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AngelsWin.com
Mike TroutLos Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout dives for a fly ball against the Seattle Mariners in a baseball game Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer

Today the Los Angeles Angels announced they have signed SS Zack Cozart to a 3 year, $38M contract.

Now, of course, the Angels will not use Cozart at SS because they have an even better defensive player at the position in Andrelton Simmons (and this is saying a lot because Zack plays elite level defense at SS). Instead Zack will be taking his talents to the hot corner where he will join Andrelton and Ian in what can only be described as a defensive black hole where baseballs go to die.

Eppler has certainly held true to his words about trying to fill every position around the diamond with above average defensive players. Barring Pujols he has essentially reached this goal with the additions of Upton, Kinsler, and now Cozart.

If you are a casual fan you may not be seeing the full value in the acquisitions Billy has made this off-season and how it contributes to our increased odds of success in 2018.

Pictures speak a thousand words and videos speak ten thousand so let us take a little walk down memory lane to better illustrate how truly sick the Los Angeles Angels defense will be next season (note there are offensive highlights mixed into some of these videos):

Mike Trout

Andrelton Simmons

Martin Maldonado

Ian Kinsler

Zack Cozart

Link to MLB highlights, here.

Justin Upton

Kole Calhoun

It cannot be stressed enough how special team defense will be in 2018.

Yes the Angels have improved their lineup as well and that should be a more productive unit, one through nine in the order, but this is perhaps the finest defensive team in baseball heading into 2018 and beyond. It will be a real treat to watch!


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AngelsWin.com
Prospect: Torii Hunter Jr.
Rank: 25
2016: UR
Position(s): OF
Level: Rookie Ball
Age: Entering Age 23 season in 2018.
Height: 6’2” – Weight: 180 lb.
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Floor: Minor League Depth
Ceiling: All-star caliber starting OF in the major leagues
Likely Outcome: “Third tier” starting OF or 4th OF in the major leagues

Summary: Torii Hunter Jr. is such a unique case among prospects that it’s no use trying to find any sort of a precedent.  Torii isn’t the first ball player to leave the gridiron in favor of the diamond.  In fact that’s becoming more and more common.  He is the first that I’ve known about with the inherent advantage of growing up in a major league clubhouse.  While these things don’t show up on a scouting report, the intangibles that come with it are invaluable.  Watching the way dad and his teammates prepare for a game everyday.  Watching the motion, seeing the workouts, being there for the long days, seeing the behavior in the clubhouse, noticing the subtle nuances of fielding or hitting, and watching how a team reacts to a loss or a win.  In every sense of the word, Torii Hunter Jr. is as experienced as any veteran major leaguer in how to be a teammate.

It’s intangibles like this that made Hunter Jr. captain of the most prestigious college football team in America, the University of Notre Dame.  It’s intangibles like this that will allow Torii Hunter Jr. to assimilate and to adapt to fit the needs of a prospect trying to make it to the majors.

But those aren’t the only reasons Hunter Jr. is unique.  With Torii, you really have to throw out any age-development curve you’d expect to have  for a prospect.  Torii played wide receiver at Notre Dame for three years before deciding to give professional baseball a try.  Sure, he picked up a bat and ran around the field a couple times playing baseball at Notre Dame, but it clearly wasn’t his focus.  However, the Angels drafted him in the 23rd round, and because of injuries sustained on the gridiron, Torii decided to give baseball a try.  He signed an overslept bonus of $100,000 to play for the Angels, and the Angels themselves thought this was a very worthy investment, given Hunter Jr’s tremendous upside.

And make no mistake, that is why Hunter Jr. is one of our top prospects.  Upside.  Many prospects are near finished developing age 23, or at least half way there.  But not Hunter, he’s more in line with a high school junior or senior in terms of his playing experience and rawness.

Torii Jr. is more athletic than his father, which says something.  He covers more ground in the outfield and is faster around the bases.  But Hunter Sr. was a stronger prospect, more refined, with those his own set of intangibles (willing to do whatever it took to succeed).

Hunter Jr. in his first season of professional ball showed a ton of ability to make contact with the ball, but still wasn’t quite so comfortable in the box to take advantage of his strength.  But he did show a very advanced feel for the strike zone given the lengthy layoff since high school.  Tori did struggle with recognizing breaking pitches, which is normal at this stage of development.  On the base paths, Hunter Jr. could absolutely fly, but wasn’t as aggressive at stealing bases as he could be.  In the beginning, he had a hard time reading pitchers, but as the season wore on Hunter Jr. looked very comfortable.  In the outfield, he covers as much ground as Trout or Bourjos did as prospects, which is to say he covers a HUGE amount of acreage.  He’s got a quick first step and a solid average arm.

The most promising thing about Hunter Jr. has to be the adjustments he made as the season progressed.  In the first half of the season in Orem, he hit a solid .310 and wasn’t walking nearly as often as he could be.  The second half of the year he hit nearly .380 and more than doubled his walk rate.  This suggests that Torii’s athleticism will allow him to make the adjustments and succeed in minor league baseball, if he wants it as much as his father did.

But again, with Hunter I won’t focus on if he makes it to the majors by the time he’s 24 as most solid prospects should, more that he’s ready to succeed at the major league level when he’s in his physical prime (age 26-32).

What to expect next season: This is a difficult one to write.  The Angels may see that he’s embarking on his age 23 season and aggressively promote him to a more age-appropriate level and get him to Advanced A Ball and AA by  the end of the season, or they may throw the age-development curve out the window and just go as quickly as Hunter Jr. is prepared for (the second one is much more likely).  I’d expect to see Hunter Jr. likely split the season next year between A Ball and Advanced A Ball.  As the pitching continues to get better and better, Hunter will likely need to make adjustments, so for me, I won’t be looking at the overall line as much as I’ll be comparing how he looked at the beginning, middle and end. I know it isn’t saber-friendly, but it is scouting friendly.  I’ll also be looking for Hutner Jr. to begin feeling comfortable enough to put a charge into the ball more frequently and record more doubles and triples.  Home runs may come later.

Estimated Time of Arrival: 2021, Torii’s age 26 season.
Grade as a prospect: C+
Grades are given from the 20-80 scouting scale.  20-being non-existent ability, 80-being the best I’ve ever seen.  MLB average is 50.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70. 

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AngelsWin.com
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Introduce Shohei OhtaniANAHEIM, CA – DECEMBER 09: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim owner Arte Moreno introduces Shohei Ohtani to the team at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on December 9, 2017 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

 

I’m still a bit giddy about the Angels signing Shohei Ohtani. Attending the press conference was an incredible experience, and I was thrilled to get to ask a question on behalf of the fans.

 

As I’m processing all the information that came out, I had some thoughts on the signing and the implications going forward. Rather than write a series of long columns, I’m just going to get the thoughts out in bullet form. These are all just opinions, but, they have been the ones that have been dominating my thoughts since the press conference.

 

*  Watching Ohtani in the press conference, he has a lot of poise. I, like many others, was surprised at his sense of humor and his humility. Having interviewed many of our prospects, it’s often hard for younger players to be able to handle the pressure of interviews. They often struggle giving answers to open-ended questions. For a long time, the Angels haven’t had a player who could give great post-game quotes. Ohtani looks like he will make for some great lines which will make reading about the Angels a lot more fun.

 

*  Physically, I was surprised by how big he was. Prior to the press conference, I only had pictures and video to go off of, which often doesn’t give an accurate size comparison. Sometimes, when I meet players for the first time, especially prospects, I have one impression going in and come away with an entirely different impression. In the case of Ohtani, he really did impress as someone with a power arm and a power bat potential.

 

*  About nicknames, I directly asked Ohtani if he had any nicknames to date or if he had any good luck items that he liked to see on signs. He said “I saw some guys out there with Ohtani jerseys already, so that made me very happy. But, I don’t really have a nickname, so hopefully they [the fans] will come up with one.” Right now, I’m partial to Sho-Time, especially on games that he pitches. But I also know that there are plenty of fans with better ideas out there. I encourage you to do so!

 

*  As much as fans like to worry about Mike Trout, and whether he’d stay long-term as an Angel, I think we have a good answer to that question. Clearly, talking with Mike Trout made an incredible impression on Shohei. Whatever Mike Trout said or did during the meeting was pivotal in the decision-making process. I can’t imagine Mike Trout playing that instrumental a role for an organization that he didn’t like long-term. And, I know the Angels will do everything to keep Mike Trout as an Angel. So, I’m even more excited about watching these two phenomenal players spend many years together in Anaheim.

 

*  If you’ve been on the fence about buying Angels season ticket plans, you really should do so now. The excitement is palpable. It hasn’t felt like that since the Angels signed Pujols. There is definitely something in the air, and I expect Angels tickets will be selling at a premium, especially on games when he pitches. I remember going to watch Nolan Ryan pitch, but wasn’t old enough to buy the tickets. But, in talking with those who did, they’d always talk about the crowds swelling on days he pitched. With Ohtani, I fully expect the same thing. And, in talking with Scioscia, he’s not ready to commit to any Opening Day starter at this point, so trying to calculate what days Ohtani will pitch will be nearly impossible. At the very least, I’d strongly encourage people to buy at least a 20-game mini plan.

 

*  More on the schedule: I have no doubt that the Angels will add more promotional items next season related to Ohtani. From what I was told, the Angels sold out of Ohtani jerseys prior to the press conference. With the way that Ohtani spoke, and connected with the fans, I can easily see him becoming highly marketed. You will want those items, so again, I’d consider getting a 20-game mini plan at the least.

 

*  I asked Billy Eppler about the dueling trades for international money with Minnesota. He didn’t want to get into the fan narrative that trade was made solely for Ohtani or that it was a dueling trade with the Mariners. He said that the Angels have some “agreements in principle” in reference to the Braves prospects, but that they hadn’t been finalized before the Ohtani signing. He said that the Angels weren’t sure about the timing of the deals with the prospects and Ohtani, and that the Pearson deal was made with overall strategy to maximize the Angels’ flexibility. With extra international money that they received in the trade, the Angels could switch the pool of money used for the Braves prospects in the event they lost out on Ohtani. As much as fans wanted to make more of it as a competing deal with the Mariners, I think that is more of a fan narrative. As confirmed, though, Ohtani will get the entire amount of the Angels’ remaining international money.

 

*  The Angels are going to be busy at the Winter Meetings. They may or may not make any trades or signings during this week specifically, but from all appearances, they expect a long and busy week in Florida. They are definitely less interested in upgrading 1B, but, I don’t think they’d pass up a good deal to improve the position. Albert will hopefully cover the position for about 50 games a season. I expect him to get more rest this year–maybe resting on day games after night games, especially if he starts the night game. So, I can’t entirely rule out an upgrade to 1B, but definitely see 2B as an absolute priority, followed by adding to the rotation, and upgrading 3B. Anything beyond that, such as a bullpen arm, would be gravy.

 

*  Why the concern about upgrading the rotation? The Angels really seem open to the idea of a 6-man rotation. That would keep Ohtani on his usual schedule, and might cut down on the wear-and-tear on the rest of our starters. Don’t be surprised if we are connected with several (or every) mid-tier pitching FAs or possible trades.

 

*  If we go to a 6-man rotation, we will be down to a slim bench. I can see the need for adding a defensive SS/2B utility player to provide backup. David Fletcher, one of our Minor League prospects who can play both positions will become more important next year for depth. I think he will stay in AAA next year to keep developing his bat, but, I do think that he will get a long look in Spring Training.

 

*  Scioscia really will be flexible with how he develops Ohtani in Spring Training. There really isn’t a rule book on this. And, as Scioscia pointed out, Spring Training will be shorter this year than in years past. So, he and the Angels will be working closely with Ohtani and his people to develop a plan to get him ready for the season as both a pitcher and a hitter. There will be some experimentation, but Ohtani will be in the driver’s seat on the whole process.

 

*  As fans, we all need to remember that Ohtani is still just 23. Most players that age are still in the Minor Leagues. As much as Scioscia and Eppler raved about Ohtani’s pitching and hitting, and talked about his potential, they also wanted us to know that Ohtani is still developing. Regardless of what happens, we, as fans, need to take it in stride. If Ohtani struggles with one aspect of his game, we need to have patience. Let’s resist the urge to overreact to every little detail of the season. There’s no doubt that Ohtani is a special talent, but everyone struggles at some point. Let’s not let our passions overcome our reason, and let’s remember, he is a 23 year old player trying to do something at the Major League level that hasn’t been done in a long time. There may be some growing pains, but that’s okay.

 

*  The Angels are going to need another press box. The amount of coverage that Ohtani will generate will be staggering. The current press box holds very few people, and in no way could accommodate all the media that will be in attendance. I could easily see the Angels taking one seldom used section, maybe way out in the 400s/500s and turning it into another press box. One or two advertisements in the stadium could easily pay for that improvement.

 

*  In trying to figure out how important this deal was for the Angels, I tried to estimate how much of an increase signing Ohtani would make to the Angels value as a franchise. With this move, the Angels became a global brand, and I can easily see this adding up to $500 million in value to the franchise, and possibly more, depending on how well Ohtani does as a player. With the potential for international marketing, broadcasting rights, etc., it will be interesting to see how Forbes ranks the value of the franchise in the future.

 

I’m sure there are a lot more thoughts and opinions that will come up in the ensuing days. But, these are the ones that I’ve been thinking about the most so far.

 

 

 

 


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AngelsWin.com

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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer

Last week, in a move that shocked many baseball fans, the Los Angeles Angels signed Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani to a Minor League contract via the MLB-Japanese international posting system.

This means that the Angels, despite the very real odds they will give Shohei an extension contract in the next 1-3 years, control him for six full seasons, three at pre-arbitration prices (i.e. league minimum) and three via the standard arbitration process.

Ohtani selected the Angels, in-part, because of the promise by the club to utilize him as a two-way player just like his old team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, did in Japan.

Shohei features a fastball that can regularly hit triple digits and averages 97 mph over the course of a season. He has at least three other off-speed pitches that evaluators consider plus weapons so the Angels have to feel very lucky to have found such a key piece to their off-season puzzle on the mound.

However there have been a lot of questions regarding Ohtani’s potential contributions on the position player side of the ball.

Based on the following three facts we can better define Shohei’s likely impact when he is not pitching out of the rotation:

  1. In Japan, Ohtani pitched every 6th day and on the days before and after he did not hit or play in the field so the Angels will almost certainly stick to that routine
  2. Billy Eppler clearly stated that Shohei will not play in the outfield in 2018
  3. Ohtani will likely be limited to designated hitter or, maybe, first base duty

So if Billy Eppler and Mike Scioscia follow 1., above, we can infer the following about his maximum games started on the offensive/defensive side of the ball:

  1. In a 162 game season, if the Angels utilize a 6-man rotation, Shohei will start 27 games
  2. If he is starting 27 games that means Ohtani will not be hitting/playing in the game before and after the game he starts, resulting in an approximate, additional 54 games he does not participate in
  3. Those 27 games he starts plus the 54 games he does not participate in as part of his routine results in 81 games, or half the season, that he can potentially hit in or play the field if that is what the Angels and Shohei agree too

Now to be clear 81 games is the absolute maximum the Angels will allow Ohtani to participate in and, in reality, the number will probably be lower at least in his first season in the Majors.

You have to remember that despite his youthfulness and special talent he is coming to a new country, trying to speak a language he has not yet mastered, is assimilating with a new team, and is playing at the highest level of professional baseball while trying to be a two-way player in an increasingly specialized game.

For the Angels, the signing of Shohei actually changes the dynamic a bit of how they approach the rest of their off-season acquisitions. Although it improves the team immensely in the rotation it could change how the Angels were going to approach a potential upgrade at 1B and 3B now that Ohtani will fill DH/1B duty on a part-time basis.

To get a better picture we will create a partially filled matrix of projected games that our current position player roster will start in 2018. This matrix makes the following reasonable assumptions:

  1. Each player’s projection will be relatively close to last season’s actual number of games started
  2. C.J. Cron will be traded for a prospect or reliever either singularly or in a package deal
  3. In the case of Albert Pujols, the team has suggested he might get more recovery days so we have reduced his projection by 10 games and will assume that he starts no more than 50 games at 1B
  4. Although Shohei Ohtani could potentially play 81 games maximum, we will make a more cautious estimate of 60 games started at DH in 2018
  5. We will make an assumption that the Angels acquire a full-time 2B to start the bulk of games at the keystone
  6. Luis Valbuena will likely only start games against RHP so we have estimated 110 GS for him in 2018 no matter if he plays at 3B or 1B

OhtaniPlayingTimeMatrix2018.PNG

So as you can see the primary need is at 1B and platoon partners at 3B and C. The rest of the positions only need a part-time backup.

In fact you can make an additional set of reasonable assumptions based on recent acquisitions and the sparse number of starts likely available in the middle infield and outfield:

  1. Based on the strong starting trio in the outfield, the backup 4th outfielder is unlikely to start too many games (21 games based on the estimates above), making this backup outfielder position a lower priority than we thought (also as evidenced by the Minor League signing of Rymer Liriano)
  2. In the Primer Series Backstop Edition we spoke of the need for a left-handed hitting catcher to backup Martin Maldonado and, as you can see, that backup projects for approximately 27 GS behind the oft-used Machete, making this a probable lower priority as well, perhaps even unnecessary with backups like Perez, Briceno, and Casali as options
  3. Our backup middle infielder will also see very few games if the Angels do acquire a full-time 2B to pair with Simmons at SS (9 games only) making this, too, a very low priority this off-season
  4. Finally the extra duty potentially needed at 1B and 3B will require the Angels to get creative in filling those spots

Based on the notes from above let us fill in the matrix further to get a better picture of where the Angels are potentially at in their roster building process:

OhtaniPlayingTimeMatrix2018IntermediateFillIn

So if Luis Valbuena really is the 3B starter in 2018, the Angels clearly need to have a backup behind him that hits LHP’s well to pick up those approximate 52 games based on a typical 70/30 split (RHP/LHP) on the diamond for any particular day. This leaves 112 games at 1B and 12 games at DH open.

As I see it the Angels have a few different routes they can go:

  1. Keep some combination of Luis Valbuena and another corner infielder, such as Mike Moustakas, mixing up time between 3B and 1B to soak up most of the 52 GS against LHP’s plus the 112 GS remaining at 1B and the 12 GS remaining at DH (the remaining surplus can be filled from other backups)
  2. The Angels could, alternatively, add a left-handed hitting backup catcher like Alex Avila and allow him to play 1B, too, against RHP which could allow Eppler to consolidate the MIF and CIF roles to one player and go out and acquire a multi-position player to eat up the approximate 100 GS at 1B (29), 2B (7), SS (2), 3B (52), and DH (12) that would remain (maybe, as Jeff Fletcher suggested, Eduardo Nunez or, perhaps, Martin Prado)
  3. Finally the Angels could target a corner outfielder that can also play 1B, like Jose Bautista for example, or even a full Swiss army knife-type guy like Ben Zobrist or Javier Baez that can play all over the map which could free up a 25-man roster spot for another reliever if the Angels go with a 6-man rotation

The advantage of option 1., above, is that you obtain a real full-time corner infielder like Mike Moustakas, Jake Lamb, or even a prospect like Ryan McMahon. It leaves the Angels with a very standard four-man bench with the backup catcher and utility outfielder and middle infielders all struggling for playing time.

