By Tres Hefter, AngelsWin.com Columnist
While lower-level pitching has been dominant for the Angels farm so far this year, multiple strong performances made it difficult to identify individual standouts – during this time, quietly, several hitters have made strides over the last two weeks.
1) Jared Walsh – 1B/LHP, AAA:
Walsh picked up seven multi-hit games over the last two weeks, clubbing seven doubles and three home runs along the way, resulting in a .388/.484/.714/1.198 slash over 14 games, while also drawing 9 walks. Oh yeah, and he also made three relief appearances, picking up one save. With Bour, Pujols, and Ohtani all ahead of him on the depth chart, his path to Anaheim isn’t abundantly clear, but he’s certainly stating his case. 2019 hitting (AAA): .299/.394/.976 with 11 doubles, 9 HR, 25 RBI, 18 BB, 41 K in 36 G/160 PA 2019 pitching (AAA): 3.60 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .238 BAA, 2 BB, 4 K across 5 IP in 5 G
2) Jarrett Parker – RF/LF, AAA:
Nearly matching Walsh’s offensive production over the last two weeks is quasi-big leaguer Jarrett Parker, recently returned from injury. Playing the corner outfield positions, the 30-year old posted a slash of .326/.473/.674/1.147 boosted by 6 doubles, 3 homers, driving in 13 runs, and drawing 12 walks to 15 strikeouts. While there is no longer a clear path for Parker to support the main cast in Anaheim, he remains intriguing AAA depth. 2019 (AAA): .324/.467/.620/1.086 with 7 doubles, 1 triple, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 19 BB, 22 K in 21 G/90 PA
3) Cesar Puello – CF/LF/RF, AAA:
Puello is surprisingly the only hitter carry-over from the last hotlist, as he maintained a .293/.396/.561/.957 slash over the last two weeks. High contact skills have long boosted the offensive profile for Puello, 28, whose power finally flashed in recent weeks, adding 2 doubles and three homers. Like Parker, Puello is out of options and not on the 40-man, so he isn’t likely to see Anaheim barring serious injury issues on the big-league club, so he’ll remain as AAA insurance. He’s already been hit by a pitch 10 times. 2019 (AAA): .302/.444/.500/.944 with 6 doubles, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 17 BB, 28 K in 31 G/133 PA
4) Francisco Del Valle – RF/LF, A:
The first of a few surprise hotlist entrants, 20-year old Del Valle, a 2016 14th rounder out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, has been a steady bat for Burlington, slashing .289/.413/.500/.913 since returning May 1st. While his upside is likely limited to that of a 4th OF, he has demonstrated good discipline and doubles-powers in his brief career, and could open some eyes once he reaches the friendly hitting environments of the California League. 2019 (A): .229/.319/.390/.710 with 10 doubles, 2 triples, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 10 BB, 28 K in 30 G/120 PA
5) Leonardo Rivas – SS/CF/3B/2B, A+:
The switch-hitting 21-year old infielder reached base safely in all 12 games he played the last two weeks, earning a hit in all but one, giving way to a .320/.370/.520/.890 slash, popping 5 doubles, 1 triple, and 1 HR along the way. While he’s still striking out quite often – 16 times in that time – the increase in power has brought his prospect pedigree back into focus. The infielder also added a couple appearances in CF in this time, also furthering his value. 2019 (A+): .246/.333/.435/.768 with 8 doubles, 3 triples, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 18 BB, 43 K in 34 G/156 PA
6) Nonie Williams – LF/CF/RF, A:
??? What? Yes! Once again, Nonie has responded to one of his lowest lows by posting one of his highest highs. Days shy of turning 21, the 2016 3rd rounder has shaken off another poor start by responding with a .250/.348/.525/.873 slash so far in the month of May, exhibiting some power (5 doubles, 2 homers) and a bit of an eye – 6 walks, though 21 strikeouts is still worrisome – as his career continues to trend away from the sweet-swinging infielder he was drafted as and more towards an all-or-nothing power-hitting outfielder. 2019 (A): .187/.320/.336/.657 with 7 doubles, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 6-7 in SB attempts, 19 BB, 47 K in 32 G/129 PA
7) Kevin Maitan – 3B/2B, A:
Shaking off another slow start, Maitan, the youngest player on Burlington’s roster, has been showing signs of life since mid-April, and that’s continued the last two weeks. Posting a .295/.340/.477/.818 over the last two weeks, Maitan is showing power (2 doubles, 2 HR) and some improved hitting. He even stole two bases. 2019 (A): .215/.278/.306/.584 with 2 doubles, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 11 BB, 34 K in 32 G/133 PA
Honorable mention, hitters: D.C. Arendas (1B, A): .353/.450/.794/1.244 with 3 3B, 3 HR – at 25, he’s 4 years older than the league average. Taylor Ward (LF/1B/3B, AAA): .286/.444/.714/1.159 with 3 2B, 3 HR, 8 BB, 6 K – not quite enough playing time (8 G/36 PA) Dustin Garneau (C, AAA): .217/.400/.478/.878 with 3 2B, HR, 6 BB, 8 K – also not enough playing time Jhoan Urena (3B/1B, AA): .250/.372/.417/.789 with 3 2B, HR, 7 BB, 9 K – only 24, worth keeping an eye on, good pop, discipline
8 ) Jose Soriano – RHP, A:
