By Toby Hunt, AngelsWin.com Columnist -
"I love the smell of peanut butter in the morning"
Last season, I wrote an article called "Operation: Clean Peanut" which was a rousing success. So much so, that the Angels' front office saw fit to do exactly zero of what I had suggested. And look at where it got them: The best record in baseball. So here we are. Another year, gone. Another hot stove season underway. Jerry Dipoto has already given Angels fans some sexy hot stove action with the signing of Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin as well as the trade of Hank Conger to the 'Stros for pitcher Nick Tropeano and catching prospect Carlos Perez. Jerry knows what we want, and he wasted no time showing off the goods. No silly plot, no buildup, just straight to the money shot. Now we are finding out that there's some issues with the Visa for Baldoquin and the Dominican government is trying to ****block us. However I'm certain things will get figured out, and perhaps Vladdy can go talk some sense into them and be the team's diplomat. After all, you don't just blow your wad over some nice hot stove porn only to find out the chick was actually a dude later on after some research, ruining my entire night.
Anywho, now that the Angels have some depth in three areas of need, it's time to figure out what else they can not do and succeed because I suck at making trade proposals and FA suggestions. The biggest area of need is arguably the starting pitching staff. Weaver is another year older. Wilson has, as fellow AW contributor Glen McKee put it, "more question marks than the Riddler's unitard", Richards' health and effectiveness is in question, and Shoemaker is likely to see some regression (did I just rhyme?). Oddly enough, the only real "sure" things are Santiago and Tropeano. I think we know what to expect from Santiago at this point, and I'm certain Tropeano can make a solid number 5 starter. But what happens if Richards comes down with Moralesitis and can't get healthy? What happens if we find out Wilson has decided to include "pitching good" as one of the things he wants to exclude from his straight edge lifestyle? Well, Operation: Clean Peanut was successful, which is why I am proposing Operation Clean Peanut VI: Return of the JeDI.
You have more than enough money, sir.
The list of free agent pitchers is actually quite intriguing. You've got Scherzer, Lester, and Shields all set to hit the market. With Masterson and Liriano leading the next tier of free agent starters. The pickings are good, and Arte is more than willing to open up his checkbook to improve the team, right? Right? No seriously, I'm asking you. No one seems to know the answer to this question. Is he willing to go over the luxury tax or has he set a strict cap on his payroll? We've heard both sides from different sources. Well, for the sake of this article lets assume that Arte Moreno does not want to go over the luxury tax threshold because honestly who wants to pay taxes? Aliens, maybe. Last I check Arte was not an Alien, so it's safe to assume he doesn't want to pay a tax he could otherwise avoid.
Perhaps "Alien" was the wrong choice of word...
That leaves the Angels with roughly 9 million in open payroll, 10 million tops. This is with guaranteed contracts and expected arbitration contracts included. That isn't a whole lot of breathing room to work with. So how do the Angels improve the rotation without going over the luxury tax? We've heard rumors that Howie or Freese are likely to be traded this offseason. However with the Angels releasing Lucho Jimenez recently and with Boldoquin's contract in jeopardy, it's probably best to keep Freese around. That leaves Howie as the main trade chip. But who could Howie bring in a trade? The Blue Jays have reportedly called the Angels several times, probably begging for the Angels to trade them Kendrick for Vernon Wells again. However the Jays, like the Marlins, Rays, and Mets, are on Howie's no-trade list. So any trade to those teams would require Howie's permission.
At this point, I'm not sure Howie would bring an already established number 3 starter that this team desperately needs. However, I do believe he could bring in a couple of nice prospects whilst shedding some precious payroll in the process. The Braves are a team that need a second baseman, and they are not on Howie's no-trade list. I feel they could be suitors for the right price. Atlanta has a few nice pitching prospects in Lucas Sims and Jason Hursh, as well as Cody Martin who appears to be ready to take the next step into the big leagues. That said, Sims is just 20 years old and was a top 60 prospect according to Baseball America this past year. He's likely to crack the top 100 again this year and it's doubtful the Braves will part with him for 1 year of Kendrick. I am intrigued by Cody Martin, who turned 25 in September, and saw a very successful 2014 campaign at AAA International league. He projects as either a starter, or a reliever, which would give the Angels some depth at either position. Another intriguing prospect, is Kyle Kubitza, who put up an .875 OPS this past year at AA Mississippi. Most importantly, he is a third baseman, something the Angels don't really have in their system.
It's not you, it's.....actually yeah, it's you.
Now, a lot of people will hate this proposal. Trading Kendrick, who has been one of the top 5-6 2nd basemen in baseball for many years now, for two unknown prospects who may not even see time with the team in 2015. I get it. Howie is an under-appreciated player, and his value is perhaps more to the Angels than it is anywhere else. But he has just 1 year left on his contract. Another year like 2014, and he's likely to get Ian Kinsler money on the FA market. Are the Angels really willing to pay 15 million a year for him as he enters his mid 30's? My gut feeling says no, but then again I just had Mexican food so it could just be gas. This team has so much in guaranteed contracts as it is, they don't really need to be adding any more on top of that. They need to start getting young, cost controlled players to restock the farm, and right now is a good chance of doing just that. Howie for Cody Martin and Kyle Kubitza sounds like a fair trade to me, and it frees up 9.5 million (roughly) in payroll, leaving the Angels with about 19 million in free space for 2015.
Which brings me to the FA signing portion of this article, because we can't have a clean peanut unless we find one floating around the market. Justin Masterson. Yes. Justin Masterson, the guy who had a 63 ERA+ in 2014. After a somewhat breakout year in 2013, Masterson had injury issues and pretty much CJ Wilson'd the entire season between Cleveland and St. Louis, effectively plummeting his hopes for a big contract in 2015. Masterson will be 30 years old at the start of 2015, and scouts believe he will be ready and healthy for ST 2015. He will be poised to prove that he is still a good pitcher, and will be looking for that big contract on the market. This is why he is likely to sign for a 1 year deal. It's a low risk, high reward deal that makes plenty of sense for the Angels. if he doesn't work out, they have the depth to replace him. If he does, they get a great year from a good pitcher and can waive him goodbye when Skaggs is back in 2016. MLBtraderumors has suggested a 1 year/12 million deal. I'll suggest 1 year/10 million because did you actually look at his 2014 numbers? The Angels add half a million in payroll whilst getting the pitching depth they so desperately need. This leaves them a little wiggle room should they need to add a BP arm or make a trade mid-season.
Masterson is the definition of "clean peanut". He could be a golden peanut for all we know, you just have to make sure to rub off the poo first.