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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Special Request: Hope for Education is a small, targeted charity sponsored by Angelswin.com. I am humbly requesting a small donation as we enter the New Year and hope that you are in the giving mood as these kids need help to learn in a safe environment from this very deadly pandemic. Please lend a hand, even if it is only a couple of bucks, it does make a difference. Thank you for your time and attention! Important Note: First of all I would like to say Happy New Year! I hope all of you and your families are implementing best-practice safety guidelines as outlined by the Center for Disease Control, including wearing masks out in public, washing your hands often, and exercising physical distancing protocols. Not only is COVID-19 potentially life-threatening there are now reports of long-term physical and psychological damage to those that survive. Take care of yourselves out there both physically and mentally, the Angels family needs to stay strong so all of us can enjoy Mike Trout now and in the future! At this point in the off-season, it is easy to say that the Angels bullpen is already revamped and, in fact, may continue to evolve even further, prior to Opening Day, after a dizzying array of non-tendered contracts and Rule 5 and trade additions. The previous administration placed a lot of emphasis on acquiring relievers through the waiver wire, minor trades, and the rare free agent signing. By focusing resources in other areas, Eppler and company actually did a fair job of building a Major League bullpen, albeit it lacked a true, sustained closer type. Eppler’s front office focused a lot on high spin rates and acquiring arms that threw a good fastball and curveball; the latter is a good pitch that works against both sides of the plate, negating some of the need to find those lockdown lefties. Minasian’s reign has yet to give us a lot of information on how he will approach building a good relief corps but there are three data points to discuss here. First of all, the quick strike and addition of Raisel Iglesias is significant, as it adds a clear, proven back-end bullpen arm that is capable of closing out games on a regular basis for the Angels. Raisel is stronger from the right-side with his fastball, slider, and changeup combination which can shutdown a right-handed heavy team. Per FanGraphs, out of all qualified relievers in 2020, Iglesias was in the Top 5 of Wins Above Replacement (WAR). In fact, over the last two seasons, he ranks 8th with only lofty names like Nick Anderson, Taylor Rogers, Aroldis Chapman, and Brad Hand, ahead of him. Despite the fact that the Halos, currently, only have him for one season, there is a lot to like about bringing him into the fold for 2021, particularly due to the fact that the Angels are projected to have a fairly tight 5.12 Runs Scored per Game (RS/G) versus an 4.82 Runs Against per Game (RA/G), which means the team may find itself in more close games, where they will lead by a small amount of runs, creating a high leverage situation that Iglesias can help solve. Additionally, the Halos front office struck during the Rule 5 Draft, acquiring Jose Alberto Rivera, a young arm from the Astros organization. Rivera features a big fastball, averaging in the high-90’s, curveball, and splitter. Clearly the new Angels front office is gambling that the heater/curveball combination is mature enough to fit in middle relief and, just like the Eppler era, this feels like a worthy gamble, despite the fact that the Angels will need to keep him all season or send him back to Houston if they cannot keep him on the active roster. Also, the team recently signed left-hander Alex Claudio to a one-year deal, for $1.125M. Claudio is the pure definition of “soft-tossing lefty” and, as expected, gets left-handed hitters out at a pretty good clip, although he does okay versus right-handed hitters as well. This should give Joe Maddon a specialist option out of the bullpen on an as-needed basis. Finally, we can glean some information about the players Minasian non-tendered/traded versus the players he kept on the 40-man roster. Guys like Noe Ramirez, Hoby Milner, and Matt Andriese were lower velocity types, whereas arms like Gerardo Reyes, Luke Bard, Ty Buttrey, Mike Mayers, and Kyle Keller all throw in the mid-to-upper 90’s. High velocity appears to be a real draw for the new Angels GM. Notably most of these bullpen arms that were retained have fastball/slider combos in their repertoire lending to the idea that Minasian and company may be making a point to go with guys whose 2nd pitches are sliders, which is a notorious same-side strikeout weapon, i.e. pure strikeout potential seems to be preferred, over creating poor contact or pinpoint control by the new front office. Basically, it appears, on the surface, that the initial emphasis