Thursday, October 23, 2008



By Brent Hubbard - Angelswin.com Senior Columnist

And as the Red Sox Nation cheered, Halo fans around the world were in a state of collective shock. “But we’re a better team” was one of the more common utterances issued by these Angels fans, among much more colorful language to be sure. As the hated Red Sox moved on to face the upstart Rays in the ALCS, a team no one seemed to see coming, except myself, one has to examine the root causes of the Angels failure in the 2008 ALDS, and look towards the future.

I loathe the Red Sox and hated to see them eliminate my beloved Angels for the third time in five seasons. I loved seeing the Rays eliminate them in the ALCS. Yet I have to admire both teams in certain ways from an organizational standpoint. Wait a second… hear me out.

Most of the 2002 World Series winning Angels team was homegrown talent as are the Red Sox teams of 2007 and 2008. The Rays also were mostly built through the draft and through trades. After Arte Moreno bought the team, most fans seemed to embrace him and his large checkbook. Thinking we can spend our way to continued success and championships. That philosophy doesn’t work. Not in the long term. Ask the Yankees.

The Red Sox were helped greatly by lopsided trades, as well as the overvaluing of their minor league and major league talent they allowed to depart. They are helped greatly by their ballpark, as it is truly the most unbalanced park in the majors. They’ve spent large sums of money as well, adding players like Daisuke Matsuzaka and JD Drew, by offering far more than any other team. The Rays were helped by being among the worst team in baseball for a number of years, leading to a lot of high first round draft picks.

David Saltzer has written a few excellent pieces about his proposed off-season plan of attack for our beloved Angels. This steals my thunder a bit, but here’s my take anyway. Looking at the current state of the Angels, I wonder if the roster needs a complete overhaul or just minor fixes. This article will examine first the state of the roster, internal solutions to current and future holes and look ahead to the future. Tomorrow’s piece will discuss the free agent and trade market, both for 2009, and the upcoming seasons.

When examining our own minor league system, I see most of the talent that meets the Angels current needs down at the lower levels, and logjams at the upper levels where the Angels have talent. Some of this can be attributed to Bill Stoneman, but I think most of this is due to lack of 1st round picks being given as compensation for high priced type A free agents over the last four seasons. Some which have contributed, some that have not.

Looking towards the future: State of the Payroll

The Angels have $85.35 million in guaranteed contracts next year, though $38 million of that is in club options for three players, Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey and Garrett Anderson. The other $47.35 is split between Hunter ($17.5m), Matthews ($10m), Escobar ($9.5m), Shields ($5), Speier ($4.75) and Kendry Morales ($600k). That is $85,350,000 for 9 players. That means 16 spots left to fill and only $40 million to spend to meet the rumored 2009 budget.

It is sustainable for one additional large contract to be on the books for several years as the Angels do not have a very large payroll commitment past this upcoming season. I do expect several current Angel players to have new contracts in place this off-season, but for now, the payroll stands at $40.3 million for 2010 for 5 players, and only $30 Million for 2 players in 2011. Only $18 million in 2012 is committed to Torrii Hunter.

The bottom line is that there are capable replacements for some of the talent on the Angels roster in the upper minors, but any major star is a ways off, so the Angels need to sign Teixiera to remain competitive. And no matter how large the contract, it is affordable under the current projected payroll.

I do not agree with David with his plan to let Anderson walk. I do not see a comparable hitter, younger or older, who is as productive and won’t be looking for a long-term deal that severely ties the organization’s collective hands moving forward. The club option for Garret for his final season in Anaheim is a good move. There is no one on the market who will provide a comparable bat to Anderson for what amounts to a 1-year, $11 million contract, due to his guaranteed $3 million buyout. And because the payroll and the roster is in a state of flux, adding long term dollars to a team for a replacement free agent such as Pat Burrell, will merely lock up money and a roster spot, without adding an impact player.

I believe all three of the club options should be exercised, a small three-year extension (2009-11) should be discussed with Guerrero, pending knee surgery, and an extension should be offered to Lackey. I also believe Santana should be locked up to a four year deal similar to the contract that Escobar and Lackey signed a few years back.

2009 Free Agent Decisions: Is the grass greener?

As previously stated, the most important signing for the off-season ahead is to retain the services of one Mark Teixiera. I don’t know what he’ll command, but I am sure it will exceed the contract of Torrii Hunter in both Average Annual Value and number of years.

