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A healthy Shohei Ohtani is a difference-maker on both sides of the ball By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Note: What can I do here, everyone? Hope for Education is a small, targeted charity with a very specific fundraising goal and they are only a short way off from it. Again, I know some of you might be strapped for cash out there, I get it. But I am not asking for much, $5 is skipping a morning Starbucks run. Even $1, is one item less off the value deal menu at your favorite fast food joint. These kids deserve the opportunity to learn safely in this pandemic environment, so once again I am humbly requesting ANY donation you can afford to make. Thank you for your time and attention! - Robert Hitting leadoff for the 2021 Primer Series, the rotation is clearly the biggest concern facing the Halos front office heading into the off-season. The Angels, on paper, will pencil in Andrew Heaney and Dylan Bundy, both in their last year of arbitration control, along with Shohei Ohtani, who is, unfortunately, a bit of a wild card health-wise, making his reliability unpredictable, as the initial base of their rotation. We will call this trio “2 and a half men”, for now. Beyond those names, the Angels do have a selection of younger pitchers, on the 40-man roster, to choose from, including Griffin Canning, Patrick Sandoval, Jaime Barria, Jose Suarez, Hector Yan, and Chris Rodriguez. Behind them are additional swingmen, such as Dillon Peters and Felix Pena that can act as spot starters, as well. The Angels also have another upside starter, not on their 40-man roster yet, Reid Detmers, the teams #1 draft pick in 2020, but he is almost certainly not ready for the Majors yet, but could be sooner rather than later. If the Angels started the season with the current group of pitchers on the 40-man roster, the likely rotation depth would look something like this (number in parentheses represents the number of Minor League options remaining): Shohei Ohtani (3) Dylan Bundy (0) Andrew Heaney (0) Jaime Barria (0) Jose Suarez (1) Felix Pena (1) Griffin Canning (3) Patrick Sandoval (2) Dillon Peters (0) Chris Rodriguez (3) Hector Yan (2) As it stands, that depth is not too bad. Certainly it could be better, particularly at the top-of-the-rotation where Ohtani’s consistent and healthy ability to pitch is in doubt, but there is sufficient and, daresay, quality depth in the middle and back of the rotation for the Halos. Additionally, the team only has Bundy, Heaney, Barria, and Peters, from this list, that must be on the 25-man roster due to their lack of options remaining. Assuming one of the first three is not traded they will almost certainly fill our #3-#5 rotation slots, while Peters will grab a spot in the bullpen, probably as a long reliever and spot starter. If you add one high quality starter, like Trevor Bauer, Blake Snell, or another top arm, the fabric of our starting five strengthens: Top-of-the-rotation starter (Pick your poison) Shohei Ohtani Dylan Bundy Andrew Heaney Jaime Barria This is the reason the Angels are likely targeting a top-of-the-rotation starter this off-season. It adds that missing impact arm that cannot only anchor the Halos starting five but will provide that third missing element for a playoff roster, as well. In addition, it pushes young and capable, but less experienced, starters like Jose Suarez, Griffin Canning, and Patrick Sandoval into depth roles, where they really, probably, belong heading into next year, particularly when you consider the potential impacts of the pandemic to their development timeline. The addition of a top-tier starter also mitigates some of the risk Shohei brings to the equation by giving Joe Maddon two anchors for the rotation, rather than relying on just Ohtani and his unfortunate arm issues. If Dylan Bundy even comes close to repeating his 2020 performance and Ohtani returns to form, that would give the Angels a three-headed hydra, greatly improving the Halos chances of reaching the playoffs. However, in order to get that top-tier starter, the Angels front office will need to use significant resources, whether through payroll, their 40-man roster, and/or their farm system, to acquire that player, which may limit their ability to improve the roster in other areas. The reason we bring this up is that the Angels may best be served by not only acquiring a top-tier starter but also an additional mid-tier type to really build a truly deep, quality rotation (in this case, probably a six-man version) with exceptional depth, which will deplete even more resources, probably. This resource loss may not be as bad as it seems, potentially. If there was ever a time to move prospects, particularly with a new GM coming in trying to buttress a team on the verge of contention, it could be now. When you consider how many extra players are hitting the free agent market, too, including a plethora of Minor League prospects that were cut loose, Minasian may see this as an opportunity to not only acquire what the team needs but perhaps fill in some of the holes that will be leftover with fringe prospects that were cut loose from other organizations. So, if a top tier starter is in play, what are we looking at in a potential Trevor Bauer signing? Frankly a lot. Finding an ideal comparable player is not simple but Stephan Strasburg signed a 7-year deal for $245M (an extension to his original extension) to stay with the Nationals, prior to 2020, at 31 1/2 years