Monday, November 30, 2015

By Robert Cunningham, Staff Writer - 

Author’s Note: Aaron Hicks, who was noted as a possible Minor League target as an outfield acquisition, was traded to the New York Yankees likely making him unavailable now.

Rewind about a year ago to my Offseason Primer and we discussed Hamilton’s serious decline and even trading him due to poor production (Arte did stomach eating the money!).

Now, in the present, we are faced with finding a reasonable solution to what has been a long run of positional concern.

The Angels have internal options but virtually all of them are raw or not ideal.

Kyle Kubitza, Efren Navarro, Collin Cowgill, Alfredo Marte, Gary Brown, Chad Hinshaw, and Ruben Sosa could all battle it out for a full time or platoon role to start 2016.

Both Murphy and DeJesus were possibilities but both had their team options declined which was the most likely outcome as was discussed in Part II of the Primer.

Grant Green, Blake Gailen, and Roger Kieschnick were also alternatives but all of them elected Minor League Free Agency per MLB via Baseball America.

In order to grasp the offensive potential of our internal options let’s use the standard benchmarks set in Part II of the Primer series starting with ISO:

Alfredo Marte leads on this graph followed by the consistent Kyle Kubitza. Hinshaw spiked high in 2014 but his other two professional seasons are less than desirable to see in a full time outfielder. Chad’s book has not been written yet but he’s not seen as a high power type.

Cowgill has shown glimpses of better power but his inconsistent play time and injuries have kept him from really shining on a regular basis. Navarro, as we discussed in Part III of the Primer is more of a singles and doubles type of hitter.

Looking further here are their BB/K ratios:

As expected, Navarro’s and Kubitza’s on base skills lead the chart. Hinshaw is in the same range with the power hitting Marte and the defensively solid Cowgill picking up the rear.

Finally let’s examine their wRC+:

Kubitza, Marte, and Navarro sit in the top of the graph. Hinshaw is beginning to show similar ability but he’ll need to show a better gap to gap approach and improve his versatility if he ever wants to be a full time contributor.

Cowgill rounds out the bottom but his results are primarily due to his inconsistent playing time so the graph may not be showing his true potential (or lack of).

So where does this leave the Angels in terms of their left field solution?

Defensively Cowgill is the best of the group but all of the players listed don’t normally call left field their primary home although all of them can play average defense at the position.

Unfortunately none of them jump out and scream full-time regular.

The free agent market does offer other opportunities but most of those are likely to cost too much for the budget conscious version of the 2016 Angels.

Top names like Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cepsedes, Alex Gordon, and Ben Zobrist will not come cheap.

Upton, Heyward, and Cespedes have all been rumored to receive paydays that will top $150MM or more and based on recent history Upton and Heyward could easily top $200MM due to their young age and pedigrees.

Lower tier free agents such as Gerardo Parra, Dexter Fowler, and Austin Jackson are much more achievable for the Halos but are not necessarily huge production for value improvements over our in-house options ($550K Kubitza vs. a $15MM Jackson for instance).

Of course all of this changes if Arte spends big.

The reality, based on the financial discussion from Part I of the Primer Series, is that if Arte Moreno authorizes a significant payroll increase the Angels can blow past the Luxury Tax threshold and acquire at least one big-ticket free agent.

If that happens (and it seems more likely than ever now that the Angels have traded for Simmons) it would not be surprising at all to see the Angels go after any of the Top 4 names (Price, Greinke, Heyward, and Upton) in free agency and possibly more.

This is not just limited to free agency either as the trade market could also have some interesting choices for the Halos.

Major League names such as Jose Bautista, J.D. Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, and Curtis Granderson could make sense for the team if they are available and the front office can create the payroll space for one of them.

However none of those names have more than 2 years of team service so they are not ideal in terms of long term control.

To get a better idea of how some of these free agent and trade target possibilities compare lets apply our standard offensive benchmarks again, as always, starting with ISO:

Seeing Kole Calhoun at the top of this graph is both surprising and unsurprising.

It’s the former because he clearly leads the graph which you wouldn’t necessarily expect and it’s the latter too because he has had a pretty solid history of power throughout his Minor and Major League career.

Heyward, Gordon, and Zobrist round out the top four with Fowler, Jackson, and Parra bringing up the rear at or below the LF ISO League average.

Next we look at BB/K ratios:

So yeah we’ve pretty firmly established Zobrist’s on-base skills. Behind him though is our good friend Mr. Calhoun along with Heyward, Fowler, and Gordon. Grouped below those five, Jackson and Parra troll the bottom of the graph at the League average line.

Finally, wRC+:

Clearly Kole’s doing a pretty decent job as he’s in the same ballpark here as Zobrist, Gordon, and Heyward.

Following closely to that group is Fowler followed by Jackson and to a lesser degree Parra who has basically been below League average.

So there are options for our corner outfield needs with some obviously better than others in terms of Major League talent.

Minor League names of interest include Jackie Bradley Jr. (Red Sox AAA/MLB), Josh Bell (Pirates AAA), Eric Campbell (Mets AAA), Eddie Rosario (Twins AAA/MLB), Max Kepler (Twins AA), and Aaron Hicks (Twins AAA/MLB).

Educated Guess – Although it would be nice to acquire Upton, Heyward, or Cespedes, the prices will be out of bounds for the Angels payroll unless we trade at least two of our big contracts or Arte opens his pocketbook.

