract extension make any sense?
It actually isn’t that an extension make sense so much as the Halos don’t really have any other choice. The Angels need to extend Joyce for the same reason that they needed to acquire him in the first place, he fills a significant gap on their depth chart.
Sure, Joyce is a solid player, but he’s not normally the sort that gets targeted for an extension. He was an All-Star once, but he’s on the wrong side of 30, has only had one year of being worth 2+ wins, is generally a platoon player and he should probably strictly be a DH due to his defensive limitations. That’s just not a special kind of player that a team would normally want to make sure gets locked up for several years. What makes him extension worthy is that he’s the only one of those types of players that the Angels have got.
Seriously, click on the Organizational Depth Chart link up in this site’s navigation ribbon and check out the (brand new!) six-year MLB depth chart. The options available to the Halos in left field and at DH are kind of scary. Yes, Josh Hamilton is under contract for two more years after this one, but there seems to be very little faith, even within the Angels organization itself, that Josh Hamilton will finish out that contract. That creates a big problem in left field where the Angels have no real heir apparent. Their situation at DH isn’t much better, especially if C.J. Cron doesn’t develop and remains a platoon player in his own right.
The Angels have made a lot of positive strides in improving their farm system, but they’ve thus far neglected their outfield depth, especially in the upper levels of the farm system. There’s nobody in the org who has logged a plate appearance Single-A that projects to be anywhere close to even being considered as a potential starter in left field or DH before 2018.
Which brings us back to Matt Joyce. As imperfect as he is, he is at least a bird in hand. The Angels clearly don’t have any birds in the minor league bush and the free agency bush in 2016 isn’t looking all that great either as the two of the three attractive bats, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, seem destined to be given massive extensions before even hitting the market. That means the Angels would have to put all their eggs in Dexter Fowler‘s basket when it comes to either sliding Hamilton to DH to replace Joyce or to just have someone replace Hamilton outright. I like Fowler quite a bit, but he’s going to be hotly pursued by several teams that will give him three times the money it would cost to keep Joyce even though he’s barely been worth more WAR than Joyce the last three years.
That, once again, leaves the Angels with that Joyce in their hand. By signing him to a modest three-year deal for $18-20 million, they give themselves some insurance. If Hamilton remains good enough to not get released, Joyce can stick around and keep on sharing the DH role. If Hamilton craters, Joyce can replace him in left after this season and hold down the fort until the Angels find a better option and move Joyce back to DH.
It isn’t the “big splash” that most Angels fans would probably want to see, but that’s sort of how the Angels got into this mess in the first place. A Matt Joyce contract extension would be a very nice hedge bet by Dipoto to give himself options over the next three years but without really putting too much of a dent into the team’s long-term financial flexibility.