Sunday, November 6, 2011


By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

Jerry,

I was very impressed by what you said and how you presented yourself at the introductory press conference. I like the staff that you are assembling and am excited to see what you will do to the team as the new GM. From all I’ve read and heard, you’re the right man for the job. Good luck in your tenure as the new Angels GM.

I agree with you that the core of the team is solid. A major overhaul isn’t needed, but the offense needs a major infusion of power. It’s going to take more than minor tinkering to fix all that ails the team. Here are my thoughts as a fan as to what you should accomplish this offseason.

Housekeeping

The Angels are losing Russell Branyan, Joel Pineiro, Horacio Ramirez and Fernando Rodney. Don’t worry about what you might be losing with them—it wasn’t much. Of the bunch, only Pineiro played an important role for a time while he was here. Unfortunately, none of that came in the second half last year when he fell apart on the mound.

There is, however, one important area of housecleaning that you must do. It’s a decision that you need to make right away. You have to designate Jeff Mathis for assignment.

I know that you believe in the importance of the pitcher/catcher relationship. And, I will agree with the experts that Mathis is the best defensive catcher that the Angels have right now. But, Jeff Mathis still has to go. Whether Weaver, Haren and Santana perform better with Mathis behind the plate is not as important as what this move will do to your credibility with the fans.

Unfortunately Mathis has become the focus of the fans’ anger and frustration with an anemic offense. Designating him for assignment will immediately give you credibility with the fans that you are the one calling the shots and will free up about $2 million for you to spend elsewhere. If for no other reason, you have to do this as a marketing move. If the fans see Mathis as the Opening Day starter behind the plate, attendance will suffer, especially early on in the season.

The Offense

The Angels have the pitching to keep them in games, but don’t have enough offense to win them. Fixing the offense will take a lot of pressure off of the starters and the bullpen. Vastly improving the offense will do the most to improve the team and bring October games back to Anaheim. Right now, the Rangers generate more offense than the Angels at 3B, C, LF, CF, and RF. While the Angels have superior starting pitching and defense, they won’t compete with the Rangers until they close the gap in offense.

To fix the offense you are going to have to be creative. It’s going to take one major Free Agent (one very expensive one) and two trades.

Move #1: Fix the Offense by Signing Prince Fielder to a 6 year/$120 Million Deal with a 1-Year Option

I know that Mr. Moreno has said that he’s comfortable with a payroll in the $130-$140 million range. With all the money already committed to players that might appear to price the Angels out of the major FA market.

But as we both know, deals that might seem difficult can be structured in such a way as to not make them impossible. Under the deal I would offer, it would be structured as follows:

Year 1: $10 million
Years 2-6: $22 million
Year 7 (option): $27 million with a $6 million buyout

The payout for this deal amounts to $21 million/year, with a minimal amount deferred so as to allow the Angels to shed some payroll to accommodate the higher payout—which is exactly what the Angels will do. This contract will work for Fielder because he will still be young enough at the end of it to sign on more major contract to close out his career.

Bringing in a left-handed middle of the order bat will do more to solve this team’s offense than any other potential move. In fact, it will do more to cause the Angels to win more games than any other potential moves. It will immediately give a dramatic boost to OB% and SLG% which will increase run production. The Angels didn’t lose the West by pitching poorly—they lost the A.L. West by failing to score consistently.

Don’t worry about what might happen if Kendrys Morales returns in 2012. After watching the offense struggle for an entire year, fans would rather have too many offensive options than too few. If need be, you can always make a trade at the deadline if he is healthy, but, most likely won’t be able to make a trade to boost the offense next year.

Move #2: Fix the Hole at Catcher by Trading Kole Calhoun and Ariel Pena for Kurt Suzuki

Oakland appears to be willing to listen to offers on anyone, and there is someone that the Angels need to target. I know that trading within a division is always tough. However, with Oakland’s stadium deal still in limbo, and their fanbase shrinking, there is a possible convergence of interests and needs to make a deal here.

Kole Calhoun is an ideal for Oakland who unfortunately will be unable to break into the Angels’ outfield. With Bourjos, Hunter, Trout, and Wells all penciled for OF spots with the Angels, and Trumbo needing a new position (thanks to move #1), there will be no spot for Calhoun to play. Oakland would value the mix of power and patience that he has and would be better off trading in Suzuki for some players who will help them when they get a new stadium.

As for Ariel Pena, while I would prefer not to include him in the deal, I recognize that trades within a division are a bit more expensive. I believe he has the stuff to be a Major League starter. However, as you will see in our Top-50 Prospect List for the Angels, the organization does have some depth in the lower levels for pitching, such as Hellweg, and could afford to make this trade without depleting the organizational depth at pitching.

If you are unable to trade for Suzuki, then we still will need a veteran catcher. I would prefer signing Ramon Hernandez, and believe that he could be had for a 2-year/$7.5 million contract. That would still fit within the existing payroll structure.


