It’s the result of a sharp downturn in production from Fletcher. The Loyola Marymount product looked like a core organizational piece a few years ago. Los Angeles signed him to a five-year contract extension two Aprils back. It was a $26MM guarantee that bought out one free agent year and contained club options for two more. The hope was they’d secured an excellent defensive middle infielder with roughly league average offense.
Fletcher signed that deal on the heels of a .319/.376/.425 showing during the abbreviated 2020 season. While that was built on an unsustainable .348 average on balls in play, it brought his career line to .292/.346/.386 in just shy of 1200 plate appearances. Fletcher never hit for power but demonstrated elite contact skills and played plus defense at second base.
Unfortunately for the Halos, the righty-swinging Fletcher has seen a significant drop in his offensive production for the past couple seasons. He put up only a .262/.297/.324 line across 665 plate appearances in 2021. The following year proved challenging both from a performance and health perspective. Fletcher was nagged early in the season by a hip strain that eventually sent him to the 60-day injured list. He got into 61 games, hitting .255/.288/.333. He’d been off to a 2-16 start through this year’s first couple weeks.
Fletcher’s contact skills have remained elite. His walks have dipped the past couple years, though, and he hasn’t gotten good results on batted balls. Going back to 2021, he carries a .258/.292/.323 line in just over 900 trips to the plate. Even with continued strong grades as a keystone defender, the lackluster offense led the Angels to look elsewhere this winter. The Halos brought in Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury to add some offensive punch to the infield. They called up top shortstop prospect Zach Neto on Saturday, announcing at the time they’d optioned Fletcher back to Triple-A Salt Lake.
In conjunction with that move, they apparently also placed Fletcher on waivers. It’s no surprise he didn’t get claimed. Any team that added him would’ve had to taken on his contract. Fletcher is making $6MM both this season and next. He’ll make $6.5MM in 2025 and is due at least a $1.5MM buyout on the ’27 option. For any club to take on the nearly $20MM in guaranteed money given Fletcher’s recent struggles would have been unlikely.
There’s surely some amount of strategy in the Halos’ timing of the outright. Any player with over three years of major league service time can refuse an outright assignment in favor of minor league free agency. However, players with between three and five years of service would have to forfeit any remaining guaranteed money on their contract to do so.
Fletcher entered the 2023 campaign with four years and 111 days of big league service. A player gets a full service year at 172 days, so Fletcher needed 61 days on the MLB roster this year to crack that threshold. Had he still been in the majors into early June, he’d have had the right to elect free agency while collecting the rest of his salary if the Halos wanted to take him off their 40-man roster.
By timing the outright before then, the Angels ensure Fletcher sticks in the organization. He’s obviously not going to pass on nearly $20MM in guaranteed money. He’ll accept the assignment to Salt Lake and try to hit his way back onto the major league radar.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.