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  1. By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Now that we have identified probable purchases, it is time to flip the script and discuss what happens if the Angels become sellers, rather than buyers. For the purposes of this article we will only discuss those assets that actually have some level of reasonable trade value as it will not be the best use of time trying to find someone with minimal or even zero value, like Tony Watson or Kurt Suzuki, a hypothetical home on another team. Also we will only consider teams that are actual buyers or are on the bubble of contention (i.e. teams that are clearly sellers will not be considered in this discussion). It should also be noted that some teams may be more aggressive than others, because a specific, targeted player might push them up the win curve significantly or they may want to keep their opponents from acquiring the player so that player cannot be used against them. Finally, the Angels, in any negotiation, will more likely target MLB-ready or near-ready assets, more so than prospects overall, simply because we need to make our Major League squad better now, rather than later. Raisel Iglesias 2021: 3.66 ERA, 34.9% K%-BB%, .194 AVG, 0.89 WHIP, 3.70 FIP, 1.89 SIERA Perhaps the Angels greatest asset at the Trade Deadline, Iglesias is having a heck of a season (Ranked 5th in K%-BB% among relievers with 30+ innings pitched) and, most importantly, he is getting outs equally well on both sides of the plate. Of course he is a pure rental, but there will be massive interest by virtually every team in contention, whether they really need him or not. Other than Craig Kimbrel, Iglesias should be the top reliever on the market, if the Angels make him available. Teams that may have the greatest interest in Raisel include the Blue Jays, Astros, Athletics, Brewers, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Braves, Reds, and Phillies, probably. Again, other teams like the Red Sox and Yankees will likely inquire, despite their lack of urgent need, because a guy like Iglesias will improve any bullpen in baseball. So what would Raisel bring back in return? Probably 1-3 good, but not great, prospects, depending on the names involved. Some sample trade scenarios are below: Angels send RP Raisel Iglesias to the Blue Jays in exchange for C Reese McGuire and SP/RP Julian Merryweather. Here the Angels could pick up a potentially good 3rd wheel from the Blue Jays in McGuire who was designated for assignment earlier in the season but has raked well lately and has an above average glove behind the dish. Merryweather is capable of starting, so the Angels could continue to stretch him out or, alternatively, turn him into a multi-inning reliever. In lieu of McGuire, the Angels could ask for Jensen or Kirk, instead, but the latter is probably not available. Angels send RP Raisel Iglesias and SS/2B Luis Rengifo to the Dodgers in exchange for C Keibert Ruiz (#2), and SP Bobby Miller (#8). The acquisition of Ruiz would give the Angels a nice switch-hitting bat (better from the left side) to pair with Max Stassi and a starter with strikeout capability in Miller. The Dodgers get Iglesias for the stretch run and they almost acquired Rengifo previously in the nixed Pederson-Stripling deal, so the interest probably still exists. Ruiz may or may not be available, but with Will Smith locked in, the Dodgers are probably willing to move Keibert in the right deal. Alex Cobb 2021: 4.60 ERA, 20.2% K%-BB%, .241 AVG, 1.22 WHIP, 2.58 FIP, 3.21 SIERA A solid season has put Cobb back on the map and if the Halos become sellers or take a hybrid posture, other teams will almost certainly come calling. Just like Iglesias (and a lot of other guys on this list) he is a pure rental. Although his actual ERA is a touch above League average, his peripherals tell a different, better, story (FIP is 2.58 and K%-BB% of 20.2%, as of July 7th, 2021). He has been doing this equally well against both sides of the plate, to boot. Teams that may have the most interest in Cobb, include the Blue Jays, Indians, Braves, Reds, Rays, and Mets. Certainly other teams will inquire, but those just listed are more probable suitors. So what will Cobb bring back in return? Likely something similar, but slightly less, than Iglesias, again, 1-3 good, but not great prospects. Some sample trade suggestions are below: Angels send SP Alex Cobb to the Rays in exchange for C Blake Hunt and SP Seth Johnson. Here the Angels pick up an athletic catcher with some pop in his bat and Johnson, a right-hander who throws in the low-to-mid 90’s with a quality 4-pitch mix. Angels send SP Alex Cobb to the Braves in exchange for C Shea Langeliers and SP Jared Shuster. Langeliers is a noted, excellent defender with no flaws behind the dish, but the offense is the question mark, particularly his swing, which the Angels would try to fix. Shuster is an advanced arm that just needs to be stretched out over the next couple of seasons in the Minors, that could be an above average strikeout guy from the left-side of the mound, potentially. Andrew Heaney 2021: 5.38 ERA, 20.6% K%-BB%, .257 AVG, 1.35 WHIP, 4.15 FIP, 3.72 SIERA Despite an excellent K%-BB%, Andrew has, unfortunately, not had correspondingly actual results. Part of his issues has been one part bad luck (.328 BABIP), one part letting to many runners score (67.9% LOB%), another part walking hitters (3.04 BB/9), one more part giving up a little to many long balls (1.64 HR/9), and an uncharacteristically bad time against left-handed hitters, which traditionally has been a strong suit. Teams that may have the most interest in Heaney, include the Athletics, Braves, Indians, Reds, Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Yankees. Certainly other teams will inquire, but those just listed are more probable suitors. All of those parts listed above lead to the depression of Andrew’s value, so, unlike Iglesias or Cobb, he is more likely to bring back 1-2 good, but not great prospects if the Angels choose to move him at the Trade Deadline. Some sample trade scenarios are listed below: Angels send SP Andrew Heaney to the Athletics in exchange for SP Brady Feigl and C Drew Millas. This move would give the Angels an interesting arm in Feigl and a possible replacement for Stassi in Millas, who is strong defensively. Angels send SP Andrew Heaney to the Red Sox in exchange for SP Noah Song and SP/RP Aldo Ramirez. Song is an interesting flyer who throws hard, but has been serving in the military and could start as a high-octane reliever and then stretched out over time and Ramirez is a multi-innings type that has the potential to stick in the rotation if things break right. SS Jose Iglesias 2021: .275/.306/.394, .306 BABIP, 94 wRC+ Iglesias, known for his high quality defense, has certainly disappointed a bit on the field. However, he has exceeded his run production by about 6% over his career average, so there is some give and take here, based on expectations. There are two scenarios where Iglesias might get traded: 1) the Angels decide to sell off expendable assets, including Jose and 2) the Angels decide to upgrade at SS, before the Trade Deadline, and move him, then. Other than that, it makes more sense to keep Jose and then target one of the many shortstops that will be available in free agency this