Move #3: Solve 3B by Trading Callaspo, and Wilson for Pedro Alvarez

While the easiest move to solve 3B might appear to be to sign Aramis Ramirez, I would rather see the Angels rely on a combination of younger players here. Long-term, the Angels have Kaleb Cowart in the organization to play 3B, and I want to stay close to Mr. Moreno’s payroll demands. I’m still not convinced that Ramirez will play so well in Anaheim and Callaspo does not provide enough offense to justify him playing 3B full time. So something has to be done to fix this hole in the lineup without breaking the budget.

Trading for Alvarez is a risk; he did regress last year. But, maybe a change of scenery would work for him. The Pirates seemed to have soured on him, so, this may be a chance to buy low on a player.

With Alvarez at 3B, the Angels could still get Trumbo into the game about 40-50 times at 3B. Alvarez is a lefty, so Trumbo could form a natural split at 3B with him. The Angels could get Trumbo into about 30 more games at 1B to keep Fielder healthy (giving him about 30 games at the DH spot), about 30 games in RF, and about 30 games as the team’s DH. It will be hard for Trumbo to manage all the different positions, but, he should be up for the challenge.

Now there is the possibility that the Mets would trade David Wright for Peter Bourjos and Tyler Chatwood. I would not do that move without being given the opportunity to sign Wright to an extension and until I knew that I could not sign Prince Fielder. Weaver, Haren and Santana are flyball pitchers. Having Bourjos’ defense in CF makes them that much better—and ultimately having that improved pitching and defense is what the Angels will use to beat the Rangers in 2012. In 2013, when Trout roams LF, Bourjos patrols CF and Wells is moved over to RF, the OF defense will become even better, which will give the Angels a big advantage. Weakening the OF defense does not make as much sense given our how our rotation is setup.

Trading 5 years of Bourjos at low cost does not make that much sense when it immediately voids the final year of Wright’s contract. It makes signing Prince Fielder that much more unlikely, and between Wright’s offense and Fielder’s offense, I’d rather have Fielder in the lineup. Plus, there is always the possibility that Wright is not fully recovered from his injury. So, trading for Wright wouldn’t be worth it unless Mr. Moreno will expand the payroll to $145 million or Fielder will not sign with the Angels.

I would, however, prefer Wright to signing Ramirez to play 3B.

Move #4: Save Some Money by Trading Abreu + $5 million for Prospect(s)

Yes, it’s a salary dump. But, the Angels don’t have the space on the roster to carry him. While no team wants to pay a player to play elsewhere, see this for what it is—a chance to save some money to improve the team in other areas. If no team emerges as a trade partner, then keep Abreu for the bench.

The Rotation

As you said, you can never have enough starting pitching. Both Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards proved that they deserve a shot at starting in the rotation (in that order). But, a solid 4th starter would help. The Angels won’t get by trying to break two pitchers into their rotation. So . . .

Move #5 Sign Aaron Harang to a 2-Year/$12 million Deal

Getting to the playoffs is all about winning series. Having a solid #4 will go a long way towards ensuring that the Angels will play in October. Harang is local and probably would sign for a contract in this range.

While I would rather get a lefty for the rotation, I don’t think that there are better options for a lefty in this price range. So, I would rather have a righty who would give me a better chance to win games than pursue a higher priced lefty and shortchange the offense.

The Bullpen

At this point, I have to admit, the team is out of money. With the budget constraints as they are, even a superhero couldn’t fix all the problems that plague the team.

The good news is that the Angels do have plenty of internal help for the bullpen. Daniel Tillman, David Carpenter, Robert Fish, and Chris Scholl are all close to the Major Leagues. If the internal options don’t pan out, and the bullpen continues to struggle, then there should be more options available at the trade deadline and it might be easier to convince Mr. Moreno to increase the payroll if the team looks a lot better. My bet is that with all the changes suggested here, the team will be much better off.

Conclusion

Putting it all together, here’s my Opening Day lineup for the team:

1. Aybar, SS (R)
2. Kendrick, 2B (R)
3. Fielder, 1B (L)
4. Hunter, RF (R)
5. Trumbo, DH (R)*
6. Alvarez, 3B (L)
7. Wells, LF (R)
8. Suzuki, C (R)
9. Bourjos, CF (R)

* Assuming that Morales is not ready to open the season playing for the team. If Morales is ready, he bats 3rd and Hunter drops to 5th, Wells moves to 6th and Alvarez moves to 7th.

And, here is my Opening Day rotation for the team:

1. Weaver
2. Haren
3. Santana
4. Harang
5. Williams
Closer: Walden

As a fan, this is a team I would pay good money to see take on the Rangers and the rest of the A.L. West.
Love to hear what you think!

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