Soriano, one of the Angels’ most intriguing pitching prospects who offers considerable upside, spun two great performances over the last two weeks, striking out 14 over 11 innings, allowing only two hits (.065 BAA) to go with an 0.82 ERA. Control continues to be a bit of an issue – he also walked 6 – but his 5/09 start at Dayton showed his potential brilliance, generating 19 swinging strikes on 88 pitches, allowing no hits over 6 IP. 2019 (A): 1.72 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .196 BAA, 20 BB, 32 K across 31.1 IP in 7 G/6 GS
9) Jose Suarez – LHP, AAA:
With Griffin Canning’s ascension to the Anaheim rotation, Suarez is now the #1 SP prospect on the farm. Suarez started the year with a balky shoulder, but returned to AAA action (as one of the youngest in the league) with two starts against two very good offensive teams in great hitter-friendly environments, showing his promise in both appearances. Capping at 5 IP/~80 pitches in each start, Suarez was stingy, surrendering one, only allowing 6 hits and 4 walks vs. 8 strikeouts. 2019 (AAA): 0.90 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .171 BAA, 4 BB, 8 K across 10 IP in 2 G/2 GS
10,tied) Cristopher Molina – RHP, A:
The lanky 22-year old has yet to allow more than 2 runs in a game this season, and only allowed one earned, good for a 0.60 ERA, over the last two weeks across three ‘starts’, two of which were conventional, one in relief. Across 15 innings, Molina struck out 19, limiting opponents to a .204 BAA, only walking 6. He’s yet to allow a HR on the season, and is likely making a case for a promotion to Inland Empire in the near future. 2019 (A): 1.35 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, .178 BAA, 11 BB, 41 K across 33.1 IP in 7 G/4 GS
10,tied) Robinson Pina – RHP, A:
Equally impressive as Molina and therefore tying for the last spot on the list, the even lankier 20-year old Pina delivered similar success in two ‘starts’ (one in relief), capped by a 5-inning, 0 BB, 10 K performance against Bowling Green on May 8th. While he doesn’t possess the same swing-and-miss stuff as Molina, Pina has generated very similar results, each averaging 6 hits allowed, 3-4 walks, and 11 strikeouts per nine innings. 2019 (A): 2.01 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, .204 BAA, 14 BB, 39 K across 31.1 IP in 7 G/4 GS
Honorable mention, pitchers: Patrick Sandoval (LHP, AA/AAA): 12.2 IP, 16 H, 4 BB, 14 K, 3.55 ERA in 3 GS – earned the promotion to SLC Denny Brady (RHP, A+): 14.2 IP, 10 H, 4 BB, 20 K, 4.30 ERA in 3 games – could be a AA promotion candidate before long Oliver Ortega (RHP, A+): 10.1 IP, 6 H, 11 BB, 17 K, 3.48 ERA in 3 games – including a 5 IP, 1-hit, 9 K start Jason Alexander (RHP, AA): 8 IP, H, 0 BB, 9 K – delivered a dominant 8 IP one-hitter in his lone eligible appearance Jesus Castillo (RHP, AA): 12.2 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 9 K, 2.13 ERA in 2 games – had a chance to break top 10 yesterday, but game was PPD Andrew Wantz (RHP, A+): 13 IP, 8 H, 6 BB, 12 K, 2.08 ERA in 3 games – feels like a multi-inning RP candidate in near-future Jeremy Rhoades (RHP, AAA): 8 IP, 4 H, BB, 9 K, 1.13 ERA in 5 games – could play into Anaheim depth relief again Connor Higgins (LHP, A): 5.1 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 10 K, 0.00 ERA in 3 games – lanky lefty comes with upside
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Adam Riggs captured wearing the “Angees” uniform.
Interviewed by David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
One of the things I love most about baseball is when I have the chance with former players. No one knows the game like they do, as they have insights that fans won’t always catch.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with a former Angel–Adam Riggs. When I first heard that I would get the chance to interview him, I immediately thought of the time he ran out to left field with one of the greatest uniform malfunctions ever (pictured above). So, of course, I had to ask him all about that, and it turns out, there was more to the story.
But, in talking with Adam, I learned so much more. I learned about how he came to play for the Angels, and how that helped save his career, what it was like as a player in Scioscia’s clubhouse, spring training ordeals, and his favorite memories and players. And, I got to fill in some key details about a key episode in Angels history involving Jose Guillen. Many fans remember that situation, but few will recall that it was Adam Riggs who went out the next day to play left field for a team trying to make the playoffs. Adam helped fill in some key details of what it was like for him as that player to live through that experience.
Since retiring from baseball, Adam has started a podcast on the BLEAV Podcast Network. Along with his co-host Matt Gallant, they do a weekly Angels podcast talking all things baseball. It’s well worth listening to, as Adam provides baseball knowledge and experience having scrapped together a solid career with several teams. With his background, he can talk about what it’s like to be an athlete having to constantly prove himself and earn his playing time.
Fans can catch up on all of Adam Riggs’ podcasts by clicking here. Fans can also subscribe to catch all of the weekly shows. I’d recommend it, as Adam is planning on getting other veteran players to have even more in depth discussions to share different perspectives from the industry.
Please click below to listen to our interview with Adam Riggs.
