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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Note from Angelswin.com: Again, I am making a plea for support, to our family here at Angelswin.com, to provide any donation, even $1, to the AW.com sponsored charity-of-the-month, Hope for Education. If I have to go further, I am willing to take unnatural pictures by tdawg's bunk bed to encourage donations or, alternatively, not show them, at the whim of each individual member of the Angelswin.com family. I know times may be tough for many of you, but even a small donation helps toward a larger goal, so I am humbly requesting any kindness you can afford. Thank you for your time and attention! As we alluded to, in the Introduction article, Major League Baseball (MLB) has taken a financial hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly the abbreviated season combined with a complete lack of in-person attendance at ballgames put a big financial hit on the game. Arte Moreno, himself, indicated revenues came in well short of projections. This financial impact is not insignificant and the likelihood that 2021 will take a similar hit is high. Why? Well, let us just talk it out here. Assuming President-elect Biden takes office on January 20th and, in a likely scenario, puts the country on a 30-60-day lockdown (or some hybrid mask requirement), that would immediately place us in early-to-late March. From there, a probable phased opening of non-critical businesses would take place, not dissimilar to what happened in 2020. Basically, a larger subset of businesses would open and the country would test the COVID-19 stress level on the population. If cases return at a rate higher than expected that would have a very negative impact on any proposed baseball season. However, if the reemergence is successful, stadium play, likely in a limited form, could potentially take place later in the year. Think, absolutely no more than 50% stadium capacity (probably less) in what would likely be another abbreviated regular season. Note this is probably the most optimistic scenario. There is a high likelihood that even if the country successfully reopens that pandemic experts and scientists will almost certainly recommend that large gatherings do not occur within a several month period, even after a clean societal reemergence. The bottom line is that 2022 will be financially rocky for the country and MLB, which will almost certainly result in low to medium attendance, at best, and possibly another shortened baseball season, based on what MLB decides, and is even allowed to do, in a continuing COVID-19 pandemic environment. It could be a 162-game, televised-only, season or some mashup of televised-only and in-person attendance games, ranging anywhere above 60 games. Basically more significant financial impacts to baseball, which brings us to the Los Angeles Angels financial situation. Here is a rough snapshot of the projected Angels 2021 payroll situation as of December 7th, 2020: Table 1 - 2021 Los Angeles Angels Projected Payroll The Angels current Average Annual Value (AAV) payroll sits at about $181M, which is $29M below the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold of $210M for 2021. This is in-line with what FanGraphs RosterResource.com and Spotrac.com show, as well. The arbitration salaries, in Table 1, were pulled, as usual, from MLBTradeRumors.com yearly Projected Arbitration Salaries for 2021 series, this year utilizing Method #3 numbers. Does this mean the Angels can spend $29M? Based on the current economic environment in baseball and the likelihood of another COVID-19-impacted season, the answer may be no. First of all most teams keep some sort of reserve cushion of payroll space to start off each season in order to maintain flexibility heading into the Trade Deadline. For the Halos that will likely be about $10M or so, automatically lowering their available payroll space down to $19M. Moreno’s history shows a trend of modest payroll increases year-to-year, keeping pace with a rising CBT threshold but nothing more or less. During new GM Perry Minasian’s live interview at Angels stadium, Arte did clearly state payroll would not go down, but offered little more. Based on this we will presume the Angels have $19M to spend this off-season for the purposes of the Primer Series, possibly more if the Angels target one or more of Moreno’s aforementioned “impact” players. Also you can clearly interpret the Angels recent non-tender of several Angels relievers as a sign the Angels will probably be fiscally conservative in 2021, based on the notable impacts to the U.S. economy and MLB. The trade for Jose Iglesias, as an addition by subtraction scenario, in conjunction with the Halos moves to kick Hansel Robles, Matt Andriese, Justin Anderson, Keynan Middleton, and Hoby Milner to the curb, will keep the payroll effectively neutral. As a lone counterpoint, the Angels, just today, executed a trade for RP Raisel Iglesias, who is slated to receive $9.125M in 2020, adding a substantial amount to the payroll, reducing the total projected available payroll space by about 25%. It is not just the Angels, either, as evidenced by the Indians placing Brad Hand on waivers (and subsequently releasing him), the Reds trading Raisel Iglesias to the Halos, and the apparent financially-strapped Phillies rumored to be shopping Zack Wheeler. Even perfectly viable free agents that you would expect to pursue multi-year deals, such as Robbie Ray, Drew Smyly, Marcus Stroman, and Kevin Gausman, have selected one-year deals and/or accepted the Qualifying Offer, rather than test a clearly weak free agent market for players. This simply means that the Halos are likely to stay within a tight range of $19M. Certainly, Arte can choose to go up or down but, again, history does not support the notion of a spending spree and internal and external economic factors make it much less likely to happen. As much as this off-season might be a prime opportunity for Moreno to exercise the teams financial muscle for a short 1-2 year period, this year is proving to be the most unlikely year in recent history for him to do it. Only time will tell the tale. One final note regarding MLB and financial expenditures. Despite the clear hits teams are taking due to the pandemic shutdown, there appears to be a collective move by MLB and the owners to take advantage of the situation, making deep cuts to Minor League Baseball (MiLB) team franchises, effectively depressing 2021 arbitration and free agent salaries via these declarations of being in a financial crunch, and cutting out wide swaths of front office personnel and MiLB players. As an outsider looking in, this seems, to me, to be a self-destructive attitude in a business that makes so much money according to Forbes and other publications. Clearly local revenues, which are a main contributor to individual team revenues, have taken a hit due to non-existent ticket sales in a shortened season but the extensive cuts feel deeper than needed. When you look at the numbers it is clear that not playing a full regular season with no ticket sales does result in large losses. However, a full regular season with, perhaps, at least 40% of a typical season’s in-person attendance would bring MLB, as a whole, to a break-even level, give or take. The point is that the latter (40% in-person attendance) is probably a less likely scenario based on our earlier discussion, thus MLB will probably struggle again in 2021 and the owners, even in the face of a fight with the Player’s Union, will probably look to make additional cuts when and where they want and can. The near-future of MLB is not particularly bright, so let’s hope cooler heads prevail and a compromise can be reached, not only in entertaining, at least, a full or partial, televised-only regular season, but also with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and continued baseball for the next several seasons. MLB’s image is teetering on a tightrope with little room for error so they need to get this right.
