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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.
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 NOTE: This article contains a detailed summary of each prospective bullpen candidate under the "Spoiler" bar. Some of you may just want to jump to the conclusion so the player contents are hidden from view. If you want to read that section, simply click on the bar and dive deeper into each of our reliever candidates, there are some interesting tidbits. In 2019, the Angels continued to develop a core group of relief options that produced to the tune of 2.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) across 761.2 innings pitched (IP). The latter number was the 2nd most IP, just behind the Rays bullpen at 772 IP. Assuredly, Eppler and staff would like to not only improve the bullpen's production, but also reduce the total number of IP, for the group as a whole, if possible. The good news is that most of that relief corps will remain this season and a key reliever, Keynan Middleton, should return to the fold, which could provide a real boost to a squad full of upside and potential, capable of closing out the later innings of any ballgame. It is the hope that the bullpen will potentially improve on their 2019 performances, giving reason to believe that the Angels relievers, as a collective, can build on last years 16th ranked production level and become a Top 10 relief staff. To start let us review 2019 results for the current, projected, 40-man relief staff as of December 16th, 2019: As you can see, the Halos bullpen was led by Hansel Robles (1.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR)) and Ty Buttrey (1.4 WAR). Other contributors included Noe Ramirez, Cam Bedrosian, Taylor Cole, Felix Pena, and Justin Anderson. The belief is that the group can potentially take a nice step forward in 2020 and there is reason to feel this could be the case. Part of that solution will come directly from upgrades made in the rotation to, funny enough, relieve the relievers. If the starting rotation can eat up more quality innings, the bullpen will, ideally, be fresh on a more regular basis, which generally should equate to some modest level of improved performance. Additionally, some relievers may make some needed adjustments to improve their performance. Finally, there is a reasonable likelihood that Eppler and the front office staff will still add to this group prior to Opening Day, next year. To better understand what the Halos have let us take an in-depth look at each relief candidate and what they can bring to the table in 2020. Simply click on the Spoiler bar to unroll the comprehensive, individual player analysis. Note that data is pulled from FanGraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, and BaseballSavant.com: Likely Outcome: The Angels will continue to use the waiver wire to pick up relief targets of opportunity as the off-season continues and avoid expending resources as is typical for this front office. The next, most likely, alternative is to find a target of opportunity in free agency or trade, probably the latter. This is because the FA market lacks quality options whereas there are some interesting names that might be available in deals with other teams. Author's Choice: Personally, if the price is right, acquiring a name like Brad Hand (someone Eppler has inquired on previously) or Mychal Givens would be great. Since Eppler and his team love high spin rates so much, names like Drew Steckenrider, David McKay, Joe Jimenez, Buck Farmer, Jose Urena, Jeff Brigham, or Robert Gsellman might hold some level of interest. Ultimately this is not an area that I am to concerned about, as the Angels front office has done an outstanding job acquiring relievers that have the skills and tools to turn into effective relievers. All that the Angels need to do is start the season with an established group that can soak up innings and be effective to help the team reach the Trade Deadline in the right posture (wins) so that Eppler can reevaluate at that time whether the Halos need to acquire a rental bullpen option or two to help carry us over the Division finish line. Conclusion: Eppler probably understands that this unit, as a whole, might need some level of improvement, so it seems plausible that if he gets an opportunity to pick up a good reliever in trade (maybe names like Josh Hader, Jose LeClerc, Ken Giles, Mychal Givens, Scott Oberg, Keone Kela, Joe Jimenez, Jeurys Familia, Mark Melancon, Carlos Martinez, Richard Bleier, Ian Kennedy, Tim Hill, Paul Fry, Jared Hughes, Brad Hand, or Seth Lugo, among many others, might have some level of availability) or in free agency (maybe a guy like Arodys Vizcaino, Addison Reed, or, perhaps, Tyler Thornburg) he would do so, to help lift the squad a little further for the 2020 season and possibly beyond. Billy was recently quoted as saying, "There are a lot of ways to create a winning team." One of those ways is to build a really deep bullpen, not dissimilar to what the