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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer NOTE: This article contains a detailed summary of each prospective bullpen candidate under the "Spoiler" bar. Some of you may just want to jump to the conclusion so the player contents are hidden from view. If you want to read that section, simply click on the bar and dive deeper into each of our reliever candidates, there are some interesting tidbits. In 2019, the Angels continued to develop a core group of relief options that produced to the tune of 2.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) across 761.2 innings pitched (IP). The latter number was the 2nd most IP, just behind the Rays bullpen at 772 IP. Assuredly, Eppler and staff would like to not only improve the bullpen's production, but also reduce the total number of IP, for the group as a whole, if possible. The good news is that most of that relief corps will remain this season and a key reliever, Keynan Middleton, should return to the fold, which could provide a real boost to a squad full of upside and potential, capable of closing out the later innings of any ballgame. It is the hope that the bullpen will potentially improve on their 2019 performances, giving reason to believe that the Angels relievers, as a collective, can build on last years 16th ranked production level and become a Top 10 relief staff. To start let us review 2019 results for the current, projected, 40-man relief staff as of December 16th, 2019: As you can see, the Halos bullpen was led by Hansel Robles (1.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR)) and Ty Buttrey (1.4 WAR). Other contributors included Noe Ramirez, Cam Bedrosian, Taylor Cole, Felix Pena, and Justin Anderson. The belief is that the group can potentially take a nice step forward in 2020 and there is reason to feel this could be the case. Part of that solution will come directly from upgrades made in the rotation to, funny enough, relieve the relievers. If the starting rotation can eat up more quality innings, the bullpen will, ideally, be fresh on a more regular basis, which generally should equate to some modest level of improved performance. Additionally, some relievers may make some needed adjustments to improve their performance. Finally, there is a reasonable likelihood that Eppler and the front office staff will still add to this group prior to Opening Day, next year. To better understand what the Halos have let us take an in-depth look at each relief candidate and what they can bring to the table in 2020. Simply click on the Spoiler bar to unroll the comprehensive, individual player analysis. Note that data is pulled from FanGraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, and BaseballSavant.com: Likely Outcome: The Angels will continue to use the waiver wire to pick up relief targets of opportunity as the off-season continues and avoid expending resources as is typical for this front office. The next, most likely, alternative is to find a target of opportunity in free agency or trade, probably the latter. This is because the FA market lacks quality options whereas there are some interesting names that might be available in deals with other teams. Author's Choice: Personally, if the price is right, acquiring a name like Brad Hand (someone Eppler has inquired on previously) or Mychal Givens would be great. Since Eppler and his team love high spin rates so much, names like Drew Steckenrider, David McKay, Joe Jimenez, Buck Farmer, Jose Urena, Jeff Brigham, or Robert Gsellman might hold some level of interest. Ultimately this is not an area that I am to concerned about, as the Angels front office has done an outstanding job acquiring relievers that have the skills and tools to turn into effective relievers. All that the Angels need to do is start the season with an established group that can soak up innings and be effective to help the team reach the Trade Deadline in the right posture (wins) so that Eppler can reevaluate at that time whether the Halos need to acquire a rental bullpen option or two to help carry us over the Division finish line. Conclusion: Eppler probably understands that this unit, as a whole, might need some level of improvement, so it seems plausible that if he gets an opportunity to pick up a good reliever in trade (maybe names like Josh Hader, Jose LeClerc, Ken Giles, Mychal Givens, Scott Oberg, Keone Kela, Joe Jimenez, Jeurys Familia, Mark Melancon, Carlos Martinez, Richard Bleier, Ian Kennedy, Tim Hill, Paul Fry, Jared Hughes, Brad Hand, or Seth Lugo, among many others, might have some level of availability) or in free agency (maybe a guy like Arodys Vizcaino, Addison Reed, or, perhaps, Tyler Thornburg) he would do so, to help lift the squad a little further for the 2020 season and possibly beyond. Billy was recently quoted as saying, "There are a lot of ways to create a winning team." One of those ways is to build a really deep bullpen, not dissimilar to what the Yankees have done over the last couple of years, to help consistently build a bridge to success when transitioning from a starter to