is on strong strikeout capability. High strikeout rates are an important element in Major League Baseball so it is a bit refreshing to see a little more importance placed on it, although it did appear that Eppler’s group was on to something regarding high spin rates (difficult for hitters to see) and targeting guys with good curveballs (ability to get batters out on both sides of the plate). We will see how this plays out moving forward with Minasian, but the route he is initially focusing on is also a good path to run prevention, i.e. less hitters on-base results in less runs scored. Moving beyond the philosophical discussion, the Angels currently have, as of Dec. 31st, 2020, the following pure, bullpen arms on the 40-man roster (number of Minor League options remaining are in parentheses after each name): Luke Bard (1) Ty Buttrey (2) Alex Claudio (0) Raisel Iglesias (0) Kyle Keller (1) Mike Mayers (0) Jose Quijada (1) Gerardo Reyes (1) Jose Alberto Rivera (R5, 3 after the 2021 season) In addition, as mentioned in the Rotation article, Dillon Peters (0), Jaime Barria (0), Felix Pena (1), and Hector Yan (2), may be viewed as starters but they could also, possibly, work out of the bullpen, too. In fact, Barria and Peters are out of options so they will need a home on the active roster if they are to play in 2021. So to start, it should be noted that the Angels may or may not retain all of these names. Player’s can always be designated for assignment, so none of this is set in stone yet. Trades, signings, and waiver wire acquisitions could still change the landscape, quickly, too. All that being said if you were to take what the Angels have now and line it up into a group of eight relievers to start the season, it may look like this: Raisel Iglesias (Closer) Mike Mayers (Setup) Ty Buttrey (Setup) Alex Claudio (Specialist) Gerardo Reyes (Middle Relief) Luke Bard (Middle Relief) Jose Alberto Rivera (Middle Relief) Felix Pena (Long Relief) Now, certainly, you could substitute Keller or Quijada in middle relief, if you like, but these two, as well as Reyes and Bard, have a Minor League option remaining and the Angels will need Minor League bullpen depth, so a couple of them will start the season down in AAA or AA. Additionally, Peters could easily be the long reliever with Pena starting the season in the Minors, as well. When you look at this projection, on paper, the back-end of the bullpen seems fairly strong, particularly with the addition of Iglesias. However, it is the middle of the bullpen that leaves some room for doubt. Reyes, Bard, and Rivera have some good stuff but they are mostly unproven in the Majors, particularly Rivera. It might be useful, then, for Minasian to acquire one more quality middle reliever with some experience in the Majors and a pedigree of success. Yes, that is not always easy to find in a relief arm, considering their year-to-year variance, but it is not impossible. Really if we can find one more back-end or good middle reliever, the bullpen will be in pretty good shape and could possibly absorb the loss of an Iglesias, Mayers, or Buttrey, if they were to go on the Injured List for an extended period of time. Additionally, it could allow the Halos front office to option down someone like Bard or Reyes to create more depth or even flat out replace a borderline relief candidate, with a preferred choice, on the 40-man roster. Considering how many relievers and Minor Leaguer’s were cut loose, due to financial impacts, finding another impact arm, at a reasonable price, should not be terribly difficult. Based on the Angels own payroll restraints, this will either be a trade, for an inexpensive, controllable, upside-type, or a simple less-costly Major League signing, not dissimilar to Alex Claudio. Certainly, Minasian could do more and perhaps he will when it is all said and done, particularly if we do not net a guy like Bauer or some other expensive starter, utilizing the old approach of spending on the bullpen if the market for starters is too overpriced to play in. In the end, the Angels bullpen was a bit above average in 2020 and, with the addition of Iglesias, it likely improved, despite the subtractions, so another addition now or later, at the Trade Deadline, could push the Halos bullpen into the Top 10 in baseball, potentially. Expect: It really feels like the Angels can make room for one more solid reliever by possibly trading one of their current relievers (maybe Bard or Peters) or even designating them for assignment, to create space on the 40-man roster. This addition could literally come from anywhere at this moment, through free agency (maybe Brad Hand or Archie Bradley, if the Angels lose out on Bauer, a mid-tier guy like Shane Greene, or perhaps a veteran like Darren O’Day or Mark Melancon) or trade (perhaps someone like Chris Stratton or Richard Rodriguez from the Pirates in a Joe Musgrove based trade or Rowan Wick, Hector Neris, or Scott Oberg, for example). Surely, Minasian and company could stand pat and add another arm closer to the Trade Deadline, but the opportunity to strike now, under a new regime that is remaking the team in their own image, may afford a more aggressive, fresh start to our relief corps, heading into 2021.