I think players like Hunter, Guerrero, Anderson can still contribute, but it is time to add a young centerpiece player to go with them. That player is Mark Teixiera. No one else is available on the market that compares, and only a few will be available next off-season (Matt Holliday leading the class). And none at positions where it makes sense the way that Teixiera does. He can contribute now and in the future, and can be a centerpiece along with Vladimir Guerrero for the upcoming season and possibly be that centerpiece if Vlad is not brought back after 2009.

The Free Agent class is better after the 2009 season, yet not that much better. The Angels need to avoid the mistake of signing a player who fits their needs this year, only to sign a better player in the same position next year, the way they did with Matthews and Hunter. The Angels should get Type B compensation for Garland and possibly Rivera, Type A for Rodriguez, who I think will definitely depart, and Teixiera should he leave. This could reap a reward in the draft similar to the one the Red Sox had after they let their free agents go in 2005, which in turn helped them win in 2007 and 2008.

Juan Rivera will not resign, mostly due to playing time concerns, as well as monetary ones, nor will Garland. I do believe Oliver will be back at a similar rate as in 2008. The fact that he is likely to be a Type A Free Agent, will virtually guarantee that the Angels offer arbitration, and settle on a two year deal. Maybe something in the range of 2 yrs / 6 Million.

Arbitration Eligible Players: Who gets what?

The Angels have six players eligible for arbitration. They are Figgins, Izturis, Santana, Bulger, Quinlan and possibly Napoli. Napoli may miss the cutoff, but lets assume he is eligible.

While I think some of these players will be brought back, I also believe several will be non-tendered, making them free agents. I think four are definitely back, Figgins, Izturis, Napoli and Santana. I believe Quinlan and Bulger are probable non-tenders. Bulger may then be resigned, but I think there are capable bats to take over for Quinlan, the way he took over for Shawn Wooten after 2004.

Figgins should command between $6-8 Million in arbitration. Santana will likely get at least $5 M, Izturis at least $4 M, Napoli at least $4 M. This total will be offset if some of these guys work out two or three year deals, or in Santana’s case, a long-term extension.

Still, I can’t see a scenario where these four guys end up with less than $15 Million, and most likely it’s around $19 Million. Which means that the projected payroll has climbed into at least the $104 Million dollar range. $104 million for 13 guys is not a great position to be in.

Club Control: The young guys

Moving onto the young players, those under club control, the good news is that of those 12 remaining spots, it is possible to fill them all with players who are under club control, meaning their combined salaries would equal less than $6 million. I’d expect to see many of the same faces back for 2009, but 2010 is a different matter. I expect some of the minor league talent discussed by David to arrive in 2010 midseason, especially Bourjos, and one he didn’t mention in Mark Trumbo a future 1B/DH type. It is possible for one or two of the following guys to make a leap and jump onto the roster for next year, but most likely only 9 or 10 spots will be filled from the club control ranks.

Of those 9 or 10, I’d expect virtual guarantees for Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders, Howie Kendrick, Jose Arrendondo, Brandon Wood, Kendry Morales, and Jeff Mathis. It is also extremely likely that Kevin Jespen, Sean Rodriguez and Erick Aybar make the club unless Aybar is traded, and one of Matt Brown or Freddy Sandoval, and one of Reggie Willits or Terry Evans are likely on the team. At least one of those last four guys makes the on the club. That’s at least 10 guys not including Anthony Ortega, Nick Adenhart or Rafael Rodriguez, all of which could figure into the fifth starting spot or a bullpen role. And Escobar could be back as soon as May. I don’t know where he fits in roster wise, but you have to assume when he’s back, he’s on the team.

Some trades will have to be made from these ranks, as I do not see the available roster spots if any of our own or other free agents are brought back.

Dustin Moseley, Shane Loux and others are going to have a tough time making the team. It will be a spirited competition in the spring. Especially for the fifth roster spot and last bench spot.

Another area to look at is the 40-man roster. A good portion of our minor league talent is from the 2005 draft or were signed around that time, which means these guys may be eligible for the Rule V draft if they are not placed on the 40-man roster. Names like Rafael Rodriguez, Trumbo, Ortega, Bourjos and others are probably added to this roster this off-season.

We are currently at 41 spots on the 40-man, including Kelvim Escobar on the 60-day DL. Subtracting K-Rod, Rivera, Garland, Quinlan, Bulger, equals 36 left, meaning we can add 5 guys to the roster. The four names above will certainly claim those spots, and if a there is a net free agent gain of even +1 free agent you have a full roster. If you add anybody else, they’d be taking the spots of guys like Willits, Terry Evans. O’Day, Loux, Budde, Moseley, or Thompson. Players like Sean O’Sullivan, PJ Phillips, Ryan Mount, Hank Conger, and Jordan Walden may also be added sooner rather than later. This means some of those young players on the 40-man who have failed to produce yet are either traded or released to waivers.