Yankees have done over the last couple of years, to help consistently build a bridge to success when transitioning from a starter to the later innings of a game. The good news is that the Angels have a good base of relievers to build upon, so the idea of a high quality relief corps is not a fantasy for the 2020 Angels. If Eppler was able to add a Hader, Giles, Givens, Hand, Martinez, or Jimenez type of player that would go a long way toward a consistent, sustainable run at the American League West Division championship. To be clear it does not have to be one of those names, either, there are plenty of other options out there to be had. Finally, the Angels could end up pulling one of their starters in and converting them to a relief role. Near the end of the season, the Halos used Jose Suarez in a long relief role four times, although they will likely start him in the Minors in the rotation. Jaime Barria and Dillon Peters made six and five long relief appearances, respectively, mostly early in the season. Jared Walsh is a two-way player, capable of relief work too, but he is most likely to do mop-up, low leverage work where the team is either ahead or behind by a significant amount of runs. Even Sandoval made a long relief appearance in early August. To be clear these guys are clear-cut starters (except Walsh) and will probably be used as such but they are available if the Halos switch course or have a need. Currently, it appears the Angels bullpen, barring an injury, trade or designation for assignment, will start the season with at least the following relievers in-tow: Hansel Robles Ty Buttrey Noe Ramirez Cam Bedrosian These four are the probable core base of the Angels 2020 bullpen. Behind them, the next group represents potential higher-probability adds and out-of-options players, in no particular order, that could be included on the 26-man active roster: Keynan Middleton Jake Jewell Taylor Cole Adalberto Mejia Mike Mayers Luke Bard Justin Anderson To be clear these seven will need to have good Spring Training outings to be included on the Opening Day roster, it will not be handed to any of them. Finally, the following names are very likely to start the year in the Minors no matter how well they perform in Spring Training (and in Pena's case he is on the IL for a while): Hector Yan Parker Markel Felix Pena So to wrap up this very long discussion, the author believes, based on the current 40-man roster, that the Opening Day starting eight (it is typical to start the season with eight relievers) will probably include these names: Hansel Robles Ty Buttrey Noe Ramirez Cam Bedrosian Keynan Middleton Adalberto Mejia Jake Jewell Mike Mayers If you do not feel we will carry eight out of the gate, then knock Mayers off the end of that list, probably. Also there is a real chance that if Eppler finds a reliever on the free agent or trade markets, that Mayers or Mejia (probably in that order) will be displaced off the 40-man and designated for assignment to make room for the new addition(s). This is what a good minimum resource bullpen looks like and this thriftiness allows the Halos to apply their monetary and trade resources elsewhere, for the betterment of the team as a whole. Longer term, once the Angels have an established rotation and position player group (which they are getting closer to this off-season), Eppler may be able to afford adding higher quality bullpen arms but, for now, he and the front office staff are doing this the right way. The Primer Series continues, next, with the Left Field article.
By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer To classify this off-season as the most important one in Eppler's career, to-date, is not an understatement. Moreno has not yet publicly extended Billy's contract, which means 2020 is the last year under his current deal and he could be looking for a new position in the coming months if the off-season does not go as planned and/or the Angels get off to a terrible start in the upcoming season. On top of that Arte has expressed a clear need for this team to push itself into a new window of contention after years of languishing in mediocrity in the A.L. West standings. Moreno wants to see action (fans in the seats too) and is helping Eppler's situation by promising to increase team payroll for 2020 and the acquisition of an experienced skipper in Joe Maddon (Billy might dispute the latter but the author's gut feeling is that Arte made the right move here). So in order to understand the areas that need improvement (if they are not clear already) let us take a look at how the starting rotation, bullpen, defense, and position players (against both left and right handed pitching) fared in 2019: 2019 Team Starting Rotation Wins Above Replacement (WAR) So right off the bat (pardon the pun), it is clear that the starting rotation needs significant improvement, as the Angels ranked dead last in total WAR production as a group. Certainly the tragic passing of Tyler Skaggs contributed to the issue but overall the team failed to pitch meaningful innings and it showed in the end-of-year results. Fixing this issue will be Eppler's #1 priority this off-season without a doubt. 