Friday, November 13, 2015

By Robert Cunningham, Staff Reporter - 

Author’s Note: Player data displayed was pulled at end of season. Additionally Brad Miller, a suggested trade target, was acquired by the Rays in an early season trade with the Mariners. Also another trade target, Jose Reyes, is having serious off the field issues (Domestic violence charge) that would likely impact the Angels desire, if they even have it in the first place, to try and acquire him in trade. So, just as I hit ‘Send’ on the e-mail to Chuck, the Andrelton Simmons trade broke. The important thing here is that the Angels did upgrade defensively at the position and obtained a long-term, cost-controlled solution which is very important to the core idea of this Primer which is that the Angels need to build around Mike Trout’s remaining five years of control. Hope you still read and enjoy the thought process at least. Apparently I have to get these out faster this offseason! 

The decision to keep Erick Aybar this season may prove to be an easy one on the surface, due to a lack of readily available replacements, but the underlying difficulty related to the Angels team payroll and Erick’s increasing age may be his undoing.

First of all, Erick is heading into his walk year in 2016. Aybar will be a borderline candidate for a Qualifying Offer (odds are a bit on the low side) at the end of next year so the Angels will most certainly shop him around the League to gauge interest and value in the offseason.

Secondly, an extension for Erick seems unlikely considering the Angels financial situation next year. The Hamilton albatross combined with Trout’s and Pujols’ contracts is putting considerable pressure on the Angels to create salary space.

This could, of course, change if Arte opens his wallet but it is also clear that Aybar’s defense is beginning to slowly decline which is a concern at the most defense-critical position in baseball.

Third, the Angels currently have three potential candidates in hand: Taylor Featherston, Ryan Jackson and, to a much lesser extent, Angel Rosa. All three have defensive potential and on-base skills but none of them seem like an ideal long-term solution or replacement for Aybar at this point in time.

Fourth, the free agent shortstop market contains only one truly viable candidate in Ian Desmond while the rest of the names consist of aging vets (Rollins, Aviles, Furcal, and Punto), or middling to sub-par defenders (Cabrera, Drew, and Arias) at the position.

Finally the trade market does contain some players and prospects that may hold interest to the Halos if they do decide to move Aybar in trade rather than keep him in his final year.

To better understand how our internal options compare let’s use our three standard offensive statistics to compare them starting with ISO:

As we discussed in the 2B section Featherston has some solid power for a middle infielder. Aybar, Rosa, and, to a lesser extent, Jackson are grouped fairly close together so there is nothing overly distinguishing to see.

Next let’s look at BB/K ratios:

Jackson clearly has the more consistent ability to take walks and limit his strikeouts. Aybar is similar but to a lesser extent.

Featherston is probably closer to Aybar in this grouping but that is masked by his 2015 season while Rosa, who is still developing down in the Minors, brings up the rear in this crowd.

Finally let’s look at wRC+:

Retaining Rule 5 selection Taylor Featherston for the entire year on the Major League roster was probably a wise insurance move in hindsight.

Based on his five year offensive history if he can stick defensively at either SS or 2B we’d have a possible candidate for a full-time regular contributor. At the minimum Taylor becomes a quality utility player.

Aybar has been pretty consistent on the offensive side of the ball but you can see a slight downward slope on the graph that may or may not be a permanent indicator of age-related decline.

Jackson has been fairly consistent as well but his defensive skills outweigh his offensive ones. Ryan will be a potential candidate for the starting SS job and he does have decent on base skills which, in combination with his defense, is probably why Dipoto acquired him in the Butera trade.

There isn’t much data on Rosa but he is probably fairly equivalent to Ryan, i.e. more of a glove first guy. Angel is very likely a remote candidate at this point in his Minor League career but the organization seems high on his leadership skills so he may enter the picture at a later date.

The conclusion here is that if the Angels want or have to trade Erick Aybar this offseason Billy Eppler is going to need to either sign a free agent, trade for a Major League ready SS, or bring in at least 2-3 more prospects or players to compete for the starting job in Spring Training.