Option 2., might be the least expensive route to go but it relies more on the health of the left-handed hitting catcher acquired because if he goes on the DL, the Angels will have to fill the vacancy off their bench or from the Minors. The advantage though is that the Angels can acquire a player like Nunez or Prado that can play approximately 100 games around the diamond and free up an extra roster spot for a reliever.

The last option, 3., is similar to option 2 except you are going after either an outfielder that can play 1B, primarily, while soaking up time in the corner outfield and DH spots or you are going after a true multi-positional guy who can play anywhere. This too would have the advantage of freeing up a roster spot for a reliever.

In the end the Angels will probably best be served by ensuring that their new 2B and new 1B/3B/DH/OF guys can hit from both sides of the plate as the Angels really need competent hitters that do not need to be platooned. Expect the Angels to be tied to several solid hitters that can play 2B, 1B, and 3B in the coming days.

Names like Cesar Hernandez, Jason Kipnis, Ian Kinsler, Mike Moustakas, Jake Lamb, Eugenio Suarez, Neil Walker, Zack Cozart, Yandy Diaz, Brad Miller, Martin Prado, Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist, Brandon Belt, Freddie Freeman, Matt Carpenter, Jose Abreu, Carlos Santana, Chase Headley, Ryan McMahon, Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Lonnie Chisenhall, Kyle Schwarber, Jose Bautista, J.D. Martinez, and Jay Bruce may be players the Angels are targeting, possibly, among others.


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AngelsWin.com
Prospect: Troy Montgomery
Rank: 26
2016: 18
Position(s): OF
Level: AA
Age: Entering Age 23 season in 2018.
Height: 5’10” – Weight: 190 lb.
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Floor: Minor League Depth
Ceiling: Starting OF in the major leagues
Likely Outcome: 4th OF or AAA OF in the majors and minors

Summary: Montgomery is just one of those dependable, solid players that you wish you had more of on the farm.  He hustles between the foul lines, doesn’t throw a fit when his screws up or doesn’t get his way, hassles pitchers on the base paths and forces pitchers to work to get him out.  This isn’t to say Montgomery is a future star, but it is to say you’ll rarely see him not working to better himself, and you’ll rarely ever find yourself saying, “if he had just done this….”  Montgomery does everything within his power to succeed on the diamond.  Hardworking grinders such as this tend to make the most out of their skill sets and that’s precisely what Montgomery is.

If he does make it to the major leagues, Montgomery is immediately one of those players that would endear himself to fans with his all out style of play, hustle and game IQ.  From a physical standpoint, I don’t believe he’ll ever be better than an average major league hitter that lacks power but gets on base and can run a little bit.  But I do think he’d profile well as a 4th outfielder because of his defensive acumen and the aforementioned ability to work a count and reach base.  If not, as I said before, he’s the type of player you wish you had more of in your organization.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see Troy cut a niche for himself as one of those OF that plays for several teams and start the season in AAA but ends up turning in a few solid major league campaigns as a reserve.

What to expect next season: It was great to see Montgomery work his way up to AA in his first full season of professional ball.  While Montgomery struggled there, I do not believe the talent level exceeds his own, and I certainly don’t believe he won’t succeed due to a lack of work ethic.  I expect Troy will spend the year in AA and I expect his numbers will be drastically improved a season before.

Estimated Time of Arrival: 2020, Troy’s age 25 season.
Grade as a prospect: C
Grades are given from the 20-80 scouting scale.  20-being non-existent ability, 80-being the best I’ve ever seen.  MLB average is 50.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70. 

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AngelsWin.com

Ohtani 1

By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

Angels fans, what a day! We just pulled off the best signing of the offseason. From the 30-team derby, we emerged as the finalist and signed Shohei Ohtani. If you don’t know who that is by now, check your internet connection.

Every baseball team wanted him. Every baseball team could use him. We needed him. And we got him.

It’s hard to imagine for younger fans, but there was a long period of time when the Angels didn’t get players of this caliber. There was a time when we were an after thought for a player or agent. When all else had been exhausted, or a star wanted to extend his career by a year or two, maybe he’d come to the Angels. We didn’t get young, in their prime players, especially international players. We didn’t beat out the likes of the Yankees, Dodgers, or Red Sox when it came to signing talent.

Sure, we had some splashes. When Gene Autry ran the team, especially in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he made some splashes. And, we made it to the playoffs three times from ’79-’86. But, we never seemed to sustain it. And, after the ’86 season, Gene’s interest and commitment seemed to taper off. By the ’90s, when Jackie Autry was running the team, we had shrunk to a “small market” team. We were on a downhill trajectory, and at one point, were in danger of contraction.

When Disney bought the team, they didn’t seem to know what to do with it. They tried to make it more “Disneyish” with periwinkle uniforms and cheerleaders. But, they also wanted to run it as a stand-alone enterprise, capped their spending, and never really integrated it into their overall corporate enterprise. The one time they made a big splash, Mo Vaughn, he fell on his first play of his first game in the visitor’s dugout. Needless to say, it didn’t work out well for us, or him, and we were still an afterthought until 2002.

When Arte Moreno came along, he had a plan of what he wanted to do with the Angels organization. As he told us at our Spring Training Fanfest, he wanted raise the overall trajectory of the Angels. He wanted to raise our overall profile and our floor so that we would be a West Coast championship team now and forever. He didn’t see us as a small market team–he saw us as a large market, and then took steps to achieve that. He didn’t want to win just one World Series, he wanted us to compete for the World Series every year.

For younger Angels fans, it’s hard to imagine what it was like before. While there are many similarities between Arte and Gene (both strike/struck me as handshake individuals where their word was their bond, and both struck me as guys who really care about the fans and want to win), Arte has done what Gene never did–he raised the franchise’s profile and made us a large market team.  He’s raised our budget year after year, raised our brand, and made us a series player in overall scheme of baseball. He didn’t just do splashes, he committed to the team for the long haul.

And today, Mr. Moreno did it again. He took us from a large market team to a global market team. It is truly hard to put an estimate on how much signing Shohei Ohtani raises our global recognition, but needless to say, besides having the best player in the game with Mike Trout, we just signed the premiere player from Japan, who may just become one of the best players in the game. And, we didn’t do it after he reached his prime–we got Ohtani for the prime of his career! The Los Angeles Angels will be known and seen worldwide, and we will have fans everywhere.

While we will never know all the details that led to us signing Shohei Ohtani, there’s one thing that I do know–Arte Moreno was involved in this. When we signed Albert Pujols, one of the comments that Albert made was that he liked his meeting with the Morenos (both Arte and his wife) and how comfortable the Morenos made them feel. At the press conference for Josh Hamilton, he too made the same comment. The only time I ever heard players talk about the owner liked that was when I talked with old-time Angels players who would reminisce about playing for the Cowboy, and how much they enjoyed his passion.

As much as Billy Eppler, our GM, deserves credit for making this deal happen, and many other anonymous people in the front office, I firmly believe that having Arte as our owner made a big difference. It was his salesmanship, his vision for the franchise, his passion for the team that gave us our best shot at landing Ohtani. He combined the best of Autry with his own long-term desire for a championship organization to put us in a position to make this signing ahppen.

Think about it: if you were a player like Ohtani, would you want to do with a corporate front office or a passionate owner? If you could pick from any Major League team, wouldn’t you want an owner who is as much a fan of the team as the people in the stands? I know I would. And I know Arte Moreno is that kind of owner.

Angels fans, today was a great signing. With one move, Arte just raised our franchise’s trajectory again, and in a very positive way. The offseason isn’t even over, and we have infinitely improved our team for now and forever. No matter what happens on the field, we are very lucky that we have him as our owner. And, thanks to him, we now have Ohtani on our team.

It’s a great time to be an Angels fan.


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636462592327376896-AP-MLB-OTANI-BASEBALL-93749080

By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer

What seemed impossible at the beginning of the off-season has now turned into a very sharp reality as the Los Angeles Angels signed Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani per Joel Sherman on Twitter.

In one fell swoop Billy Eppler, as we discussed at the end of our Eppler Strategy section in the Angelswin.com 2018 Primer Series, has smeared his fingerprints all over the 2017-2018 off-season, setting a course, full-speed ahead, toward a much stronger future for the Angels franchise.

Not only is Shohei Ohtani going to lead the Angels rotation with an average 97 mile per hour fastball he is going to hit out of the designated hitter spot on a regular basis adding a nice left-handed bat with power to our lineup.

Ohtani not only lengthens and strengthens our starting pitching staff he can combine with current team ace Garrett Richards for a 1-2 punch in the playoffs creating a dynamic duo that will give the Halos a real fighting chance to make a deep push toward another World Series Championship.

Beyond his actual ability, Shohei will have a significant impact to team payroll and to overall team finances.

Ticket sales should hit an all-time high as the excitement for the 2018 season crests and overflows the dam. Ohtani’s popularity will bleed over into Anaheim and almost certainly drive up merchandise sales and interest in the “Babe Ruth of Japan”.

Most importantly though, the Angels will control Shohei for at least the next six seasons and maybe longer if Eppler winds up extending him at some point down the road. Per the International signing rules, Ohtani must be treated like a normal drafted prospect meaning he is controlled for three years of pre-arbitration, making the League minimum salary, and then three years of arbitration control.

Of course it is likely that the Angels will give him an extension contract in the next 1-3 years before he hits arbitration. Major League Baseball will be watching this situation closely as they are prepared to punish the Angels if they see any improper conduct in the way Eppler and company handle their new found prospect.

The important thing to understand is this: Shohei will, at least for 2018, only add $545,000 to team payroll! This means the Angels still have a lot of payroll flexibility this year and possibly longer (perhaps for 2019 and 2020 as well) so Eppler’s ability to continue improving the team will go unhindered across the remainder of the off-season.

Here at Angelswin.com we believed that this off-season could provide a dramatic turn for the Angels fortunes and, with the signing of Shohei Ohtani today, Billy Eppler will continue to make a full-court press to help the Los Angeles Angels return to dominance in the American League West.

Tip of the hat to Arte Moreno, Billy Eppler, and the entire front office staff!


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Prospect: Luis Pena
Rank: 26
2016: UR
Position(s): RightHanded Pitcher
Level: Rookie Ball
Age: Entering Age 19 season in 2018.
Height: 5’11” – Weight: 190 lb.
____________________________________________________________________

        Present        Future

Fastball          60                     65
Slider              60                     65
Change           55                     55
Mechanics    40                     50
Command     40                     50
Control          40                     45
Overall           45                     55
Floor: Extended reliever in AA/AAA.  
Ceiling: Mid-Rotation fireballer.
Likely Outcome: Set up man/middle reliever.
Summary: With players like Pena in your system, there will always come the age old question, “starter or reliever?”

The Angels to their credit, have no problem developing a pitcher as a starter until it becomes more than obvious that continuing to do so would be a detriment to the player.  And believe it or not, logic stands with them.  Take J.C. Ramirez and Parker Bridwell for example.  Both starters in the low minors and both struggled in that role, both transitioned to relief in the upper minors, both weren’t entirely successful pitching in relief, both were acquired by the Angels for cheap, and both turned into very serviceable starters.

And so we have Luis Pena.  In any other system, he’d never had toed the rubber in a starting role.  He isn’t built like a starter, he’s built like a Fernando Rodney type of reliever.  His delivery is not that of a starters, too much effort, throws across his body.  His control is not that of a starter, but that of a reliever that throws in the mid to high 90’s.  His breaking ball is too good to be a starter’s too.  It’s too sharp, thrown too violently.  No way his elbow could take that sort of stress.  Then there’s the change up to consider.  It’s a really good change up, except he can’t throw it for a strike, or even dictate where it will end up.

And yet he remains a starter.

When Pena was starting in A Ball, it was an understandable function of an A Ball roster.  It’s normal to have a reliever or starter piggyback and go three innings at a time.  But when we entered the 2017 season with Pena still listed as a starter, and not the piggyback type in the Cal League, that was a head scratcher.  What could the Angels be thinking?

Half way through he year, such critical thinking was more than warranted.  Pena had an ERA over 5.00 and a BB/9 over 5.0.  Yeah, he was striking out a lot of hitters, but he was also putting a ton on base.

Then something magical happened.  The calendar turned from June to July, and it began.  9 IP 1 ER 0 BB 12 K’s.  8 IP 2 ER 0 BB 10 K’s  Before Pena had been walking 5 batters a game.  Now he couldn’t miss.  Such a streak wouldn’t last of course.  Pena began walking two or three batters a start, but nowhere near where he was before.  In fact, in his last five outings in the Cal League, Pena never allowed more than three runs in a game, which is a great result in a hitter friendly environment like the Cal League.  What’s more, he never walked more than three batters in a game, which says a lot for him.

Once promoted to AA, across four starts Pena walked 0, 2, 2 and 5.  The game where he walked five batters was by far his worst and speaks to Pena’s ability as a whole.  If he can throw strikes, he’ll be successful, in any role the Angels have planned for him.

What to expect next season: Pena pitched very well in AA to finish the year, but it was only four starts.  We can expect the Angels to have Pena return to Mobile as a starter and see if he can find consistency in his delivery and release point.  If he can, Pena will throw strikes and succeed.  If he can’t, he may find his way into a bullpen role sooner rather than later.  But when you have three very good pitches like he has, it’s easy to see Pena being a successful major leaguer in the near future.   
Estimated Time of Arrival: 2020, Pena’s age 24 season.
Grade as a prospect: C+
Grades are given from the 20-80 scouting scale.  20-being non-existent ability, 80-being the best I’ve ever seen.  MLB average is 50.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70. 

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mike-scioscia2

By Glen McKee, Angelswin.com Prognosticator

I know, it’s December and that means it’s late to be making an offseason prediction thread.  That’s OK though because not much has happened yet.  I still have time.  Without further ado, here is what will happen over the next three-plus months.  Bookmark this page and come back to it on March 1, and be amazed at how accurate these predictions are.

  1. Justin Upton will avoid opting out and sign a new contract with the Angels, giving him an extra year. It just makes too much sense.  It should have already happened.
  2. Yusmeiro Petit will sign with the Athletics. Again, it seems like it should already have happened.  He’ll be their closer and dominate us.  But don’t worry, if the Angels need a closer in June they can trade with the As to get him back.  Beane is a genius!
  3. Albert Pujols will show up for spring training in the best shape of his month. He will even have a decent spring, giving us false hope.
  4. The Angels will trade for a 2B. Who will it be?  Hernandez or Gordon?  Prying Cesar Hernandez from the Phillies would give me a stiffie so hard that Wolverine’s claws couldn’t cut it, so that won’t happen.  It’s gonna be Gordon.  Oh, and don’t get your hopes up because…
  5. The Angels will not trade for Mikecarlos Stanton. It’s the Dodgers or bust for Stanton.  You know it, I know it, Stanton knows it, even that moron you work with (you know who I’m talking about) knows it.  Oh yeah, and while we’re riding the train of bad news…
  6. The Angels will not sign Shohei Ohtani. I know the odds are slim, but really, they’re not slim.  They’re none.  There are tiers for teams in the major league. The top tier has the destination teams: the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs.  They get first dibs at the international dinner table.  The Angels are in the second tier: they get to root around through the leftovers and hope they find something tasty.  Editorial note: When I started writing this the Angels weren’t in the Ohtani discussion.  You’re welcome.
  7. Mike Scioscia will return as manager, and during the spring he’ll sign a three – year extension. I’ve come to peace with this even though I disagree with it.  It will be great for board traffic, though.  Guaranteed 15 pages in the first day after the extension is announced.
  8. Luis Valbuena will be the opening day 3B. If the Angels upgrade at 2B (they will, sorta, with Gordon) and 1B (wait for it…) then having Valbuena at 3B won’t be too bad.  It will be like the doctor saying you have a hernia, but it’s just a small one so there’s not much you can do about it except wait for it to pop.  That’s Valbuena, our little hernia.
  9. The Angels opening day 1B will be…Logan Morrison.   GMs are getting smarterer about contracts.  I know that’s true because I read it somewhere on the internet.  Anyhoo…that means that they’ll look beyond Morrison’s anomaly of a year in 2017 and realize he isn’t worth the megabucks.  That’s will Eppler will swoop in and sign him for a three-year deal.  And ya know what?  That sucks because it will mean CJ Cron is gonna be traded for a spare part.  Why does it suck?  Simple math, my friend.  LoMo has produced 5.2 WAR over 2953 AB (I’m using Baseball Reference, nerds), or 1 WAR for every 568 AB (roughly every year).  CJ has produced 2.8 WAR over 1366 AB, or 1 WAR for every 488 AB.  Cron will be cheaper and let’s face it, Cron is more fun to look at.  Based on this simple math and five minutes of agonizing research, I’d like to plead with Eppler to stick with CJ and also submit it as my resume to be an assistant assistant GM.  Billy, if you’re reading this, I’m trying to save the team millions of dollars.  You can use those savings to hire me, I’ll start in the mid three-figure range.  Call me.
  10. Using the above math, how about some Trout porn? 2018 will be Mike Trout’s seventh full season.  Man, where did all that time go?  Trout has produced 55.2 WAR over 3399 AB.  That’s 1 WAR for every…wait for it…60 AB.  Damn, son.  For comparison, Bryce Harper produces 1 WAR for every 106 AB.  Giancarlo Stanton, every 102 AB.  Jose Altuve, every 133 AB (that indicates the weakness of the basis for statistical argument but I’m sticking with it).  For giggles, I checked out Barry Bonds.  1 WAR for every 61 AB.  Trout>Bonds, if only just barely.
  11. What about the pitching staff? Eppler has already said he’s not going to acquire a starting pitcher, so I fully expect Eppler will acquire a starting pitcher.  John Lackey and Joe Blanton are available!  Seriously, though, the Angels will add a starting pitcher.  Not an ace, not even a sub-ace, but another Parker Bridwell type that nobody will see coming.  Eppler is crafty like that with pitchers; he’s the anti-Dipoto.
  12. There will be two equally obscure relievers signed. Who are they?  I don’t know, they’re obscure.  Are you even reading this?  Check out Ettin’s excellently researched article to get a few names.  Editorial note: shortly after I wrote this, Eppler traded for Jim Johnson.  I’m sticking by this.
  13. Kaleb Cowart will be a bench guy, again. I love the trochaic meter of his name (That’s a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, you troglodytes.  Yes, I had to look it up).  Kaleb Cowart.  Maybe his name is why he has some of us, myself included, hypnotized.  Name aside, he’s a solid late-inning defensive replacement.  If LOOGY is a thing, then Cowart is a LIDR.  Dibs on that term.  Note: I googled it and there was no notation of it being used before.  LIDR is my “fetch.”  You could even combine LIDR with another acronym, Helping Offense Score Ein ruN, or LIDR-HOSEN.

That’s all for now, folks.  These are all guaranteed to happen or your money back.  Feel free to post your own predictions or foolishly tell me how wrong I am.  You’ll regret it.