old. Gerrit Cole, who is significantly better than Trevor, signed a 9-year, $324M (it could be an 8-year, $288M if the Yankees don’t void the player option year) deal. Patrick Corbin, a less comparable player, signed a 6-year, $140M contract, prior to his age 29 season. Muddying the waters, further, is the financial crisis around baseball right now, making this risk-opportunity analysis difficult on both sides, for any prospective, acquiring teams and Trevor’s agent. Bauer has made it clear in the past that he might prefer signing year-to-year deals to potentially increase his earning power. However, he walked that statement back a bit, not too long ago, so anything could be in the cards. I actually disagree with MLBTradeRumors.com’s recent assessment that he will find a 4-year deal, that seems odd as it would place Trevor back in free agency in his age 34 season, which does not seem ideal for him. Bauer will be 30 years old in 2021 and I see him either signing an expensive but short 1-2 year deal or going the distance on a 6-8 year pact, based on what the market offers. Perhaps a 1-2 year deal at $40M-45M per season or a 6-8 year deal for something in the $160M-240M ballpark. All of this may be a moot point for the Halos, however. In either scenario the Angels will basically use all of the margin in their payroll pushing them up to or over the CBT threshold, into Luxury Tax territory. Moreno has stated in the past he would consider that for the “right” player but that litmus test has never come to pass and, in this economic atmosphere, seems like a longshot. The bottom line is that Bauer may be a non-starter if Arte doesn’t tighten up the yacht fuel expenditures. It seems more likely, monetarily, that the Angels will move prospects to acquire another top-of-the-rotation option and then perhaps supplement the rotation further via free agency or additional trades. So with that thought in mind, it would not be surprising to see the Angels, in addition to acquiring an ace, pursue a mid-rotation starter to add to their shopping list as well. Heck, even two might be on the table if Minasian decides he wants to send one of Bundy or Heaney out the door to try and micromanage the payroll. For example, Perry may want to capitalize on Dylan Bundy’s very successful 2020 campaign and move him and his salary in exchange for one or more near-MLB ready prospects and then trade for another less expensive starter like Vince Velasquez or Jon Gray, on top of acquiring someone like Blake Snell. That Bundy for Velasquez or Gray exchange, would result in about a $1M-3.5M decrease to team payroll for 2021, hypothetically. If Minasian encounters a lot of difficulty acquiring an ace, the Angels could add the aforementioned mid-tier starter and see where they end up at the Trade Deadline and then try to acquire one at that time. This in fact might open up other avenues, as teams that were in fringe contention or on the verge of a rebuild, may throw in the towel and sell off a top-of-the-rotation starter, then. Only time and a series of vigorous phone calls and meetings will tell the tale for the Angels new GM. This was, in-part, what I was referring to in the Strategy article, regarding the additional unpredictability that this off-season might offer. Perry is not just buying, he is gauging the market across the board to understand how other teams see the value of our assets versus what the Angels believe they are worth. Those assets that have more value to others than they do to the Halos might be shipped out the door like Noe Ramirez and Leonardo Rivas, were, in exchange for Raisel Iglesias (good trade, in principle, by the way). Finding that top-of-the-rotation unicorn will not be easy but it will be essential for the Angels in 2021 and thus it needs to be the teams #1 priority, figuratively and literally. Expect: The Angels will do everything they can to acquire a frontline starter this off-season and we here at Angelswin.com feel they will be successful in doing so, albeit it may not be Trevor Bauer, considering Moreno’s history to-date. If we do sign Trevor it feels like a one or two-year deal is in the cards so that he can clear the COVID-19 pandemic on a clearer path to free agency and a subsequent long-term pact and Moreno can go over the CBT threshold for no more than two years, avoiding the really high tax rates that kick in on the third year over the Luxury Tax. If Bauer is a no-go, even on a long term deal, a trade for an ace will ultimately cost us one of Jo Adell or Brandon Marsh, likely, as we have sufficient outfield depth in the Minors to pad the loss of one of these fine young prospects or possibly one or more Major League assets. Additionally, the Angels may look to pick up another mid-tier starter, such as the aforementioned Velasquez or Gray or maybe a guy like Carlos Carrasco, Zach Davies or Eduardo Rodriguez, in trade, or conceivably one of our old friends Garrett Richards or Matt Shoemaker or possibly a guy like Jose Quintana, Jose Urena, Corey Kluber, Chris Archer, or Tomoyuki Sugano from free agency, for instance (much more likely if we do not acquire Bauer). In the case of the Halos picking up both a front line and mid rotation starter, they may have to move to a six-man rotation (because Heaney, Bundy, and Barria are out of options and Ohtani and any front line starter we pick up are locks for #1 and #2 spots).