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By Tres Heftner, AngelsWin.com Columnist
Here are Top-10 Minor League Performers in the Angels Farm System
4/22/19 – 4/28/19
1) Jose Rojas – IF, AAA:
The 26-year old infielder continued to build upon his hot spring with an even hotter April, slashing a firm .407/.429/.889/1.317 over the past week, driving in 13 runs in only 6 games, including a 2 HR, 6 RBI performance on 4/22 against Sacramento. Playing 3B primarily, Rojas also made two appearances at LF and one at 2B this week. 2019: .333/.388/.603/.991 with 3 doubles, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 7 BB, 12 K in 20 G/85 PA
2) Matt Thaiss – IF, AAA:
Coming into the week, Thaiss was mired in a 3-35 slump (.086 BA), but the BAbip gods smiled upon thee. Thaiss went 10-17 (.588) to go with 7 BB against 1 K over his last 25 PA, with a double and HR leading to his .588/.680/.824/1.504 slash on the week – boosted by a .563 BAbip. Thaiss also continued to see time at 3B, playing twice more at the hot corner vs. Albuquerque. 2019: .289/.406/.434/.840 with 4 doubles,1 triple, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 16 BB, 12 K in 22 G/101 PA
3) Taylor Ward – IF/OF, AAA:
Ward added LF to his pro resume this week, making a nice sliding catch vs. Albuquerque, while also adding two more appearances at 1B. The increased versatility should boost his odds and value to the Angels as the season goes on, as could his offense, if he maintains it. Ward added 3 doubles and 2 homers to his season over the week, slashing .429/.478/.857/1.335 across five games. 2019: .305/.408/.559/.968 with 6 doubles, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 9 BB, 16 K in 16 G/72 PA
4) Torii Hunter, Jr. – OF, A+:
2019 is a key year for Hunter, still acclimating to the life of pro baseball, and the Angels pinned high expectations on the 24-year old OF by counting on him to help lead the offense at Inland Empire. While Torii Jr. might never have the game-changing power, defense, or baserunning his father possessed, he’s continued to make improvements to his offensive profile suggesting he might yet have a future as a 4th OF. Hunter slashed .333/.467/.542/1.008 over the week, adding a triple, a home run, 6 RBI, and 2 more SB to his season totals. Since the first week of the season, Torii Jr. has 12 BB to 14 K and a .413 OBP and his 15 walks rank third on the Angels farm. 2019: .250/.384/.338/.721 with 2 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 15 BB, 21 K in 23 G/99 PA
5) Cesar Puello – OF, AAA:
While he may be walking along the precipice of being no more than a career 4A journeyman, Puello undoubtedly continues to produce. Seeing time at all three positions in the outfield, the 28-year old Puello continues to demonstrate advanced plate discipline to go with good contact and good power, drawing 4 BB, hitting three doubles, and adding one HR to give him a slash of .429/.571/.714/1.286 for the week. While he may not see time outside of SLC, he offers some intriguing depth for the Angels if he continues to post hefty OBP results. 2019: .303/.465/.455/.920 with 4 doubles, 2 HR, 12 BB, 14 K in 20 G/86 PA
Honorable mention, hitters: Gleyvin Pineda (IF, A): .357/.500/.500/1.000 with triple, 4 BB, 5 K Connor Justus (IF, AA): .294/.400/.529/.929 with one walk-off HR Jarrett Parker (OF, AAA): .333/.481/.524/1.005 with 2B, HR, 6 BB, 5 K
5) Kyle Bradish – RHP, A+:
The 2018 4th Rounder has looked like a strong pick all season, and the past week only added to that excitement. The 6’4″ righty provided 4 innings of a 9-inning ‘no-hitter’; between starter Aaron Hernandez (4 IP) and Austin Warren (1 IP) on April 23rd vs. Rancho Cucamonga, and followed that up by allowing only one hit across 5.1 IP days later against Lake Elsinore. Over the week, Bradish held hitters to a .033 BAA, allowing 4 BB, 1 ER, and striking out 13 in 9.1 IP, and might find himself in AA Mobile before long. 2019: 1.80 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, .159 BAA, 10 BB, 22 K across 20 IP in 5 G/3 GS
6) Hector Yan – LHP, A:
One of the Angels’ more intriguing pitching prospects, the 20-year old, 5’11” lefty flashed some of that brilliance this past week across two appearances, reining in some early control issues and striking out 15 hitters across 9 IP, while only allowing 6 hits, one run, and four walks. The Angels continue to piggyback their young starters, as Yan closed out the game on 4/22 with four scoreless innings before a more traditional start later in the week on 4/28. 2019: 4.82 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .242 BAA ,12 BB, 26 K across 18.2 IP in 5 G/3 GS
7) Jeremy Beasley – RHP, AA:
Never considered a top prospect, Beasley continues to will his way into the discussion and might find himself entering the fray for the SLC-Anaheim shuttlebefore long. Like Yan, Beasley appeared in two games this week, starting one and closing out another, striking out 13 across 10 IP, only allowing 1 run, 5 hits, and 2 walks along the way. Only 23, the 30th round draft pick out of Clemson back in 2017 continues to prove his mettle. 2019: 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .197 BAA, 9 BB, 26 K across 20.2 IP in 5 G/4 GS
8 ) Cole Duensing – RHP, A:
While he flashed some potential in 2016 after being selected by the Angels in the 6th round, the 6’4″ RHP had a future in doubt following 9.74 ERA over 28 games and 93.2 IP in 2017-2018, a stretch where he allowed a staggering 136 hits, 21 HR, 102 runs, 58 walks, and only 64 strikeouts. 2019 has been entirely different, as the 21-year old Duensing continued to add to a solid turnaround year by posting a 1.86 ERA, .176 BAA over 9.2 IP, allowing only 6 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 11. 2019: 2.11 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .240 BAA ,14 BB, 20 K across 21.1 IP in 5 G/4 GS
9) Jorge Tavarez – RHP, A+:
The diminutive (5’10”, 150) reliever was lights-out last season, and it’s continued into 2019. Over the last week, Tavarez made three appearances, all for multi-innings, and delivered 7 innings of spectacular relief, allowing one run, zero walks, only three hits, and striking out 12. Blessed with an above-average 12-6 curveball with elite spin rate, the 23-year Tavarez might be pitching his way into the Angels depth charts before long. 2019: 1.29 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .196 BAA, 4 BB, 21 K across 14 IP in 9 G
10) Adrian De Horta – RHP, AA:
Signed as a minor league free agent in March 2018, De Horta didn’t show much last year, but opened eyes with a gutsy appearance in this year’s ST exhibition series against the Dodgers, and he’s followed up on that with a strong April, capped by a solid start on 4/24 vs. Pensacola, allowing one hit and striking out 7 across five innings. As the Angels continue to promote arms, De Horta could be in AAA Salt Lake before long. 2019: 2.03 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .156 BAA, 8 BB, 23 K across 13.1 IP in 3 G/2 GS
Honorable mention, hitters: Oliver Ortega (RHP, A+) 4 IP, 2 H, ER, 3 BB, 9 K Aaron Hernandez (RHP, A+): 4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K Luis Madero, RHP, A+/AA): 9 IP, 10 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 12 K, and a promotion to AA Mobile Cristopher Molina, RHP, A): 4.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K
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Interview Conducted by David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer April 2, 2019.
Ever get the feeling of deja vu? The very first Major League player that I interviewed in the Angels clubhouse was Torii Hunter. And he was a pleasure to interview. I had followed his career for quite a while, long before he was an Angel, as I have many cousins in Minnesota who would rave about him as a player. I was thrilled that we got to see him play as an Angel for a while.
I recently had the opportunity to interview his son, a rising outfield star in the Angels system. Like his father, Torii Hunter, Jr. is a pleasure to talk to. And, like his father, he provides great defense in the outfield with a blend of speed and power.