upcoming offseason. Teams that may have some interest in Iglesias, include the Reds, Athletics, and, more remotely, the Rays, if they feel their young prospects they called up are not getting it done. Other teams like the Yankees and Indians are struggling at SS, too, but the former has Gleyber Torres, who is scuffling, but has immense talent, and the latter seem to be falling out of contention, so they may forgo a Trade Deadline deal to bolster their middle infield. This leaves Iglesias’ trade market somewhat bare. When you consider that Jose’s defense should rebound, he makes for a low-level pickup by a contending team, but he will not bring back much, probably one reasonable prospect if the Angels move him at the Trade Deadline. An example trade scenario is listed below: Angels send SS Jose Iglesias to the Reds in exchange for SP Noah Davis. This would give the Halos a near-ready pitching prospect that features a fastball/slider/changeup combination with low-to-mid 90’s velocity. Could serve well in a multi-inning relief or starter role, depending on how his development continues. RP Steve Cishek 2021: 2.88 ERA, 7.1% K%-BB%, .219 AVG, 1.43 WHIP, 3.34 FIP, 4.70 SIERA Cishek has had a strong, results-oriented season to-date, living and dying by putting the ball on the ground and letting the defense do its job, in addition to making hitters miss enough to generate poor contact. Some teams might be afraid of the walks (rightfully so), but he is getting it done against both sides of the plate. Teams that may have some level of interest in Cishek, include clubs like the Phillies, Reds, Athletics, Giants, Blue Jays, Astros, Braves, Mets, and Padres. Other teams may have interest, too, but the teams listed are outside of the Top 10 in bullpen WAR, making them more probable suitors. Now certainly, Cishek is no Iglesias, but he has been running well and that should translate into 1-2 mid-tier prospects, potentially. Some example trade scenarios are listed below: Angels send RP Steve Cishek to the Brewers in exchange for SS David Hamilton. Here the Halos would pick up a good contact, great defensive shortstop. Not dissimilar to David Fletcher, but he strikes out more. Could turn into a utility guy if the power doesn’t improve, but not a bad guy to have, particularly if his development breaks right. Angels send RP Steve Cishek to the Brewers in exchange for SP Bowden Francis. Another alternate deal with the Brewers might bring back near-read starter Bowden Francis, who is a good command type of pitcher with a solid 4-pitch mix. Angels send RP Steve Cishek to the Astros in exchange for SP Hunter Brown and RP Brett Conine. Since the Astros play in the same Division, the Halos would probably try to extract a little more from Houston, snagging the high-potential Brown and solid Conine. Both have upside, at the minimum in the bullpen, but both, particularly Hunter, could enter the rotation at some point. SP/RP Dylan Bundy 2021: 6.78 ERA, 14.0% K%-BB%, .275 AVG, 1.42 WHIP, 5.44 FIP, 4.36 SIERA Unfortunately for Dylan, his 2021 season did not come even close to replicating his 2020 campaign. Despite a slightly above average K%-BB%, he simply has given up too many hits and the defense behind him did not help matters in the least. As evidenced by his recent move to the bullpen, the Angels are still trying to extract some value from him in the final weeks leading up to the Trade Deadline, but no matter what this will be a more difficult sell on the trade market for Perry Minasian. Teams that may have some level of interest in Bundy, include clubs like the Athletics, Braves, Indians, Reds, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. Other teams might make inquiries, but those just listed are the most in need of help against right-handed hitters, which Dylan does a better job against, overall. For all of the numbers listed above, Bundy represents low value on the trade market, but there will be modest interest. He will only bring back 1-2 mid-to-lower level tier prospects at best and the Angels may have to retain some salary based on the return in question. Some sample trade scenarios are listed below: Angels send SP/RP Dylan Bundy to the Indians in exchange for SP/RP Hunter Gaddis. As indicated Bundy will not pull much in, but Gaddis projects as a multi-inning reliever with above average strikeout capability, so the Halos may make this their ask in a hypothetical Indians trade. Angels send SP/RP Dylan Bundy to the Reds in exchange for SP Graham Ashcraft. This one might be a stretch, but Ashcraft could move fast through the Angels system to turn into a likely multi-inning or short-stint reliever. SP/RP Jose Quintana 2021 Starter: 7.22 ERA, 14.5% K%-BB%, .279 AVG, 1.93 WHIP, 4.44 FIP, 4.50 SIERA 2021 Reliever: 7.94 ERA, 22.2% K%-BB%, .320 AVG, 1.76 WHIP, 5.99 FIP, 3.00 SIERA So, looking at his numbers, as both a starter and reliever, you can see that Quintana has suffered at the hands of the baseball gods. A 14.5% K%-BB% should not equate to a 7.22 ERA (and his peripheral FIP and SIERA numbers suggest that), nor should a 22.2% K%-BB%, as a reliever, equate to a 7.94 ERA. In both cases, Jose is running a .400 BABIP, which is clearly saying he has suffered bad luck on top of it all. The peripherals highly suggest Quintana should have better actual results, but unfortunately for the Halos that has not materialized, yet. Teams that may have some level of interest in a reclamation project like Quintana, could include the Blue Jays, Reds, Phillies, Braves, and Red Sox, among others. More than likely they would consider him in a relief role, more so than in the rotation. Clearly, Quintana will not pull down more than a low-level type of prospect, so we should expect very little here (almost didn’t list him, but the peripherals will pique the interest of other teams). An example trade scenario is listed below: Angels send SP/RP Jose Quintana to the Braves in exchange for SP Jared Johnson. Even Johnson might be too big of a price to pay, but, currently, he is a projected 35+ grade prospect, per FanGraphs, that the Halos would probably feel happy acquiring back in return for Jose. Conclusion One notable takeaway from this mental exercise, is that a lot of the potential teams the Angels seem to partner up with, do not have a lot of notable pieces that are near- or MLB-ready types of players. This may prove a bit problematic, but should not be a roadblock for the Angels to get a deal or two accomplished. It seems quite plausible that the Angels will make at least one or two deals, because they do have assets down on the farm that they could bring up to replace the pieces they sell. For example, could the Halos trade Jose Iglesias and simply bring up Luis Rengifo to replace him at SS? Could Minasian designate Kurt Suzuki for assignment and promote Matt Thaiss behind the dish? Would the Angels consider jettisoning Adam Eaton after Trout and Upton return from the Injured List in order to promote Jo Adell? Could they move Juan Lagares and bring up Brandon Marsh before September call ups to get his first carafe of coffee? Maybe they move Cishek and promote Quijada? Part ways with Dylan Bundy and let Dillon Peters take his place? Move Quintana and promote Chris Rodriguez into the rotation? The point is that the Angels have assets on the farm that could replace some of our poor performers and, performance-wise, you probably will not know the difference and, in fact, they may improve the overall team. This is why you should expect to see at least 1-2 guys go out the door in trade, in addition to the potential acquisitions mentioned in the previous article. If you were the Angels GM, which players would you sell at the Trade Deadline? Up next - 2021 Angelswin.com Trade Deadline Series: Conclusion