I suspect 9-10 guys will make the roster from the club control ranks. This makes the salary figure approximately $109 before signing any of our own or other free agents. Is this doable? I don’t know.

Below will examine free agents from other clubs and trade possibilities.

DEPTH CHART (2009)

1B Teixiera* Morales Brown
2B Kendrick Izturis S-Rod Aybar Brown
SS Wood Izturis Aybar S-Rod Mount PJ Phillips
3B Figgins Brown Wood Sandoval S-Rod
C Napoli Mathis Wilson^ Conger^
LF Anderson GMJ Willits Evans
CF Hunter GMJ Willits Evans Bourjos
RF Guerrero GMJ Morales
DH Morales Guerrero Anderson Trumbo

SP Lackey Santana Weaver Saunders FA/Minors* Escobar†
RP Arredondo Shields Oliver* Jespen Speier FA/Minors

ANGELS FREE AGENTS

Oliver, Darren FA
Rivera, Juan FA
Rodriguez, Francisco FA
Teixiera, Mark FA

AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

I look at the 2009 Free Agent list and see almost no one I find the Angels should pursue, outside of their own guys. I look at the potential trade targets and see little affordable or rumored to be available that meets the Angels needs.

What make sense for the Angels is to wave goodbye to the single season saves leader and put that money into the offense. Specifically as I stated yesterday, re-signing Mark Teixiera.

Looking to other teams Free Agents, again, I do not see anything of interest. I do not believe that the Angels currently need another starting pitcher with Escobar due back mid-season, and guys like Nick Adenhart, Anthony Ortega, or other internal candidates also options for that 5th starter spot. I am highly opposed to signing a free agent starter like CC Sabathia or AJ Burnett should he opt out. I’d rather go after a low salary, potentially high reward guy like Mark Prior (who’d be the ultimate low-high guy) or Randy Wolf. But only if needed because one of the currently slated starting five was to be dealt in a package for a bat. Jeremy Affeldt is a possible bullpen/swing-man addition I’d be interested in.

I do have my eye on one very interesting option pitching-wise that may be available. Japanese phenom pitcher Yu Darvish may ask to be posted to the majors. This is the kind of pitcher we need in the Angels rotation, he’s young, he’s got an attitude. He’s tall, 6-5, and thin, but has dominated the way that Daisuke Matsuzaka did, but possibly even better. In this column from Yahoo Sports (http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=jp-japandarvish032308&prov=yhoo&type=lgns), Trey Hilman, the Kansas City Royals Manager, and a former manager in the Japanese leagues is quoted as saying, “Fonzie and Elvis,” says Hillman, his former manager. “That’s Darvish.”

ESPN did a profile on Darvish at the start of the 2008 season, yet no one talks about him being posted this off-season. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=darvish

The Angels would certainly have competition, but I think the investment in a player of Darvish’s skill and popularity in Japan would benefit the Angels more than a guy like CC Sabathia or AJ Burnett. He may be worth the increase in payroll over the budget set by Moreno. Moreno has frequently said that he will go for a player who is special. He is definitely that and he has what many pundits have said lack about the Angels lack this season: Personality, toughness, and grit.

Yesterday’s payroll figure was around $106 million for 22-23 guys from our own system. If you add in $3 M for Oliver, $20 M for Teixiera, you are at $127 million for 15 players. Add in a similar contract to Daisuke Matsuzaka for Darvish, and a similar posting fee, and you’ve got a payroll in the $140 million range. Is this doable? Likely? I don’t know.

The good news when looking at adding high salaried free agents is that it is very likely the Angels could add players such as this by offering a smaller 2009 salary and more money if future years. The payroll commitment for 2010 is around $40M, and $30 in 2011, with only $18 on the books for Torii Hunter in 2012.

Which means that large money contracts could be offered this offseason, I just want them to be offered to the right players. I would not sign anyone over 30 years old to a big contract exceeding $10 M per year.

Certain Angels players currently under contract will be offered long term deals this offseason, headed I think by John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Mike Napoli. This will make the future payroll undoubtedly higher, but it is certain to keep it in the range where adding two large contracts is doable.

I seriously doubt they would consider signing Manny Ramirez, but that is an outside possibility I suppose.

