Why the Angels should trade Abreu

Even before the Angels signed Albert Pujols, Bobby Abreu looked like their odd man out.

Now, with Kendrys Morales seemingly on the verge of a comeback, the Angels should consider trading Abreu rather than paying him $9 million to be a part-time DH.

Abreu, who turns 38 on March 11, is not the type to demand a trade, but he would welcome one, according to sources with knowledge of his thinking.

His concern is playing time.

Morales, a switch-hitting first baseman, has missed the past 1 1/2 seasons due to leg injuries. The Angels, however, were confident enough in his recent progress to offer him arbitration, knowing his salary likely would be about $3 million.

General manager Jerry Dipoto told me shortly after signing Pujols that Abreu still fit as a left-handed hitter in a predominantly right-handed lineup. He has yet to change his thinking – and can’t, due to the uncertainty over Morales.

“Right now, (Abreu) is a valuable asset,” Dipoto said Monday. “I have a world of respect for Bobby. I want to make sure he’s in a position to be productive. Right now, we have that ability.”

Fair enough, but as Abreu enters the final year of his contract, he wants to play every day, extend his career two or three more years, enhance his Hall of Fame credentials, those sources say.

While Abreu is far from an obvious choice for Cooperstown, his case probably is better than you think. His career on-base percentage is .397, and only three players in history – Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds and Craig Biggio – have exceeded his totals of 2,384 hits, 284 homers and 393 stolen bases

The Angels should not trade him as an act of mercy, not when they’re unsure that Morales will be their DH. They surely do not want to include cash in a trade and pay Abreu to play for another club. And let’s face it, Abreu’s value is down; he is in a three-year offensive decline and needs to lose weight, particularly if he wants to return to the outfield.

I’ll concede every point, and Abreu probably would, too.

But try finding a place for him on this team.

The Angels’ outfield consists of Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos and Torii Hunter, and soon the club will need to clear a spot for Mike Trout.

First baseman Mark Trumbo, displaced by Pujols after finishing second in the voting for American League Rookie of the Year, is a candidate at third base and DH and even the outfield, according to Dipoto.

I wouldn’t bet on Trumbo getting much time at third, but let’s play this out: If Trumbo was at third and Morales was the DH, Abreu would not be the only one expendable; third baseman Alberto Callaspo would be, too.

Dipoto says that Abreu’s on-base skills “have never gone away,” but they actually diminished in the second half of last season, when manager Mike Sciosica stopped playing Abreu against most left-handers.

Scioscia had good reason to make that adjustment; Abreu had a .794 OPS against lefties from 2004 to ’09, but only a .620 mark in ’10 and ’11. Still, the loss of playing time jarred Abreu, who fell eight games short of appearing in 150 games for a 14th straight season – and breaking a record he shares with Willie Mays (who played mostly 154-games schedules during his streak).

Abreu didn’t complain and shouldn’t complain – he had enough plate appearances in 2010 and ’11 for his $9 million option to vest by July 31. Otherwise, he likely would have become a free agent and received far less than a $9 million guarantee.

Then again, this no longer is about money; Abreu has made more than $115 million in his career, according to baseball-reference.com. This is about serving not only Abreu’s best interests, but the Angels’ best interests, too.

The Jays, Orioles, Mariners and Rays are among the AL teams that could use a DH, and at the right price maybe an NL club would bite on Abreu as an outfielder. If the Angels included say, $6 million in a trade, they could save $3 million and maybe get a useful part in return.

Such a deal need not happen right away; the Angels, before parting with Abreu, would want as much of a read on Morales as possible. Then again, Trumbo could be the DH if Morales regresses, and Scioscia also could use an outfielder in that spot to create time for Trout.

At that point, the Angels would be too right-handed – Callaspo and shortstop Erick Aybar are switch-hitters, as is utility man Maicer Izturis, but Abreu is the only pure left-handed threat. What’s more, Scioscia thought enough of Abreu to bat him third in about 70 percent of his plate appearances last season.

It’s possible, as Dipoto suggests, that the Angels will need Abreu’s left-handed presence even more than in the past. But I’m guessing that with or without Morales, Abreu quickly will become superfluous, prompting the Angels to seek a trade.

Better sooner than later. For everyone involved.