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Prospect: Julio Garcia
Rank: 27
2016: UR
Position(s): INF
Level: Rookie Ball
Age: Entering Age 20 season in 2018.
Height: 6’0” – Weight: 180 lb.
____________________________________________________________________

Present                Future

Hitting Ability            40                                           45
Power                            30                                          30
Base Running            55                                          55
Patience                      45                                           55
Fielding                      60                                           70
Range                          55                                           60
Arm                             65                                           70
Overall                      45                                           50
Floor: Minor League Depth
Ceiling: Defensively gifted starting shortstop in MLB with plate discipline and speed.
Likely Outcome: Utility Infielder

Summary:(Warning, lengthy back story is necessary to explain the significance of the Angels signing Julio Garcia in 2014).  Garcia was one of the bigger international signings that took place during what I like to call “the dark period” of Angels international prospects.  Rather than allowing MLB to find out about some wrongdoings committed down in Latin America, owner Arte Moreno took swift action and fired every scout and director he had in the Dominican Republic.  This was in 2008. While it may seem noble right now, particularly when we see what has happened with the Braves recently (lifetime bans, loss of prospects and international money, firing of scouts, blacklisting agents), this was seen as more of a drastic step taken by the Angels.  They were no more guilty of doing the same things every single team in major league baseball was guilty of committing.

The only difference here is the Angels decided to act upon it.

This eventually led to a slow rebuilding of that scouting network, and in an area where it’s all about who you know, the Angels didn’t know anyone, and so the Angels were out of play on all impactful international talent.  The “dark period” lasted for a solid seven years.  The Angels were forced to take everyone else’s leftovers, and those players they did land played at a dilapidated academy on the wrong side of the island.  In 2014/2015, the Angels broke ground on a new international academy where it would be easier to commute and play other teams in the Dominican Summer League.  They had found themselves a small but “better than nothing” foothold in scouting circles and actually started investing money back into acquiring Latin American prospects.

Sure, it isn’t as if Roberto Baldoquin was the big splash signing they were hoping for, but at the very least it made it clear to the rest of baseball that the Angels can and would spend money going forward.  The shadow that the Roberto Baldoquin signing cast made the Angels signing Julio Garcia go largely unnoticed, though he was believed to be an “impactful” prospect.

Blessed with great instincts, great glove, a good arm and range, Garcia caught the attention of scouts early on.  It was widely known that while Garcia was one of the marquee defensive prospects in the world, his bat needed a lot of work.  What the rest of the world saw as a long swing and lack of pitch recognition, the Angels saw as a smooth, fluid stroke with the chance for gap to gap power. This would of course come with a caveat.  Garcia was basically a high school sophomore when signing with he Angels.  It would take years before anyone actually knew if the bat would ever properly develop.

In 2014, it didn’t look good.  Even competing against other teenagers in the Dominican Summer League, Garcia’s bat was middling at best.  And all that defensive prowess he reportedly possessed must have taken a giant step backward.  Garcia could make the spectacular play.  It was the routine plays that he struggled with.   Still, he was only 16 and was given a pass.  At a 17 year old in 2015 however, we saw many of the same results.  While Garcia showed a greater ability to make contact through a reworked swing, he still lacked pitch recognition or consistency in the field, especially after coming stateside.

In 2016 as an 18 year old, Garcia had put on some muscle and looked very smooth in the field during instructs, but various injuries kept him from making all but a handful of appearances.  Finally, as a 19 year old in 2017, Julio Garcia started to show small glimpses of progression on the field.  At the plate, he showed surprising power and exceptional plate discipline considering where he was only a year ago.  In the field, Garcia looked like a future Gold Glover at shortstop.

It didn’t matter if it was in Arizona or Orem, Garcia finally showed that he can hit and field, and do so as good if not better than his peers.  This is why scouts and prospect analysts alike are beginning to take more notice of Garcia.  It isn’t as if he’s new to this game, Julio Garcia has been around for a few years now at the lower levels.  It also isn’t as if he has hype or is a commonly uttered name on blogs.

No, Garcia is one of those players that has endeared himself to scouts, front offices and a few select prospect bloggers.  It’s a quiet ability, not a superstar but one that you can watch and envision playing at the very top level.

He has the offensive and defensive chops for it, and he’s still only 20 years old.

What to expect next season: The nature of minor league baseball: you work for years just to master one level, only to be faced with another daunting challenge the very next season.  That’s what Julio will face in 2018 as he heads to full season ball in Burlington.  It’s a big step, and it could take some adjustments, but Garcia has the talent to handle it.

Estimated Time of Arrival: 2022, Julio’s age 24 season.
Grade as a prospect: C
Grades are given from the 20-80 scouting scale.  20-being non-existent ability, 80-being the best I’ve ever seen.  MLB average is 50.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70. 
 

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TriFecta Final Thoughts

By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer

Edited by Chance Hevia (Inside Pitch) and Jason Sinner (Dochalo)

As I said in the final installment of the Trade Deadline Series, the only substantive path moving forward from the 2017 Trade Deadline through the end of 2020 is contending over the next 3 1/2 seasons of Mike Trout’s current contractual control.

Nothing else matters.

This does not mean that we do not plan beyond 2020 or that we sacrifice everything now for this 3-year period but it does mean a laser-like focus on winning in that time frame. It is my belief that Billy and Arte fully understand this.

That is why, near the end of August, Eppler invested in the team by acquiring Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips at a pretty reasonable cost. It was a calculated gamble to win now, with Mike Trout, that did not work out.

The move even had a hint of brinkmanship and shrewdness to it, on Eppler’s part, because if Upton leaves we only paid a small pittance for a 1-month rental but if he stays the Angels have finally filled the gaping hole in left field, long-term, and, guess what, Justin signed a new 5-year deal at a fair market rate.

Winning in the Mike Trout window while re-positioning and re-tooling the team around him will take some crafty maneuvering, bold moves, and a commitment by Moreno to open the pocketbook when the time is right to ensure that the extra money he dolls out will be minimized and applied intelligently, not wasted.

As I outlined in the Finances section, the Angels have a lot of free payroll space this off-season. In fact they have enough space this year to afford to not exceed the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold. It is unnecessary, this year, even if they take on a big contract.

However if the Angels do want to dole out some extensions to specific key players while demonstrating to Mike Trout that they can and will compete in the future, in order to sway him to sign a mega-extension, they will need to de-conflict their strong desire to compete over the next three years with the reality that payroll will rise in 2019 and 2020, primarily due to rising arbitration costs.

The only probable way to mitigate that conflict, barring a series of brilliant moves by Billy Eppler, will be for Arte Moreno to authorize a brief increase in team payroll that takes us over the CBT threshold in 2019 and 2020 or 2020 and 2021 to help acquire the assets the Angels will need to make a strong run over the next three seasons.

In fact this year or next may be that moment where Arte allows Billy Eppler to exceed the Luxury Tax for that “right player” Moreno has spoken about in the past.

Based on the new CBT thresholds and rules and the fact that the Angels would be a “first-time offender” if they eclipse the Luxury Tax, Eppler could trade for a big name player, with 3 or more years of control, this off-season or sign one to a long-term, front-loaded deal, with one or more opt-out’s after 2020, next off-season (i.e. likely controlling them for no more than 2-3 years). This type of move would unlikely hurt team payroll in the long-term and would increase the odds of winning in the Mike Trout window of contention.

In either scenario, striking this off-season or next, the Angels could exceed the CBT threshold in 2019 ($206M) by up to, likely, $40M which would incur a first-year penalty of up to $10.4M if they hit the, plausible, maximum ceiling of $246M in AAV.

A second year would incur upwards of a $14.4M penalty for the 2020 season as long as they do not exceed the Luxury Tax threshold by more than, the aforementioned, $40M. After that it would be probable that the big-name trade target or free agent in question would opt-out and the Angels would be out of the penalty box.

To be clear it is probable that Arte Moreno has never contemplated a payroll penalty of this magnitude since he bought the team. In fact he has consistently kept payroll in a fairly tight range from season to season even as the total expenditures rose without ever going over the CBT threshold except for that one time, for a minuscule amount, over a decade ago.

However when you consider the debt-free status of the team, the large television contract that was signed years ago worth $150M per season ($3B total over 20 years), and the partial controlling share they have in the network, there is certainly some reason for optimism, based on Moreno’s own words, that if the stars align, the Los Angeles Angels will take that calculated risk and leap into budget-busting territory for a short spell.

That decision to push all-in on a top-tier player will certainly require the right confluence of circumstances to even happen and it is very unlikely the Angels will stay above the CBT threshold for longer than a 2-year period, maximum, to avoid serious penalties under the new CBA.

If the Angels exceed the Luxury Tax threshold of $206M in 2019 they will either do it by no more than $20M or no more than $40M because the new CBA extracts additional surcharge penalties at those two separate tiers. For reference here is the relevant section from the new CBA:

LuxuryTaxTable

So it seems realistic that Arte could authorize an increase in the 2018-2019 or 2019-2020 off-season for a two-year span covering the 2019 and 2020 or 2020 and 2021 seasons.

For instance if they go over less than $20M in 2019 they will pay 20% and if they continue to go over in 2020 they pay 30% whereas if they go up to $40M over they will pay 32% and 42%, respectively, for the difference in how much they exceed the $20M threshold mark.

The real danger with the Luxury Tax is when you become a third-time offender or exceed the CBT threshold by more than $40M. The taxes increase significantly and the club can have its Rule IV draft position impacted too. It seems very likely that the Angels would avoid becoming a third-time offender, at all costs.

Also, to be clear, the Angels do not have to exceed the CBT threshold by a lot to achieve their goals.

For instance the Angels could, this off-season, execute the following transactions:

  • Trade Kole Calhoun, Jahmai Jones, Matt Thaiss, Kaleb Cowart, Wade Wass, and Jonah Wesley for Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, Jose Urena, and $24M in cash
  • Trade C.J. Cron, Chris Rodriguez, and Taylor Ward for Brandon Belt
  • Extend Garrett Richards (6 years, $90M), Martin Maldonado (5 years, $35M), and Tyler Skaggs (5 years, $35M)
  • The team would still have top prospects like Jordon Adell, Brandon Marsh, Jaime Barria, Jose Suarez, Griffin Canning, and Jerryell Rivera, as well as potential solid role players like Michael Hermosillo, Leonardo Rivas, and Jake Jewell among others
  • Actual payroll would be approximately $192M and AAV would be approximately $188M ($9M under the CBT threshold)

In the following 2018-2019 off-season the Angels could also do the following:

  • Extend Mike Trout (12 years, $500M) and Andrelton Simmons (7 years, $119M)
  • Trade Matt Shoemaker and J.C. Ramirez for prospects (one likely being a MLB ready 3B prospect)
  • Decline Valbuena’s option year
  • Actual payroll would still be about $192M and AAV would be right at the threshold of $206M
  • If the Angels needed more payroll room at the Trade Deadline in 2019 Moreno could authorize an increase over the CBT threshold as needed and the penalty would be, at most, $4M as long as the team does not go over the CBT threshold by more than $20M

This is just an example of the types of moves the Angels can make with their newfound payroll space. It also relies on paying the extension candidates a little less money in 2018, 2019, and 2020 and moving some of that salary out to the 2021+ time frame. However after 2021 Pujols comes off the books and essentially cancels the impact of this salary distribution.

As we said in the Strategy sections (Part I and II) there are so many permutations and paths for how the season can unfold that it is difficult to guess the particulars. Here is a more generic template (you can fill in your own guesses as you prefer) that the Angels may be operating on:

Final Thoughts Article Critical Path Template

In the end it is my personal belief Eppler and Moreno are gearing up for a big run over the next three years as they should be doing. No prospect is safe and some of our low and mid-end regulars could be on the block too.

Imagine and prepare for the Angels to part ways with at least one or more of their top prospects to acquire the high-end regulars they need to start the season or to upgrade for at the trade deadline to make a strong run at the playoffs over the next 2-3 years.

Why keep Adell if you can package him up with other players and prospects to get a front-line starter like Archer? Pairing Chris with a newly extended Richards over at least the next four years would give the Angels strong production and a 1-2 punch in the playoffs without seriously damaging team payroll.

Alternatively, why keep Jones if you can package him with Calhoun and potentially nab a really top-flight outfielder like Stanton? The Angels would wind up with perhaps the greatest outfield trio to ever play the game for the next three seasons and we would still have prospects like Jordon Adell and Brandon Marsh that could fill a potential void after 2020.

If the Angels extend Maldonado is Ward really that important to keep if you can package him up with C.J. Cron and Chris Rodriguez for four years of a solid hitting 1B like Belt? Brandon would be a great lead-off or two-hole hitter in front of Mike Trout and the Angels would still have other reasonable back-up catching options behind the dish moving forward.

Of course the Angels can avoid parting with any prospects and go after superstar Japanese player Shohei Ohtani as we discussed in Eppler’s Strategy section (Part II) of the Primer Series (note just as this went to publication the O.C. Register’s Jeff Fletcher reported that the Angels do have interest in signing him).

Certainly depth is very important, so I am not advocating laying waste to our Minor League assets, but certainly there are areas of strength in our farm system such as outfield and pitching of which Eppler can draw upon to execute some needed trades to improve the team today, not tomorrow.

Adding a big name like Giancarlo Stanton (high salary, medium prospect cost), Chris Archer (very low salary, high prospect cost), or Shohei Ohtani ($20M posting fee plus a couple of normal pre-arbitration salaries with a probable long-term, high salary extension contract) would probably have the greatest immediate impact. Alternatively signing or trading for more than one above-average player like Zack Cozart and Trevor Bauer could provide a similar but more dispersed value to the team.

Moves like these would allow the Angels to start off the season from a great base and move toward the Trade Deadline with a likely, stronger posture. Once they hit the deadline there is a reasonably good chance the Angels can upgrade at 3B, SP, or RP, as needed, with names like Machado, Donaldson, Happ, Gonzalez, Harvey, Britton, Kimbrel, Miller, and Allen potentially available.

On the off-chance Eppler is priced out of the trade and free agent markets for his preferred choices, this off-season, he can still upgrade at 2B and/or 1B to compete effectively in 2018 and wait for the 2018-2019 off-season to make a run at some of the bigger names that will be available next year at this time.

A simple example might be acquiring Ian Kinsler to play 2B and signing Logan Morrison to man 1B. Both would be short-term commitments that could bridge the gap to 2019 where the Angels could find reduced asking prices on players at those positions or focus on one of the marquee names like Machado.

It is not completely unreasonable to believe that the Angels could sign a guy like Manny to a mega-deal but front-load the contract heavily in the first two years (2019 and 2020) and then give him an opt-out after 2020 (or even two opt-outs, one after 2020, the other after 2021). By putting a lot of salary in those first two seasons you make it a near certainty that he would opt-out after 2020 and would pull the team back below the Luxury Tax threshold. This type of contract is increasingly more common in baseball.

Ultimately, if you are a fan of rebuilding farm systems, this may, in my humble opinion, be a potentially painful two years for you. The good news is that although we are about to expend at least some of our prospect capital we will also be restocking some of it over the same time frame, via the Rule IV draft, and when we finally do need it in the 2020-2021 range some of them should be ready to step into the fold.

Also one final detail. Many of these bigger names we could potentially pick up can also be traded in their last year of control, likely netting a reasonably healthy return in prospects.

So for instance if Upton stays for the next four years we could always move him in trade in the 2020-2021 off-season or at the deadline in 2021 for a decent return that will help restock our system. Losing a good prospect now could, in part, be made up for at a later date.

The final caveat to the entire Primer Series is that I once wrote, two years ago, that Moreno would and should open his wallet to pick up a big name outfielder and I was proven wrong.

I could easily be proven wrong here, as well, but the timeline makes too much sense with the Angels staying below the Luxury Tax threshold this year then potentially exceeding it, even if only by a mild amount, for a 2-year window through the end of Mike Trout’s current contract.

This time I really hope that I am right.


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Prospect: Jerryell Rivera           Rank: 28
2016: UR                                         Position(s): Left Handed Pitcher
Level: Rookie Ball                          Age: Entering Age 19 season in 2018.
Height: 6’3”                       Weight: 180 lb.
____________________________________________________________________

Present                    Future

Fastball          50                     60
Curve             40                     60
Change          45                     65
Mechanics     60                     70
Command     40                      60
Control         45                     60
Overall         40                      65
Floor: Left-handed specialist reliever in AAA or the major leagues.  
Ceiling: A front of the rotation lefty.  Future all-star.
Likely Outcome: Too early to tell.

Summary: Everyone that follows prospects has an idea prospect they like to target in drafts and international signings.  Some go for youth and upside, some chase a higher floor and more certainty.  Some prefer to scour the international market and some prefer the draft.  Some fans prefer players that are in AA or AAA and ready to contribute immediately.  Some like to dream on prospects that are in rookie ball.  The trick of many teams is to find a balance.

From a very personal standpoint, I’m a big fan of drafting upside prep athletes stateside, and projectable pitchers internationally.  For me, the Angels selection of Jerryell Rivera in the 11th round of this past draft was a move of brilliance and fits with what I would look to do if drafting.  Rivera was one of the bright spots available in the draft from Puerto Rico this past season.

Watching Rivera pitch, I can envision Cole Hamels down the road.  Tall, strong, left handed, mid-90’s fastball and front of the rotation starter.  You don’t even need to squint to see that.  At age 18, Rivera is already tall, lean, broad shouldered and has a very comfortable arm slot.  While his fastball currently hangs 89-90, it comes from a very easy arm angle.  With more effort he’s been clocked at 92-93.  While his early motion is stiff, the act of throwing the baseball itself is very natural looking.  This is the lowest impact left-handed delivery I’ve seen since Andrew Heaney.  Rivera just looks like he’s playing catch.  For all you’d know regarding the delivery, he could be throwing BP.

But as Rivera grows and becomes more comfortable with he pre-throwing motion, a higher effort delivery and physical progression could have him throwing an easy 95.  But the big thing with Jerryell will be the development of his off-speed pitches.  His curveball has a little late break to it, but he doesn’t seem to be able to command it, and the change up has a nice speed differential and late fade to it, but he looks quite unsure throwing it.  But being able to work with professional coaches and being on a training regimen could have Rivera snapping off breaking balls and change ups to his hearts desire.

In a word, Rivera is the type of prospect you draft and dream on.

And this is all scouting, we haven’t even touched on the fact that Rivera was likely the best pitcher for the Angels Arizona Rookie League squad this year.  They limited his innings, but Rivera showed not only the ability to miss bats, but throw strikes, which is huge for a first taste of professional ball.

What to expect next season: Rivera will likely remain in Arizona for extended Spring Training until short season ball comes along.  I expect to see Jerryell as the staff ace of the Orem Owlz in the Pioneer League, though given his talent, it would be possible for Rivera to be in A Ball next year.  I don’t think the Angels will want to rush him though.
Rivera is going to go through a muscular growth spurt in the next couple years and he’s going to be able to comfortably deploy all the coaching advice the Angels are feeding him.  When that time comes, he’ll shoot through the system and likely even skip a level or two on the ladder on his way to the major leagues.  But until that time comes, it would benefit Rivera, the Angels and the fans to just remain patient and take it slow and easy with Jerryell.  When he’s ready, everyone and their grandma will know it.
Estimated Time of Arrival: 2022, Rivera’s age 23 season.
Grade as a prospect: C+
Grades are given from the 20-80 scouting scale.  20-being non-existent ability, 80-being the best I’ve ever seen.  MLB average is 50.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70. 

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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer

Edited by Chance Hevia (Inside Pitch) and Jason Sinner (Dochalo)

Every team has injuries throughout the year and maintaining the ability to swap them, hopefully on a temporary basis only, with a player or prospect that can provide production above replacement level (i.e. greater than 0 WAR) is quite valuable.

