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  1. 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.
  2. By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer So if they call third base the "hot corner", should they call first base the "cold corner"? These are some of the random thoughts that pass through my head as the Primer Series progresses. However, the author suspects that Eppler would actually like to make sure that first base heats up in 2020 rather than reenact the cold spell that turned out to be a 27th placed ranking, in total WAR for the year, among all 30 Major League Baseball teams. Pujols, across 423 plate appearances (PA's) at 1B, provided some offensive productivity (wRC+ of 109) but made up for that by playing bad defense (-10.8 per FanGraphs 'Def' metric). Not Albert's fault though! He was forced there by necessity because Justin Bour was not supposed to put up a .179 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) and a pitiful offensive showing (wRC+ of 70). Young prospect Jared Walsh picked up 80 of those PA's to the tune of a wRC+ of 51 as well. The latter has a lot of promise if he can convert his upper Minor League offensive numbers into similar Major League results. Jared could become a left-handed version of Mark Trumbo with better on-base ability, potentially (versus RHP in particular). However, as much as Eppler wants to place some faith in the younger players to provide needed production this year, Walsh might be better suited to start off 2020 at AAA Salt Lake City and act as a depth piece behind a free agent or trade target for one, or perhaps two, more season(s) (Walsh has two options remaining). When you consider Jared's inexperience, the departure of Bour to Japan, and the fact that Albert should spend all of his PA's in the Designated Hitter spot, this situation screams for a short-term solution either internally, in trade, or via free agency. So to start let us examine the best defensive first basemen in the Majors because, as you should know by now, Eppler values quality defense at every position: 2017-2019 Top 35 First Basemen Sorted by FanGraphs 'Def' on a Per Game Rate Basis (Def/G) Minimum 50 G's Played Looking at the choices, you begin to realize why first base is usually a source of offense rather than defense. Based on the fact that the Angels might have a contributor to play first base long-term such as Walsh, Thaiss, or Ward, a likelier solution for the Angels this off-season would be to acquire, via free agency or trade, a first baseman with short-term control, say 1-2 years, if they really believe that one of the names above is their long-term answer at the "cold corner". If this is the case, clearly some of the names above like, Muncy, Vogelbach, Olson, and Hoskins, are unavailable or not as desirable as they are valuable, long-term contributors to their current, respective teams. Players that might be attainable include Belt, McMahon, Adams, Rizzo, Moreland, Bird, Santana, Carpenter, and Mancini, among others. Some, like Belt, Rizzo, Santana, and Carpenter, might be out of Eppler's budget as they are all signed to contracts that would pay them double-digit millions in 2020 Club Payroll, but, as evidenced via the Rendon signing, money is probably not a large barrier. The rest, like McMahon, Adams, Moreland, Bird, and Mancini, would be more affordable from a payroll perspective but may cost more in prospect capital, albeit, probably, for reasonable mid and low-level type farm assets in return (except Bird who is a free agent after the Yankees designated him recently). So if the defensive bar is so low at first base, it may make sense, as part of this Primer Series, to flip the script and look at the top offensive first basemen: 2017-2019 Top 35 First Basemen Sorted by FanGraphs 'Off' on a Per Game Rate Basis (Off/G) Minimum 50 G's Played No matter how you parse it, most of the top offensive and defensive first basemen in baseball right now are likely unavailable in free agency and trade. Names like Bellinger, Muncy, Alonso, Freeman, and Goldschmidt are all locked in with their current teams. Out of that list, above, the most available names include Eric Thames, Jose Martinez, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Carpenter, Trey Mancini, Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Smoak, Matt Adams, and maybe Anthony Rizzo, Josh Bell, and Brandon Belt. Finding a complete first baseman in this current market is tough. Most of the candidates are good on only one of offense or defense. Additionally, some of those candidates have uneven splits, one way or the other, like Brandon Belt for example. However, most of the names above were at least League-average or