the later innings of a game. The good news is that the Angels have a good base of relievers to build upon, so the idea of a high quality relief corps is not a fantasy for the 2020 Angels. If Eppler was able to add a Hader, Giles, Givens, Hand, Martinez, or Jimenez type of player that would go a long way toward a consistent, sustainable run at the American League West Division championship. To be clear it does not have to be one of those names, either, there are plenty of other options out there to be had. Finally, the Angels could end up pulling one of their starters in and converting them to a relief role. Near the end of the season, the Halos used Jose Suarez in a long relief role four times, although they will likely start him in the Minors in the rotation. Jaime Barria and Dillon Peters made six and five long relief appearances, respectively, mostly early in the season. Jared Walsh is a two-way player, capable of relief work too, but he is most likely to do mop-up, low leverage work where the team is either ahead or behind by a significant amount of runs. Even Sandoval made a long relief appearance in early August. To be clear these guys are clear-cut starters (except Walsh) and will probably be used as such but they are available if the Halos switch course or have a need. Currently, it appears the Angels bullpen, barring an injury, trade or designation for assignment, will start the season with at least the following relievers in-tow: Hansel Robles Ty Buttrey Noe Ramirez Cam Bedrosian These four are the probable core base of the Angels 2020 bullpen. Behind them, the next group represents potential higher-probability adds and out-of-options players, in no particular order, that could be included on the 26-man active roster: Keynan Middleton Jake Jewell Taylor Cole Adalberto Mejia Mike Mayers Luke Bard Justin Anderson To be clear these seven will need to have good Spring Training outings to be included on the Opening Day roster, it will not be handed to any of them. Finally, the following names are very likely to start the year in the Minors no matter how well they perform in Spring Training (and in Pena's case he is on the IL for a while): Hector Yan Parker Markel Felix Pena So to wrap up this very long discussion, the author believes, based on the current 40-man roster, that the Opening Day starting eight (it is typical to start the season with eight relievers) will probably include these names: Hansel Robles Ty Buttrey Noe Ramirez Cam Bedrosian Keynan Middleton Adalberto Mejia Jake Jewell Mike Mayers If you do not feel we will carry eight out of the gate, then knock Mayers off the end of that list, probably. Also there is a real chance that if Eppler finds a reliever on the free agent or trade markets, that Mayers or Mejia (probably in that order) will be displaced off the 40-man and designated for assignment to make room for the new addition(s). This is what a good minimum resource bullpen looks like and this thriftiness allows the Halos to apply their monetary and trade resources elsewhere, for the betterment of the team as a whole. Longer term, once the Angels have an established rotation and position player group (which they are getting closer to this off-season), Eppler may be able to afford adding higher quality bullpen arms but, for now, he and the front office staff are doing this the right way. The Primer Series continues, next, with the Left Field article.
By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Excellence. This is the word that best describes Andrelton Simmons approach to baseball. It is best exhibited in his defensive glove-work which Simba is renowned for across MLB and, very likely, long after his career has come to an end. Although Simmons struggled a bit at the plate this year, he once again led all of baseball in defense based on FanGraphs 'Def' stat on a games played (Def/G) rate basis, in 2019, as seen below: 2019 Shortstops Sorted by FanGraphs 'Def' Statistic on a Per Game Rate Basis Minimum 50 G's Played Really it is not even close. Adalberto Mondesi, another clearly superior defender to other shortstops in baseball, is a tier below Simba. It is Tier 1, Andrelton, Tier 2, Adalberto, and then Tier 3, DeJong and Baez, and then the rest. Simmons, in an off-year, was 8% better than Adalberto and nearly 20% better than Baez, below Mondesi, on a Def/G rate basis. In fact if you look at recent history, it becomes even more apparent that Simmons is a true defensive beast in a class of his own. Below, is the same chart for the last three years with a minimum of 50 Games (G's) played: 2017-2019 Top 35 Shortstops Sorted by FanGraphs 'Def' Statistic on a Per Game Rate Basis Minimum 50 G's Played Here the difference is even more stark. There is God-level defense and the rest of the wannabes trying not to embarrass themselves. Simmons is a full 47% better than his nearest neighbor, Mondesi. Based on this alone, you have to suspect that Eppler, who is a big believer in superior defense particularly at the up-the-middle (CF, SS, 2B, and C) positions, has to be considering a possible extension for Simmons in the upcoming off-season. Andrelton