If the Angels are budget constrained, one of Ben Zobrist, Alex Gordon, or Dexter Fowler seems achievable if the Angels make financial room. Additionally Zobrist or Gordon would fit the team time horizon in terms of contract length. Parra might be a good choice defensively as he can play all 3 OF positions but all signs point to his 2015 offensive outburst being an outlier.

However if Arte takes Eppler to the ATM machine, Jason Heyward seems like a prime target with Upton and Gordon secondary choices and Cespedes a distant third (and only if his price is reasonable) if Billy Eppler continues to make good on his desire to improve the defensive spectrum of players as his main priority.

In light of the Andrelton Simmons trade the Angels do seem even more poised to do damage in the free agent market so the ATM machine scenario is, as we say in the rocket science realm, “Ready for launch!”

Author’s Choice – Kole Calhoun will be our starting left fielder for the 2016 season (see the upcoming RF section for further, unsurprising details).

The next section will cover both Center Field and Right Field.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

By Jonathan Northrop, Feature Writer  

The way I see it, the hitting positions can be categorized thus in terms of probable production relative to positional league average:

Great: CF
Good to very good: None
Average to above average: 1B, RF, DH
Below average to poor: C, 2B, SS, 3B, LF

Obviously five below average hitters does not a championship team make, especially when there's really only one hitting star on the team. So the biggest task for Eppler is improving the offense. Of the nine positions, five seem pretty set in stone: Trout in CF, Calhoun in RF (or LF if Heyward is signing), Simmons at SS, Pujols at 1B and Cron at DH. That leaves four positions for possible upgrade: C, 2B, 3B, and LF. 

Given Simmons at SS, the Angels will want to improve at least two of the four other weak lineup spots - as they really can't go with more than one-third of their lineup being below average (and perhaps not even that). In other words, my sense is that they need to, and will, improve at least two of those four spots through free agency or possibly trade (Santiago, Shoemaker). Let's take a look at them, position by position.

In-house Options: Carlos Perez, Jett Bandy
Free Agents: Dioner Navarro, Geovany Soto, Jarrod Saltalamacchia
While there aren't any big name free agents now that Matt Wieters accepted his qualifying offer, Soto, Navarro, and Salty are all decent platoon options and quite similar: solid both with the bat and glove. While Perez/Bandy is a decent platoon, both are also relatively unproven. I wouldn't be surprised to see one of the these three brought in to platoon with Perez, with Bandy providing depth in AAA.

In-house Options: Johnny Giavotella, Taylor Featherston
Free Agents: Howie Kendrick, Daniel Murphy, Ben Zobrist, Kelly Johnson, etc
Featherston is virtually useless, a bust as a Rule V protected pick last year. He'll be in AAA to provide depth. Gio is a decent if slightly below average hitter, but a terrible defender. The Angels might give him another shot as it isn't the worst thing in the world for him to be the starter on Opening Day, but there are some solid options in free agency. Zobrist is the best option but old. Murphy and Kendrick are pretty similar.

In-house Options: Kaleb Cowart, Kyle Kubitza
Free Agents: David Freese, Nobuhiro Matsuda
Cowart and Kubitza are probably seen as more risky than they actually are, especially Kubitza who seems capable of similar production to David Freese at league minimum. Cowart is the better defender and comes with a higher ceiling, but a much lower floor. Freese will probably require three years which seems like a bad idea. Matsuda is an interesting possibility - he hit .287/.357/.533 with 35 HR last Japan. Still, he could be a plus hitter in the majors. Not sure about his defense.

In-house Options: Kyle Kubitza
Free Agents: Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, Denard Span, Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson, Gerardo Parra, Nori Aoki
The outfield is the most likely to see an upgrade if only because they pretty much have to, plus there are the most free agent options. Want a star? Take your pick of four options. Want a solid major league regular? You've got half a dozen or so options. It isn't a matter if, but who.

C seems the least likely to upgrade, as the Angels have a solid tandem in Perez/Bandy and a nice prospect a couple years away in Ward. That said, one of Soto, Salty, or Navarro could double as the occasional DH, especially if Pujols is out for considerable time. LF is most likely to be upgraded - actually, it is definitely going to be upgraded as the Angels simply have no options there. 3B is a similar situation as C although with the two players even less proven and the fact that more offense is generation expected from the hot corner; but it also has more offensive upside as Cowart and Kubitza could both be at least league average as soon as 2016. 2B might be the least likely to be upgraded because another year of Gio is, if not exciting, at least somewhat palatable and with a solid floor of mediocrity.

My prediction is that the Angels go big on an outfielder, one of the Big Three. They'll also go pretty big at 2B with either Kendrick or Murphy (Zobrist will be too expensive). Alternately they might try to trade one or both of Santiago and Shoemaker to get a second baseman, although I have no idea who. They will probably sign a catcher and another infielder, but I think they'll give the young guys a chance at 3B and C.

Regardless of how exactly the lineup is improved, I think when all is said and done we'll see the first chart transformed into something like this:

Great: CF
Good to Very Good: OF
Average to above average: 1B, 2B, OF, DH
Below average: SS, 3B, C

So that's a little better. Basically it transformers one of the below average slots to good/very good, and one to average plus. If one of Cowart and Kubitza can hold their own, and if Bandy can be a plus bat, then the Angels will have a solidly improved lineup. Not great, but a lot better than last year.

