By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
As can be seen in the graph above, batter’s box production out of the designated hitter (DH) position was not an issue in 2018.
Clearly Albert thrived in the DH position (wRC+ of 115) in comparison to 1B (wRC+ of 74), so maybe he is not quite as crippled as some of us may tend to believe if he is hitting full-time.
Perhaps more importantly Shohei Ohtani dominated in his at-bat’s from the DH spot, sporting a wicked 149 wRC+ with 20 HR’s (the other two came during pinch hitting appearances). It should be noted that Ohtani did a tremendous amount of damage against RHP, to the tune of a 182 wRC+, so expect Brad Ausmus to get Shohei at the plate against every RHP he can. If the Japanese Babe Ruth ever figures out how to hit LHP, watch out because he could become an even better hitter than Trout.
Heading into 2019, there is a state of flux that Billy Eppler will have to navigate, primarily due to Ohtani’s Tommy John Surgery (TJS). That surgery may prevent Shohei from starting 2019 hitting out of the DH position, but there is an expectation that he will be able to hit for a sizable number of games over the course of the season.
Hopefully that number will be high (140+ games) but Eppler cannot count nor rely on Shohei’s ability to heal so he must plan appropriately during the off-season. To visualize this let us take a look at expected games played to better understand the Angels potential needs:
The ‘Projected GS’ represents the author’s best estimate of games the player will start based on recent historical 3-year playing time and probable role. It is assumed Cozart will be our starting 2B (and backup shortstop) in 2019, Kole Calhoun will be our RF, Bour and Pujols will split time at 1B, Ward will play 130 games at 3B, and Ohtani will be healthy enough to hit in at least 130 games at DH with Albert picking up the slack. Lucroy and Smith will duo behind-the-dish in a nominal 70/30 split (approximately 70% of at-bat’s are against RHP) in a catching platoon.
As you can see, bringing both Bour and La Stella aboard was a wise move on the part of Billy Eppler and the front office. With Ohtani’s and Pujols’ health and durability in question, having two competent left-handed hitters to pick up the slack is really important from a depth perspective. Behind those two, the Angels could call upon any one of Matt Thaiss, Taylor Ward, or even David Fletcher if the disabled list tests that team depth.
Beyond the hope that Shohei will hit early and often in the lineup, we should take a moment to discuss his future.
Ohtani had a successful first season despite the fact he underwent TJS. He sported a combined 3.8 WAR across 10 Major League starts and 367 plate appearances (PA’s). If Shohei had completed 25 starts with the same number of plate appearances he would have likely exceeded 5 WAR as a 24-year old, so the Angels really do have a special player here worth keeping long-term.
Currently the Japanese Babe Ruth has two more years of pre-arbitration control and three years of arbitration, for a total of five. Major League Baseball (MLB) made it a point to warn teams attempting to acquire Shohei that signing him to a contract immediately after bringing him aboard could result in severe penalties because MLB did not want any team circumventing their rules on international signings.
However with all of this recent talk about making an exception for Athletics prospect Kyle Murray the Angels have to be considering making Ohtani an offer in the next couple of years based on the exceptional two-way play they have seen to-date.
The Angels are unlikely to do anything at this time until they see how he recovers from his TJS but if he has another good year hitting in 2019 and returns to good form pitching in 2020, it would not be surprising to see the Angels extend him to a multi-year deal that either simply buys out his remaining years of arbitration control or, perhaps, longer, picking up one or more years of free agency.
At the end of 2020, Ohtani will be 26 1/2 years old and will have completed his last year of pre-arbitration. There are really no other comparable players to his skill set as a two-way player signing an extension with two to three years of MLB service time.
Assuming he maintains steady production and the Angels buyout his remaining three years of arbitration control plus another two to three years of free agency the author suspects an extension contract of 5-6 years in the range of $90M-$130M may be in the cards if Shohei stays healthy and is willing to stay longer-term with the Angels.
Clearly the more we can play Ohtani at DH the better. His production in the batter’s box will be sorely needed in order for the Angels to compete effectively so if he can start the season or shortly thereafter, the team will be in good shape offensively.
Pujols will also see some time there but will likely be limited not only by his total games played but by Shohei’s positional inflexibility.
Because the Angels have two players requiring an abundance of DH time, it makes no particular sense to list out potential acquisition candidates as there is no clear need to improve at the spot right now. Bour will pick up a lot of time at 1B and may pick up some occasional DH at-bat’s as well, with the rest of the team picking up an appearance or two to take a break from fielding.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
This is the point in the series where we try to answer the $500,000,000 question.
Yes you read that right.
No seriously go back and count up the zeroes, we will wait.
The question of a Mike Trout extension is not so much when, but what it will constitute in terms of contract length and total payroll commitment.
So, to be clear, it is the author’s firm opinion that #27 will ink an extension deal this off-season. He will most likely put pen to paper (or his finger on a touch pad) between the time the dust settles on Manny Machado’s and Bryce Harper’s newly-signed deals and the beginning of Spring Training give or take. A signing could even happen on Opening Day or shortly after.
This, of course, makes sense. Trout deserves to be compensated for his peerless production and having Manny and Bryce set the free agent market from a price perspective will set the table for what the Angels will have to fork out, in a Millville Meteor deal.
In last year’s Outfield section of the Primer Series, we discussed what a Mike Trout extension would look like based on a conservative valuation, using a base of $9.5M/1 WAR, a modest 5% inflation increase in $/WAR year-to-year, and a base 8-WAR season through age 30, a -0.5 WAR age adjustment through his age 34 season, and a -1.0 WAR age adjustment for every year after that.
Even with that relatively conservative set of assumptions, the raw, rough numbers still spit out a jaw-dropping value of $870,000,000! Guess what? Mike Trout just put up a 9.8 WAR season in 2018, beating that base 8 WAR starting point for 2018 by a whopping 1.8 WAR!
On some level it is absurd for any team to pay any player the amount listed above but the point I am trying to make is that the Angels need to compensate Trout in a manner that reflects his worth and how the free agent market would pay him. Machado and Harper will likely hit or exceed $400M each in all probability and those contracts will be record setting ones for all of about 5 minutes before Trout signs his new deal with the Angels. These are lofty pie-in-the-sky numbers but Mike’s vertical leap lets him play in the clouds.
Beyond the actual eye-popping dollar figures we should discuss the very real and probable opt-outs that will be inserted into Mike’s new contract. Trout seems like a loyal guy so a career-long compact may have genuine appeal to him but I think Mike wants to ensure that he gets enough opportunities to win a World Series Championship and thus it is the author’s opinion that the Angels will insert one or more opt-outs in Trout’s new extension deal.
An opt-out after the 2020 or 2021 season will allow Billy Eppler to continue building the farm system and team, to show Mike the Angels can and will be competitive. It gives Trout the opportunity to get the big money contract and the ability, if things are not going well, to leave and sign with a team that he feels has a better opportunity to win in the post-season. Multiple opt-out’s are a very real possibility.
This action by the team would be an act of good faith toward Trout and his agent by acknowledging his worth and desire to win in the present. It does little for the Angels other than building some good faith with their superstar, Hall of Fame-bound center fielder unless they get an extra year (or more) of control by starting after the 2021 season which would be the end of Mike’s age 29 year of control.
The bottom line is that there is nothing holding the Angels back from doing this now. Adding opt-outs allows Mike to exit, if he desires, a long-term commitment and is in-line with how contracts are being written nowadays (reference Clayton Kershaw for example). Whether it is $400M, $450M, or $500M offer (or crazily even higher) Trout is worth it by even the most conservative $/WAR assumptions.
If you believe the WAR valuation (and believe me that takes some courage too), a Mike Trout extension is THE value-buy of the off-season and Arte Moreno and Billy Eppler know it. Despite the monumental cost and commitment to one player they would be foolish not to act on it. If Mike Trout is not Moreno’s “right guy” then no one is.
As if you need a reminder here is Mike Trout’s last three seasons:
Crazily, Mike just keeps getting better. Might he become the twelfth player in Major League history to have an on-base percentage over 50%? Could he also be the twelfth player of all time to exceed a 200 wRC+, as well? Who knows! No matter what it will be fun to watch!
Clearly Mike Trout is the best player the Angels have ever had and may be one of the best, if not the best, players in Major League history. He is in his prime and the Angels are in the driver’s seat to ink a new career-long deal if “The Kiiiiid” is also.
I think this is an easy call by all parties involved so I am all-in on my belief we sign him this off-season.
Time will tell the tale!
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
So you are probably not going to like what the author has to say here.
The solution will not move around first base quickly.
You the reader will not enjoy this.
If you are not thinking about the movie “300” by this point, you have to think that Pujols might be thinking about how dangerously close he is to falling below a career .300 batting average heading into the 2019 season.
Now of course it is just a number. However, his entire contract is filled with event milestones and risers for hitting specific numbers. If he hits .245 again this season with just over 400 at-bat’s he will flirt with it for sure and Angels fans may not want to see another retired Angels player sitting at a career 299 in any category.
Age-related decline can suddenly and dramatically decrease performance (and has!), which begs the discussion about his total productivity.
For the last three seasons, Pujols has a 3-year running average of 93 wRC+ between first base and designated hitter. On top of that it is generally trending down. It is at this point that the reader should be reminded that in 2018, league average batter’s box production for first base and designated hitter were 109 and 117 wRC+, respectively.
It is difficult to have this discussion because Albert is a Hall of Fame-bound hitter and from all appearances and actions he is a tremendous human being who has helped hundreds if not thousands of children, teenagers and adults with Down Syndrome through the Pujols Family Foundation.
In addition to that, the foundation assists impoverished men, women, and children in Albert’s home country of the Dominican Republic and provides extraordinary experiences for children with special needs and life threatening illnesses. The good that this man and his wife Deidre do for their community is something that the entire city of Anaheim, both Los Angeles and Orange County, and Halos fans everywhere should celebrate, collectively.
Now certainly, Angels fans would love to see another World Series Championship and it is the author’s suspicion that Pujols wants nothing more than to bring one to Arte Moreno and the team. It would be foolish to assume that he is not fully aware that his ability to play baseball is becoming increasingly more difficult and that he is reaching critical mass in terms of his career coming to an end.
Whether Albert and the front office decide to press through the next three seasons, the front office makes a decision to designate him for assignment, both sides discuss an amicable, graceful buy-out, or Pujols goes the way of Ryne Sandberg or Gil Meche, Albert, Arte and Billy should have a plan in place now or in the near future to ensure a graceful retirement from the game that has given Albert and his family so much and, in turn, the communities of St. Louis, MO, Anaheim, CA, and many others.
So rather than dwell further on age-related baseball decline and the possibility we are seeing Albert’s last days on the field of play, let us celebrate the man, and his career 161 wRC+ in high leverage situations, because he has been clutch, not only in baseball, but for the thousands of people in the U.S., the Dominican Republic, and around the world that have benefited through the Pujols Family Foundation and Albert’s and Deidre’s time, dedication, compassion, and love.
Due to the fact that Ohtani will likely start the season at DH (unless his own health issues interfere), Albert will likely find himself at first base in a platoon with recently acquired Justin Bour. The latter has performed quite well against right-handed pitching over the last three years to the tune of a .270/.365/.504 slash line and a 130 wRC+, so Pujols, if he is not DH’ing, will be relegated to batting against LHP’s and pinch-hit appearances which may actually suit him, particularly with the game on the line. Below is Albert’s wRC+ in high leverage situations the last three years:
By adding Justin, the team has declared, in my opinion, that Albert’s full-time presence on the team is likely coming to an end. Basically the team will see how far Albert goes, how well he does, and evaluate his status after a month or two of play. Ohtani’s health will have a direct impact on how much Pujols plays in the early part of the season. It would not be unsurprising to see Eppler pursue a 1B option on a Minor League deal such as Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, or Mark Reynolds, for example as additional insurance.
If Albert is really struggling, I agree with the Orange County Register’s Jeff Fletcher that they will relegate Pujols to the disabled list, likely based on one of his past ailments, and go with Bour, Ward, or prospect Matt Thaiss.
However, if Pujols is able to perform at a reasonable rate of production I can see the Angels platooning him in about a 90/72 game split for the season based on a combination of his health and performance at the expense of playing time for Bour. Albert outperforming Bour seems unlikely to be honest but the Angels will give Pujols the benefit of the doubt if they are close numbers-wise.
In the end I do not think the Angels can afford expending a roster spot for Albert beyond 2019 or perhaps 2020. It is regrettable but the Angels need to put the best product on the field even if it means eating a large sum of money to do it, despite the feelings of one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game, because, above all else, this is a team sport.
Hopefully Pujols, Moreno, and Eppler find a happy harmony moving forward that meets all of their needs in a respectful, kind, and collaborative manner as the Machine closes out his career whether in the near future or at the end of his contract.
In the next Section we will discuss Center Field.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
A miniature black hole on the left side of the Angels infield.
No matter what label you want to place on it, a long-term solution at the keystone has been a source of concern since Howie Kendrick left after the 2014 season.
This year there is some hope that Zack Cozart will enter the 2nd year of his contract in good health and able to play elite-level defense (as he did at shortstop for so many years) while providing League-average offense, not dissimilar to what Kinsler produced in 2018.
Fundamentally, signing a player like Zack was a smart move. He can act as depth behind Andrelton Simmons (again his defensive reputation is first-rate at SS) and his offense should be sufficient to make him an overall productive player at the keystone. There is certainly an argument to be made that having Cozart shift to a new position may have a learning curve involved, as it did last year when he played third base, but for someone like him it should not be that difficult to manage.
Certainly the Angels could elect to have Zack play 3B again and acquire another 2B or give someone like Fletcher (elite defense), Jones (very athletic with high ceiling), or Rengifo (good defense with potentially better offense) a shot but that is placing a big burden on those players who have had minimal (David) or no (Jahmai and Luis) experience at the Major League level. Having those three as quality depth pieces starting the year in the Minors would give the 25-man roster more injury insurance at every infield position.
The Angels need to improve their overall offense and when you examine the second base and third base markets it is very clear that there are better offensive options available at the hot corner versus the keystone. With the addition of Lucroy, the catcher position has received a modest offensive upgrade but not a game changing one and if Eppler trades Calhoun you might be able to upgrade in right field but at a probable defensive cost.
Based on that, an impact offensive player is critically needed so moving Zack to 2B and bringing in an offensive threat that can play at least average defense at the hot corner makes the most sense in terms of roster and lineup construction and market availability.
Of course the Halos could simply see what Ward can offer, since he did have a combined 167 wRC+ across AA/AAA last year, or they could bide their time for the 2019-2020 off-season when Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, and other third base options will possibly hit free agency.
The Angels could also trade Cozart but because he was on the disabled list for so long his value has sunk a bit and we would get little for him even if we ate part of his salary at this moment in time. Rebuilding his value in 2019 will be important for 2020 because the Angels may need to get some salary relief and Zack is a good candidate to do so, at that point. Besides, the Steamer projection system is rather fond of him heading into the New Year so it is a responsible bet to place for the Halos.
If Eppler makes the more shocking decision to acquire a new second baseman, the market is still pretty robust overall.
Potential names like Cesar Hernandez, Brian Dozier, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick, Ketel Marte, Whit Merrifield, Logan Forsythe, Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Harrison, D.J. LeMahieu, Ian Kinsler, Jed Lowrie, Brad Miller, Jonathan Villar, and Neil Walker are some players likely available in trade or free agency. The market depth could potentially yield a value buy but that may still not be the best way to improve the team.
Barring an injury it really does appear that Eppler will start Zack Cozart at the keystone in 2019 and hope that he stays healthy. If so he should be a productive member of the team and, in fact, a reasonable choice to man second base. If injured there are good replacement options on the 40-man roster.
Break the Bank ($151M+)
High Price to Pay ($101M-$150M)
Middle of the Road ($51M-$100M)
Bargain Basement ($1M-$50M)
Based on the money still owed to him and the fact that he was injured and unavailable for a large part of the season Eppler will very likely move Cozart over to 2B to begin 2019 as was originally planned when Zack was signed.
To be frank free agency and trade do not offer a lot of options in terms of offensive firepower at second base, so Billy will want to emphasize run prevention via a good defensive player and Zack is certainly a great one. Perhaps more importantly he provides injury insurance in case Simmons hits the disabled list. Also if Zack gets injured David “the Magician” Fletcher is just a call-up away from back-filling at the keystone.
As a final note, there is a strong possibility that our middle infield depth is reaching a critical mass, to the point that Eppler will trade one of Zack Cozart, Taylor Ward, David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo, Matt Thaiss, and Jahmai Jones this year or next.
The Angels can only play a finite number of players, regularly, plus one or two backup infielders so something will give sooner or later unless the plan is to replace Simmons with Rengifo or have Ward pick up first base at-bat’s (which displaces Thaiss), long-term. Whether Cozart provides similar or greater production this year, he will be a potential trade candidate in the future due to team payroll concerns, primarily.
In the next Section we will discuss First Base.
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By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
There are some who are disappointed with Eppler’s relatively modest off-season so far: he didn’t sign any big name free agents, whether intentionally or because they simply wanted to play elsewhere. No Corbin, Ramos, Happ, Eovaldi, Morton, Donaldson, Familia, etc – all players that would have significantly improved the team. Instead we got a strange group of players in Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Justin Bour, Jonathan Lucroy, and Kevan Smith–not to mention his usual few clean peanuts.
Now the offseason isn’t over. The two biggest fish–Bryce Harper and Manny Machado–remain on the board, as well as the top free agent catcher, Yasmani Grandal, and top reliever, Craig Kimbrel. There are also quite a few other interesting options such as David Robertson, Jed Lowrie, Dallas Keuchel, Mike Moustakas, Asdrubal Cabrera, Marwin Gonzalez, DJ Le Mahieu, Brian Dozier, etc. And of course there’s Kikuchi.
But the Angels, presumably, only have another $10-15M to spend. That pretty much prices them out of Harper, Machado, and Keuchel. Kimbrel seems unlikely, and if Grandal still expects 4/$60M+, he won’t be donning an Angels uniform. Maybe the Angels take a flier on a reliever as well as an infielder, although it is also possible they are basically set with what they have.
Eppler has been known to surprise us (e.g. the Andrelton Simmons trade). But the moves so far tell us quite a bit about what his plan is. Consider that they are all one-year deals for players mostly coming off down years, who are solid bets to provide decent returns, but also with small chances of being huge bargains if they rediscover former glories. In other words, they aren’t the type of players that you acquire if you are dead-set on competing in 2019; they are the type of players you acquire if your focus is on the future and are filling holes in the mean-time, yet also don’t want to write off your chances of competing in 2019. In other words, they are the type of players that you can hope will surprise, but probably shoudn’t expect to.
