Thursday, December 1, 2016

Jahmai-Jones-2016-bm.jpg

By Scotty Allen, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer -  

Following Angels prospects requires an unhealthy obsession with uncertain possibilities, an unjustifiable optimism in a brighter future, a unnatural curiosity and an eye to see things that may or may not be there.  And so of course, only a few Angel fans are actually crazy enough to undertake this mission.  From myself (going on seven years in a row), DocHalo's memory of obscure details, Inside Pitch's calculations, Dave's traveling to different minor league parks and interviewing guys other people never heard of, and finally Chuck for organizing all of it, this year's Top 30 is a conglomeration of countless man hours and different areas of expertise.  There's no "one" person that can take credit for making this list, which offers readers a different perspective.  This isn't one knowledgeable person's perspective, this is AngelsWin, and this is a list of men we've debated over and assigned a value to.  Without any further ado, here are your AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects!

1. 1B Matt Thaiss
2. OF Jahmai Jones 
3. RHP Alex Meyer 
4. C Taylor Ward
5. OF Brandon Marsh
6. RHP Keynan Middleton
7. IF Nonie Williams 
8. OF Michael Hermosillo
9. RHP Chris Rodriguez
10. LHP Nate Smith
11. RHP Grayson Long
12. LHP Manny Banuelos
13. IF David Fletcher
14. RHP Jaime Barria
15. RHP Jesus Castillo
16. RHP Vicente Campos
17. RHP Cole Duensing
18. OF Troy Montgomery
19. RHP Eduardo Paredes
20. IF Hutton Moyer
21. OF Brennon Lund
22. RHP Kyle McGowin
23. RHP Joe Gatto
24. LHP Chris O'Grady
25. LHP Jonah Wesely
26. OF Jared Foster
27. OF Zach Gibbons
28. RHP Jordan Kipper
29. IF Leonardo Rivas
30. RHP Austin Adams

Scouting Reports as well as analysis on each of these prospects will be published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from now until February, getting you your Angels fix through the cold winter months.  I'd like to personally encourage readers to compare our list with any others.  

And now, our Honorable Mentions.

SS Connor Justus - A fine defensive shortstop with the tools to stay there permanently.  A refined approach at the plate.  The only question is, will he hit enough to make it to the majors?

LHP Kevin Grendell - A left handed reliever that can touch the mid-90’s and the mentality to attack hitters.

OF Johan Sala - 18 year old outfielder from the Dominican Republic that just oozes upside.  He should come stateside next year.

RHP Jose Rodriguez - Soft tossing righty with a solid curve and change up.  Spots his pitches well.  An efficient pitcher, gets the easy outs.

IF Sherman Johnson - Athletic infielder, can do just about everything on the diamond except hit for average.  Makes up for it with great plate discipline.

RHP Jared Ruxer - Would have been a first or second round pick out of Louisville, but needed TJ surgery.  Back in action now.  Sits 92+ with a good breaking ball and advanced feel for a change up. Dominant in A Ball, roughed up in Cal League, though still logged strikeouts.

2B Jordan Zimmerman - 7th round pick from Michigan State.  A middle infielder with considerable power.

3B/LF Cal Towey - This guy (entering age 27 season) will not stop hitting. Solid gap power, some over-the-wall power, advanced approach at the plate, great pitch recognition.  Solid athlete, smart base runner.  An improbable story but he might end up being a very useful major leaguer.

2B Alex Yarbrough - Once seen as the heir to Howie Kendrick’s second base position, Yarbrough stumbled in AAA last year and spent the rest of the year in AA, where he was again solid.  There’s still some hope that his development hasn’t stalled and that he will be a starting second baseman in the major leagues.  He's also added third base to his resume.

RHP Troy Scribner - Soft tossing righty with a chip on his shoulder.  Upper 80’s fastball, good change up and good curve ball.  Has succeeded at every level despite mediocre arsenal.  Buried on the depth chart, but if he continues to out-pitch his competition, he’ll make it to the majors. Good trade for the Angels. 

Remember to tune in every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at AngelsWin for in-depth details and analysis regarding prospects.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016



By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Senior Columnist - 

Author’s Note: If you missed the first three installments you can find Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.

A major component of the Angels failure in 2016 was the starting rotation and it is here that we start our examination of the 40-man roster because it will be the crux of their success or failure in 2017.

In order to comprehend the issue we first need to discuss who is available and who is not and the potential problem involving innings limits for some of those pitchers.

Below is a current list of starting pitchers that project to be available to start in 2017:

Garrett Richards
Matt Shoemaker
Tyler Skaggs
Alex Meyer
Ricky Nolasco
Jesse Chavez 
Daniel Wright

Also, the Angels have the following Minor League farm system pitchers that could potentially be called upon to start the season, fill in as depth or provide emergency backup if needed:

Nate Smith
Troy Scribner
Christopher O’Grady
Chris Jones
Blayne Weller
Manny Banuelos
Alex Blackford
Tyler Carpenter
Jose Molina
Jordan Kipper
Kyle Mcgowin
Vicente Campos

To be clear many of these names are at the bottom of the Major League depth chart, such as Carpenter and Molina for instance. They will only be called up if the team suffers significant multiple injuries at one time.

Eppler recognized the depth problem when he first came aboard and several players, including relievers, were tried out as starters or were given aggressive assignments in 2016. If even one of these converted guy’s pans out in the role it will be a plus for the team next year.

Finally the following pitchers could hypothetically be converted back to starters if Billy Eppler and Mike Scioscia believe that they can legitimately make the change and contribute in 2017:

Jose Alvarez
J.C. Ramirez
Deolis Guerra

Alvarez, Ramirez, and Guerra have previous experience starting games and Jeff Fletcher recently reported that Ramirez will be tried out as a starter in Spring Training.

In theory the three lists above comprise a reasonable depth chart for the Halos. There is enough upside in that group that it could break the Top 10 in total overall performance but there is also enough downside risk to make a repeat of 2016 a possibility.

Part of that potential large variability in performance will be whether or not the Angels pitching staff can soak up enough quality innings over the course of the season.

Garrett Richards pitched a mere 34.2 innings in 2016 whereas the year before he pitched 212.1 innings. Can he realistically pitch a full season especially when you consider his UCL injury? It seems likely that if the team is doing well they might have to give him some rest down the stretch to mitigate the possibility of reinjuring his UCL. It is a legitimate concern.

Tyler Skaggs, who missed all of 2015 recovering from Tommy John Surgery, only pitched a total of 89 innings in 2016. In practice most teams impose an innings limit, year to year, of no more than a 30%-50% over the previous year. Skaggs’ situation might be an exception because he took the full recovery time recommended for TJS patients so this may or may not be an issue.

Alex Meyer pitched 94.2 innings in 2015 and, because of his shoulder injury, 54.1 innings in 2016. The maximum he ever reached was 130.1 in 2014. Truthfully this brings into question whether or not he could pitch a full season if he were to make the team out of Spring Training.

This fact alone may push him into a bullpen role but the team’s medical staff and trainers know more than a layperson does. There is a possibility that he begins the season as a starter in the Majors or the Minors and then moves to a bullpen role to manage his total innings pitched.

When you look at the rest of the potential starters it seems clear that Shoemaker, Nolasco, Chavez, and Wright could shoulder significant innings. On the farm Smith, Scribner and Jones seem like the most likely trio to be called up in the unlikely event a starter goes down long term.

Billy Eppler very likely wants to keep Nate Smith, Alex Meyer, Vicente Campos, and Daniel Wright’s rookie eligibility intact to start 2017. Starting their MLB time clocks would be less than ideal but based on how the offseason goes and what happens in Spring Training he may have to make a tough decision to put the best 25-man team on the field.

