Wednesday, July 10, 2013

By Robert Cunningham, Staff Writer -  

As the trade deadline approaches, teams come to terms with where they are in the standings and have to choose whether they are sellers, buyers, or neutral in the trade market. The Angels are still below .500 in team winning percentage and, soon, Jerry Dipoto and the front office have to make the tough decision to either, stand pat, sell, or buy.

To be fair it seems that the Angels are more likely to stand relatively pat in this trade market. It feels like the odds of standing pat-buying-selling stands around 55-5-40 as we enter July. These next two weeks will obviously determine the course of our involvement in the trade market.

This team has really underperformed on several levels this year and failed to live up to the lofty standards that virtually every professional sportswriter believed they would achieve. This is also the 2nd year in a row that the Angels were picked as a pre-season team to “win it all”.

Clearly, if we become sellers, the team would probably like to move any, or all, of its contracts that expire at the end of the 2013 season. These include Jason Vargas, Scott Downs, Ryan Madson, Brendan Harris, and Brad Hawpe.

The first three are more likely to be moved than the latter two. Unfortunately, Vargas had blood clot surgery and may not even be back before the trade deadline and Madson has had one setback after another. This doesn’t preclude a trade on August waivers but, clearly, Jerry Dipoto would like more flexibility in dealing with multiple clubs.

One player that might be an under-the-radar trade target is Howie Kendrick. Kendrick, in 367 plate appearances to date, has a .308/.350/.466 slash line with 11 home runs, 6 stolen bases, 77 base hits, and 13 doubles.

Currently Howie is tied in rank for 6th overall among qualified 2nd basemen (per FanGraphs) with 2.0 WAR. If he continues at this pace it will rank as his 2nd best season in the Major Leagues, exceeded only by his 2011 season at 5.6 WAR, where his defense was nearly gold-glove caliber.

The Angels signed a 4 year, $33.5 million extension with Howie before the 2012 season with the intent of creating a core group of position players that could create a contending team through the 2015-2016 timeframe. As it turns out this deal already looks like a steal as Kendrick has accumulated 5.0 WAR since the beginning of 2012 (which approximates out to a little over $25 million in value).

As the 2013 season has shown, our pitching staff appears to be a glaring weakness for the team. The free agent market for pitching has completely dried up and the only way to acquire a good frontline starting pitcher may be through trade and, in order to get, you have to give, to acquire strong talent.

This brings us to the question of whether or not the team can and should trade Howie Kendrick.

If the team stands pat, Kendrick won’t be moved and you should see an Angel’s team very similar to the one you saw this year. This is the “55%” option that is probably more likely to happen.

However, if Jerry decides to upgrade the pitching staff, he may very well have to seriously consider trading Kendrick who has good trade value. Additionally, there may be a developing market for second basemen where Dipoto could potentially maximize the return.

To better understand the need in the market we need to identify those teams that need or could potentially need a second baseman before next season (and some might need them sooner, before the trade deadline).

The following teams have underperforming second basemen or ones that are on the verge of free agency:

Out of the list above, the Yankees, Dodgers, Athletics, Rockies, Royals, and Orioles are still in contention. The Phillies are border line but are probably heading towards becoming sellers. The Mets and Cubs appear to be clear sellers at the deadline (and, in fact, the Cubs traded Feldman to the Orioles, already) and appear to be in rebuild mode so it is doubtful that they would want Kendrick and the remainder of his contract.

The Yankees

The Yankees are not going to trade Cano while they are still in the hunt. However, there is a distinct possibility that New York doesn’t want to take on another massive long-term contract for a player about to hit 30 years of age.

Realistically, Cano will probably get $200+ million and the cash-strapped Yankees (hard to believe I’m even saying that) may not want that if they can’t find a way to shed salary (watch the A-Rod/Biogenesis situation closely to see if they somehow magically void his contract).

If the Yankees decide to go another route, Howie Kendrick might look like a very attractive piece for their lineup. He is cost controlled and has a long history of success in Yankee stadium. The Angels might be able to acquire three good prospects if they traded him and perhaps ate a bit of salary (say $4 million?).

A package of P Jose Campos, P Jose Ramirez, and C Gary Sanchez for Kendrick would net us two above-average pitching prospects and a future catcher.

Ramirez could possibly become a rotation member next season with a solid fastball (can reach mid-90’s) and a good change up, while Campos and Sanchez develop through our farm system. Sanchez is a defensive-minded catcher with some pop in his bat while Campos has three solid offerings including a fastball (mid-90’s as well), curveball, and change up.

If the Yankees are serious about keeping Cano then this trade will not happen and if it does happen it will only occur during the offseason as the Yankees are in the hunt for a postseason berth and won’t dump Cano before the deadline unless they completely tank in July. Is Cano’s current 3.2 WAR (vs. Kendrick’s 2.0 WAR) really worth an additional $16+ million per year for the Yankees?

Likelihood: Low

The Dodgers

Our neighbors to the North have been subsisting on a diet of Mark Ellis which has not helped their 2nd base hemorrhoid problem one bit!