2019 Team Bullpen WAR Here the Angels were more middle-of-the-pack in overall performance. In spite of the fact that relief pitching is so volatile by nature, Eppler has consistently done well in establishing competent bullpens during his tenure as General Manager of the Angels. Fortunately the Angels will be retaining some of their key pieces from 2019 and Keynan Middleton should return full-time in 2020 which should help bolster the unit as a whole. The Angels front office has also consistently performed well in identifying inexpensive bullpen acquisitions via waiver and other means so it is likely that Eppler's team will continue to comb the wire, Rule 5 Draft opportunities, and even add-on's via trade that can help build a strong relief unit next season without expending significant resources to do so. 2019 Team Defense Using FanGraphs 'Def' Here the Angels did well above average, ranking 7th out of all 30 Major League clubs according to FanGraphs 'Def' rating. Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 innings (UZR/150) also supports the notion that the Halos were a strong defensive unit. Billy has clearly stated in the past that team defense, particularly up-the-middle positions (C, SS, 2B, and CF), is the foundation of success for any team he builds and the above numbers reflect that philosophy. Of course there is always room for improvement so it would not be surprising to see Eppler continue to tweak the roster and put good defensive players in a position to provide maximum on-field value, including any potential new acquisitions. 2019 Team Batting vs. Left-Handed Pitching (LHP) Against LHP, the Angels struggled a bit throughout the season, ranking 19th overall out of all 30 Major League teams with a Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) of 98. Of course Trout led the charge, followed by names like Smith, Simmons, Goodwin, Pujols, and Ohtani who all performed well. This will almost certainly be an area that Eppler will try to improve upon but it is unlikely to be an area that he expends significant team resources on, because only about 30% of the teams at-bat's are against lefties during most seasons. The addition of another bat or two that can pummel lefties would be nice, but not a must have, so there will probably be some marginal refinement during the off-season to address this need and could simply involve the addition of one or two farm assets (e.g. Ward, Adell, et. al.). 2019 Team Batting vs. Right-Handed Pitching (RHP) Here the Halos were slightly above average, ranked 12th out of all 30 Major League teams with a wRC+ of 99. Of course, once again, Trout dominated against RHP (188 wRC+) and was distantly followed by La Stella, Ohtani, Upton, Calhoun, Goodwin, and Fletcher. Improvement here will be more important than against LHP so the expectation would be that the Angels will try to replace the loss of Calhoun's bat either directly at his position in RF or by filling another spot around the diamond with a player that can handle RHP. Eppler will probably not expend a large amount of resources doing this unless he pursues a big bat at a position of need in free agency such as a 1B/LF/RF type like Castellanos, one of the Big 2 at the hot corner (Rendon or Donaldson), or even a trade opportunity like Schwarber, Bell, or Turner, for example. So expect Billy, barring the mystical Moreno unicorn payroll increase, to use 40-man roster players, farm resources, or lower-level signings to improve in this area. Observations So it is crystal clear that the starting rotation is where Eppler needs to focus most of his off-season attention and resources (this is not new news to most). Building a strong starting five plus bench depth is sorely needed and it will not be a successful off-season if the Angels do not significantly improve in this area through the acquisition of at least 2-3 quality starters with at least one being a top-of-the-rotation type ace. Beyond the rotation our offense will need to improve, too, but likely in a less resource intensive manner. By declining Kole's option year, the Halos have set the stage for Brian Goodwin to man right field until the May/June time frame when the Angels gain the extra year of control over young Jo Adell and he gets called up to take over the position (likely full-time). That alone should provide some needed firepower, although fans should temper their expectations as Jo has some swing and miss in his game right now that will be tested by opposing teams in his first year in Anaheim. All that being said, Adell is a really exciting five-tool prospect, full of potential, that can make a long-term impact in Anaheim. So, based on where the Angels put David Fletcher, 2B or 3B may see a platoon set-up via a free agent signing or low-level trade for a proper partner to one of our internal candidates. For example if David mans the keystone, third base might wind up being a platoon of Tommy