Monday, November 16, 2015

By Robert Cunningham, Staff Reporter - 

Third base is another area of concern for the Angels.

Freese is hitting free agency leaving the Halos with two primary internal candidates in Kyle Kubitza and Kaleb Cowart who certainly have the potential to win the spot out of Spring Training. Taylor Featherston is also capable of playing at the hot corner.

Kubitza has a solid hit tool, a line drive, gap to gap, approach, good on-base skills, has average defensive ability and tends to strike out a lot.

Cowart plays good defense and, during his hitting resurrection in 2015, has shown an ability to hit RHP well, although improvements against LHP are needed for him to be a complete player.

The danger here for the Angels is whether any of these players are ready for the role?

To develop an answer to that question and better understand their performance let’s apply the standard offensive benchmarks starting with ISO:


As was discussed in the earlier sections Featherston has a history of good power for an infielder.

Cowart has bounced back to his earlier power levels after his two years in the Purgatory known as Dickey-Stephens Park (I jest it’s a beautiful park with nice people!) and the trouble he had with his swing mechanics.

Kubitza has a nice, consistent, steady line on the graph which is comforting to see. Consistency of play in baseball is important to team front offices.

Taking a deeper look let’s examine BB/K ratios:


Again you see a pretty consistent line out of Kubitza who clearly leads the group.

Kaleb’s a bit all over the place but you can see, over the last two years, a steady increase in walks. The author personally watched a few of Cowart’s at-bats in 2014 and noticed the patient approach (he had two walks during that particular visit) so this improved aspect of his game seems real.

Featherston is a little tough to read here but he’s not quite as patient at the plate as the other two.

Finally let’s look at wRC+:


This is an interesting graph because, if you disregard Cowart’s abysmal 2013 and 2014 seasons and Taylor’s 2011 and 2015 seasons, all three of them would likely have similar wRC+ performances, albeit with different skill sets.

The only discriminating factor from this graph is Kubitza’s decent consistency on offense.

So where does this leave the Angels?

Cowart and Featherston bring the better defensive talent. Kubitza is most assuredly working on that aspect of his game but at this moment he’s a tick or two behind the other two.

However, offensively, Kyle has really shown a nice smooth stroke at the plate along with superior on-base skills compared to Kaleb and Taylor.

If the team focuses on an internal competition for 3B during Spring Training it will be a battle to see who comes out on top which is a positive. The only negative that could result is what happens if all three of these young players fail to impress?

That potential and very real scenario might push the Angels to consider an insurance policy in the form of a free agent signing or trade for a versatile infielder who can play 3B and 2B since these two positions are areas of concern for the 2016 squad.

As mentioned previously in the Second Base section, signing someone like Ben Zobrist or even Chase Utley would provide that insurance and allow the Angels the luxury of having prospects battle it out for a starting job and using the leftovers as positional depth.

To be clear it doesn’t even have to be a free agent signing. Players like Brock Holt, Derek Dietrich, and even Neil Walker (as suggested by member ‘Inside Pitch’) might be available in the trade market and could possibly provide the same type of insurance the Angels might want and need.

Of course the Angels could simply go out and trade for another 3B such as Jake Lamb, Adrian Beltre, Manny Machado, or Nolan Arenado for instance.

However, after the Simmons trade, the latter two in particular are almost assuredly out of reach if they were even available in the first place.

Free agency is really thin with the only two potential considerations being David Freese and Chase Utley now that his team option has been declined by the Dodgers.

For comparison purposes let’s use our standard offensive benchmarks to highlight the differences across a sample of the players mentioned:


Clearly Arenado, Lamb, and Dietrich lead the graph although you do have to take Coors Field into account when looking at Nolan the last two years.

Beyond that the rest are clustered together except for Brock Holt who is in a different class, all by himself, at the bottom.

To differentiate further here is their BB/K ratios:


Just as we saw in the Second Base section, Zobrist towers above the rest of the field with his on-base skills.

Utley and Holt are next but they have slid, over the last couple of years, with Chase aging and hurt while Holt has hit the Majors for the first time.

The rest are clustered on the lower part of the graph and not unsurprisingly they are the power hitters.

Now on to wRC+:

Unsurprisingly to the author, Jake Lamb tops the graph. He has a great history of Minor League success and it may be difficult to pry him away from the rebuilding Diamondbacks.

Beyond Lamb we have, of course, Zobrist, Dietrich, Freese, Arenado, and Walker in the next tier with Utley riding underneath them by a hair.

Brock is all over the place but his on-base skills should hopefully mature making him a secondary or tertiary option out of this particular group, i.e. a utility player.

So what seems to be the likely outcome this offseason?

Promoting Cowart over Kubitza in the 2nd half seems to point to the Front Office having more faith in Kaleb’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes than Kyle’s league leading doubles totals down in the Minors.

However Kaleb has only shown one good season in the last three years and there still appears to be this air of uncertainty surrounding Kubitza that he can’t fully shake. The inconsistency and uncertainty seem like high risk factors for Billy Eppler and the front office.

To cloud the issue further Alden Gonzalez has reported that the Angels may try to reacquire David Freese in the offseason which would be the ultimate referendum on Kubitza and Cowart for the 2016 season and possibly beyond.