If Eppler was focusing on the so-called “Trout Window” of 2019-20, he’d have gone hard after a more reliable starter–if not Corbin, then certainly Keuchel or Happ. He’d have signed at least one elite reliever, and have upgraded the offense in some significant way – either offering more to Ramos or signing Grandal. He also could have traded some of their prospect capital for further upgrades. A few other tweaks and the team could have been a good bet for 90 wins. Yes, it would have pushed the budget up higher, but he could have done so while staying under the salary cap.
But the problem with that approach is that while it makes the team better over the next few years, it lessens the chances of long-term success through tying up funds in more good but non-premium players (Keuchel being a prime example). The Angels already have a near-term salary problem, with $80M owed to three players in 2019 (Trout, Pujols, Upton), $84M to the same three in 2020 (plus another $15M to Simmons, to make it $100M for four), and if we assume that Trout is extended for $40M/year and Simmons for $20M/yr starting in 2021, that’s $113M for four players in 2021. That’s also the year Tyler Skaggs hits free agency and Shohei Ohtani has his first arbitration year. Thankfully Cozart ($12.67M/yr) comes off the books, so that helps a bit.
In 2022, the Angels will (hopefully) be paying Trout, Simmons, and Upton something like $90M, but then Upton comes off the books, but then you have to factor in extensions for various players, rising arbitration, etc.
Fielding a competitive baseball team is expensive. Unless you’re willing to spend $200M+ a year, you need to be savvy and try to fill as much of your roster with low-cost talent. The best way to do that is through farm development. You focus on growing talent from within, then you extend the best of that talent, and augment the team through free agency and trades. But you protect that farm talent as best you can, because it is the source of your low-cost talent.
The temptation for many a GM is to trade that talent for “Proven Veterans.” Sometimes this is the right thing to do (e.g. Simmons), but sometimes it is devastating, both by leaving the farm barren of talent and requiring more money spent on free agency, and you end up with crippling albatrosses like Wells, Pujols, and Hamilton.
Back to 2019. What I see Eppler doing is focusing on the 2020s. He hopes to be competitive in 2019–that’s why he did spend some money, rather than just “playing the kids.” But he refuses to dip into the quickly improving–but still delicate–farm system. The Angels, by general consensus, have a farm system ranked somewhere around 10th in the majors. A big trade or two could quickly set them back to around 20th. Continued careful cultivation for another year or two puts them in the top 5.
Now the farm rankings aren’t important – they are rather subjective and conjectural, after all. But what they represent is the point: the quantity and quality of talent. The farm system is getting riper year by year, but isn’t quite there yet. In another year or so, it will really start bearing fruit as players like Canning, Suarez, Thaiss, Rengifo, Adell, Marsh, Jones, and Sandoval start contributing on the major league level. Further waves include Soriano, C Rodriguez, Hernandez, Bradish, Jackson, Knowles, Adams, Deveaux, and Maitan.
Last year we saw rookies such as Ohtani, Barria, Anderson, Buttrey, Fletcher, Ward, and Hermosillo. Most of these guys will get better in 2019, when we’ll see Canning, Suarez, Rengifo, and probably Thaiss and Adell. In 2020 we’ll see Marsh, Jones, Sandoval, and probably others. In other words, each year will see the graduation of promising young talent, with a cumulative effect of both increasing the talent in Anaheim, and also decreasing the need for higher price free agents.
Eppler knows this, and doesn’t want to a) trade this talent away, and b) block the talent with older, more expensive and lower upside players.
Now obviously there’s a balance. It is easy to overrate prospects, and probably only a few of the guys I mentioned will become stars, a few more impact players, some quality regulars, and a bunch will be either bench players or minor league flame-outs. But again, that talent pool represents the priceless commodity of “low-cost, high-upside talent” and it has to be protected.
The plan for 2019 is, again, to try to field a wildcard-capable team, but not at the expense of the future. My guess is that Eppler looks at the AL and thinks, “I can either spend big and trade away talent and improve my chances of making a wildcard but not win the division, or spend less, keep the talent, and still have a decent shot at a wildcard.” In other words, the Angels almost certainly couldn’t seriously compete for the division or be a lock for the playoffs in 2019, and the cost to simply improve wildcard chances in the short term is just too great, and too debilitating to the franchise in the long-term.
2020 will be a further step forward, with more of that young talent graduating and maturing. By 2021 that young talent should be really starting to flourish and be the core of the 25-man roster. In fact, I could see a 2021 team that is comprised mostly of players below age 28, except for a few notable exceptions: Trout, Simmons, possibly Upton, maybe one of Skaggs or Heaney, a few others.
So the Eppler plan is to continue strengthening the farm, while retooling in the majors in ways that give the team a chance to compete over the next couple years, but with the eye of turning this franchise into a farm-driven powerhouse in the 2020s.
Its a good plan, but requires patience.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
A good or bad bullpen can make or break a team’s season.
Over the last handful of years the Angels really have not had either, they have milled around a bit, near average, with our 2017 relief corps being the best group and our 2016 our worst group in recent memory.
Entering 2019, however, that may prove to be a different story.
Billy Eppler and the front office staff have cobbled together what, on paper, appears to be an exciting group of hard throwers that could have a real impact on our playoff chances next season. Nothing is guaranteed to anyone of course, as relief arms are notoriously volatile, but the group the Halos have assembled to-date has promise.
To better understand the author’s general optimism let us take a brief look at new Angels manager Brad Ausmus’ bullpen options heading into 2019:
Miguel Almonte (RHP)
We start this list with Almonte but the reality is that Miguel’s time on our 40-man roster might be short.
Miguel features a mid-90’s fastball and a low-80’s curveball. He will mix in an occasional change-up and slider and has an above average GB% rate and has been the victim of his own crime when it comes to his walk rate.
If Almonte survives the inevitable roster addition(s), this Spring Training will be a make or break one for him, as he is out of options, which means he needs to break camp or he will find himself designated for assignment in all likelihood.
Justin Anderson (RHP)
Anderson represents one of the points of optimism for our bullpen moving forward.
Justin features a mid-to-high-90’s fastball that can touch triple digits. He pairs that high heat with a mid-80’s slider and a rarely used low-80’s change-up.
The fastball is quite heavy with a lot of sink which results in a high GB% rate (50.8% in 2018). Although he put a lot of balls on the ground and created a lot of poor contact (.213 AVG last year), he suffered from a high 6.51 BB/9 (walk rate per 9 innings) rate.
If Anderson wants to be more than a nice mid-innings relief piece he will need to tame the walks and success should follow in its wake. He has three options remaining per RosterResource.com, so he is a candidate who can potentially start down in the Minors come Opening Day.
Cam Bedrosian (RHP)
The last two years have not been particularly kind to Cam.
Bedrosian has been experiencing a continuous two-year decline in velocity from his 2016 mid-90’s heat and ended 2018 sitting at about 93 mph, on average. This lower velocity, combined with zero remaining options, means that he must break camp with the Major League team or he could be traded or even designated for assignment.
Cam features a low-to-mid 90’s fastball and a low-to-mid 80’s slider as his primary two-pitch mix. Moving forward he may need to develop a third pitch to keep batter’s off-balance, so the development of a change-up could prove useful, particularly versus left-handed hitters.
The promise of Bedrosian’s stuff as a Minor League player materialized in 2016 and 2017 but the velocity loss represents a real concern regarding his effectiveness moving forward. Hopefully the Angels new coaching staff will work on Cam’s bio-mechanics and adjust his off-season training regimen in an attempt to regain some velocity he has lost or at least stop the bleeding that the last two years have exorcised on his arm.
Unless he has a poor performance during Spring Training he should be on the 25-man roster come Opening Day.
Austin Brice (RHP)
Poached from Cincinnati in early November, Brice is a hard-throwing right-handed reliever that features a four-pitch mix, including a mid-90’s sinking fastball, a mid-80’s slider, a low-80’s curveball, and an occasional mid-80’s change-up.
The sinker of course results in an above average, career groundball rate of 51.2%. If Austin can lower his walk rate a touch and create some additional poor contact, the Angels might have picked up a jewel that just needed a little polish.
Unfortunately Brice will not have a lot of time to prove this because he, too, is out of options and must either break camp with the team or he may find himself being designated for assignment prior to the start of the season.
Parker Bridwell (RHP)
“If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.”
If you were not watching, Parker Bridwell is back! The prodigal son has returned!
Pretty much everything about Parker’s peripherals says “meh”. However, both the Yankees and the Angels have clamored after him on the waiver wire which certainly makes one stop and say “Why?”
As a full-time reliever, Bridwell was better and perhaps that is where the Angels will consider placing him. His ability to make starts and absorb innings certainly has value but it is more of the back-end, up-and-down, type worth, nothing more.
Parker features a four-pitch mix, including a low-90’s four-seam fastball, a low-90’s two-seam type (FanGraphs lists both a two-seam and cutter) fastball, a low-80’s curveball and a mid-80’s change-up. It seems like the Angels and Yankees see more value in how he creates uncomfortable contact for hitters, popping them up, putting the ball on the ground, and generally limiting hard (and soft) contact.
Bridwell is out of options so he will also need to break camp with the big league club or he could find himself hitting the waiver wire once again.
Ty Buttrey (RHP)
One of two relievers (see Jerez below) acquired in the Ian Kinsler trade in late July, Buttrey represents a real bright spot for the back-end of the Angels bullpen heading into 2019.
Ty spotlights a quality three-pitch mix including a heavy mid-90’s fastball, a low-to-mid-80’s slider, and a mid-80’s change-up. His ability to get both left- and right-handed hitters out combined with a really high groundball rate and poor contact against the latter (RHHs) makes him dangerous and a very solid choice to pitch in high leverage situations for Brad Ausmus.
Buttrey has two options left but there is a high probability that he wins a bullpen spot outright in Spring Training, based on what he has already shown and the potential to continue improving moving forward. His ability to get right-handed hitters to turn over and put the ball on the ground should feed into a Simmons-Cozart defensive alignment up-the-middle of the infield.
Taylor Cole (RHP)
Originally a starter, the Blue Jays, in 2017, began to move him to the bullpen where his stuff could potentially play up in relief and once the Angels signed him to a Minor League contract in March, they continued down that path, which appears to be generating better results.
Taylor features a three-pitch mix, including a low-to-mid-90’s heavy fastball, a recently added mid-80’s slider, and a mid-80’s change-up. He mixes all of these pitches together well, that keeps a lot of hitters guessing as to what comes next and is, in part, what led to his success in 2018.
Cole has two options left so he is a candidate to start the year off in the high Minors to act as depth in case of a Major League injury. The Angels did have him spot start a couple of games last year so they may view him as that moving forward or perhaps as a multi-innings type reliever. It should be noted that, other than Buttrey, Taylor had some of the best numbers on the team, so if he can replicate that in Spring Training he could make an open and shut case to claim a 25-man roster spot.
Matt Esparza (RHP)
Probably a name you have not heard before, Matt was just nabbed from Indians High-A ball in the Rule V Draft. He has been described as a back-end starter by FanGraphs Eric Longenhagen and has reached as high as AA in 2017.
Certainly the Angels could be viewing him as a starter candidate but a move to the bullpen could accelerate his arrival in Anaheim. A relief role might allow his fastball, slider, and change-up to play up more and Eppler and company certainly targeted him for his high groundball rate (it has hovered just under 50% as a starter to-date) so he may be closer to the Majors than some realize.
Esparza features a three-pitch mix including a high-80’s to low-90’s fastball with sink, a low-to-mid-80’s slider, and an upper-70’s curveball.
It is unlikely that Matt will be available until later in 2019, if at all. He is listed here primarily because of the potential change from starter to reliever and the subsequent potential to impact the Major League roster as a late September call-up. He is prospective, unheralded depth that could be used in a multitude of roles (starter, multi-innings reliever, or straight one-inning bullpen help).
Luis Garcia (RHP)
In perhaps the most interesting challenge trade seen in recent memory (and to be frank challenge trades do not happen too often anyway!), the Angels sent LHP Jose Alvarez to the Phillies in exchange for the hard-throwing Garcia. It was an even salary exchange with identical years of control remaining (two each).
Luis, according to FanGraphs, spotlights a three-pitch mix that includes a biting mid-to-high-90’s four-seam fastball, a mid-to-high-80’s split-fingered fastball (Pitch F/X seemed to classify this as a two-seam fastball as they are similar), and a mid-80’s slider. He relies more on the latter two pitches in-game, however.
Eppler’s acquisition of Garcia simply seems to be a continuation of the organizations philosophy of high-octane heat and strikeout ability and the increasing, emerging philosophy of high groundball rates (Luis has a 57.2% GB%). Garcia has no options remaining so he must break camp with the Major League squad or face a possible trade or be designated for assignment.
Williams Jerez (LHP)
Currently the only pure left-handed reliever (if you count Peters as a starter) on the staff, Jerez is the second piece the Angels brought back in the Ian Kinsler trade.
Williams has really good velocity from the left-side and features a three-pitch mix that includes a heavy mid-90’s fastball (see the theme developing?), a mid-to-high-80’s slider, and a mid-to-high-80’s change-up. The former results in an above average groundball rate but he needs to work on lowering his walk and home run rates as they are both borderline high.
Jerez has one option left so he is a candidate to start the 2019 season down in the high Minors but as the only lefty reliever currently on the staff he may have an inside track for a bullpen spot come Opening Day.
Jake Jewell (RHP)
Jewell saw his 2018 debut cut short after a freak break of his right fibula as he was covering home plate on a wild pitch in a game against Boston in late June. Fortunately the timetable should have him comfortably back and ready to join Spring Training in an attempt to win a roster spot in the bullpen.
A personal favorite of the author’s, Jake originally began as a starter in the Angels farm system but it has long been suspected that a move to relief would capitalize best on his ability and that is what the Halos did starting in 2018 that culminated in three big league appearances leading up to the injury above.
Jake features a four-pitch mix, including a mid-to-high-90’s four-seam cut fastball, a mid-90’s sinker, a mid-80’s curveball, and a high-80’s to low-90’s change-up. Throughout his Minor League career, he has maintained a strong ability to force hitters to put the ball on the ground and an above average ability to miss bats.
Because of his so-so success as a starter, the two options he has remaining, the potential to be a good back-end reliever, and the shortened 2018 season, the Angels will probably start Jewell down in the high Minors to start 2019. However, it would not be at all surprising to see him back up in the Majors in short order assuming his health is in good order.
Keynan Middleton (RHP)
Although he is still in the recovery process from Tommy John Surgery (TJS), back in May of 2018, Middleton still projects to return to the Majors in the middle or late part of 2019.
Keynan combines fantastic makeup with even more fantastic hit and miss strikeout ability. Assuming he recovers to a semblance of his former self, he should become a force again pitching out of the back-end of the bullpen and represents another bright spot in next year’s relief corps.
Middleton spotlights a three-pitch mix, including a mid-to-high 90’s fastball, a mid-to-high-80’s slider, and the occasional mid-to-high-80’s change-up to keep hitters on their toes. What makes him so special is the combination of a high strikeout rate, the ability to contain walks, and the capacity to create poor contact.
Angels fans should expect Keynan to remain on the disabled list to start the season as TJS generally requires a full year or so in terms of recovery time (it varies from pitcher to pitcher). Additionally, he has two options remaining so the Angels will certainly make sure he spends a sufficient amount of time on a Minor League rehabilitation assignment before bringing him back into the Major League fold.
Akeel Morris (RHP)
Acquired from the Braves in April of 2018, Morris is a high strikeout guy with an average velocity arsenal.
The Angels designated him for assignment near the end of the season and he was outrighted to AAA. Akeel features a low-90’s to mid-90’s four-seam fastball, a quality upper-70’s change-up, and a low-80’s slider.
Akeel has a storied history of high K/9 rates and an ability to create really poor contact as he uses his four-seam fastball to set up his slider and change-up very effectively. His repertoire makes him home run prone but there is value here if he can figure out how to limit the free passes and keep the ball in the park more.
Morris is still pre-arbitration eligible and has three options remaining, assuming the Angels keep him in the fold which is not guaranteed by any means.
Felix Pena (RHP)
Listed here as a potential reliever, Felix spent most of his innings as a starter in 2018 and did an admirable job to the tune of 17 game starts with an overall 14.7 K%-BB% rate and a 4.18 earned run average.
Pena could certainly be in the running for a back-end starter job but it is more likely that he takes the long relief role as a multi-innings bullpen piece that can spot start as needed which appears to be the ideal role for him based on his 2018 results.
Interestingly, Felix added a two-seam fastball to his arsenal last year and the results speak for themselves as he now features a four-pitch mix that includes a low-to-mid-90’s four-seam and aforementioned two-seam fastball, a low-80’s slider, and a seldom used mid-80’s change-up.
Felix has one option remaining but based on his results last season he certainly seems to have an inside track to win a 25-man roster spot to begin 2019.
Dillon Peters (LHP)
Recently acquired from the Miami Marlins in exchange for RHP Tyler Stevens, Dillon Peters is a lefty starter who has not had much success in that role to-date.
One of the items that pops out regarding Dillon is his history of high groundball rates in the Minors. This was almost certainly a selling point for Eppler and the front office in addition to his history of relatively low walk rates on the farm too. Whether as a back-end starter or a high groundball reliever in the likes of Zach Britton or Scott Alexander, Peters is a question full of possible answers.
Dillon features a four-pitch mix, including a high-80’s to low-90’s four-seam and two-seam fastball, a mid-to-high-70’s curveball, and a low-to-mid-80’s change-up. These pitches, matched with his abbreviated 53.3% GB% to-date and his ability to create poor contact, make him a truly interesting pick-up for the Halos.
Peters has two options remaining so he is a candidate to start 2019 in the high Minors if he does not win a starter or relief role in Spring Training. However, look for him to make an impact soon, in the Majors, particularly if the Halos put him in the bullpen as either a multi-innings or high leverage reliever.
Daniel Procopio (RHP)
The Angels selected Daniel in the 10th round of the 2017 draft as a hard-thrower who can potentially miss bats.
Procopio has shot through the system after his rookie debut in 2017, graduating to High-A ball and then AA in 2018. According to an interview by former Angelswin.com writer Brent Maguire (who now writes for the Athletic), Daniel throws a mid-90’s four-seam fastball, a cutter, and a curveball, with the former and the latter his better pitches. Additionally, he has really been able to miss a lot of bats and create poor contact which likely contributed to his fast move through the system.
Daniel has amazing strikeout ability but he will need to temper how many free passes he hands out which has been a weakness to-date. He has also shown a propensity to get hitters out in front or swinging late, resulting in a lot of pull and opposite field hits with less balls going up the middle.
Look for Procopio to start the season in High-A or AA with a potential promotion mid-season if he maintains the results he has provided so far in his short professional career. He could be a candidate to get a September call-up and is a deep depth reserve for the Major League roster in 2019.
J.C. Ramirez (RHP)
Yet another victim to the dreaded TJS, J.C. went under the knife in April and is projected to return sometime in the Summer or late 2019.