The boys in blue already have a star-filled lineup and have been improving as of late. A move to improve their middle infield would make sense, as they approach the deadline, if they find themselves making more progress in the NL West.

However, the problem here is not a trade matchup problem but possibly a political one. Although I think Jerry is open to trading with every ballclub he may be hampered by the possible perception that trading Kendrick to our cross-town rivals makes the Angels “weak” while the Dodgers are “strong”.

Business should be business but there is definitely a growing battle to win the love and affection of the Los Angeles fan base and this trade could be a non-starter if that is really the case. If the Dodgers and Angels could find common ground, it would almost definitely have to involve prospect P Zach Lee.

A possible trade scenario might be Howie Kendrick and Jason Vargas (on the assumption he returns before the break) for P Zach Lee, SS Corey Seager, P Onelki Garcia, and perhaps a 4th prospect such as P Ross Stripling. Such a move would strip most of what remains of the Dodgers farm system but if the Angels find themselves out and the Dodgers find themselves in, business is business.

Zach Lee is having a strong showing in AA and would be a good middle of the rotation starter with a 4-pitch arsenal. Seager could potentially be our SS of the future and, once he’s ready, Aybar could be moved in trade. Garcia would be a lefty 8th inning guy out of the bullpen and Stripling, with development, could be a rotation piece 2-4 years from now.

A lot of things would have to lineup for the Angels and Dodgers to consider this trade, making it a real long shot in the current trade environment.

Likelihood: Very Low

The Athletics

Oakland is definitely in the thick of a pennant race and, right now, they have a serious deficiency at second base. Eric Sogard makes for a nice utility guy but he is not the type of high production piece that Oakland could explore and find in trade.

Recently, there has been talk of a possible Utley trade with Philadelphia. That, of course, is a possible option for the cash-strapped Athletics but I would present another fair-priced option: Howie Kendrick!

Kendrick (Approximately $4.5 million for the remainder of the season, then $9.35 and $9.5 for the next two seasons) is also a low-priced option like Utley (Approximately $7.5 million for the remainder of 2013) without the extensive injury history and age that Utley brings to the table.

A Kendrick trade would probably revolve around righty Sonny Gray who is doing quite well this year in AAA and is near Major League ready. Howie Kendrick and Ryan Madson (on the assumption that he shows sufficient recovery before the break) for P Sonny Gray and SS/2B/OF Grant Green might be a possibility if the A’s go all-in.

If the A’s are in the playoff hunt Green would be thrown into the middle of a pennant race as an untested prospect and that risk may not be one that the A’s want to take. In fact, Green was called up this week and it appears the A’s want to either see what he’s got before the deadline or showcase him as a trade piece.

Oakland also has considerable pitching depth so Gray may not be a necessary piece if they push towards winning a championship and could be moved for the right package.

Kendrick is battle-tested and could provide a big boost to the A’s offense while also giving them improved up the middle defense at an affordable short-term contract over the next 2 ½ years. Madson could potentially return from his injury and provide a boost to their bullpen in a stretch run.

Both Gray and Green could potentially become immediate pieces of the 2014 Angels squad, giving us a young, cost-controlled middle of the rotation starter and a young, athletic second baseman who could also fill in at SS or even the OF. A platoon of Green (who hits from the right side) and Lindsey (who is a LHH) would probably provide solid production at the keystone.

Jerry Dipoto has not been afraid to trade within the division if the trade makes sense. Negotiating with Beane in Oakland might prove tough but I think the both of them are shrewd enough to know that the other won’t accept a lopsided trade. If the A’s think that they can extend Jed Lowrie, then Green is probably expendable for the right second baseman.

Likelihood: Low

The Rockies

As the season has progressed, the Rockies find themselves in the thick of the NL West division race. One glaring weakness has been the black hole at 2B manned by a combination of Rutledge and LeMahieu.

The Angels have negotiated with the Rockies before (Iannetta for Chatwood) and Kendrick would be a significant upgrade for their team. Hitting in Coors Field would certainly boost Kendrick’s numbers even further.

Any trade for Kendrick would have to involve some of Colorado’s top pitching prospects. One of the lefty’s Tyler Matzek or Tyler Anderson (more likely) along with one of either P Eddie Butler or P Chad Bettis and C Tom Murphy would round out the group of three. Most of these prospects wouldn’t provide an immediate impact but they all have above average potential.

The Rockies could also have interest in either Scott Downs or Ryan Madson as well to expand the trade. Both of them, especially Downs, have good, groundball rates, which plays well in Coors Field.

Likelihood: Maybe

The Royals

As of the publication of this article, the Royals are starting to slip in a very competitive AL Central. If they turn it around (and receive permission from ownership) before the trade deadline, they would certainly appreciate an upgrade at second base over current incumbents Elliott Johnson and Chris Getz.

If Kansas City becomes buyers, Kendrick would definitely give their offense a needed boost to better compliment the performance of their pitching staff.