Signing David may prove difficult as this will be his first and possibly only time experiencing free agency and he will most likely want to ink the most lucrative contract possible.

If Freese does agree to re-sign with the Angels it will likely be a 3-4 year contract for $30MM-$40MM. The Angels could potentially include one or two, cheaper, team options which would have the benefit of lowering the Average Annual Value of his contract.

David’s leadership qualities and coolness under pressure have been espoused continuously throughout his time in MLB so the Angels may see greater value in that component of his game, enough so that re-signing him makes sense.

This would then mean that Kyle Kubitza and Kaleb Cowart would either a) have to find new positional homes or b) become trade chips.

Back in the Second Base section there was a hyperlink to the story that Kubitza was asked to start taking fielding practice at the keystone so the Angels are definitely performing due diligence in evaluating player positional flexibility to help guide their offseason decisions.

Also, no matter how you feel about bringing Freese back, there is an inherent advantage in re-signing David because, by removing the only decent free agent 3B on the market, it makes the value of Kubitza and Cowart rise ever so slightly in trade talks.

Beyond Freese the free agent market is a veteran wasteland of Who’s Who. Names like Mike Aviles, Juan Uribe, Sean Rodriguez, and Casey McGehee dot the landscape.

As mentioned above there are trade candidates the Angels could pursue but, in addition to those, the following Major League names could also be available including Jose Bautista, Martin Prado, Justin Turner, Evan Longoria, and Luis Valbuena.

Minor League prospects that might be of interest include Deibinson Romero (Pirates AAA), Richie Shaffer (Rays AAA), Brandon Drury (Diamondbacks AAA), Matt Skole (Nationals AAA), Yandy Diaz (Indians AA), and Colin Moran (Astros AA) to name a few.

Educated Guess – This one is tough to call. If the Angels are serious about re-signing David Freese it feels like it will happen by the end of the Winter Meetings once the Angels have or have not signed the “right player”.

If we get to mid-December without any movement on the Freese front then the Angels will likely pass on him and have Kyle and Kaleb compete for the job or bring in a non-standard free agent signing such as Ben Zobrist or Chase Utley to play the hot corner.

Author’s Choice – The reality is that all three of our internal options have varying degrees of risk and uncertainty heading into 2016. Although, in a perfect world, I’d love to get Lamb the Angels will ultimately try to re-sign David Freese on a 3-year, $27MM contract with two team options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons for $8MM and $5MM, each, to align with Mike Trout’s remaining five years of control bringing the total to 5 years, $40MM ($8MM AAV).

Friday, November 13, 2015

By Robert Cunningham, Staff Reporter - 

Author’s Note: Player data displayed was pulled at end of season. Additionally Brad Miller, a suggested trade target, was acquired by the Rays in an early season trade with the Mariners. Also another trade target, Jose Reyes, is having serious off the field issues (Domestic violence charge) that would likely impact the Angels desire, if they even have it in the first place, to try and acquire him in trade. So, just as I hit ‘Send’ on the e-mail to Chuck, the Andrelton Simmons trade broke. The important thing here is that the Angels did upgrade defensively at the position and obtained a long-term, cost-controlled solution which is very important to the core idea of this Primer which is that the Angels need to build around Mike Trout’s remaining five years of control. Hope you still read and enjoy the thought process at least. Apparently I have to get these out faster this offseason! 

The decision to keep Erick Aybar this season may prove to be an easy one on the surface, due to a lack of readily available replacements, but the underlying difficulty related to the Angels team payroll and Erick’s increasing age may be his undoing.

First of all, Erick is heading into his walk year in 2016. Aybar will be a borderline candidate for a Qualifying Offer (odds are a bit on the low side) at the end of next year so the Angels will most certainly shop him around the League to gauge interest and value in the offseason.

Secondly, an extension for Erick seems unlikely considering the Angels financial situation next year. The Hamilton albatross combined with Trout’s and Pujols’ contracts is putting considerable pressure on the Angels to create salary space.

This could, of course, change if Arte opens his wallet but it is also clear that Aybar’s defense is beginning to slowly decline which is a concern at the most defense-critical position in baseball.

Third, the Angels currently have three potential candidates in hand: Taylor Featherston, Ryan Jackson and, to a much lesser extent, Angel Rosa. All three have defensive potential and on-base skills but none of them seem like an ideal long-term solution or replacement for Aybar at this point in time.

Fourth, the free agent shortstop market contains only one truly viable candidate in Ian Desmond while the rest of the names consist of aging vets (Rollins, Aviles, Furcal, and Punto), or middling to sub-par defenders (Cabrera, Drew, and Arias) at the position.

Finally the trade market does contain some players and prospects that may hold interest to the Halos if they do decide to move Aybar in trade rather than keep him in his final year.

To better understand how our internal options compare let’s use our three standard offensive statistics to compare them starting with ISO:

As we discussed in the 2B section Featherston has some solid power for a middle infielder. Aybar, Rosa, and, to a lesser extent, Jackson are grouped fairly close together so there is nothing overly distinguishing to see.

Next let’s look at BB/K ratios:

Jackson clearly has the more consistent ability to take walks and limit his strikeouts. Aybar is similar but to a lesser extent.