Over the last two years, Billy Eppler made it a point to improve catcher defense and build depth on the 40-man roster. Although he has had some success, this is still, just like the rest of the roster, a work in-progress heading into the 2018 season.

The good news is that Eppler now has more payroll to work with and this should allow him to build sufficient, competent depth at every position.

Interestingly the Angels have some quality reserve players, in the Minor Leagues, that can play all around the diamond. To be clear a lot of these guys are strictly utility types but they bring some upside that could provide the team with higher-caliber, temporary relief of our regular position players in 2018.

Catcher

2017 Angels C Results

Half of the teams that qualified for the playoffs, including both Wild Cards in each League, were ranked in the Top 10 catcher corps in baseball according to FanGraphs ‘Defense’ statistic. Every one of those teams except the 2017 World Champion Astros, who finished dead last, were in the Top 20.

In spite of Houston’s success, it is no coincidence that pitching and defense wins championships and the Angels GM knew this, prior to entering 2017, which is why he took action to improve the team behind the dish by trading for Martin Maldonado from the Brewers.

Perhaps one of Eppler’s most important acquisitions to-date, Maldonado was fantastic defensively for the Angels, this past season, posting a career high FanGraphs ‘DEF’ score of 12.5, throwing out 38.6% of base stealers, while calling great games day-to-day over a career record 138 games started. In pitch framing he ranked 5th overall for 2017, per StatCorner.com.

Maldonado is simply one aspect of Eppler’s larger vision of up-the-middle run prevention but the visceral, significant impact of “Machete’s” work on the field was not only seen but felt on a daily basis. The pitchers have reportedly raved about his ability to work with them in and out of the game.

Martin’s great ability as a backstop will be the likely motivator for the Angels to offer him an extension contract this off-season, particularly when you consider how much they relied on him in 2017.

The Angels would probably find a lot of value in buying out Machete’s last year of arbitration and tacking on another 3-4 years of contractual control. Perhaps something like a 4-5 year, $24M-40M (AAV of $6M-8M) deal would satisfy both sides, giving the Angels long-term stability behind the dish and allowing Martin and his family to achieve lifetime financial security.

If an extension does occur it would not be surprising to see the Angels go out and sign a free agent left-handed hitting catcher with pitch-framing skills like Miguel Montero or even just a pure hitter like Alex Avila on a short-term deal.

Alternatively the Halos could trade for a short-term guy like Tyler Flowers, who led all of baseball in pitch framing this season, or perhaps Stephen Vogt (if the Brewers do not non-tender him due to his projected 2018 arbitration salary), who is not nearly as good as Flowers defensively but could provide reasonable offensive value. In contrast the Angels could look for a long-term piece to compliment Maldonado like one of Sandy Leon, Blake Swihart, Rob Brantly, Francisco Mejia, or Chance Sisco, for example.

The important qualities for a backup catcher behind Maldonado would reside more on the game calling, pitch framing, and hitting aspects, primarily because Martin would likely be utilized for a majority of the games in 2018 and the backup would have more value if they can hit or get on-base against right-handed pitching (which Martin is poor at) while providing a modicum of pitch-sequence calling and framing, and pinch-hitter opportunities in the later innings of games.

If the Angels decide not to extend Martin, then he will likely spend his final season of team control partnered with either Juan Graterol (as he did in 2017) or Carlos Perez, one of which the Angels can continue to groom for the starting role in 2019 and beyond if that is Eppler’s goal.

Also the lack of a Maldonado extension would, obviously, mean the Angels want to go in an entirely different direction with their tandem behind the plate after 2018. The only two catchers that would be likely upgrades over Maldonado, that might actually be available this off-season or next, are Jonathan Lucroy and Yasmani Grandal so, if the Angels do not extend Martin, these two are the likely targets now or next year.

Here are the resource expenditure tiers if Eppler decides to trade Maldonado, reduce his total games next season, or acquire an external backup catcher:

High Price to Pay –

  • Francisco Mejia
  • Austin Barnes
  • J.T. Realmuto
  • Jonathan Lucroy
  • Chance Sisco

Middle of the Road –

  • Sandy Leon
  • Yasmani Grandal
  • Tyler Flowers
  • Blake Swihart
  • Rob Brantly

Bargain Basement –

  • Rene Rivera
  • Alex Avila
  • Stephen Vogt
  • Miguel Montero

Default Solution(s) –

  • Carlos Perez
  • Juan Graterol
  • Jose Briceno
  • Wade Wass

Author’s Choice –

Martin Maldonado was a revelation behind the plate in almost as similar a manner that Andrelton Simmons dominates at shortstop. His ability to frame pitches, call a fantastic game (particularly in pitch sequencing), and cut down runners really provides deep value to the entire Angels team. The mere fact that Scioscia thinks Maldonado is the biggest reason for the success of the Angels pitching staff speaks volumes about his ability.

On the backup side it appears likely the Angels will run out one of Graterol or Perez, probably the latter. If Eppler decided to splurge, acquiring one year of Flowers would give us perhaps the best framing duo in all of MLB (but Tyler would cost us at least a quality mid-tier prospect).

Finally, if the Angels were to pick up a veteran backup hitter who can handle RHP, one of Miguel Montero or Stephen Vogt makes a lot of sense (which would result in Perez, who is out of options, being traded) but resources will have to be allocated carefully this off-season and this is more of a position of want, not need.

Bench Players

2017 Angels Bench Results

In the section above we discussed the possibilities for backup catcher, which is really just a bench position, and in doing so we established the likelihood that Billy Eppler will probably go with an internal solution, such as Carlos Perez, Juan Graterol, or perhaps Jose Briceno, for that spot.

Beyond the reserve catcher position Eppler will have to fill the infield and outfield utility spots for 2018.

Last year Billy utilized Ben Revere primarily for the latter while the former was filled, mostly, by veteran Cliff Pennington and Jefry Marte. Both Revere and Pennington saw their contracts expire at the end of this season creating two utility voids.

Fortunately there are some internal options, however nearly all of them have little to no experience at the MLB level.

On that infield utility side you have names like Jefry Marte (1B and 3B), Kaleb Cowart (2B, 3B, 1B, and in a pinch SS), Nolan Fontana (all infield positions), Sherman Johnson (same as Cowart plus LF), and David Fletcher (2B and SS) as possible choices.

In the outfield, the Angels are only sporting one real option, Michael Hermosillo, now that Eric Young Jr. and Shane Robinson have elected free agency. Hermosillo is quite young (22 currently) and has no MLB experience but has a lot of upside and could prove valuable later in the season.

This lack of experienced choices will probably lead Billy Eppler to consider bringing in one or two veteran stop-gap players on a short-term deal, particularly in the outfield, out of free agency.

Ben Revere, who is preparing to walk out the door himself, could probably be re-signed on a 1-year deal. Additionally the market has names like Jarrod Dyson, Rajai Davis, Jon Jay, Colby Rasmus, and our old fan favorite and friend Peter Bourjos who could potentially fill the 4th outfielder role.

Dyson is probably going to get more regular playing time than the other four so he may be off the table but it is worth inquiring about because his outfield defense is fantastic and he would be a solid bench bat and pinch runner.

The other four have varying degrees of talent and skill sets but any of them would be able to provide reasonable production in a backup role.

On the infield side you find some of the usual suspects such as Stephen Drew, Eduardo Nunez, Alexei Amarista, Josh Rutledge, and Adam Rosales and some new names like J.J. Hardy, Jose Reyes, Trevor Plouffe, and Dusty Coleman. It seems, based on Eppler’s desire to add more primary left-handed infielders, that the Angels would best be served bringing in a right-handed utility bat.

Out of this group, Adam Rosales, Josh Rutledge, J.J. Hardy, and Jose Reyes strike me as reasonable possibilities for Eppler to acquire on a one-year deal.

Finally the Halos could look to the trade market to pick up a reserve outfielder or infielder more to Eppler’s fancy.

Perhaps someone like Brandon Guyer, Mark Zagunis, or Juan Lagares might be preferred over one of our internal solutions. The latter, in particular, brings excellent outfield defense while the other two could provide some serious on-base skills.

On the infield side perhaps someone like Jose Iglesias, Brad Miller (prefer him as an everyday guy), or Dean Anna might have appeal to the Angels front office.

Here are the resource expenditure tiers for the reserve infield and outfield utility roles. Please note that this is just a sample of players/prospects that may or may not be available in free agency and/or trade:

High Price to Pay –

  • Tony Kemp

Middle of the Road –

  • Mallex Smith
  • Jarrod Dyson
  • Juan Lagares
  • Mark Zagunis
  • Ben Zobrist

Bargain Basement –

  • Lonnie Chisenhall
  • Brandon Guyer
  • J.T. Riddle
  • Alexei Amarista
  • Jose Iglesias
  • J.J. Hardy
  • Jon Jay
  • Adam Rosales
  • Pedro Florimon
  • Colby Rasmus
  • Josh Rutledge
  • Erick Aybar
  • Stephen Drew
  • Ruben Tejada
  • Craig Gentry
  • Nick Franklin
  • Arismendy Alcantara
  • Peter Bourjos
  • Rajai Davis
  • Aaron Hill
  • Ryan Raburn
  • Eric Young Jr.
  • Shane Robinson

Default Solution(s) –

  • Kaleb Cowart
  • Nolan Fontana
  • Sherman Johnson
  • Michael Hermosillo
  • Jefry Marte

Author’s Choice –

First of all it seems likely, barring a trade, that Kaleb Cowart will be our 2018 Opening Day utility middle infielder and Jefry Marte our utility corner infielder.

On the chance Cowart is traded this off-season (decent chance in my opinion) then Nolan Fontana appears to be the next in line of succession based on his defensive capabilities and on-base skills. Sherman Johnson, unfortunately, also appears to be trade bait, if not a likely Rule V pick-up by another team in early December.

If Billy decides that he does not want to start Hermosillo’s clock and looks to free agency, someone like the experienced veteran Rajai Davis strikes me as reasonable free agent choice as a 4th outfielder on an inexpensive, say $4M-5M, deal. As a possibly less desirable alternative, Eppler could dip into the Minor League free agency pool to find one or more defensively capable players and have them all compete for the 4th outfielder role as well.

No matter whom they go after, obtaining a veteran or a dirt cheap, diamond-in-the-rough, Minor League player will allow the Angels to bring up Hermosillo in the Summer/Fall to prepare him for the 4th outfielder role in 2019 (if he, too, is not traded).

In the next section I will share some of my Final Thoughts to wrap up the Primer Series.


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Prospect: Joe Gatto           Rank: 29
2016: 23                                    Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher
Level: Advanced A Ball         Age: Entering Age 23 season in 2018.
Height: 6’3”                       Weight: 220 lb.
_____________________________________________________________________________

Present                    Future

Fastball          55                     60
Curve             55                     60
Change          50                     50
Mechanics     60                     60
Command     50                      60
Control         45                     50
Overall         45                      55
Floor: Long reliever in AAA/MLB.   Ceiling: A mid-rotation, workhorse.
Likely Outcome: A back-end starter that can go 180+ innings.
Summary: If you know anything about Joe Gatto’s unusual career arc, you may have watched him pitch in 2017 and thought to yourself, “Well it’s about freakin’ time!”.  Maybe that was just me.  Still, Gatto was drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft (aka forever ago) and the belief at the time was that Gatto was not raw like other prep pitchers.  Gatto had a matured body and just needed little tweaks here and there as well as experience before he was in the major leagues. Initially his ETA for the major leagues was going to be the 2018 season.  Well things didn’t happen that way.Gartto ended up spending a couple more seasons in Rookie Ball than we would’ve thought, but he was clearly primed to breakout back in 2016, his first year at A Ball.  Gatto instead was one of the most tortured pitchers in minor league baseball before the Angels finally pulled the plug on that season.  An ERA over 7.00 over more than half a season in a pitching friendly environment.  Ouch indeed.

It actually took a lot for Gatto to return to the scene of the crime in 2017.  There had to be some psychological affect to being back on the same mound.  But return he did, and Gatto as it turns out grew a ton from the experience.  21 starts, a 3.46 ERA and a solid K/BB ratio.  Hitters were making contact on Joe, but they weren’t squaring him up like before, which speaks to Gatto’s growth in pitching efficiency and getting his pitches to move around a little more in the zone.

Upon being promoted to the Cal League, expectations were tempered.  Gatto can strike guys out, but he’s more willing to get a quick groundball out instead.  And pitchers that pitch to contact have traditionally really struggled in the Cal League.  Gatto didn’t.  6 starts, a 3.34 ERA and more of the same as far as batted ball profile.  So now we’re left to wonder, has Gatto truly turned the corner, and if he has, how aggressively might he be promoted?  There’s a chance you’re seeing a pitcher that goes 200 innings with a 3.50 ERA in the major leagues.  There’s also a chance that his ball just doesn’t move enough to be effective in the majors.

2018 should tell us a lot.

What to expect next season: I’m guessing the Angels will have Gatto return to the Cal League to start the season at least.  I don’t expect Gatto will spend the entire year there though.  Truthfully, I’d really like to see what he can do in AA and I think myself and other fans will get that chance in 2018.  The biggest knock on Gatto has always been that he leaves the ball up in the zone too frequently and that his fastball, while it is firm, it doesn’t tend to move, which professional hitters are good at handling those.  We know his two-seam fastball and off-speed pitches improved a lot over the past couple years, but once Gatto reaches AA, we’ll be able to better understand exactly what we are looking at here.  By this time next year, Gatto could be knocking on the door to the major leagues and part of a wave of exciting pitching prospects that have matured through the system (Jaime Barria, and Jesus Castillo included).  Gatto has the talent to do that.  At the same rate, we could still be talking about the same issues.
Estimated Time of Arrival: 2020, Gatto’s age 25 season.
Grade as a prospect: C
Grades are given from the 20-80 scouting scale.  20-being non-existent ability, 80-being the best I’ve ever seen.  MLB average is 50.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70. 

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Prospect: Jonah Todd       Rank: 23
2016: UR                               Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher
Level: A Ball                         Age: Entering Age 22 season in 2018.
Height: 6’0”                            Weight: 185 lb.
_____________________________________________________________________________

                         Present                Future

Hitting Ability            45                                           55
Power                        30                                          30
Base Running            50                                          55
Patience                    55                                           60
Fielding                     70                                           70
Range                        55                                           55
Arm                           55                                           55
Overall                      45                                           50
Floor: Minor League depth.                         Ceiling: Starting OF in MLB renowned for his ability to hit for average and play very good defense.
Likely Outcome: 4th OF in MLB or AAA OF.

Summary: Todd’s story is one that has been told many times before, and it never gets old.  Players, coaches, scouts, front offices and fans alike all love the player that has overcome the odds to be where he is right now.  That’s Jonah Todd.  No one was interested in him after high school, and he went to a relatively unknown JC.  Despite playing well at the JC, no major college programs took notice.  His coach at the JC called a friend at Auburn and convinced them to take a look at Todd.  Auburn liked what they saw and offered him a spot on the team.

Without a scholarship, Todd was expected to be depth at Auburn, but not be featured in a starting role. Through hard work and discipline, Todd impressed his coaches and got himself into the lineup.  Since then, Todd hasn’t looked back, batting .376 at a major college program with excellent rated defense.

Todd was unable to play in any of the offseason leagues college players tend to play in because he had to earn enough money to pay for school.  He stocked shelves at a local Wal-Mart before being drafted.  Upon his selection, the Angels sent Todd to Orem where he walked more than twice as often as he struck out, which is impressive.  Upon his promotion to Class A Burlington, Todd was at a more suitable level, and was solid yet unspectacular.

As a player, Todd’s a solid defender and hitter.  He uses the whole field and is an above average runner that flashes “plus” bat to ball skills.  There isn’t a ton of power to his game, and while he is fast, stolen bases haven’t been featured yet either.  We’ll see if those end up being part of his game in the future.

What to expect next season: Todd wasn’t so dominant at Burlington that we can expect him to begin 2018 at Inland Empire in the Cal League.  It isn’t out of the question, particularly if he shows up to camp in the Spring and impresses, but for now, given how young Todd is and his remarkable journey, it may be time to slow down and actually find out what the Angels have here from their 6th round pick.
Estimated Time of Arrival: Middle of 2020, Jonah’s age 24 season.
Grade as a prospect: C
Grades are given from the 20-80 scouting scale.  20-being non-existent ability, 80-being the best I’ve ever seen.  MLB average is 50.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70. 

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Outfield Image

Is the Impossible, Possible?

By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer

Edited by Chance Hevia (Inside Pitch) and Jason Sinner (Dochalo)

The Angels, as currently constructed, will be entering the new season with what can only be described as one of the best set of outfielders in all of baseball featuring a unique, Hall of Fame-bound, league-enviable center fielder, a competent, defensively-sound right fielder, and a two-time Silver Slugger and four-time All-Star roaming left field.

Across the last few years the Angels have had fantastic production out of center and right field so if newly minted Justin Upton can produce 3+ WAR per year during his tenure in Anaheim, the Angels will very likely have the most productive outfield trio in all of baseball, creating a great basis to build the rest of the team around this off-season.

Left Field

2017 Angels LF Results

Clearly 2017 was the banner year of production for the Halos in left field over the last three seasons. These players, by recent standards, produced a staggering 1.3 WAR in 2017.

Comparatively in 2016 they generated a feeble -0.8 WAR, led by the performances of Jefry Marte and Shane Robinson sharing the top spot at 0.3 WAR each and dragged down by the other seven guys we ran out there that season.

Two years ago, in 2015, they had a pathetic -1.1 WAR, led by no one in particular at 0.1 WAR apiece (five different players) and anchored down by, the renowned, Matt Joyce’s -0.7 WAR blood offering.

Suffice it to say, this year was a refreshing change of pace. A significant part of that came from the late August acquisition of Justin Upton (0.9 WAR over 115 PA’s). If he had played the full season (500+ PA’s) that number would have been close to the 5 WAR he actually did produce, giving a huge boost to the team.

Back in the Strategy article(s) we made an assumption that Justin will remain in Anaheim by either not opting-out or renegotiating with the team for slightly more money, an extra year or two, and/or a full no-trade clause, which he ultimately did.

The two sides, fortunately, settled on a 5-year, $106M contract which equates to an AAV of $21.2M per season. This settles our outfield situation for at least the next 2-3 years and can free Eppler to use one or more of our outfield prospects to acquire additional impact talent.

This was a win-win scenario for the Angels and for Upton. Eppler and company have filled our left field hole at a fair market rate and restructured Upton’s contract to free up a bit of immediate payroll while Justin gets to play in an area and environment he feels comfortable in and foregoes having to test the free agent market again.

If you look at the 2016-2017 off-season, the Mets signed Yoenis Cespedes, a very close comparable to J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton, for 4 years, $110M, which is an AAV of $27.5M per year. Cespedes, at the time of signing, had an approximate wRC+ of 123 with slightly better defense in relation to J.D. and Justin so in comparison it appears we hit the market rate or reached a slightly better than market rate on Upton’s deal.

In the end Billy Eppler finally nailed down a more permanent, long-term, left fielder which will be a welcome change and improvement for the next five seasons.

Author’s Choice –

Based on the O.C. Register’s Jeff Fletcher’s reporting prior to the season’s end combined with the fact that Billy Eppler, by making the trade with the Tigers in the first place, risked the chance Justin might not opt-out, clearly made him the most probable target to fill our left field hole on a long-term contract and that is what obviously happened. This feels like a solid move for the Halos.

