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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.
By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer So I almost didn't write the series this year. A lot of things happened, one of which the company I worked for, Vector-Launch, unfortunately shut down in mid-August due to the loss of our primary financial backer, Sequoia. This was a real loss to me because that was the best damn job I ever had and likely will ever have the remainder of my career. It is rare that you find a position where you enjoy the work so much that you don't even feel like it is work, you have a supervisor that respects and mentors you, and you have fantastic relationships with virtually all of your coworkers to the point that they become family and you even hang out with them outside of work. Vector was all of that and it is a damn shame that it had to go. There are parallels to that situation with the 2019 Angels. The Halos, at the start of the season seemed locked in. Our new manager, Brad Ausmus, was at the helm and seemed to have a good grasp of how to manage the team and appeared to have the respect of the players. Most importantly the team seemed to gel well and the clubhouse atmosphere seemed loose and fun. However, as we are all aware, injuries, ineffectiveness, and a lack of leadership at the top ravaged the 2019 Angels team. Players like Matt Harvey and Cody Allen, larger ticket players Eppler signed on one-year deals in the off-season, failed to produce and were eventually cut. The Angels tragically lost Tyler Skaggs mid-season to a deadly concoction of opioids and alcohol. Justin Upton, Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Luis Rengifo, and Tommy La Stella all hit the Injury List (IL) at various points in the season creating a discontinuity in the field and lineup that was reflected in the Angels very poor win-loss record at the end of the year. These losses certainly added up to a recipe for disaster in Anaheim that seems, on the surface, difficult to overcome in 2020 and proved fatal to Brad Ausmus' tenure. Like Vector-Launch, they had to close it down. So, once again, it will be up to Billy Eppler in what could be his last year as General Manager, and the front office staff to set a path for success this off-season if the Angels will have a real chance at post-season play. One very bright point is the signing of future Hall of Fame candidate Mike Trout to a career-long extension at the beginning of the 2019 season. The Angels now have the premier player in baseball locked up and can rest easy knowing that he is the centerpiece to build the remainder of the team around as they look to contend in 2020 and beyond. Some of these pieces are already here. Despite Justin Upton's poor offensive performance in 2019, he is still signed for three more seasons making him a likely complimentary piece in left field for next year. Andrelton Simmons will be entering his final year of control and, barring a trade, will man shortstop again in 2020 with the possibility of an extension contract in his future. Kole Calhoun turned out to be a luxury the Angels couldn't afford in an off-season where they need a lot of starting pitching but fortunately, the Angels have Brian Goodwin to fill their right field need to start the season. Other complimentary players like Zack Cozart (if healthy), David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo, Matt Thaiss, Taylor Ward, Jared Walsh, and Tommy La Stella should help fill one or more holes in the infield not called shortstop. Catcher may turn out to be a patchwork again manned by some combination of Max Stassi (who probably won't be ready to start the season), Anthony Bemboom, Kevan Smith, and perhaps one or more other, yet-to-be-acquired, backstops. Shohei Ohtani should be ready to pitch again, along with Andrew Heaney, giving the Angels a decent base to create a rotation with the likes of Griffin Canning, Jaime Barria, Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez, Dillon Peters, and possibly others like Felix Pena filling up the back-end of the starting five. However, it should be clearly noted that the free agent starting pitching market has some very attractive players that the Angels will almost certainly target to create a strong rotation for 2020. Our relief corps will probably contain names like Ty Buttrey, Hansel Robles, Noe Ramirez, Cam Bedrosian, Luke Bard, Justin Anderson, Keynan Middleton, Jake Jewell, and Taylor Cole among potential others. In fact this group may be enough to rely upon for the 2020 season, making it one potential area that the Angels need not worry about this off-season in terms of expending resources. The rebuilding process in the Angels Minor League system has actually been underway for some time now. Eppler has been steadily building it up and there are some notable names that have joined or are on the verge of joining Trout in Anaheim. Potential stars like Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh, along with contributing pieces like Luis Madero are making strides to join the big league club in 2020 or after. Adell in particular appears to be the closest to the Majors and is likely, based on Calhoun's option being declined, a call-up in the May/June time frame. Other potential contributors like Luis Pena (bullpen), Jahmai Jones (2B/OF), and Chris Rodriguez could accelerate fast if they have a productive start in 2020. The unexpected replacement of Ausmus with Joe Maddon and Moreno's recent comments that there will be an increase in payroll this off-season clearly points to a sea change and acceleration to push the Angels into a window of contention that many fans have been awaiting for a long time. Based on the groundwork laid to date, owner comments, and a largely new, but experienced, coaching staff, it seems highly probable that there will be at least one or more significant free agent signings and/or complimentary trades to help position the Angels to fight for a playoff spot in 2020. The Astros and A's still pose a significant threat in the Division but an improved Angels squad will make for a much more interesting race in the A.L. West. In terms of team needs, clearly the Angels need to add at least one top-of-the-rotation starter and likely an additional mid-tier type to create solid depth. Adding a high-quality defensive catcher, to compliment one of Stassi (likely), Smith (maybe), or Bemboom (unlikely), would be a nice add to receive all of those pitches from the revamped rotation. The infield will need to be reinforced, likely at the corners with third base a long-term strategic concern for Eppler. Right field will be open to competition with Jo Adell in the mix (and the future of the position) but likely only after the Angels retain the extra year of team control on him (thus the projected May/June call-up). Adding another reliever or two to the mix, even if they are waiver claims or Rule 5 picks, will add depth. The question will ultimately be how high will Moreno let Eppler spend? Is it a modest increase or something much more significant that would take us into Luxury Tax territory for the next two years? Will a poor free agent market in the 2020-2021 off-season drive spending now? What moves can be made in free agency and trade to strengthen the team? Can the team supplement from the Minors in key areas throughout the season to create the missing depth that recent Angels squads have lacked? All that and more in what is sure to be an active Angels off-season in the subsequent installments of the 2020 Angelswin.com Primer Series!