Featherston is probably closer to Aybar in this grouping but that is masked by his 2015 season while Rosa, who is still developing down in the Minors, brings up the rear in this crowd.

Finally let’s look at wRC+:

Retaining Rule 5 selection Taylor Featherston for the entire year on the Major League roster was probably a wise insurance move in hindsight.

Based on his five year offensive history if he can stick defensively at either SS or 2B we’d have a possible candidate for a full-time regular contributor. At the minimum Taylor becomes a quality utility player.

Aybar has been pretty consistent on the offensive side of the ball but you can see a slight downward slope on the graph that may or may not be a permanent indicator of age-related decline.

Jackson has been fairly consistent as well but his defensive skills outweigh his offensive ones. Ryan will be a potential candidate for the starting SS job and he does have decent on base skills which, in combination with his defense, is probably why Dipoto acquired him in the Butera trade.

There isn’t much data on Rosa but he is probably fairly equivalent to Ryan, i.e. more of a glove first guy. Angel is very likely a remote candidate at this point in his Minor League career but the organization seems high on his leadership skills so he may enter the picture at a later date.

The conclusion here is that if the Angels want or have to trade Erick Aybar this offseason Billy Eppler is going to need to either sign a free agent, trade for a Major League ready SS, or bring in at least 2-3 more prospects or players to compete for the starting job in Spring Training.

So if Aybar has potentially seen his last game in an Angels uniform who do they bring in to replace him?

The author has assembled a sample list of free agent and trade possibilities to examine. By no means is this list a thorough or complete one.

To better compare these players and prospects we’ll use the standard set of offensive statistics used in previous sections, starting with ISO:

 As you can see Ian Desmond and Trevor Story are in a tier by themselves in terms of extra base hitting.

Reyes, Taylor, and, to a lesser degree, Ramirez and Cecchini, are more tightly packed together in the middle of the graph. As a group here these four aren’t completely light hitters but individually they probably won’t knock in more than 5-15 HR’s in a season.

Taking a deeper look let’s compare BB/K ratios:

 The only two consistent performance lines on that graph belong to Trevor Story and Ian Desmond and both of them are trolling the bottom of it. Finding a remotely straight line anywhere else is hopeless!

Cecchini and to a lesser extent Ramirez are showing glimpses of improvement which is important considering their ages (21 and 22 respectively). Taylor is young too, and had a rough start in the Majors, so there is definite upside making his 2013 through 2014 seasons’ likely outliers.

That leaves Reyes and his last three years point to a persistent decline making him a much riskier proposition for any team acquiring him.

Finally let’s take a look at wRC+:


Here the younger generation is ahead of the older one although you still have to consider the Majors vs. Minors league comparison.

The legitimate upside of Chris Taylor, Trevor Story, and to a lesser extent Gavin Cecchini is glimpsed in the graph above. To top it off all three of them have average to above average defensive reputations (click on their names to see scouting reports).

Desmond’s and Reyes’ downward sloping lines are certainly a bit concerning to anyone interested in their services.

Ramirez’s line has been moving south too but that could be due to his young age and his split time between the Minors and the Majors over the last two seasons. Defensively he can play a good SS and an excellent 2B if needed.

So out of this limited group of players do any of them make sense for the Angels?

Desmond will likely command a large contract and long-term commitment that the Angels cannot afford in their current financial state unless Moreno opens the floodgates. Even then Ian is not the highest priority to acquire making this a less likely scenario but not implausible based on the variety of routes the Angels can take to improve this offseason.

Reyes is owed a lot of money and only has two years remaining on his contract so if the Angels were to trade for him they would end up revisiting the same situation next offseason making Jose a poor choice even if the Rockies eat some of his salary.

Any of the remaining four prospects/players would probably be good choices for the Halos.

Jose Ramirez likely has the best range of the group. Taylor and Story are better offensive options while Cecchini has average tools across the board making him unspectacular but reliable.

If Billy Eppler decides to trade Aybar it seems quite likely he’d make good on his goal of improving the defensive spectrum of players at their specific positions by acquiring a player like Jose Ramirez.

Other Major League names the Angels might have interest in include Brad Miller, Elvis Andrus, Eugenio Suarez, Andrelton Simmons, and Zack Cozart among others.

Minor League prospects include names such as Ketel Marte (Mariners AAA/MLB prospect) and Alex Blandino (Reds AA prospect) for example.

Educated Guess – This situation is not unlike the one the Angels faced last year with Kendrick with the difference being that the Angels don’t have as many potential replacements lined up yet, creating greater doubt and significant risk.

If they cannot acquire a replacement shortstop or Erick’s trade market doesn’t develop well they’ll run out Aybar and deal with replacing him at the trade deadline next year or more likely in the 2016-2017 offseason.

Author’s Choice – I love Erick but he has possibly played his last game as an Angel and I expect to see Eppler trade for a defensively gifted middle infielder like Jose Ramirez to replace him.

The Indians currently plan to use Ramirez in a defensive utility role for 2016 so the cost to acquire him shouldn’t be too tremendous and they have a replacement player in former Angels farmhand Eric Stamets who has an equally good glove and profiles better as a backup infielder.

Although Jose doesn’t have the strongest arm in the world he has the range and instincts to man SS and could be brought in along with one or more other SS candidates (including Featherston, Jackson, and anyone else we acquire) to battle for the starting job in Spring Training with the losers relegated to utility use or the Minors.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

By Jason Sinner, Contributor - 

What the hell was I thinking?  

