Friday, January 10, 2014

By Toby Hunt, Contributor -

So I've been reading through the Tanaka threads the past few days and seeing twitter blow up with rumors and news after his arrival in Los Angeles, and a strange (and otherwise obvious) thought occurred to me: It is incredibly unlikely that the Angels sign Tanaka. There is still a glimmer of hope, of course. Though I'd put the odds currently at around 20 to 1. For those wondering why it may be so unlikely that the Angels sign Tanaka, let me give my reasons as to why I feel he is an absolute longshot at this point.

First off, the demand. There are far too many teams bidding for his services. This will drive up his cost immensely in the bidding war that will inevitably ensue. Being essentially a free agent, Tanaka can basically choose where he wants to play. He'll likely get a respectable bid from all corners of the country and some places in between. While Anaheim is a great city and the Angels are a great organization, Tanaka may not think so. Teams like the Yankees and Dodgers already have an advantage in that regard. They don't have to convince Tanaka that they are the right place to go. Hell even Seattle has an advantage. The Angels need to not only make a high bid, but also convince him to want to play for the Angels. Did I mention the bidding war? Yeah that's kind of important. Teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, etc.. are expected to be players for Masahiro Tanaka. But what about the other teams with significant money to spend? Seattle, Chicago and Houston come to mind. I expect all these teams to be bidding against each other, raising Tanaka's cost to ridiculous levels. Which brings me to....

The CBT. The competitive balance tax is MLB's "salary cap", so to speak. It sets a payroll threshold each year and teams that go over that threshold are to pay a tax. The percentage can change but so far it has looked like this:

     *17.5% if the team didn’t exceed the tax threshold in 2012
     *30% if the team exceeded the tax threshold in 2012 and paid 20%
     *40% if the team exceeded the tax threshold both in 2011 and 2012, meaning they paid 30% in 2012
     *50% if the team exceeded the tax threshold in the last few years and they paid anything over 40%

So basically, each year you go over the threshold, you pay a percentage for every dollar you go over. 17.5% for first time offenders, 30% to two-year offenders, and so on. This doesn't sound like much, but when you are going over the threshold by say, 5 million, it tends to add up, especially if you plan on keeping your payroll around the same for the next few years. While that may seem like pennies to a guy like Arte Moreno, a 17.5% tax on 5 million is a fine of $875,000. Again, pennies to a billionaire, but imagine being Joe 9 to 5 getting a fine for $875,000. You would literally shit your pants. Then jump off a bridge. Then shit your pants again. The point is, nobody wants to pay taxes or fines. Arte is not excluded from that. While I have stated many a time before that I believe he would be willing to go over the tax for "the right player" and I do believe he may very well consider Tanaka to be that player, just how much is he willing to go over the threshold? I mean, he didn't become a billionaire by throwing money around like a businessman at a strip club (although some might feel he put a few too many singles in Pujols and Hamilton's G-String). He has a budget, whatever that may be. If we are to believe the numbers, the Angels are around 15 million shy of the threshold. I am going to go out on a limb and say 15 million per year is not going to land Tanaka. In fact, I would say 20 million is a conservative guess at this point. Is Arte willing to go over by 6, 7, even 8 million to land a guy who has never pitched to a single MLB batter? Perhaps, and while the Angels do have Wells' hilarity coming off the books next year, there are other pressing needs the team will need to address in the next few seasons (Craig Landis can be heard making weird, happy noises in the background).

So with Tanaka being an unlikely candidate, that brings us to our next candidate, Matt Garza. Garza has been a solid middle of the rotation guy for pretty much his entire career. Even though he is a Class A Douche, he is still likely to bring a few years of quality production to whatever team he signs for. So why not go all in on him? Well for one, as soon as Tanaka signs/goes back to Japan, Garza is going to be the next hot commodity. Most of the teams who were "all-in" on Tanaka are likely to turn their focus on Garza. Do you see where I'm going with this? Remember the 15 million estimate I mentioned earlier? Well it's unlikely that Garza gets less than that amount. In fact, I would say it's likely he gets closer to 20 million. I could be wrong, but this market is crazy for pitching and with Tanaka off the books a lot of teams will be bidding for Garza's douchey services. So once again Arte is faced with the question: How much is he willing to go over the CBT threshold, if at all? In my humble opinion, Tanaka is a guy he would go over for. Garza? Not so much. And I hope that is how he actually feels. Garza is a solid pitcher, but his health concerns are a big red flag and also the fact that he is likely to get paid more than any Angels pitcher in history.