Center Field

2017 Angels CF Results

That is one big, beautiful light blue bar to the left, rising like an Ares skyscraper in the heart of Anaheim for all to see and be amazed.

Obviously the Angels have zero production problems in center field with Mike Trout yielding a pristine 6.6 WAR (the other 0.3 came out of the DH spot) in an injury-shortened season.

The only problem that the Angels face with Mike right now is building a team around him that can effectively compete and make a deep push into the playoffs on an annual basis.

Thankfully this 2017-2018 off-season should prove to be a turning point in building a quality roster that can achieve the one and only primary goal of creating a championship-caliber team that we discussed in the Introduction.

Hopefully, in addition to improving the roster, Arte Moreno and Billy Eppler are also setting the groundwork for a huge extension contract for Mike, to keep him in Anaheim the rest of his career.

This is a topic of some concern for Angels fans and this off-season’s success or failure will prove critical from an optics point-of-view for Mike. The odds of him staying seem pretty good if the Angels can show him that they are improving the team and creating a strong supporting cast to make a solid regular-season run to win the Division.

If the Angels can do this and have a successful 2018 where they at least make the playoffs as well as setting the table for a strong 2019 and beyond it seems probable that Trout will sign that critical extension through the end of his playing days.

So what will it take to keep Mike?

Currently Trout has a 3-year running average of 8.3 WAR (WOW!). Assuming he plays full-time next year and pulls in a typical 8-9 WAR season that number will not change when the Angels enter the 2018-2019 off-season.

That winter market will see names like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Clayton Kershaw receive huge, record-breaking contracts. Specifically both Harper and Machado are likely to crest $400M in total contract value. Kershaw may crest $35M in AAV too (and Bryce and Manny might as well).

The competition for these players will be fierce as the Dodgers, Yankees, Nationals, and Phillies, all large market teams, will rightfully lure them in with their deep pockets. Once these players have signed these mega-contracts the Angels will be free and clear to offer Mike Trout the greatest extension contract in the history of baseball.

That number is very likely going to be $500M+. You should prepare yourselves mentally for this probable fact. As frightening as that number sounds to long-term payroll, the even scarier thing is that Trout is worth it, in terms of how teams currently model and valuate players.

In 2019 the free agent $/WAR value is likely to be close to $11M/WAR, give or take. If you use a very conservative $9.5M/WAR, while applying a modest 5% inflation increase per year, and begin with a base Mike Trout WAR per season of 8 WAR through his age 30 season, with a -0.5 decline in WAR through his age 34 season, and then a -1.0 WAR per year decrease after that, you get the following free agent value through his age 38 season:

Mike Trout Extension Contract Estimate

Yes you are reading that right. That basic, conservative valuation puts a free agent value of $870M on Mike Trout if he were a free agent in the 2018-2019 off-season, signing a 12-year deal.

Now, of course, no team will actually pay him that in free agency, it is simply an unprecedented number. Even the Yankees or Dodgers would refuse to go that high and invest that much money in one player.

This is why the 2018-2019 free agent class is so important in setting the bar for free agent value. The highest paid position player in baseball, Giancarlo Stanton, received a 13 year, $325M contract three years ago prior to the 2015 season. He set the bar then just like Harper, Machado, and Kershaw will set the bar next year.

Simply put if Harper, for example, sets the pace with a 12 year, $450M contract, you can rest assured that Trout will be paid more. It seems reasonable that a deal at or exceeding $500M over 12 years not only rewards Mike as being the best player in baseball it sets an appropriately record-breaking salary figure that will not soon be bested in the next handful of years. Trout would be the first half-billion player in any sport and he would be underpaid in comparison to his actual production in free agent market terms.

Even if you use a lower starting value of $8.5M/WAR, a lower inflation value of 2%, and start out at 7 WAR per season through age 30 (with the same decline from above) it still comes out to $564M! No matter how you parse it, Mike Trout is very valuable!

This is why the Angels should do everything they can to extend Trout because if you believe the numbers from above it is an insanely good value play. Anytime you can obtain surplus value in a trade or through a free agent signing you should seriously consider doing it and this is potentially the mother of all value-signings!

Author’s Choice –

Mike Trout for at least the next 3 years and hopefully the next 13 years, if not longer, even if he still wants to play at age 39 or beyond (and hey why not others have!)! ✈✈✈✈✈!!!!

Right Field

2017 Angels RF Results

Good ol’ reliable Kole Calhoun!

Steady with the glove in 2017, Kole struggled earlier in the year at the plate but picked it up in the 2nd half of the season.

Last year around this time, Eppler signed Calhoun to a very team-friendly, 3 year, $26M extension contract with a $14M option year in 2020. Already the Angels have accumulated enough value from Kole’s play in 2017 to justify the move, making this a potentially rewarding deal for the team (high surplus value) and for Calhoun’s family.

Although you should fully expect to see Calhoun manning right field again in 2018, there is a very remote possibility that the Angels could trade Kole for an upgrade at another position and pursue a different right fielder.

For the Angels this type of move would only make sense if they could significantly upgrade one or more areas of the roster, thereby replacing and building upon Kole’s production. It wouldn’t make too much sense to move him otherwise.

Frankly in the free agent market there are no “must-have”, game-changing names except for Shohei Otani. Certainly players like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and J.D. Martinez could impact the team but they will also negatively impact the Angels payroll to a degree that would hurt our future ability to add mid-season or next off-season.

In the trade market there are only three potential names that have been bandied about as being available this off-season by their respective teams: Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Archer, and Christian Yelich. Each of these players presents advantages and disadvantages for the Angels.

Yelich is a rising young superstar who is under contractual control for the next five seasons at an extremely reasonable $58.25M. He has a 3-year running average of 4.3 WAR and there is no reason to believe that his production will subside anytime soon.

The problem with Christian is that he has so much surplus value only the teams with the most premium farm systems would be able to put together a package of prospects that Miami will almost certainly covet in exchange. The Angels could certainly offer Calhoun and perhaps one of our starters as collateral in addition to one of our top prospects but it seems unlikely the Marlins would have interest, thus making Yelich almost certainly off-limits to the Halos.

Archer’s issue is also his extensive surplus value. He is under guaranteed contractual control for two more years at an insanely low AAV of $4.25M with two additional team option years attached at $9M and $11M each (still crazy low). Chris has a 3-year running average of 4.4 WAR although he is fast approaching 30 years old and could begin a decline phase in his latter years.

He, too, would require a king’s ransom, likely requiring Calhoun (with Corey Dickerson moving to DH and either Souza or Kole manning LF and RF), one of our starters, C.J. Cron, and one of our top OF prospects. Although we would be losing a lot of production the real hidden advantage here is the minuscule amount of payroll Archer would require, which would still allow the Angels to go out on the free agent or trade markets and find a replacement right fielder. This too, just like a Yelich trade, would be very challenging for Eppler to execute based on our available resources making it unlikely to occur.

Finally Giancarlo has an unusual contract where he can opt-out after the 2020 season. Because of this, his contract is currently split into two time frames: 1 ) The next three years he is owed $25M, $26M, and $26M, respectively and that translates to an AAV of $17.83M per season which includes the 2015-2017 time frame and 2 ) The seven follow-on years he is owed a total of $208M which translates to an AAV of $29.714M per season over the 2021-2027 time frame. Additionally Stanton has a $25M team option for 2028 with a $10M buy-out.

From a strategic standpoint, finding a slugger that can, when healthy, produce upwards of 6+ WAR, at that reasonable price over the next three seasons, would be an exceptional value to acquire. Remember we just signed Justin, who is two years older with a 3-year running average of 3.27 WAR, to a 5-year, $106M deal at an AAV of $21.2M so in comparison Stanton, over the next three years, is potentially giving you double the WAR with an AAV that is $3.5M less.

The reality is that after the 2018-2019 off-season when Harper, Kershaw, Machado, and, hopefully, Trout (mega-extension) shatter the ceiling of the top contracts ever signed it will make Giancarlo’s decision to opt-out two years after that off-season a lot more likely as he can easily make an additional $50M in free agency. This means that, barring an unhealthy 2020, Stanton would almost certainly opt-out which means that any team acquiring him should only be paying for his next three seasons of control.

Realistically only the large payroll teams can afford Giancarlo and it has been noted he would prefer to play on the West or East coasts. His surplus value is approximately $100M (depends on what valuation model you are using but it is in the ballpark based on his 3-year running average of 4.7 WAR) so out of the three names we have listed here he is probably the “easiest” to trade for in terms of players and prospects if an acquiring team is willing to take on most or all of his remaining contract.

To be very clear to everyone reading, acquiring a player like Stanton is a real long shot for any team, much less the Angels. The advantages we have include our geographic location (Los Angeles) which Giancarlo has stated as a preferred destination to play, enough payroll space to actually make it work, and enough resources and prospect capital to make one really significant trade for a player like him.

The disadvantages include other clubs like the Dodgers, Phillies, Giants, Yankees, Nationals, and Red Sox that will also inquire on him and in some cases have potentially more attractive prospects in addition to the fact that a contract of this size and complexity will be very difficult to negotiate and pull off. The odds are no more than 10%-15% that the Angels could make this happen in my opinion as an outsider looking in.

Eppler would clearly have to send Kole to offset some of Stanton’s salary and provide a great deal of collateral value in the trade as well as at least one top outfield prospect like Jahmai Jones, Jordon Adell, or Brandon Marsh (probably the former).

Additionally the Angels would probably need to provide at least one other quality prospect and another “filler” type prospect (think something like Chris Rodriguez and Kaleb Cowart for instance). Also if Billy offers to take on another heavy Marlins contract like Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, or Brad Ziegler it could improve our chances to acquire Giancarlo and could lower the acquisition price slightly.

For those of you concerned about the Angels ability to add Stanton to team payroll I have added Giancarlo’s three years to our current roster, replacing Calhoun, which changes the payroll numbers to the following:

2018-2020 Actual Payroll

Outfield Actual Stanton Added Payroll

2018-2020 AAV Payroll

Outfield AAV Stanton Added Payroll

Clearly the Angels can manage a Stanton addition in terms of both actual team payroll and in regard to the Competitive Balance Tax threshold. The numbers above certainly do not account for the other moves the Angels will make but they also do not consider players that will eventually be traded off of the roster as well. The bottom line is that Giancarlo’s contract is manageable heading into the 2018-2020 time frame.

In the end, Calhoun will likely be our starting right fielder on Opening Day 2018 and that is perfectly fine (I personally love Kole!).

However if Eppler thinks he can improve the team significantly by expending the right set of resources and can navigate the very complex deal-making required for a Stanton, Archer, or Yelich trade, you have to seriously consider it in the Mike Trout window of contention.

Just don’t hold your breath we’d hate to be responsible for a bunch of fainting Angels fans!

Author’s Choice –

Kole Calhoun is the logical, six sigma choice here but keep in mind that the Angels are prepared to strike either this year or next and could add an additional All-Star player now, or then, potentially running up over the Luxury Tax threshold in the two-year period in 2019 and 2020 or 2020 and 2021 for Moreno’s “right” player scenario which could make Mr. Grit Jr. expendable in a very narrow set of improbable-trade frameworks.

In the next Section we will discuss our backstops and bench players.


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It’s the time of year again folks!

The leaves are turning colors, the winter rains begin to fall, and top prospect lists will begin rolling out of every website.  “Arm-chair GM’s” do their best with the information provided to give you a list they feel is worth looking at.  “Experts” will do the same thing, except they’ll make you pay a monthly fee for it.  At the end of the day, the information can look downright copy and pasted.

We here at AngelsWin have our top prospect list too, but the difference is, ours is done by a hand-picked panel of members and minor league fans.  Some have scouting experience, some are well-versed in advanced metrics, some watch the games from their computers and still others are simply fans that enjoy attending games and talking with the players.  One person’s list will be all about upside, another will be chalk full of surprise players, another with prospects that are closest to the big leagues.  The end result is a mix of all of them.

Here at AngelsWin, we’ve got it all.  We see the players from every angle an outsider (and in some cases insider) could.  We don’t watch a player once and write up a scouting report and we aren’t limited by what Google can dig up.  Several of us watch the player multiple times from multiple angles.  We make individual decisions, compare them (the debates did become quite heated this year), and come up with a list that works for everyone involved.

Sure, we are bias.

But we don’t think you’ll find a finer, more in-depth and accurate list anywhere else.  You could pay monthly fees and still not get this sort of analysis.  That’s simply what happens when you have a dedicated base of fans who work behind the scenes all season long to create this list, a culmination of a lot of time and effort.

Individual scouting reports will be released in reverse order (#30, 29, 28, etc..).

Without further ado, here are your 2017 Top 30 Prospects

 

  1. OF Jo Adell – Rookie Ball (18)
  2. OF Jahmai Jones – Advanced A Ball (20)
  3. OF Brandon Marsh – Rookie Ball (19)
  4. RHP Jaime Barria – AAA (20)
  5. RHP Griffin Canning – DNP (21)
  6. 1B Matt Thaiss – AA (22)
  7. RHP Chris Rodriguez – A Ball (18)
  8. OF Michael Hermosillo – AAA (22)
  9. OF Trent Deveaux – DNP (17)
  10. C Taylor Ward – AA (23)
  11. IF Leo Rivas – A Ball (19)
  12. RHP Jesus Castillo – AA (21)
  13. IF David Fletcher – AAA (23)
  14. RHP Jake Jewell – AA (24)
  15. RHP Jose Soriano – Rookie Ball (18)
  16. LHP Jose Suarez – A Ball (19)
  17. OF Brennon Lund – AA (22)
  18. OF Jacob Pearson – Rookie Ball (19)
  19. LHP Nate Smith – AAA (25)
  20. RHP Eduardo Paredes – MLB (22)
  21. RHP Cole Duensing  – Rookie Ball (19)
  22. IF Nonie Williams – Rookie Ball (19)
  23. OF D’Shawn Knowles – DNP (16)
  24. OF Torii Hunter Jr. – Rookie Ball (22)
  25. OF Troy Montgomery – AA (22)
  26. RHP Luis Pena – AA (21)
  27. IF Julio Garcia – Rookie Ball (19)
  28. LHP Jerryell Rivera – Rookie Ball (18)
  29. RHP Joe Gatto – Advanced A Ball (22)
  30. OF Jonah Todd – A Ball (21)

Honorable Mention: RHP Adam Hofacket, 3B Zach Houchins, RHP Osmer Morales, 3B Jose Rojas, RHP Wilkel Hernandez, RHP Nathan Bates, RHP Jose Rodriguez, LHP Jonah Wesely,

 


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Many roster crunches have taken place across baseball today in anticipation of the 5 PM deadline for teams to add players to their 40 man rosters.

Most moves are minor transactions or obvious moves but a few big ones have stood out, including former #1 pick Mark Appel being designated for assignment by the Philadelphia Phillies.

For the Angels, their moves were rather straight forward. They added 4 key prospects to their 40 man roster, deeming them unattainable for other teams.

The Angels have selected the following four players to the Major League roster: RHP Jaime Barria, RHP Jesus Castillo, OF Michael Hermosillo and RHP Jake Jewell.

— Angels (@Angels) November 20, 2017

Jaime Barria and Michael Hermosillo were obvious picks, given their upside potential and their proximity to the majors. Jake Jewell and Jesus Castillo were less obvious selections but they seemed likely for similar reasons as the other two players.

Jaime Barria burst onto the scene with a monster 2017 season, throwing 141.2 innings across 3 levels with a 2.80 ERA. He struck out 117 batters while walking just 31, displaying plus command his arsenal. Barria is only 20 years old, is poised beyond belief and is already physically mature for his age. With a plus fastball(92-94 mph) and change up along with a strong slider and developing curveball, there is a clear package for a legitimate starting pitcher here. Any improvements in 2018 will likely put Barria on top 100 prospect lists and, more importantly, land him in the Angels MLB rotation. Barria is personally the #3 Angels prospect on my list. 

Jaime Barria vs Visalia
FB: 91-94 mph, 2200 RPM(50/80 pitch)
CH: 81-84 mph, 1300 RPM(55/80)
CB: 78-83 mph, 2300 RPM(45/80)#Angels pic.twitter.com/g4eiODjRYb

— Brent Maguire (@bmags94) May 10, 2017

Michael Hermosillo, like Barria, has blossomed in the past few seasons and finds himself as a potential 4th outfield option in Anaheim as soon as 2018. Hermosillo hit .267/.366/.397 with 9 home runs and 35 stolen bases across 3 levels, finishing off in AAA Salt Lake. The former 28th round pick is extremely athletic, makes hard contact, runs well and handles himself well at all 3 outfield positions. He has less upside than his outfield counterparts(Jahmai Jones, Jordon Adell, Brandon Marsh) but his floor and proximity to the big leagues makes him an intriguing option. With Mike Trout, Justin Upton and Kole Calhoun in the fold, Hermosillo likely profiles as a bench piece when he first arrives. Hermosillo ranks #10 on my prospect list.

Jake Jewell doesn’t get recognized in an improving Angels system but he has quality reliever written all over him. His 4.54 ERA and 96:44 strikeout/walk ratio in 140.2 innings in 2017 doesn’t scream a legit prospect but his stuff is good enough to pitch in the majors. Jewell has a heavy fastball that he can sink(91-95 mph) or cut(87-91) while also throwing a quality slider. In short stints, many scouts believe he can excel in a relief role. Jewell ranks #12 on my prospect list.

Jesus Castillo is much less flashy than these other 3 players but his results have been great since being acquired for Joe Smith at the 2016 trade deadline. Castillo had a 3.43 ERA in 124.2 innings in 2017 while striking out 118 and walking just 26 batters. Castillo commands his 90-92 mph fastball very well along with an average changeup and mixes in a useful curveball. Castillo is a little behind these other 3 players in upside and proximity to the majors but he could be a real rotation option in 2019. He’s #20 on my prospect list.

With these additions, the Angels 40 man roster currently sits at 36 players. Any more transactions will be periodically updated here as they occur.


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#HugWatch2018

By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer

Edited by Chance Hevia (Inside Pitch) and Jason Sinner (Dochalo)

As the season crept to a merciful end, Billy Eppler and his team officially kicked into high gear for the off-season where they will have to make a decision regarding the future of 3B, with the exit of Yunel Escobar, and 1B, where it was a tale of two halves for both C.J. Cron and Luis Valbuena.

Both positions are not high priorities to fill when compared to finding a competent 2B, LF (which has already been accomplished by signing Upton), or front-of-the-rotation starter/multi-innings reliever.

However, Eppler may find that free agency or trade might provide him with a more affordable upgrade at either corner infield spot (probably more so at 1B) when compared to those other three primary needs so there could be potential action this off-season at one, or both, of the corners.

In the end Billy does not have to do anything as he could simply enter 2018 with C.J. Cron at 1B, Luis Valbuena at 3B, and Jefry Marte sharing time with the two of them, primarily against left-handed pitchers.

If the Angels really believe that Cron’s and Valbuena’s second half performances were more indicative of their true ability it may be best for Eppler to keep it simple and focus on improving other positions which have been black holes of production over the last three seasons.

The bottom line is that the Angels can potentially stand pat at either or both positions or shuffle the deck a bit and get creative to obtain more consistent production.

First Base

What a difference a half-year makes.

