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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Note from Angelswin.com: Again, I am making a plea for support, to our family here at Angelswin.com, to provide any donation, even $1, to the AW.com sponsored charity-of-the-month, Hope for Education. If I have to go further, I am willing to take unnatural pictures by tdawg's bunk bed to encourage donations or, alternatively, not show them, at the whim of each individual member of the Angelswin.com family. I know times may be tough for many of you, but even a small donation helps toward a larger goal, so I am humbly requesting any kindness you can afford. Thank you for your time and attention! As we alluded to, in the Introduction article, Major League Baseball (MLB) has taken a financial hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly the abbreviated season combined with a complete lack of in-person attendance at ballgames put a big financial hit on the game. Arte Moreno, himself, indicated revenues came in well short of projections. This financial impact is not insignificant and the likelihood that 2021 will take a similar hit is high. Why? Well, let us just talk it out here. Assuming President-elect Biden takes office on January 20th and, in a likely scenario, puts the country on a 30-60-day lockdown (or some hybrid mask requirement), that would immediately place us in early-to-late March. From there, a probable phased opening of non-critical businesses would take place, not dissimilar to what happened in 2020. Basically, a larger subset of businesses would open and the country would test the COVID-19 stress level on the population. If cases return at a rate higher than expected that would have a very negative impact on any proposed baseball season. However, if the reemergence is successful, stadium play, likely in a limited form, could potentially take place later in the year. Think, absolutely no more than 50% stadium capacity (probably less) in what would likely be another abbreviated regular season. Note this is probably the most optimistic scenario. There is a high likelihood that even if the country successfully reopens that pandemic experts and scientists will almost certainly recommend that large gatherings do not occur within a several month period, even after a clean societal reemergence. The bottom line is that 2022 will be financially rocky for the country and MLB, which will almost certainly result in low to medium attendance, at best, and possibly another shortened baseball season, based on what MLB decides, and is even allowed to do, in a continuing COVID-19 pandemic environment. It could be a 162-game, televised-only, season or some mashup of televised-only and in-person attendance games, ranging anywhere above 60 games. Basically more significant financial impacts to baseball, which brings us to the Los Angeles Angels financial situation. Here is a rough snapshot of the projected Angels 2021 payroll situation as of December 7th, 2020: Table 1 - 2021 Los Angeles Angels Projected Payroll The Angels current Average Annual Value (AAV) payroll sits at about $181M, which is $29M below the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold of $210M for 2021. This is in-line with what FanGraphs RosterResource.com and Spotrac.com show, as well. The arbitration salaries, in Table 1, were pulled, as usual, from MLBTradeRumors.com yearly Projected Arbitration Salaries for 2021 series, this year utilizing Method #3 numbers. Does this mean the Angels can spend $29M? Based on the current economic environment in baseball and the likelihood of another COVID-19-impacted season, the answer may be no. First of all most teams keep some sort of reserve cushion of payroll space to start off each season in order to maintain flexibility heading into the Trade Deadline. For the Halos that will likely be about $10M or so, automatically lowering their available payroll space down to $19M. Moreno’s history shows a trend of modest payroll increases year-to-year, keeping pace with a rising CBT threshold but nothing more or less. During new GM Perry Minasian’s live interview at Angels stadium, Arte did clearly state payroll would not go down, but offered little more. Based on this we will presume the Angels have $19M to spend this off-season for the purposes of the Primer Series, possibly more if the Angels target one or more of Moreno’s aforementioned “impact” players. Also you can clearly interpret the Angels recent non-tender of several Angels relievers as a sign the Angels will probably be fiscally conservative in 2021, based on the notable impacts to the U.S. economy and MLB. The trade for Jose Iglesias, as an addition by subtraction scenario, in conjunction with the Halos moves to kick Hansel Robles, Matt Andriese, Justin Anderson, Keynan Middleton, and Hoby Milner to the curb, will keep the payroll effectively neutral. As a lone counterpoint, the Angels, just today, executed a trade for RP Raisel Iglesias, who is slated to receive $9.125M in 2020, adding a substantial amount to the payroll, reducing the total projected available payroll space by about 25%. It is not just the Angels, either, as evidenced by the Indians placing Brad Hand on waivers (and subsequently releasing him), the Reds trading Raisel Iglesias to the Halos, and the apparent financially-strapped Phillies rumored to be shopping Zack Wheeler. Even perfectly viable free agents that you would expect to pursue multi-year deals, such as Robbie Ray, Drew Smyly, Marcus Stroman, and Kevin Gausman, have selected one-year deals and/or accepted the Qualifying Offer, rather than test a clearly weak free agent market for players. This simply means that the Halos are likely to stay within a tight range of $19M. Certainly, Arte can choose to go up or down but, again, history does not support the notion of a spending spree and internal and external economic factors make it much less likely to happen. As much as this off-season might be a prime