is simply on a different planet defensively and even if he begins a decline in his age 30 season he is just heading back down to be with the rest of the mortals on earth. When you combine Simba's superlative defense, his roughly League-average weighted runs created plus (wRC+), his excellent in-game instincts, and leadership, on and off the field, they are great traits to consider when determining the value of keeping Andrelton in the fold. Really this decision boils down to a value play and what Eppler wants for the future of the franchise. Does he sign Simba to a 4-6 year deal, likely around $13M-$17M per season, for a rough average of 5 years, $75M (much lower than my original estimate last season) or does he look to trade Andrelton and find a replacement to bridge the gap to a prospect like Jerimiah Jackson, Kyren Paris, or even a different, long-term signing or acquisition of a high-caliber shortstop of the future? If you believe that Eppler really values defense then you have to look at the chart above and think that it is a choice, among the Major League candidates, between Simmons, Mondesi, Iglesias, DeJong, and Lindor. Adalberto has four years of control and could be a reboot of Andrelton minus the really low strikeout rate but with enhanced base stealing, making him a lesser choice overall out of the group. Iglesias is available but he too would pull the offense down even further, making him a bit of a non-starter as well. DeJong is signed to a long-term deal making him the Cardinals shortstop for years to come and an improbable trade candidate barring a wild redirection by the St. Louis front office. That leaves Francisco Lindor who has two years of relatively expensive arbitration control left. Salary estimations probably place him at $17M and $26M in 2020 and 2021, respectively, making him an expensive but quality acquisition if the Indians are indeed interested in moving him as reported by Jeff Passan. Lindor would bring youth, lesser defense but greater offense to the position and might be an extension candidate before or after the 2020 season. He would likely be a good lead-off hitter for a team that hasn't had one for quite a while. This will ultimately be a tough call for Eppler and staff. It will really come down to what projected value they can get at the position once they have addressed the rotation questions that are of more immediate and urgent concern. Likely Outcome: Angels extend Andrelton Simmons at approximately 5 years, $70M-$80M or perhaps 4 years, $64M. This extension can save money in 2020, by resetting Simba's year-to-year salary and freeing up a bit of payroll for rotation needs. Andrelton can man shortstop through the length of that contract or he can slide over to 2B or utility at the tail-end of it to make room for another as needed. The next alternative is to put someone like David Fletcher or Luis Rengifo at shortstop and even though both are fine defenders, they are not Simba at the most critical defensive position in baseball. This is a more cost-effective solution if Eppler finds himself needing to shed additional payroll, based on a known salary cap handed down from Moreno, to accommodate expenditures in other areas (starting pitching basically). Author's Choice: Personally I have always liked Simmons and I hope they extend him on a 4-5 year deal. Certainly, it would be tremendous if Eppler could pull off a trade for Francisco Lindor but with our miss on Cole and Strasburg in free agency, the Angels now have to trade for one (or even two) more starters, which will likely deplete their available players and prospects in trade. Conclusion: Eppler will have to manage payroll carefully and the probable best way to do that is to extend Simmons and restructure his contract so that his 2020 salary goes from $15M down to something like $11M give or take. David Fletcher is the cost-effective solution, but that means the Angels need to find a solution at the keystone where Fletcher would probably fit best. Rengifo could be that solution at second base now that the Angels have signed Anthony Rendon. This, however, puts a lot of the weight on the younger, less experienced members of the roster, creating a lot of potential performance risk that Eppler probably does not want to take in a critical season for his own employment. Lindor will likely make $17M or so, which is problematic money-wise but also adds more to the Angels lineup. His ability to lead-off and steal in front of Trout (actually now Rendon, then Mike, probably) would be very valuable and would bolster an already strong lineup. To be clear there will be a LOT of interest in Lindor from a majority of teams around the league, if the Indians put him on the block, so the Angels will have to pay a hefty price and it may be completely out of our reach (say if the Indians ask for Jo Adell instead of MLB-ready players). Of course, Billy could do nothing and simply pay Simba his final contractual year's salary and punt this decision down the road but that seems ill-planned and ill-advised and the Angels GM is anything but that, particularly at such a critical position.