By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Ever since the Angels missed out on Cole, Strasburg, and Wheeler (not to mention Keuchel, Ryu, and Bumgarner), some Angels fans have been in panic mode, worried about what feels, to them, like a half-season of accomplishment (Rendon, Bundy, and Teheran), since we have not acquired a front-line starter yet. In the 2020 Angelswin.com Primer Series: Rotation, I advocated for a Cole signing as I felt it was the best application of resources in the free agent market to acquire a bonafide ace starter to be the tip of the spear in the Angels rotation. Unfortunately, like many of the top pitchers available, Cole seemingly was always going to go to another team, in his case the Yankees. The same held true for Strasburg, Wheeler, and Bumgarner, who signed with the Nationals, Phillies, and Diamondbacks, respectively, specifically because they wanted to play and live in those cities. Really the Angels had no real chance to sign any of them without massively overspending. Letting them go and shifting momentary focus was the right thing to do for the health and competitiveness of the franchise. As disappointing as it was, losing out on many of the top free agent starting pitchers, there were always just as many starters available in trade, albeit they may not be as elite as Gerrit or Stephen were. Improvement can come from many different sources and since we have missed out on the best targets, available in free agency, it is now time to turn to the trade market instead. Over the next few weeks, until the Angels acquire at least one more starting pitcher, we, here at Angelswin.com, would like to present a series of articles on prospective rotation targets in the trade market. To be clear, once the Halos have brought in a front-line starter, this series will abruptly stop as there will be no further need to continue publishing the individual articles in all likelihood. Here is a list of starting pitchers that we will discuss in this series, in no particular order: Nathan Eovaldi Matt Boyd Tyler Mahle Carlos Martinez David Price Marcus Stroman Eduardo Rodriguez Chris Archer Jose Urena Domingo German Joe Musgrove Carlos Carrasco Seth Lugo Michael Fulmer Jon Gray Mike Clevinger Josh Hader Most of these pitchers throw in the mid-90's velocity range or they have strong pedigrees in terms of potential or actual performance. Some of them are currently throwing as relievers but were starters as recently as 2017-2018. All of them have interesting characteristics that can make them either front-line rotation candidates or at least give strong performances on a consistent basis, to help the Halos win ballgames. Some of them have a very steep price that the Angels are unlikely to pay, but could if they are willing to sacrifice good players and/or prospects. Additionally, some are much more likelier targets than others, based on injury risk and other value-added factors. Finally, this is not a complete list so the author will reserve the right to add a name or two if needed, if we even get that much further into the post-season without trading for another starter. One more note, the final date to exchange arbitration numbers is approaching on January 10th. Teams and arbitration-eligible players must exchange salary figures for what they believe the player in question should be paid for the 2020 season. If a salary cannot be agreed upon prior to that date, it will go to an arbitration hearing sometime over the next month or so. Teams and players can continue to negotiate after salary figures are exchanged. A lot of teams and players come to an agreement prior to the January 10th deadline. I bring this up because there will be a lot more clarity to the trade market soon, assuming a lot of players settle their arbitration salaries prior to the date above. Additionally the third base trade market is being held up by the Kris Bryant service time grievance and the SS trade market is being postponed by the Francisco Lindor decision resulting in many other trades being put on-hold until there is greater clarity with the elite players available in trade. This means that the trade market should, hypothetically, kick into high gear within the next couple of weeks once some players have agreed to arbitration salaries, Chicago knows whether or not they have one or two years of control over Kris, and the Indians decide whether or not they are moving Francisco to start the 2020 season.
By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer So as the author began to contemplate the intricacies of the 2019-2020 off-season, third base, on the surface, was a concern but not a priority as there appear to be multiple full-time and platoon scenarios on tap. However, upon further examination of the available options now, and in the near future, there is reason to think that Eppler should be placing greater emphasis on a more permanent, strategic solution at the hot corner this off-season, if at all possible. Part of the reason is the dearth of good free agent and trade choices in the immediate future. In fact if you look at free agency options, out beyond this off-season, there are no legitimate players that are both good defenders and have an impact bat, readily available, in the next four years. The trade market is very similar with many of the high quality players at the hot corner locked up for quite a while. This begs the following question: Should the Angels make an aggressive move, now, to upgrade at third base? Securing one of the Top 2 free agent third basemen (Rendon or Donaldson) would require an assertive payroll move that is not Moreno's normal