Torii will be starting the 2019 season with the IE66ers tonight at home. You can purchase tickets for them here. It’s well worth the drive out there to see him and all the other players develop into future Major Leaguers. With the rising pool of talent that the Angels have, you will want to make the trip out there many times.
While you too may experience a bit of deja vu when you see Torii Hunter, Jr. in the outfield, remember, he’s his own man with his own destiny. And he will go as far as his tools and talent will take him.
You can watch our interview with Torii Hunter, Jr. by clicking on the image below.
AngelsWin.com Interviews Torii Hunter, Jr. April 2, 2019 from AngelsWin.com on Vimeo.
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May 13, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) celebrates after scoring off a solo home run against the Detroit Tigers during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
If the rumors are true, and at this point they appear to be so, Mike Trout has agreed in principal to a deal that will make him an Angel for life.
What a way to turn around the offseason. Prior to today, I would have given the Angels a “B-” for their efforts during the offseason, but all that changed today. This deal changes all that because the biggest potential issue for the next two years has been settled. Mike Trout will be here for another 12 years.
If the proposed numbers hold true, Mike Trout will sign the largest sports contract in history. And well he should. No other player in the history of the game has been as good and productive as Mike Trout at a similar age.
If I could start a baseball team with any single current player in baseball, by far my first choice would be Mike Trout. Not only is he an incredible talent on the field, he is a an incredible asset off the field. His interactions with fans are not forced or reluctant. He genuinely engages with fans before the games. His love for baseball and enthusiasm to play is infectious. He reminds people of all that is good and right in sports, He is humble and honest. He lets his actions speak for themselves and doesn’t seek the limelight. He brings us back to a time when we played baseball and demonstrates our love for the game.
When Mike Trout signs this contract, he will do the one last thing that separated him from the pantheon of baseball greats: he will create a specific time and place for his legacy. Just as Cobb, DiMaggio, Koufax, Ruth, Williams, etc. are all associated with one team and one time, Trout will be forever remember for the time he played and the Angels. Fifty years from now, whether they are Angels fans or not, baseball fans will tell their grandchildren how they saw Mike Trout play for the Angels, just as our grandparents told us about seeing their greats play.
In 2014, When Mike Trout signed his first contract extension, I asked him at the press conference what it meant to him that an entire generation of Angels fans would grow up seeing him play. I compared it to Trout’s hero Derek Jeter, a lifelong Yankee. With this contract extension, multiple generations of Angels fans will grow up seeing him play. And like his hero, it will all be for one team. That’s something special.
But, even more special, is that Angels fans will get to see him evolve. When Mike Trout first broke into the Major Leagues, Torii Hunter took him under his wings and helped show him the ropes. After Torii left, Albert Pujols helped to mentor him.
But, in an interesting story written by Bob Nightengale for USA Today, Mike Trout watched video of the Angels’ top prospect Jo Adell, and even gave Adell his phone number to help him. Mike Trout made an integral part of the Angels’ presentation to Shohei Ohtani by calling and speaking with him, and has since done a lot to help Shohei adapt to life playing baseball in America. That’s the evolution of Mike Trout–from a rookie to a face of a franchise to a mentor to his teammates. This is the Mike Trout team. This is the Mike Trout era.
After the Angels won the World Series in 2002, my favorite moment was seeing Tim Salmon–Mr. Angel–hoist the trophy. Knowing that there were several points where Tim could have left for more money to play for other teams, watching him hold that trophy was magical. Everyone could see that his loyalty and dedication to the team had been rewarded, and the fans loved him for it.
When Mike Trout hoists the World Series trophy–which he will do as an Angel–it will be something even more magical. Just as Salmon was rewarded and loved, so will Trout be. We, the fans, know how much he did (and will do) to earn that moment, and we will thank him for it. There will be a bonding between us and him that will forever connect us in that moment.
An Angel for life. Not many players can say that. But that’s what Trout chose to be, and we are so lucky that he did.
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How exactly do you compensate someone who has already outproduced more than half of current National Baseball Hall of Fame members despite being just 27 years old? Handsomely, as we found out Tuesday when news of Mike Trout‘s agreement on a contract extension with the Los Angeles Angels broke.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan was first to report the record-setting agreement, which comes out to a 12-year, $430 million contract for the two-time American League MVP. Further reports have mentioned Trout will play out the final two years of his current six-year, $144.5 million contract before this new deal takes effect. So, this essentially means the Angels are agreeing to pay their outfielder $363.5 million in new money.
This comes not even three weeks after Bryce Harper‘s $330 million payday with the Philadelphia Phillies, which ended up being a short-lived record.
Any way you slice it, $430 million is an incredible amount of money. Could it still be a bargain by the time his age-38 season rolls around in 2029, though? The answer to that question is yes.
Thanks to the projection models over at FanGraphs, there’s also proof to back up that claim, as Ben Gellman-Chomsky pointed out on Twitter. FanGraphs has three different scenarios with which we can project a player’s future performance: aging well, aging normally, and aging poorly.
You can see how each of these scenarios would play out in Ben’s tweet, but here are the pictures so you can see them side by side.
First, if Trout ages well:
Next is Trout aging normally (well, for Mike Trout, at least):
Lastly, here’s what it’d look like if Trout ages poorly and the end of his contract isn’t nearly as enjoyable as the first portion of his career:
Let’s not forget that each of these fWAR totals is on top of what he’s already produced since debuting in 2011. If he beats the normal aging curve, Trout could finish his age-38 campaign with 173.2 career fWAR. That number would drop to 164.2 if he ages normally, and it “plummets” to 147.7 if he ages poorly.
Things can obviously go haywire compared to these projections (after all, they’re called projections for a reason). But still, using this as a guide makes for an eye-popping observation. Below is a table of the top five players in baseball history when using fWAR as the benchmark:
Basically, FanGraphs is projecting Trout to finish this contract as the fifth-best player in baseball history when accounting for their worst-case scenario. The Angels would also almost double their money in that scenario when looking at the value of Trout’s performance.