  2. The Era of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani is Now In this Angelswin.com Trade Deadline Series, we examined the Angels standings in the League and how it impacts their Playoff Odds, made some practical assumptions about their potential posture heading into the Trade Deadline (July 30th), determined their areas of need, and probed prospective partners in any deal, whether the Halos decide to buy or sell (or both!). Here is a graphic of all of the teams with at least a 10% chance or more of making the playoffs in 2021, as of July 10th, 2021: 2021 MLB Playoff Odds for All Teams with >10% Chance as of July 10th, 2021 The top grouping represents the six Division leaders. Below that sit the Mets and the Rays. Further down, the Blue Jays, Rays, and Yankees are jockeying for position. Then, the grouping at the bottom, contains the Angels, Reds, Braves, and Phillies. It should be noted that as of July 15th, 2021 (5 days after this graphic), the Indians and Braves have slipped below 10% (6.7% and 7.4%, respectively, Angels sit at 15.4%). Based on this information, as of July 10th, 2021, the Angels have improved enough that GM Perry Minasian is likely recommending to owner Arte Moreno that they commit resources to make a more aggressive move to continue competing, even though the team will probably only be in the discussion for a Wild Card spot. This could include obtaining a front-of-the-rotation starter (if they can find an appropriate one in the market), a new backup catcher who can, preferably, hit right-handed pitching well, and one, possibly two, relievers, one of which should be competent against left-handed hitters. It seems ill-advised and unlikely, based on our research, that the Angels will consider a large acquisition in right field, at least at this moment in time. Author’s Note: And, in fact, the Halos signed Adam Eaton, prior to publication, likely as a platoon partner in a corner outfield spot, because he has excelled against right-handed pitching over his career. Again, the trade market may not support these needs and, certainly, there will be other teams the Angels have to compete with in the marketplace. In baseball, goals often go unrealized and many deals are never consummated. This will, however, in the author’s opinion, not deter the Angels from improving at this point, whether it is a blockbuster trade or one or more smaller transactions to help the Halos gain the extra inches they need to cross the playoff finish line. When you have a legitimate opportunity to get to the World Series, you should consider any reasonable moves to get there, particularly if it improves the team in the long-term as well. Now to be clear, Perry Minasian will be monitoring the teams performance for the next couple of weeks and if things shift dramatically in the loss column and the trade market looks inviting, for the assets the Angels are potentially selling, they could go the full sell route and add additional pieces for 2022 and beyond, likely making the team even more competitive in near-future seasons. This is what we talked about early on in this series about the information that is available to the Halos versus the information available to us, as fans. Do not think, for even a second, that the Angels front office has not contacted every team in baseball to check on player availability and also interest in our obtainable assets. Information is power! So whether it is promoting Matt Thaiss or Anthony Bemboom, behind the dish or acquiring Reese McGuire, trading for Max Scherzer, Luis Castillo, Shane Bieber, or even a guy like Jon Gray, sticking with the productive Taylor Ward, bringing up young Jo Adell, or picking up an established right fielder, or even snagging one or two affordable relievers like Chafin, Tepera, or Hudson, the Angels should have some trade space to upgrade the team. Also, with Mike Trout returning from the Injured List, this will only make the team leaps and bounds better and, if you tack on one or more trades, you can transform the Angels enough to make a real difference in 2021 and, possibly, beyond, if the new acquisitions have additional years of control. Trout returning, alone, could potentially bridge the current 4.5 game divide in the Wild Card race, not to mention a healthy Upton and Rendon returning near the end of July. The Angels seem poised, whether it is now or later, to make some noise in the A.L. West and Perry Minasian and the Angels front office know this and will do their best, based on the information available, to make it happen sooner, rather than later, for a 2021 Angels team that, to date, deserves the opportunity to improve and punch their own ticket to the playoffs. Author’s Speculative Opinion: The Angels will attempt to add a front-end starter with more than one season of control, but the trade market may not accommodate this need. It certainly is a missing piece of the puzzle that the Angels need to solve and one of our top outfield prospects will be the likely centerpiece of any deal for a controllable starter. If the Angels are targeting a pure rental, Moreno would probably kick in Luxury Tax money to pick up Scherzer and if the Halos want more years of control (more likely) someone like Luis Castillo or Shane Bieber may be possible. Additionally, the Halos will likely promote Matt Thaiss as the backup catcher to Stassi, he probably has enough chops to play a passable catcher and his bat can play at the Major League level, making him the cheapest “acquisition” at the Trade Deadline. The only roadblock will be if Thaiss cannot play at least marginal defense, thus necessitating a trade for a guy like Reese McGuire or another. Also, it would not be a surprise for the Angels to promote Adell at some point, but Taylor Ward’s bat has been solid and they have now taken a flyer on Eaton’s left-handed bat, so they could keep Jo down the rest of the season and start him in 2022 (Adell has 153 days of service time, not quite a full year, thus starting him in '22 would give the Angels a full six years of control). The Angels could also move Juan Lagares and promote Brandon Marsh to give him some Major League experience so that is a remote, but possible, transaction as a backup outfielder. Also, the Angels could move one or more of Bundy, Quintana, Heaney, and Cobb in order to promote one or more of Griffin Canning, Chris Rodriguez, Cooper Criswell, Jaime Barria, or top prospect Reid Detmers, for example. Finally, I could see Minasian picking up one or two of Richard Rodriguez, Andrew Chafin, Daniel Hudson, and/or Ryan Tepera in trade, probably out of the latter three or even promote internally, bringing Jose Quijada backup or perhaps one of Andrew Wantz, Hector Yan, Jake Reed, Boomer Biegalski, Jhonathan Diaz, and/or Jake Faria, to hold a more permanent spot the remainder of the season. If you were the Angels GM, what would you do? Post your thoughts in the thread and continue the conversation about the Halos future!