Assuming they do keep their rookie eligibility intact and all four of them start the season in AA or AAA it appears, at first glance, that the 2017 starting rotation would look like this:

1 Garrett Richards
2 Tyler Skaggs
3 Matt Shoemaker
4 ?
5 Ricky Nolasco

The question mark is there because the Angels will likely want to run another left-handed pitcher as their #4 starter. This is primarily due to the idea of giving the opposing team a “different look” in the batter’s box, from start to start, which makes sense.

If Billy Eppler wants to save money, here, the team will, if they really want a lefty there, run out Nate Smith or Manny Banuelos, or, if they don’t want a lefty, Jesse Chavez or one of Vicente Campos, Alex Meyer or Daniel Wright. Chavez is the clear choice since he is signed on a Major League deal but Eppler and Scioscia need to settle on the optimal group and pattern to run out against opposing teams.

Alternatively, if they want a more experienced veteran pitcher, they could start Chavez in the bullpen and go out on the free agent or trade markets and acquire a left-handed starter of which there are some reasonable options in both free agency and potential trade including:

Drew Smyly
C.C. Sabathia
Jaime Garcia
Brett Anderson
Derek Holland
Jorge De La Rosa
Felix Doubront
Gio Gonzalez
Rich Hill
Scott Kazmir
Jon Niese
Patrick Corbin
C.J. Wilson
Ross Detwiler
Tommy Milone
Francisco Liriano
Wade Miley
Jason Vargas
Scott Diamond
Danny Duffy
Hector Santiago
Chris Sale
Jose Quintana
Hyun-Jin Ryu

Now of course some of these options are better than others.

For instance Sabathia will be making $25MM ($23MM in AAV) in 2017 so unless the Yankees are kicking in a lot of money he makes no sense for the Angels. Additionally it seems unlikely that the Halos would want to reunite with Kazmir, Santiago, and perhaps Wilson again.

The remainder contains a mix of high quality (Smyly, Gonzalez, Hill, Sale, Duffy and Quintana), mid-tier quality (Sabathia, Garcia, Wilson, Liriano, and Corbin) and low quality options (Holland, De La Rosa, Doubront, Niese, Milone, Detwiler, Miley, Vargas, and Diamond) that Eppler could potentially acquire via free agency or trade based on what the team needs.

Realistically the Angels only need a veteran on a one year deal. Eppler knows that Andrew Heaney will more than likely return in 2018 and it does not make a lot of sense to invest long term in a starter this offseason unless Billy plans to trade another rotation piece this year or next year which seems unlikely although not implausible.

Probably, if the Angels do go this route, they will target a left-handed starter like Jaime Garcia who only has one year remaining on his contract (an option the Cardinals exercised for 2017) and would not cost us one of our best prospects if the Angels take on most or all of his salary.

He fits the likely profile in that he runs a high groundball rate (59% GB% with a 48.1% Pull% vs. RHH’s and a 47% GB% with a 30.1% Oppo% vs. LHH’s), has one year of control left for the 2017 season, and has a fairly reasonable Average Annual Value on his contract of $12MM. 

Garcia is not the only option of course. If the Angels stick to the one year time horizon Liriano would also fit the GB% profile. Duffy also fits the time horizon but he is coming off an excellent 2016 campaign and will cost more. Wilson might take a one-year pillow contract to rebuild his value.

Tommy Milone could soak up innings and would only cost a small amount of cash. Miley has an AAV of $6.25MM (actual 2017 salary of $8.917MM) and a 2018 team option with a measly $500K buyout. Diamond and Anderson have their warts but fit the GB% profile well and both could likely be had on an inexpensive one year deal.

Another reason it seems more likely the Angels will grab a left-handed starter is that the supply of right-handed starters that fit the one year of control profile seem slim.

Names in free agency like Nova, Alvarez, and Fister, all seem primed to get multi-year deals although the Angels certainly have the available payroll to make one of those names happen. Beyond them you have aging veterans like Peavy, Simon, and Weaver who could all be had on short term contracts. Chacin and Lincecum would be available again too.

The trade market is a little better than free agency, in terms of quality, with names like John Lackey, Marco Estrada, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Yu Darvish, Mike Pelfrey, Lance Lynn, and Clay Buchholz potentially available among others. It is still not an awe-inspiring group to select from however.

If the Angels do pick up an established starter it will allow the team to use left-hander’s Manny Banuelos and Nate Smith and right-hander’s Jesse Chavez, Alex Meyer, and Daniel Wright as rotation depth.

This would establish a depth chart of ten starters to begin the season and this is not counting pitchers like Scribner, Jones, O’Grady, or Alvarez who could potentially spot start as needed during the year.

Signing or acquiring one more veteran starter is not a sure thing for the Angels but when you look at the current projected rotation, combined with potential concern regarding innings pitched limits, a rotation that can provide length, and the supply that is available, acquiring one veteran starter will go a long way towards building depth for the 2017 campaign.

There will be a similar problem next season as the Angels hopefully welcome back left-hander Andrew Heaney and right-hander Nick Tropeano from Tommy John Surgery. Both will likely face innings pitched limits which will require additional creativity by Billy Eppler to supplement the length of the rotation.

In the event that Nick Tropeano does have a delay in his recovery, Billy smartly grabbed Ricky Nolasco in the Santiago trade as Nolasco has a 2018 team option with a total innings pitched condition that might turn it into a player option. Ricky is rotation insurance if Tropeano has a setback and could even start while Nick begins the year in the bullpen. It would be just as smart for Eppler to find a left-handed starter with a 2018 option in case Heaney does not start the season as well, although Billy may go with Nate Smith in that scenario.

Finally we need to briefly discuss what happens if Garrett Richards experiences a setback in his recovery.

In that event it would not be at all surprising to see the Angels sign a veteran right-handed starter like Jered Weaver on an inexpensive deal to help soak up innings. If this unfortunate scenario does play out it will likely have a significant impact on the Angels ability to compete in 2017.

Author’s Choice – If the Angels decide they need one more starter, beginning the season with Banuelos or Smith is an internal option if the Angels allocate money and trade chips at 2B. If having a left-handed starter is not that important then Jesse Chavez or Daniel Wright makes a lot of sense.

The trade market seems to hold the best options and I would expect that Wade Miley would be the best fit for the 25-man roster in terms of price and contract length followed distantly by Jaime Garcia, Danny Duffy, and Francisco Liriano mainly due to AAV concerns. Garcia and Miley have both been mentioned as trade candidates in recent MLBTradeRumors.com articles.

Finally if the asking price is too high in the trade market Eppler can probably pick up a reasonably priced lefty in free agency. In this case Brett Anderson or, to a lesser extent, Scott Diamond strike me as very affordable short term options with high groundball rates that fit our emerging team defensive profile.

In the next section we will discuss our bullpen options.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer - 

Author’s Note: If you missed the first two installments you can find Part I here and Part II, here.

Before we begin delving into the roster on a position by position basis it would be good to identify which players on the team Billy Eppler most likely plans to build around in 2017 and beyond.

The following players appear to be clear cut building blocks that will not be traded in the foreseeable future:

Mike Trout                                         Andrew Heaney
Kole Calhoun                                     Matt Shoemaker
Andrelton Simmons                           Tyler Skaggs
Albert Pujols                                      Cam Bedrosian
Garrett Richards                            Alex Meyer

Of course the Angels universe revolves around superstar MVP Mike Trout. You cannot ask for a better centerpiece (or if you prefer ‘centerfieldpiece’) to place in your dining room so the Angels special ordered a $150MM Shaq-sized table to set it on for a few years.