If you had not noticed C.J. Cron and Luis Valbuena (and Jefry Marte!) were pretty awful to start 2017. Their 1st half numbers were dreadful and, to be perfectly frank, disheartening:

2017 Angels 1B Results (1st Half Production)

Each of them, separately, produced about -0.5 WAR, struggling heavily on offense.

Fast forward a few months to the end of the 2nd half and Dr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde:

2017 Angels 1B Results (2nd Half Production)

Someone must have hit the ‘Easy’ button because the duo of Cron and Valbuena more than tripled their total home run output and more than doubled their RBI totals from the 1st half. Between the two they had a total of 38 HR’s and 113 RBI’s for the year shared between Valbuena’s 48 Games Started (GS) at 3B, 40 GS at 1B, and 2 GS at DH and Cron’s 85 GS at 1B.

Basically when you add them together you have just over a full season’s worth of games with the offensive output you would expect from a bat-first corner infielder.

So what does this mean for 2018?

The reality is that Cron and Valbuena are not as bad as they were in the 1st half but may not be as hot as they were in the 2nd half.

Both of them showed strong ISO numbers in the latter time frame (.275 and .338 respectively) and that is generally a characteristic (extra-base power) that does not vary too much year to year. Cron had a higher average while Valbuena walked more. The latter was also troubled by a very low BABIP which was due in-part to his poor handling of defensive shifts and the focus on hitting for power.

C.J. had a deceptively above average year against left-handed pitchers but virtually all of that wRC+ number sprang from home runs so I am quite hesitant to state that he has solved that historically bad part of his game. Luis could also improve against lefties but it will probably be best to platoon him again based on what happened this season.

Basically both hitters still have warts. They can produce, primarily through home run power, but neither of them has shown consistency at the plate. C.J. is limited to 1B/DH duty only, whereas Valbuena is a 3B, LF, and 1B candidate. Cron’s defense is not bad and in fact may be underrated. Having Luis bounce between the two positions probably messed a little with his defensive rhythm at both spots because he is not as bad as the 2017 numbers indicate.

So, ultimately, you have two guys that can hit RHP pretty well. One, C.J., has better overall splits while the other, Luis, is a bit more versatile on the defensive side.

There is a very real possibility that Billy Eppler will prioritize filling 2B and finding a starter for the rotation in the coming off-season while standing pat with Cron at 1B, Valbuena at 3B, and Marte spelling them against LHP when he can. This would allow Billy to punt any long-term decisions to the following off-season and would save resources to allocate to other needs now and possibly next year.

All that being said, however, there are other routes the Angels can take including trading one or both of them in an attempt to upgrade either corner spot. Collectively 1B produced approximately 0.6 WAR while our hot corner group nearly tripled that number at 1.6 WAR, total. This really points to 1B as the more probable area to improve.

One option that might realistically be on the table is a trade for Brandon Belt from the San Francisco Giants. There have been reports and rumors that Belt and superstar Buster Posey have clashed on the field and possibly in the clubhouse. The Giants, who felt they should have been serious contenders in 2017, may want to shake up the clubhouse dynamic by moving Brandon in trade as they retool for a run next season. Skipper Bruce Bochy was even quoted saying they would “welcome a new look” at first base in 2018.

In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline it was reported, via MLBTradeRumors.com, and Jon Morosi, that the Angels may be a good fit for Belt and that makes sense as the Halos could certainly use another left-handed bat in their lineup.

Brandon is not a premier power-hitter, averaging about 18 home runs over the last three seasons, but he is a good run producer and has an excellent batting-eye. He strikes me as a good choice to hit near the top of the lineup, perhaps in the 2-spot, as he has sported a .380 On-Base Percentage (OBP) paired with a 132 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) from 2015 to the present.

Belt has four more years of contractual control at a very reasonable $14.56M per year in AAV with approximately $68.8M ($17.2M per year) left to pay him on his contract. Near the end of the season he did have a concussion-related injury that put him on the 60-day disabled list so the Angels will have to perform their due diligence in regard to his medicals, if they go down this path, because this is his fourth concussion in eight years.

As Jake Mastroianni wrote, any trade for Brandon will likely involve a Major League replacement, a top tier prospect, and one mid-tier prospect based on the relatively strong value he brings in combination with his reasonable money owed. However, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins called the contract “burdensome” so there may be an opportunity for Eppler to extract some value from what appears to be a deteriorating situation for Belt up North.

The truth of Brandon’s value probably lies somewhere in-between those two perspectives, so perhaps a trade of C.J. Cron, Michael Hermosillo, and another mid-tier prospect gets it done or maybe an alternative grouping like Michael Hermosillo, Brennon Lund, Matt Thaiss, and Connor Lillis-White would do the trick.

Beyond Belt the Angels will probably inquire on Freddie Freeman but he seems unavailable despite the fact that the Braves farm system has a lot of top prospects sitting down in the low Minors that are not ready to support the Major League roster. It would take a lot to pry Freeman away but his bat would have a significant impact to our offense if Billy did pull off a miracle.

Other 1B names in free agency include Eric Hosmer, Adam Lind, Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Mark Reynolds, Yonder Alonso, and Mitch Moreland. An even sneakier, value pick-up could be someone like C Alex Avila who played a competent 1B last season and hit the cover off the ball against RHP. One other option would be Japanese superstar Shohei Otani whom we discussed in Eppler’s Strategy section but every team in baseball will be inquiring on him. If he can play in the outfield, it seems reasonable he could play 1B.

Other than Belt and Freeman mentioned above, the trade market does offer other names like Matt Carpenter, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Abreu, Joe Mauer, Chase Headley, Tommy Joseph, and Matt Adams that might pique Eppler’s interest if the price is right.

Billy will have to feel the market out as it appears this year’s 1B market will be depressed just like it was last season. There was a glut of supply on the market that, in hindsight, suppressed prices, creating potential bargains.

If Eppler thinks he can trade Cron and move some of the deck chairs around to acquire a bargain in free agency or trade it would not be surprising in the least especially when you consider the pitiful production the team’s first basemen put up in 2017.

High Price to Pay –

  • Freddie Freeman
  • Miguel Cabrera
  • Brandon Belt
  • Eric Hosmer

Middle of the Road –

  • Matt Carpenter
  • Jose Abreu
  • Carlos Santana
  • Tommy Joseph
  • Adrian Gonzalez
  • Joe Mauer
  • Chase Headley

Bargain Basement –

  • Logan Morrison
  • Yonder Alonso
  • Lucas Duda
  • Mark Reynolds
  • Adam Lind
  • Matt Adams
  • Brad Miller

Default Solution(s) –

  • Luis Valbuena
  • C.J. Cron
  • Jefry Marte
  • Albert Pujols

Author’s Choice

For reasons we will discuss later in the Final Thoughts article it is my opinion that the Angels will upgrade at 1B by acquiring a hitter than can not only swat RHP well but pairs that ability with a high OBP.

In particular Matt Carpenter strikes me as the right combination of contract length (controllable for 3 years), price (low AAV for the next two years), hitting ability, and on-base skills.

It is possible the Cardinals keep him but he has a fairly high salary for 2018 and beyond that St. Louis would likely want to shed if the rumors are true that they are pursuing a big middle of the order bat. Carpenter would be great hitting lead-off or out of the 2-hole for the Halos.

An alternate, good, backup solution would be Brandon Belt. He too has a strong history of high on-base ability but would cost the Angels a bit more in money and trade chips, making him a strong second choice.

Freddie Freeman and Kyle Schwarber would be my dream choices but both of them will be costly in terms of resources, particularly Freeman.

Third Base

2017 Angels 3B Results

Between Yunel Escobar, Luis Valbuena, and Kaleb Cowart, Angels third basemen collectively produced 1.6 WAR in 2017, ranking them 24th overall for the season. As you can see there is certainly room for improvement.

Rather than rehash the above which applies to Valbuena here in the third base discussion let us play a little game of player blind-comparison.

Remember there is no right or wrong answer here (well maybe a couple of wrong answers) just a pure match-up of the numbers produced by 20 players over the last three seasons that represent the most likely trade and free agent acquisitions the Angels could potentially make mixed with our internal solutions.

Note that there are some sample size issues in terms of PA’s for some of the players on this chart. The answer key is near the end of this article:

3B Blind Comparison Chart (No Names)

The first thing you might notice is that there are a couple of players whose numbers jump off of the page and get your attention.

Players 1, 11, 17, and 19 certainly have stronger overall numbers than the rest of the group. On the flip side Players 3, 12, and 13 leave a lot to be desired and perhaps avoided at all costs.

Beyond those players, though, it is a somewhat even playing field with little variance across the board. Reasonable cases could be made to acquire one of these middle-ground options if the price is right and the Angels would probably walk away sufficiently satisfied with their purchase if they did.

If defense matters most to Eppler then Players 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, and 20 would be more preferable choices.

Billy has made it clear he wants every position around the diamond to be defensively strong so it is hard to imagine him dumping defense, completely, for offense out of the hot corner. Based on that assumption Players 1 and 16 are probably non-starters for Eppler.

Below is the answer key:

3B Blind Comparison Chart (Names)

As was presented in the Angelswin.com forum a couple of weeks ago, AW.com member Dochalo pointed out a blind comparison between Mike Moustakas and Luis Valbuena showing quite similar hitting and production profiles over their careers.

Of course Moose is younger and could still break out further but the point Dochalo was trying to make and the question Eppler has to ask himself is this: Is it worth dolling out a 5-year, $85M contract to Moustakas or would the team be better served by having Luis play the hot corner this year for the $8M we have already spent?

In a season where payroll needs to be intelligently applied to maximize value, spending an additional $17M in AAV per season to upgrade by approximately one win does not strike me as efficient. You could just as easily have Valbuena play 3B and sign a quality reliever like Jake McGee or Addison Reed, for less money, and achieve the same total win effect.

High Price to Pay –

  • Nick Senzel
  • Eugenio Suarez
  • Evan Longoria
  • Mike Moustakas

Middle of the Road –

  • Jedd Gyorko
  • Manny Machado
  • Josh Donaldson
  • Maikel Franco
  • Michael Chavis
  • Jake Lamb
  • Josh Harrison
  • Todd Frazier
  • Greg Garcia

Bargain Basement –

  • Logan Forsythe
  • Eduardo Nunez
  • Chase Headley
  • Derek Dietrich
  • Martin Prado
  • Asdrubal Cabrera
  • Brad Miller

Default Solution(s) –

  • Luis Valbuena
  • Kaleb Cowart
  • Nolan Fontana
  • Sherman Johnson

Author’s Choice –

Before I started the Primer Series back in late June if I had been asked which positions the Angels needed to address this off-season I almost assuredly would have mentioned 3B in that conversation.

However, the beauty of doing a deep dive into the teams finances, production results, and options to upgrade, gives you a better appreciation of what Billy Eppler should or shouldn’t do to make the team better.

Although 3B does need to be addressed at some point, the glaring holes of – 0.1 and 0.6 WAR at 2B and 1B, respectively, are far more jarring and in need of attention.

Steamer and Depth Charts agree that Valbuena should produce approximately 1.5 WAR give or take next season, basically matching the output the Angels received this season. It is certainly nothing to write home about but it isn’t nothing either.

It seems likely, barring a good deal for a player like Eugenio Suarez or Jake Lamb for instance, that Luis Valbuena will be our starting 3B on Opening Day 2018, based on current and future needs combined with our more pressing resource allocations at 1B, 2B, and in the rotation/bullpen.

In the next section we will discuss the Outfield.

 


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andrelton-simmons-mjt-ap2.jpg?w=403&h=22

By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer

Edited by Chance Hevia (Inside Pitch) and Jason Sinner (Dochalo)

 

The Angels enter the 2017-2018 off-season with a surefire superstar at one up-the-middle position and a potential black hole at the other.

In regards to the former Billy Eppler took care of that need nearly two years ago and it has quite possibly been the best decision in his brief tenure as General Manager of the Angels.

However a good fix to the latter has proven elusive and, although there are internal options to fill the position, the question Billy must ask himself is, are they the best solutions available?

Shortstop

 

2017 Angels SS Results

One thing that every General Manager loves to get is steady, consistent performance out of every position, day-in and day-out. Of course the Angels are lucky to have Mike Trout, who is, currently, the best example of that type of player, but they are also very fortunate to have 2017 Gold Glove and Fielding Bible Award winning shortstop Andrelton Simmons in the fold as well.

The trade of Andrelton “Simba” Simmons and Jose Briceno for Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis, and Erick Aybar has yet to fully play out in terms of who “won the trade”. That will only be determined when each of the respective players have served their time with each organization and that could take years to fully resolve itself. However it is easy to say that the Angels are probably out to an early lead in that discussion.

Simmons has been nothing short of spectacular. Known for his superlative defense, he continues to show his incredible range, quickness, arm, and instincts on a daily basis. More importantly Andrelton’s body frame has matured incrementally and now he is a threat not only defensively but offensively as well, sporting a nifty 104 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) in 2017 that appears to be sustainable moving forward.

Beyond Andrelton’s excellent play on the field, his work ethic and commitment to excellence is unsurpassed, resulting in the type of mental fortitude you find among some of the greatest players in baseball. His in-game awareness is second-to-none and it is just one more layer of value he brings to the team that sets him apart from other, lesser, players.

The Angels have contractual control of Simba for the next three seasons (2018-2020) on a very team-friendly contract with an Average Annual Value (AAV) of just under $8.3M per year. More importantly this aligns perfectly with the Mike Trout window of contention, adding to a great core of players the front office can use to build around their superstar center fielder.

It would not be at all surprising for Eppler and the Angels to approach Andrelton about an extension contract in the near future. Normally it is not the best investment to give a long-term contract to a defense-first player who is heading into his late 20’s/early 30’s but Simmons is not normal and his defense is so otherworldly that even if he declines he would still be one of the better shortstops in the game.

Although it may not happen this off-season, it feels like there is a reasonably high probability that Billy will negotiate with Simba’s agent between now and Opening Day 2020. The basis of the deal will likely fall somewhere between Elvis Andrus’ and Troy Tulowitzki’s contract extensions. The former was a touch younger than Andrelton but not as good on defense while the latter already had three 5 1/2 WAR seasons under his belt when he signed his long-term deal.

That extension, assuming it happens in the 2018-2019 off-season, would likely be a 7-8 year deal (restructuring Andrelton’s current contract) with an AAV of about $17M per season for a total range of $119M-$136M. This contract would almost certainly exceed the AAV of Elvis’ and Troy’s extensions, thereby rewarding Simmons for his excellent play and likely providing the Angels with reliable value moving forward.

Even if Andrelton loses a step or two at shortstop he could, in the worst case scenario, shift over to the keystone in his later years if his athleticism and range decline and would likely still provide reasonable value at second base. Players with Simmons defensive ability do not grow on trees and that is the primary reason Eppler acquired him in the first place to build the best foundation for the organization’s up-the-middle defense.

Hopefully Billy will work on keeping Simba in Anaheim as long as possible. In the event Andrelton chooses to explore free agency the Angels should be able to move him prior to the 2020 trade deadline for quite a haul in prospect value, perhaps even matching what we gave up for him in the first place if we are out of contention. Barring something untoward in the future this acquisition is looking like a big win for Billy Eppler and the Angels. Bravo!

Author’s Choice –

Andrelton Simmons, all day, every day!

Second Base

2017 Angels 2B Results

For the last few years, after Howie Kendrick left, it has been pretty clear that the Angels need to find a long-term solution to settle their second base situation because continuing to get results like those above, in the graph, is the definition of insanity. A total of -0.1 WAR just will not cut it if the Angels want to have sustained success.

Although we said it last year (and the year before), 2018 increasingly appears to be the year the team will finally address this important goal and add the final, fourth element to their exceptional up-the-middle defensive unit of Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons, and Martin Maldonado.

The Angels had hoped that one of their AA and AAA Minor League options would pan out and possibly fill the role but the three most likely candidates, Kaleb Cowart, Nolan Fontana, and Sherman Johnson have not produced and developed as rapidly as the team needs them to at this moment in time (and it is possible they may never do so).

Cowart of course is the recovering prospect the Angels brought up to the Majors on July 23rd to take a longer look at him over the remainder of the 2017 season. He initially performed well on both sides of the ball but fell off offensively as the season progressed. If Billy is forced to play a prospect, due to market factors, Kaleb could wind up with the job by default.

Behind him the less heralded Nolan Fontana put up a nice season in AAA, Salt Lake City, UT playing for the Bees. In fact the Angels even called him up for a short seven game stretch in the first half of 2017 but he struggled a bit offensively in his first cup of coffee in the Majors. Fontana’s defense is probably a touch better than Cowart’s but both can pick the ball well. Nolan is also a likely default candidate, for Eppler, as he is already on the 40-man roster.

Finally, Fringe Five Superstar Sherman Johnson has also performed well splitting time between AA, Mobile, AL and AAA, Salt Lake City, UT, playing at several positions (1B, 2B, 3B, SS, and LF) in what may be a pivot towards playing in a super utility role when he arrives in Anaheim. He plays good defense and although he does not have as much pop as Fontana or Cowart he does have a bit more speed. If the Angels do not add him to their 40-man roster by mid-to-late November he will likely be a strong Rule V candidate and could depart the franchise to a more playing-time friendly environment.

As we enter the 2017-2018 off-season, Eppler knows that the three internal candidates above probably will not pass muster at this point in time, so he finds himself setting the table for an off-season where there appears to be more readily productive, acquirable options that will not break the Angels piggy bank.

Some of those choices can be found on the trade market where keystone players like Cesar Hernandez, Jedd Gyorko, Kolten Wong, Greg Garcia, Jonathan Villar, Brad Miller, Eugenio Suarez, Ozhaino Albies, Yangervis Solarte, Ian Kinsler, Logan Forsythe, Jordy Mercer, Carlos Asuaje, T.J. Rivera, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ildemaro Vargas, DJ LeMahieu, Troy Tulowitzki (perhaps it’s time for him to move off of SS?), Yandy Diaz, Devon Travis, Martin Prado, and Joe Panik, among others, could be in play.

Finding a trade partner is the more likely scenario because the free agent market is lacking an abundance of 2B choices. The top name, Neil Walker, would probably be of interest to the Halos. Behind him it quickly falls off to our old friend Howie Kendrick, the versatile Eduardo Nunez, and short-term Halo Brandon Phillips, and then really drops off a cliff to players like Alexi Amarista and Stephen Drew.

One other interesting name in free agency that the Angels could consider at 2B is Zack Cozart (a natural SS). In his first healthy season in quite a while he posted a career high walk rate (12.1%) and hard hit rate (31.5%). Additionally he had solid splits against LHP and RHP on top of his really good defense.

The bottom line is that the Angels need to improve at the position if they want to avoid a repeat of the last three years. Fortunately there are good defensive options that are realistically available in both free agency (Cozart and to a lesser degree Walker) and trade (Gordon, Hernandez, Garcia, Kipnis, and Kinsler are probably the top defensive choices) so Eppler should be able to find a fit if the price makes sense (and remember our insider knowledge of negotiations is virtually zero).

Below is the author’s best estimate of the most likely targets categorized by total price (payroll and/or prospect cost) in five bins: “High Price to Pay”, “Middle of the Road”, “Bargain Basement”, “Default Solution(s)”, and the last which is the “Author’s Choice”.