When his arm was right, Ramirez spotlights a four-pitch repertoire that includes a mid-90’s four-seam and two-seam fastball, a mid-to-upper-80’s slider, and an upper-70’s curveball. Hopefully, he returns to action healthy and that is apparently what the Angels are gambling on because they have indicated a willingness to tender him a substantial contract (estimated $1.9M) despite his serious injury and subsequent surgery.
J.C. has three years of arbitration control left and will become a free agent after the 2021 season is complete. He has zero options remaining so, once he returns from the disabled list and has completed a Minor League rehabilitation assignment, the Angels will need to add him or designate him for assignment and risk losing him.
Although not a particularly hard thrower, Noe has shown a real propensity to strike out batters and create poor contact during his tenure in Anaheim.
The Angels have used Ramirez in a multi-innings capacity and he has been effective in forcing hitters on both sides of the plate to pull the ball (over 50% across the last three seasons). If he can solve some of his issues with left-handed hitters, which he began to do in 2018, Ramirez will be a true force to be reckoned with out of the Angels bullpen.
Noe features a four-pitch repertoire including a high-80’s to low-90’s two-seam fastball, a high-80’s to low-90’s sinker (Pitch F/X may be conflating these two pitches), a high-70’s curveball, and a low-to-mid-80’s change-up. He pitched 83 innings in 2018 so the Angels may see real value in having him as a multi-innings eater but those IP may have been a result of injuries to the pitching staff.
Ramirez is out of options so he will need to break camp with the Angels out of Spring Training or he may wind up being traded or designated for assignment.
Considered an above average prospect when taken in Round 4 of the 2014 Rule IV Draft, the shine wore off a bit and by the start of 2017, Jeremy found himself throwing in relief once it was determined that a starter’s role was not in the cards.
Jeremy features a three-pitch mix, including an above average four-seam fastball, a very solid slider, and an average change-up (velocities not available). In 2017 and 2018, Rhoades did well versus right-handed hitters but suffered mightily against left-handed ones.
Rhoades has performed reasonably well in the bullpen, showing some solid K%-BB% and HR/9 rates. He was most recently exposed to the Rule V Draft which indicates the Angels do not think he is worthy of protection and addition to the 40-man roster so although he might contribute in the Majors it will probably be with another team. At best he will most probably be an up-and-down reliever with the Angels.
A Jerry Dipoto trade that worked out, Tropeano came to the Angels with Carlos Perez in the lopsided Hank Conger trade. He missed the entire 2017 season due to TJS.
Nick is not a particularly hard thrower but he does feature a repertoire that includes a heavy low-90’s four-seam fastball, a low-to-mid-80’s split-fingered fastball, a high-70’s to low-80’s slider, and a quality low-80’s change-up.
Tropeano is listed here because he may not earn the #5 spot in the rotation, relegating him to the bullpen to start the season. However, it should be noted that Nick has two options remaining so it is quite possible he will begin the 2019 season down in the high Minors as rotation depth. Long-term, if he has a good season, Eppler may move him into a multi-innings role as well where his stuff might play up a touch more.
So to summarize –
Out of Options: Miguel Almonte, Cam Bedrosian, Austin Brice, Parker Bridwell, Luis Garcia, J.C. Ramirez, and Noe Ramirez.
Options Remaining: Justin Anderson (3), Ty Buttrey (2), Taylor Cole (2), Matt Esparza (3), Williams Jerez (1), Jake Jewell (2), Keynan Middleton (2), Akeel Morris (3), Felix Pena (1), Dillon Peters (2), Daniel Procopio (3), Jeremy Rhoades (3), and Nick Tropeano (2).
Once Spring Training comes around the Angels will almost certainly select the best performing group of relievers. However, they will also balance this with trying to save as many out of options pitchers as they can. Based on the current list above, this is the Angelswin.com projected Opening Day bullpen as of December 28th, 2018:
With Keynan Middleton and J.C. Ramirez starting the season on the disabled list, the table above is probably the starting eight as the team will likely carry an extra reliever to begin 2019. Jerez or Pena, who each have one option, could always be removed if they only go with seven or if the Angels acquire an additional 1-2 bullpen pieces prior to the start of the season.
Due to the starters not being able to go deep in their first handful of starts, keeping three long relievers on the 25-man roster will help alleviate that initial short length. Also once Pena has pitched he can be optioned down and another reliever like Anderson can be pulled up for a few games and then Felix can return.
The Angels could certainly look to sign another reliever in free agency but that has previously not been Eppler’s modus operandi. That being said the relief market is flush with a lot of quality relievers so Billy may be looking at this as an opportunity cost situation to acquire one or more durable pitchers to build depth. Now that the Angels have opted for an inexpensive solution behind the dish, Jonathan Lucroy, they may have more money to spend on the rotation or in relief.
If Billy explores the free agent market he is more likely to go after a targeted choice that combines performance and durability such as Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, Adam Ottavino, Justin Wilson, or Shawn Kelley for instance.
The author would like to make one last point about relievers in general. In 2018, here are the League-wide pitch values (Pitch value/100):
You may notice that beyond the rare eephus, knuckle and screwball, it is the sliders, split-finger fastballs, and cut fastballs of the world that were among the most effective pitches in the League. It is not unsurprising that a large swath of our relievers throw various cut, split, and sinking fastballs with a slider as their secondary offerings.
It is quite clear that Eppler is building a high quality infield defense behind his heavy groundball staff as a primary form of run prevention. It fits with Eppler’s philosophy on a strong up-the-middle defense (in fact just good defense everywhere) and plays into the statistical reality of those pitches (the slider in particular).
As a final note, some of you may have missed FanGraphs David Laurila’s article and interview with former Angels pitching coach Scott Radinsky who spoke about some of the relievers listed above and is well worth a read!
Break the Bank ($51M+)
High Price to Pay ($26M-$50M)
Middle of the Road ($11M-$25M)
Bargain Basement ($1M-$10M)
Billy Eppler could certainly decide to stand pat with the group of options he has assembled to-date with the understanding that reinforcements are only a short call away down on the farm and later in the year when Middleton and Ramirez hopefully return.
Now that the Angels have selected to sign an inexpensive option at catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, it is possible they could splurge on a top-tier type, like Britton, who would add a hard throwing, groundball generating, left-handed, high leverage type to the relief corps. Eppler did state that they were looking to have 13-14 relievers available to start 2019 and by my, ready-to-hit-the-Majors, count above we are at about twelve, so 1-2 more could be in the cards.
Also, rumors of David Robertson have been increasing, as detailed in the link above, so that could be the durable type of reliever that Eppler would like to add to this staff, particularly because Robertson gets left-handed hitters out at a really good clip. For the last eight years he has performed very well and that consistency has appeal for a team that has had persistent injuries.
If Billy dips a chip in the sauce and does not want to invest heavily in a top-tier choice, he will likely go after a guy like Justin Wilson or Shawn Kelley. The former would likely command a 3-year deal at about $7M-$10M per season, while the latter will command a 1-2 year deal at about $4M-$7M per season.
In the next Section we will discuss Second Base.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
As you can see from the chart above the Angels received a dreadful amount of offense from the hot corner, for the 2018 season, split primarily between five players (Fletcher, Cowart, Ward, Valbuena, and Cozart).
Most of that offensive production came from David Fletcher (1.4 WAR) who also played elite defense in a limited sample size. Near the end of the season, on August 14th, the Angels promoted young Taylor Ward, our top 3B prospect, to man the hot corner. Although he struggled with the bat (60 wRC+) his defense was solid in a small sample size, giving hope that he can eventually be a good solution at the position.
Earlier in the Primer Series we discussed the Angels production needs and goals. It is clear that team offense needs to improve, particularly against left-handed pitching, and defense needs to remain stable or even improve at the hot corner. Third base, across all 30 teams in Major League Baseball (MLB), has been a position associated with offensive firepower as can be seen in the figure below:
It is because of Ward’s initial inexperience and poor offensive performance that will almost certainly lead the Angels to do one of the following: 1) find a one or two year temporary solution to man the hot corner until Ward is truly ready, 2) sign or trade for a long-term answer and use Taylor at 1B, long-term, or as depth at the corners, 3) find a platoon partner that can hit right-handed pitching well to compliment Taylor, or 4) obtain a long-term solution and use Ward as a trade chip.
It is the authors feeling that the Angels do envision Ward being part of their long-term outlook, as he carried, in Minor League AAA, a 167 wRC+ and a .446 on-base percentage (OBP) for the 2018 season. Because of that potential, finding a one or two year stopgap until Ward is ready makes some degree of sense unless the team really feels he can win the job outright or can be productive with a platoon partner. This would be consistent with Billy Eppler’s statement about affording some of the younger players an opportunity to win playing time. Notably, if you bring in a short-term asset, you not only increase production in 2019 and possibly 2020, but also deepen your roster by having Taylor get repetitions down in AAA and whom can be called upon in the case of an injury. This is the path that likely makes the Angels 40-man roster more robust.
In the end the team needs a regular, full-time guy, who can match and improve upon the 1.8 WAR bar that was set from last season. Based on the information above we can begin a player search utilizing FanGraphs.com to identify potential trade and free agent targets that match one or more of those parameters.
Below is a list of the Top 30, third basemen, set at a minimum of 50 plate appearances (PA’s), from 2016-2018, using a 3B split, and sorted by WAR per Game (WAR/G). The author uses WAR/G to better understand how much WAR a player is providing on a per game basis since this sample is taken over a 3-year period and some players have less total playing time than others:
As you can see there are a lot of familiar names on this list including Ramirez, Rendon, Bryant, Arenado, and Machado. Certainly the latter is available in free agency, although he will come with a potentially record-breaking price tag. Donaldson has already signed a high-value, one-year deal with the Braves and Beltre has retired from baseball.
Defense has always been important to Eppler in his short tenure as Angels GM. He will probably want a player who is at least league average, or above, defensively and in order to figure out who the Angels might target, we will take the table above and parse it out by ranking the players according to FanGraphs ‘Def’ metric and dividing by the number of games they have played over the same 2016-2018 time period (Def/G). Only those with a value greater than ‘0’ are listed and they are sorted from high to low:
You may be pleasantly surprised to find our very own David Fletcher at the top of this defensive leader board. David has always carried a good defensive reputation in the Minors and despite the small 80 game sample size, the number is consistent with his glove history.
Overall the list did not change too dramatically. The guys you expected to drop off the list such as Matt Carpenter and Nicholas Castellanos did so, leaving a candidate list of 21 players.
We can further parse this list by down-selecting only players that exceeded the League average of 107 wRC+ (then rank them highest to lowest) while also determining which players may actually be available in free agency or trade:
This leaves the following players:
Some of these names are potentially undesirable to the Angels for many reasons but we will discuss each, in turn.
First of all, we need to start with the elephant in the room Manny Machado. He would clearly fit at 3B for the Halos and has excellent wRC+ numbers against both left-handed and right-handed pitchers in his career.
However the only way that the Angels will sign him is if 1) Arte Moreno authorizes a significant increase in team payroll and exceeds the CBT threshold, 2) the Angels give him a huge multi-year deal, and 3) Eppler structures the contract so that Manny gets a lot of money in his early years (front-loading) and can opt-out after 2019, 2020, or 2021 (or all three). This is, for the most part, a dream scenario of converging events and thus has a very, very low probability of happening, but is not impossible.
When you move on to the trade candidates list, the options become a bit more intriguing.
Normally Colorado would probably not consider trading a key superstar when they plan to compete in 2019. However, Arenado has performed so well over the last few seasons that he now projects to make $26M in his last year of arbitration control next season. For the payroll-conscious Rockies, Nolan may be a luxury they cannot afford. If the Rockies do start the season with him on the roster he could potentially be a Trade Deadline target if the Rockies fall out of contention and, of course, the Halos are in it and need to upgrade at 3B.
Arenado would check off all the boxes for the Angels, too. He plays great defense, has a powerful bat (3-year average of 129 wRC+), and absolutely destroys left-handed pitchers (3-year average of 174 wRC+). The Angels could even potentially try to extend him to a mega-contract as we discussed above, regarding Manny Machado, where we front-load the contract with opt-outs after 2020 and 2021 but that, just like Manny, would be very difficult to pull off (but not unprecedented in modern day contractual structures). If he is available Moreno might jump, whether now or later.
Beyond Nolan, Rendon is in his last year of team control. However, in his case, the Nationals are more than capable of extending him and will likely do so this off-season, particularly because Washington should be quite competitive in 2019 and beyond, particularly after they added Patrick Corbin.
The Braves have a potential surplus situation with switch-hitter Johan Camargo at 3B (and possibly prospect Austin Riley in the Minors) so he might be in play at the right price but it will pull significant assets from our farm system in trade, making this an unlikely scenario.
One name that seems like a good fit further down the list is Jedd Gyorko. The Cardinals are supposedly considering moving him in trade to free up playing time for other players and acquisitions, particularly after they traded for Paul Goldschmidt to play 1B. He plays above average defense in the corner, has the versatility to play other positions, and has some thump and on-base skills that would compliment the roster. He also tattoos left-handed pitchers (3-year running average of 129 wRC+). The Padres are paying $5M of his 2019 salary, which means he would only add $8M to actual team payroll and approximately $4.3M to Average Annual Value (AAV) in 2019 plus he has a $13M team option for 2020, which allows the Halos to ease Ward into the full-time role, if needed. Jedd would probably cost us at least one quality prospect (think one of Chris Rodriguez, Kevin Maitan, or perhaps Jose Soriano for example) plus another lower-level type, maybe more.
Seager plays consistently good defense and has maintained relatively good offensive output, although he slid well below the League average last season. If Dipoto is willing to work with the Angels a deal could come about but Kyle’s asking price is probably a bit too high and his contract length does not fit well in a Ward-retention scenario, so this seems an unlikely course of action.
Kris Bryant is certainly a name that makes your ears perk up but his asking price would be something akin to acquiring Corey Kluber, making this one pretty much a non-starter from the get-go. He has a game changing bat but unless the Cubs are willing to accept Major League talent in return, in addition to one or more prospects, this would damage the Angels future too much in all likelihood, so it is extremely remote in the author’s opinion.
Justin Turner and Travis Shaw are probably not available but are noted here as possibilities anyway. Both however would have a high acquisition price, likely requiring the Angels to send back Major League talent (more so for Shaw), such as a Heaney for Shaw swap, making them long shots at best unless either of those teams were to acquire another third baseman.
The Marlins may be willing to move Anderson since they still have Prado and are not going to compete anytime soon. Brian would have a similar cost to Camargo though and Eppler has shied away from moving major prospects so this is doubtful too.
Of course the Angels could roll the dice and throw Taylor Ward into the fire. Certainly they could employ recently acquired Tommy La Stella in a platoon role if Ward falters against RHP or option Taylor down to the Minors and have David Fletcher replace him. This decision could have repercussions to the Angels 2019 season, if Ward, Fletcher, or La Stella fail to provide consistent, above average production but could prove to be a gamble the Angels feel comfortable taking.
Break the Bank ($151M+)
High Price to Pay ($101M-$150M)
Middle of the Road ($51M-$100M)
Bargain Basement ($1M-$50M)
So if Arte Moreno opens his wallet and allows Eppler to exceed the Luxury Tax threshold and the Rockies decide not to start the year off with Nolan’s ~$26M on the books (three really big “if’s”), I love the idea of bringing Arenado aboard for 2019, particularly if we can extend him. Real long shot here so it is not my primary pick simply because it is pretty improbable to start the season.
Moving back to the more realistic side of 2019 I think that Jedd Gyorko represents a pragmatic target. He hits left-handed pitching well and has been getting on-base at a solid clip over the last couple of seasons. Jedd could even lead-off against LHP and move to the back of the order against RHP or hit in a platoon with a left-handed hitter. His salary ($8M in 2019, $13M next year) fits well on our books and it allows Taylor Ward to act as a depth piece and ease into the hot corner position at his own pace.
So, if pressed, I am going with Gyorko. He may cost more prospect-wise than we like, in trade, but his salary and AAV will give Eppler more to spend in other areas such as starting pitching and behind the dish. Billy could just as easily roll with Ward and then try to acquire a 3B at the trade deadline if Taylor, David, and Tommy falter in the first half.
Like I said earlier, Eppler has more options. They may not all be good ones but as the farm system grows, Billy is afforded greater recourse.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
As you can see from the chart above Billy Eppler clearly emphasized team defense and run prevention over batter’s box production last year.
Heading into the off-season, the Angels have parted ways (at least temporarily) with excellent defensive backstop Martin Maldonado and are now in the position of finding a replacement, primary catcher.
Because Eppler clearly values defense behind the dish, controlling the running game, and pitch framing, our next choice will need to be at least average or better with at least two of those skills and perhaps all three. None of our current catching prospects or players appear to fully meet these needs as a primary, full-time catcher, although they can and will be backup receivers.
Beyond the defense, catcher represents a position that the Angels could improve offensively as well, so if Billy can acquire or sign a good defensive backstop with a competent bat the Angels can significantly or at least incrementally improve at this spot in the lineup. However, there is a real likelihood with Maldonado gone that the team will downgrade to some degree defensively so this is a balance Eppler will have to strike in finding a replacement.
In order to understand what may or may not be available we need to build a list of candidates and since defense is always a priority over offense for Eppler we will begin there.
Below is a parsed out list of catchers with a minimum of 50 Games (G) played, from 2016-2018, sorted by FanGraphs ‘Def’ on a per game basis (to level the numbers out as a rate statistic) with only those backstops with 0 or greater ‘Def/G’ and -0.1 or greater ‘Off/G’ because we are making the assumption that one is valued more than the other in our search:
It is patently clear why the Cubs kept David Ross around for so long because even in his last year he was a defensive wizard. You also see why the Angels signed Rene Rivera to platoon with Maldonado because he too consistently picks it behind the plate. To get to the heart of the matter, which is whom the Angels may target in free agency or trade, you need to move a touch further down the list.
Willson Contreras is both defensively sound and is a plus on offense. However he still has four years of team control and the Cubs would have to replace his production so unless they have their eyes set on J.T. Realmuto or perhaps another preferred target, the Angels potential acquisition of Contreras is unlikely, particularly when you consider the price the Angels would have to pay.
Lucroy is certainly available and despite his down year offensively he would probably provide a slight boost in the batter’s box over the Angels collective 71 wRC+ for 2018. He has been a slightly below average pitch framer and an average catch and throw guy his whole career. His defense has always been strong and he would likely be available on a 2-3 year deal. Not an ideal solution but not a terrible one either.