If there’s any player in baseball that deserves this huge payday, it’s Trout. By the way he’s been producing, though, this could end up being viewed as a steal for Los Angeles. And that’s even more crazy to think about.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico 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 and created an online class about how to get started as a sports blogger. You can sign up for his email newsletter here.
Angels slugger Mike Trout is a true five-tool player, as he truly can do it all. Trout can run, catch, he can absolutely rake.
Spring training is where — like NFL training camps — players attempt to get back in shape, having spent time away from the weight room and baseball diamond. Apparently, Trout didn’t stop working out, because he showed up to spring training not even skipping a beat from where he left off at the end of last season.
Check out this video of him in the batting cage, where he absolutely annihilated a baseball, then had a great reaction afterward.
“Ooh, I almost hit a trash can,” Trout remarked.
It’s hard not to feel bad for the trash can.
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By Geoff Stoddart, Director of Social Media
Before there was Facebook. Before there was Twitter. Before there was SnapChat or Instagram, there was AngelsWin.com.
In February of 2014, Charles Richter launched the website as a way for Angels fans around the country and around the world to stay connected to the team they loved and discuss topics that impacted them.
What started out as a simple message board & blog grew into a news and reporting outlet, also being rewarded with a Major League Baseball media credential by the Angels. Correspondence from AngelsWin have participated in such team events and press conferences as the introduction for Albert Pujols, the contract extension for Mike Trout and the welcome Shohei Ohtani, to name just a few. Over the years, the site has been recognized by Forbes, Fox Sports, ESPN, MLB Network, Japan Times, Washington Post, MLB Trade Rumors, local media outlets in the Orange County Register and LA Times and Angels Broadcast crews over the air for their reporting and insights.
The site has also hosted many fan events, including Spring and Summer Fanfests where they’ve had such guests as Arte Moreno, Tim Salmon, Don Baylor, Kole Calhoun, ex-GM Jerry Dipoto, Victor Rojas, Jose Mota, Terry Smith, Rex Hudler, Steve Physioc and Tim Mead.
As AngelsWin looks to the future, they will continue to provide the news, the stats, information and fan events. But at its core, AngelsWin will always continue to be an online community forum that launched the site and as a result has forged many lifelong friendships & memories.
AngelsWin.com: The internet home for Angels fans – where fans can cheer, argue, laugh, complain and discuss the team they love.
So a toast to 15 great years and another toast to 15 more. Go Angels!
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By Chuck Richter, AngelsWin.com Founder
The San Diego Padres were just ranked as having the best farm system in baseball by Baseball America.
Did you know the last time the Angels were ranked with the #1 farm system in baseball? 2005.
Unlike the Padres, who haven’t been in the playoffs since 2006, the ’05 Angels made the playoffs the year prior to being ranked as the No. 1 farm system, and were the World Series champions three years prior to that. After being ranked as having the best farm system in baseball in 2005, the Angels went on to make the playoffs in four of the next five seasons.
The Angels’ top 30 prospects in 2005 had a bunch of talent that made it to the big leagues. Twenty of them made it to the big leagues, and half of them had a solid career. That was an incredible amount of talent.
Check it out.
Now, think think about the fact that we finally have a top 10 farm system again. Combine that with the talent we have on the Major League club such as Trout, Ohtani, Simmons, Upton, Skaggs, Heaney, Barria, Buttrey, and Anderson.
I liken our 2019 club to our 2006 team. We graduated most of those ’05 top 30 prospects that year and they began contributing along with our existing core of vets in Vlad, GA, OC, Weaver, Lackey, K-Rod, Shields, Escobar, Colon. This year, we should do the same with many of our current top 30 prospects starting to contribute along with our current core of vets.
Now consider that next year, in our 2020 season, we’ll have an established mix of veterans and young core that can hit the ground running. That could lead to a magical run like 2007-2009.
While it may wear on our patience at times that the 2019 Los Angeles Angels may resemble the 2006 club, especially by missing the playoffs, ultimately, we need to see that this year will be a stepping stone, much like 2006 was. Making the playoffs for 3 straight years couldn’t have happened without that transitional season in 2006. We needed the ’06 season to introduce to the prospects to the Majors and give them the opportunity to succeed.
I believe the present Angels may have a chance to be a bit better and sustain longer success than they did from ’07-’09. Eppler appears to have set up this club up for more success than we had in 2007-2009. His one year deals for veteran help this season could catapult the Angels into a playoff berth this year. Or, they could end up being yet another boon to the farm system by adding more players like they did in the Maldonado and Kinsler trades. The Angels have the talent to acquire a piece in a trade, if warranted, or, can continue to stock up on talent to sustain the parent club for years.
By the end of 2019, the Angels could very well be a top 3 farm system. And, at the same time, they could be on the verge of challenging the Houston Astros in the standings. This season will be an integral part of a larger plan to vault the Angels back into dominance of the A. L. West for a long time.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
2018 was a banner year for Andrelton Simmons, who posted his best WAR season to-date in the Majors, at a sterling 5.5 WAR.
Clearly a lot of that production was on the defensive side of the spectrum but he also turned in a 2nd consecutive above average offensive season too, begging the question of whether or not the Angels should consider extending him.
You may agree or disagree but finding defensive-wizards at critical defensive positions that can post 5-WAR seasons is not an easy task, so it should be on the table in the author’s opinion.
Beyond the actual physical results, Simmons continues to show how brilliant he is tactically on the baseball battlefield. His in-game awareness, ability to back-pick overly aggressive runners, and his range and coverage of the infield is second to none in baseball right now.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR)
So we mentioned above that 2018 was Andrelton’s best season of his career at 5.5 WAR.
It is now the 2nd consecutive season that Simmons has exceeded the 5-WAR mark, as he posted 5.1 WAR last year in 2017.
A significant amount of this WAR improvement has actually come on the offensive side of the ball as Andrelton has worked hard to improve his at-bat’s over the last two seasons.
It is hard to gauge how long Simmons can operate at the 5-WAR level as defense is usually the first player ability that declines with age. Andrelton will be entering his age 29 season in 2019, so age-related decline is something coming into view on the horizon that Eppler and the Angels will need to consider if they really are interested in extending him past his last year of contractual control in 2020.
