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  1. 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!
  2. By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Now that we have spent some time getting the lay of the land, it is time to do a bit more speculative analysis, based on the Angels' needs, if they become buyers. Knowing the Halos most probable four areas of need and the list we created of likely sellers, we can use FanGraphs sortable statistics, looking at possible catchers, starters, right fielders, and relievers that might be targets of interest for the Angels and are also likely to be available in trade. The author, in addition to FanGraphs, will also utilize Baseball-Reference.com and Spotrac.com to examine player salaries and expiring contract information, as needed. Finally all charts presented were pulled as of July 8th, 2021. Looking at catchers first, here is a short list of probable targets for upgrade that have a reasonable combination of defense and the ability to hit against right-handed pitching: Probable Catcher Targets vs. RHP Sorted by WAR (As of July 8th, 2021) So the Angels have been playing Thaiss at catcher for over the last month (24 games as of July 8th, 2021), so if they think he can play a passable backstop, he would be a very inexpensive solution who, of course, hits from the left-side (and probably cannot do much worse than Suzuki, defensively... maybe). For the Blue Jays, top prospect Alejandro Kirk is on the verge of joining the Major League team, leaving one of McGuire or Jansen likely out on the side of the road. Gomes and Molina are in their walk years, with the latter more likely to retire than come to the team his good friend Albert Pujols just left. Contreras and Kelly are interesting, but will cost a lot. Stallings, Barnhart, and Alfaro will cost something, too. Here at Angelswin.com, beyond the semi-intriguing internal options of Thaiss or Bemboom, we would roll the dice with one of Barnhart, McGuire, Jansen, or Stallings, as the more likely picks, especially one of the Toronto guys, because Minasian knows them better than most and the Blue Jays are a little more likely to move one of them. Moving on to starting pitchers, here is another list of possible targets for upgrade: Probable Rotation Targets Sorted by K%-BB% (As of July 8th, 2021) From an Angelswin.com point of view, a majority of these starters are probably out of reach. Many of them have more than one year of control so, in that case, their price will be elevated, possibly beyond the Angels ability to acquire, currently. Based on this and the assumption that the Angels will likely only go after a top starter if and only if they improve markedly as we head toward the end of July, Angelswin.com would speculate that the Halos front office is slightly more likely to target a pure rental like Scherzer, Wainwright, or Gray to minimize the resource cost (i.e. money and players and prospects sent back in return), or, a bit less likely, they might go big and try to acquire one of Castillo, Berrios, Bieber, or Marquez (unlikely), all of which have additional control, but play for teams that run relatively low payrolls and thus may not be able to afford to retain them, in arbitration, moving forward. Notably, the Reds were shopping Luis in the offseason , the Twins may not be able to extend Jose, and Shane grew up an Angels fan, so if Cincinnati, Minnesota, or Cleveland decide it is time, you never know what could happen. Beyond catchers and starters, the Angels could consider the aforementioned temporary right field solution. Below is a list of possible targets: Joey Gallo Mitch Haniger Robbie Grossman And that is about it! The rest of the outfielders on the leaderboard either play for teams in contention, have long-term control or contracts, or are only slight upgrades (Tommy Edman for example) over Taylor Ward who is also on the leaderboard, albeit further down the list. This really is a situation where, unless the Angels are acquiring a top-tier outfielder with long-term control and then dealing off Jo Adell and/or Taylor Ward (for pitching as an example), this is basically a no-go and possible dead-end for Minasian to pursue. Probably best to stick with Taylor and then bring up Adell only when the Angels front office feels he is ready to face Major League pitching, again. It is the most affordable choice, with the highest promise, available to the Angels, from the outside looking in, on a near- and long-term basis. Finally we get to our fourth potential area of need, relief pitching. Here is a list of targets, based on our probable list of sellers at the Trade Deadline: Probable Reliever Targets Sorted by K%-BB% (As of July 8th, 2021) So, obviously, there are some names to choose from if Perry Minasian wants to upgrade the bullpen. Clearly some of these names (Kimbrel and Gallegos for example) will be more expensive than others. When examining the contractual status of this group, it may be better for the Halos to target one of the following names: Taylor Rogers, Richard Rodriguez, Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera, and Daniel Hudson. This group also happens to have strong numbers against left-handed hitters, so this would not only improve the bullpen as a whole, but would strengthen the Halos ability to put them to bed. If Angelswin.com was in the Halos shoes, one, possibly two, of Rodriguez, Chafin, Tepera, or Hudson, would make the most sense to bolster the relief staff, if the Angels choose to go this route. Again, this discussion represents a more probable set of areas the Angels could improve upon and the names suggested are more likely to be available in trade, but trade negotiations are very fluid and unpredictable. We, here at Angelswin.com, will continue to hammer the point home that we, the fans, do not have access to all of the information the Angels do and, thus, there may be many other avenues the Angels can take to improve the team, so anything is possible, including doing nothing, at the Trade Deadline. If you were the Angels GM, would you target any of the suggestions above and, if so, why? Up next - 2021 Angelswin.com Trade Deadline Series: Likely Targets to Sell
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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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