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  1. By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Special Request: Hope for Education is a small, targeted charity sponsored by Angelswin.com. I am humbly requesting a small donation as we enter the New Year and hope that you are in the giving mood as these kids need help to learn in a safe environment from this very deadly pandemic. Please lend a hand, even if it is only a couple of bucks, it does make a difference. Thank you for your time and attention! Important Note: First of all I would like to say Happy New Year! I hope all of you and your families are implementing best-practice safety guidelines as outlined by the Center for Disease Control, including wearing masks out in public, washing your hands often, and exercising physical distancing protocols. Not only is COVID-19 potentially life-threatening there are now reports of long-term physical and psychological damage to those that survive. Take care of yourselves out there both physically and mentally, the Angels family needs to stay strong so all of us can enjoy Mike Trout now and in the future! At this point in the off-season, it is easy to say that the Angels bullpen is already revamped and, in fact, may continue to evolve even further, prior to Opening Day, after a dizzying array of non-tendered contracts and Rule 5 and trade additions. The previous administration placed a lot of emphasis on acquiring relievers through the waiver wire, minor trades, and the rare free agent signing. By focusing resources in other areas, Eppler and company actually did a fair job of building a Major League bullpen, albeit it lacked a true, sustained closer type. Eppler’s front office focused a lot on high spin rates and acquiring arms that threw a good fastball and curveball; the latter is a good pitch that works against both sides of the plate, negating some of the need to find those lockdown lefties. Minasian’s reign has yet to give us a lot of information on how he will approach building a good relief corps but there are three data points to discuss here. First of all, the quick strike and addition of Raisel Iglesias is significant, as it adds a clear, proven back-end bullpen arm that is capable of closing out games on a regular basis for the Angels. Raisel is stronger from the right-side with his fastball, slider, and changeup combination which can shutdown a right-handed heavy team. Per FanGraphs, out of all qualified relievers in 2020, Iglesias was in the Top 5 of Wins Above Replacement (WAR). In fact, over the last two seasons, he ranks 8th with only lofty names like Nick Anderson, Taylor Rogers, Aroldis Chapman, and Brad Hand, ahead of him. Despite the fact that the Halos, currently, only have him for one season, there is a lot to like about bringing him into the fold for 2021, particularly due to the fact that the Angels are projected to have a fairly tight 5.12 Runs Scored per Game (RS/G) versus an 4.82 Runs Against per Game (RA/G), which means the team may find itself in more close games, where they will lead by a small amount of runs, creating a high leverage situation that Iglesias can help solve. Additionally, the Halos front office struck during the Rule 5 Draft, acquiring Jose Alberto Rivera, a young arm from the Astros organization. Rivera features a big fastball, averaging in the high-90’s, curveball, and splitter. Clearly the new Angels front office is gambling that the heater/curveball combination is mature enough to fit in middle relief and, just like the Eppler era, this feels like a worthy gamble, despite the fact that the Angels will need to keep him all season or send him back to Houston if they cannot keep him on the active roster. Also, the team recently signed left-hander Alex Claudio to a one-year deal, for $1.125M. Claudio is the pure definition of “soft-tossing lefty” and, as expected, gets left-handed hitters out at a pretty good clip, although he does okay versus right-handed hitters as well. This should give Joe Maddon a specialist option out of the bullpen on an as-needed basis. Finally, we can glean some information about the players Minasian non-tendered/traded versus the players he kept on the 40-man roster. Guys like Noe Ramirez, Hoby Milner, and Matt Andriese were lower velocity types, whereas arms like Gerardo Reyes, Luke Bard, Ty Buttrey, Mike Mayers, and Kyle Keller all throw in the mid-to-upper 90’s. High velocity appears to be a real draw for the new Angels GM. Notably most of these bullpen arms that were retained have fastball/slider combos in their repertoire lending to the idea that Minasian and company may be making a point to go with guys whose 2nd pitches are sliders, which is a notorious same-side strikeout weapon, i.e. pure strikeout potential seems to be preferred, over creating poor contact or pinpoint control by the new front office. Basically, it appears, on the surface, that the initial emphasis is on strong strikeout capability. High strikeout rates are an important element in Major League Baseball so it is a bit refreshing to see a little more importance placed on it, although it did appear that Eppler’s