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A healthy Shohei Ohtani is a difference-maker on both sides of the ball By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Note: What can I do here, everyone? Hope for Education is a small, targeted charity with a very specific fundraising goal and they are only a short way off from it. Again, I know some of you might be strapped for cash out there, I get it. But I am not asking for much, $5 is skipping a morning Starbucks run. Even $1, is one item less off the value deal menu at your favorite fast food joint. These kids deserve the opportunity to learn safely in this pandemic environment, so once again I am humbly requesting ANY donation you can afford to make. Thank you for your time and attention! - Robert Hitting leadoff for the 2021 Primer Series, the rotation is clearly the biggest concern facing the Halos front office heading into the off-season. The Angels, on paper, will pencil in Andrew Heaney and Dylan Bundy, both in their last year of arbitration control, along with Shohei Ohtani, who is, unfortunately, a bit of a wild card health-wise, making his reliability unpredictable, as the initial base of their rotation. We will call this trio “2 and a half men”, for now. Beyond those names, the Angels do have a selection of younger pitchers, on the 40-man roster, to choose from, including Griffin Canning, Patrick Sandoval, Jaime Barria, Jose Suarez, Hector Yan, and Chris Rodriguez. Behind them are additional swingmen, such as Dillon Peters and Felix Pena that can act as spot starters, as well. The Angels also have another upside starter, not on their 40-man roster yet, Reid Detmers, the teams #1 draft pick in 2020, but he is almost certainly not ready for the Majors yet, but could be sooner rather than later. If the Angels started the season with the current group of pitchers on the 40-man roster, the likely rotation depth would look something like this (number in parentheses represents the number of Minor League options remaining): Shohei Ohtani (3) Dylan Bundy (0) Andrew Heaney (0) Jaime Barria (0) Jose Suarez (1) Felix Pena (1) Griffin Canning (3) Patrick Sandoval (2) Dillon Peters (0) Chris Rodriguez (3) Hector Yan (2) As it stands, that depth is not too bad. Certainly it could be better, particularly at the top-of-the-rotation where Ohtani’s consistent and healthy ability to pitch is in doubt, but there is sufficient and, daresay, quality depth in the middle and back of the rotation for the Halos. Additionally, the team only has Bundy, Heaney, Barria, and Peters, from this list, that must be on the 25-man roster due to their lack of options remaining. Assuming one of the first three is not traded they will almost certainly fill our #3-#5 rotation slots, while Peters will grab a spot in the bullpen, probably as a long reliever and spot starter. If you add one high quality starter, like Trevor Bauer, Blake Snell, or another top arm, the fabric of our starting five strengthens: Top-of-the-rotation starter (Pick your poison) Shohei Ohtani Dylan Bundy Andrew Heaney Jaime Barria This is the reason the Angels are likely targeting a top-of-the-rotation starter this off-season. It adds that missing impact arm that cannot only anchor the Halos starting five but will provide that third missing element for a playoff roster, as well. In addition, it pushes young and capable, but less experienced, starters like Jose Suarez, Griffin Canning, and Patrick Sandoval into depth roles, where they really, probably, belong heading into next year, particularly when you consider the potential impacts of the pandemic to their development timeline. The addition of a top-tier starter also mitigates some of the risk Shohei brings to the equation by giving Joe Maddon two anchors for the rotation, rather than relying on just Ohtani and his unfortunate arm issues. If Dylan Bundy even comes close to repeating his 2020 performance and Ohtani returns to form, that would give the Angels a three-headed hydra, greatly improving the Halos chances of reaching the playoffs. However, in order to get that top-tier starter, the Angels front office will need to use significant resources, whether through payroll, their 40-man roster, and/or their farm system, to acquire that player, which may limit their ability to improve the roster in other areas. The reason we bring this up is that the Angels may best be served by not only acquiring a top-tier starter but also an additional mid-tier type to really build a truly deep, quality rotation (in this case, probably a six-man version) with exceptional depth, which will deplete even more resources, probably. This resource loss may not be as bad as it seems, potentially. If there was ever a time to move prospects, particularly with a new GM coming in trying to buttress a team on the verge of contention, it could be now. When you consider how many extra players are hitting the free agent market, too, including a plethora of Minor League prospects that were cut loose, Minasian may see this as an opportunity to not only acquire what the team needs but perhaps fill in some of the holes that will be leftover with fringe prospects that were cut loose from other organizations. So, if a top tier starter is in play, what are we looking at in a potential Trevor Bauer signing? Frankly a lot. Finding an ideal comparable player is not simple but Stephan Strasburg signed a 7-year deal for $245M (an extension to his original extension) to stay with the Nationals, prior to 2020, at 31 1/2 years old. Gerrit Cole, who is significantly better than Trevor, signed a 9-year, $324M (it could be an 8-year, $288M if the Yankees don’t void the player option year) deal. Patrick Corbin, a less comparable player, signed a 6-year, $140M contract, prior to his age 29 season. Muddying the waters, further, is the financial crisis around baseball right now, making this risk-opportunity analysis difficult on both sides, for any prospective, acquiring teams and Trevor’s agent. Bauer has made it