  3. By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Now that we have a sense of the Angels playoff odds (16.2% as of July 10th, 2021), we need to identify their strengths and weaknesses heading into the Trade Deadline. Additionally, it is important to identify a likely list of buyers and sellers, which we will scrutinize at the end of this Trade Deadline Series installment. One of the best methods to identify weaknesses, from the author’s perspective, is to simply examine team offense, defense, and pitching production, to-date, for the 2021 season. Based on actual results, peripheral statistics, and Statcast information, any fan can glean how well a team and any individual player has performed over a specified time period. This information, combined with team finances and player contractual obligations, can point and hint to the areas that a GM like Perry Minasian will focus on when discussing potential trades, whether the team is buying or selling. So to start we will first look at the Angels offense, focusing first on a statistic called weighted runs created plus (wRC+), which is an excellent catch-all number that shows how a team and individual players perform below or above League-average offensive production. This statistic quantifies run creation and normalizes it, so we can compare players who play in different ballparks and even different eras. wRC+ vs. Left-Handed Pitching The graphic below shows all MLB teams wRC+ versus left-handed pitchers: As you can see, the Angels, to-date, have performed well against left-handed pitching to the tune of a 115 wRC+, good for 3rd overall in MLB. Players like Upton, Ohtani, Gosselin, Rojas, Stassi, Ward, Trout, and Fletcher have all had good success against lefties this year. This is clearly an area of strength for the Halos and a less likely area that Minasian would focus on to improve. wRC+ vs. Right-Handed Pitching The graphic below shows all MLB teams wRC+ versus right-handed pitchers: Against the other side of the mound, the Angels are still above average (106 wRC+), but not quite as consistently good as they are against LHP. The Halos big bats, Trout, Ohtani, and Walsh are destroying RHP on a regular basis with guys like Stassi, Rendon, Upton, and Ward contributing, too. Because the Halos are ranked 7th in MLB, this, too, is an area that Minasian might pay less attention to, but, if the front office does bring in another bat, it would probably be a player that can hit right-handed pitching. Now that we have covered offense, we can move on to the pitching side. Here we will focus on a statistic called strikeout percentage minus walk percentage (K%-BB%), which is also a solid, effective number that shows how a team or individual pitcher performs over a specified time period. This statistic is good because it quantifies a pitchers ability to strikeout and walk batters on an individual basis, rather than a rate statistic, giving a purer view of effectiveness regarding how often any particular pitcher puts opposing players on-base. So with that, let us examine how the Angels pitching staff is performing against both sides of the plate. K%-BB% vs. Left-Handed Hitters The graphic below shows all MLB teams K%-BB% versus left-handed hitters: Here we can see that the Halos have been a bit below average, ranked 18th, overall, with a K%-BB% of 12.9%. Guys like Iglesias, Quintana, Sandoval, Mayers, Watson, Cobb, and Claudio have all had varying measures of success, whereas the rest of the team has been roughly average (Ohtani) or worse (Bundy and Cishek, for instance). If Minasian plans to pick up more pitching, it may be prudent to target a guy who can punch out left-handed hitters. K%-BB% vs. Right-Handed Hitters The graphic below shows all MLB teams K%-BB% versus right-handed hitters: On the other side, the Angels have performed a touch better, ranked 16th, overall, with a K%-BB% of 15.3%. Names like Iglesias, Ohtani, Heaney, Mayers, Cobb, Canning, and Bundy have performed at a varying, but solid, clip. Again, if Minasian focuses on bringing in pitching, a guy who can get right-handed hitters out would probably be even more useful and, in fact, a starter or reliever that can punch out hitters on both sides of the plate would do wonders for the rotation and/or bullpen. Finally, this analysis would not be complete without taking a glance at team defense. Here we will use FanGraphs Defense (Def) statistic which provides an above or below average examination of how a team or an individual player at any specific singular position impacts runs saved or created. The Def statistic is simply fielding runs above average plus a positional adjustment. In the graphic below, team Def is shown, which is a conglomeration of all Angels players in comparison to other teams. Team Defense Utilizing FanGraphs ‘Def’ Statistic The graphic below shows all MLB teams composite defensive scores: As you can see, the Halos have been systemically bad on defense in 2021, which is a marked departure from previous seasons. The Halos are ranked 29th in MLB, overall, with a composite ‘Def’ score of -20.9! Even noted, stalwart defenders like Iglesias, Fletcher, and Lagares have not performed to their normal levels. Names like Upton (LF), Ward (RF), and Suzuki (C) (Pujols too) have been a drain on run prevention, but it is not just them, the whole team appears to be struggling in some form or fashion. If the Angels do become buyers, expect Perry to upgrade where he can, to improve this situation, and hope that the normally good defenders pick it up and execute better on the field. Initial Takeaway from the Basic Analysis So, the first major takeaway from this examination is that team defense has been a real problem. Being next to dead last in all of baseball will spell trouble in terms of run prevention and it does not help that it appears to be team-wide, making it difficult to find a tangible solution. Upton is still on contract and will be difficult to move, so finding a good defensive replacement is probably off the table, not to mention that any acquisition must have a productive bat like Justin. Ward is young and controllable and he has had a very productive offensive season, so far, making him a good, versatile plug-and-play option for Joe Maddon, so he could be moved, but again you will have to replace the offense, as well as the defense, making him a little bit, less likely trade piece. Kurt Suzuki, signed for his previous offensive prowess, has been a black hole on both sides of the ball, making him the most likely piece on the Angels roster to be upgraded in favor of both better offense and defense. The remainder of the position players are either too valuable (Trout and Walsh for instance), on long-term contracts (Rendon and Fletcher for example), or just seem to be underperforming defensively (Iglesias comes to mind). The most likely positions to upgrade here are at backup catcher or, possibly, a short-term solution or even a callup from our Minor League system, to