Behind him on the chart is another interesting name, Salvador Perez. The Royals control him for another three seasons for a combined $39.6M. It is a hefty contract but Perez has perennially been an excellent defender and the Royals are not going anywhere soon in terms of competitiveness. Perez like Lucroy also had a down year offensively but he carries a career 97 wRC+ and that would be a huge improvement for the Angels in the batter’s box. Salvador’s one big weakness is his consistently terrible pitch framing skills which would likely cost the team in terms of run prevention. He should not cost a lot in trade and his salary is elevated but manageable.
Mike Zunino was available but the Mariners chose to partner with the Rays rather than send him to an A.L. West rival which is understandable on some level. He would have been a good short-term solution.
Next on that list is everyone’s favorite trade target, J.T. Realmuto. There is a lot to like about him and he brings a presence on both sides of the ball with two years of arbitration control. J.T. would definitely fit the budget in terms of payroll but he will command a strong prospect package including one of our top prospects. The advantage of trading for him now is that you could potentially extend him long-term. If Eppler can acquire him without giving away one of Adell or Canning then he should do it. A package of Brandon Marsh, Jose Suarez, Matt Thaiss, and Trent Deveaux might get it done but do not hold your breath. As a final note, Realmuto has consistently been a poor pitch framer, which is a hidden negative about him not often discussed.
Gary Sanchez is another name that ranks highly on both offense and defense but unless the Yankees have their eyes set on J.T. Realmuto, which would be a downgrade according to this list, he is unlikely to be moved unless he brings back value that New York prefers. On top of that Gary would cost a fortune in terms of acquisition cost which would break the bank for the Angels in all probability.
Behind Realmuto and Sanchez, another popular name, Yasmani Grandal, appears. He is a free agent and will likely command a 4-5 year deal at approximately $16M-$20M per season, based on how the market plays out. He is excellent with the bat, plays good defense and has excellent pitch framing skills. However, that investment would take up a significant chunk of our off-season budget so unless Eppler has other low-cost alternatives at other positions of need, signing Grandal may be out of our current capacity. Good target to acquire but hard to fit into our payroll, will cost us draft pick compensation, and has a history of PEDS use, too. It should be noted that the non-tender’s of Parker and Shoemaker could have been to free up payroll for a move such as this.
As you continue down you see other names of interest including Francisco Cervelli, Buster Posey, Alex Avila, and Wilson Ramos.
Cervelli checks off a lot of boxes but he has a PEDS history that should be worrisome to any team trading for him while Avila can hit RHP well and has an above average defensive reputation, including pitch framing.
Posey would be an interesting target if not for the fact that his salary each of the next three years is about $22M per season. Also he has a history of concussions that would worry any team acquiring him. He would bring an impact bat and quality defense behind the dish but he will also be 32 to start 2019 and the Giants would have to kick in some money to convince any team, much less the Angels, to deal for him. The prospect cost would be light though.
Wilson Ramos is really interesting, primarily because of his bat. He has just enough defensive capability to pair with his batter’s box skills to be a real threat in our lineup and not a liability on the field. Because of his batting skills he could even pick up some time at 1B or DH potentially as well. Ramos will likely command a 3 year deal at about $10M-13M per season, which is doable for Eppler’s projected payroll. Wilson is also a slightly below average pitch framer.
There are certainly other names the Angels could potentially target. Robinson Chirinos had an option year left on his deal with Texas and they mysteriously non-tendered him, shoving him into the free agent pool where the Astros subsequently snatched him up. Chance Sisco has interesting bat potential but is raw defensively. Russell Martin might be a decent stop-gap measure or the Angels could pursue Evan Gattis, Blake Swihart, or perhaps Austin Wynns.
As a final note, when you look around the League there appears to be a real scarcity of top-tier catching talent right now and at a quick glance the pipeline of talent in the Minor Leagues overall does not appear promising. This may lead Billy Eppler to pull another “Andrelton Simmons moment” out of his pocket and pay for a guy like Realmuto or Grandal simply because of the opportunity costs involved and the lack of readily good, available options in the future.
Clearly the Angels need a primary catcher and have no reasonable in-house solutions. Fortunately the market does have some answers but Eppler may have to expend some significant resources to acquire one and is quite likely to do so sooner rather than later.
Break the Bank ($151M+)
High Price to Pay ($101M-$150M)
Middle of the Road ($51M-$100M)
Bargain Basement ($1M-$50M)
Personally if the Angels can acquire one of Grandal, Realmuto, or Ramos we should be in reasonably good shape behind the dish.
However, personally, if J.T. cannot be acquired or Grandal signed, I really like Wilson Ramos as the main target. At about $10M-$13M per season over a short contract he should provide just enough behind the plate while bringing a tremendous amount of firepower to the offense.
Over the last three seasons he has carried a wRC+ of 144 versus LHP and a wRC+ of 112 against RHP. For a team that needs to improve against LHP in the batter’s box, he brings a lot to the table. This does not even take into consideration pinch hitting in the late innings of a game where Wilson will find himself a significant amount of the time nor does it consider the possibility of Ramos playing a touch of first base or hitting out of the designated hitter spot a few games a year which the Angels may need him to do considering the health status of both Ohtani and Pujols heading into 2019.
Arguably the best bat available, an above average defender, good catch and throw, and slightly below average pitch framing, Ramos feels like the gamble the Angels need to take. There is some injury history here with his knees so it is not a surefire choice but in an off-season with multiple needs Wilson feels like the best option if Eppler wants to keep the farm system intact by avoiding a Realmuto trade or, to a lesser degree, a Grandal signing.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
Author’s Note: Immediately prior to publication Nathan Eovaldi signed with the Boston Red Sox on a 4-year, $67.5M deal ($17M AAV). Rather than re-write, the author has decided to publish the original.
The nightmare of pitcher injuries for the Angels has been on-going now for two years. More really if you change the goal posts to include the beginning of Skaggs’ saga.
However, 2018 was not a complete disaster in terms of production for some starters, as both Tyler and Andrew Heaney made strong strides in terms of innings pitched which should translate to a full slate of starts in 2019. Unfortunately, the Angels have lost Garrett Richards to free agency and Shohei Ohtani has already had his Tommy John Surgery (TJS) and will be unavailable to start next season.
This leaves the top-of-the-rotation bare. The Steamer projection system thinks Tyler and Andrew are going to have equivalent seasons in terms of RA9-WAR (2.9 each) which is comparable to a mid-rotation starter (#3 or perhaps #2 type guys). Alex Meyer was not far behind them on that list, but he had top-of-the-disabled list injury concerns and has been designated for assignment.
A touch further down the Steamer projection list, you will find left-handed prospect Jose Suarez and Matt Shoemaker at 2.2 and 2.1 RA9-WAR, respectively. Surprisingly the Angels recently non-tendered Shoemaker, despite his reasonable, projected $4.3M arbitration salary. That was probably a really tough call on Eppler’s part. Diving deeper down the list you may be pleasantly surprised to see top pitching prospect Griffin Canning listed at 1.7 RA9-WAR. Suarez or Canning could be successors to Shoemaker on the roster this season or next if the Angels decide to save payroll space.
As you approach the tail-end of the list you see back-end rotation contributors like converted reliever-turned-starter Felix Pena, Nick Tropeano, and forgotten left-handed prospect Nate Smith. J.C. Ramirez is the caboose on this train, likely because Steamer did not like his significant velocity drop in 2018 and is penalizing him for it (perhaps rightfully so).
Currently, based on the existing roster and MLB service time accrued, the Opening Day rotation projects to be:
Behind that group you have other potential options such as Griffin Canning, Jose Suarez, Luis Pena, Patrick Sandoval, Jesus Castillo, Dillon Peters, Luis Madero, Nate Smith, and, later in the season, J.C. Ramirez.
What we do not see in that group is that ‘Ace’ go-to, top-of-the-rotation guy. Ohtani will very likely not pitch in 2019. Meyer and Richards are gone. All of that adds up to a rotation problem.
Finding, at the minimum, a quality starter that can soak up a lot of innings should be Eppler’s #1 priority. Certainly we have other needs to fill but shoring up the starting five will be critical to the Angels success in 2019.
So what options do the Angels have to improve their rotation?
Free agency has some intriguing options including RHP Charlie Morton, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, LHP J.A. Happ, RHP Matt Harvey, LHP Dallas Keuchel, and RHP Trevor Cahill. It is being reported that the Seibu Lions of Japan have allowed LHP Yusei Kikuchi to be posted, so he too should be available on the open market.
Morton will be in his age 35 season but will probably sign a 2-year deal at about $25M-30M, total, with perhaps an option attached if he does not retire.
Eovaldi is an interesting case. Looking at previous pitchers of similar age coming off of commensurate seasons the closest comparable in recent history is Jhoulys Chacin who signed a 2-year, $15.5M deal. However the potential of Nathan is so much higher, you have to think that he could easily command around $13M-17M per season on a 4-5 year contract, particularly throwing a 97 mph fastball. The danger here is that he has had two previous Tommy John surgeries so there is real risk.
Happ should pull down a similar deal to Morton, probably a 2-year, $30M deal. Harvey could get a bit less than Eovaldi but should be in the same relative ballpark. Keuchel will also probably get something akin to Eovaldi’s contract based on his recent history but with less total years, probably a 4-year maximum deal. Cahill will probably sign a 2-3 year deal.
It had been the author’s hope that the Angels might make room for Garrett Richards at around the $10M range but the Padres blew that up, offering him $18M which was probably hard to not accept on Garrett’s part. The reality is that the Angels probably did not have the roster space to accommodate him as he rehabilitates.
Moving to the trade market there are some potentially intriguing opportunities that may or may not be available including the Diamondbacks LHP Robbie Ray, the Giants LHP Madison Bumgarner, perhaps one of the Indians top RHP’s like Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, or Trevor Bauer, the Marlins RHP Jose Urena, maybe one of the Mets top starters LHP Jacob deGrom, RHP Zack Wheeler or RHP Noah Syndergaard, the Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy, the Blue Jays RHP Marcus Stroman, the Yankees who are actively shopping Sonny Gray, or one of the Tigers starters, RHP Michael Fulmer or LHP Matthew Boyd.
Out of that group Fulmer, Kluber and Syndergaard with their longer control would cost the most to obtain and may, in fact, be unreachable or simply too rich for the Angels. In the next tier down, price-wise, you find three more top-tier names in deGrom, Carrasco, and Bauer. The third tier down you start to see more affordable options like Bundy, Stroman, Ray, Salazar, Urena, Wheeler, Gray, and Bumgarner.
Although trades can certainly include a combination of Major League players and Minor League prospects, the first three names would certainly cost the Angels their top prospect Jo Adell plus more, making one of those three very unlikely unless we were sending back significant Major League talent of our own (possible). The Mets and Indians would almost certainly ask for Jo in the next tier of names but the Angels would probably prefer to send Griffin Canning, Jahmai Jones, or possibly one of Tyler Skaggs or Andrew Heaney as the centerpiece, again making one of those names difficult to obtain.
It is that next group of pitchers that would probably pique Eppler’s interest the most if he decides the trade market is the way to go. Any of those eight names could potentially be had by building a trade around one of Jahmai Jones or Brandon Marsh, as the centerpiece of the deal, perhaps even less in the cases of Salazar, Urena, Wheeler, Gray, and Bumgarner.
One interesting aspect of the free agent and trade markets is the apparent abundance of left-handed starters available. This could present an opportunity for Eppler to trade one of Tyler Skaggs or Andrew Heaney for another area of need and then sign or trade for one, two or even three starters, one of which would be left-handed. For example if the Nationals do sign Bryce Harper to a mega-contract the Angels could possibly trade Andrew Heaney for Adam Eaton and then sign J.A. Happ to replace Andrew’s spot in the rotation.
Ultimately, because our farm system is still developing, Eppler is more likely to target the low-hanging fruit that will not cost a top prospect in trade. Any prospect that is not considered a core long-term piece (think Adell or Canning for example) can be used to facilitate these low-resource deals. Eppler could surprise and execute a straight-up trade of someone like Andrew Heaney for a better starter like Trevor Bauer, exchanging years of control and taking on salary to upgrade to a top-of-the-rotation asset, as well.
By non-tendering Parker and Shoemaker, Billy has additional, available payroll to sign a mid-level starter or make a trade for any pitcher that is available in a deal. The market is full of teams flush with cash to spend so this off-season could turn into a real rodeo with some teams getting tossed off the bronco early and often (particularly if Lackey un-retires).
It should be noted that Halos starters fared decently well against left-handed hitters (LHH’s) in 2018, ranked 12th in all of baseball by K%-BB%. However, against right-handed hitters (RHH’s) we were middle-of-the-pack, ranked 15th in the League.
Eppler is likely to target at least one starter that fares well against RHH’s in his search although that is not a hard requirement. Fortunately there are several starters in free agency (Eovaldi, Lynn, and Happ) and trade (Carrasco, Bundy, Bauer, Kluber, Teheran, Greinke, Junis, Wheeler, Gray, Porcello, Ray, and Godley, among others) that performed well against RHH’s in 2018 and will be potential targets of Billy as we enter the off-season.
Break the Bank ($151M+)
High Price to Pay ($101M-$150M)
Middle of the Road ($51M-$100M)
Bargain Basement ($1M-$50M)
So out of the free agency group, Patrick Corbin clearly had the best overall splits against both sides of the plate but he is now a National. It was going to be a tall order for Eppler to sign him anyway due to fierce competition for his services and the fact he would eat up a lot of open payroll space. Originally I had Corbin pegged on a 4-6 year deal at $20M+ per season and he got the higher end of both of those.
Behind him though, the next best choices include J.A. Happ, Nathan Eovaldi and perhaps one of Matt Harvey, Anibal Sanchez, or Charlie Morton.
It is my opinion that if the Angels go through free agency they will push hard on Nathan Eovaldi or J.A. Happ and only go after one of the other three if they cannot secure the services of either of the first two or through a trade.
If Eppler does pursue the trade market he will likely go after some low-hanging fruit that includes more of the names listed in the ‘Bargain Basement’ category. Many of those names will not break the prospect bank and include Robbie Ray, Jose Urena, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, and Sonny Gray.
Out of that group Zack Wheeler and Robbie Ray are of particular interest with the latter likely being more available than the former. However the former would probably only cost us two mid-tier prospects (or perhaps a MLB player) while the latter would cost us a name like Brandon Marsh or Jose Suarez, plus maybe one mid-to-lower tier type prospect in any deal.
If pushed to choose one from free agency, J.A. Happ makes a lot of sense on a 2-year deal at no more than $30M total. This would allow the Angels to ease one of Jose Suarez or Patrick Sandoval into the rotation while maintaining payroll flexibility.
On the trade side Robbie Ray currently appears to be the target that best fits our needs combined with potential availability in a deal. He has two years of arbitration control left so the Angels could possibly extend him if they like his results or move on from Ray when Suarez and/or Sandoval is ready a year or two from now. Bauer would be my dark horse candidate. In fact if the Angels did a Heaney for Bauer trade I could still see the Angels acquiring Ray which would create a really nice starting five of Bauer, Ray, Barria, Skaggs, and Tropeano for 2019 and beyond (not to mention if they sign a guy like Happ or Eovaldi in free agency too). Ohtani rejoining the rotation in 2020 would only make this group more lethal.
In the next Section we will discuss the Catcher position.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
The first years of Eppler’s tenure had a lack of them.
However, in evaluating the Angels as they head into this off-season, it is clear that Billy has more of them with some upper limits to what he can do and achieve.
So with the general understanding of what the likely team goals are as we discussed in the Introduction to this Primer Series let us take a stab at what Eppler might be up to in this current market.
First we need to start with how much Eppler can spend. Based on historical expenditure patterns it appears that Moreno is unlikely to exceed the $190M-$195M mark as seen in the table below:
This means that Eppler, based on our Finances section information, minus the recent subsequent non-tenders of Matt Shoemaker and Blake Parker and barring an authorized increase by Moreno, can spend no more than about $40M or take on contracts that exceed more than approximately $70M in AAV.
As we discussed in the Production section, the Angels could use one or more hitters that are strong against left-handed pitching and can play at one of second or third base and behind the dish. Additionally we need at least one durable starter that can handle right-handed hitters well. Those three holes are the most important to address this off-season.
In addition to that, as outlined in the Depth Charts section, Eppler can, if he so chooses, trade one or more of our Minor League farm assets to improve the team. We have a bit of extra depth in the infield, outfield, and pitching that could be drawn upon as a resource in acquiring a target of interest from another team.
Prior to Ohtani injuring his throwing arm, the Angels seem destined to add a corner infielder but now with Shohei projecting to be the full-time designated hitter in 2019, Albert Pujols will need to be at least a part-time, if not full-time, first baseman.
Because the Angels do not know the full outcome of Albert’s off-season left knee surgery, they also have to plan some contingency moves as insurance which likely includes acquiring one or more first basemen to Minor League deals to play there to begin the season and perhaps all of 2019 in a platoon role in case injury or if age ravages the Machine to the point he is forced to go on the disabled list or worse cannot compete anymore.
Even if Pujols does play, his probable continuing decline in production will force the team to add more offense at the positions that are open for upgrade in order to maintain parity or improve.
Since Eppler values defense so highly (rightfully so) he will likely explore free agents or trade targets that can provide excellent fielding ability in addition to adding some thump or on-base skills to the lineup.
Also, because Ohtani will not be in the rotation, Eppler will almost assuredly be looking to acquire a quality starter, likely, as we said above, a right-handed one. Barring the trade of one of Skaggs or Heaney, which is a real possibility in such heavy left-handed free agent and trade markets, Eppler will likely stay clear of acquiring a left-handed pitcher unless it is someone like J.A. Happ who can handle right-handed hitters.
The bullpen still needs a bit of work but with the acquisition of Ty Buttrey and Williams Jerez in the Ian Kinsler trade, and the eventual return of both Keynan Middleton and J.C. Ramirez, there is a fairly good group of candidates to build a relief corps from for 2019. If the Angels can sign or acquire one more high quality bullpen piece it would add a lot of confidence to the late innings of a ballgame next year. There may even be opportunities to find a promising reliever or two during the Rule V Draft as well.
Billy’s challenge in all of this will be finding the right balance of free agents and trades, while operating within the confines of Moreno’s budget and working toward extending Mike Trout and perhaps others.
This Primer Series is operating under the assumption that Arte stays within a standard financial budget. However as we discussed, Moreno controls how far Billy can go, particularly if it involves a decision to exceed the Luxury Tax threshold, which has only occurred once under his ownership.
If there was ever a year to do it, it would be 2019 or perhaps 2020. Last year was a possibility but the free agent market was lackluster and the team probably made the right decision not to press. All that being said, the Angels are projected, based on the current roster and contracts, to shave a significant portion of team salary after the 2020 season ends (2021: $118M Actual, $109.6M AAV). After 2021, Pujols falls of the books too (2022: $90.375 Actual, $82.93M AAV).