So I wanted to create a chart of the last several years’ free agents.  I started this a few days ago thinking that I would import data into excel and just sort it as need be.  ‘Yeah right,’ said Noah’s wife.  

Anyway, here it is in all its glory.  186 entries starting in 2007 including the unsigned 2016 free agent class.  

Before I delve into dissecting the data, there are a few things to know about the chart.  (quite a few actually)

It’s sortable.   It’s in filter mode so you should be able to pick and choose how to view by any of the headers.

It generally contains players that signed or likely will sign a deal of 3 years or longer with a few of less than that thrown in out of interest. 

It includes season signed, general position category (IF, OF, P), position, age at start, # of years, $$, AAV, War to date, Avg WAR to date, $/WAR, Previous 3 years of total WAR and then AVG, $AAV/AVG WAR (ie how much paid per year base on previous 3 yr avg.), Risk Score (more about this later), $/WAR cost of free agents (ballpark), Net Value to date vs. $/WAR cost, Contract value in $ to date, yrs left, and WAR deficit/surplus.

About the Risk Score Calculations:

I’m not an excel guy so I had to figure it out, but I thought it was pretty cool.  Basically, in compiling the data I noticed that the $AAV/AVG WAR (ie how much paid per year base on previous 3 yr avg.) gave a general idea how much you were potentially paying on a $/WAR basis relative to their previous performance.  Yet it didn’t take into account the age at the start of the contract or the number of years of the contract.  The above formula is meant to do that and I think it does a pretty good job.  The higher the score, the more risk.  

$$ are in millions

It’s not perfect.  There are some mistakes that I didn’t feel like correcting.  Most of which has to do with the fact that when a player is below replacement and had a negative WAR value, the formulas got jacked.  From that we can assume that the deal sucked or the future deal would suck (ahemIanKennendyahem).  

So my fear was that I would get through imputing all he info and be left with nothing but the fact that the free agent market sucks and that teams should stay away from it.  

Yet I think there are some interesting things to observe and some decent takeaways.  

It really is a horrible investment.  There is a ton of red ink in the Net Value column.  But it got better over time as the cost of free agents went up.  Wait.  WTF?  Yep, the ability to find value improved as the $/WAR cost rose.  The most expensive free agents got more expensive.  The mid range guys got a bit more expensive, and the low end guys stayed about the same with perhaps a slight increase.  If continuity weren’t an issue, the most cost effective way to handle the market would be to turn over your free agents every 1-2 years.  Think about that for a second.  You are likely to get more production from 9 different guys signing 9 different 10mil/yr contracts over a 3 year period than you would if you signed 3 guys to 3yr/30mil contracts.  

Stay away from mid level starting pitching.  Oddly enough, the higher end guys have been pretty decent at coming close to their pay.  The mid range guys have almost universally sucked.  So all those guys that will be paid anywhere from 30-80mil?  Just walk away Billy.  Just walk away.  

Relievers have fared pretty well recently.  With the cost per war affecting mostly the upper tier players coupled with the fact that ‘closers’ aren’t getting as much money, they been relatively productive so to speak.  So much for the notion that you shouldn’t pay for a bullpen.  

Don’t pay for speed and defense in the outfield.  Players who derive a good deal of their value from such are bad bets.  As an example, there has been one CFer over the last 10 years to be worth what they were paid (our man Torii).  

Power hitting first baseman aren’t worth it. Pretty much ever.  But of course, there is a difference between absolute and relative production.  As an example, Teix has produced 21.1 WAR over the 7 years of his 180 mil contract (1-yr left).  If the Yankees had gone cheaper, would they have been able to make up that production somewhere else?  They may have been able to spend less, but they probably wouldn’t have.  

Middle infield and 3b is kind of all over the map.  (btw, did you know that Placido Polanco amassed 41.3 WAR over his career?  I was surprised by that).  Although SS and high end 3bman have faired pretty well.  

Paying for a corner outfielder has almost universally sucked.  

Catcher have done decently in a small sample.  Especially those that are good defensively.  
High end Asian Players seem to have a solid track record as well.

Overall, the free agent market is a pretty bad bet, but it can’t be viewed in a vacuum.  Granted, it makes sense that teams are looking to invest in club controlled players and for good reason.  But as any season approaches, you have to deal with the here and now.  Sometimes you don’t have a club controlled player to fill a spot and you might not for some time.  Because your opportunity to obtain also has to come into play.  Do you have high draft picks?  What options do you have in foreign markets?  What difference will a mediocre player make to the current club?  It’s about the balance between mitigating risk and seizing opportunity.  

So how does all of this relate the our beloved Halos?

Before writing this article, I had my preferences as to who I’d like to see the Halos pursue.  That list included Zobrist, Heyward, Upton, Cespedes, and maybe a reliever or two.  Also on the radar were guys like Davis and Gordon.


Zobrist is still on there.  Especially if it’s 3 years.  But I would stay the hell away from all of the high end free agent bats mentioned above.  The only one I would consider is Heyward in that he’s a bit of an anomaly in that he’s the youngest non-foreign position player to reach free agency in the last ten years (the next closest is Prince Fielder).  

