Thursday, November 20, 2014

By Robert Cunningham, Columnist - 

To begin any conversation about the 2015 season, and the preparation for it, we need to generally understand some of the team’s goals, restrictions, and long term needs.

The obvious and overarching goal is to put a winning-caliber team on the field of play to bring home a World Series Championship. Anything less will be on a sliding scale of disappointment for owner Arte Moreno, the front office, coaching staff, players, and the fan base.

Beyond that keeping the team budget below the luxury tax threshold is a goal that Arte Moreno himself voiced as a requirement in 2014. It would seem logical that Jerry is under the same restriction for next season.

The luxury tax threshold for 2015 (and 2016 as well) is $189MM per the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and Baseball Prospectus.

If Jerry Dipoto is truly restricted by the threshold, above, then it is likely the Angels won’t start the season with a payroll higher than about $160MM-$175MM.

This is, in part, because Dipoto will likely want to keep some margin available, as the trade deadline approaches, if the Angels need to reinforce or upgrade the roster for a possible playoff run. Also he will need a small buffer of payroll space for injury replacements during the season (40-man call up’s).

Another reason payroll might be an important factor is whether or not the front office wants to sign some of their young or veteran players to long-term extensions.

Several players including Garrett Richards, Grant Green, Kole Calhoun, Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, Chris Iannetta, Howie Kendrick, and possibly Kevin Jepsen (never thought those words would be seen on e-paper!) seem like potential candidates.

As it currently stands, if the Angels bring back all of their contracted and controllable players and you add in benefits, payroll will be approximately $183MM based on Average Annual Value (AAV) as seen below:

 photo AWFinal1_zpsd069e877.png

Major League minimum salaries increased approximately 5.75% from year to year on average over the last 8 years. The $528,750 reflects that average raise although it may be lower or higher from that estimate once a cost of living increase is factored in and it is officially announced. This increase will be fairly negligible to the total payroll discussion.

Also per the CBA, Benefits cannot exceed more than 10% of the preceding year’s base number from year to year. The above number of $11,880,000 represents the maximum dollar amount for 2015. It may be slightly lower but for the purposes of this discussion the difference is negligible.

Per the CBA, players who are not on the active 25-man roster will receive their Minor League salaries unless their Uniform Player Contract indicates otherwise.

If they are called up to the 25-man roster they will receive a pro-rated share of the Major League minimum based on the number of days the Major League assignment is, as compared to the total days of the season. Players who go on the Disabled List still receive their Major League salaries.

As an example last year, when Tyler Skaggs was placed on the Disabled List, Michael Roth was called up from the Minors (best guess making approximately $30,000) to take his roster spot. Roth spent approximately 33 days on the Major League roster through the playoffs. This is about 1/6th of the approximate 180 day season resulting in an additional $78,333 ($500,000 x 1/6 - $30,000 x 1/6 = $78,333).

If, over the course of a season, you call up and send down 20 players like this you would incur an additional $1.56MM to total team payroll. This has to be planned and accounted for, now, when determining what payroll will look like for next season.

Jerry Dipoto and staff will likely offset their payroll goals by $2MM to account for this needed margin buffer. Thanks to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register for the reminder about the 40-man salaries.

For the ‘Non-25 Man Salaries’, the 15 players who are on the 40-man but not on the active roster must have their potential MLB minimum salaries (assumed) removed from the Grand Total calculation. So $528,750 x 15 = $7,931,250 is the total of those salaries and is subtracted out of the ‘Grand Total’ number.

However the same 15 players will receive their Minor League salaries which do count towards team payroll. This number is approximated at $1.2MM total which must be added back into the ‘Grand Total’ calculation.

So ($7,931,250) + 1,200,000 = ($6,731,250) which helps us derive our ‘Grand Total’ calculation.

The $183,015,417 represents the projected team payroll as a snapshot moment in time. Clearly there are arbitration agreements, non-tenders, trades, and free agency signings that will change this number before the season begins.

The number includes benefits, player buyouts (Burnett and Blanton), and the removal of MLB salaries for those players not on the active roster plus those same players estimated Minor League salaries that do count as mentioned above.

