Monday, October 19, 2015

By Robert Cunningham, Staff Writer - 

2016 40-Man Player Roster Composition Discussion

The two easiest things to do when making an educated guess about next year’s roster is to identify players whose contracts are expiring and that are most likely to return.

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

Chris Iannetta
Shane Victorino
Wesley Wright
David Freese
Matt Joyce

On the flip side the following players, mostly due to long-term contracts, money owed, no-trade clauses, scarcity, or team control, will likely be on the Major League roster next year:

Mike Trout
Albert Pujols
Kole Calhoun
CJ Cron
Jered Weaver
Garrett Richards
Andrew Heaney
Huston Street
Trevor Gott
Tyler Skaggs
Carlos Perez 

That is a good core of players to build upon. No player is truly safe, unless their name is Mike Trout, so one or more of the names above could be moved in trade before Opening Day 2016.

Beyond that group, the front office will have some arbitration decisions to make.

Clearly Richards, Santiago, and Calhoun will be tendered contracts. Beyond that Cowgill seems like a good bet as well. 

Salas and Ramos might be borderline arbitration decisions. However Salas was running a strong K%-BB% of 23% this year and seemed to struggle with BABIP issues. Ramos performed well with a 2.75 ERA over 52.1 innings pitched.

It seems likely both will be tendered contracts but either one or both could be traded rather than retained for the 2016 bullpen.

Eppler will have to make some interesting decisions on his option players as well.

David Murphy at $7MM and David DeJesus at $5MM are not unreasonable free agent prices so the question becomes do the Angels exercise their options and keep one or both on the roster for 2016, do they exercise the options then trade one or both, or do they not pick up the options and release them?

It seems that no matter whether the Luxury Tax is breached or payroll is constrained, both of them will either be traded or have their options ($500K and $1MM for Murphy and DeJesus, respectively) bought out and would become free agents.

So beyond the arbitration and option decisions the Angels have holes to fill through free agency or trade.

Because Arte Moreno has opened up the door on signing the “right player”, will the Angels exceed the Luxury Tax and if so by how much and for whom?

When Moreno says the “right player” he is indicating only the cream of the crop of the free agent market which, this year, includes names like Price, Greinke, Upton, and Heyward.

It could include others like Ian Desmond, Chris Davis, Johnny Cueto, and Jordan Zimmermann, but those players aren’t quite in the same tier as the other group.

The “right player” could also include a trade for a high-ticket player from another team such as Jose Bautista for instance.

Certainly the Angels could break the tax and sign two players such as Desmond and Davis, for example, but the Angels will likely target one or more specific players and after they sign (whether with the Halos or another team) let the market guide the rest of their free agent search.

One final detail regarding free agent signings is that Angels fans should not expect a big ticket signing or trade acquisition until after December 2nd, 2015.

Per the CBA, yearly payroll, for the purposes of the Competitive Balance Tax (Luxury Tax), is assessed on that date so the Angels will not go over $189MM until December 3rd and beyond.

Unsurprisingly the Winter Meetings start on December 7th in Nashville, TN, in part, for this very reason.

Finally the trade market could be a preferred acquisition source for the Angels as there are some interesting names being floated out on MLBTradeRumors and Twitter.

The question then becomes what assets do the Angels have to trade in return?

Below is a list of likely Halos trade candidates. In no way is the list complete, as it lacks a lot of our prospects, and, as was stated earlier, no one is truly safe from being traded except Mike Trout:

Hector Santiago
Cesar Ramos
Fernando Salas
Kaleb Cowart
Kyle Kubitza
Erick Aybar
David Murphy
Tyler Deloach
C.J. Wilson
David DeJesus
Matt Shoemaker
Nick Tropeano
Nate Smith
Chris Ellis
Joe Smith 

Now certainly there are names on that list that are problematic to trade.

Unless a competent replacement is found, trading Erick Aybar would be like shooting yourself in the foot.

Someone like C.J. Wilson would be difficult to move without absorbing some portion of his contract. Before his injury it seemed quite likely the Angels would trade him for deadline help but now C.J. is recovering from surgery and his value has taken a hit.