bolster right field, if Minasian feels defense is a top priority. Beyond the Halos abysmal team defense, our pitching staff could use a shot in the arm, as well. Clearly some of our starting options have not panned out as Perry Minasian had hoped (Bundy and Quintana are obvious perpetrators) and certain pieces in the bullpen have struggled, as well (Claudio, Watson, and Slegers jump off the page, for instance). Finding a controllable ace starting pitcher is always the goal, but even a short-term front-end or solid middle-of-the-rotation starter would help the Angels if they do actively compete the rest of this season. Adding another back-end reliever would do a lot of good for the Angels bullpen, too, if they go for it and may be the least expensive route to improving the team, in trade, from a resource expenditure perspective. It would also be useful if any pitcher the Halos acquire can get both left- and right-handed hitters out, as well. Long-term control is even more desirable, but it will cost much more. Finally, team offense does not appear to be an issue overall. The Angels are well above average in run production, so this may not be the priority if the Halos front office looks to improve heading into the Trade Deadline. If they do upgrade a position player, it will more likely be a guy who can hit right-handed pitching well, as the team is a little less productive against righties than lefties. Again, offense is not the Angels biggest problem, but if you are going to upgrade defensively, for example, you might as well acquire a guy who is better, offensively, against the right side of the mound. Who are the Buyers and Sellers? This question is relatively easy to answer by simply examining the FanGraphs MLB Playoff Odds page, again. Basically any team sitting at approximately 10% or less is probably a likely seller, willing to move players on expiring contracts (i.e. players who are in their final season with their respective team) or, if they are rebuilding, players that are not in their long-term plans (i.e. players with less overall contractual or team control, for instance). Additionally, teams that are around 10%-15%, are probably sitting on the fence, waiting to see if they improve leading into the Trade Deadline, to determine which way they lean. Finally, any team that is above 15%-20% is a more probable buyer and, thus, looking for short-term rentals or players with more than one year of contractual or team control that might be available in the Trade Deadline market. To be clear each team will have unique circumstances, based on which Division they play in, how many teams in their Division are competing, team finances, owner will-to-win, Wild Card standings, and strength of schedule the remainder of the season, that will impact if they buy, sell, or do both. Based on the assumptions, above, the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, Blue Jays, White Sox, Astros, Athletics, Mets, Brewers, Dodgers, Padres, and Giants are all likely buyers, currently. In the middle, the Indians, Angels, Braves, Phillies, Reds, and Cubs are in a bit of a gray area and may wait closer to the Trade Deadline to make any moves, assuming they sustain or improve their performance. It is possible they could make a modest improvement leading up to the Trade Deadline to see if that pushes them further up the win curve, as well, before committing further. The remaining teams, the Orioles, Twins, Royals, Tigers, Rangers, Nationals, Marlins, Cardinals, Pirates, Rockies, Diamondbacks, and, maybe, the Mariners are all probable sellers, barring large winning streaks that put them back into the playoff conversation. Knowing who is buying and selling will lend itself to our partially-informed, speculative guesses about who the Angels matchup with in potential deals, whether the Halos are buying and/or selling at the Trade Deadline. Do you think the Angels will Buy, Sell, or do Both? Comment and share your thoughts in the thread! Up next - 2021 Angelswin.com Trade Deadline Series: Keepers, Assets, and Targets
  4. 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.
  5. By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer In 2020, Justin Upton will be entering his 14th professional season in Major League Baseball at the tender age of 32 years young. He is one of those guys, like Brett Anderson, that you feel like they have played forever and should be old men but they still have kick and life left in them as they progress through the seasons. Certainly, last year is one of those seasons that Justin would prefer to forget. In 2019, Upton ended a 10-year streak of playing 130 games or more each season, playing in only 63 Major League games to the tune of a weak wRC+ of 92, which also broke his streak of posting at least a wRC+ of 105 over that same time period. Uncharacteristically, Justin suffered from ailments, including a quad and knee injury, that ultimately limited his playing time and forced him to end his season early to receive treatment. The good news is that he appears to be recovering well and is projected to return to good health prior to Spring Training. This is good because the Angels really need Upton to recover to form. His offensive woes in 2019, most likely tied directly to his injuries, can be seen in his three-year hitting history, below: Justin Upton's Three-Year (2017-2019) Hitting History It should be noted that Justin has a career wRC+ of 120, so, other than last year, he has been above his own average during his tenure with the Angels. Really last year seems to be an injury-related abnormality. In that light, assuming Upton recovers well and is healthy to start the 2020 campaign, it would not be unexpected to see his numbers regress to his career mean and see a more productive season (say a wRC+ in the 115 to 125 range) out of the Angels left fielder. This brings me to one important note. Justin has been strikingly poor against LHP the last two seasons. Quite honestly when the author looked this up during mid-season 2019, it was stunning to see how bad the numbers were, as it was unexpected: Justin Upton's Five-Year (2015-2019) Hitting History Vs. LHP In fact, over the last five years, he has had three really bad offensive seasons (2015: wRC+ of 58 , 2018: wRC+ of 66, and 2019: wRC+ of 47) against them. On the flip side he had better years in 2016 and 2017 where he had a wRC+ of 100 and 202, respectively, both on elevated BABIP numbers (.300 and .369, individually). He has been wildly inconsistent against lefties and the trend is worrisome. To be clear poor production against LHP is not going to hurt the 2020 Angels too much. In fact, the Angels can mitigate this by simply having a back-up outfielder such as Goodwin, Hermosillo, or even Ward, pick-up some of Justin's at-bat's against them. The Angels could even acquire another bat to play 1B with some outfield experience to split time between the two positions to pick up some of the slack. One thing Upton has