modus operandi although interesting times (the era of Trout) call for interesting measures (paying the Luxury Tax). This off-season's free agent and trade markets offer a lot of opportunities for the Angels to improve across their primary areas of need (SP, 3B, 1B, and C), so it would behoove Arte to consider a temporary (no more than two years) large payroll increase to strike at starting pitching (Cole/Strasburg) and third base (Rendon/Donaldson) targets, in particular, if he has the bravado to spend in the stratosphere (and more importantly does not want to sacrifice prospect capital in trade). To give the reader a sense of who the high quality defenders at the hot corner are, take a look at the table below which is sorted using FanGraphs 'Def' statistic, on a per game basis (Def/G), over the last three seasons with a minimum of 50 games played (beware of sample size): 2017-2019 Top 30 Third Basemen Based on FanGraphs 'Def' on a per Game (Def/G) Basis Minimum 50 Games Played As you can see this list includes one former (Valbuena, may he Rest In Peace) and two current (Fletcher and La Stella) Angels players. Fletcher is ranked 2nd on this list over 3rd ranked Chapman. So clearly David, if he is slated for the keystone as outlined in the Second Base section of the Primer Series, will be difficult to clone and have him man the hot corner too. It is certainly possible the Angels could play Luis Rengifo at second base and Fletcher at third base (or even as a super utility player) but it seems to be an inefficient defensive alignment based on the current 40-man roster. Looking at the defensive list above, Brian Anderson might be available and Jedd Gyorko had his option declined so he could be a platoon option versus LHP but probably not a real, full-time solution. Travis Shaw was non-tendered but he could potentially provide value as a platoon partner, as well, against RHP. Eduardo Escobar may be accessible if the Diamondbacks decide that 2020 is a rebuilding year and would likely provide strong value. The Giants are probably dying to unload Longoria and as much as the author would love to see another Dirtbag on the team, this is one we should probably pass on. Of course, Anthony Rendon is available but the Angels need pitching more than a third baseman so Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg seem much likelier targets from a 10,000-foot strategic level. Donaldson, too, will cost a lot ($20M-25M per season), probably on a 3-year deal. Either of those two (Rendon or Donaldson) are pie-in-the-sky acquisitions based on a projected Angels 2020 Club Payroll amount of no more than $200M. Unless Moreno goes really big in the spending department (exceeding the Luxury Tax) or one of our current in-house options has the full confidence of Eppler before Spring Training even arrives, this spot seems destined to turn into a platoon of one left-handed hitter such as La Stella, Thaiss, or Rengifo (the latter a maybe, since he has not played third base since A-ball in 2017) and one right-handed hitter like Cozart or Ward. Out of that group Tommy La Stella and Zack Cozart are the only players with a wealth of playing time and experience in the Majors. If Eppler cannot find a way to trade off Zack's sunk-cost contract, the Angels may be forced to run out a platoon of La Stella and Cozart to start the 2020 season. In principle, assuming both are healthy, it is not a terrible idea. Zack could play against LHP, is a good defender, has played a lot at 3B (and very little at 2B), and might even enter in the later innings of a game as a defensive replacement. Tommy, who is an above average defender at the hot corner, carries a wRC+ of 119 over the last three seasons against RHP. Together they make a sort of marginally, above average hot corner Voltron. On the other hand, it may be more tenable to trade La Stella, place Cozart in a utility role, and run one of the other young players like Thaiss or Rengifo out at third rather than platoon Tommy and Zack. Ultimately, the most cost effective measure is a platoon, utilizing some combination of players currently on our 40-man roster. Individually they may lack a complete set of offensive and defensive skills, but as a two-man platoon they can provide a measure of value and it costs the Angels nothing further in terms of payroll or resources. Beyond those options, the Angels could look at offensive-based shortstops, such as Trevor Story for example, and acquire one to play third next to Simmons which would likely improve productivity at the hot corner. On the free agent market the Angels could get creative and sign Didi Gregorious to play at third and provide depth behind Simmons at shortstop which would likely have great defensive value for the team as a whole. Alternatively, pursuing a high Minors top prospect like Ke'Bryan Hayes (Pirates) or Jonathan India (Reds) would carry production risks for the near future that are likely unpalatable from the front office's point of view. If the Angels want to seriously compete in 2020, they have to reduce variability in total team performance, which may preclude taking to many risks on relatively unproven assets (prospects and somewhat untested MLB players). The Halos could, instead, trade for someone short-term like LeMahieu, Escobar, Taylor (Chris), or Turner who could be a stop-gap measure that tactically, but not strategically, solves the problem for a year or two. It is an option but perhaps not a value-added proposition when considering the breadth of choices in