What this means is that the next two years, where payroll is still elevated, might be the best time for Moreno to consider exceeding the Competitive Balance Tax threshold. On top of that alignment, you must consider Mike’s current two years of contractual control and the strong free agent market that the Angels can draw from this off-season. There is some really pricey high-end talent and a mix of mid-level players that could come at more reasonable prices.
Adding all of that together has to give some credibility to the idea that overspending this off-season and/or possibly next year makes sense even if it is by a mild amount. They could then reset before they become a 3rd time offender, which, under the CBA rules, would result in a really expensive tax rate. If the Angels really want to maximize their chances this should be on the table in the author’s opinion for the right assets and should be executed at the right time, whether that is pre-season or at the Trade Deadline.
It is of course not our money but the maximum penalty that the team would pay, if they go over the Luxury Tax threshold by no more than $40M, in the 1st year (2019) of violation, would be $10.4M. In the second year it would be $14.4M (2020). The 3rd year would likely become prohibitively expensive. In terms of relative expenditures with the Angels running a maximum $246M payroll in 2019, this is less than 6% in additional money.
In the end, whether he has additional financial resources or not, Billy will need to address the primary holes identified above. Other needs are secondary or even tertiary to those three belly buttons and the bulk of our resources must go to them.
This brings us back around to Eppler’s increased options.
There are many more routes Eppler can take this off-season that can improve the team. Billy has been taking a steady re-tooling approach the last two years but will that change this off-season?
As an example, let us assume that Billy does not exceed $195M in total actual payroll, i.e. he does not spend more than $40M in actual team payroll and no more than an additional $70M in Average Annual Value (AAV). Could he make the following transactions happen?
This would be a powerful off-season. Extending Trout and Simmons long-term would provide a solid base to operate from as both of them exhibit an incredibly strong work ethic and would lead by example on the field.
On top of that we would use some of our excess prospect currency to acquire Robbie Ray from the Diamondbacks and Jedd Gyorko from the Cardinals at the price of Marsh and Suarez respectively. The deals could be for different players but they represent relatively close acquisition prices. Robbie would be a high strikeout type that Eppler values who can get hitters out on both sides of the plate while Gyorko would provide above average defense at the hot corner while allowing Taylor Ward to spend at least one more year down on the farm.
Finally Eppler could use the excess payroll to sign RHP Nathan Eovaldi and C Wilson Ramos. The former would help the team improve against RHH’s (as does Ray actually) and Ramos would add thump particularly against LHP without hurting the team defensively behind the dish. Wilson could probably pick up platoon time at 1B and hitting from the DH spot as well, based on Ohtani’s and Pujols’ health to start the year, as well as giving us a powerful bench bat on his off days.
Depth across the team would be markedly improved. The outfield would have Jo Adell and Michael Hermosillo behind Trout, Upton, and Calhoun. The infield would have Taylor Ward, Jahmai Jones, David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo, and Matt Thaiss. The rotation would have Griffin Canning, Patrick Sandoval, Jesus Castillo, Dillon Peters, and Luis Madero. The bullpen should have enough young arms to build and maintain a solid relief corps. Only behind the dish would we be light and Eppler might have enough payroll space to secure a solid backup catcher too before all is said and done with this off-season.
Certainly there are other scenarios and routes. Maybe the Angels surprise us all and go into a major spending mode to make a big splash in the trade market to compliment some big signings in free agency? Exceeding the CBT threshold by no more than $20M would cost the Angels, at most, $5M in taxes for 2019.
The above is just an example. It is not meant to be gospel, merely a suggestion or path that might be available to the team. There are many, many more but the point is that Eppler should be able to improve the team this off-season and can do so while keeping most of the teams future intact barring some really aggressive trades and spending which is an option that some may or may not agree with but is available with its own potential rewards, pitfalls and risks for the long-term health of the organization.
Bottom line is that the Angels can really commit hard over at least the next two years and see where they land or can continue the gradual buildup of home grown prospects to create a larger, perhaps even continuous, window of contention over the next several years.
Based on Billy Eppler’s actions to-date as General Manager of the Angels, the author suspects that he will get a bit more aggressive this off-season (as exampled above) but will not break the bank or our Minor League system to maintain a steady path forward with Mike Trout in-tow. Free agents will be signed to fill current holes and Eppler will trade prospects from the fringes (guys who are not in our long-term core keepers) or depth (the aforementioned outfield, infield, and pitching depth) of our farm system.
In the next Section we will discuss the Rotation.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
Now that we have a better understanding of how the team performed overall in 2018, we need to take a brief look at total team depth so that we get a sense of the quantity and quality of available players at each position around the diamond.
In order to do this we will project position player, rotation, and bullpen depth over the next five seasons utilizing the current 40-man roster (as of November 26th, 2018) and our very own Angelswin.com, ‘Los Angeles Angels (2019) Top-30 Prospects‘ list, authored by Jonathan Northrop and representing the collective rankings of the Angelswin.com staff, to fill out the prospect side of the depth chart.
To better visualize this list the author has borrowed Northrop’s depth chart format (he is known as ‘Angelsjunky’ on Angelswin.com), designed for a different article he penned, for use in the Primer Series.
Note that this depth chart is the projection of the author and will likely change this season and beyond based on team needs, trades, designation for assignment moves and non-tenders in the future. It should also be noted that each prospect was placed at their highest Minor League level and the position they played at most during the 2018 season.
First we will start with the position players:
Starting from left to right, you can clearly see the Angels need more help behind the dish. Briceno is a backup catcher at best and the only prospect ranked, Kruger, is at least a year away from the Majors.
Pujols may start the year at first and perhaps even stay there for most if not all of the year but this is likely his last season in a full-time role. During or after 2019 he will probably move to a bench role and may even retire before his contract expires. We will speak more about Albert in the upcoming 1B article. Behind Pujols there are two ranked prospects, Matt Thaiss and Jared Walsh. There is hope that the former will step into the role sometime in 2019 and the latter could also see time if he is not taken in the upcoming Rule V draft where the Angels left him unprotected.
Zack Cozart is projected to start the year at 2B due to his strong defensive ability and the fact that his bat will play up a bit more at the keystone. It is possible that this may be his last season in an Angels uniform primarily due to the fact that we currently have a slate of quality second basemen nipping at his heels, including Jahmai Jones, David Fletcher, and Luis Rengifo, who are very close to impacting the Major League roster.
Simmons should start the next two seasons and may, in fact, be a prime extension candidate on a 5-6 year deal this off-season. Rengifo can play SS (as well as Cozart) so he is a backup option if Andrelton does not want to stay or the Angels do not make an offer. A little further down the depth chart there are three other potential options to play SS including Leonardo Rivas, Jeremiah Jackson, and Livan Soto. Out of that group Jackson has the greatest talent and ability.
At 3B, based on our current 40-man roster, David Fletcher is currently projected to start the season. However, young prospect Taylor Ward is also a strong possibility to take the spot as well. Down on the farm, in Orem, wild card prospect Kevin Maitan could blossom into a star at the position too or could fall flat on his face, as he has a high ceiling but also a low floor (high variability in potential performance).
In left field, Justin Upton has the position locked up for the foreseeable future but he may eventually get moved prior to the end of his contract if the Angels have a need or want to place another player in that spot. Currently there are no clear cut left fielders in the Minors but virtually any outfielder (Adell, Marsh, Adams, et. al.) could play there in the future as left field is the least demanding outfield position.
Trout of course is our center fielder for the next two seasons (and hopefully more!) but if he does leave, Jo Adell or Michael Hermosillo could certainly take over (but not nearly as well obviously) and the Angels do have a pipeline of interesting names that could supplant Adell or anyone else including Brandon Marsh, Jordyn Adams, D’Shawn Knowles, and Trent Deveaux. All four of those names have interesting upside, particularly the first two.
Angels fans are probably looking at the last season of Kole Calhoun roaming right field. Jo Adell, a very bright prospect, is just inches away from a permanent call-up to the Majors to play at that position. Eppler has to be thinking that not only will Jo be an upgrade in right field but the move will provide real relief in the form of payroll and budget. Deeper down the pipeline, Orlando Martinez and young Alex Ramirez also represent future options at the outfield corners.
Finally Ohtani should take up the majority of DH at-bats year-to-year moving forward and the remainder of the DH at-bat’s will be supplemented by other players on the roster. Will English is listed as a depth option but he only hit out of the DH position due to an injury that forced him to not play the field. He is actually a two-way player like Ohtani and will probably get outfield repetitions in 2019.
Now that we have covered position players let us look at the teams rotation options moving forward:
Next year, in 2019, the Angels have, just like in previous seasons, a quantity of rotation depth options but a lack of overall quality on their staff.
This will likely prompt Billy Eppler to acquire one or more rotation pieces likely on short-term rentals to bridge the gap until Shohei Ohtani hopefully returns to the mound in 2020. It should be noted that the Angels have already been rumored to be searching for starting pitching depth which makes sense when you consider the injuries the team has suffered in recent years and the need to get reliable, quality innings out of the teams rotation.
If Billy wants to expend significant resources, a trade for an ace-level starter, if one becomes available this off-season and the trade price does not include Jo Adell, might be in the cards. However, acquiring an ace seems like a much more remote option, particularly since the Halos appear to be taking an incremental rebuild approach while they continue to try and compete every season and a move like this would interfere with the development of our farm system. A free agent signing or trade for a rental type seems to be the more likely path.
So based on the current roster, in 2019, your five most likely, viable starters are Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Heaney, Jaime Barria, and Felix Pena to start the season. Certainly there are backup options such as Nick Tropeano, newly acquired Dillon Peters, spot-starter Luke Farrell, and even J.C. Ramirez later in the year if the Angels tender him a contract and he is healthy. Additionally there are five prospects, Griffin Canning, Jose Suarez, Luis Pena (if he is not taken in the Rule V draft), Patrick Sandoval, and Jesus Castillo that could be called upon as depth options in the case of a Major League roster injury.
When you shift gears to 2020 the starting rotation projects to be considerably brighter as the team will likely roll out a starting five of Ohtani, Skaggs, Canning, Heaney, and Barria which is a formidable rotation. Additionally the depth will be maintained by prospects like the aforementioned Suarez, Castillo, and Sandoval and other options like Luis Madero, Chris Rodriguez, and Jose Soriano among others. Shoemaker will be a candidate to be traded in the 2019-2020 off-season (assuming he is tendered a contract this off-season), prior to his last year of arbitration control, if he pitches even moderately well in 2019, primarily due to payroll constraints.
This trend continues in 2021 but now Heaney moves up to be the #2 guy while Suarez (or possibly Sandoval) enters the rotation full-time. The team will still have a strong five including Ohtani, Heaney, Canning, Suarez, and Barria. Tyler Skaggs could be an extension candidate in the 2018-2019 off-season or the Angels can simply let his remaining two years of arbitration control play out through 2020, which is why he will likely be replaced before the 2021 season by another prospect left-handed starter.
Finally in 2022 and 2023, the rotation should line up with Shohei Ohtani, Patrick Sandoval, Griffin Canning, Jose Suarez, and Jaime Barria likely leading the pack based on our current roster. Of course a lot of things could change by that time but there is a path to success being built by Eppler and this depth chart shows that we have an array of players that can definitely be building blocks for future iterations of the Halos rotation.
Now, last, but not least, we will look at the Angels bullpen depth chart:
It is pretty clear that Eppler is taking a very fiscally conservative approach to building a bullpen.
Personally, the author agrees with this approach as there is a nearly constant supply of inexpensive, controllable relievers moving in and out of rosters throughout the year and if you have a sharp analytics and scouting team, finding relievers, like the Angels have been doing for the last couple of seasons, is not a terribly difficult task. In fact Billy and the Angels front office appear to be really good at it!
Case in point, when projecting the Angels bullpen in 2019, is a former waiver claim, Blake Parker, likely being our primary high leverage reliever to start the season. Behind him will likely be recently acquired Ty Buttrey who seems to have tremendous potential himself and is the only ranked prospect that Angelswin.com felt was worthy to make our Top 30 list. Behind those two are a familiar cast of characters including Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian, Hansel Robles, Noe Ramirez, and “new guy” Austin Brice.
In 2020, the bullpen will have most of the same names, barring one or more trades (very possible) of guys like Parker, Alvarez, and Robles (if they are not traded or moved this off-season). Williams Jerez will probably be the only identifiable new guy but the bullpen is so fluid there will probably be other names in the picture too.
As 2021 rolls around Buttrey will probably claim the top high leverage role as Blake will almost certainly be gone by then, if not sooner. Justin Anderson will probably be fully in the bullpen picture by 2021, if not sooner, as he is very talented. Again, due to roster fluidity and the fact that relievers are very volatile year-to-year, there will definitely be some new names that enter the picture to compliment the core members of the relief corps.
Finally 2022 and 2023 will probably only have a small handful of familiar bullpen names as many of the guys that are familiar now will have succumbed to injuries, trades, or just outright non-tenders or designation for assignment moves by the organization. If the Angels can find at least a couple of really good relievers to act as the go-to guys for high leverage situations the team will probably be in a good position moving forward.
In the next section we will talk about Eppler’s Strategy.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
Before we can make educated guesses at what moves the Angels will make over the 2018-2019 off-season, we need to understand what they did produce in 2018. You cannot fix something if you do not know what is broken or in need of repair.
Below are two tables, that include all 30 MLB teams, with one sorted by ‘wRC+’ and the other by FanGraphs ‘DEF’:
2018 MLB Teams Sorted by Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+)
2018 MLB Teams Sorted by FanGraphs Defense (DEF)
As you can see the Angels did relatively well, ranking in the top half of all teams in both wRC+ and DEF. As a team against LHP the team performed poorly, ranking 23rd out of all 30 teams in wRC+. Versus RHP, they did well ranking 6th overall using the same metric. Generally, the offense benefited a bit more from slugging in the batter’s box as evidenced by their ranking in home runs and ISO for the year.
Flipping to the pitching side, there are two tables below, one for starters and the other for relievers, listing all 30 teams, sorted by K%-BB%:
2018 MLB Teams (Starters) Sorted by Strikeout Minus Walk Percentage (K-BB%)
2018 MLB Teams (Relievers) Sorted by Strikeout Minus Walk Percentage (K-BB%)
Here, the Angels were middle-of-the-pack, with the rotation doing a bit better than the bullpen. Results against left-handed hitters were average while the outcome versus right-handed hitters was a little less palatable.
So what gives? Why did the Angels not perform better overall?
It is actually really difficult to point to any one thing as the root cause as nothing in particular stands out. Offense and defense were above average. The rotation was a touch above average and the relief corps was below average, but not terribly so.
Interestingly, Angels hitters led the League in Pull% as seen in the table below:
This means they hit the ball to the same side of the batter’s box, rather than hitting it up the middle or to the opposite part of the field. This almost certainly contributed to their BABIP issue as it became easier for opposing teams to set up defensive shifts on our hitters (ranked 28th with a wRC+ of 63) because they know we hit the ball so much to one side of the field.
The caveat to hitting the ball so much to the pull side is that the Angels were 8th overall in Hard% contact, which allowed them to defeat those defensive shifts more often because their exit velocities off the bat were harder, putting the ball over the head or out of the reach of defenders. The teams line drive (LD%) and fly ball (FB%) percentages reflect their ability to keep the ball in the air at a consistently above average rate.
One may be apt to wonder if the Halos and perhaps other teams have discovered an inefficiency or advantage to stacking the lineup with so many pull-side hitters with better hard-hit rates? A lot of teams with high Pull% rates also happen to be playoff contenders so it makes one wonder what the advantage may be or is it simply coincidence.
Maybe hitting to the outfield corners, more, is an advantage for right-handed hitters because defensively most teams place their worst outfield defenders in left field? Could power to the corners potentially be advantageous due to ballpark dimensions, overall? There seems to be something to it and it could be a combination of both pull hitting and power and maybe other factors, like the ones above, this analysis did not deep dive into at this time.
Earlier in the season the Angels were running a reasonably modest run differential but then, once the season got out of reach, ended up at -1 to end the year. Additionally they over-performed their expected runs (RE24) a bit but it was marginal in comparison to other teams as seen below:
Hit sequencing (RE24 minus Bat) was an issue as the Angels ranked 24th overall at 8.38 (for reference the League average was 29.08). This simply means that the team as a whole did not score as many runs as expected based on their below average hit sequencing from batter to batter in the lineup. We should note that the team’s focus on pull power and the resulting defensive shifts probably impacted this hit sequencing calculation.
Looking at team stats with runners in scoring, men on base, and bases empty, the Angels were average or better overall based on wRC+ so that was a marginal positive in their favor.
Walks were a touch below League average (bad). Strikeouts were below average (good). Offensive Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) was worst in the League so that hurt the team. Pitching BABIP was average.
So beyond the raw numbers, perhaps their absence from the post-season had something to do with the individual players?
Certainly, there were members of the team who under-performed, some wildly so, and we will examine in detail each position in subsequent articles of the Primer Series.
Over the past handful of years, the Angels have run out more of a stars and scrubs type of team with players like Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, and Shohei Ohtani, being the more notable producers, and a laundry list of league average or replacement players trying their best to compete, but simply unable to make a significant impact in many cases. It did not help that the pitching staff had so many injuries as well.
In the end you can continue to parse out the season but it really just comes down to some bad luck, unfortunate circumstances (injuries), and some mediocrity among individual members of the team. Better luck with balls in play (really hitters who can spray the ball), a boost in production against left-handed pitchers, and an improved bullpen would put the Angels in an enhanced spot, assuming the other 2018 numbers hold true in 2019.
The actual fix here is broad but solvable. Finding one or more position players with high on-base skills, the ability to capably handle left-handed pitching, and maintain quality defense will be important. Adding a starter and perhaps a bullpen piece that can improve our numbers against both left- and right-handed hitters, particularly the latter, will be a tremendous improvement too, particularly in the rotation. Above all, health and team depth will be keys to the Angels success in 2019.
It is up to Billy Eppler to build a winner and it seems like the base is there, just like last off-season, to create a competitive team to take the Angels to the playoffs and a chance to win their 2nd World Series Championship.
In the next section we will discuss Team Depth.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
Now that we have established some of the Angels primary goals, restrictions, and needs we can take a deeper dive into the teams projected finances heading into the off-season.
Below is the projected, 40-man roster, financial table that includes team benefits and all payouts (option buyouts, dead contracts, etc.) owed and is based on the assumption that the Angels bring back all of their guaranteed, contractually-controlled and current pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players:
Under these premises, as seen above, projected salary (actual) and Average Annual Value (AAV) will be approximately $161M and $143.3M, respectively.
Here are some notes regarding the table above:
The roster does not consider or include any potential acquisitions, only those who are likely to stay based on the current 40-man roster at the time of publication.
The ‘Payouts’ number has only one input, which is the $500,000 buyout of Luis Valbuena’s 2019 option.