done well, consistently, is hit RHP: Justin Upton's Five-Year (2015-2019) Hitting History Vs. RHP People do not realize or want to recognize what an accomplished hitter Justin has been in his thirteen seasons in Major League Baseball. Recently, on Twitter, @MLB asked the question, "Who is the best left fielder of the 2010's?", and Upton came in last, vote-wise, which is a shame but is a by-product of his relatively low profile in baseball. Certainly Braun, Gordon, and Yelich are great players but Ryan has a PED's history, Alex was a strong defender but not nearly as good of a hitter, and Christian may go down as the best LF of all-time but he picked up the most recency bias in the voting process, perhaps deservedly so. The point is that Upton has been a durable power-hitter across his entire career and heading into his age 32 season, there is no reason to believe that 2020 will be any different for him, from an offensive perspective. Defensively, it might be the same or it might begin getting progressively worse. By both FanGraphs and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Justin has been below average, mostly via unforced errors and an imprecise throwing arm. His range has been about average as well as his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Basically as he continues to age, his defense will get worse and his tendinitis issue from last season may or may not contribute to his defensive performance moving forward, only time will tell. It is this potential for worsening defensive skills that will ultimately drive Upton to the designated hitter spot once Pujols contract expires or he retires. Basically, Brandon Marsh, one of our really good young prospects, took a huge stride forward near the end of the Minor League season in the Arizona Fall League and he will almost assuredly be ready to play in the Majors next year or the year after. So these next two seasons will be the last that the Angels place Justin in left field, based on what happens with Pujols. Once that change occurs the Angels will have an incredible outfield of Trout, Adell, and Marsh, which should be very exciting for Angels fans as all three have really dynamic tools and Mike Trout is, of course, Mike Trout. Upton is owed $72M over the next three seasons. When Eppler signed him the Angels were, in-part, paying for his durability and for the most part he has been on the field pretty consistently minus last season. This is actually a trend across many of the players that Eppler is acquiring as evidenced by the Bundy trade and the Teheran signing. Having good players produce on a regular basis is what carries teams successfully through 162-game seasons as well as having excellent team depth at every position. Justin is a good example of this quality, consistent production. Finally, if Brandon Marsh has a breakout season in 2020 or 2021, there is always a possibility that the Angels might try to trade Upton, particularly if Justin also has an excellent season and the Halos are, for some reason, out of contention. This seems really unlikely and is further complicated by the fact that Upton has a no-trade clause, perhaps making this a moot conversation, but if the player and management agree a move is best for everyone involved, it could be a long-shot possibility, but highly doubtful. The expectation should be that Justin Upton will continue to play at an above average level for the next three seasons and, when Pujols is gone, take over full-time designated hitter duties, perhaps with a touch of left field, first base, and pinch hitter appearances until he, too, leaves after the 2022 season is complete and the Angels move forward with young prospects like the aforementioned Marsh and possibly others like Jordyn Adams or Trent Deveaux for example. Next up is the Right Field article of the Primer Series.
  6. 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.
  7. By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer For the Angels starting rotation, 2019 was not a kind year. Unfortunately, the Halos starters were last out of all 30 MLB teams in total Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with a measly 3.3 WAR. Other peripheral indicators support the poor performance. For reference, the Nationals led all of baseball with a total 21.4 WAR. So what do the Angels do to fix this situation? For reference, the table below shows a leader board of qualified starters, sorted by Wins Above Replacement on a per G (WAR/G) basis, over the last three seasons: If Moreno is serious about increasing payroll and making this team more competitive, as the hiring of Joe Maddon suggests and by his very own words, the Angels will need to invest a majority of their off-season payroll into starting pitching. It is the general consensus of the baseball community that the Angels will be in, heavily, on free agent ace Gerrit Cole or possibly Stephen Strasburg. Not only is Gerrit the agreed-upon available top starter, he throws 95+ mph heat, has an arsenal of wicked off-speed pitches, and took his team deep into the post-season this year. Strasburg helped carry his Nationals to a World Championship over Cole's Astros. Both are high-caliber options. Cole will cost a lot of money, likely something on the order of 30M+ average annual value (AAV) and $230M+ in total salary commitment over, probably, a 7-8 year deal. Strasburg will probably require a 5-6 year, $150M-$180M ($30M AAV) deal to secure his services. Either of these outlays will result in the Angels exceeding last years starting payroll number, thus the clear need for Arte to open the wallet if the team truly wants to contend in 2020. In the Finances article of the Primer Series we argued for a payroll increase to make significant improvements. The current starting point is approximately $162M for 2020 Club Payroll and $151M in Actual Club Payroll (AAV) and, in order to make big moves with Simmons and Cozart still on the books, Moreno will be forced to approach or, more remotely, exceed the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold barring an unexpected trade of Andrelton or Zack. Thus, if the club can acquire one or more game-changing stars (and it should be stressed that Arte would only exceed the CBT threshold for a high-end player), the author believes Moreno could possibly approach or exceed the CBT threshold of $208M and potentially go as high as the 1st Surcharge threshold of $228M, where the penalty is minimal (20% tax on the difference between AAV and the threshold of $208M, so no more than a $4M surcharge tax fee for 2020). Again, to reemphasize, this would only happen if Arte allows it and the player or players in question are first-rate acquisitions, so this is a low probability outcome that should be discussed but not expected. As a large market team the Angels have not significantly played in the payroll clouds (Luxury Tax) before, so this would be a complete break from previous seasons despite the fact that doing so now, in