I would stock the hell out of the pen.  Make it full beefcake.  BEEFCAKE!  I would go after Maeda or Cueto.  Both front line starters without a pick attached.  I am not a believer in Price.  Greinke would be next in line or possibly Zimm but I don’t like giving up the pick.  If I couldn’t get either of those guys, I would sign one Latos or Fister on 1yr deals.  I would consider doing this regardless to make more pitching available in trade.

If I was going to go after a free agent outfielder outside of Heyward, it would be Parra.  

I would stop gap 3B or try to get Freese at a discount or I would consider Ian Desmond although I am not sure he could play there.  Murphy would be an outside option.  Both would cost a pick which I wouldn’t be thrilled about.  I’d rather have Desmond in that he could shift to SS next year if we can extend Aybar.  

I would trade for an outfielder or third baseman depending on what I couldn’t fill via free agency.  

I would consider Wieters before any of the other OFers.  

I would stay far away from Samardzija, Leake, Kazmir, Kennedy, Gallardo, Lackey, Iwakuma, Happ, Estrada etc.

Ideally, it would look like the following:

Parra or Either for Wilson
Prado (Santiago trade) or Freese if you can get a discount
Trade Shoe for a reliever
Steve Pearce (util IF/OF)

The pen would be ridiculous.  The lineup and starting pitching would be solid to good.  I would probably add a LHed hitting catcher and veteran IFer to backup SS as well a speedster as a 4th/5th OFer.  Not someone with some speed, but a real burner.  There would be some speed top to bottom.  

Some solid OBP, the ability to actually hit, and excellent defense as well as an improved bench to the tune of about 60mil in additional payroll.  Easy peasy.

Monday, November 9, 2015

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer - 

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but finally decided to write something about the subject based on an article written by Nick Cafardo. You can read the article here.

There’s no doubt that baseball has been undergoing a revolutionary change in how teams are assembled. Before free agency, teams were mostly developed internally. An organization had a system—a way of playing the game—that it taught all of its players from the Minor Leagues to the Majors. Under this system, players had distinct roles that they played on a club, and mastered specific skills to fill those roles. Players were promoted and played based mostly on how well they fit into that system. Scouting played a pivotal role in developing a championship club because it was the scouts who found and developed the players into a specific mold. Clubs that could do that the best often succeeded the most. Think of this as the traditional manufacturing plant that made all of the parts that went into a final product. 

But, once free agency was allowed, organizations had a new method for creating a team—assembling it from parts from multiple organizations around the game. Under this system, players had specific skill sets, and organizations patched together the pieces that they wanted to make their clubs better. Organizations that could assemble the best parts together had an advantage, and often succeeded the most. Think of this as the free-trade manufacturing style of today, when a final product is assembled from parts made all around the world.

It’s not surprising, then, that since the rise of free agency that statistical analysis has risen in importance for baseball. As the cost to acquire a free agent has increased, the need to identify those players who give the most value for their contracts has become of paramount importance. Maximizing value and return on investment has become critical for organizations, particularly those who have lower payrolls, and cannot afford one or two bad contracts. This view is what was mostly popularized by the book “Moneyball” with the idea being that clubs should use modern statistical analysis to identify undervalued skill sets to achieve greater performance on the field while ignoring most of what physical scouting would say about the players. 

As clubs have adapted and shifted in the rising baseball economics, a split has developed between the so-called “traditional” analysis (focusing primarily on scouting) and the “new” statistical analysis in most front offices and amongst baseball fans in general. While the casual baseball fan might identify this as a result of “Moneyball,” or a more serious fan would identify with Bill James and his “Baseball Abstracts”, this change was destined to come for reasons that have nothing to do with the book or the rise in sabermetrics. Instead, this split has everything to do with the rising economics of the game specifically due to free agency and the lifetime earnings of today’s baseball players.

In 1976, the last year before free agency, the average baseball salary was approximately $50,000/year. In 2015, the average baseball salary eclipsed $4 million/year. This year, the average salary will rise again. What this means is that prior to free agency, players on average that paid an average of several years’ worth of salary for an average American, but not enough to guarantee a lifetime of never having to work again. (We can discuss and debate the fairness or ethics about this another time—that’s not the point of this article). 

More importantly, though, look at the rise in the Major League minimum salaries. In 1975, it was $16,000/year and in 2015 it was $507,500. This is far more important for understanding why baseball analytics will win and scouting will lose in the long run.

Think about it, who have been the most consistent and important group of scouts over the years? Invariably, it has been players who had a few years of Major League service who still needed to work to provide for their families. 

Imagine a player who played 5 years in the Major Leagues in the late 1960s. During his time in the Majors, he got exposed to the best of the best players, and got to learn first-hand what it took to be a successful player in the Major Leagues. More importantly, he got to see and learn what it took to win at the highest level of the game. And he did so, by most likely earning less than $125,000 over that time period. While that was a nice sum compared to an average American’s salary at the time (again, without discussing the equity or fairness of the issue), it was not enough to guarantee that he would never have to work again. It definitely was not more than the average American would earn during a lifetime of work, and often he had to take a variety of difficult jobs to support his family throughout the rest of his lifetime.