The arbitration numbers for Shoemaker, Skaggs, Parker, Heaney, Ramirez, Alvarez, Bedrosian, Tropeano, and Robles were obtained from MLBTradeRumors.com annual Projected Arbitration series, which is an annual snapshot of all arbitration controlled players, by team, and their projected salaries. Their system has proven to be reliably accurate over the years and the projected salaries for each of the Angels players, listed above, should not vary too widely, resulting in a negligible impact to this payroll discussion.
It is the author’s opinion that the Angels will reward Shohei Ohtani for his superior performance by giving him a higher than normal pre-arbitration salary in the $570,000 range. This is merely speculation but it is not unprecedented in MLB history and would be warranted in Ohtani’s case.
Finally, in regard to the Finances table above, we need to discuss the ‘Benefits’ number. Here is the relevant excerpt from the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA):
and the following page:
In last and this year’s Primer Series the author has been calculating team ‘Benefits’ using the base sum for 2017 ($219.3M above) and then adding a presumed 6%, as listed in Part (2), based on the low spending during the 2017-2018 off-season, to apply to this one.
Based on brief discussions with the OCRegister’s Jeff Fletcher on Angelswin.com and upon further review of the relevant excerpt above, it is possible that Section (1), Part (a) may contain an elusive, additional sum that should be a part of the ‘Benefits’ number listed in the Finances table at the top of the article. This sum may be close to $5M which has a marginal impact on this payroll discussion but is not a deal breaker overall. It is very probable that Jeff is correct based on discussions he has had with Major League General Managers in the past on this subject. The reader should be advised that Eppler’s ability to spend is probably less than what is advertised above based on Fletcher’s knowledge.
Moving on, the league minimum player salary for 2019 is $555,000, a $10K increase over last year, and is reflected in the Finances table, above. This, of course, applies to the pre-arbitration players except, possibly, for Shohei Ohtani. Please remember that any player not on the 25-man roster receives only Minor League pay unless their contract says otherwise. This simply means that the total payroll number, above, will be offset by about $2M-4M due to roster fluctuation throughout the 2019 season, so please keep that in mind.
As the 2018 season began, the Angels installed a new video board and offered a new series of food concessions which is a continuation of the renovations that the team committed to, as was discussed in last years Financial section of the Primer Series.
These and other upgrades were supposedly in lieu of a new stadium which may have limited significant expenditures elsewhere as the author cited in a FoxSports.com report that indicated Moreno was committed to staying in the current stadium for the next 13 years and would not opt-out.
However, Arte did, in fact, opt-out recently, setting the potential for some off-field drama if the team and the new mayor and reconstituted city council cannot arrive at an amicable agreement for the Angels to stay.
This move, by most appearances, seems to be a non-event and is probably a small-scale leverage tool to extract an additional concession or two from the city to convince Moreno to stay in Anaheim. Unless Arte has secretly negotiated a new stadium deal somewhere else, it seems to be in the best interests of both sides that the Angels stay put in Anaheim moving forward.
Ultimately, it needs to make financial sense to Arte Moreno. The city needs to avoid bad political optics, so they need to ensure that the taxpayers are not screwed and that the city receives tangible benefits in terms of employment, business, and land development opportunities. Stay tuned with the OCRegister’s Jeff Fletcher and Angelswin.com for updates on this topic moving forward.
So, based on the above, Billy Eppler should have above average payroll flexibility once the current financial year closes on December 2nd, 2018. This will allow him to target virtually any player he likes whether it is in trade or through free agency to help reinforce the 2019 Halos squad.
As was stated over the last several years, the caveat to this financial discussion is that Arte has consistently and fully funded team payroll during his time as owner so these perceived cash-related issues and thresholds may just be guidelines and could be violated at Moreno’s whim. In fact Arte did go over the Luxury Tax threshold once back in 2004, albeit, by a measly $927,000.
One potential roadblock that could curtail spending overall is actual team payroll, which is about $17M-$18M higher than AAV. If Moreno does not allow Eppler to go over a specific number, say $190M-$195M (versus the CBT threshold of $206M) in actual payroll, then Billy may not be able to fully utilize all of the Luxury Tax space available. Arte probably could authorize and handle a measured increase but by how much is anyone’s guess due to our lack of complete team financial information and insight into Moreno’s approach to spending under this current set of circumstances.
Keep in mind that one way Eppler can utilize the extra Luxury Tax payroll space is to extend one or more players (Trout being the prime target) on the roster while keeping their 2019 and 2020 actual salaries close to their current and projected numbers. For example if the Angels extend Andrelton Simmons to a 6-year, $102M deal, they can keep his 2019 salary at $13M but raise his AAV from $8.3M to $17M per season, thereby keeping actual payroll even while sponging up some of the excess AAV dollars available.
Remember, as we discussed last year, the team pulls in an annual sum of $150M from their cable deal plus an unknown amount from their partial control of the Fox Sports West Regional Sports Network (RSN) in addition to ticket and merchandise sales.
In the end Moreno completely controls how far the Angels dive in, but it seems crystal clear that Eppler has set a path that will allow Arte to choose exactly how much money is spent, how many resources are expended and where they are applied, and even how long we stay in the deep-end of the pool, which gives Moreno a great deal of leeway to get involved as much or as little as he desires.
To illustrate how Eppler has positioned the team heading into 2019, here is a snapshot of the guaranteed contractual money owed to Angels players in the coming seasons:
The Angels currently have six guaranteed contracts to pay in 2019 for Trout, Pujols, Upton, Simmons, Calhoun, and Cozart, totaling $98,569,048.
In the following year, which is Trout’s last season (currently) of contractual control, if the Angels do not hand out any more guaranteed deals before December 2nd, 2020 and they trade Kole or decline his team option, the total guaranteed money owed that season will decrease to $90,235,714. If they retain Calhoun it will rise to $104,235,714.
In the following year, which is Albert’s last season of contractual control, the total guaranteed money projects to be $45,200,000. After that only Justin Upton’s $21,200,000 remains, in the final season of his 5-year deal.
The good news here is that the Angels are in a better place financially heading into this off-season. In order to compete in 2019 they will spend more, resulting in more commitments, but the trend appears to be heading in what the author would describe as a positive direction. It will even leave room for other extensions, trade acquisitions and free agent signings.
The freedom of those decreasing guaranteed commitments leaves enough room for the Angels to extend Mike Trout this year, likely before Opening Day 2019, after the free agent market has dolled out record contracts to Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Frankly there are virtually zero roadblocks in Eppler’s way to re-sign Trout other than Moreno’s willingness to spend which, honestly, has never been an issue and Mike’s alacrity to put pen to paper.
It should also be noted that the Angels have a few qualified players entering their 1st and 2nd years of arbitration control. This will result, dependent upon whom the Angels tender contracts to, in about $20M-25M in additional payroll for the upcoming season. It is not a huge amount for the Halos but it will have an impact on team payroll.
This arbitration situation will worsen a bit in 2020 when a lot of these players hit their 2nd and 3rd years of arbitration which will likely result in Eppler trading one or more of them away for other areas of need or perhaps not tendering a contract at all. Certain arbitration players could potentially be extended soon, as well, including Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney for example, eliminating unknown arbitration numbers and adding fidelity to team payroll in succeeding seasons.
The bottom line is that Billy Eppler continues to re-tool the team year-to-year as the Angels continue to compete in the American League West. As a large market team with solid financial flexibility, a core group of competent players, and a rapidly improving farm system the team is set on a path for success despite the setbacks, performance issues, and injuries that have plagued the Halos over the last couple of seasons.
Fans should, however, temper their expectations on whom the team will acquire. As Eppler said recently, “… I’m not going to jeopardize the health of the organization to make sure I check a box.” This simply means that the Angels have set a path to sustainable success and they will not readily deviate from that path on a whim.
Also, if an opportunity to truly upgrade the 2019 team materializes, Moreno may extend the financial rope a modest amount if it involved his proverbial “… right player, in the right situation…”. Again this type of player is unlikely to be acquired by the Angels this off-season. However, if they hit the Trade Deadline and have the opportunity to add one or two finishing pieces to push all-in to make the playoffs, Arte could put his blessing on pushing past the artificial CBT threshold and trading away one or two quality prospects to give a solid nudge to a playoff-caliber squad. A “Big Splash”, as seen in the movie Draft Day, should not be expected in the months leading up to Opening Day 2019.
Based on this outlook the Angels are likely to start the year by staying within their means, remaining under the 2019 CBT threshold of $206M (AAV) with an actual team payroll of about $190M-195M, give or take.
Finally, if the Angels are able to extend Mike Trout this off-season (or next) every Angels fan should rejoice. That, by itself, would be the crown jewel of an exciting off-season.
In the next section we will discuss team Production.
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By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer
Ranking prospects is an in-exact science, to say the least. Some like to focus more on raw talent, whether athleticism or acquired baseball skills, while others like to look at actual performance. The following list is based upon the subjective opinions of nine different AngelsWin writers and members. The benefit of such a composite list is that we both get a wide array of perspectives and approaches, but we also tend to even out each other’s biases.
A note on methodology: To arrive at these rankings I simply averaged out each ranking; in the case of “honorable mentions,” I counted it as a #31; in the case when a player was neither ranked or honorably mentioned, I considered that as #32 – except in the case of Taylor Ward, who was mentioned on six lists but not on three; those participants felt that due to the fact that his rookie eligibility expired (by 5 at bats) he is no longer a prospect. But I made the judgement call to include him—based on those six lists—because six of nine is a pretty solid majority. If you take issue with Ward’s inclusion, simply erase him from your mental list and move everyone below him up; Luis Madero would be the new #30.
I’ve added in “Ranking Trends” so that you get a sense of the range of how each player was viewed.
The age in parentheses is the player’s 2018 season age, which is based upon the age they are on July 1, the approximate mid-point of the year.
The ETA is based upon age and level, adjusted by my own subjective sense of when we can expect to see that player reach the major leagues.
Finally, I’ve tried to keep the comments as un-opinionated as possible, but in those cases where an opinion is given and seems off-base, don’t blame anyone but this writer.
Without further ado…
1. Jo Adell OF (age 19)
Stats: 290/.355/.543, 20 HR, 15 SB in 99 games at A/A+/AA.
Ranking Trends: Consensus #1.
Comments: Despite a weak finish that saw his overall numbers fall, Adell was everything the Angels hoped for and more, playing at three levels as a teenager. Some scouts and analysts—and not just Angels fans—see him as being one of the highest upside players in the minors. He’s a consensus top 20 prospect in all of baseball, currently ranked #15 on MLB.com’s Pipeline rankings and #17 on Fangraphs’ The BOARD. There’s a real chance that sometime in 2019 he’s the #1 prospect in the minors. He’s the best Angels prospects since You Know Who and a probable future star.
2. Griffin Canning RHP (22)
Stats: 4-3, 3.65 ERA, 44 walks and 125 strikeouts in 113.1 innings at A+/AA/AAA.
Ranking Trends: average 2.1, median 2, range 2-3 (eight 2s, one 3).
Comments: Not bad for a first professional season. Canning utterly dominated A+ (0.00 ERA in two starts) and AA (1.97 ERA in 10 starts) before struggling in the hitter’s paradise that is the Pacific Coast League (5.49 ERA in 13 starts). Expect him to adjust in 2019 and be in the majors at some point. His floor seems to be that of a good mid-rotation starter, his ceiling that of a borderline ace. MLB.com has him ranked #72 and Fangraphs #90.
3. Brandon Marsh OF (20)
Stats: .266/.359/.408, 10 HR, 14 SB, 73 walks in 127 A/A+ games.
Ranking Trends: average 3.3, median 3, range 2-6 (2, six 3s, 4, 6)
Comments: On first glance, a disappointing year – especially after a strong start in A ball. But Marsh greatly improved his plate discipline and showed flashes of better things to come. He’s a good candidate for a breakout in 2019, when he should spend most of the year as a Trash Panda (AA). MLB.com ranks him #98, Fangraphs #58.
4. Jose Suarez LHP (20)
Stats: 3.92 ERA, 44 walks and 142 strikeouts in 117 innings at A+/AA/AAA.
Ranking Trends: average 5.3, median 6, range 3-7.
Comments: Like Canning, Suarez dominated in A+ (2.00 ERA in 2 starts) and AA ball (3.03 ERA in 7 starts) before struggling in AAA (4.48 ERA in 17 starts), but he did eventually adjust. Also like Canning, he’ll start games in the majors next year.
5. Jahmai Jones 2B (20)
Stats: .229/.337/.380, 10 HR, 24 SB, 67 walks in 123 A+/AA games.
Ranking Trends: average 5.3, median 6, range 3-8.
Comments: See Marsh; not a great year statistically, but not only did his plate discipline improve but he adjusted back to second base. I wouldn’t be concerned until we see how his second year at 2B is. There’s a sense that Jones is teetering between a breakthrough to future star status and more of a average regular. #75 according to Fangraphs.
6. Luis Rengifo SS (21)
Stats: .299/.399/.452, 7 HR, 41 SB, 75 walks in 127 A+/AA/AAA games.
Ranking Trends: average 6, median 5, range 4-10.
Comments: Rengifo was a revelation, one of the most dynamic performers in the minor leagues and probably the Angels prospect whose value jumped the most. At the very least he’ll be a very nice super utility player; he may also challenge David Fletcher and Jones for the long-term gig at second base as soon as next year.
7. Jordyn Adams OF (18)
Stats: .267/.361/.381, 0 HR, 5 SB in 29 Rookie games.
Ranking Trends: average 7.4, median 8, range 5-9.
Comments: 2018 first round pick Jordyn “The Dunk” Adams held his own in his first exposure to professional ball. He seemed to be taking a step forward in Orem, hitting .314/.375/.486 in 9 games, before going down with injury. A very athletic player with a high upside, but there’s still quite a range of possible outcomes.
8. Taylor Ward 3B (24)
Stats:.349/.446/.531, 14 HR, 18 SB, 65 walks in 102 AA/AAA games; .178/.245/.333, 6 HR, 9 walks and 45 strikeouts in 40 MLB games.
Ranking Trends: average 8, median 9, range 5-10 (with three not ranked due to loss of rookie status).
Comments:: Angels minor league player of the year? While a dozen or more prospects have higher upside, Ward might have had the best year of any Angel minor leaguer. He struggled at the major league level but deserves the benefit of the doubt. Unlikely to be a star, he could be a solid performer at 3B.
9. Patrick Sandoval RHP (21)
Stats:2.43 ERA, 29 walks and 145 strikeouts in 122.1 A/A+/AA games, including a 0.79 ERA in 7 starts in the Angels organization.
Ranking Trends: average 9.1, median 9, range 5-14.
Comments: Acquired for Martin Maldonado, Sandoval is a very welcome addition to the farm system. Most seem to think he is a future back-end of the rotation starter, but the numbers alone speak of mid-rotation potential.
10. Matt Thaiss 1B (23)
Stats:.280/.335/.467, 16 HR, 44 walks in 125 games in AA/AAA.
Ranking Trends: average 10, median 10, range 5-12.
Comments: Thaiss continues to improve incrementally, although perhaps not quickly enough to get excited about. The jury is still out on his future, whether he’ll be an above average performer or more of a fringe starter/platoon player.
11. Jeremiah Jackson SS (18)
Stats: .254/.314/.491, 7 HR, 10 SB, 15 walks and 59 strikeouts in 43 Rookie games.
Ranking Trends: average 10.1, median 11, range 5-16.
Comments: Jackson showed a lot of game, albeit in flashes of streaky brilliance. After crushing AZL pitching (.317/.374/.598 in 21 games) he really struggled in Orem (.198/.260/.396 in 22 games), so it remains to be seen whether the Angels push him and start him in A ball or send him to extended spring until the short season starts in Orem.
12. D’Shawn Knowles OF (17)
Stats: .311/./391/.464, in 5 HR, 9 SB, 28 walks and 65 strikeouts in 58 Rookie games.
Ranking Trends: average 12, median 12, range 9-16.
Comments: Knowles was considered second Bahamanian fiddle to Trent Deveaux before the season began, but vastly outperformed Deveaux in their first professional showing. He may not have the pure athletic tools of Deveaux or Adams, but there is a sense of him having that x-factor of make-up. Like Rengifo he seems to be more than the sum of his parts, but also like Rengifo it is hard to say how that will translate at the major league level. He’s got a lot of time.
13. Kevin Maitan 3B/SS (18)
Stats: .248/.306/.397, 8 HR, 19 walks and 66 strikeouts, and 32 errors (!) in 63 Rookie games.
Ranking Trends: average 12.1, median 13, range 4-16.
Comments: That range of rankings tells it all about Maitan: He could turn out to be Miguel Cabrera or he could flounder in the low minors and be out of professional baseball in a few years. Perhaps it is time to let go of such comparisons as Miggy and give Maitan the kindness of a tabula rasa of expectations; if you look only at his stat line, you might think “Not bad for an 18-year old in high Rookie ball.” Let’s see how he develops.
14. Jose Soriano RHP (19)
Stats: 4.47 ERA, 23 walks and 35 strikeouts in 46.1 IP at A ball.
Ranking Trends: average 14.8, median 15, range 12-18.
Comments: One of the higher upside pitchers in the system, Soriano flashed excellent stuff but with only mediocre results. A good breakout candidate in 2019.
15. Chris Rodriguez RHP (19)
Stats: Did not play.
Ranking Trends: average 16.1, median 14, range 13-24.
Comments: Did not play due to a back injury. Expectations should be adjusted accordingly, but he’s a similar prospect to Soriano in terms of high ceiling, very low floor.
16. Michael Hermosillo OF (23)
Stats: .267/.357/.480, 12 HR and 10 SB in 68 AAA games; .211/.274/.333 in 62 PA in MLB.
Ranking Trends: average 17.6, median 16, range 13-24.
Comments: A strong defensive player who can field the entire OF, with a bit of pop and speed but mediocre bat. Hermosillo could put it all together in a year or two and be a solid starter, but is the odd-man out in the Angels outfield of the 2020s. At the least, however, he’ll be a very good 4th outfielder.
17. Trent Deveaux OF (18)
Stats: .199/.309/.247, 1 HR and 7 SB in 44 Rookie games.
Ranking Trends: average 17.7, median 18, range 13-27.
Comments: Deveaux looked completely over-matched this year, striking out 68 times in 194 PA. He’s got the talent, but a Jabari-esque batting stance that leaves many scratching their heads. Watch him closely in 2019; he could jump to be in the mix with Adams, or he could continue in the Chevy Clarke School of Prospects.
After Deveaux, there’s a solid drop-off in rankings, with the following players rounding out the top 30:
18. Aaron Hernandez RHP (21)
Stats: Did not play pro ball.
Ranking Trends: average 20.3, median 19, range 12-20+ (one unranked).
Comments: There’s a lot to be excited about with the Angels’ third pick of the 2018 amateur draft; has a good chance of rising quickly up these rankings.