front of him. However, a short-term asset could give Angels internal solutions more development time. Finally, Eppler could get creative and pursue interesting players that could, at least for the short term, play at the hot corner. A bat-control type with power, like J.D. Davis, might fit in a full or part-time role at 3B and/or LF. Another Mets player, Jeff McNeil, had a breakout season in 2019 and would be a nice on-base presence manning the hot corner coupled with above average defense. Heck, New York even has Jed Lowrie who might hold interest for the Angels or maybe it is finding a way to snag someone like Yandy Diaz from the Rays. There are options out there but it really comes down to the asking price and if it adds value to the 2020 team and beyond. Only the Angels front office knows the truth and asking price of each candidate. Realistically, right now, Eppler is facing a long-term strategic decision at third base (not unlike shortstop). The hot corner is a conundrum and the fact that we have a lot of infield depth to choose from leads the author to believe that one viable path, beyond an internal candidate or platoon, is for the Halos to trade one or more of their young players and/or prospects, as Eppler alluded to recently, and simply make room to acquire a competent third baseman in free agency or trade. So many ways to go and all of it will be dependent on knowledge of Moreno's payroll leash, Eppler's available resources, and the asking price of each target, that we, as fans, have little access to, on the outside looking in. Likely Outcome: Barring a payroll increase, a savvy trade, or an improbable dealing of Cozart, the Angels will likely run a platoon of Tommy La Stella and Zack Cozart or perhaps, less likely, Matt Thaiss or Taylor Ward in a full-time role. This scenario represents a neutral expenditure with no additional resources being used at the hot corner so that they can be applied to the rotation and makes sense in a modest Moreno payroll increase authorization scenario (2020 Club Payroll at approximately $190M). Author's Choice: Personally, as painful as it would be, I would love to see the Angels package up Zack Cozart in a deal with one or more other players and/or prospects to a team that is not contending (think Orioles, Marlins, Tigers, perhaps the Mariners, or least likely the Pirates) but can absorb most, if not all, of Cozart's 2020 salary, thereby freeing up additional payroll for other needs (and possibly bringing in one or more assets in trade). This way Billy could try to make a sneaky play to pick up Didi Gregorious to play third base on a strong one-year or multi-year (3-years, $51M?) deal. Alternatively, an inexpensive, veteran platoon partner for La Stella or Thaiss, like Jedd Gyorko (3-year average wRC+ of 129 vs. LHP) would work or, also, someone like Travis Shaw could be matched with Cozart or Ward in a similar tandem. Really, I would love to see Thaiss or Ward step up and not only hit but play above average defense but they may not be ready to take over the role full-time. As a much more speculative move, the free payroll could even be applied toward a target like Trevor Story if the following trade could be executed: Angels send OF Jordyn Adams, SS Jeremiah Jackson, SP Jose Soriano, and SP Aaron Hernandez to the Rockies in exchange for SS Trevor Story Why? The Rockies are reportedly discussing an extension with Trevor Story (not surprising at all) but if they are unable to lock him down, this off-season may go from an attempt at competitiveness to a rebuild, as Colorado may decide that getting trade value out of his remaining two years of control (not to mention Jon Gray) takes priority. It is quite possible that the Rockies would demand Brandon Marsh instead of Adams so this deal is a long shot but the offer above does contain three of Angelswin.com's Top 10 prospects and another from our Top 15 so it does have a lot of value. For the Angels we would obtain two years of control over Story to man the hot corner and provide SS depth behind Simmons. Trevor's splits outside of Coors Field are not as impressive as those within but he still clobbers left-handed pitching and holds his own versus righties. He would add another complimentary bat to Trout and Ohtani in the heart of our lineup and his salary would fall off the books at the end of 2021, helping the Angels to reset under the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold if they do exceed it in the 2020-2021 window (very likely if they acquired Trevor in the first place). Conclusion: If Billy does not have carte blanche in regard to payroll, a platoon, as mentioned above, would make the most sense. The real hope, however, is that one of either Matt Thaiss or Taylor Ward has a good showing in Spring Training and wins the job outright (Ward in particular has had some very solid hitting splits over the last three years in AA and AAA). On the flip side if the wallet opens up really wide ($200M-$220M in 2020 Club Payroll), Rendon or Donaldson could easily come into play creating the potential for a really wild off-season and possibly turning the Angels into a truly complete and competitive ball club in 2020 and beyond. Adding Anthony in addition to Gerrit would instantly vault the Angels into Division contention and would create a really deep bench and depth chart. To be clear everything relies on how far Arte opens up the pocketbook so this is a real long shot (the 1% solution) outcome and should not be relied upon as a likely result.