By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer This series will attempt to identify other potential front-line starters that the Angels can possibly trade for this off-season and we will start with the St. Louis Cardinals SP/RP, Carlos Martinez. Facts Contract Status - Signed thru 2021 on a 5-year, $50.5M ($10.1M AAV, 2017-2021) deal with two additional team option years for 2022 and 2023, for $17M and $18M, respectively, with $500,000 buyout's for each year. Controllable from his age 28 (2020) through his age 31 seasons, if both team options are exercised. Repertoire (2019 as a Reliever) - Four-Seam Fastball (30.3%, 96.6 mph), Slider (28.4%, 86.0 mph), Sinking Fastball (20.7%, 94.3 mph), and Change Up (18.5%, 88.1 mph) Statcast Information - Martinez has below average spin rates on his fastball and curve ball. However, his exit velocity has been in the mid-80's over the last five years (slightly above average) and his launch angle hovers at an average 6.3 degree angle which is what you would expect from a ground ball artist. Injury History Risk - Medium-High (Shoulder tendinitis, shoulder strain, right lat strain, right oblique strain, and strained rotator-cuff, all of which occurred across multiple seasons starting in the Minors) Three-Year History - It should be noted that in 2017, Carlos pitched as a starter, then in 2018, due to injury, he pitched in a starter/reliever hybrid role, and in 2019, also due to injury and a roster decision made by the Cardinals, he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. If he returns to the rotation his velocity will likely decrease a tick or so, down to the 95 mph range, for his four-seam fastball (and, perhaps, his other pitches) in all likelihood. Clearly, Martinez excels at keeping the ball in the park as he holds a career 0.70 HR/9 rate and he is above average in keeping runners on-base with a career 75.9% LOB% (League average was 72.3% in 2019). Additionally, hitters have some difficulty in making quality contact as he holds a career .237 BAA (League average was .249 in 2019). Also here is Martinez' batted ball data: As you can see Carlos is a heavy ground ball pitcher, who carries a career 53.1% GB%. By limiting line drives and fly balls, he is able to mitigate some of the Hard% contact he gives up and lets the infield defense do their work. Additionally, the balls that are put into play are spread around the diamond with 73% of them going to the left side or up the middle, while the other 27% go to the right side (1B/2B/RF) of the mound. Why? So first of all, Martinez has expressed to the Cardinals that he would like to return to the rotation in 2020. With St. Louis recently signing Korean starter/reliever Kwang-hyun Kim, they now have the flexibility to either place Carlos in their rotation and move Kim to the bullpen or, alternatively, trade Martinez and slip Kim into his slot or even top prospect Alex Reyes, whom St. Louis had high hopes on before his rash of injuries. Additionally, the Cardinals need to improve their offense and many baseball beat writers have suggested they could add one or more impact bats. Names like Josh Donaldson for third base or a trade with the Indians for a superstar shortstop like Francisco Lindor have been proposed. This is important insofar that the Cardinals are already hovering at last year's Opening Day payroll and would likely want to free up a chunk of change in order to accommodate a move such as this, which makes a relatively expensive pitcher like Carlos a luxury St. Louis may not want to afford for the 2020 season. For the Angels, they clearly need a quality starting pitcher and Martinez, when he was running right in the rotation from 2014 to 2017, was posting FIP numbers in the low-to-mid 3's, with 50%+ GB% rates. Now that the Angels have a superior defensive alignment of Simmons, Rendon, and Fletcher at SS, 3B, and 2B, respectively, adding a starter like Carlos would be a solid move, full of potential goodness. On top of that Carlos' contract is not exorbitantly high, as he will make $11.7M for the next two years with an AAV of $10.1M per season. Then, once Pujols comes off the books, the Angels can make a decision on his first team option of $17M with a $500,000 buyout and then his second team option in 2023 for $18M, also with a $500,000 buyout. The risk for the Angels is Martinez' more recent rotator-cuff strain that relegated him, in-part, to the bullpen last season. However, the Halos are in the interesting position of potentially running out a six-man rotation due to Ohtani's health concerns, so this may be the perfect