clear in the past that he might prefer signing year-to-year deals to potentially increase his earning power. However, he walked that statement back a bit, not too long ago, so anything could be in the cards. I actually disagree with MLBTradeRumors.com’s recent assessment that he will find a 4-year deal, that seems odd as it would place Trevor back in free agency in his age 34 season, which does not seem ideal for him. Bauer will be 30 years old in 2021 and I see him either signing an expensive but short 1-2 year deal or going the distance on a 6-8 year pact, based on what the market offers. Perhaps a 1-2 year deal at $40M-45M per season or a 6-8 year deal for something in the $160M-240M ballpark. All of this may be a moot point for the Halos, however. In either scenario the Angels will basically use all of the margin in their payroll pushing them up to or over the CBT threshold, into Luxury Tax territory. Moreno has stated in the past he would consider that for the “right” player but that litmus test has never come to pass and, in this economic atmosphere, seems like a longshot. The bottom line is that Bauer may be a non-starter if Arte doesn’t tighten up the yacht fuel expenditures. It seems more likely, monetarily, that the Angels will move prospects to acquire another top-of-the-rotation option and then perhaps supplement the rotation further via free agency or additional trades. So with that thought in mind, it would not be surprising to see the Angels, in addition to acquiring an ace, pursue a mid-rotation starter to add to their shopping list as well. Heck, even two might be on the table if Minasian decides he wants to send one of Bundy or Heaney out the door to try and micromanage the payroll. For example, Perry may want to capitalize on Dylan Bundy’s very successful 2020 campaign and move him and his salary in exchange for one or more near-MLB ready prospects and then trade for another less expensive starter like Vince Velasquez or Jon Gray, on top of acquiring someone like Blake Snell. That Bundy for Velasquez or Gray exchange, would result in about a $1M-3.5M decrease to team payroll for 2021, hypothetically. If Minasian encounters a lot of difficulty acquiring an ace, the Angels could add the aforementioned mid-tier starter and see where they end up at the Trade Deadline and then try to acquire one at that time. This in fact might open up other avenues, as teams that were in fringe contention or on the verge of a rebuild, may throw in the towel and sell off a top-of-the-rotation starter, then. Only time and a series of vigorous phone calls and meetings will tell the tale for the Angels new GM. This was, in-part, what I was referring to in the Strategy article, regarding the additional unpredictability that this off-season might offer. Perry is not just buying, he is gauging the market across the board to understand how other teams see the value of our assets versus what the Angels believe they are worth. Those assets that have more value to others than they do to the Halos might be shipped out the door like Noe Ramirez and Leonardo Rivas, were, in exchange for Raisel Iglesias (good trade, in principle, by the way). Finding that top-of-the-rotation unicorn will not be easy but it will be essential for the Angels in 2021 and thus it needs to be the teams #1 priority, figuratively and literally. Expect: The Angels will do everything they can to acquire a frontline starter this off-season and we here at Angelswin.com feel they will be successful in doing so, albeit it may not be Trevor Bauer, considering Moreno’s history to-date. If we do sign Trevor it feels like a one or two-year deal is in the cards so that he can clear the COVID-19 pandemic on a clearer path to free agency and a subsequent long-term pact and Moreno can go over the CBT threshold for no more than two years, avoiding the really high tax rates that kick in on the third year over the Luxury Tax. If Bauer is a no-go, even on a long term deal, a trade for an ace will ultimately cost us one of Jo Adell or Brandon Marsh, likely, as we have sufficient outfield depth in the Minors to pad the loss of one of these fine young prospects or possibly one or more Major League assets. Additionally, the Angels may look to pick up another mid-tier starter, such as the aforementioned Velasquez or Gray or maybe a guy like Carlos Carrasco, Zach Davies or Eduardo Rodriguez, in trade, or conceivably one of our old friends Garrett Richards or Matt Shoemaker or possibly a guy like Jose Quintana, Jose Urena, Corey Kluber, Chris Archer, or Tomoyuki Sugano from free agency, for instance (much more likely if we do not acquire Bauer). In the case of the Halos picking up both a front line and mid rotation starter, they may have to move to a six-man rotation (because Heaney, Bundy, and Barria are out of options and Ohtani and any front line starter we pick up are locks for #1 and #2 spots).
By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Note: I am humbly requesting any donation (even one dollar!) you can make to the Angelswin.com Charity of the Month, Hope for Education! Every dollar can help, so please lend a hand if you are able! This part of the Primer Series will be difficult to write, at least this year. New GM Perry Minasian, despite his many years in baseball, is a wildcard in the main decision-making seat, which constrains our ability to construct an educated guess on team strategy. Bottom line is that we, at Angelswin.com, can only speculate based on what we do see and hear. So to start, Minasian, in his introduction as the new GM, was quoted stating, “Pitching is going to be a major priority...”