To help set that table further, Kole Calhoun provides high quality defense and above average offense making him a very valuable part of this current squad. He really flies under the radar but he is one of the few guys in baseball that is average or above across the standard 5 tools (average, power, base running, throwing arm, and defense). Calhoun is a potential extension candidate to buy out his remaining arbitration years.

Andrelton Simmons brings a fantastic throwing arm and is arguably the best defensive player in all of baseball. Billy Eppler brought Andrelton in with the specific purpose of building a pitching staff that will put the ball in play to him as often as humanly possible, maximizing the value of his glove.

Albert Pujols became a building block the moment he signed a 10 year, $240MM contract. Certainly that type of contract is very difficult to trade particularly when he doesn’t quite perform like a $24MM player should. All that being said Pujols did have a solid year in 2016 and he still has thump in his bat making him a mainstay in the middle of the order for the next couple of years.

The feel good story of the year goes to Garrett Richards who appears to have recovered from his UCL tear and is currently on track to start next season. When Richards is healthy he is the ace of a staff and the Angels hope to maximize that ability over his remaining two years of control. If things go well in 2017 it would not be surprising to see the front office offer Garrett an extension contract.

Although Andrew Heaney is out next season recovering from Tommy John Surgery the Angels very likely look at him as a core player in 2018 and beyond. Heaney has solid upside (#2/#3) if he returns healthy and effective and the Angels very likely want to pair him with Skaggs as the team’s two primary left-handed starters after next season.

Shoemaker’s turnaround this year is nothing short of incredible. After his one-game demotion to AAA on May 6th, 2016, Matt returned to the Majors and over the next 22 games he ran a 18.9% K%-BB% and .255 BAA, good for a 3.10 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. That is ace level behavior and if Shoemaker can replicate that in 2017 and beyond it will bode very well for the Angels future playoff hopes. If Matt does perform well next year he could be an extension candidate as well.

Tyler Skaggs is another wild card for the Halos but he certainly has the prospect pedigree to be an impact starter and he is likely viewed as a core player for next year and beyond. Tyler can be that second quality lefty in the rotation and is controlled through 2020. He has serious upside if he is healthy and effective and if the trio of Richards, Shoemaker, and Skaggs perform like they are capable; the 2017 rotation will look markedly different from the 2016 version. If Tyler performs well next year he too could be offered an extension contract.

It seems like only yesterday that the author interviewed Cam Bedrosian (May 2014) in the home clubhouse hallway at Dickey-Stephens Park, the former AA Angels affiliate, but boy has he come a long way, especially in 2016. Clearly Cam is finding his rhythm and it would not be surprising to see him take over the closer role sooner rather than later. Bedrosian will likely be our best reliever entering 2017 and quite frankly it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Finally Alex Meyer, the recent Eppler acquisition in the Hector Santiago trade, seems primed for an opportunity to join the rotation or bullpen. Billy specifically targeted Meyer for his power arm and excellent Minor League history of putting the ball on the ground which will only play in to Eppler’s emerging strategic foundation of quality infield defense led by his captain, Simmons. Alex is under team control through 2022 and the Angels are hoping he can make a serious impact in the rotation or as high leverage relief (probably the latter).

Although any player can be traded these ten core players are the most likely to stay over the next 2-4 years. Some might disagree with this list or feel that someone was left out but this group represents the probable foundation that Eppler will build upon.

In the next section we will discuss the starting pitching rotation.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer - 

There are a handful of prospective paths that Billy Eppler and the Angels can take during the offseason as they prepare for 2017.

The first is the minimalist route where the team makes small, affordable value moves in free agency or trade that enhance the team and conserves payroll but may not move the needle excessively in terms of impacting their odds of winning the Division.

A case could be made that if the Angels keep most of their offense intact next year combined with elevated performances from Richards, Shoemaker, Skaggs, and the rest of the rotation along with certain bullpen pieces making advanced strides that the Angels might have a chance of effectively competing. Might being the key word here.

If the Angels do decide to go that route expect them to make moves not dissimilar from last year where they sign one or more lower tier free agents or execute one or more moderate trades to fill out the 40-man roster.

Players like Geovany Soto, C.J. Wilson, Wade Miley, Brett Anderson, Santiago Casilla, Brandon Guyer, Brad Ziegler, Tony Watson, Eric O’Flaherty, or Chase Utley could be signed to short one or two year deals or, in the case of the Angels targeting a player in trade, have only one or two years remaining on their existing contracts. These possible additions could help bridge the gap to some of the prospects coming up in the Angels Minor League farm system or simply provide a temporary solution to a roster problem.

This certainly isn’t the sexiest option but it is the one with the least amount of financial and asset risk. The signings of Andrew Bailey (1 year, $1MM) and Jesse Chavez (1 year, $5.75MM plus $2.5M in potential incentives) are examples of this strategic approach.

The advantage to this is that you do not tie up a lot of long-term payroll, giving the Angels the freedom to approach the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 free agent classes with more aggression or even try to extend Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun for instance. Also the Angels will be able to enter the Minor League draft with all of their draft rounds intact which helps build for the future.

The disadvantage to this minimalist course of action is that you improve the team marginally, making a repeat of 2016 more probable if key members of the team don’t step up or develop as expected. It will require a lot of things to go “just right” and that, as Angels fans witnessed in 2016, seems dicey.

Alternatively, the second route the Halos can take is one where they spend some money on free agents but not those that have a draft pick loss attached due to a Qualifying Offer. This route could, of course, also include one or more mid-level trades where we take on cash for a higher quality player with one or two years left on their contract or even a long-term asset with a more payroll friendly deal.

Free agents that do not have a Qualifying Offer attached include names like Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, Rich Hill, Ivan Nova, Carlos Beltran, Steve Pearce, and a host of other minor role players in free agency.

Here the Angels could potentially improve the rotation depth and length by going after Hill or Nova, overall bullpen quality by going after Chapman or Melancon, and the power of the offense by going after Pearce for instance.

There are a wide variety of rumored trade candidates on the market as well including names like Tyson Ross, Wade Davis, Drew Smyly, Jaime Garcia, Derek Dietrich, Kolten Wong, Jhonny Peralta, Brian Dozier, Jarrod Dyson, Cesar Hernandez, Todd Frazier, Adam Eaton, Brett Gardner, Clay Buchholz, and Gio Gonzalez among others.

Most of those names, above, have only one more year of team control whether it is through a team option or arbitration control. Others like Smyly, Gardner, Dietrich, Wong, and Eaton are under longer team control and have had their names floated out as trade candidates over the last year.

This strategic option is a little more palatable as it does improve the team significantly in one or more areas and can provide depth at certain positions that need it. It could also enable Eppler to make a trade, say if, for instance, he signed Chapman and traded Street, to reduce payroll, and fill another area of need or add to the farm system. The Cameron Maybin trade (1 year, $9MM) falls under the umbrella of this middle-of-the-road strategic approach.

The advantage here is that you potentially improve the 2017 squad and their chances of contention without compromising next year’s Minor League draft allowing the Angels to retain all of their picks.

Of course the disadvantage is that you will be spending more money because someone like Chapman will command $15MM-20MM per year in free agency and/or you continue to deplete an already barren farm system to make one or more trades.

Eppler, if he signs or trades for one or more middle-tier players will move the needle further towards contention but potentially at a pretty steep price if the Angels target a big-ticket name.

Finally the third option revolves around the Angels spending money to sign free agents including ones that have a Qualifying Offer and draft pick loss attached or they make a major trade for an impact player utilizing what is left of their financial muscle (which could require them to breach the CBT) and any expendable assets at both the Major League and Minor League levels.

The Angels secured the 10th round protected draft pick for next year’s Minor League draft which might make signing a free agent with a Qualifying Offer attached a bit more palatable as the Angels would only lose their 2nd round pick (and 3rd and 4th, etc. for each subsequent free agent signed that has a Qualifying Offer attached).