group was on to something regarding high spin rates (difficult for hitters to see) and targeting guys with good curveballs (ability to get batters out on both sides of the plate). We will see how this plays out moving forward with Minasian, but the route he is initially focusing on is also a good path to run prevention, i.e. less hitters on-base results in less runs scored. Moving beyond the philosophical discussion, the Angels currently have, as of Dec. 31st, 2020, the following pure, bullpen arms on the 40-man roster (number of Minor League options remaining are in parentheses after each name): Luke Bard (1) Ty Buttrey (2) Alex Claudio (0) Raisel Iglesias (0) Kyle Keller (1) Mike Mayers (0) Jose Quijada (1) Gerardo Reyes (1) Jose Alberto Rivera (R5, 3 after the 2021 season) In addition, as mentioned in the Rotation article, Dillon Peters (0), Jaime Barria (0), Felix Pena (1), and Hector Yan (2), may be viewed as starters but they could also, possibly, work out of the bullpen, too. In fact, Barria and Peters are out of options so they will need a home on the active roster if they are to play in 2021. So to start, it should be noted that the Angels may or may not retain all of these names. Player’s can always be designated for assignment, so none of this is set in stone yet. Trades, signings, and waiver wire acquisitions could still change the landscape, quickly, too. All that being said if you were to take what the Angels have now and line it up into a group of eight relievers to start the season, it may look like this: Raisel Iglesias (Closer) Mike Mayers (Setup) Ty Buttrey (Setup) Alex Claudio (Specialist) Gerardo Reyes (Middle Relief) Luke Bard (Middle Relief) Jose Alberto Rivera (Middle Relief) Felix Pena (Long Relief) Now, certainly, you could substitute Keller or Quijada in middle relief, if you like, but these two, as well as Reyes and Bard, have a Minor League option remaining and the Angels will need Minor League bullpen depth, so a couple of them will start the season down in AAA or AA. Additionally, Peters could easily be the long reliever with Pena starting the season in the Minors, as well. When you look at this projection, on paper, the back-end of the bullpen seems fairly strong, particularly with the addition of Iglesias. However, it is the middle of the bullpen that leaves some room for doubt. Reyes, Bard, and Rivera have some good stuff but they are mostly unproven in the Majors, particularly Rivera. It might be useful, then, for Minasian to acquire one more quality middle reliever with some experience in the Majors and a pedigree of success. Yes, that is not always easy to find in a relief arm, considering their year-to-year variance, but it is not impossible. Really if we can find one more back-end or good middle reliever, the bullpen will be in pretty good shape and could possibly absorb the loss of an Iglesias, Mayers, or Buttrey, if they were to go on the Injured List for an extended period of time. Additionally, it could allow the Halos front office to option down someone like Bard or Reyes to create more depth or even flat out replace a borderline relief candidate, with a preferred choice, on the 40-man roster. Considering how many relievers and Minor Leaguer’s were cut loose, due to financial impacts, finding another impact arm, at a reasonable price, should not be terribly difficult. Based on the Angels own payroll restraints, this will either be a trade, for an inexpensive, controllable, upside-type, or a simple less-costly Major League signing, not dissimilar to Alex Claudio. Certainly, Minasian could do more and perhaps he will when it is all said and done, particularly if we do not net a guy like Bauer or some other expensive starter, utilizing the old approach of spending on the bullpen if the market for starters is too overpriced to play in. In the end, the Angels bullpen was a bit above average in 2020 and, with the addition of Iglesias, it likely improved, despite the subtractions, so another addition now or later, at the Trade Deadline, could push the Halos bullpen into the Top 10 in baseball, potentially. Expect: It really feels like the Angels can make room for one more solid reliever by possibly trading one of their current relievers (maybe Bard or Peters) or even designating them for assignment, to create space on the 40-man roster. This addition could literally come from anywhere at this moment, through free agency (maybe Brad Hand or Archie Bradley, if the Angels lose out on Bauer, a mid-tier guy like Shane Greene, or perhaps a veteran like Darren O’Day or Mark Melancon) or trade (perhaps someone like Chris Stratton or Richard Rodriguez from the Pirates in a Joe Musgrove based trade or Rowan Wick, Hector Neris, or Scott Oberg, for example). Surely, Minasian and company could stand pat and add another arm closer to the Trade Deadline, but the opportunity to strike now, under a new regime that is remaking the team in their own image, may afford a more aggressive, fresh start to our relief corps, heading into 2021.
  2. 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.
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