Other players such as Ramos, Salas, Murphy, and DeJesus don’t have a tremendous amount of value so expecting much in return is unreasonable.

The remainder of the list (Santiago, Cowart, Kubitza, Shoemaker, Tropeano, Smith, Smith, and Ellis) represents the most likely set of valuable trade chips that the Angels have at this moment in time.

To be crystal clear only a small number of these eight players would probably be traded pre-season unless the team goes on a big free agent spending spree. The team can only thin out their depth charts so much.

In the team’s current state, Billy Eppler can probably afford to part with one of our starting left-handed pitchers.

Since Heaney has performed so well and Wilson’s full value is currently compromised that makes Hector Santiago, Tyler Deloach, or Nate Smith the more preferred trade chips. 

Cowart and Kubitza would only be moved if the Angels were to re-sign David Freese or sign, or trade for, another third baseman.

One of the three right-handed starters, Shoemaker, Tropeano, or Ellis, might be redundant to the Halos and could be moved for pieces in other areas of need as well. Again the Angels have sufficient depth to allow one of these pieces to be moved.

Joe Smith has been a valuable member of the bullpen this season but if Eppler is truly capped by the Luxury Tax threshold then Joe and his $5.25MM salary becomes a weight that might be an attractive option to be moved in trade.

There would almost certainly be a lot of interest in Joe on the trade market and his reasonable salary and one-year commitment would have definite appeal. The Angels will only consider this if payroll is tight and Smith’s potential replacements (Bedrosian, Rasmus, Morin, or Gott) are ready to take over 8th inning duties.

Ultimately the Angels have urgent needs to fill in left field and third and second base. Additionally acquiring an elite starter would provide better balance to the rotation. If bullpen pieces are traded then acquiring a high-end reliever becomes a necessity as well.

Eppler also has to deal with Erick Aybar entering his walk year. Currently there are no definitive solutions to replace him with the closest being Ryan Jackson. Finding a long term shortstop to take over next year, or this year and subsequently trading Aybar, is a priority as well.

If the Angels are going to put Giavotella, Kubitza, Cowart, and other prospect or journeymen candidates in competition for the 2B, 3B, and LF jobs in Spring Training they should seriously consider signing or acquiring a veteran player who is versatile enough to play 3B, 2B, or even a corner outfield position.

Adding a player like this would, of course, fill one of those positions but it would allow the Angels to plug the biggest potential hole if one, or more, of those candidates stumble and fail to win a starting job.

If one of those players does have a poor Spring Training outing they would return to the Minors or, in the case of Giavotella, relegated to the bench or released (he’s out of options).

Building player depth is critical to any team and acquiring one or more versatile players allows a GM to let some of their Minor League prospects with options battle it out for precious roster space. Those that don’t make the cut can still act as depth pieces.

Finally Billy Eppler was quoted saying that the Angels would “… find players that profile defensively for the positions they play.” Acquiring one or more players, higher up the defensive spectrum, particularly at 2B, SS, and 3B can only help with run prevention next year.

To gain a better understanding of the roster challenges leading into the offseason we’ll be examining each field position, the starting rotation, the bullpen, and the bench over the coming days.

Please note that player data you will see was pulled on different dates (noted at the beginning of each section) and only regular season data is included in the yearly numbers, i.e. no Arizona Fall League numbers.

Additionally the author has used Isolated Power (ISO), Walk to Strikeout Ratios (BB/K), and Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) as offensive comparison tools for this series. Please click on the embedded links to FanGraphs if you need a full definition.

Also each of the graphs, within each section of the series, has been scaled for easy comparison purposes. If for some reason you compare different sections to each other just realize the scales on the graphs will likely differ.

Please also keep in mind that prospects in the Minors can’t be compared directly to Major League players so adjust accordingly when examining the data.

Finally all of this data was hand typed into a spreadsheet. The author has made every effort to correctly enter said data but the possibility exists that an error may have crept its way in. If that happens I blame the netting on my glove.

The next section will cover our catcher situation.
Love to hear what you think!

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