. This was obvious to everyone, but it is good to hear him reemphasize the clear need again. Also, during the live telecast from Anaheim, Minasian clearly stated that they will improve the team in, “... any way that we can, whether it is offense, defense, or pitching”. He cited the decision, when he was with the Braves front office, to bring in Josh Donaldson on a one-year deal, to provide an impact player and build temporary depth, so it appears that all options to upgrade the team could be on the table. Additionally, we can look a bit at his past work in talent evaluation. As Director of Scouting with the Toronto Blue Jays, he is given credit for drafting SP’s Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman and signing international free agent 3B Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.. Not a bad list to be associated with heading into a new position and it is indicative of his past and potential scouting ability. That is the extent of what we know. He is regarded as a good talent evaluator, excellent communicator, and has performed most of the jobs you can do, while working for a baseball club. It was also mentioned that he has an innate ability to construct rosters. That experience and those traits are a good base to operate from, not dissimilar to former GM Billy Eppler, so fans need to give him time to put his mark on the team and see where it takes our beloved Halos. The challenge in front of him is to create a winning environment and team. Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Anthony Rendon, David Fletcher, and Jo Adell represent a solid set of position players to build around but Moreno likely didn’t fire Eppler just to bring in a new GM to continue the slow boil toward contention. Minasian likely has a mandate to get the team there sooner, not later, which means Perry could upset the applecart by zigging, to the former GM Billy Eppler’s zagging. In order to build this winner, Minasian will need to fill the clear holes in the rotation and bullpen, as well as finding a shortstop solution and creating additional catching depth. These needs represent the minimum to be done at the Major League level and, in fact, Minasian has already struck, trading for Jose Iglesias to man the shortstop position in the last year of a very reasonable contract, thereby opening the team to potentially sign one of many free agent shortstops next year when Pujols’ comes off of the books. On top of that move, the Halos acquired RP Raisel Iglesias for a modest return, bringing in, for at least 2021, a top-tier closer to add to the back-end of a largely rebuilt bullpen. These first two deals, on the surface, appear to be value acquisitions, considering the salaries and prospects involved, so more of these types of transactions can compliment and incrementally improve team production, over last year. In 2020, from that holistic production side, the Angels were ranked 11th in FanGraphs WAR for hitting. The rotation was ranked 21st and the bullpen, a bit surprisingly, a more respectable 13th place overall. Finally, and most shockingly, the Angels defense was ranked 29th according to FanGraphs ‘Def’ rating. Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 innings (UZR/150) was not much better, coming in 27th. So clearly there is more work to do, particularly in the rotation, and probably not as much time to do it in, for our new GM. It seems like both the rotation and team defensive performance can regress a bit in a more positive direction, particularly the latter because the Angels are not that bad on paper, despite swapping Simmons for Iglesias. Beyond that, though, the rotation does, still, need real work, the bullpen needs additional massaging, beyond Iglesias, and adding another bat at the catching position, that can play quality defense, would be nice. If, as we suspect, Minasian has a mandate to win soon, all options including a payroll increase and/or trading some of our best prospects could be on the table, potentially. So, could it be a run on SP Trevor Bauer in free agency, resulting in a payroll increase, possibly exceeding the CBT threshold, which Arte has only done once, ever, in the history of his ownership? Might it be pursuing someone like George Springer to play right field and trading prized prospect Jo Adell as the centerpiece of a trade for a high-quality, controllable starter such as German Marquez, Zac Gallen, Matt Manning, or Luis Patino, for example? Or could Minasian take a wildly different route with roster construction and throw Shohei Ohtani into right field, the position he played for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, and flip the aforementioned Adell in a similar deal for another top-of-the-rotation starter and then sign Kyle Schwarber for the strong side platoon at the DH spot? Perhaps the Indians come calling again on Brandon Marsh and the Halos flip him, along with Luis Rengifo and William Holmes, for a starter like Zach Plesac and a reliever like Nick Wittgren? Maybe something even more basic like a Luis Rengifo and Trent Deveaux for Carrasco-based deal? The point is that if Arte fully enables Minasian to improve the team, now, there are assets in-place to bring in difference makers whether by free agency or trade. Is it wise? Probably not if you are focusing on the long term health of the team like Eppler surely was. If you are Arte, however, the coronavirus pandemic may have made you think twice about the fragility of life; so pushing harder, now, may make more sense in the time you have left as the owner of the team. We can only wait and see what happens. There will be a lot of potential for Monday-morning quarterbacking this off-season. Expect: The current environment is highly unpredictable, but it does seem like Moreno is pressing, even in light of the financial situation. We believe there will be competitive moves made to improve the 2021 Angels odds of winning, including at least one high-profile deal, although it may not be a clear superstar. Be prepared to see one or more of our top prospects traded, as well. The 2021 Angels will likely be a better team, but it is really difficult to see all of the moving parts and through the fog of WAR, as we progress deeper into a rocky off-season. Odds are strong that Minasian stays somewhere between $5M-$10M under the Luxury Tax, in regard to off-season spending.