By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Special Request from Angelswin.com: This year, after discussion with Chuck, we have decided to tie-in the 2021 Angelswin.com Primer Series with a wonderful GoFundMe effort called “Hope for Education”. This is a focused fundraiser, to help ten needy families in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, obtain laptops for educational use in this challenging COVID-19 pandemic environment. These families are unable to afford these computers, themselves, and so it is up to charitable people and donors to help bridge the gap so these children can continue to learn, safely, from their homes. Education is very important to me, personally, and Chuck and I are asking our fellow Angels fans to contribute to this very worthy cause, organized and supported, in-part, by a former colleague of mine and her friend. Any amount is appreciated and you can donate here to help them reach, and even exceed, their initial goal: Donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/give-a-child-a-chance-4-education Introduction Chaos. That is probably the right word to describe the year 2020 and the disorder and bedlam around the country, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a direct impact on baseball and sports in general. In addition to the country’s turmoil, a battle is looming between the Player’s Union and team owners. Real and potential reductions in scouts, Minor League farm systems, and front office personnel have plagued the professional ranks. Real or feigned cutbacks in team payroll are already heavily influencing the 2020-2021 off-season. Coronavirus impacts, to the industry as a whole, are striking players and families, now, while the long-term impact of a poor U.S. response to the pandemic now threatens the 2021 regular season as well. Yeah, lot’s of chaos. Set to this scene, the Angels entered the off-season without a Major League General Manager (GM), both Assistant General Managers, and a slew of personnel cuts and player non-tenders that seem destined to make this another challenging off-season for the Halos. More chaos, more entropy. The Angels appear to have set sail with their long-tenured shortstop Andrelton Simmons, although a very unlikely reunion is still a possibility in free agency. Steady reliever Cam Bedrosian is gone, after an outright assignment and subsequent decision to elect free agency. Relief pitcher (RP) Jacob Barnes, another looming arbitration decision in a depressed economic environment, was picked up by the Mets on waivers. Additionally, non-factor’s from our 2020 roster, like starting pitcher (SP) Julio Teheran, are mercifully off of our payroll. This leaves Mike Trout, a champion looking for a supporting cast, yearning for the changes needed to take the next step toward contention with an uncomfortable amount of signs possibly pointing in the wrong direction. Mr. Trout may or may not be growing concerned about when the Angels are planning to flip the script and shove; and fans, from the outside, looking in, are thinking the same thing, based on team standings and zero visits to the postseason over the last several years. Unless Albert Pujols suddenly decides to retire, the Angels will have some payroll space but will have to strategically determine where to spend it, to fill the multiple holes on their 40-man roster. Trades are certainly a possibility with an improved farm system but everything has a price and the Angels may not be able to absorb the loss of quality Minor League depth; you have to give to get. That could derail the long-term farm system rebuild that former GM Billy Eppler initiated and new GM Perry Minasian just inherited, which is just beginning to come to fruition but could provide controllable talent to address some, if not all, of the holes on the Angels roster. Save for a complete out-of-character turnaround by owner Arte Moreno to push the pedal-to-the-metal and exceed the Competitive Balance Threshold (CBT) by a hefty amount, the new Angels management team will have a finite set of resources to answer the pressing questions in the rotation and bullpen as well as at catcher (C) and shortstop (SS). To be clear it is not all doom and gloom. There were some bright spots in 2020 that gave some hope for the future. Mike Trout had another solid season. David Fletcher continued to shine on both sides of the ball. Young prospect Jo Adell got his feet wet, as our new right fielder (RF). Jared Walsh came up to play first base (1B) and showed why his reputation with the bat is so well deserved. Starting pitcher (SP) Dylan Bundy and relief pitcher (RP) Mike Mayers looked like stars on the mound. SP’s Griffin Canning and Jaime Barria had really solid showings this year, as well. The question is can they repeat or even build off of these performances? Can the rotation and team defense regress toward the mean, improving on the poor showings in 2020? As we do every year, Angelswin.com will attempt to answer these pressing team questions and provide some visibility into team decision-making. Because of the increased chaos and entropy in baseball, the conclusions will likely be more general and the Primer Series more succinct simply due to a historical lack of clear general manager guidance, quotes, and transactions and a disarray and lack of visibility around baseball in general. So, just like the 2020 baseball regular season, enjoy the abbreviated 2021 Angelswin.com Primer Series!