19. Ty Buttrey RHP (25)
Stats: 3.31 ERA, 16.1 IP, 5 walks and 20 strikeouts in 16 MLB games.
Ranking Trends: average 21.2, median 22, range 11-29.
Comments: A savvy pickup in the Ian Kinsler trade, some are considering Buttrey to be the closer of the future; at the least, he’s a central piece of the Angels bullpen going forward.
20. Jared Walsh OF/1B/LHP (24)
Stats: .277/.359/.536, 29 HR, 99 RBI in 128 games in A+/AA/AAA. 1.59 ERA, 5.2 IP, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts in 8 games in A+/AA/AAA.
Ranking Trends: average 21.3, median 21, range 11-27+ (one unranked).
Comments: A bit under the radar, Walsh has been a steady performer throughout his four-year minor league career, compiling a .294/.360/.496 line in 360 games. Definitely in the mix for 1B/RF in 2019.
21. Jose Miguel Fernandez, IF (30)
Stats: .267/.309/.388, 2 HR in 36 games for the Angels. .333/.396/.535, 17 HR in 91 games in AAA.
Ranking Trends: average 21.3, median 19, range 14-22+ (two unranked).
Comments: Held his own in 123 PA in the majors, although without the sexy high average and power numbers he put up in the minor leagues. Should at least be a solid bench piece.
22. Livan Soto SS (18)
Stats: .291/.385/.349, 0 HR, 9 SB in 44 games in Rookie ball.
Ranking Trends: average 22.7, median 23, range 15-26+ (one honorable mention).
Comments:As with Knowles-Deveaux and Jackson-Adams, the less heralded of the two former Braves prospects had the better year, but in this case AngelsWin writers still ranked Maitan higher, perhaps due to Soto’s utter lack of power (so far) and Maitan’s considerable upside. But Soto is a very nice prospect who should rise up the rankings as he works his way through the organization. Gotta love that OBP.
23. Orlando Martinez OF (20)
Stats: .305/.354/.432, 5 HR in 65 games in Rookie/A ball.
Ranking Trends: average 23.1edian 23, range 19-25.
Comments: Notice the tight ranking range. Hit .375/.415/.604 in 12 games in Rookie ball but came down to earth in A, hitting .289/.340/.394. A Brennan Lund-type prospect.
24. Alex Ramirez OF (15)
Stats: Did not play professional ball.
Ranking Trends: average 23.2, median 21, range 17-26+ (two unranked).
Comments: Very young, just turned 16 in August. Another toolsy outfielder to be intrigued by.
25. Jack Kruger C (23)
Stats: .299/.357/.413 with 7 HR in 97 games in A+/AA.
Ranking Trends: average 25.1, median 25, range 16-25+ (one honorable mention, two unranked).
Comments: Became a sleeper prospect and favorite in prospect discussions, perhaps because the Angels are so weak at the position. Could be a future platoon catcher.
26. Leonardo Rivas SS/2B (20)
Stats: .234/.354/.333, 5 HR and 16 SB, in 121 games in A ball (2 in Rookie).
Ranking Trends: average 26.7, median 27, range 22-28+ (one honorable mention, two unranked).
Comments: Really struggled in Burlington after hitting .286/.443/.396 in 2017, and has been surpassed by players like Rengifo and Soto on the middle infield depth chart. Still might have a place as a major league utility infielder.
27. Luis Pena RHP (22)
Stats: 5.03 ERA, 57 walks and 101 strikeouts in 105.2 IP in AA/AAA.
Ranking Trends: average 27.8, median honorable mention, range 15-27+ (two honorable mentions, three unranked).
Comments: A pitcher whose ERA doesn’t reflect his stuff, which is very good. Should at least have a future as a major league reliever, possibly back-end rotation starter.
28. Jesus Castillo RHP (22)
Stats: 4.94 ERA, 31 walks and 60 strikeouts in 98.1 IP in AA.
Ranking Trends: average 28.3, median 30, range 21-30+ two honorable mentions, one unranked).
Comments: His stock fell due to a mediocre year and possible decreased velocity. Could still be a #5 starter or swingman.
29. Kyle Bradish RHP (21)
Stats: Did not play professional ball.
Ranking Trends: average 28.4, median 28, range 22-28+ (three unranked).
Comments: Fourth pick in the draft, with good upside and should have a quick path to the majors.
30. William English OF/RHP (17)
Stats: .220/.325/.260 in 30 games in Rookie ball.
Ranking Trends: average 28.8, median 29, range 22-30+ (two unranked).
Comments: Not a pretty stat line, but there’s a lot to like here: a very athletic outfielder who can also pitch.
Honorable Mentions: Jason Alexander, Stiward Aquino, Jeremy Beasley, Denny Brady, Ryan Clark, Julio de la Cruz, Francisco Del Valle, Joe Gatto, Jenrry Gonzalez, Emilker Guzman, Brett Hanewich, Williams Jerez, Julian Leon, Conor Lillis-White, Brennan Lund, David MacKinnon, Luis Madero, Simon Mathews, Christopher Molina, Oliver Ortega, Mayky Perez, Daniel Procopio, Jeremy Rhoades, Jerryell Rivera, Jose Rojas, Brandon Sandoval, Tyler Stevens, John Swanda, Julian Tavarez, Raider Uceta, Andrew Wantz, Bo Way, Cam Williams, Nonie Williams, Hector Yan.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
Author’s Note: The author does not have full access to complete team financial data so the numbers contained in this series represent either actual, published contractual details or best estimates. Great effort was made to provide factual evidence and details using reliable sources such as BaseballProspectus.com, Baseball-Reference.com, MLBTraderumors.com, BaseballSavant.com, MLB.com, FanGraphs.com, RosterResource.com, Brooksbaseball.net, StatCorner.com, LATimes.com, OCRegister.com (specifically Jeff Fletcher), and Spotrac.com among others.
History tends to repeat itself and unfortunately, despite the organizations best efforts to put a contending team on the field in 2018, the Angels fell short of their goal to enter the post-season once again.
If this is a familiar refrain or you think you are having a case of deja vous, you are not alone. We, at Angelswin.com, have been making the same opening statement to this annual series for the last few seasons with nearly similar results.
Insanity I tell you! Insanity!
But here we are, again, entering the 2018-2019 off-season with the hope that Arte Moreno and Billy Eppler can apply team resources to create a contender now and beyond.
This Primer Series will once again attempt to give Angelswin.com readers insight and knowledge into what is to come by examining and understanding the Angels goals, restrictions, and short and long term needs, based on actual production in recent seasons and what the free agent and trade markets have to offer in the present.
First of all the primary goal, as it is each and every year, is to put the highest-caliber team on the field of play to secure and bring home a World Series Championship. This key objective is the “parent” of every other goal, restriction, and need that Billy Eppler must address in preparation for Opening Day 2019.
As we discussed last year, one all-encompassing goal, restriction, and need is superstar Mike Trout.
You want to win while you have him on your roster which means you need to compete over his current, remaining two years of contractual control (2019-2020) irrespective of Mike potentially signing a career-long extension contract.
It is also a serious restriction because it drives a large portion of front office decision making into a well-defined window. This does not mean that Eppler and the front office do not have a long-term outlook or plan, it is just acknowledging the fact that the Angels best opportunity to win games and get to the playoffs likely resides in the next two seasons.
Finally it is a need in the sense that Trout is a driving factor for Billy to acquire competent players to surround him with over that period of time which has the dual purpose of giving him a reason to sign an extension and stay with the only team he has known to-date. This extension topic will be discussed further in the Center Field section of the Primer Series.
Beyond the goals of winning a World Series Championship and building the team around Mike Trout, the Angels must manage team payroll, follow the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), build and manage the front office and coaching staff, continue to construct a top-tier Minor League farm system, and fill several positional needs around the diamond.
This is made all the more difficult by the retirement of long-time Angels Manager Mike Scioscia. In many ways this was not an unexpected outcome. Mike has been at the helm for nearly 19 years and it was only a matter of time before he hung up his secondary spikes. However, if Scioscia gets his way, he may find a way to stay in the dugout.
Despite what you may or may not think of Mike, he was a competent manager and on-field tactician with a very thorough understanding of the MLB rule book. Above all else Scioscia was always the safe port in the storm with about as even a keel, personality-wise, as you can find in baseball.
Brad Ausmus, Eppler’s choice for the next Angels manager, will be challenged to lead this team now and beyond while navigating the daily waters as deftly as Scioscia did. It is not impossible to replace Mike but Ausmus does have a large pair of shoes to fill. The good news is that he has the support of the General Manager and they have proven they can work together over the last year as Billy reconstructs a roster that has lost some key pieces to free agency this season.
The Angels have parted ways with their short-time, free agent, players like Martin Maldonado and Ian Kinsler, freeing up nearly $15M in payroll while bringing in two potential bullpen pieces for 2019 (Buttrey and Jerez) and a potential starter for 2020 and beyond (Sandoval). Additionally, Garrett Richards $7.3M salary comes off the books as well as Blake Wood and Chris Young, liberating another $10M or so.
As we mentioned last season, Arte Moreno may choose to strike, monetarily, in the 2019-2020 window. Free agency is fertile this off-season and the trade market may have some interesting targets for the Angels to acquire.
Really at this point we at Angelswin.com will be surprised if Moreno and Eppler do not get aggressive in some form or fashion soon. Clearly a Mike Trout extension is a real possibility, likely closer to the beginning of the 2019 season, which will be huge if it happens. However, it will take more roster building than that to be successful now and beyond.
This year the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT, also known as the Luxury Tax threshold) line is $206M. Next year in 2020 it will rise slightly to $208M. The following season it will be $210M.
As discussed in last year’s Primer Series, two-time offenders (meaning teams that exceed the Luxury Tax threshold two years in a row) that do not exceed the CBT threshold by more than $40M, pay a milder outlay of cash in comparison to teams that exceed $40M or go three or more years over the CBT line (third-time offenders).
For reference here is the relevant excerpt of the 2017-2021 CBA, Article XXIII, B., (4), b., ii., that shows specific surcharge gates at $20M and $40M:
It seems logical that Moreno would not become a third-time offender nor exceed the CBT threshold by more than $40M, due to the significantly higher tax rates. If he did either of those he may, quite literally, not be able to buy the proverbial yacht fuel Angels fans joke about so much.
Thus the two-year window of Mike Trout (barring a career-long extension) and the potential, two-time CBT violator window could align beginning this year. Let us not forget that Arte is not getting any younger (sorry Mr. Moreno if it is any consolation none of us are getting any younger) and winning a World Series Championship is almost certainly high on his to-do list (as it has been since he purchased the team).
So if there was ever a time to push all the chips in, it would be this two-year window. This in turn may mean that Moreno will authorize Eppler to exceed the Luxury Tax in the off-season or by the trade deadline at the end of July 2019 to give Billy maximum flexibility to build and improve the roster.
The proof, of course, will be in the pudding. If it does happen they could go big and hand out a large mega-signing for someone like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper with opt-outs after 2019 and 2020 (essentially a one or two year high-paid rental) or trade for another superstar like Nolan Arenado or Jacob deGrom now or at the Trade Deadline.
Alternatively, in the overspend scenario, the Angels could spread the money out to multiple players and possibly use significant performance bonuses or short-term, high salary deals as contractual instruments to bring in blue-chip talent if Moreno puts his blessing on it.
No matter what decision is made regarding how much payroll the Halos will add, prior to the start of 2019, one thing seems quite certain: the Angels will be improved, yet again, on Opening Day. Billy Eppler, despite his limited, yet developing supply of prospects, will have marketable assets and a considerable amount of payroll space to apply in trade(s) and free agency.
For the purposes of this series, though, we will assume that Arte Moreno does not allow his GM to exceed the Luxury Tax to start the year. This means we will operate under the presumption that team payroll, in terms of AAV, will not go over the 2019 CBT threshold of $206M. The result is that the Angels will likely spend no more than $190M-$195M, give or take, in actual payroll to start the season. Essentially this means the Angels have approximately $30M to spend.
The reason for that is the team needs to maintain payroll margin in order to make potential trades in-season or before the July 31st deadline to reinforce or upgrade their roster. Keeping a few million in reserve maintains payroll and roster flexibility and is a common business practice that Billy Eppler may, or may not, follow based on acquisition opportunities, team performance, and/or firm instructions and concurrence from Moreno regarding payroll expenditures and permission to exceed the CBT threshold.
Beyond payroll, another very important goal is the continuing growth and development of the Angels Minor League farm system.
The Angels had an average draft in 2015, an above average one in 2016, followed by a top-heavy draft in 2017, and another solid one in 2018. Names like Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh, Griffin Canning, Jahmai Jones, Jose Suarez, Taylor Ward, Jordyn Adams, Jeremiah Jackson, Matt Thaiss, and Chris Rodriguez are just some of the names Halos fans should keep an eye on in the coming years. Some of them will form the core of the next great Angels team in 2020 and beyond!
Part of this more recent success has to do not only with better overall draft picks but the strong efforts of Billy Eppler, scouting director Matt Swanson, and the tireless work of the Angels cross-checkers and scouts around the country. The organization has focused on finding and molding raw, athletic players and it has started to pay off.
Additionally, the Halos continue to dip into the international market. This year they signed 16-year old Dominican outfield prospect Alexander Ramirez for a cool $1M signing bonus. Also, recently, per Angels reporter Taylor Blake Ward, they inked Dominican RHP Danifan Diaz too. It feels like the front office has turned a real corner and fans should expect to hear of other, albeit less notable, international signings heading into the off-season.
In addition to the farm system improvements, Eppler has expertly acquired multiple players via trades and use of the waiver wire. Names like Ty Buttrey, Luis Rengifo, Kevin Maitan, Noe Ramirez, Taylor Cole, Felix Pena, Williams Jerez, Hansel Robles, and Patrick Sandoval are some of the names that did not start in our farm system but were targeted by scouts and the analytics department for their potential and they are now beginning to shine on the field in the Majors and the Angels Minor League affiliates. Some may pan out and others may falter but the organization certainly has an eye for raw talent that cannot be denied.
Yet another goal Billy must address are the positional holes to fill around the diamond, including a primary and backup C, potentially a platoon 1B, a 2B or 3B, based on what they do with Zack Cozart, and possibly a DH. The team also needs to improve offensive production against left-handed pitching and develop or acquire a real lead-off hitter. Also the rotation is unsettled, especially at the top with Ohtani out for next season on the mound, so finding a quality, reliable starter is critical. The bullpen was a bit of a mess in 2018 so adding one or more relievers, particularly with options, to the mix would produce more viable options for next season.
As he tried to do in 2018, Billy will also need to build sufficient depth behind the 25-man roster, particularly in position player and rotation depth. It would not be surprising to see Eppler expertly work the waiver wire, again, to supplement next years squad. In particular, the Rule 5 Draft, this off-season, is potentially fruitful and may have a target or two Eppler might snag to supplement the bench or more likely the bullpen.
Without a doubt there are many challenges here for Billy and the front office to handle. Eppler will have to use his talented scouting system to identify the targets they need and want to acquire and either spend the cash and/or the farm system assets needed to obtain them. Along with that, the Angels farm system took some large strides forward in 2018 and once Eppler is done with the off-season, the team should be truly competitive with greater depth than in previous seasons.
The future success of the franchise is being set no matter whether the Angels retain Mike Trout or he departs during or after the 2020 season. These incremental steps laid by Billy Eppler yesterday, today, and tomorrow should put this organization back on the path to regular, yearly contention over the next several years.
In the next Section we will discuss the teams Finances heading into the off-season.
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By Rob MacDonald, AngelsWin.com Contributor
We learned that Doug White, the Astros bullpen coach in 2018, will replace Charles Nagy as pitching coach on Brad Ausmus staff. I had mixed emotions about the news. I liked Nagy’s knack for rehabilitating pitchers that other teams gave up on and I really liked the fact that a visit to the mound wasn’t going to pour gas on the fire like in the Butcher era. Besides the note from Jeff Fletcher that Doug White may be a surf bro’ of Ausmus, a possible reason given for his selection was to find a way to keep the staff healthy.
LA Times’ Maria Torres tweeted about White’s expertise in Z-Health. Per bengreenfitness.com, Z-Health is a training method that strengthens the nervous system through efficient movement patterns which in turn maximizes the body’s efficiency. My optimism on White’s selection was the fact that he was coming from the Astros organization.
For the past four years, I was an assistant coach at Catalina High School (Tucson, AZ), where my son played. Our program made arm health a priority using a mix of the Driveline’s weighted baseball and Jaeger Sports J band and long toss programs to protect our players’ arms.
In 2017, Ben Fife joined the Catalina coaching staff and gave our program something invaluable, access to a major league resource from the Astros organization. Catalina baseball benefited from the insights and approaches taken by the Astros and it was an education for all the coaches. (For the record, Ben did not have time to ask permission and out of respect for that friendship, I am not including the name of his friend in the Astros organization.)
The Astros resource is someone well versed in their pitching philosophy. Based on the tips shared with Ben over the past two years, I think I can provide some insights on what Doug White may bring to the Angels in 2019. First there will likely be an increased focus on mechanics. The Z-Health method will likely be used to help pitchers maintain control of their body throughout their delivery. I expect a renewed focus on core strength and flexibility in support of that goal. Another clue this may happen comes from Brandon Sneed’s article “How Kate Upton Saved Justin Verlander’s Career.” Beside the relationship between Verlander and Upton, the article covers how Justin Verlander regained his flexibility to use his whole body correctly. The adjustments he made reduced the strain on his shoulder allowing Verlander to regain his form – damn it. We were advised to use short, twenty pitch bullpens that focus just on mechanics. Points of emphasis we received were hand separation, alignment, and using full arm rotation in the delivery. Separate bullpen sessions focused on pitch control and spin rate. The Astros are big on maximizing spin rate to add movement to pitches. Good movement on pitches reduces the need to go maximum effort on every pitch while still getting swings and misses. Fewer max effort pitches will likely prolong the life span of the UCL. Our use of the Driveline program was encouraged and Ben was told to track pitch movement and speed in the bullpens to ensure the program was effective.
The tips received from our source, helped Catalina to a 24-6 record. We made a run in the state championship tournament losing to the eventual champion. Most important, all of our players made it through the season without arm issues. With any luck, Doug White will be able to keep the Angels staff healthy and all the noise about Mike Trout not being the playoffs will go away.
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Point/Counterpoint – Handicapping the Next Angels’ Manager
By Nate Trop and Glen McKee, Unprofessional Gamblers
For the first time since before I (Glen) started shaving my head, the Angels are looking for a new manager. That’s a long time. Think about it: when Scioscia became manager of the Angels, Bill Clinton was still in office. Y2K was still a thing. Pamela and Tommy divorced. “South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut” was released. You get the picture. Now, the Angels have to find a new manager, and next season I’ll finally get my wish of having somebody else to be angry at after the Angels lose. As I mentioned somewhere on the board earlier, it will probably be somebody I’ll have to google as soon as he is announced because I’ll have no idea who he is. However, that won’t stop Nate and Me from handicapping the odds of who will be at the helm as we head into the second-to-last season of the Pujols decade.