Now, imagine a current player who will have the same 5-year span in the Major Leagues. Due to arbitration and raises, he mostly will earn more than $3 million, and possibly closer to $4 million. Due to the modern Collective Bargaining Agreement, he will have lifetime health benefits and a retirement plan in place. Seeing how that’s more than average American earns in a lifetime, that amount is enough to guarantee that a player does not ever have to work again in his lifetime (if he chooses and manages his finances). At the very least, it guarantees that a player with 5 years of Major League time can choose not to have a difficult job that requires massive travel, often alone, catching 2 to 3 high school or college baseball games a day.

Having talked with many scouts, I know that the job requires a lot of hard work. Scouts can drive hundreds of miles in a day trying to catch as many games as possible, and then many more hours in the evening logging reports. They often live out of their cars, are typically alone for most of the time, and live on a fast-food. It’s a long season for them, and they don’t get a lot of credit for which they are due.

Now, prior to the dramatic rise in player salaries, many former Major Leaguers would take the job because they needed the income. And in doing so, they brought along something critical—institutional knowledge of the game. I am a big believer in the importance of institutional knowledge. It’s what separates people who are effective at a job and those who just work the job. 

But thanks to today’s baseball economics, today’s players don’t have to take a job that puts them on the road for most of the year. They don’t have to take such a difficult position to support their families. If they wish to stay involved in the game, they can coach at the collegiate level, where their seasons are shorter, and the demands are less. And as a result, their institutional knowledge is lost. Their baseball earnings guarantee them the luxury to be a bit more choosy about which jobs to take.

Ask yourself, which Major League players today will become tomorrow’s baseball scouts? 

Since fewer and fewer current Major Leaguers are going into scouting as a career, the majority of today’s scouts are often former Minor Leaguers or collegiate athletes who made far less than their Major League counterparts. Unfortunately, that means that from the outset, they have less institutional knowledge about what it takes to play and succeed in the Major Leagues because they did not directly experience it and learn it themselves. 

When one attends gets to know the scouts, one of the biggest differences between the gray-haired and dark-haired scouts (or no-hair or full-hair scouts) has to do with the amount of Major League playing time that they had. Most of the older scouts had a decent Major League career; most of the younger scouts have not. Talking with each group brings a distinctly different experience. The older scouts focus more on the technical skills of the players, the younger ones talk more about statistical projections. 

Previously I wrote about an experience I had with Jim Fregosi at an Angels game. I can’t imagine from today’s Angels team who will continue to scout games like Jim Fregosi did into his 70s. But, talking with him throughout a game, and learning how he saw the game, was an eye-opening experience for me. He saw things that I didn’t see, and yet, we were watching the same play. That’s what years of success at the Major League level taught him, and that’s what helped him analyze players in a way that younger scouts mostly could not. 

Since the newer scouts don’t have the experience to rely on to hone their analysis of the game, they have only one place to turn to justify their opinions—baseball analytics. The pure numbers help offset the lack of organizational knowledge that they have. More importantly, it dovetails into the ever-increasing risk associated with the rising cost of player salaries. With millions of dollars per year on the line, a scout can always point to the data to justify an opinion on a player. In the past, when the risk and salaries were lower, a scout could focus more on the intangibles of a player to justify an analysis because they knew how important those intangibles were to creating a championship club. 

It’s no different than the ever-increasing importance of SAT Exam scores and GPAs for college admission officers, and less and less importance for personal statement essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews. With less and less institutional knowledge of college admission officers, and less and less time to get to know the individual applicants (due to more and more applications), an admissions officer can always justify an opinion with the “raw numbers”. 

As baseball organizations have fewer and fewer options to retain the organizational knowledge that a Major League player learned while playing, clubs have no choice but to turn to those scouts who bring the best baseball analysis. This does not mean that baseball analytics are the better approach. It definitely does not mean that one approach is right and one is wrong. What it means is that the game is changing, and that change is driven by the lifetime earning of current players.

Personally, I believe that baseball scouting has an integral role in the game. Knowing how players will react to situations, knowing which players can adjust to the game as it continues to evolve (such as with the more prominent role for shifts), knowing who can come through in clutch situations, and who can execute when called upon has an incredible role in the game. Understanding player chemistry and developing a team identity makes for championship clubs. I personally wish that more and more of today’s Major League players continued to scout and pass along the organizational knowledge that was given to them so as to make the game greater for all fans.

That’s not to say that baseball analytics are less important. They are very important to the game, as players who can’t overcome the shift have shown. But to truly make a championship club, in my opinion, a front office needs a healthy dose of baseball scouting by those who have the knowledge of Major League success to understand how players will continue to adapt as the baseball analytics cause the game to evolve.

The difference between baseball analysis can be summed up as the difference between intelligence and wisdom. If the baseball statistics are the “intelligence” of the game (they are the raw bits of information), then the organizational knowledge is the wisdom that scouts have to use the “intelligence” correctly. Sadly, this type of organizational knowledge is not something that can be easily taught or learned easily in any way other than by experiencing it at the Major League level. 

One more thing: I want to make something clear. I have never met a scout, young or old, who doesn’t know or understand the statistical analysis of the game. Anyone who wants to argue that anyone in the game isn’t aware of and well versed in the numbers is making a foolish argument. They all do. The difference between traditional scouting and modern analysis is that one group focuses more on how those numbers came to be and another group tries to predict what those numbers will do in the future. This is also what makes scouting an art, and not a science. There is a science to scouting, but the best scouts know have mastered the artistry of the game. 

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