High Price to Pay –

  • Ozhaino Albies
  • Luis Urias
  • Cesar Hernandez
  • Troy Tulowitzki
  • Yandy Diaz

Middle of the Road –

  • Zack Cozart
  • Neil Walker
  • Jason Kipnis
  • Greg Garcia

Bargain Basement –

  • Dee Gordon
  • Ian Kinsler
  • Martin Prado
  • Brad Miller

Default Solution(s) –

  • Kaleb Cowart
  • Nolan Fontana
  • Sherman Johnson
  • David Fletcher

Author’s Choice –

Although Dee Gordon is certainly not my favorite selection out of this group (if I had my way we’d pick up Kipnis, Hernandez, Cozart, Urias, or Albies) he does represent the most likely, inexpensive upgrade for the Angels. Dee’s 2017, 3.3 WAR would be a massive improvement over the collective -0.1 WAR that six players produced for us this season! Most importantly if the Angels absorb most or all of Gordon’s salary the prospect price should be relatively low (say a couple of mid to low-tier prospects).

In an off-season where Billy Eppler will have to intelligently allocate payroll and farm system assets, 2B is one of the more likely areas based on market supply, particularly at the mid and lower end, where less spent can be more for the team in 2018 and beyond.

Another alternate, inexpensive option would be Brad Miller who recently underwent core muscle surgery to correct a lingering problem that probably contributed to his poor showing in 2017. He is a former shortstop who hit 30 HR’s in 2016 so he could be a steal from a Rays team that needs to cut salary. Miller could actually play 3B as well but profiles better at 2B.


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MLB: Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels

By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer

Edited by Chance Hevia (Inside Pitch) and Jason Sinner (Dochalo)

2017 Angels RP Results

If there was one thing that went really right in 2017 it was the Angels bullpen, sporting a 3.92 ERA (11th), 6.6 WAR (5th), 18.5% K%-BB% (5th), 1.20 WHIP (5th), and .238 BAA (12th), spread out over 569 IP (8th most).

Leading that charge was Yusmeiro Petit, whom Eppler signed out of free agency, followed closely by waiver-wire claim, Blake Parker. Behind them was trade pick-up David Hernandez (later sent to the Diamondbacks) followed by homegrown Cam Bedrosian.

All acquired through different methods and all achieving strong results!

Even behind those critical four pitchers, the Angels got positive results out of role players like Jesse Chavez, Bud Norris, Jose Alvarez, Keynan Middleton, and late in the season, our old friend Fernando Salas and waiver-wire pick-up Blake Wood.

So what does 2018 have in store for the bullpen?

The Angels declined Huston Street’s option, paying his a $1M buy-out, sending him into free agency, along with the other relievers we are losing, so that Eppler can acquire other, higher impact candidates.

Unless Billy replenishes the loss of Petit, Norris, Hernandez, Street, Chavez, and Salas (and possibly Wood if they non-tender him) the Angels will likely take a step backward in production, to some degree, next year.

Billy has proven very good so far at evaluating talent and combing the free agent and trade markets, as well as the waiver-wire, so Angels fans should have a measure of confidence that our 2018 relief corps will be reasonably good, it is just unknown how good or bad it will be compared to 2017.

The table below shows most of the available internal relievers, at the AA, AAA, and MLB levels, that the Angels could potentially call upon to support the 2018 campaign (Options, listed, were pulled from RosterResource.com, as of 11/08/2017):

2018 Reliever Table

The 2018 season should see the return of Blake Parker, Cam Bedrosian, Jose Alvarez, and Keynan Middleton into the fold. Additionally Eduardo Paredes should have a shot to make the team again out of Spring Training (but he has options so they may start him in the Minors). Blake Wood might return too but he will come with a likely, hefty, arbitration salary at about $2.2M so the Angels might non-tender him instead (more likely than not he stays).

In addition to those guys, the Angels picked up some additional players throughout the season including Noe Ramirez, Felix Pena, and Dayan Diaz all of which have pretty live arms and could be contributors to the bullpen next year.

When you analyze the back-end of the Angels ‘pen it is still relatively intact. Parker was absolutely tremendous in high-leverage situations (28.6% K%-BB%) as was Cam Bedrosian (20.5% K%-BB%) and Keynan Middleton (27.3% K%-BB%).

What this really means for 2018 is that the Angels do not have to go out and sign a high-end reliever in free agency or acquire one in trade. Certainly adding another quality arm would be very useful but it is not an area of strong need.

Eppler will probably be better off combing the waiver wire and trade markets again or simply waiting out the free agent market, until January, to pick-up a marked-down asset that can contribute quality innings.

For instance if Billy wants to supplement the bullpen he could trade for a short-term asset like Brad Hand (approximately $3.8M in 2018 and $6.5M in 2019), Brad Ziegler ($9M), Boone Logan ($7M), Carter Capps (approximately $1.3M), or Jim Johnson ($5M) for example.

An experienced veteran would probably be value-added to the youngsters in our bullpen and would only tie up a relief spot and payroll for 1-2 seasons. Alternatively the Angels could probably reunite with Yusmeiro Petit or even Bud Norris on another one year deal.

Instead of acquiring a reliever the Angels actually have in-house options available as well. Players like Adam Hofacket, Conor Lillis-White, Greg Mahle, Jeremy Rhoades, and Michael Dimok could be potential contributors at some point in the 2018 season if there is a need.

In fact having this many relievers down in AA and AAA could be part of the plan if the Angels run out more “bullpen” starts in 2018. The Halos could potentially fill the remainder of their 40-man  roster with relievers and rotate them in and out of the Major League team, riding the shuttle up and down to Salt Lake City or Mobile each week if the reliever(s) in question have at least one option available (which most of them should).

Of course the team could simply take one of our recovering starters, for instance Nick Tropeano, and have them pitch out of the bullpen for some or all of 2018. Tropeano and Ramirez (if he does not require TJS) would be ideal candidates actually if that is the route Eppler decides to go because they will both likely be on a strict innings pitched limit next season, particularly Nick.

Another route that Eppler could take is to trade one of Parker, Bedrosian, and Middleton as part of a package for another area of need and sign one of the many relievers available in free agency.

Names like Addison Reed, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Jake McGee, Mike Minor, Yusmeiro Petit, Luke Gregerson, Brandon Morrow, Bryan Shaw, Anthony Swarzak, Zach Duke, Ian Krol, and Tony Watson might all have varying levels of appeal to the Angels front office.

As an example the Angels could package up Bedrosian and perhaps a reliever like Michael Dimok and ship them off to the Indians in exchange for 2B Jason Kipnis. Then Eppler could go out and sign someone like Addison Reed on a 4-year, $48M deal. This would raise total payroll by about $20M in AAV but would solve our 2B issue for the next three seasons and replace what we lose in Cam’s absence.

It is my suspicion that Eppler will generally try to take the route of least resistance when it comes to building and spending money on the bullpen. This is one trait that Billy and former Angels GM, Jerry Dipoto, have in common but it is the former that has done a far, far superior job of finding the right talent in his short time with the Angels whether it is through trade, free agency, or even picking a gem out of the Minor Leagues.

In fact, as Jason Sinner pointed out, there are a slew of Minor League free agents hitting the airwaves this off-season per BaseballAmerica.com, that Eppler may want to sign to a Minor League deal to act as team depth.

There are some interesting names in that article that the Angels could pursue including Tyler Badamo, Enrique Burgos, Kris Medlen, Jayson Aquino, Andrew Faulkner, Matt Purke, Geoff Broussard, Domingo Tapia, Tim Cooney, Luis Lugo, Chris Withrow, David Hale, Justin Masterson, Mike Kickham, Hiram Burgos, Evan Marshall, Pat Venditte, Ashur Tolliver, Jonny Venters, Paolo Espino, Dario Alvarez, Kevin Jepsen, Neil Ramirez, Tim Collins, and Neal Cotts among many, many others.

However, with all of the resources now available this off-season, Billy does have room to make an addition or re-shuffle the deck a little to bring in at least one of his preferred choices in free agency or trade and could very well do so.

Based on the current roster here is the projected Opening Day bullpen for 2018:

Opening Day 2018 Bullpen List

This of course assumes that both Nick and J.C. are healthy and fully recovered. Both Ramirez and Wood are out of options so they have to be on the roster in some capacity if the Angels retain them both (and they probably will). If Tropeano and/or Ramirez (J.C.) are not available on Opening Day, Eduardo Paredes and Noe Ramirez are probably the next most likely candidates to bring up.

So the point of this discussion rests on the premise that the Angels could simply enter 2018 with the assembled group of relievers currently in place and probably have an above average bullpen group. It is certainly a nice group of hard-throwers, mixed with some lower velocity types that can give hitters a different look in the batter’s box.

However it really feels like Eppler could do a little bit more to improve this squad heading into next season, particularly if he can acquire one more high quality reliever that can get batters out on both sides of the plate. This would allow Billy to afford to either a ) displace someone like Scribner, who has options, down to the Minors or b ) run an 8-man bullpen for most, if not all, of the 2018 season.

The Angels, not unlike what the New York Mets are planning to do in 2018, are well positioned to run out more bullpen “rotations” where most Angels starters would not exceed more than two times through the batting order of an opposing team. This is a bit more likely, in part, due to the possible innings pitched limits we discussed for the starting staff in the Rotation section of the Primer Series.

It will be very interesting to see what the Angels do with their entire pitching staff this off-season. If Eppler goes out and acquires more than one quality reliever it heightens the odds that the team will move toward this new vector and philosophy on how to statistically utilize your starters and relievers in the most effective manner.

No matter what the bullpen winds up looking like, it should be a potent group capable of holding up any lead in the mid and late innings of games. Eppler, in a short sample size, appears to have an excellent group of scouts and analysts with the ability to spot talent so the bullpen is unlikely to be a source of trouble in 2018.

Here are the resource tiers with a sampling of players Billy might be eyeing in free agency or trade:

High Price to Pay –

  • Greg Holland
  • Wade Davis
  • Addison Reed

Middle of the Road –

  • Andrew Miller
  • Kyle Barraclough
  • Jake McGee
  • Drew Steckenrider
  • Brad Hand
  • Kirby Yates
  • Raisel Iglesias
  • Jose Urena
  • Mike Minor
  • Brandon Morrow
  • Tony Watson
  • Carter Capps

Bargain Basement –

  • Jim Johnson
  • Bryan Shaw
  • Anthony Swarzak
  • Yusmeiro Petit
  • Bud Norris
  • Zach Duke
  • Jesse Chavez
  • Joe Smith

Default Solution(s) –

  • Eduardo Paredes
  • Noe Ramirez
  • Dayan Diaz
  • Felix Pena
  • Greg Mahle
  • Adam Hofacket
  • Michael Dimock
  • Conor Lillis-White

Author’s Choice –

For the most part I believe the Angels will stand pat in the bullpen when you consider that Nick Tropeano and J.C. Ramirez are unlikely to break the Opening Day rotation.

All that being said Eppler has resources to apply this off-season and there will almost certainly be a high degree of interest in one or more of Parker, Bedrosian, and Middleton in the multitude of trade discussions Billy has or is currently having with the other 29 teams.

There are a fair number of quality relievers in the free agent and trade markets so it would not be a total surprise to see a guy like Parker or Bedrosian moved for another area of need and then Eppler uses either cash or trade chips to acquire another two-way reliever to replace him.

If Billy does go after an additional bullpen piece in trade, I am putting my money on Brad Hand of the Padres. If he prefers free agency I am going with Addison Reed, Jake McGee, Mike Minor, or Yusmeiro Petit, but this search is so wide and broad it is simply anyone’s guess so feel free to insert your own favorite reliever into this discussion.

In the next section we will cover the Middle Infield.


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2018 Rotation Primer Image

2017 Angels SP Results

A touchy subject for the last two years running, the Angels rotation appears to be heading towards a semblance of health as the team slides into the 2017-2018 off-season, but whether it stays that way is a different matter, so Billy Eppler will need to evaluate his options from a medical, seasonal, and a potential playoff point-of-view before Opening Day 2018 to determine if it is an area where the team stands pat or is in need of an upgrade.

Before we go any further we need to examine which pitchers are currently at the AA level or higher, how many innings pitched (IP) they had in 2017, approximately how many IP they project to have in 2018, are they currently on the 40-man roster, and how many options they have left (the last is courtesy of RosterResource.com as of 11/04/17):

StartingPitcherMatrix

Typically a Major League team wants to be at least ten starters deep to begin any season, so the first thing that immediately jumps off the page is that the Angels already have significant rotation depth heading into 2018. If you count the prospects and subtract both the two injured players, Meyer and Ramirez, the Angels have sixteen potential starters which is excellent in terms of the number of warm bodies.

However it is the quality, health, and length of those warm bodies that Eppler is probably more concerned with and, based on the last two years of significant rotation injuries, it is an area of risk that Billy will once again have to aggressively manage in 2018.

So we all know that every team in the Majors wants and needs an “Ace” starting pitcher. This is the guy that runs out there every 5 days and gives you a really good chance to win the game on any given start. He is the guy you hand the ball to in Game 1 of the Division, League, and World Series Championships. He is the guy with the “filthy” stuff and the “bulldog” mentality. The “Ace” is the guy that gets it done and rights the ship if the team has hit a rough patch.

Out of that group above the only player who has shown any consistency as an Ace is Garrett Richards. Unfortunately he has spent most of 2016 and 2017 on the disabled list, first with a serious knee injury and then an even more serious, partially torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL). Richards spent the last handful of weeks of the regular season rehabilitating his arm and throwing a minimal number of innings for the team (and looked good doing it).

However the concern here, heading into the off-season, is not only his health but the fact that he will almost certainly be on an innings-pitched limit for the 2018 season. Simply put there are questions about his effectiveness (he needs to prove he is healthy) and how many innings he can throw for the Angels next season (including the playoffs if they make it). These are legitimate questions and concerns, particularly if we hit the post-season.

Behind Richards, the young, but oft-injured Alex Meyer has shown glimpses of high-quality strikeout ability that hints at Ace-like potential but is often marred by control issues in the form of high walk rates. Unfortunately near the end of 2017 he had shoulder surgery that will likely keep him out all of next year.

If he recovers well and stays healthy Alex could also prove to be a #1 starter himself but there is a lot of built-in risk here for Billy Eppler to reliably count on him as a starter heading into the 2019 season. The lost development time probably means that the bullpen is his likely landing spot if and when he does return.

Taking a step down from the “Ace” moniker to the next rung of the ladder you have some other familiar names like Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Matt Shoemaker. Each of these men has the potential to flash moments where they dominate their competition and others where their mechanics fail them. These three more consistently show front or mid-rotation ability over an entire season.

After this trio you have back-end starter types like Bridwell, Ramirez, Scribner, and Tropeano. On the prospect side you have names like Smith, Barria, Jewell, Morales, and Carpenter as potential reserve starters entering 2018. Barria and Jewell have more upside, perhaps mid-rotation level capability, than the rest.

Basically, for 2018, the Angels have one “Ace”, a trio of mid-rotation types, several back-end starter types, and some prospects that can act as both mid and back-end rotation depth.

So are the Angels in desperate need of another starter or can they run with what they have?

Here is the rub regarding our rotation set-up in 2018.

Eppler will want his best pitchers to be available and ready for the post-season if the Angels are in contention. Based on the chart above our top five pitchers are Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Heaney, and one of J.C. Ramirez or Parker Bridwell, as the roster currently stands. Under normal circumstances that is a reasonably good rotation.

The problem of course involves the number of innings that all five will be capable of throwing including any and all playoff appearances. A healthy, stretched-out starter can start 30 games and provide 175+ innings over a full MLB season and upwards of 200 or more if you add in playoff appearances.

Richards has pitched a total of 27.2 innings in 2017. Last year he pitched 34.2 innings. Realistically asking him to pitch more than 120 innings or so, in 2018, could be problematic and possibly dangerous from a medical point-of-view. The likely scenario is that the Angels use Garrett sparingly, perhaps even out of the bullpen, for some portion of 2018.

Heaney is also in the same boat. He pitched just 6 innings in 2016 and a whopping 49.1 in the last half of 2017 after he recovered from Tommy John Surgery (TJS). Shoemaker and Skaggs have thrown a total of 80.2 and 98.2 innings, respectively, in 2017. Even those two could be on a moderate leash next season.

This of course assumes that these four are healthy and effective after suffering through their various ailments. It would be foolish for Billy Eppler to count on all of them bouncing back to full form. There is a lot of risk built-in to this quartet of starters for the 2018 season in terms of work load, durability, and effectiveness on the mound.

So if four of your best starters have to be managed carefully what can Eppler do to mitigate this problem?

One idea would be to use Richards and Heaney out of the bullpen for the first part of 2018 and then, when the time is right, slide them back into the rotation for the stretch run. This would put a cap on their inning totals and hopefully keep them fresh for when the team will need them the most.

Alternatively the Angels could try running out a 6-man rotation where each starter would pitch every 6th or 7th day instead of the normal 5-day separation between starts. This too would put a cap on their total innings but would not be as strict as a half bullpen/half rotation stint would be.

A third option would be to run out a trio of “bullpen” rotations where you have one or more starters pair up with one or two relievers to pitch a full game. For instance one day you could have Richards, Skaggs, and Pena split innings pitched (say 4/4/1, 5/2/2, or even 3/3/3), then the second day have Heaney, Shoemaker, and Tropeano do the same, and then the third day have Bridwell, Wood, and Paredes close out the series. That would leave Scioscia with 3-4 relievers (Bedrosian, Parker, Middleton, et al) to use in high leverage situations or if one of those “bullpen” starters gets in trouble.

Realistically it would not be surprising to see Eppler and Scioscia choose a standard 5-man staff and open the 2018 season with a starting rotation of Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Heaney, and Parker Bridwell. Alternatively Troy Scribner or possibly Nick Tropeano could be swapped out for one or more of those names. Also one or more of those starters could begin the year in the bullpen or possibly even the Minor Leagues (unlikely) in this scenario.

Obviously having Garrett and Andrew in relief is not ideal, or perhaps even practical, but logically it is difficult to envision them as starters for the entire year based on our discussion above. Matt’s and Tyler’s recent injury histories only add to the overall concern. This whole situation screams for more stability at the top of the rotation for next season and the only way to do that is by making a trade for, or signing, a front- or middle-of-the-rotation starter.

The Angels certainly have enough free payroll to do this as we discussed in the Financial section of this Primer series.

This simply means that top free agent starters like Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta could be atop Billy’s wish list or maybe someone like Alex Cobb or Jaime Garcia might be more attractive to Eppler. If Shohei Otani is posted this off-season from Japan the Angels will almost assuredly pursue him to the best of their ability as he could potentially start and play left field or 1B (he is rumored to want a team that will play him as a two-way player).

If free agency is not to Eppler’s liking he could pursue a trade instead. The Angels have enough prospect and player capital to pull off one big deal. However when you scan the top starters around the league the only name that might be readily available is the Rays Chris Archer whom was reportedly on the market recently.

Certainly a top starter like Archer, if he is actually available in the off-season, would cost a lot for the Angels to acquire. Eppler would likely wind up paying some combination of MLB talent and top prospects when dealing with Tampa in this particular case.

The conversation would probably start with one of our more controllable MLB pitchers such as Skaggs, Shoemaker, or Heaney and include one of our top outfield prospects, like Jones, Adell, or Marsh, along with someone like C.J. Cron and perhaps 1-2 additional, mid-to-lower level prospects. Alternatively it could be something like a package of Cam Bedrosian, C.J. Cron, Jordon Adell, Chris Rodriguez, and Taylor Ward for instance.