The main improvement has come from Andrelton’s increased Hard% (hard hit rate) over the last two seasons. In 2017 he had a Hard% of 29.2% and in 2018 he jumped to 36%. Both of these numbers exceed his career average of 27.4%.
Also over those same two years, he has become more of a pull hitter. In 2017 he had a 45.3% Pull% and in 2018 it jumped to 51%, both higher than his career 42.3% Pull%.
When you combine the harder hit balls to the pull-side along with slight increases in his isolated power (ISO), it has allowed Simmons to place the ball more in the outfield grass. BABIP has been favorable to Andrelton so that could possibly normalize but the changes in ISO and Hard% are probably real advancements that have led to the higher BABIP number so it is not too much of a concern.
In the end he has matured as a hitter and it looks like those changes are here to stay resulting in overall better plate performance that should continue for at least the next couple of seasons, if not longer.
To get a real taste and flavor of how good Andrelton Simmons is on defense, you need to perform a historical comparison of shortstops. Below is a table listing all shortstops from 2002-2018 with a minimum of 1000 innings played sorted by FanGraphs ‘DEF’ metric divided by total innings played to convert it to a rate statistic:
Other than perhaps Nick Punto, no one else really comes close to Simmons consistent defensive rates. Even Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 innings agrees:
In comparison to the nearest active player on the list, Francisco Lindor, who is also considered a fine defensive shortstop, Andrelton exceeds him by 32.5% in Def/Inn and by almost 50% in UZR/150!
The point being made here is that Simmons is a truly gifted defensive player at the most defense-critical position in baseball. Due to the ‘Def’ and ‘UZR’ statistics being imprecise and a lack of quality information for previous generations it is hard to slot Andrelton in on a list of all-time great shortstops (think Mark Belanger, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken, Art Fletcher, Ernie Banks, et al) but you have to think he would give any of them a real run for their money.
Eppler has made team defense a very high priority, particularly up-the-middle defense (C, SS, 2B, and CF) and if the Angels want to continue that pursuit of excellence keeping a guy like Simmons on the team would make a lot of sense.
If Andrelton gets injured, the Angels currently have a backup option in Zack Cozart, himself a quality defensive shortstop, and Luis Rengifo down in the high Minors if things get really rough.
The Steamer projection system sees Andrelton hovering just below his 3-year running average of 4.4 WAR at 4 WAR.
When you consider Simmons age (29 years old for most of the 2019 season) and the fact that defense is the first attribute that a player usually sees decline in, expecting a 4-5 WAR season is probably a reasonable hope for Angels fans. In fact his running 3-year average of 4.4 WAR is probably a good target.
If Andrelton exceeds that number fantastic! If he falls short he is still excelling in all likelihood. Either way the Angels are getting what they paid for and more. This is probably the best value trade to-date for Billy Eppler and may go down as the best overall when all is said and done.
Simmons is entering his 2nd to last year of contractual control in 2019. Currently, after the 2020 season is complete he will become a free agent.
The current deal was $58M over 7 years that he signed with the Atlanta Braves, originally, prior to the 2014 season at the tender age of 24 years old. The Halos will pay Andrelton $13M in 2019 and $15M in 2020, albeit at a very team-friendly $8.3M average annual value (AAV) across those two seasons.
It is the author’s opinion that the Angels should seriously consider a contract extension for Simmons. This contract value will vary based on your opinion of how defense-first players decline but let me offer up a rudimentary guess at a potential extension contract.
Below is a table using a standard, basic WAR model, a defensive-decline model that discounts more than the standard model, and a historic comparison model:
The first two models use Simmons 3-year running WAR average as a starting base and then add in a 7% year-to-year inflation and also age-related decline (the standard model) and, in the case of the defensive-decline model, additional negative WAR decline year-to-year.
Now let me be clear: the author does not believe in either the standard or defensive-decline models. They are simply there to show you how WAR is still inaccurate as a tool for contract modeling for defense-first players. No one in their right mind would fork out $284M much less $197M for Andrelton in free agency in the author’s personal opinion (and probably the opinion of many, many others).
This brings us to the historical comparison model which is simply taking two recent comparable players, Elvis Andrus and Troy Tulowitzki, and projecting a Simmons extension offer based on those deals.
Here is Elvis Andrus’ last six years of his current contract that aligns well age-wise with Simmons:
That is approximately $90M over six years and it is an easy case that a 7th year would tack on another $10M-$13M, bringing it up, just above, $100M. There is also an easy case to be made that Simmons is a superior player to Elvis but we will leave that alone for now.
Now here is Troy Tulowitzki’s seven years starting at age 29:
That is $114M in total for those years. There is a reasonable case to be made that Tulowitzki, when healthy, was a better overall player than Andrelton but that too we will not touch here.
Inflation plays a factor here (and that is reflected in Andrus’ contract above) but reasonably there is a case to be made that on a 7-year deal, if it was presented to Andrelton this off-season, an extension contract would probably be somewhere in the $100M-$130M range.
Simmons is clearly a superior defender to Andrus and in fact is a better hitter too. Andrelton has also been a much healthier, consistent player than Tulowitzki so there is a case, overall, that Simmons should be on the higher end of not only the salary range but the WAR range as well.
Previously the author had pegged an estimated 6-year, $102M deal, beginning at the end of 2019, as a target. If the Angels were to jump a year early, it would probably be a 7-year, $120M extension contract.
In the end, the Angels need to manage risk and waiting one more year will give them more information about Simmons health and performance. In the era of analytics more data equals greater knowledge and reduces financial exposure and risk. Waiting one more year is worth it from a front office perspective.
Finally one more thing to consider is the available pool of replacement shortstops in the 2020-2021 off-season. In that off-season, it is a truly uninspiring group of names that includes Freddy Galvis and Jurickson Profar.
However, in the following 2021-2022 off-season you see a more interesting group that includes Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story among others. If the Angels were willing to bridge the 2021 season with a player like Luis Rengifo (himself a potential replacement, perhaps), they could choose to strike at a younger shortstop the year after.
Part of the reason the Angels acquired Zack Cozart in free agency was to add insurance behind Simmons if he were to get injured and was out for an extended period of time.