the new era of Mike Trout, could pay dividends across the board, particularly with the available slate of quality free agents this year and a complete dearth of them in next years market. In the end, though, Moreno has consistently authorized high payrolls but, rather than believing in the dream scenario, Angels fans should temper their expectations that the Opening Day payroll will exceed $208M and in all probability will be no more than $190M-$195M, give or take. It is the latter we will focus more on in this article and the remainder of the Primer Series. So, as MLBTradeRumors.com discussed, the Angels are likely to acquire a free agent front-of-the-rotation starter such as the aforementioned Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. For the purposes of this article, the author is going to assume that the Angels acquire one of them at $35M or $30M Average Annual Value (AAV) for Cole and Strasburg, respectively. Assuming a back-loaded contract ($20M-$25M in 2020), this puts the Angels 2020 Club Payroll and Actual Club Payroll (AAV) at $182M-$187M and $181M-$186M AAV respectively, without any other transactions taking place to start 2020. Grabbing a top-shelf starter to compliment Ohtani and lead this rotation is a must-have in the author's opinion. A 1-2 punch at the top will help win more games and increase overall team confidence that, on any given start, the Top 2 starters will get the job done. Based on previous seasons, the Angels would be really smart to create solid depth here. Bringing in 2-3 starters from free agency and/or trade will allow Eppler and Maddon to build not only a strong rotation but also a very deep pitching bench. Depth has been a crippling issue over the last handful of years and it is high time the Angels address it directly with the application of a payroll increase and/or creative trades to add more at the top and in the middle of the rotation and supplement and perhaps even trade (no more than 1-2 starters) off of the back-end supply they currently have. Andrew Heaney, coming off a sterling peripherals season (28.9% K% rate, which is approaching elite-level), will make a fine #3 type behind a Top 2 set-up. Adding another free agent or trade acquisition such as Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jon Gray, Dylan Bundy, or Robbie Ray, would create a very competitive Top 4 and the Angels could easily round out that starting five with an in-house candidate such as Griffin Canning, Jaime Barria, Jose Suarez, or Patrick Sandoval for example. Rumors have placed Wheeler's projected salary at 5 years, $100M ($20M AAV). This seems high because when you look at a recent comparable, Nathan Eovaldi, Zack is a year older and enters his free agent year with a 3.96 ERA versus Nathan's walk-year where he had a more pristine 3.33 ERA and signed a 4-year, $68M ($17M AAV) contract. ERA certainly isn't an insightful tool but results matter and Wheeler's fatigue near the end of the season may add a touch of doubt to his market. However, in terms of velocity, Wheeler throws about as hard as Cole and Nathan and is only about one year older, albeit with his Tommy John Surgery (2015) in the rear-view mirror. Gerrit is likely to pull in a 7-year deal, so would teams be willing to throw in a 6th year for Zack to bring the offer to nine figures? Seems really unlikely but there is a broad market for his services. All that being said, Eovaldi may have taken a slight discount to go to the Red Sox, and this market appears to be highly competitive, but it appears that Wheeler will get that fifth, or maybe even sixth, year and climb to $100M or more. The author expects Zack to pull in a 5-year deal worth anywhere from $90M-$100M ($18M-$20M AAV) which may, if Arte spends above the tax threshold, be a plausible acquisition behind Cole/Strasburg. If a sixth year is attached, it could possibly inch over $100M (think 6 years, $102M, $17M AAV for example). Realistically, the other mid-tier free agent starters like Bumgarner, Ryu, and Hamels will probably command contracts with an AAV range of $15M-$18M per year, give or take. Including Wheeler, all four of them may be priced out of the Angels budget simply because a Cole or Strasburg acquisition automatically puts the Angels, as mentioned above, in the $181M-$187M range. Adding one of the above, would vault next year's payroll into the $195M-$210M realm and Moreno may not be willing to stomach the ticket price. It may be more practical for the Angels to snag one of Cole or Strasburg and then trade for a lower-salaried front or mid-tier starter and then shop in the lower-end of free agency or trade for a third back-end piece. If the Angels go this route, available trade targets might include names like Jon Gray, Jake Odorizzi (in trade, now that he accepted the Qualifying Offer, although this is unlikely), Dylan Bundy, Jose Quintana, Danny Duffy, Jose Urena, Matthew Boyd, Daniel Norris, Jakob Junis, Robbie Ray, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Archer, and Joe Musgrove, among many others. On the free agency side, names like Homer Bailey (93 mph FB), Andrew Cashner (94 mph FB), Rich Hill (Approximate 21% K%-BB% rate over last three years on limited innings pitched each of those seasons), Dallas Keuchel (Career 58.9% GB% rate), Matt Moore (touched 94 mph in 10 IP before knee surgery cut his 2019 season short), Martin Perez (50% GB% rate and 94 mph FB), Michael Pineda (18.7% K%-BB% rate but serving Performance-Enhancing Drug Suspension to start the 2020 season), Tanner Roark (14.8% K%-BB% rate), Michael Wacha (93 mph FB), Alex Wood (Career 49% GB% rate), Gabriel Ynoa (93.5 mph FB), and/or Brett Anderson (56.8% GB% rate) might have some level of appeal, particularly in terms of salary fit. So, as an example, say the Angels sign one of Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg and then trade for a lower-salaried, controllable starter like Jon Gray or Dylan Bundy (each will make approximately $5.5M-$6M in arbitration for 2020) and then sign someone like Homer Bailey, Matt Moore, Rich Hill, or Alex Wood in the $5M-$10M range on a one to three year deal. This would push 2020 Club Payroll and Actual Club Payroll up toward the $200M mark which is high but still below the CBT threshold of $208M. The Angels would still have room for one or two low-level moves (such as an inexpensive catcher for example) but this would allow the team to spend significantly (as Moreno indicated was possible) while still sliding under the Luxury Tax at least up until the Trade Deadline where more information will be available to determine if the Angels should go further in improving the 2020 squad for a playoff push (which may then result in an overage over the CBT threshold). Rebuilding the rotation this off-season, by acquiring an ace, will set the stage for a more stable starting five, along with corresponding quality depth, for a long time to come. Strategically it will allow the Halos to enter a new window of contention