Here the Angels could sign one or more of the free agents with a draft pick loss attached which include Jose Bautista, Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Desmond, Kenley Jansen, Edwin Encarnacion, and Dexter Fowler. Based on Eppler’s quick moves to start the offseason, the only likely players, above, that the Angels would have any remaining interest in would be Ian Desmond and Kenley Jansen.

The continuing disadvantage here is that signing free agents costs money. Players like Cespedes, Desmond, Jansen, and Encarnacion will not come cheap especially if there is a high market demand for a particular player. In all likelihood the Angels can probably, at best, only afford to purchase one of them with the approximately $21.1MM currently available in free payroll (more if the CBT threshold rises beyond the current $189MM). That $21MM is probably not enough for one of the big bats.

Of course the advantage is that the Angels fill one or more areas of need by spending cash without having to sacrifice farm assets other than a 2017 2nd round draft pick (and perhaps a 3rd, etc.). Certainly giving up one or more picks is painful but the Angels have to weigh that versus the ability to potentially improve the team.

Additionally if the Angels manage to pull off a major trade for a big name player it would almost certainly eat up most if not all of our remaining payroll space plus it would very likely cost us Major League players and the remaining vestiges of our farm system. The advantage here is that we do not sacrifice a draft pick but we do sacrifice team cash and more established, well-known, assets.

This scenario really only makes sense if the Angels feel that one or more of the free agents with Qualifying Offers is more desirable than our internal options and other less expensive targets or the assets we are giving up in a trade are non-critical to our long term farm system recovery.

Taking this, or the middle-of-the-road route, might allow Eppler greater luxury to take advantage of the free agent and trade markets at specific positions by signing one or more free agents where the Angels do have depth, or at least a tradable asset, and then move that depth/asset for help in another area of need or for prospects.

Additionally “going big” must be viewed through the lens of improving the team short term versus long term. Can the team afford to lose one or more of their best prospects like Taylor Ward, Grayson Long, or Jahmai Jones in order to strengthen the team now or in the near future? This is a problematic question when you are facing the next four years of Mike Trout’s control.

Clearly the Angels will have to weigh the potential changes of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement combined with the fact they have a protected 10th round draft pick, and where they sit in relation to their AL West competition in order to determine the best course of action.

If the Qualifying Offer is eliminated entirely, under the new CBA, it may push some of the free agents with Qualifying Offers attached to accept the offer in order to sign long-term deals next offseason where they could potentially earn more money in free agency.

Alternatively the Qualifying Offer might be modified in other ways that could impact the free agent market in an unforeseen manner so this offseason could prove to be an interesting one, from a procedural standpoint, despite the lack of high-end talent.

Ultimately Billy Eppler has clearly stated that the team will be competitive in 2017 and there is no reason to doubt him.

However in order to really do that the Angels will, realistically, have to spend some money because the projected roster of players, while above average, will probably not get the team to the Promised Land.

Additionally the farm system is pretty bare making trades more difficult to execute and there are simply too many significant holes in the rotation, bullpen, at 2B, and overall team depth is still weak.

Team depth is, in part, why the Angels failed to make the postseason in 2016. If you do not have capable reserves, when a player gets injured, you cannot maintain and sustain continued success on the field.

The Angels did take steps over this last year to acquire and build depth particularly in the bullpen. A lot of these waiver claims will not pan out but if one or two of them stick they could become valuable role players moving forward.

Billy Eppler has a goal and plan for this team. Building team depth is just one aspect. He has crafted a strategy and is attempting to execute on it but that takes time to come to fruition and can take years to accomplish in full.

This strategy appears to be based on the long revered adage of pitching and defense.

If you look at the eight teams that made the playoffs this year nearly all of them had strong starting rotations (and bullpens) backed up by an above average defensive unit.

Acquiring Andrelton Simmons was not an accident. It was a premeditated trade towards the strategic goal of building a ground ball oriented pitching staff because the way you maximize defensive assets is by making sure you get the ball hit to them as much as possible.

This is why Eppler targeted Alex Meyer in the Hector Santiago trade. He not only brought in a back-end starter in Nolasco, he acquired Meyer who has a long Minor League history as a ground ball artist who has a heavy fastball with downward plane and a wipeout slider that not only misses bats but creates poor contact. Whether he starts is a different matter but the principle is the same in the rotation and in the bullpen.

It is also why Eppler took fliers on Lincecum and Chacin, in 2016, because they have average or above career ground ball rates against right-handed hitters (both 46%). Garrett Richards also has a high career ground ball rate (nearly 50% overall). Skaggs is at a career 46% GB% versus right-handed hitters. Even Nolasco over the last two seasons has run an approximate 46% GB% versus right-handed hitters.

This strategy is a departure from Dipoto who attempted to build a fly ball heavy staff to utilize the excellent outfield defense led by Trout and the large confines of Angels stadium. In principle it wasn’t a bad idea because fly ball pitchers were in greater supply at that time but the execution fell short at times (i.e. the Blanton era).

Realistically Eppler’s approach seems more fundamentally sound as ground balls lead to more singles and doubles but balls in the air lead to more home runs. Ground ball heavy pitching staff’s help to limit big innings but they do give up incrementally more runs if an opposing team can string together hits.

In actual practice it is the pitchers that can balance both that tend to do the best. Notably ground ball pitchers do tend to have higher HR/FB% primarily because they don’t induce many infield pop ups so when a ground ball pitcher does miss they tend to miss big.

Billy’s addition of an elite defensive player like Simmons actually makes this ground ball strategy a lot more valuable. It would not be surprising to see Eppler add a good defensive second baseman this season and then a good defensive third baseman now or next season to continue building upon his pitching and defense-oriented vision for the team.

In terms of starting pitching Billy is limited in 2017 by injuries to Heaney and Tropeano but there is also hope that Richards will be healthy and effective, Shoemaker will continue his excellence from last year, and Skaggs will rise up to his former prospect pedigree.

Adding one more veteran starter makes a lot of sense to add length and depth to the starting staff. After next year, the 2018 rotation should be, in theory, quite strong and deep with the return of Andrew and Nick along with the continued development of our Minor League farm system so if Billy does add another starter for 2017, beyond the Chavez deal, it should be on a short one year deal barring a trade of one of our current starters.

The bullpen is another area of concern as Huston Street struggled in the second half of 2016. However the bright spot was young Cam Bedrosian who looks primed to be the team’s go-to high leverage reliever in the very near future.

There are other names like Guerra, Alvarez, Morin, Ege, Mahle, Parker, Ramirez, Tolliver, Paredes, Middleton, Valdez, and Yates that could take a step forward which would go a long way towards shutting down opposing lineups. Also, recently, the Angels signed Andrew Bailey after seeing him in action near the end of the season. He will provide a veteran presence and has potential upside for the team.

Ultimately it may be best for Eppler to acquire another quality reliever in free agency or trade because there appears to be too much potential variability in performance with the current crop of pitchers. A more established veteran, just like with the rotation, could help provide greater stability in the mid and late innings.

Offensively Billy needs to make sure that the team maintains or improves on its 9th ranked wRC+ of 100 in 2016. It seems possible that Eppler can do that because the entire first half of his lineup can return in 2017. The recent addition of Maybin only enhances that effort providing another leadoff type of hitter with some speed on the bases.

It really boils down to mitigating the loss of Soto’s bat and finding a competent league average offensive, and above average defensive, answer at 2B, so this does not appear to be a monumental task in principle but market availability will dictate how difficult it will be to execute.

This offseason, based on the moves executed so far, will likely be one where Eppler uses some ingenuity to bring in one or two long term solutions combined with a variety of medium to high risk, short term, upside signings or trades that will temporarily fill holes, make the team competitive, and provide greater depth.