opportunity for Moreno to exercise the teams financial muscle for a short 1-2 year period, this year is proving to be the most unlikely year in recent history for him to do it. Only time will tell the tale. One final note regarding MLB and financial expenditures. Despite the clear hits teams are taking due to the pandemic shutdown, there appears to be a collective move by MLB and the owners to take advantage of the situation, making deep cuts to Minor League Baseball (MiLB) team franchises, effectively depressing 2021 arbitration and free agent salaries via these declarations of being in a financial crunch, and cutting out wide swaths of front office personnel and MiLB players. As an outsider looking in, this seems, to me, to be a self-destructive attitude in a business that makes so much money according to Forbes and other publications. Clearly local revenues, which are a main contributor to individual team revenues, have taken a hit due to non-existent ticket sales in a shortened season but the extensive cuts feel deeper than needed. When you look at the numbers it is clear that not playing a full regular season with no ticket sales does result in large losses. However, a full regular season with, perhaps, at least 40% of a typical season’s in-person attendance would bring MLB, as a whole, to a break-even level, give or take. The point is that the latter (40% in-person attendance) is probably a less likely scenario based on our earlier discussion, thus MLB will probably struggle again in 2021 and the owners, even in the face of a fight with the Player’s Union, will probably look to make additional cuts when and where they want and can. The near-future of MLB is not particularly bright, so let’s hope cooler heads prevail and a compromise can be reached, not only in entertaining, at least, a full or partial, televised-only regular season, but also with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and continued baseball for the next several seasons. MLB’s image is teetering on a tightrope with little room for error so they need to get this right.
By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer As the Angels enter the 2019-2020 off-season, Billy Eppler is faced with the daunting task of taking Moreno's proposed increase in team payroll and creating a contending club out of the available resource pool. Currently, the Angels 40-man roster stands at 40 players as of November 28th, 2019. In order to begin the discussion about available finances, the author has examined the Angels 40-man roster and assuming the Angels retain the current set of 40 players and use MLBTradeRumors.com's estimated arbitration salaries, 2020 Club Payroll will be approximately $162M and Actual Club Payroll (Average Annual Value (AAV) payroll) will be approximately $151M as seen below: A couple of notes regarding the table above: Injured List $$ indicates a nominal number for MLB players that spend time on the Injured List and is an educated guess based on information provided by the Orange County Register's Jeff Fletcher. Payouts refers to any and all money expended on players no longer on the 40-man roster. In this case the $1M number was Kole Calhoun's option year buyout. Subtract Non-Roster is simply the 14 players not on the 26-man roster making League-minimum salaries that do not count toward the total payroll numbers. In this case 14 x $600K = $8.4M Benefits refers to Player Benefit Costs and is an educated guess (also based on information provided by Jeff Fletcher) on how much every team pays toward that fund. Below is the relevant excerpt of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that shows how it is applied to the payroll calculation: To be clear this estimate is exactly that, an educated guess. The only difference between '2020 Club Payroll' and 'Actual Club Payroll' is that in the latter you are accounting for the multi-year guaranteed contracts (average annual value of them) and how close that places the team to the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold for that season (in this case $208M for 2020). So Eppler starts the season with approximately $147M in 2020 Club Payroll and $136M in Actual Club Payroll (AAV) and when you adjust for Player Benefits, non-roster players, Injury List (IL) payout estimates and Calhoun's $1M option buyout, the Angels start the season at $162M (2020 Club Payroll) and $151M (Actual Club Payroll). This means that, based on Moreno's own words about raising 2020 Club Payroll, the team probably has at least $25M+ to spend in free agency and trade and likely that number is closer $30M-$40, if not more. Fortunately, because of this, the Halos have more options this off-season in terms of money and resources (both MLB-ready players, farm prospects, and International Signing money) to address their needs and create better depth across the roster. If the Angels really are courting Gerrit Cole (and they should be), he will likely get the Angels close to their spending limit all by himself on a back loaded contract. In order to make other moves, Eppler will have to get creative in the trade market as well as executing savvy low-level free agent signings to fill in the rest of the roster. This may require Moreno to get awfully close to, or even exceed, the Luxury Tax threshold of $208M, although the team will likely stay under that number, barring a truly unexpected all-in over the next two seasons (a precise window they can escape by the way once Pujols contract expires after 2021). Expectations are high for Eppler to create a winner in his current, last year as General Manager so Angelswin.com members and fans should expect at least one large free agent signing with perhaps 1-3 lower-level pickups. In addition to that it will not be surprising to see 1-3 trades executed to bring in additional pitching and positional needs. All of this will be covered further as we dive deeper into the 2020 Angelswin.com Primer Series!
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!