It will cost this much because Archer’s contract is so unbelievably inexpensive ($4.25M AAV from 2018-2019 plus a $9M 2020 option and an $11M 2021 option). That would add an incredible advantage in regard to team payroll (AAV).

Chris may be the most attractive name in current circulation but he is certainly not the only name the Angels could check in on.

The Indians, after this season, may be ready to part with one of their top starters like Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar or possibly Bauer. Perhaps the Detroit Tigers would be willing to move Michael Fulmer or Daniel Norris as well. A rumor has circulated that the Blue Jays may deal Marcus Stroman too.

A low payroll team like the Diamondbacks or Rockies might be willing to swing a deal for Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray or Zack Godley or, in the case of Colorado, one of German Marquez, Jeff Hoffman, or Tyler Anderson.  Other names like Jose Urena, Kevin Gausman, Joe Biagini, and Matt Harvey could potentially be in play as well.

The bottom line is that there are options for Billy to explore and pursue. Resources and money cannot buy happiness but they can potentially acquire a 95 mph fastball.

Assuming our starting five come back and pitch the actual number of innings based on the projections above it is not unreasonable to believe that Richards, Skaggs, Shoemaker, Heaney, and Bridwell could improve the team by 4-5 wins. Combined with the addition of Upton for a full season and the Angels probably move from an 80 win team to 86-88 wins. Add in a competent 2B and 3B and you probably improve by another 2-4 wins on top of that, cresting 90 wins.

Really this will come down to Eppler’s confidence in his ability to find pitching talent (which he has done well so far to-date) versus going with a more known entity with a strong track record in the Majors.

Either way the team needs to add one more front- or middle-of-the-rotation starter for 2018 if they go with a traditional 5-man starting staff, otherwise, particularly if Eppler does not want to spend resources on the rotation, they need to find a strong, hybrid reliever/starter, multi-innings type to add to the mix.

Below is the author’s best estimate of the most likely targets categorized by total price (payroll and/or prospect cost) in four bins: “High Price to Pay”, “Middle of the Road”, “Bargain Basement”, “Default Solution(s)”, and the last which is the “Author’s Choice”.

High Price to Pay –

  • Chris Archer
  • Michael Fulmer
  • Robbie Ray
  • Corey Kluber
  • Carlos Carrasco
  • Zack Godley
  • Tyler Anderson
  • Jeff Hoffman

Middle of the Road –

  • German Marquez
  • Danny Salazar
  • Marcus Stroman
  • Trevor Bauer
  • Daniel Norris
  • Jose Urena
  • Joe Biagini
  • Mike Minor
  • Brad Hand

Bargain Basement –

  • Gio Gonzalez
  • J.A. Happ
  • Patrick Corbin
  • Matt Harvey

Default Solution(s) –

  • Parker Bridwell
  • Troy Scribner
  • J.C. Ramirez (if healthy)
  • Nick Tropeano (unlikely due to IP limit)
  • Nate Smith
  • Jaime Barria
  • Jake Jewell

Author’s Choice –

If Eppler sticks with acquiring cost-controlled talent and wants to put a majority of his trade resources into someone, Chris Archer makes a lot of sense not only for the top of our rotation but for team cash flow as well. The Rays have to cut payroll this off-season and trading Archer is one possibility for them to do so.

Adding another front-line starter like Archer would do wonders for our rotation in 2018, giving us a 1-2 punch of Chris and Garrett at the top, particularly if we make it to the playoffs. The extra bonus is the minuscule amount of AAV that Chris’ contract adds, giving Eppler additional payroll to use in free agency or trade now and moving forward.

Alternatively the Angels could target someone with less years of control like Marcus Stroman. He would not help payroll quite as much but he has three years of arbitration control left and could still slot in as an Ace-like starter at the top of the rotation as well.

If Eppler wants to convert another reliever type into a starter or a multi-inning reliever, Jose Urena, Brad Hand, or free agent Mike Minor strike me as targets Billy would have some level of interest in. Urena throws in the mid-90’s while Hand and Minor have some excellent peripherals. All three pitched quite a few innings this year in their respective roles.

In the end Archer is probably out of reach or not available so I’m placing my money on Jose Urena. He has enough innings logged to enter our rotation and his high heat combined with a nice ground ball rate against RHP’s will fit in nicely with our defensive alignment.

In the next section we will cover the Angels potential bullpen options.


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AngelsWin.com

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By Jason Sinner (aka, Dochalo), AngelsWin.com Contributor

His name is Billy. Not William. At least everything that the google machine produces about him has his given name as such. Not sure why that’s interesting. Maybe it’s because you’d expect it to be conventional but it’s not. Just like Billy. Billy the greenhorn. At least that was my first impression. He’s not Jerry Dipoto. Not some camera kind socal surfer with easy words. And that’s a good thing as it turns out. So instead of Billy short for William, he’s just Billy. The guy who inherited a sub .500 team with a bloated payroll, zero international spending capability, and the worst farm system in baseball history as well as an apparent upper extremity plague affecting any pitcher in a clubhouse radius. Apparently, the rally monkey is actually virus carrying anti-god from the movie outbreak. That inheritance also included Michael Nelson Trout. He’s pretty good.

Billy’s first order of business was to make our farm system worse by trading our top prospect and others for a defensive specialist. Actually, that was probably his second order of business. His first was to get a bigger boat and navigate the shark infested waters of the front office.

Fast forward two years later. So far so good right? But let the expectations begin.

So far, there really haven’t been any. If it wasn’t a mess, it would do till the mess got here. Well, the mess came and went and now we stand with a mediocre farm, international money, injuries healed (for the most part. maybe), kumbaya, payroll flexibility, and a major league roster that seems primed to take the next step forward.

There are holes to fill, yes. But now it looks like there are some actual resources to fill them. Would it be a tremendous surprise to not make the playoffs in 2018? probably not. Yet, it would be disappointing if we remained mired in mediocrity.

Over the next 5 months I have no doubt that we will parse out every last option and granulate every potential decision. It’s what we do. But the key component is that there are actual options. Lots of them. 2b, 3b, 1b. Do we trade Cron or Shoe or Kole? Do we tap into the farm? How much do we spend? A fairly savvy approach in just two years has put this franchise in a position we didn’t expect to be in two years ago. Pardon my frances, but don’t f**k it up now. Because the wrong trade or bad free agent move could turn that Viagra good feeling into the limp noodle of a Mike Trout departure.

There are lots of decisions to be made in the coming months. I don’t know what the right ones are, but Billy, not William better because pressure has resurfaced. Spaulding, this calls for the old Billy Baroo. Oh, Billy, Billy, Billy.


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Trophy 1

As Terrance Mann said, the one constant throughout all the years has been baseball. It’s in our DNA. It’s woven into the fabric of America. It’s more than just our national pastime; it teaches us everything from our concept of fairness to what is good in life.

And, with so much of America fraying in one way or another, it’s not at all by accident that baseball once again comes to our rescue. While the culture wars rage in Hollywood and the NFL, and politics threatens to rip the country apart, baseball is there to bring us back together.

In today’s society, it’s easy to be a cynic. With so many institutions seeming to fail, and so many leaders succumbing to their inner foibles, it’s easy to doubt the intentions of all things and all people.

However, there is one thing in which I have never lost faith—that there are baseball gods and that they are good. Like Linus and the Great Pumpkin, I have never lost my faith in them and their watchful presence of the game.

To me it seems easy to believe in them. How else can one explain the perfect balance of the game? Imagine if the bases were 100 feet apart instead of 90 feet . . . would there be more hits or fewer? Imagine if the ball weighed 2 ounces more than it does . . . would it be possible to hit homeruns? The symmetry and beauty of the game is so perfect that it couldn’t happen just by chance. No single person could have developed such a perfect balance.

And with that in mind, I’d like to point out how they have been bringing us  as a nation back together, healing the country. There’s no doubt that bringing the World Series to Houston, after the horrible devastation wrought by hurricane Harvey, helped balance out the year for their fans.

But that wasn’t the only time this decade that baseball shined as a tremendous force of good. Just a few years ago, after the Boston Marathon bombing, baseball brought the championship back to that city to help it heal.

In fact, baseball in the 21st Century is having a golden age, as measured by the turnover in teams in the World Series. Of 30 current Major League teams, 19 of them have made it to the World Series. That’s over 60%! And, of those teams who made it to the World Series, 12 teams, or 40%, held the Commissioner’s Trophy by winning it all. That is an incredible amount of change. And with that change, comes hope for fans everywhere.

As fans, we’ve seen historic losing streaks end in this century. The Cubs, Red Sox, and White Sox—all long suffering fanbases—finally got to see a championship. The Angels and Astros both won their first championships in their history. The Marlins and Rockies both made their first appearances in the World Series, and the Indians nearly ended their drought.

It’s not like only the large market teams have won the World Series. Through proper drafting and key international signings, the Astros put together an incredibly dominant team. Three years ago, fans saw the same thing from the Royals. Sure, there have been teams composed heavily of free agents, but, small market teams have had success. Objectively, the system is working. And the series that they have been playing have been some of the most fun to watch for all fans.

This momentum seems to be translating to the fans. After years of doom and gloom predictions, last month an interesting poll came out showing baseball as more popular than football. According to the Remington Survey Group, 30% of all adults listed baseball as their favorite sport whereas only 25% of all adults listed football. The spread between the sports—5%–was greater than the margin of error in the survey of 2.8%. Baseball hasn’t outpolled football in decades, and was a pleasant reminder of what is the true national pastime. As a diehard baseball fan, it was great to see that baseball is returning to its rightful place in our culture.

As we once again head into the Hot Stove season, undoubtedly fans will argue and debate about trades and signings for their team. Some will see what their team does and brilliant; others will predict the demise of their franchise. As is the case with all things, it will be easy to cave to the forces of cynicism.

But as we go through the Hot Stove season, it’s important to remember one thing. And that is that no matter how much we debate and speculate, we will never be able to predict what will happen next year. As baseball in the 21st Century has proven, all teams, and all fanbases have reason for hope. With so much disfunction in society, it’s good to know that there’s one constant where we can turn for hope.

And that’s why it’s baseball for the win.


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October Baseball

By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer

Edited by Angelswin.com Members Chance Hevia (Inside Pitch) and Jason Sinner (Dochalo)

Author’s Note: If you missed the first three installments of the 2018 Angelswin.com Primer Series you can go back and read the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd posts.

So how do the Angels fill one or more positional needs now, to improve the team for 2018, while handing out extensions to key players this off-season, or possibly next off-season, as well as keeping Mike Trout?

The answer is, in-part, by acquiring, via trade, cost-controlled and arbitration-controlled players that will have a low impact to AAV and team payroll. Eppler knows that if he wants to keep specific, core players, we have now, reining in total payroll and the AAV of player contracts is critical. This will almost certainly be a primary focus heading into the off-season.

If that is the case (and it logically makes sense) then Eppler is probably looking at high-quality players, on the trade market, that meet the cost, arbitration, and pre-arbitration controlled criteria. Remembering that we assumed Upton stays in Anaheim (and, as it turns out, he did!), here are some of the names the Angels might be looking at for our positions of high need (2B and SP) and positions of concern (3B, 1B, C, and RP):

Trade Candidate List

This is, by no means, a comprehensive and complete list, particularly because it does not consider most near-MLB ready prospects and many arbitration-eligible candidates, but it does highlight some of the more likely names that could be acquired this off-season. Whether they are within budget is another matter but this represents a broad array of salary ranges.

One thing that jumps off the page is the potential number of keystone players and starters available. Those two positions have a greater supply which, in turn, could lead to slightly lower acquisition prices, particularly from teams that want or need to shed payroll.

The starter market will certainly be more expensive than the 2B one without a doubt. For instance, if Eppler wants to go after a true ace like Chris Archer with four years of contractual control it will cost the team a lot in prospect and player capital including at least one, possibly two MLB players, and a package of 4-5 quality prospects.

Archer would fetch that much because his yearly salary for 2018 and 2019 is insanely low. Once he hits his two option years his price goes up but it is still a very affordable $9M in 2020 and $11M in 2021. The very minimal impact of Chris’ salary to team payroll would be huge for the Angels and would allow Eppler to extend key players, including Trout, with little worry.

Of course Archer may be completely out of the Angels reach, or not even available, so Eppler could, instead, target an arbitration-controlled starter like Marcus Stroman for example. He would still cost quite a bit in prospect and/or player capital but would probably leave us with enough trade resources to get a better quality 2B, like Cesar Hernandez, for instance.

Then, alternatively, Eppler could spend the additional payroll saved on a 3B free agent like Mike Moustakas. Or, instead, the team could play Luis Valbuena at the hot corner in 2018 and then go after a free agent, like Josh Donaldson, or a trade target, like Nolan Arenado, in the 2018-2019 market.

Beyond that Billy could forego a legitimate starter and acquire one or more multi-inning relievers to utilize in a hybrid starter/reliever “rotation” where someone like Richards starts a game on a limited pitch count and is eventually replaced by one or more relievers that can pitch multiple innings (say 2-3 innings each).

It certainly is not unprecedented as the Angels used relievers like Yusmeiro Petit and Bud Norris in this very capacity in 2017. Jose Urena of the Marlins, Brad Hand of the Padres, or newly-crowned free agent Mike Minor would be good choices here.

Of course the Angels could simply go after the only two-way threat in free agency as it seems possible that Japanese superstar Shohei Otani will be posted in the off-season. He has been called Japan’s “Babe Ruth”, throwing high-90’s heat, even touching triple digits, with the lumber to match.

If the Angels somehow managed to acquire him they could potentially put him at 1B or in an OF utility role and fill a rotation spot all at the same time. It’s a long shot, however, because the Angels have spent roughly $3M-$4M of their $4.75M International Bonus pool.

The new rules allow the Angels to acquire an additional 75% of their pool base (no more than $3.5625M) but unless they trade for more pool money, to hit their maximum cap of $4.3125M-$5.3125M, between now and the time Otani signs it’s probably a no-go. Otani would be another example of a low-impact to team payroll, at least in the very near-term.

All of these examples are indicative of the multitude of permutations discussed at the beginning of Eppler’s Strategy Part I. In battle they call this the “Fog of War” and it applies to MLB free agent and trade negotiations just as much as it does in combat.

Despite the many roads Eppler can take, the logic of using the trade market to acquire an arbitration or cost-controlled 2B solution seems to have a higher probability of happening, as an outside observer looking in. The market supply for the position is ripe, with a lot of low-hanging fruit that will not break the bank.

This is good for the Angels because Billy has stated he wants to acquire players with robust on-base skills and, as he stated last year, a left-handed or switch-hitting bat, of which the trade market can definitely provide.

Dee Gordon, Cesar Hernandez, Greg Garcia, Brad Miller, and Jason Kipnis are just some of those names Eppler could inquire about in the coming days if he has not done so already. Free agency also offers two good options in left-handed Neil Walker and right-handed Zack Cozart (a natural SS).

Also, logically, it seems unlikely Billy will want to allocate $30M per year to sign a top-flight starter in free agency like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish. Even someone like Alex Cobb will command $15M-$20M per season so Eppler will need to decide if losing significant prospect capital or a huge chunk of payroll (or doing nothing) is the route to take for a potential addition to the rotation.

Now that the Angels have a 5-year guaranteed fresh coat of paint on Justin Upton’s contract they may feel more inclined to trade one of their top outfield prospects (Jahmai Jones, Jordon Adell, and Brandon Marsh) particularly if they feel comfortable that Mike Trout will sign an extension by Opening Day 2019.

The implication is that if two of our outfield spots are locked up long-term, one, or even two, of that trio of prospects could become the foundation of a trade for one or more impact players to add to the Halos roster over the next three years (or more). Additionally other significant prospects like Chris Rodriguez, Jose Soriano, Jose Suarez, Taylor Ward, Nate Smith, and Matt Thaiss could also be on the block in the right trade scenario.

Also if Eppler can rein in payroll, by acquiring low-cost, controllable MLB talent through trade(s), it could allow the Angels to pursue extension contracts with certain key players this off-season (and next).

As we mentioned above, Garrett Richards strikes me as a really good candidate even if it is just a two or three year deal buying out his last arbitration season and one or two years of free agency.

In the small sample of starts at the end of 2017, his peripherals looked really good and the team can probably negotiate a clause in his contract regarding his previous UCL injury, similar to what the Red Sox did with John Lackey.

Other than the slight UCL tear, his arm has little wear and tear, in terms of IP, and his upside is high so a short-term (3 years, $30M-$35M) or long-term (6 years, $90M) deal could be appealing to both sides (and also to the third side, Mike Trout, his good friend).

Beyond Richards, one other player seems like a prime extension candidate this off-season: Martin Maldonado.

“Machete” has been widely praised by Mike Scioscia and the coaching staff. His leadership, ability to call games, good relationship with the teams starters, and ability to control the running game are all big pluses for the team. Earlier this season Mark Gubicza said, live on-the-air, that Scioscia thinks of Martin as an extra coach on the field which is not insignificant praise. He is also a 2017 Gold Glove candidate in addition to his Fielding Bible award.

A Maldonado extension would probably buy out his last year of arbitration control plus an additional 3-4 years at an AAV of about $6M-8M per season (something like 5 years, $30M-40M).

There are other possible extension candidates including, obviously, Mike Trout (probably will not happen until next off-season), Andrelton Simmons (also possibly in the 2018-2019 off-season), pretty much all of the starting rotation (Skaggs, Shoemaker, and Heaney), and perhaps someone like Cam Bedrosian.

The Angels could even consider simply buying out one or more player’s remaining arbitration years of control to help achieve some incremental cost-savings in the near-term. This tactic could potentially be worthwhile for other players, too, like Blake Parker, C.J. Cron, or J.C. Ramirez for example.

So if our assumption about extending Trout turns out to be true and the health of the team improves, the Angels will be well positioned to use their monetary and prospect resources now, next year, or both to build a contending, sustainable team over the next several seasons.

Now certainly Billy will not be able to keep every player that is currently on the roster through 2020 and beyond but he should be able to trade away expiring or increasingly expensive contracts for players and/or prospect talent to replace any farm system assets he has to use this off-season or next to improve the team in this current, 3-year window of contention. This replenishment process will help build for the future beyond 2020 as well.

As examples C.J. Cron, J.C. Ramirez, and Matt Shoemaker are set to make increasingly greater sums of money through the arbitration process over the next three years if they are not extended or do not have one or more of their arbitration and free agent seasons bought out by the team.

One or more of them might not see the 2019 or 2020 seasons in a Halos uniform, particularly since we have prospects like Barria, Jewell, Smith, and Thaiss who can potentially replace them on the roster.

This ebb and flow of higher-paid players in and out of the system should start to occur more frequently, creating a more sustainable influx of talented young players to add to those key prospects moving through our farm system.

By the end of 2020 the Angels should begin to see more homegrown talent than they have had in recent years, which will allow the team to compete well into the next decade, barring a rash of trade deadline deals or bad health and luck.

Eppler appears to have a workable strategy and set of resources in place to succeed with Mike Trout’s current contract including the ability to extend him for the rest of his career.

All he has to do is simply show Mike the potential of this Angels team, so this 2017-2018 off-season should be an eventful one, in that regard, once Billy has finally put his fingerprints and mark on this 2018 squad.


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