So if Aybar has potentially seen his last game in an Angels uniform who do they bring in to replace him?

The author has assembled a sample list of free agent and trade possibilities to examine. By no means is this list a thorough or complete one.

To better compare these players and prospects we’ll use the standard set of offensive statistics used in previous sections, starting with ISO:

 As you can see Ian Desmond and Trevor Story are in a tier by themselves in terms of extra base hitting.

Reyes, Taylor, and, to a lesser degree, Ramirez and Cecchini, are more tightly packed together in the middle of the graph. As a group here these four aren’t completely light hitters but individually they probably won’t knock in more than 5-15 HR’s in a season.

Taking a deeper look let’s compare BB/K ratios:

 The only two consistent performance lines on that graph belong to Trevor Story and Ian Desmond and both of them are trolling the bottom of it. Finding a remotely straight line anywhere else is hopeless!

Cecchini and to a lesser extent Ramirez are showing glimpses of improvement which is important considering their ages (21 and 22 respectively). Taylor is young too, and had a rough start in the Majors, so there is definite upside making his 2013 through 2014 seasons’ likely outliers.

That leaves Reyes and his last three years point to a persistent decline making him a much riskier proposition for any team acquiring him.

Finally let’s take a look at wRC+:


Here the younger generation is ahead of the older one although you still have to consider the Majors vs. Minors league comparison.

The legitimate upside of Chris Taylor, Trevor Story, and to a lesser extent Gavin Cecchini is glimpsed in the graph above. To top it off all three of them have average to above average defensive reputations (click on their names to see scouting reports).

Desmond’s and Reyes’ downward sloping lines are certainly a bit concerning to anyone interested in their services.

Ramirez’s line has been moving south too but that could be due to his young age and his split time between the Minors and the Majors over the last two seasons. Defensively he can play a good SS and an excellent 2B if needed.

So out of this limited group of players do any of them make sense for the Angels?

Desmond will likely command a large contract and long-term commitment that the Angels cannot afford in their current financial state unless Moreno opens the floodgates. Even then Ian is not the highest priority to acquire making this a less likely scenario but not implausible based on the variety of routes the Angels can take to improve this offseason.

Reyes is owed a lot of money and only has two years remaining on his contract so if the Angels were to trade for him they would end up revisiting the same situation next offseason making Jose a poor choice even if the Rockies eat some of his salary.

Any of the remaining four prospects/players would probably be good choices for the Halos.

Jose Ramirez likely has the best range of the group. Taylor and Story are better offensive options while Cecchini has average tools across the board making him unspectacular but reliable.

If Billy Eppler decides to trade Aybar it seems quite likely he’d make good on his goal of improving the defensive spectrum of players at their specific positions by acquiring a player like Jose Ramirez.

Other Major League names the Angels might have interest in include Brad Miller, Elvis Andrus, Eugenio Suarez, Andrelton Simmons, and Zack Cozart among others.

Minor League prospects include names such as Ketel Marte (Mariners AAA/MLB prospect) and Alex Blandino (Reds AA prospect) for example.

Educated Guess – This situation is not unlike the one the Angels faced last year with Kendrick with the difference being that the Angels don’t have as many potential replacements lined up yet, creating greater doubt and significant risk.

If they cannot acquire a replacement shortstop or Erick’s trade market doesn’t develop well they’ll run out Aybar and deal with replacing him at the trade deadline next year or more likely in the 2016-2017 offseason.

Author’s Choice – I love Erick but he has possibly played his last game as an Angel and I expect to see Eppler trade for a defensively gifted middle infielder like Jose Ramirez to replace him.

The Indians currently plan to use Ramirez in a defensive utility role for 2016 so the cost to acquire him shouldn’t be too tremendous and they have a replacement player in former Angels farmhand Eric Stamets who has an equally good glove and profiles better as a backup infielder.

Although Jose doesn’t have the strongest arm in the world he has the range and instincts to man SS and could be brought in along with one or more other SS candidates (including Featherston, Jackson, and anyone else we acquire) to battle for the starting job in Spring Training with the losers relegated to utility use or the Minors.

Love to hear what you think!

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