So who do the Angels go to if not the "Big Two" of the offseason (Mike Scioscia's bowel movements are not a part of this discussion)? Well, that's where Operation Clean Peanut comes in. "WTF is Operation Clean Peanut" you might be asking yourself. Well for those who don't know my "bag of shit" metaphor, it is essentially a bag of shit that Mike Scioscia reaches into (AKA a group of pitchers) trying to find a "clean peanut" (or, a pitcher who doesn't suck balls). We all know that pitching depth has been a topic of concern the past few years for the Angels, and while Jerry has tried to address this issue it has yet to be resolved. My idea is, well, not really an idea at all. In fact, many posters here have already suggested doing the same thing. The Angels should sign BOTH Paul Maholm and Chris Capuano.

Now some of you are going to run to or or *censored*.com (because it ain't gonna do it itself) to check the stats of these two "studs". What you are going to find will make you think this idea is retarded. Capuano has had an up-and-down career, exclusively in the NL. 2013 was a "down" year, with Chris posting a 4.26 ERA in just 105 innings pitched. His ERA+ was 84, so that was well below average.

As for Maholm, he's had a little more consistency, but has never been "dominant" in any way. This past year saw him injured for most of the second half.

So why those two? Why either of them? Why both? Well, because depth is freaking awesome, and these two are not as bad as they appear. First off, Capuano is a veteran who has seen plenty of success in the past. I'm not talking Joe Blanton "success" I mean he has legitimately been an above-average MLB starter, as recent as 2012. Now obviously everyone is currently rolling their eyes saying how his success came in the National League which, as we all know, is a league for Special Needs children, while the American League is for big strong, manly men. But seriously, he's a lefty who has had good success against left handed batters. Why would that suddenly be important for the Angels? He's also seen success as a reliever, posting a 3.42 ERA in 47 IP. Very small sample size, but it makes him versatile. Worst case, he ends up in the pen as a lefty specialist/emergency starter. Best case is he is a solid 4-5 pitcher who gives the Angels 175-190 innings of 4.25 ERA ball. The rumor is that Capuano wants a 2 year deal worth about 12 million. I think that is an overpay, but certainly not an "oh my god the Astros literally just gave Scott Feldman 10 million a year" overpay. Perhaps he could be negotiated down to a 2/10 deal with incentives. Maybe a 1 year deal with an option for a 2nd year (remembering the Blanton fiasco). Whatever it is, he isn't getting more than 6 million unless a *giggles* bidding war ensues for him. I don't think that will happen. The Angels should swoop in and get him now while everyone is focused on Tanaka and Garza.

No, I didn't forget about Maholm. Maholm is another lefty (seeing a pattern here?) who has seen success against left handed batters. Lefties are hitting just .225 against him for his career. Even this past season where Maholm struggled/was hurt lefties hit just .226 with a .559 OPS. Maholm is only 31 years old, and since 2011 he has put up a 4.4 WAR. Now, I'll be the first to admit that WAR for pitchers is a little iffy, but I bring it up because Matt Garza, during that same time period, has put up a 5.4 WAR. That's.....not a big difference. Especially when you consider the contract Garza is likely to get. Also, Capuano has a 2.2 WAR since 2011. 2.2 + 4.4 > 5.4. Just saying. Maholm, like Garza, has his injury concerns, but he is also likely to get a third of what Garza will get for a contract. Paul Maholm is a guy I could definitely see being a solid number 4 starter, or even a good number 5. He's also a lefty who gets lefties out well, so he could fit into the pen as well. I think he will get a 2 year deal, and I could see him getting 7 million.

For those counting, that's 14 million for two pitchers, while staying under the tax and likely getting similar overall production from both pitchers. Perhaps even more if one of them sticks in the bullpen.

This would leave the Angels with 6 pitchers trying out for 3 rotation spots. Skaggs, Santiago, Mulder, Richards, Capuano, and Maholm. None of those guys currently looks like a "good number 3" that the Angels need. In fact, that looks a little too much like a bag of shit. But the odds are that at least 2-3 of them will work out as solid starters, and even more likely that 2-3 of them will work out as starters and relievers. In other words, there's a good chance the Angels will find a few clean peanuts in 2014. With the improved bullpen, and the vastly improved pitching depth, the Angels would be looking to compete for the next couple years.

Love to hear what you think!

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