A likely trade might be Howie Kendrick and Ryan Madson (again assuming he has shown some recovery) for P Yordano Ventura, SS Adalberto Mondesi, and OF Jorge Bonifacio.

Ventura has high heat with two above average secondary pitches and could fill a rotation spot in 2014. Mondesi (the son of Raul Mondesi) has a similar skill set to Erick Aybar and could eventually replace him in the 2015-2016 timeframe. Bonifacio is a young OF with solid on-base skills and pop who could be our right fielder of the future once Hamilton’s contract expires.

Another, optional, trade could be Kendrick, Madson, and Callaspo for 3B Mike Moustakas, P Yordano Ventura, and SS Adalberto Mondesi, but it seems less likely that the Royals would give up on Moustakas this soon, so this is a real long shot.

Likelihood: Low

The Orioles

Baltimore also finds itself in the midst of the playoff hunt and even made a move to acquire Scott Feldman from the Cubs in a recent transaction.

Ryan Flaherty has manned second base for them while Brian Roberts has been on the disable list. Roberts is about to return but he has been on and off the disabled list and the Orioles might want to have a more reliable player manning the keystone.

Certainly Roberts, when healthy, was a top-notch second baseman but if the O’s want to win now he might be expendable, especially if he returns and plays poorly (and he is hitting .143 in the 28 at-bats since his return).

Clearly the piece(s) that the Angels would love to have is P Dylan Bundy or P Kevin Gausman. It would seem that, despite Bundy’s recent TJ surgery, the Orioles would be very reluctant to part with him and rightfully so. Gausman might be a more available target except for the fact that the Orioles are in the playoff hunt and he is providing starting pitching depth for them.

Now that the Orioles have traded for Feldman there really doesn’t appear to be a good fit for Kendrick. That may change before the deadline but the Orioles are healthy at the moment and we may not like the prospect haul that would be offered for Howie.

P Eduardo Rodriguez is a name that stands out but the remainder of the Orioles system lacks high ceiling type players beyond those listed above and would probably not provide the value that Jerry Dipoto would be looking for in trade.

Likelihood: Very Low

The Phillies

One interesting scenario that has a small chance of playing out is if the Angels improve their record over the next two weeks and the Phillies continue to fall out of their race. Utley seems a likely candidate to be heading out in trade and one possibility might be a Kendrick/Utley trade package.

Utley is in the last year of his contract and is owed about $7.5 million. Kendrick, of course, is in the 2nd year of his extension and has about $4.5 remaining this year and $9.35 and $9.5 for the next two years.

One possible trade package might involve sending Howie Kendrick for Chase Utley, P Jesse Biddle, and SS Roman Quinn. The Angels would probably have to eat a small amount of cash in this transaction.

A healthy Utley is a dangerous #2 hitter even at age 35 (besides which we would only have him for the rest of this year). Biddle would give us a potential middle of the rotation lefty arm while Quinn, with his blazing speed, could replace Aybar at SS when his contract expires.

This one is pretty remote considering where the two organizations currently stand. It is also possible that the Phillies trade away Utley but acquire Kendrick afterwards or as part of a single or multi-team trade but that is also a bit of a stretch.

Likelihood: Very Low


Based on the fact that the Angels farm system is very weak and that Dipoto and company appear to have built a core nucleus that was supposed to carry us through 2015, it seems more likely that the Angels hold onto Howie for the time being.

That situation might change if Taylor Lindsey continues to develop, as the front office might feel he is ready to step into the second base role. Some have argued that he has trouble hitting lefties but the simple solution to that is a platoon with someone like Tommy Field, who can hit left handed pitching.

Ultimately the Angels will need to find a way to upgrade their rotation and Kendrick might be a piece that is expendable and could bring back a good, solid, rotation arm. Other options are, of course, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo but it seems that the Angels would prefer to keep them over Kendrick in the long run.

The second base market after this season has some different potential options that include Robinson Cano, Omar Infante, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, Chase Utley, and possibly Ben Zobrist (doubtful as the Rays will almost definitely exercise their club option of $7 million). If the Angels did get an outstanding offer for Howie, they could replace him with either a Lindsey/Field combo or bargain hunt the free agent market.

These free agency options are why the Angels might feel comfortable in trading Howie sometime before the start of the 2014 season. Erick Aybar might be considered as a trade chip, too, but the shortstop market is better after the 2014 season where you have names like J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, and Hanley Ramirez possibly available in free agency if needed (It seems likely Aybar will be here through 2015 until we have a farmhand ready to replace him).

In the end, the more likely time for a possible Kendrick trade is in the offseason but you will likely see him play in 2014. I think the Angels are more likely to continue down the road of seeing if this group can increase and maintain their performance levels for a run next season.

Howie Kendrick has been a bright spot this year and certainly adds value to the team but at some point Jerry Dipoto will have to address our other needs and Kendrick, by playing at a higher level, may be a strong option that could net the Angels one or more key pieces to shore up those areas where the organization is weak.

Love to hear what you think!

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