Notably by bringing in short term contracts Eppler can, if the team is out of contention next year, trade some or all of them at the deadline for players or prospects with long term control and value.

It seems unlikely that the Angels will splurge on a big name acquisition unless management can really monitor the budget and/or find the right deal or trade partner. This makes the middle-of-the-road and minimalist approaches discussed above the far more likely routes the team will take to preserve their draft picks and minimize the damage any trades have on what is left of their farm system.

Using the “two birds, one stone” approach as he did in the Santiago for Nolasco/Meyer trade is one way to accumulate serviceable players for the 2017 team while simultaneously building for the future. He will need to continue thinking “outside the box” to improve the team. 

In the meantime he is left with the budget and players that are available to him as he tries to build his image to surround the Millville Meteor with a core group of players that can pitch, field, and hit their way to victory.

By simply having Mike Trout the Angels have the foundation to win the Division in any season but there are 39 additional 40-man roster spots that need to compliment and support his Hall of Fame ability if the Angels want to go all the way.

In the next few sections we will examine the core of the team, each position, and any likely internal, trade, and free agent opportunities that we have or the market might present.

Monday, November 14, 2016

 photo la-1469854128-snap-photo_zpsaxaqhkao.jpg

By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer - 

Author’s Note: Because the author does not have access to complete team financial data the numbers contained in this article represent actual published contractual details or best estimates and could be proven to be incorrect at a later date and time. Great effort was made to provide factual evidence using reliable sources such as Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus, MLBTradeRumors, Spotrac, and FanGraphs among others.

The Angels 2016 season can be described as nothing short of a huge disappointment for Arte Moreno and the entire organization who will now take steps to improve the team and prepare for next year and beyond, across the remainder of Mike Trout’s contractual years of team control.

As we have done over the last two years the conversation for the 2017 season needs to start by discussing and understanding the Angels goals, restrictions, and short and long term needs.

Every year the primary goal is to put the highest-caliber team on the field of play to secure and bring home a World Series Championship.

Team budget, despite significant money coming off the ledger, is likely still a restriction this year and it is quite probable that Arte Moreno will require Billy Eppler to stay below the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT, more commonly known as the Luxury Tax) threshold again in 2017 despite his recent, contrary, comments.

The CBT threshold for 2017 has not yet been determined because Major League Baseball and the Player’s Union have not come to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

This new CBA will likely be in place before the current one expires on December 1st, 2016. Alternatively the Commissioner and Player’s Union could agree to roll over the current rules into 2017.

If MLB and the Player’s Union cannot come to an agreement by that time it could result in a work stoppage and even a prolonged labor dispute resulting in games not being played.

As David Cameron stated, baseball has, “enjoyed nearly unprecedented labor peace among the major American team sports.”, so there is certainly motivation to maintain that armistice moving forward.

However, as Cameron and others have noted, there are several issues under discussion that could prove to be sticking points including:

 Pace of play
 Length of Regular Season Schedule
 Player Compensation
 Revenue Sharing
 Domestic Violence Policy
 Public Dissemination of Player Health Data
 Ability to Trade Draft Picks
 International Draft
 MLB Geographical Expansion
 Modification and/or Elimination of the Qualifying Offer
 Defensive Shifts

One or more of these issues could prove to be a roadblock in negotiations. The hope of course is that all sides can compromise and reach common agreement on a new CBA so that the fans can continue to watch uninterrupted baseball.

If negotiations proceed smoothly the new CBA should be released prior to the end of the season or at the latest by the end of November before the current CBA expires. This will allow the Angels front office to read and absorb the new regulations and how they impact team payroll and the overall business model.

It is possible too that a new CBA might temporarily delay offseason activity across all of MLB until team front offices grasp all of the details and implications that the fresh agreement contains. On the flip side teams likely have a good idea of the items being discussed and might take actions early before the new rules are put in place in anticipation of projected changes. The former seems more likely however.

What this all means in regard to team financials and the CBT is that the new CBA could have unexpected impacts which might keep it at the current $189MM level, raise it up to $200MM or more, eliminate it entirely, or even substitute it for a new system.

Because there is no way to know what will happen to the CBT, the Angels payroll budget will likely be capped at $189MM until the rules are understood and an operating budget can be firmly identified.

In this case the Angels would likely spend no more than $180MM to start the 2017 season if nothing changes.

The reason for that number is the team needs to maintain payroll margin in order to make potential trade’s in-season or before the deadline to reinforce or upgrade their roster. Keeping a few million in reserve maintains roster flexibility. Because the Angels are a big market team this might not matter to Arte Moreno but it is a common business practice.

Another very important goal is the continuing development of the Angels Minor League farm system. The Angels took an important step forward this year with what appears on paper to be an above average draft in 2016.

However, in order to continue improving, Eppler will have to replace Scouting Directors Hal Morris, who recently resigned to go work for the sports investment company Fantex, and Ric Wilson, who will be moving to a different position according to reports, while rebuilding what is widely considered the worst Minor League system in baseball.

As of August 23rd, 2016, the Angels hired Matt Swanson into the Scouting Director role to replace Hal. Swanson was a cross checker for the Cardinals and is highly regarded as a young, bright mind in baseball despite his overall lack of experience when compared to Morris.

Finally the Angels will not only have to fill critical positions around the diamond, in the rotation, and in the bullpen they will have to build sufficient depth behind those players. Billy took a shot at this last year but it still wasn’t enough and is a real concern again in 2017.

As it currently stands, if the Angels bring back all of their contracted (including team options), arbitration eligible, and controllable players and you add in benefits and minimum salary players to fill out the 40-man roster, payroll will be approximately $167.9MM based on Average Annual Value (AAV) as seen below:

 photo fIG1_zpsayuupsiu.png

By clearing out Wilson’s and Weaver’s contracts the team, after estimated arbitration raises for Calhoun, Richards, and Shoemaker, will be approximately $21.1MM below the current CBT threshold.

The estimated arbitration numbers for Kole, Garrett, and Matt were obtained from MLBTradeRumors.com which publishes its annual estimates that have been, year over year, reliably accurate.

Per the current CBA, Benefits cannot exceed more than 10% of the preceding year’s base number from year to year. This rule is in effect through Dec. 1st, 2016 but could be modified in the new CBA.

The ‘Benefits’ dollar amount, above, represents a 10% increase over the projected number from last year’s primer. It represents a conservative, high dollar amount for 2017. It may be slightly lower or even higher but for the purpose of this discussion the difference is negligible. Overall Benefits do marginally impact team payroll every year and the new CBA could potentially change how this money is collected and allocated.

Additionally certain players, such as C.J. Cron and Ji-Man Choi, had 2016 salaries that were slightly higher than the league minimum salary, per Baseball-Reference.com. The author has made rough estimates of 2017 increases for those particular players. These estimates, if off, should have a negligible impact on the payroll discussion.

Ricky Nolasco has a clause in his contract that if he exceeds 400 innings pitched, between 2016 and 2017, his 2018 option becomes a player option. CBA Section E (5) (a) (iii) states that if an option year can potentially be both a team and a player option, that option year will be considered a guaranteed year for the purposes of AAV calculation. Simply put Ricky’s option year appears to count towards AAV whereas if it was only a club option it would not.

Josh Hamilton’s remaining contract is included in the ‘Payouts’ line. When he was traded his remaining contract was restructured and reduced by approximately 13.3% since he no longer had to pay California State Taxes per COTS contracts.

The AAV represents that restructured value minus the approximately $7MM ($1.4MM AAV) the Rangers now carry on their payroll. Because the precise details are not known this number may be off a bit but the difference should be minor. After 2017 Josh’s contract will mercifully fall off the books.