La Stella (who hits well against RHP) and Zack Cozart (good defense) or even a free agent or trade acquisition that can crush LHP. Alternatively if Fletcher mans the hot corner, a platoon of Luis Rengifo (good against righties) and Cozart or another outside candidate that can manage lefties might be the best choice. Of course, if Eppler has more payroll space than currently advertised, the hot corner could be improved even more than described above, particularly because the market lacks a quantity of good free agency and trade choices over the next few years. Catcher may be a position where Eppler and the front office value defense so much that they purposely punt on offensive needs to get the best defensive catching tandem they can muster. Stassi grades out very well on defense so he seems a likely piece for next season but finding the right partner may be a challenge if the team does not apply the resources for a top-tier target in free agency (Grandal and Zunino were good examples before they signed with the White Sox and Rays, respectively) or trade (the latter seems more plausible with the activity in the catching market this off-season). Also, the Angels could pick up a left-handed bat for first base if they do not feel that Jared Walsh or Matt Thaiss can provide the needed, immediate, production. Free agency has some interesting names that could be had on the cheap or, if the Angels want to expend more resources, the trade market has options too. Both of our internal candidates have potential but this may be too much risk for the front office to take in such a critical off-season so keep an eye out for what happens at that spot. The bullpen could use a touch of reinforcement (perhaps a good lefty?) but the current cast the front office has assembled has a lot of potential to repeat and even improve upon the 2019 results. Robles, Buttrey, Ramirez (Noe), Bedrosian, Cole, Pena, Anderson, Middleton, et. al., form the basis of a strong core unit that may only need some polish added through the addition of 1-2 more relievers prior to the end of Spring Training. Probably an area where Eppler, as is his tradition, will expend only minimal resources, if any. Finally, the only other position that we should probably discuss is shortstop. Simmons is entering his final year of control and it seems likely that Eppler will use this off-season to make a material decision about the future of the position. Extending Andrelton is certainly a possibility and would not be a shocker at all but there are a couple of options out on the trade market that could entice Billy to trade Simba rather than retain him for this year or even longer term through the aforementioned extension. Ultimately this is not a decision that Eppler can afford to wait on from a strategic point of view so it will be interesting to see what Billy does here for the future of the franchise. Ultimately Eppler will roster-build based on his available resources (payroll, MLB players, prospects, and International Bonus Pool money) but it is Moreno's budget guidance that will really factor into how dynamic our off-season will or will not be. This will likely fall into four general categories: Under $190M (2020 Club Payroll with Actual Club Payroll not to exceed $208M, most probable) Under $208M (Both 2020 Club Payroll and Actual Club Payroll, less probable) Under $228M (1st Surcharge Threshold, unlikely) Under $248M (2nd Surcharge Threshold, very unlikely) The first two options represent the more likely scenarios and do allow sufficient room to improve the team enough to make an impact in 2020. The latter two are much less likely unless Arte has decided to go all-in for the next two seasons (2020-2021), knowing that the team can sneak back under the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold in the 2021-2022 off-season once Pujols contract comes off of the books (not an impossibility). When you consider that Moreno has only exceeded the CBT threshold once, nearly 15 years ago, the odds of it happening seem remote. As much as this would be a great time to do it, particularly when you see such a barren free agent market next off-season, history shows that Arte has been very reluctant to cross that line, even by a smidge (to be fair though he has consistently supported high payrolls unlike some other owners). Realistically, he might do it now or consider it closer to the trade deadline if exceeding the CBT threshold, for the right player, would improve the teams odds of making the playoffs but that is the author's speculation and shouldn't be relied upon as part of our discussion. In the final article of the series we will do some payroll scheme examples for the four scenarios above to give you an idea of the limits and possibilities. So, now that we have gotten some of the pleasantries out of the way, lets dive into a position by position examination and discussion to see what plausible options the Angels have to consider when building next seasons squad as we continue to plunge into the 2020 Angelswin.com Primer Series!