Eric Chavez: (+250 trips to the DL) Billy Eppler made him a favorite (not the favorite, a favorite) by giving him a big promotion near the end of this season, shortly after it was hinted that Scioscia would be stepping down (aka not getting a contract offer after his current contract expired). His history with the DL should give him an edge with the Angels, who have more time on the DL than, well, somebody who really likes to keep things on the DL.
Dino Ebel (+200 windmills) Dino is not a favorite as Eppler has indicated he is looking outside the organization, but we wanted to take a moment to appreciate Ebel’s years of fluid arm movements, as it appears he will not be back. Godspeed, and take care of that rotator cuff.
Josh Paul (+FU Eddings) There would be some slight irony if Josh was to take the reins.
Brad Ausmus (-100 mehs) Possibly the safest choice. There isn’t much exciting about him, and he’s named “Brad.” He prefers to go by “B-Rad” because “Brad” is his slave name.
Mickey Hatcher (+500 false walks) Don’t sleep on the chances of the Joe Biden of Scioscia’s coaching teams to take the helm. Ah, go ahead and sleep. We could all use some more sleep and the jokester supreme won’t take over.
“Sike Mcioscia” (+??) We only have one picture of this mysterious candidate:
Albert Pujols (+374 GIDPs) Some people have posited the idea, hopefully jokingly, of Pujols being a player/manager with the overwhelming emphasis on “manager.” To quote George Carlin: “Some people are really Facking stupid.” We like Pujols as a person. As a player, well…you know.
Juan Rivera (+50 bat sniffs) Hey, he needs a job. (Glen) I don’t know about you guys, but I sorta miss him. Maybe we could make him co-manager along with Yunel Escobar. That would be a dugout worth watching.
Erick Aybar (-25 IQ points) His on-the-field career is over, and he would be even better in the dugout that the Rivera/Escobar tandem. Hide your hotdog buns, we have a manager that will keep things loose and fun!
Joe Espada (+1000 reality) Joe has emerged as the current favorite, which means absolutely nothing. However, he checks a lot of boxes (which sounds like a crude job description of a gynecologist) (sorry, to the handful of women two women random woman that reads this): outside the organization, comes from a winning team, brown, has a lot of vowels in his name…dude has it all.
Terry Collins (+100 NOOOOO!) He is available, has Angels connections, and almost certainly would be a trainwreck, which is exactly why he will get the job.
Old Hoss Radbourn (+1 great nicknames) This guy has a great nickname, and whoever runs his Twitter account is brilliant. He is also dead, but you can’t get any worse than Scioscia.
Joe Girardi (+more lasagna) He is italian, a former catcher, and an old school type of manager. Where have I heard that before? This would probably be my worst nightmare.
Angelswin.com (+162 sick lineups) What could possibly go wrong with the board managing the team? Man, imagine the fights every single day.
Danny Glover (+1 Tony Danza) Only mentioned because of the movie I won’t name, but imagine him after every loss doing the facepalm and saying “I’m getting too old for this shit.” That would make the losses at least a bit more tolerable.
I’m sure there are more on Eppler’s list that we haven’t covered, but really…
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Mike Scioscia stepped down as manager after spending 19 seasons with the Angels Sunday at the conclusion of game-162 in walk-off fashion.
Scioscia’s managerial record is: 1,650 – 1428)and he’s one of five managers all-time to lead a team for 19+ consecutive years. His 19 seasons with the Angels make him the longest tenured manager in the Majors. Fifth all-time in games managed with one franchise (3,078). Owns a (.536 winning .pct) and his 1,650 wins rank 18th all-time and are second most (Walter Alston – 2040) by a manager with one team. Scioscia was the only Angels manager to make seven playoff appearances (previous best was two) which ranks tied for 12th all-time. Sosh was the only Angels manager to win six division titles, and has won 21 career playoff games including the 2002 World Series.
12 of his 19 teams have finished .500 and above. His .536 winning percentage is the best in club history and is one of six managers all-time to win 1,500 games with one team. Mike Scioscia is also Two-time BBWAA A.L. Manager of the Year (2002 and 2009).
Here’s what former players, colleagues and the Angels current owner had to say about the Angels greatest manager in the history of the organization.
“The dedication and commitment Mike Scioscia has given Angels Baseball over the last 19 years greatly contributed to our evolution into an elite Organization. Mike’s tenure as Manager of the Angels includes six division titles, a pennant, and a World Championship that transformed this franchise, and its perception on both local and national levels. We will always be grateful and proud that the Angels played a part in his Hall of Fame career.
On behalf of the entire Angels Organization, we want to express our gratitude to Mike for his time and devotion as our Manager. We wish Mike, his wife Anne, and children Taylor and Matt the very best; you will always be a part of the Angels Family.
– Arte Moreno, Los Angeles Angels Owner
“As I said in my Angels Hall of Fame speech, Mike changed the culture of the Angels. We went from thinking we could win to knowing we could win. Every spring he talked only once of winning the World Series. He then then turned to using the analogy of taking one step on a ladder to reach our goal. The first season he took over was the most mentally fatiguing season I’ve ever had because I bought into our two biggest thieves were yesterday and tomorrow. He taught me how to prepare for that day to win a major league game.”
– Garret Anderson, Angels Hall of Famer
“Mike Scioscia impacted my career is ways I’m forever grateful for. He brought leadership, vision, and a winning style of play to the teams I was a part of. As the architect of our 2002 World Championship he taught us the importance of “checking your ego in at the door” and playing as a team. I will always remember Sosh’s hilarious morning meetings each spring that were so instrumental in building team chemistry and bonded our teams in ways I had never seen before. His “one day at a time” montra kept his players focus where it needed to be and was the hallmark of the blue collar teams he lead. Sosh’s consistent demeanor and steadiness influenced those around him and brought the Angels organization stability at the helm and their greatest run of success the past 19 seasons. Words of gratitude just don’t seem to be enough for what Mike has meant to us all.”
– Tim Salmon, Angels Hall of Famer
“Mike Scioscia is a true Angel. Mike has dedicated his heart and soul for the last 20 years to making the Angels a first class organization. Over this time, he has become one of the best and most respected managers in the game today. I am forever grateful to Mike Scioscia for giving me the opportunity to start my major league career. He took a chance on me when most experts in the game deemed that I could not play in the big leagues. I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to play for him, learn from him and win with him. I am blessed to call Mike Scioscia a mentor and friend, and the game still has a lot to learn from him. “
– David Eckstein, Member of Angels 2002 World Series Champions
“I had the pleasure to work alongside Mike since his arrival in 2000 until 2011. I simply believe that Mike is one of the brightest baseball minds in the history of the Angels Organization. His passion and commitment to the finest details of his craft are evident in his performance throughout his 19 years in the Angels dugout. From the memorable Spring Training morning meetings and our late night conversations following Angels ballgames to a 2002 World Championship, Mike was the consummate professional. His personal accomplishments never outweighed his desire to compete and win. I was his baseball conscience and he was mine. I wish nothing but the best to Anne, Matt and Taylor. Much success in the next chapter.”
– Tony Reagins, former Angels General Manager
“In the year 2000, the Angels brought on board and welcomed a former “Dodger” …Mike Scioscia as our new manager. Little did we know how the trajectory and the path of the organization would change for the better with his hiring. I have had the opportunity to ‘compete against’ as a player….’play for’…’coach with’… and ‘coach against’ Mike. He defines everything a ‘Champion’ represents. Mike changed the expectations of our organization….brought out the best in all of us…AND no longer did we hope to win BUT we were going to win.
As a player for him; he challenged me, pushed me to new limits and introduced me to a new approach….”Play Free.” He was a World Series champion as a player, so Mike brought instant credibility into our dugout. As a coach on his staff; he showed me how important preparation, conviction, passion, and boldness were in the dugout. Those days when we were not playing well…Mike was always at his best….calm, determined and adamant that we would turn things around. As a coach against him; he forced you to be more prepared than ever. Ready for anything. You never knew what he was going to do next. If your team did not play sound, fundamental baseball then Mike would expose it and capitalize on it.
Mike came into the Angels organization at a time when we had a difficult time reaching the next level. His leadership, knowledge, work ethic, and confidence helped pushed the organization to new heights. Those flags you see out there …flying beyond the centerfield wall say it all…..and….speak volumes about what Mike Scioscia meant to the Angels organization.
Much love and Thanks Mike !”
– Gary DiSarcina, former Angels Infielder & Coach
“I’ve known Mike a long, long time. First as a person I competed against, and then as person I learned so much from. First and foremost, I have the utmost respect for him as a husband and father. His upbringing set the foundation for him treating all of us as his family. His leadership skills and intelligence were the best I’ve seen as a manager since the late Dick Howser in my opinion. I wouldn’t play poker with him because I never knew if we were up by 10 or down by 10. I cherish our friendship. His sense of humor was highly underrated. I conclude by saying to me, he is a Hall of Famer in the baseball world and off the field also.”
– Mark Gubicza, former Major League Pitcher & current Angels Broadcaster
“I first met Mike Scioscia when I was broadcasting for ESPN in the early 90’s. It was a game at Dodger Stadium and Mike was catching Orel Hershiser that night. I asked Mike if he had a few minutes before BP to discuss his catching philosophy along with his game plan for Hershiser that night. We must have sat in the dugout for fifteen minutes as Mike went on about growing up in Philly, then who helped him along the way, from John Roseboro, to Roy Campanella, to Del Crandell. He gave me a scouting report on not only Orel but each Dodgers pitcher. It was awesome. I must have used everything he gave me that night on the air. A decade later, I would truly get to know Mike when he took over the Angels and led them to their first World Championship. He was a natural leader, a man who not only challenged every player but inspired them to be their best. And that 2002 team became the best. From Eck, to Ersty, to GA to Percy, to Tim Salmon, they were a reflection of their manager. No one cared who got the credit. They just wanted to win. And when the team struggled, Sosh gave them a pat on the back, when they got on a roll, he told them they could do better, and when a member of the media went after one of his players after they made a mistake, Sosh had this unique ability to twist the conversation in some self-deprecating way that had the media laughing and the players mistake somehow forgotten. I’ll always remember the look on his face when Ersty caught the final out to win the championship. It was a look of pride, and not for himself, as he searched for coaches and players and trainers and clubhouse guys to hug. Great managers are people who share their success and believe that incredible things can happen when no one cares who gets the credit. Sosh is one of those guys. He’s the very definition of what we want in our leaders. Integrity, trust, toughness. Mike Scioscia is a good man, good son, good father, good husband, good friend. It was my honor to broadcast games he managed. Blessings always,”
– Steve Physioc, former Angels Broadcaster
“I don’t know that I can fully explain what Mike Scioscia has meant to me personally over the last 9 seasons but I’ll certainly try. From the moment I went out to dinner with Arte, Mike and his coaching staff in March of 2010, he has been nothing but the most accommodating person on a daily basis. Maybe it was the connection to Philadelphia through my dad but whatever the case, he made me feel like I mattered every time we talked. And it wasn’t just with me, he made every member of my family feel as if they were the most important person in the room when he visited with them. He was never in a hurry and always took the time to chat about the previous night’s game, his Eagles/Flyers/Sixers and/or everyday happenings in and around the ballpark. I wish more fans had a chance to see this side of Mike. He’s a man of integrity whose loyalty you never questioned. They broke the mold with Mike Scioscia. Tough as nails competitor that wanted to beat you every single night and it carried over into the dugout as manager. What a run…Hall of Fame husband, father and manager. Our loss is the Scioscia family’s gain. Be well, Skip!”
– Victor Rojas, Angels Broadcaster
“Mike encouraged the players to have an aggressive, team-first style of play. His positive attitude enabled the players to focus on the job to be done today regardless of what may have happened yesterday.”
– Bill Stoneman, former Angels General Manager
“In the nearly two decades that I have known Mike Scioscia, the trait that has most impressed me about him is his character. His integrity, honesty and kindness are things I admire in someone I will always consider a dear friend. Professionally, Mike has distinguished himself in baseball as both a player and manager. In his tenure as manager of the Angels, he guided the franchise to heights it had never previously attained. Mike is an integral part of the Golden Years of Angels baseball. He is a Hall-of-Famer in his profession, but most importantly as a person.”
– Terry Smith, Angels Broadcaster
“Sosh is someone that I would want to study under if I was to become a manager one day. I watched him think outside the box on so many different occasions in the clubhouse and on the field. He didn’t care about the scrutiny and the aftermath that came with his decisions. It was the one he felt he had to make at that crucial moment. That’s what true leaders do for everyone he/she is leading. I’m proud to have spent 5 years playing for him. I’ve learned so much in the years I played for him.”
– Torii Hunter, former Angels Outfielder
“Mike was essential in my success and longevity as a MLB player. His ability to show he believed in me on a daily basis as well as teach me tough lessons along the way made it possible for me as a player to fit in and help his team and my future teams moving forward. No matter what point in the game, whether it was offense or defense, you knew you could look in the dugout and have his confidence and support that we would get the job done. His strong presence in the clubhouse as our leader gave us added confidence. Mike created a new buzz in and around Anaheim with his team’s style of play that the fan base will forever appreciate.”
– Adam Kennedy, former Angels Infielder
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Hall of Famer and MLB Network analyst Jim Thome broke down Shohei Ohtani’s swing last night during a MLB Tonight live look-in of his eighth inning home run. Ohtani’s blast proved to be the game winner in last night’s 3-2 Angels victory against the Texas Rangers.
In the clip (below), Thome said, “Ohtani’s kind of got his hands up, watch the front foot get down quick, so there is a little bit of pause there. When you pause and you get your front foot down quick you become an arm and hands hitter. If you get the front foot down and there’s pause one, pause two then you become an arm and hands hitter, it’s a two part [swing]. But, if the front foot hits and then boom, pause and you swing, then that’s where you gain most of your power because it’s a fluid [motion].”
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All eyes have been on Angels rookie sensation Shohei Ohtani this season, and he continues to amaze, both on and off the diamond.
Ohtani continues to crush home runs, and he’s been doing this with UCL damage, which will cause him to undergo Tommy John Surgery in the offseason. Most players would have called it quits during that time, but not Ohtani, who continues to amaze.
Speaking of amazing, you need to see this video of him signing “Despacito” on the team bus, which his teammates talked him into doing as rookie hazing.
That’s a heck of a lot better than dressing up in some eccentric outfit, as many teams have rookies do.
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We all love it when there’s an opportunity to use the #PitchersWhoRake hashtag, but Los Angeles Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani has brought a whole other meaning to it during the 2018 season.
Sure, he’s only appeared as a pitcher once since the beginning of June and is now potentially facing a long road back to the mound via Tommy John surgery, but that hasn’t stopped him from raking at the plate. He showed us the kind of focus he has on the day it was announced he may need to go under the knife by staying in the lineup and belting two homers a few hours later.
Ohtani’s production on offense has run a little deeper than just this one game, though. He’s been a rousing success overall at the plate — entering Sunday’s action, he’s the proud owner of a .290/.372/.592 triple slash with 19 home runs, and 53 RBI in just 289 plate appearances, which is good for a 161 wRC+.
But the dude’s been on another planet since the start of August.
So if some quick math is done, you can see that just about half of his offensive production for the entire season has happened in the last five weeks. If we include Saturday’s game, he’s actually hit more homers and driven in more runs over his past 90 plate appearances than his first 199.
Mental math is hard for me, so here’s the quick breakdown because I like tables.
Ohtani has even thrown in six stolen bases since the start of August after swiping just two bags in the four months prior for good measure.
It’s a huge bummer that he can’t finish out the year as a two-way player due to his injury, especially when he ends up on lists like these.
What we can enjoy for now, though, is Ohtani the hitter, as he’ll finish the year in that role while deciding exactly how he wants to approach the situation with his throwing arm. For now, let’s just sit back and watch him continue punishing baseballs for the last three weeks of the season.
About Matt Musico
Matt currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book about how to become a sports blogger. You can sign up for his email newsletter here.
Angels slugger Mike Trout was born and raised in New Jersey, but he’s always been an Eagles fan.
Trout has made it very clear during interviews, and has also been spotted at a few Eagles games.
He apparently attended Thursday’s season-opener at Lincoln Financial Field between the Falcons and Eagles, as he was able to snap a photo holding the Lombardi Trophy. His squad earned it after defeating the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, and Trout reaped the benefits.
Given the mediocrity that surrounds the Angels franchise, that could be the only piece of silverware Trout ever gets to hold, unfortunately.
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By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Columnist
I wrote a post several weeks back about Ohtani’s overall upside, positing that as good of a hitter as he is, his pitching upside is just greater. Whereas he could turn into a top 20 hitter, he could be a top 5 pitcher – his stuff is just that good. Of course the problem is volatility. A hitter’s peak value is generally only eroded by chronic injuries, while a pitcher’s entire career can be put into jeopardy by a single injury.
Anyhow, I wanted to talk about Ohtani’s upside as a hitter, inspired by his bomb off Verlander. As of this writing (after the bomb) he’s hitting .276/.353/.542 with a 144 wRC+ and 14 HR in 253 PA. He’s got a 10.3% BB rate and a 28.5% K rate. His BABIP is pretty high at .345, but not so much that we should expect huge regression. In other words, Ohtani has produced close to a .900 OPS, is on pace for 30+ HR over a full season, and his wRC+ would be tied with Manny Machado for 12th best in the majors if he qualified.
In other words, Shohei is already a top 20 hitter in his first season.
One thing that is easy to forget, or at least that I forget, is that he only just turned 24 years old. He’s a few months younger than Taylor Ward and David Fletcher. So while he played in the Japanese majors for a few years, he’s still young enough that he should improve – maybe substantially so. I don’t expect him to become one of the very best hitters in the majors, but he could be close.
What do you see as his offensive upside? Given what we’ve seen so far, how much better can and will he get? Obviously his big issue is hitting left-handers. Compare his splits before tonight:
vs. RHP: .307/.379/.626, 172 wRC+ in 183 PA
vs. LHP: .167/.265/.233, 45 wRC+ in 68 PA
That 172 wRC+ vs RHP is good for 4th in the majors among players with at least 100 PA, behind only JD Martinez, Mike Trout, and Jose Ramirez, and just ahead of Mookie Betts.
That 45 wRC+ vs LHP, on the other hand, is #303 out of 327 batters with 50+ PA vs lefties. Ouch.
He can only get better against left-handers. Let’s say he consolidates against right-handers. All of a sudden his .276/.353/.542 line becomes something like .290/.370/.580, maybe better in peak years. Crazy to think.
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