What this does do is allow us to better approximate where the Angels stand as far as their payroll obligations. As mentioned above Jerry will likely want some breathing room so shaving at least $11MM (this includes the $2MM injury buffer above) off of the estimated $183MM payroll number would likely be required, possibly more.

This would create the necessary margin needed to operate in-season: $189MM (Luxury Tax Threshold) - $15MM (In-season trade margin) - $2MM (Injury buffer for 40-man call up’s) = $172MM minimum payroll target goal.

Additionally Arte Moreno is trying to figure out the Big-A situation which may have an end result of a large capital layout for a new stadium in the near future. That potential expenditure could also possibly be contributing to a decision to limit or cap spending on team payroll.

The caveat to all of this payroll discussion is that Arte has never been afraid to shell out money to make the team better, so this known/perceived budget issue may be more of a guideline than a hard rule. The Angels carry no debt and own a large share of Fox Sports West which brings in quite a bit of revenue for the team.

In terms of possible roster composition needs, it appears that the Angels, by external examination and through Jerry Dipoto’s own recent statement, would like to upgrade their rotation, bench depth, left-handed relief, and possibly find less expensive, long term options at second and third base. Some of these needs, in the rotation and bullpen, have already been addressed.

Finally Jerry Dipoto and the front office staff will reconcile their current needs and restrictions with their longer term plan (the 5-year plan). This 5-year plan focuses more on the nucleus of the active and extended rosters and where the team sees payroll, the farm hands, stadium operations, data analysis, and even coaching and front office personnel over a broader time horizon.

Clearly though, when you have the best player in the game on your team for the next six years, the goal should be to build around him and make a push for the playoffs as the team did this year and will certainly try to do next year.

2015 40-Man Player Roster Composition

The two easiest things to do when making an educated guess about next year’s roster is to identify the players whose contracts are expiring, or are not likely to return, as well as the players who are most likely to stay.

Based on expiring contracts the following players probably won’t be on next year’s roster:

John Buck
Sean Burnett
John McDonald
Joe Thatcher
Jason Grilli

That’s a lot less B’s and J’s!

On the flip side the following players, mostly due to long-term contracts or team control, will likely be here next year:

Mike Trout
Albert Pujols
Erick Aybar
Kole Calhoun
Grant Green
Collin Cowgill
CJ Cron
Jered Weaver
Garrett Richards
Matt Shoemaker
Cory Rasmus
Huston Street
Joe Smith
Tyler Skaggs
Nick Tropeano
Cesar Ramos
Drew Rucinski
Jose Alvarez
Carlos Perez
Jackson Williams

The above group is certainly a good core of players to build upon. Hank Conger was originally on the first draft of this list but as you can see no one is really safe unless their name is Mike Trout (and we can revisit this statement in 5 years)!

Another thing we can do is take a guess at potential non-tender candidates. In examining the above 40-man roster the following stand out as possibilities:

David Freese
Gordon Beckham
Kevin Jepsen
Wade LeBlanc

Looking at that list it is likely that Freese and Jepsen would be traded before being possibly non-tendered. They both have some trade value although either one is not likely to bring back much on their own.

Beckham would be an easy way for Dipoto to rid himself of $5MM off of total payroll. There is a possibility that the Angels might re-sign him on a one-year contract as a backup infielder but that seems unlikely with Grant Green in the fold as a potential super utility option.

If Gordon is taken off the books team payroll would sit at about $178MM give or take. Trading or removing Freese would reduce this number to approximately $172MM which would meet the minimum target payroll to start the season.

Some beat writers have suggested that Wade LeBlanc might be non-tendered as well. For reasons that will be discussed when we get to the starting rotation options it really seems like LeBlanc is a value play at a mere $800,000 if the Angels feel he can replicate his 2014 performance.

This is why Dipoto has stated that the 2015 team will look very similar to the 2014 team. There are simply too many contracted and league minimum players with very little in between (i.e. difficult arbitration and non-tender decisions).

In Parts II & III we will discuss the Starting Position Players.

Special thanks to members: Dochalo & Inside Pitch for their assistance in this major feature series.
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