landing spot for Carlos to ease himself back into a starting role. Proposed Trade If the Cardinals are making a move for an impact bat at 3B or even SS, moving some salary will probably be important for St. Louis management. Additionally, the infield logjam might result in having to move Matt Carpenter in trade as well because he is not a good third base defender anymore and first base is occupied by Goldschmidt for the next few years, not to mention Matt's salaries are high too ($18.5M per year). Whether or not it is just Martinez or a combination of Carlos and Carpenter, the Angels can use one or both as they need a starter and they have the room for a first baseman who can also act as a lead-off hitter (and Jared Walsh happens to have two team options left so he becomes a depth piece until Carpenter leaves). Martinez' valuation will be based upon how healthy he is and whether or not Eppler and his front office team believe that Carlos will be effective in those two team option years. A rough estimate of his surplus value could fall anywhere from about $25M-$30M, for two years of control on the low side, to $60M-$70M, for the full four years on the high side. The truth is probably somewhere in between, say $45M-$55M. As a side note Carpenter, who has two guaranteed years at $18.5M each for 2020 and 2021 and a third difficult-to-fulfill, vesting year, for the same amount, has little surplus value. So a trade for just Martinez might look like this: Angels send 1B/3B Matt Thaiss and SP Jose Suarez in exchange for SP Carlos Martinez Thaiss and Suarez, despite spending a limited amount of playing time in the Majors, are still valued more as prospects than proven MLB talent. There is a case to be made that both have something on the order of $20M-$30M each in surplus value, at this moment in time, thus their inclusion together in the trade. Since they are spreading the value out, rather than maximizing in one player/prospect, it is possible that the Angels might have to throw in a mid or low-level prospect on top of this deal. Certainly the Cardinals could ask for a player like Brandon Marsh but when you consider the money and risk the Angels are potentially taking on in trade, that may be to large of an asking price, likely to be turned down by Eppler, and rightfully so, probably. If the Angels also wanted Matt Carpenter, who could play the next two seasons at 1B for the Halos, the trade could expand a bit, to the following: Angels send 1B/3B Matt Thaiss, SP Jose Suarez, SP Jose Soriano, and RP Daniel Procopio in exchange for SP Carlos Martinez and 1B Matt Carpenter It seems logical that the Cardinals are going to move Carpenter in trade either this year or next. When you look at the profiles, Thaiss, on paper, looks a lot like Carpenter when he first started, so St. Louis might like to acquire him as a quality depth piece to either man 3B if they make a big trade or play in a backup role since he has a couple of options remaining and then reevaluate in 2021 or 2022. Also the Cardinals just acquired the lefty Kim and adding another LHP in Suarez with options would provide further depth with the loss of Martinez behind the starting five. If Carpenter is involved in the trade, adding Soriano and Procopio would give the Cardinals a potential starter and reliever, respectively. It should be noted that Matt Thaiss may not be a preferred target so the Cardinals could request a prospect like Jordyn Adams, Jeremiah Jackson, or any number of other names instead as part of a trade. They could instead ask for Luis Rengifo or Taylor Ward, in lieu of Thaiss or Suarez, as well. For the Angels Carlos makes sense as a younger starter with proven capability that would probably excel having a sterling defensive alignment behind him. Adding Carpenter to play first base, as he has a lot in previous seasons, would likely add defensive value to the Halos too. Matt, who carries a career .372 OBP, could also hit lead-off in front of Rendon and/or Trout in the lineup on a daily basis, strengthening the Angels offense and run production hitting at the top-of-the-order. Conclusion Two-time, All-Star Carlos Martinez is not an ace-level starter. However, at times, he has the potential to pitch like one and putting him, as a ground ball pitcher, in a situation like Anaheim, where he can pitch in a five or six-man rotation and play in front of a strong defensive unit, will only help his skill set and strengthen the front-end of the Angels starting staff. There are some probable good fits in trade with the Cardinals but Martinez and Carpenter both seem like good targets for the Angels because they fit needs that the Angels have in the rotation, at 1B, and at the lead-off position in the lineup and are not so exorbitantly expensive, due to their relatively large year-to-year salaries, that it will cost the Angels in terms of player and prospect value going back to the Cardinals in return.