To be frank Cozart, despite his strong history of good defense at shortstop, is no Andrelton, in terms of defense. To be even more frank you would be hard pressed to find a better overall player at the position, except for perhaps Francisco Lindor or Manny Machado.
Behind Cozart the Angels have depth in the high Minors with Luis Rengifo and, maybe, someone like David Fletcher. Long-term the Angels will need to consider the value of retaining Andrelton versus letting him enter free agency. That decision, based on the above, is more likely to come next off-season, prior to Simmons last year of control, when Eppler has more information to base his final decision on.
Personally, the author believes Andrelton walks on water and would like to see him locked up sooner rather than later but the Angels could feel differently and may have other areas they want to focus their resources on in the future. It should be noted that Eppler almost certainly wants a strong defensive player at shortstop so that will definitely factor in to the strategic five-year outlook.
Andrelton Simmons is a terrific player to have on your team.
He plays exceptional defense at the most defensive-critical position in baseball. His offense is above League-average and his wRC+ of 109, in 2018, was significantly above the League-average at shortstop of 95 wRC+. His in-game instincts and leadership on the field are second-to-none in the game right now. No one on this team takes his own personal mistakes more to heart than Simmons does, which drives him to constantly improve his game.
In the end Andrelton is the type of player you want on your team. He is dedicated and committed to his craft and drives himself to perform at the highest level that he can at all times. That makes him a keeper in my book.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
Let us start this conversation with a game of blind player comparison using information from FanGraphs. One of the names below is Kole Calhoun. Guess the other two without looking (answer in the Summary below):
In order to better understand Kole’s 2018 season we need to break it up into the 1st and 2nd half numbers:
It has been well documented that Calhoun made a significant change to his swing to start the season last year, which resulted in a terrible first half, and then, after a significant disabled list stint, he returned on June 18th, utilizing yet another new stance, which produced far better results.
Clearly whatever he was doing from late June through the end of the season was spot on. His ground ball percentage plummeted 13.4% to 36.1%, his line drive rate shot up to an exceptional 27.1%, and his HR/FB ratio shot up 3% to 16.4%.
The experiment with his swing really appears to have messed with Calhoun’s season as he sought a solution to his inconsistency in 2017. However, the good news is that he finally found the answer when he hit the disabled list and returned a reinvigorated hitter. If he can replicate his 2nd half there will be zero concern about his production in 2019.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR)
So, at 0 WAR, Kole clearly had the worst offensive season of his career. This brings his running 3-year average WAR to 1.8.
Calhoun, just like Upton, is now on the wrong side of 30 years old (he will be age 31 for the 2019 season). Some feel that his struggles in 2017 and 2018 reflect age-related decline but the peripheral numbers (Hard%, BABIP, LD%, etc.) tell a decidedly different tale. Father time will eventually take his toll on Kole but everything regarding his swing changes and the underlying story with respect to his quality of contact point to a competent player.
As we touched on above, Kole turned in a really solid 109 wRC+, in the 2nd half, in comparison to the terrible 51 wRC+ from the 1st half.
It is that 2nd swing change, upon Calhoun’s return from the disabled list, that gives a lot of hope that he will prove a very valuable member of the team in 2019. His isolated power jumped 60 points from the 1st to 2nd half, providing a sparkling .192 ISO. His doubles jumped up, in part to the 27.1% LD% rate, from 5 to 13 from the 1st to 2nd half.
Kole pulled the ball a lot but the primary difference, beyond the defensive shifts, was his ability to loft the ball more, primarily by reducing the number of ground balls he hit and his elevated Hard% rate, which made all the difference in driving the ball past the defenders.
Calhoun has a career .293 BABIP and his 1st half number was .206, while his 2nd half BABIP normalized to .282. It should be expected that, barring more swing changes, he should return to his career number which should generate solid offensive results.
As far as Kole’s defense, FanGraphs ‘Def’ score has not favored him as much as Ultimate Zone Rating has.
FanGraphs gave Calhoun a -3.4 score for 2018 which is a fairly big swing from his 2.0 score in 2017. In fact FanGraphs seems to alternate year-to-year between positive and negative scores in regard to his defense.
UZR/150 however likes Kole’s range in particular and has given him consistently solid scores over the last five seasons, although they too have alternated up and down.
Age tends to hit defense first but there is reason to believe that Calhoun should perform well in the field in 2019, although it may not reach the heights it has in previous seasons. He has always been a hard-working gamer out in right field so the Angels assuredly feel comfortable with his defensive projections for next season.
Of course if Calhoun’s defense begins to noticeably decline, the Angels definitely have other solutions to turn too, in the Minors, such as Jo Adell and Michael Hermosillo, long-term.
All the projection systems agree that Kole should return to his career norms in 2019. A 20-HR, 70+ RBI/Runs type of season seems quite doable for him, likely running a .250/.320/.420 slash line with an approximate 105 wRC+.
This is partly based on Calhoun retaining the 2018, 2nd half performance level he turned in last year but it really is not a stretch to see him get there, so it feels low-risk for a player that has consistently hit those numbers for five of the last six MLB seasons. Expecting a 2.5 WAR season feels right at this stage in his career.
Kole is entering the last guaranteed year of his 3-year, $26M deal he signed prior to the start of the 2017 season.
The jury is still out on whether or not it was a good signing, particularly after his abysmal 2018, but Calhoun still has the 2019 season to redeem himself and if he performs even moderately well, he will have been worth the money paid.
Kole was signed to that deal with the explicit knowledge that the Angels would pivot in a different direction once his guaranteed years expired or at the end of his 2020 option year, if the Angels pick it up.
Right now the Halos have young Jo Adell, who will likely start 2019 in AA or AAA, nearly ready to take over right field duties, probably later this year or to start 2020.
Basically if the Angels are not in contention at the trade deadline, they will almost certainly trade Kole and bring up Adell for the remainder of the season. However, if the Angels are in it, they could go two different routes with one being a trade of Calhoun and promotion of Adell or, if Kole is excelling, they could simply retain him and move him in the off-season.
In the end Adell is the Angels future in right field and rightfully so. Fortunately Calhoun’s contract has the built-in flexibility (his 2020 option year) to allow Jo to come along at his own pace and earn the job, hopefully sooner rather than later.