It's been an interesting couple of weeks of constant speculation and hand winging in some cases -- but now that it's done and all played out (and at the risk of being accused of kicking someone when they are down), I can't help but notice and appreciate the massive differences between how two organizations in direct competition with each other are working towards their goals... This was out BEFORE the Ohtani signing.... So, before the entire thing blew up in the M's faces.. http://www.ussmariner.com/2017/12/08/mariners-acquire-dee-gordon-to-play-cf-are-you-not-entertained-shohei-ohtani/ There’s an overarching issue here, I think, that makes me skeptical of the moves we’ve seen so far. Last year, the M’s ranked 5th in walk rate in the AL West, which has 5 teams. They ranked 4th in ISO, and 5th in baserunning runs. The M’s divisional rivals are improving on the offensive side of the ball, and meanwhile, the M’s project as an offense that will be *worse* in on base percentage/walk rate and *worse* in slugging. 144 players qualified for the batting title last year. Of these, Ryon Healy ranked 140th in walk rate. One spot behind him, in 141st, is Dee Gordon. Now, the M’s figure to strike out less, and that’s great, but the M’s have spent the past two years getting absolutely flattened by the home run explosion and how it’s changed the game. This year, the M’s are trying to build a team around balls in play. The M’s tried last year to build a great pitching staff around the idea that you could run a really low BABIP with great OF defenders. They did it, and watched it come to nothing thanks to a flood of dingers. This year, the M’s appear to be betting that with Gordon, Segura and Gamel, they can run a freakishly HIGH offensive BABIP. If league HR rates stay where they are, the same problem may occur: the M’s will have a high average and lots of base hits, but as many or fewer runs than plodding teams like Oakland who’ll rely on the three true outcomes. Keep in mind, Jerry went to great lengths upon taking the job in Seattle to talk up the importance of controlling the count and getting on base -- it was gonna be their big thing and they even went so far as to give the campaign a name -- "Control the Zone", but true to JD fashion.. the first step in implementing the plan was to part ways with the guy who had developed the program ... former (and now current Angel), Jack Howell. Not only was it hilarious to see him prancing around talking up someone else's work, but he actually cut the guy who had put it together loose.. Still -- the premise behind "control the zone" was spot on.... so what do the Ms do with their first two moves of the offseason?? Trade for two guys who are among the absolute worst in MLB at actually controlling the zone.... Is anyone really shocked? As we saw in Anaheim, JD says one thing, does the complete opposite and then puts on that shit eating grin and talks up how great whatever it is he's doing now is. The dude isn't stupid, he can spot a good idea and talk up it's merits but he consistently shows himself incapable of putting together a long term plan or any idea how to implement it.... One minute he's trading for prospects to obtain yet another guy, the next minute he's DFAing or trading away the guys he made moves to get. First it's FIP, then it's OF BABIP prevention, now his new kick is positional flexibility and beating BABIP... The dude is always trying to come up with the next big innovation while never perfecting the one he's working on -- it borders on insanity.. Compare the schizophrenic way JD jumps around to the methodical way Eppler has gone about pursuing his master plan -- the concerted effort to add talent to the organization from the ground up and add players that fit his particular blueprint.. namely defense. Night and Day doesn't even begin to describe it. The Ohtani thing was just another in a long line of differences .. JD couldn't walk into a room without looking for someone holding a microphone -- he had been on a Hollywood-like press junket in the weeks leading up to the posting telling anyone and everyone on every possible media venue what his plan was, how much time and effort they put into their presentation, and how awesome it was gonna be -- "Pulling out the Big Guns"... Meanwhile I think the most we heard out of Eppler was the confirmation that the 1Mil obtained in the Johnson trade was for the Ohtani chase.. Yes, he praised the player and yes, he talked about how big it would be for ANY team to sign him, but compared to the all out onslaught by Dipoto the Angels' efforts seemed downright muted. IMO, one of the greatest days in Angels history was the day JD rage quit... I can't even begin to imagine how bad things could be right now had he not chosen to bail... Instead, I find myself finding it hard to believe that so much has gone right in the short time since he's been gone -- even with the massive bad luck as it relates to pitching injuries... The organization seems so much healthier top to bottom ... and it's pretty evident that Eppler is always working on his master plan.... even as they chased the biggest upgrade on the open market, Epp managed to make moves to improve the farm system. It's like he noticed everyone was fixating on Ohtani so, he snuck an end around and swung deals for Maitain and Soto -- Absolutely priceless... Eppler has a lot of work to to still but, I find myself not worrying about the path he ultimately will take to get us there... Eppy has a plan and he is never not working.... Thanks, Jerry!
In 2016 my favorite team the LA Angels faced the Seattle Mariners 19 times and ended up with an overall losing record of 8-11. At home games ended up at a jaw dropping 3-7. In 2015 when J.D. was the GM for LA the angels won 12 of their 19 encounters with the Mariners and had a winning home record of 7-2. looking at those numbers, it looks like J.D. knew what he was doing and the Mariners went from 76 -86 in 2015 to 86-76 in 2016. The Angels in the other hand went from 85-77 in 2015 to 74 -88 in 2016. I wonder what's Arte Moreno thinking now about his stubborn Team Manager (General Manager de facto) Mike Sciocia and his P.R. (puppet G.M) Billy Eppler. I would trade Mike Scioscia and Mike Trout to Pittsburgh for McCutchen, Gerrit Cole and Clint Hurdle!