immediately. Prioritizing starting pitcher additions for 2020 and beyond is the greatest need Eppler must address and, in fact, may be the only area he seriously deals with based on how far Moreno extends the payroll leash. Likely Outcome: Angels will sign one of Cole or Strasburg and then trade for a mid-tier type such as Gray, Bundy, Ray, or Boyd. From there they may sign a third starter such as Moore, Pineda, or Bailey but that will be dependent on payroll space. If three starters are acquired, this will allow the Angels to trade off one, or maybe two, of their back-end starters in trade with the likely candidates being Barria, Sandoval, or Suarez. The remainder of those candidates, not traded, would line up with the rest (Canning, Madero, Peters, et. al.) as quality rotation depth in the Minors and that depth does not even consider high Minor League players not on the 40-man roster like Chris Rodriguez, for instance. Hypothetically, if the Angels miss out on one of the Big 2, they can go to the backup plan of signing two of the remaining Tier 2 starters such as Wheeler, Bumgarner, Hamels, or Ryu and still trade for a mid-tier type as mentioned above. That won't be quite as strong but it will still improve the rotation considerably. Author's Choice: Gerrit Cole is a must have signing from my perspective. Nothing is promised in the off-season but Cole strikes me as a similar comparable to Scherzer and speculatively it feels like Gerrit will provide a lot of value over his next contract. Additionally, if Moreno extends the payroll leash, signing Zack Wheeler would be a huge plus, too. Beyond that, trading for one of Jon Gray, Matt Boyd and Robbie Ray would be a solid acquisition. Signing Matt Moore has some dangers but his velocity was great before his injury so that is a gamble I would like to see the Angels take but Pineda, Hill, or Bailey (in that order) would be perfectly fine outcomes as a third pickup, if wanted and/or needed. Assuming the Angels acquire three starters as speculated at, above, I would like to see a trade executed involving one (or possibly two) of Jaime Barria, Jose Suarez, or Patrick Sandoval (in that order, probably) as shown in the two independent examples below: Angels send MIF Zack Cozart, SP Jaime Barria, 3B/1B Matt Thaiss, 2B/OF Jahmai Jones, OF Orlando Martinez, and OF D'Shawn Knowles to the Orioles in exchange for 1B/COF Trey Mancini and LHR Tanner Scott Why? The Orioles are in a full rebuild and need to hoard prospects and players with multiple years of team control. By taking on all of Cozart's 2020 salary they get not only the veteran shortstop they are looking for, they also obtain a young starting pitcher in Barria, to add to their rotation with 5 years of team control. In addition they get Thaiss who can play the infield corners, a high quality prospect in Jones, and two upside OF prospects in Knowles and Martinez. Buying prospects through a salary dump is rare, but not unprecedented, as seen here and here. For the Angels, in this particular season with the situation our payroll is in, the ability to shave Zack's salary, based on his negative surplus value, would be a huge help in navigating this off-season, if Eppler can manage it. Additionally, a move like this, would give the Halos a tested, and possible breakout, bat in Mancini (his 2019 peripherals point to significant improvement) who can play first base and the corner outfield positions in a pinch for at least 2020 and possibly the succeeding two seasons based on how high his arbitration cost rises. Acquiring Trey lowers total team production risk, by allowing Walsh to develop further (and act as quality depth at 1B) in the Minors, while adding another power option to the lineup behind Trout. Finally it would also give the Angels five controllable seasons of a powerful lefty bullpen arm in Scott who would improve the bullpen's potential to close out games in the later innings of a game. Angels trade LHP Jose Suarez, OF Trent Deveaux, and RHP Cooper Criswell in exchange for LF/1B Kyle Schwarber Why? The Cubs reportedly need to trim payroll and Schwarber represents a potential $8M savings that can be replaced internally by Bryant or Happ for example. Certainly Chicago would miss his bat in the lineup but by all accounts cutting dollars is important for them this off-season. It allows the Cubs to bring in one Major League ready young, controllable left-handed starter, a prospect outfielder with upside and another right-handed pitching prospect, all while shaving the aforementioned salary and giving up the final two years of arbitration control over Kyle. For the Angels it would bring in a left-handed power bat (more so versus RHP) they can place at 1B and serve as a depth option for Upton in LF. Assuming Schwarber does well they could retain him for one more season in 2021 or potentially extend him if that is Eppler's desire. Conclusion: The Angels have no choice but to take two routes here in the author's opinion - Sign or trade for two starters, one of which is an ace-level pitcher like Cole and Strasburg, with the other a mid-tier type like Gray, Ray, or Boyd, or Sign or trade for three starters, two of which are upper (like Cole or Strasburg) or mid-tier (like Wheeler, Archer, Bumgarner, Gray, Ray, or Ryu) types and one additional mid-tier or lower-tier guy. In the first scenario the Halos can get by with a rotation of, for example, Strasburg, Ohtani, Heaney, Boyd, and Canning. The second scenario might be a rotation of Ohtani, Wheeler, Heaney, Ray, and Pineda, which isn't as strong at the former but is still a greatly improved starting five. Both options would improve bench depth. As fans we work with really imperfect information regarding the free agent and trade markets. If Eppler receives real interest in some of his back-end starters (Barria, Sandoval, Suarez, et. al.) the Angels would probably best be served by acquiring three starters and then trading one off for other areas of need, otherwise two rotation pieces, one an ace, is the most likely path. The former, spending more for three starters, will allow the Angels to more effectively open additional doors to address other concerns and will build natural depth all around the diamond (through the aforementioned trades). Again everything will rest on how much of the proverbial yacht fuel Moreno is willing to sacrifice in pursuit of these targets. If he does not commit to significant spending, Arte may find himself setting sail on the 2020 season rather than pulling into the playoffs port for the first time in a long while. If the rumors of Texas' interest in Anthony Rendon are true, the A.L. West is about to get really competitive across the board, so the Angels need to position themselves as a contender in the Division by taking an aggressive posture now. This off-season all eyes are on the moves Eppler makes for the starting rotation, as it is the crux of our success in 2020.
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