In 2016 the minimum player salary was $507,500. After the last CBA was negotiated there was a fairly sizeable increase in the minimum player salary so the author has made an educated guess of $530,000 in the 2017 season for the purposes of this article. It could be more or less but the difference should be fairly minor to the overall payroll discussion.

So Billy Eppler, just like last year, will be somewhat constrained in spending potential if the CBT threshold holds steady. No matter what, he will be able to purchase one or more free agents and make trades if the Angels feel they can improve the team and he has already done so by signing Jesse Chavez and Andrew Bailey and trading for Cameron Maybin.

It is also possible that the outstanding stadium issue, in the form of a large capital outlay to renovate or build a new park, could impact a decision to limit or even cut spending on team payroll. This has been an ongoing issue and distraction for Moreno and the City of Anaheim and does not have a clear resolution in sight. Arte has until 2019 to opt out of his lease but must disclose his decision by October 2018.

As was stated last year, and the year before, the caveat to all of this payroll discussion is that Arte has consistently and fully funded team payroll so these known or perceived budget issues may just be guidelines and could be violated at Moreno’s whim.

In fact, as stated last year, Moreno did go over the Luxury Tax threshold once back in 2004, albeit, by a measly $927,000.

Although it has been discussed ad nauseum, the Angels missed a prime strategic opportunity to exceed the Luxury Tax threshold in the 2015-2016 offseason, so the odds of it happening this year, in a highly distressed, low quality, free agent market, seem low.

Here is a snapshot of the guaranteed contractual money owed to Angels players in the coming seasons:

 photo Fig2_zpsfwbvbvep.png

The Angels currently have eleven guaranteed contracts to pay in 2017 for Pujols, Trout, Hamilton, Simmons, Maybin, Pennington, Escobar, Nolasco, Bailey, Chavez, and Street totaling $121,332,475.

For 2018, several of those guaranteed contracts fall off the books and the Angels will only be paying for Pujols, Trout, and Simmons totaling $56,369,048. Nolasco and Street both have team options for 2018 (Ricky has a vesting condition that can turn it into a player option) so that total could rise if either one, or both, of those are exercised.

That $56,369,048 will hold steady for 2019 through 2020 and then the final year of Pujols contract lingers at an AAV of $24MM in 2021.

Of course there will be arbitration and minimum salary players that will add to those guaranteed dollars as seen in the 40-man payroll chart above.

In order to compliment the core group of players the Angels need to ponder what is available internally, on the trade market, and in free agency.

Frankly there are several targets the Angels should seriously consider and inquire on. There are internal solutions and trade and free agent targets that make sense for the Angels if they can find the right match or price.

Additionally, the Angels did end up with the 10th round protected pick for next year’s Rule IV Draft and that could allow them to sacrifice a 2nd or even a 3rd round pick if they want to sign any free agents with a Qualifying Offer attached. The Angels should not overly sacrifice their farm rebuild if they cannot acquire their primary targets on the free agent market.

This is why the 2016-2017 offseason will be so difficult to navigate particularly because the new CBA has not been settled on and released. There are so many unknowns and moving parts right now to see any path at all, much less a clear one.

Eppler’s background in scouting and finance could actually prove very valuable in this chaotic environment. A new CBA could have serious financial implications for both the big league team and the farm system.

As indicated last year Billy has been praised within the Yankees organization for his ability to identify Minor League talent and find reclamation players that add incremental value so it appears that he is the right person with the appropriate skill set for the here and now.

Since Eppler hasn’t provided a lot of sound bites regarding team needs, we will, as we did last year, take a stab at it from the outside looking in.

Left field has been a black hole for the last three years. Eppler, right after the World Series concluded, addressed this need by acquiring athletic OF Cameron Maybin to play there. He should provide reliable offensive production combined with above average defense for the team. If Cameron’s revamped swing is a real improvement this could prove to be a pretty savvy pick up by our new GM.

Second base has also been a problem both offensively and defensively. Giavotella worked hard but it just wasn’t enough and the Angels will likely be forced to go with an internal option or find something on the trade market as the free agent options generally have defensive skills but lack overall offensive talent.

The rotation needs help and Billy, as part of an early aggressive approach to the offseason, has already acquired one swingman in SP/RP Jesse Chavez. There is still a very real possibility that Eppler is not done adding to the starting pitching staff as the Angels could use another veteran left-handed starter to provide balance to the rotation.

At least one more veteran bullpen piece was needed and, again, the Angels went out and re-signed RHP Andrew Bailey on a one year deal. When you add him to the mix of Street, Bedrosian, and all of the waiver claims Billy has made over the last year you can see the makings of an improved relief staff. Just like the rotation above there is still a real possibility that the Angels could add one more veteran reliever prior to the start of 2017.

Beyond those worries the Angels have potential concerns at third base, first base, and catcher. Only shortstop and center and right field have reliable, long term contributors.

The short term shopping wish list should include an upgrade at second base, a veteran catcher, a starter, and at least one more quality bullpen arm.

Looking out beyond 2017 the Angels will need to find more permanent solutions at third base, left field, first base, catcher, and in the bullpen.

Another season of Yunel Escobar is acceptable but what happens after that is a legitimate question. Maybin is only here for 2017 unless the Angels extend him. Cron will enter arbitration after this season is over and that process favors power hitters which could potentially make him expensive after the 2018 season. Perez and Bandy provide fine defense but the team might not be able to afford keeping their bats in the lineup every day. These are just some of the concerns that Billy Eppler needs to face and address, or at least consider, this offseason.

The Angels focus should continue to be on the 2017-2020 seasons. Those, of course, are the remaining four seasons leading up to Mike Trout’s walk year in 2020 unless he is offered, and signs, another extension.

Every effort should be made to position this team to make a serious playoff push each and every year, between now and then, to maximize the probability of another Angels World Series Championship.

In the next section we will generally discuss Eppler’s strategic choices to the upcoming offseason.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Image result for garrett richards

By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Columnist - 

The Angels were 74-88 in 2016, although with a somewhat more promising 80-82 Pythagorean record. But as DocHalo pointed out here, we shouldn't be too optimistic about that Pythagorean record. But we should also remember that the Angels' pitching staff was devastated, losing the staff ace (Garret Richards), two other promising young starters (Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano), and closer (Huston Street) to injury, not to mention a slower recovery time from Tyler Skaggs and that gruesome late injury to Matt Shoemaker. In other words, the Angels were so bad at least partially due to just horrible luck, and hopefully can expect better next year. Hopefully.

Given that the Rangers played way over their heads last year on route to 95 wins, and second place Seattle won 86 games, the mediocre AL West in 2017 could be won by 90ish wins. Simply being above .500 should keep a team in contention deep into the year, and thus be eligible for mid-season trade upgrades. In other words, the Angels could win the AL West next year simply by playing average or better for the first half of the year, then making a few tweaks and going on a hot streak. The point being, it only takes fielding a .500 plus team to start the year to have a legitimate shot at the postseason.

So how to get there from here? And how to do so without busting the bank (Yoenis Cespedes) or trading away the few good prospects the Angels have (Jahmai Jones, Matt Thaiss, Michael Hermosillo, etc)? It actually isn't that hard; or, at least, it isn't that difficult to understand a path towards contention, and in five (easy?) steps! 