Some mid-range free agents the Angels might pursue are Joe Crede, Rafael Furcal if they decide to part ways with Figgins, or Pat Burrell. I don’t think they’ll pursue Adam Dunn. Rocco Baldelli is an unlikely possibility as well.

After 2009, there is a much richer free agent class with names (including some of our own bigger names) that could or should appeal to the Angels like Adrian Beltre, Rick Ankiel, Garret Anderson, Jason Bay, Coco Crisp, Carl Crawford, Jermaine Dye, Vladimir Guerrero, Matt Holliday, Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, and Magglio Ordonez. Pitchers like Josh Beckett, Justin Duscherer, Kelvim Escobar, Rich Harden, Tim Hudson, John Lackey, Cliff Lee, Brad Penny and Brandon Webb are also available. Some of these players have options, but the class is no doubt a better one than the 2009 class.

Trade Possibilities

Trading Gary Matthews is probably the best thing the Angels could do in the off-season as far as trades are concerned. If you have to include a MINF such as Aybar or Izturis, to get him moved, you do it. If you can move a pitcher like Weaver or Adenhart along with him and you were able to get a good young player back, I think you do it.

The Marlins are in a huge need of a centerfielder and if you paid half of GMJ’s remaining salary over the next three years, you may be able to include him in a package with some top flight prospects for a good player entering his arbitration years, like Dan Uggla, or to get a player like Jorge Cantu or Dallas McPherson as insurance in the event that Teixiera signs elsewhere. These three players all have power, something not abundant in the Angels roster, and could all play 1st base if that spot were open. Plus, McPherson and Cantu would not be expensive payroll wise. It would likely be a net decrease if a move such as this were to be made.

Gary Matthews could also be moved to the Giants, if some of his contract was to be picked up, though I don’t know what else they’d ask for, or what we’d get back. Remember that Matthews has a no-trade clause through next season, so he’d have to sign off on either move.

I think it’s also time that some decisions were made with the AAA folk, and some of the upper level who are blocked or are highly similar were moved. Quinlan will be non-tendered or traded, and Willits could be traded for a prospect. We have a glut of middle infielders that need to be moved or cut. Preferably the Angels could get something back.

The Angels have capable replacements already on the 40-man roster in Terry Evans, Freddy Sandoval, Matt Brown, Sean Rodriguez and Brandon Wood.

If Wood takes the starting SS job for 2009, as many hope he will, you only need one middle infielder to help him along and that guy is probably Macier Izturis. You can trim payroll by non-tendering him and going with Aybar, but seeing as Izturis is one of Scioscia’s favorite players, I doubt this. Aybar could bring back something in a trade.

Potential trade targets from other teams include Russell Martin from the Dodgers, (though when I heard they may make him available, I had no idea why, and I doubt they’d move him across town) Matt Holliday from the Rockies, (in which case GA’s option would likely be declined), and Josh Fields from the White Sox.

The potential for deadline deals and off-season 2009/2010 deals are much, much greater than this off-season, with many players reaching arbitration for the first time or who will be due significant raises in this process. Other teams will be in the position that Texas was in 2006 with Mark Teixiera, and Pittsburgh was with Jason Bay in 2007, that is having one and half seasons left of their franchsie player before he reaches free agency. Colorado elected to keep their prize 2010 free agent, Matt Holiiday at this year’s deadline, but he may be moved in the off-season. He’ll certainly be involved in many rumors anyway.

Some potential off-season trade targets after next season include: Paul Konerko, Derek Lee and Derek Jeter, Aramis Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and David Ortiz. Also Toronto’s Roy Halladay and BJ Ryan will be heading the pitching crop. All of these players are free agents following the 2010 season.

There is plenty of work to be done this off-season, but I hope the Angels do not try to do a major overhaul, nor to supplement this year’s team by bringing in a free agent that won’t fit their bright future. Each of the next two years brings a better free agent class than this one, and I hope the Angels are in a position to be aggressive in those years, which it looks like they will be.

But not if a player is brought in simply to fill a hole with no foresight as Gary Matthews was in 2007. To be fair, he did fill two holes, leadoff and playing center field. Only because Figgins dramatically improved his standing with this club in 07, and did almost reach that level of play in 08, was GMJ not hitting leadoff these past two seasons.

In conclusion, all I can say is that this off-season will be eventful. We’ll either see the Angels hang onto most of their 2008 team, look towards the 2010 free agent class, and the future beyond, or some combination of the two. Bring on the hot stove.
Love to hear what you think!

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