better against both sides of the mound in 2019, making them viable additions to round out a lineup. That being said, the Angels could use improvement against both left and right-handed pitchers and the choice of which first baseman is utilized at the position will probably be driven not only by splits, but also, possibly, by positional versatility around the field. When you examine the likely positional set-up, players like Trout, Fletcher, Rendon, and Simmons have pretty even splits and above average defense or better, making them full-time candidates in CF, 2B, 3B, and SS. Beyond that the Angels may need to actually find a platoon partner for Upton who can hit lefties (Justin has struggled mightily with them in recent seasons). Goodwin will start the season, probably, in right field but shortly after the season begins, the Angels are very likely to call up young Jo Adell. Adell has run pretty even splits in the Minors but Goodwin can make a good platoon partner or day-off fill-in for our entire outfield. Catcher is less relevant as any offense you get out of the position is gravy. That leaves whatever solution Eppler comes up with at first base. Reasonably, the previous paragraph lists a lot of full-time Angels players and all of them are right-handed hitters which would normally beg the question of the need for a left-handed bat but those players have fairly even splits which mitigates the need to a large degree. This is, in part, why Tommy La Stella is more likely to stay on the roster for 2020 due to his more productive hitting versus RHP. Additionally, this is what makes Brian Goodwin such a perfect fit for next season, too, because, despite him being a left-handed hitter, he actually hits LHP better (114 wRC+ over the last three years) and he makes a fine temporary right fielder until Adell shows up and he can shift over to pick up some of Upton's at-bats against lefties as-needed. In the end, it seems reasonable that Eppler will simply try to acquire the best hitter he can find with good splits because the team's offense is, on paper, well balanced production-wise. Defense would be nice but is a secondary concern. So the Angels are probably searching for a player who can fill a lead-off role (more on-base ability) or as an additional power bat to place in the middle or back of the lineup. Likely Outcome: The Angels could run with one of Jared Walsh, Tommy La Stella, Matt Thaiss, Taylor Ward, or even Albert Pujols but it seems very reasonable that the Halos could add one more experienced bat on either a short-term free agent contract or via trade to increase team depth even further (something the Angels have seriously lacked in previous seasons). Based on the fact that Eppler and Moreno are going all-in on 2020 it would not be at all shocking to see the Angels take an interest in a free agent like Nick Castellanos on a long-term deal or possibly Justin Smoak or Edwin Encarnacion on a short-term deal that would not extend past the 2021 season (One to two years maximum). On the trade side names like Matt Carpenter, Trey Mancini, Josh Bell, Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Santana, or Yandy Diaz might hold more appeal than some of the other options in the market. Probability leans toward one of Smoak (free agent), Carpenter (two years of club control), Encarnacion (free agent), Mancini (three years of arbitration control), or, more remotely, Rizzo (two years of club control). Those are the value plays that Eppler is likely targeting if they decide to not run out one of the young guys in 2020. If the Angels do not pick up another first baseman, Tommy La Stella, Matt Thaiss, or Taylor Ward are the more likely set of choices to start at 1B in 2020. Author's Choice: For me on the trade front, if the Angels manged to grab one of Carpenter (high dollars, low prospect cost) or Mancini (lower dollars, moderate prospect cost) that would be fantastic. On the free agent side Encarnacion or Smoak would be perfectly fine and affordable, costing only cash. Internally I think all three of Walsh, Thaiss, and Ward have the potential to break out (or get traded) but grabbing a guy like Smoak for 1-2 seasons would not only bring in an experienced MLB bat it would improve depth behind Justin, in case of injury or extended absence. Conclusion: Eppler would probably like to have more assured production at first base so finding a short-term solution while Jared Walsh, Matt Thaiss, and Taylor Ward gain more experience with high Minors pitching makes sense not only for the 2020 teams chances to win the Division but also as a depth move. Certainly he could have one or more of the young guys fight it out in Spring Training but why leave 2020 more to chance?