1. Stay Healthy
This is the hardest and, unfortunately, the most difficult part. The key players--aside from Trout, whom we will never mention in relation to injury...ever--are Richards and Skaggs. Together they pitched 16 starts for a combined 1.4 fWAR. Let's also throw in Alex Meyer, who pitched 5 starts for 0.3 fWAR. That gives us a grand total of 21 starts and 1.7 fWAR, which is a cumulative mid-rotation performance (roughtly 2.5 WAR for 32 starts). If we assume roughly the same performance in total from those three as a baseline, and then reduce all three to 25-30 starts to account for babying, then we get 75-90 starts, or about 60 more than they pitched in 2016, which would lead to a gain of approximately +5 fWAR. Those 60 starts replace the 47 starts and -1.6 fWAR from Jered Weaver, Tim Lincecum, David Huff, and Daniel Wright, plus Tropeano's 13 (+0.1). In other words, just by being relatively healthy and performing at the same level as 2016, those three starters should give the rotation a swing of around +6.5 fWAR, or a broader range of roughly +5 to +8 fWAR.

OK, I will say something about Trout. There is no team in baseball that's success relies more upon a single player. That is a huge problem, and very different from, say, the 2002 World Champs who were a team of good to very good players, but no clear stars; the highest fWAR on that team was David Eckstein's 4.5 (!), but the lineup had eight players of 2.5 fWAR or higher. But there are numerous roads to Rome; the current team has Trout, who is better than any combination of two players on the 2002 squad. Meaning, everyone else on Trout's Angels doesn't have to be quite as good as the cast of 2002. But the point is, for the Angels to be vaguely decent Trout has to be healthy unless, of course, the rest of the lineup is really good--which is hard to imagine happening in the next year or two. So any conceivable path to the playoffs involves a healthy Trout.

Other than the starters, we need good health all around but it isn't as dire as the starters--namely, Richards, Shoemaker and Skaggs--and, of course, Trout. We need basic health from the major supporting cast: especially Simmons and Calhoun, but also Cron, Escobar, Bandy, Pujols, etc. But if any of those guys go down, the Angels can theoretically find a way to plug the whole.

To put all of that another way, you could rank the Angels in terms of tiers by importance of health:

Apocalypic: Trout
Crucial: Richards, Shoemaker, Skaggs, Calhoun, Simmons. 
Important: Nolasco, Meyer, Bedrosian, Street, Cron, Pujols, Escobar, Bandy.

Recommendation: Pray. Knock on wood. And hope to (whatever deity or divine or otherwise force you believe in) that “biomechanics,” or whatever it is, bears results.

2 and 3: Improve Weakest Lineup Spots: 2B and LF
These two go together because they're very similar. A couple years ago I was one of the many who was happy with the Kendrick-for-Heaney trade. Howie was his usual self in 2015, but he really struggled in 2016 so that despite only seeing all of 19 starts from Heaney so far, with none likely in 2017, the trade doesn't look so bad and still promises to turn out well in the long-run. But it has left a massive whole at 2B which Gio only adequately filled in 2015, not so adequately in 2016. Left field has been similar but even worse, with the Angels unable to replace Josh Hamilton's mediocre production with the motley likes of Matt Joyce, David Murphy, David DeJesus, Shane Victorino, Colin Cowgill, Daniel Robertson, Kirk Niewhatshisfuck, Efren Navarro, Rafael Ortega, Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry, Shane Robinson, Nick Buss, Ji-Man Choi, and Todd Cunningham. The overall result has been a total and utter disaster, especially considering that left field is one of the easiest positions to fill with at least adequate production.

Now there aren't a lot of even decent options, especially at 2B where Neil Walker is the only plus player available and is likely to be very expensive. Walker is not a star but about as consistent as you can get; from the time he broke into the majors in 2010 he has accrued 19.5 fWAR, or an average of 2.8 per season including a career-high 3.7 last year.  He is the definition of “good ballplayer,” not a star, but a very consistent above average player. The question is, how much is that worth for a player who turns 32 at the end of next year? 

An intriguing in-house option is Kaleb Cowart, who should be able to be a plus defender. The big concern is his bat, which has been downright Woodsian so far (.176/.210/.267), albeit in limited play (139 PA). It is probable that Cowart wouldn't be much better than replacement level in 2017, with poor offense and plus defense. Assuming the Angels don't go after Walker, their best bet might be to sign a solid role player like Stephen Drew and platoon him with Cowart.

As for LF, it seems that Eppler doesn't consider Jefry Marte to be a full-time solution. Despite Marte's plus power, he's probably right and Marte should continue as a platoon player, getting plenty of starts at the infield and outfield corners. But there are plenty of decent options in the outfield, with the best--Yoenis Cespedes--likely to be way too expensive, and the next group--Josh Reddick, Ian Desmond, Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista--likely to be over-priced and not as good as their price tag. Dexter Fowler is an interesting option who would give the Angels another pretty good OBP in front of Trout. 

Given that they want to hold the spot for Jahmai Jones in 2019 or 2020, they could take an unconventional approach and offer soon-to-be 40-year but still productive Carlos Beltran a one-year contract with a vesting option, or sign someone like Jon Jay, Michael Saunders, or Nori Aoki who would, at the least, provide solid performance and plug the gushing torrent of suckiness that has been LF the last two years. Or you could take a risk on Carlos Gomez and hope he re-captures his 2014 form. 

The other option is a trade, but the Angels don't have a lot to offer. 

Anyhow, probably the single free agent who would represent the largest upgrade for the Angels is either Walker or Cespedes, either of whom would represent a +4 to 5 swing at one position—at least in the short term. Both represent substantial risks because of their age. Plus Cespedes has “future hotdog” written all over him; it is easy to imagine a scenario where he “did a Hamilton” and declined rapidly. I personally would prefer Fowler to Cespedes, who would probably cost $10M less per year but not be far behind in WAR. But the point being, even getting one of these biggish names would be a huge upgrade and turn a gaping hole to a positive—and thus be the single largest improvement possible. With money spent on one, the Angels can go the cheap route on the other.

Oh yeah, one more thing. How about a fifth outfielder with speed? Someone to pinch run and steal bases late in the game? The Royals employed this tactic so well a couple years ago—decimating the Angels in the 2014 ALDS—that I'm not sure why every team hasn't adopted this approach You don't need a guy who can hit, just run, steal bases, and play defense—and there are a bunch of these guys lying around in AAA.

Recommendation: For 2B, it is tempting to go after Walker. If it somehow possible to get him to sign a three-year contract (unlikely) or possible a four-year contract (possible) for the right price, I say go for it. If he wants five years I'd stay away. There simply is no way to improve the team as drastically in one move. If his price tag gets out of hand (say, more than 4/$60M) then sign Stephen Drew and platoon him with Kaleb Cowart. For LF, I would consider Fowler and Gomez. If the latter can be had for a one-year “prove myself” deal, go for it. I believe that Gomez doesn't require a lost draft pick, as he was traded mid-season. If he too gets too expensive or if someone swoops in and offers him a multi-year deal, Fowler is the better bet for something like 4/$56M. If that doesn't work, sign one of the solid players—Aoki, Saunders, Jay—to tide us over until Hermosillo and/or Jones is ready in a couple years. But stay away from Cespedes and the five-year, $25-30M per year contract he is going to try to get.

4. Sign a Top-shelf Reliever, and one or two ones with good upside
Cam Bedrosian was easily the best reliever on the club, with Deolis Guerra, Jose Alvarez, Mike Morin, JC Ramirez, and possibly Andrew Bailey showing solid value as middle relievers, but none are irreplaceable. The problem with the Angels bullpen is that there is only one truly good reliever in Bedrosian, at least without Huston Street finding his pre-2016 form. The rest are essentially run-of-the-mill middle relievers; some—Fernando Salas, Cory Rasmus, Greg Mahle, AJ Achter, Jose Valdez, and Bret Oberholtzer—were varying shades of mediocre to terrible. 