So with this understanding, Kole will almost certainly start 2019 in right field. If he has trouble producing the Angels will bring up Adell once they have the additional year of control. Otherwise, the teams and Calhoun’s performances will drive what happens next at the Major League level. If Adell struggles in 2019, the Angels will seriously consider exercising Kole’s option year to fill the gap. After that Jo should be on the roster no matter what happens performance-wise.
Hard contact (Hard%) in general is highly sought after in Major League Baseball. It simply means the player is squaring up the ball consistently and with authority. Here are the player answers to our pop quiz above:
Kole Calhoun led the Angels in hard hit percentage (Hard%). Out of 140 qualified hitters in 2018, Calhoun ranked 16th overall in the same category. When you combine his 1st half BABIP and ground ball issues, it becomes pretty clear that his swing adjustment at the start of 2018 was a major factor in his poor 1st half performance and that his second swing adjustment, in mid-June, brought about much better results akin to the Kole we know and love.
A resurgent Calhoun seems like a pretty good bet to make in 2019 and when you combine that logic with his remaining contractual control, he is the best choice and risk for Billy Eppler to make with a talented, athletic player like Jo Adell knocking on the Major League door within the next year.
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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
For 2018, Justin turned in a typical offensive-oriented season, playing below-average defense out of the left field position.
As he had done in the previous two years, he hit the 30-home run threshold while also exceeding 80 runs and runs batted in with a handful of stolen bases to boot.
Although his strikeouts were elevated, his walk and on-base percentages hovered around his career averages.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR)
In 2018, Upton was worth 3.1 WAR. This is 0.3 WAR below his 3-year running average of 3.4 WAR. Out of 22 qualified left fielders, he ranked 9th overall in WAR for 2018.
Justin is now on the wrong side of 30 years old (he will be age 31 for most of 2019) but age-related decline will probably not be an issue near-term. Aging is different for every player, so we will discuss it here, in the future, once there is evidence that his production is in decline.
Last season Justin produced a 124 wRC+ over 613 plate appearances (PA’s). This is in-line with his career average of 121 wRC+ and his durability on the field, as this was his 8th consecutive season with 600 or more PA’s. Out of 22 qualified left fielders, he ranked 6th in wRC+ for 2018.
Upton’s Isolated Power (ISO) was down for the year but that was primarily due to a significant number of doubles that turned into singles in 2018. In the previous two seasons he hit 28 and 44 doubles, respectively, in comparison to the 18 he hit last season.
This is likely due to an off-nominal hit distribution (sample size noise) because Justin had his highest hard-hit rate (Hard%) of his career in 2018 at 43.8%. Additionally, he pulled the ball more than usual exceeding his career average by 12.4%. The latter may be intentional as the Angels had the highest pull rate (Pull%) in baseball.
It should be noted however that Upton’s ground ball (GB%) rate was 2.3% higher than his career average, while his fly ball (FB%) was 4.5% lower than his career average. This is probably the primary reason why some of those doubles were converted to singles.
As a final note Justin stole 8 bases on a total of 10 attempts. He has never been an overly prolific base stealer (his high was 21 in 2011) and seems to prefer picking selective spots to run on opposing pitchers to keep his success rate at a productive level.
Justin turned in another typical below-average season defensively, roaming the left field corner.
FanGraphs ‘Def’ score rated him at -7.2, which is not great, but it is not the worst. Out of 22 qualified left fielders, Upton ranked 17th based on the ‘Def’ metric.
Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR/150) was a bit kinder to Justin, giving him slightly above-average marks for range and errors, but still nicked him with an overall negative score.
This has been a known quantity for some time now and at some point over the next two years, likely after Albert Pujols retires, the Angels, if they have not traded Justin, may move him to first base or designated hitter for the remainder of his contract as the team will likely have better defensive outfielders to place there in Brandon Marsh and Jordyn Adams or potentially sliding Mike Trout over if his defense declines in center field.
The Steamer projection system sees Upton producing a nearly identical slash line in 2019 as he produced in 2018.
This makes sense considering the stage Justin is at in his career and his likely spot as a middle-of-the-order hitter in the Angels 2019 lineup. The offense may hover up and down based on how the final batting order shakes out but it should be a similar result unless Upton kicks it into a higher gear and gives us one of his not oft-seen 4+ WAR seasons.
Upton will be entering the 2nd season of a 5-year, $106M contract he signed at the end of the 2017 season.
So far, the Angels have received exactly what they have paid for and perhaps a little more, so it has worked out for both sides to-date.
Justin will very likely stick around through at least 2020, as the Angels have some high-quality prospects (Marsh and Adams mentioned above) in the pipeline but they are both probably two years away from making an impact at the Major League level.
Even then the Angels could decide, if Upton continues to perform well offensively, to have Justin make the aforementioned move to first base or designated hitter if they want to keep his bat in the fold and improve the team defensively.
If Billy Eppler decides to move J-Up in trade, the team will likely need to eat some salary if they want to get a truly significant prospect or prospects back in return as his surplus value is effectively negligible.
Based on Upton’s contractual length and commitment of team resources (money), it is very unlikely that the Angels will trade him. As indicated above he has minimal surplus trade value, at this time, and the Angels have no readily available options that will give them the production value Justin has provided and is projected to produce.
So with this understanding, he is a near-lock to start the season with the Halos and will likely be on the 2020 roster as well. After that the Angels will probably have other options to consider that could push Upton to a different position or allow the Angels to move him in trade.
Justin has been exactly what the Angels have asked for to-date.
He is a strong hitter behind Trout that forces opposing pitchers to pick and choose whether they want to face Mike or take their chances with Upton. Based on who the Halos place in the lead-off spot, the lineup will likely be a 2-3-4 of Trout, Upton, and Ohtani which is a formidable trio, particularly against right-handed pitchers. This should present Upton with plenty of opportunities to succeed.
Right now, Justin is a core piece of this offense that is a liability on the field. Eppler knew this going into the deal and Upton has held up his end of the bargain heading into the 2nd year of his contract and is expected to provide fair value over the remainder.
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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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