Going into 2017, Bedrosian is a lock, and presumably Street will be back, although I see him gradually transitioning to a setup role as Bedrosian takes over closer. Guerra has earned a spot on the roster, and Alvarez and Morin—and possibly Bailey or Ramirez--provide decent middle relief depth. What the Angels lack is another reliever with lights-out stuff to pair with Bedrosian. Perhaps this could be Manny Banuelos, who a few years ago used to project as a #3 starter for the Yankees, or Alex Meyer if the Angels sign a starter. 

But there are some really good options on the free agent market, including marquee closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, both of whom will likely set records for reliever contracts; some are predicting nine-figures for Chapman (!). There's also Greg Holland of the Royals, who was supplanted as their closer by Wade Davis. Holland was great in 2014-15 but struggled last year and could be a really good buy. Mark Melancon is another top tier closer option but won't come cheaply. There are many other options, but those are the best of the crop and what the Angels really need is someone very good.

Recommendation: It is a bit risky spending big money on a reliever, so I'd probably stay away from Chapman and Jansen, and Melancon will also likely be quite expensive, but Holland would be a great option, in addition to someone like Neftali Feliz and bringing Andrew Bailey back. Ramirez and Morin can be stuffed in AAA with Banuelos. The Angels could enter the year with a bullpen of Bedrosian, Holland, Street, Guerra, Alvarez, Bailey, and Feliz. Not bad.

5. Sign a Mid-Rotation Starter
Richards, Shoemaker, Skaggs, and Nolasco are locks; Weaver, Chacin and Meyer are not. It sounds like Weaver won't be tendered a contract, not with his continued decline (his ERA grew for the fifth straight year, finally breaching the 5.00 mark in 2016 and showing no signs of going down, as his 5.62 FIP attests). Chacin makes a decent “sixth man” or mopup guy so could be re-signed, and Meyer could end up as either the fifth starter or transition to a flame-throwing reliever.

There is a viable if unlikely scenario in which the Angels have a strong rotation without making a move. In this pipe-dream, health abounds. Richards returns to 2014 form, Shoemaker continues where he left off with before being beaned in the cranium. Skaggs finally finds his health and potential, Nolasco continues his 2016 performance with the Angels, and Meyer finds command and consistency. All of a sudden you have a legit staff ace and four bonafide mid-rotation starters.

But it is highly unlikely that everything goes right, and chances are Eppler will at least want to build more depth in case of a Meyer meltdown and/or an injury to one of the others. Probably the choice with the highest floor, but also biggest contract, is Jeremy Hellickson – who is a solid #3-4 type, but not exactly sexy. 37-year old (in March) Rich Hill is a popular mention around these parts after he produced a very sexy 2.12 ERA and ridiculous peripherals (10.52 K rate and 2.69 BB rate) in 20 starts, but chances are other teams are salivating over the chance to snag him on the cheap and thus he won't go cheap. Other possibilities aren't as good: The talented by oft-injured Brett Anderson might be a nice gamble and could probably be had for an affordable one-year contract, the ever-disappointing Andrew Cashner is another buy-low candidate who could bounce back, or don't be surprised if the Red Sox opt out on Clay Buchholz who fits a similar mold. Ivan Nova has a higher floor but lower ceiling than these guys and would likely be another #4-5 type like Nolasco.

Recommendation: My personal preference would be to go hard after Hill. If the Angels can get him for something like 3/$45M, then they should do it. He'll be 37 and presents some risk but has few innings on his arm and is the best of the bunch by a long-shot. Unlike Hellickson, if he bombs then it is a shorter sunk investment. Hellickson is tempting but will probably require a Wilson/Weaver-type 5/$80M contract and I'm a bit leery of his 2016 contract year 3.71 ERA performance after three prior years of 5.17, 4.52, 4.62 ERAs. Hellickson is a #4 starter who will be paid as at least a #3.

So if Hill doesn't happen, why not take a chance on one of Anderson, Cashner, or Buchholz? All of these guys can probably be had for a “I want to prove myself” one-year deal, so the risk is low. They can compete with Meyer and Banuelos for a rotation spot and, assuming they win it, give the Angels better depth and potential converted power relievers in Meyer and Banuelos.

Extra Credit: Upgrade at 3B
One more option worth considering is letting Escobar walk and going after Justin Turner, who has quietly been a very strong performer at third base for the last few years, posting a .275/.339/.493 line with 27 HR and 5.6 fWAR last year for the Dodgers. But Turner, despite being 32, won't come cheaply. 

Summary: My Recommendations
- Sign Neil Walker (4/$60M) to play 2B.
- Sign Carlos Gomez on a one-year deal ($15-20M) or Dexter Fowler (4/$56M) to play LF.
- Sign Rich Hill (3/$45M) to start.
- Sign Greg Holland (3/$30M) and Neftali Feliz (2/$15M) to add to the bullpen, plus give Andrew Bailey a one-year contract.

2017 Lineup and Pitching Staff
3B Escobar
2B Walker (or Drew at #8 in lineup)
LF Gomez (or Fowler at #1 in lineup)
CF Trout
RF Calhoun
DH Pujols
1B Cron
SS Simmons
C Bandy

Rotation: Richards, Shoemaker, Hill, Skaggs, Nolasco (with Banuelos, Meyer and Smith in AAA)

Bullpen: Bedrosian, Holland, Street, Bailey, Guerra, Feliz, Alvarez (with Morin and Ramirez in AAA)

And yes, I know I added $60M months more of payroll. This after seeing only Wilson and Weaver's combined $40M coming off the books. This would bring them right up to around the luxury tax threshold of last year ($189M), but maybe with a few tweaks the Angels can stay under. But the above team can win 90+ ball games, especially in the Walker variant. It has depth, variation, and would be a lot of fun to watch.

And yes, I realize that the above almost certainly won't happen, or at least not all of it. But the goal here was to show how to make a viable Angels contender in 2017. I started with the idea of relatively small tweaks to bring the team up to an 80-85 win level so they would be just a tweak or two and a hot streak away from the division title, but ended up building a much stronger team. My revised view is that just basic health and only small tweaks puts this team back to the 80-85 range, but with some strong moves—like those suggest above—this team could be a legit contender again.

Listen to "A Fish Like This" Tribute song to Mike Trout's Greatness

AngelsWin Media

We Recommend

 photo 8fbce79f-4964-43ef-a13d-ff1832b5e9a4_zpsd3c2ece7.jpg
Click on the picture above to pick up a copy of Rob Goldman's latest on Angels' great, Nolan Ryan. A Must Read for every fan of the Angels!

AngelsWin.com Website Store

 photo t_zps6af139fc.gif
Copyright © 2013 Los Angeles Angels Blog | AngelsWin.com

AngelsWin.com is the unofficial website of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Our comments and views do not express the views of the major league club or anyone affiliate with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  AngelsWin.com blog content, articles and opinions are provided "as is" and without warranties of any kind.  We disclaim warranties, express or implied, including warranties for a particular purpose, accuracy, completeness, availability, security, compatibility and non-infringement.  Blog material, articles and other information furnished or supplied by you to AngelsWin.com become the ownership of AngelsWin.com for use at our discretion.  Your use of AngelsWin content is at your own discretion and risk. We do not warrant that any content here be error free that access thereto will be uninterrupted or errors will be corrected. We do not warrant or make any representations regarding  the use of any content made available through AngelsWin.com  You hereby waive any claim against us with respect thereto. AngelsWin.com may contain the opinions and views of other members and users. We cannot endorse, guarantee, or be responsible for the accuracy, efficacy or veracity of any content generated by our members and other users. The content of AngelsWin.com is intended for educational and entertainment purposes only. Such content is not intended to, and does not, constitute legal, professional, medical or healthcare advice or diagnosis, and may not be used for such purposes. Reliance on any information appearing on AngelsWin.com is strictly at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in, or accessible through, the AngelsWin.com without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer or professional licensed in the recipient's state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.