Monday, November 30, 2015

By Robert Cunningham, Staff Writer - 

Author’s Note: Aaron Hicks, who was noted as a possible Minor League target as an outfield acquisition, was traded to the New York Yankees likely making him unavailable now.

Rewind about a year ago to my Offseason Primer and we discussed Hamilton’s serious decline and even trading him due to poor production (Arte did stomach eating the money!).

Now, in the present, we are faced with finding a reasonable solution to what has been a long run of positional concern.

The Angels have internal options but virtually all of them are raw or not ideal.

Kyle Kubitza, Efren Navarro, Collin Cowgill, Alfredo Marte, Gary Brown, Chad Hinshaw, and Ruben Sosa could all battle it out for a full time or platoon role to start 2016.

Both Murphy and DeJesus were possibilities but both had their team options declined which was the most likely outcome as was discussed in Part II of the Primer.

Grant Green, Blake Gailen, and Roger Kieschnick were also alternatives but all of them elected Minor League Free Agency per MLB via Baseball America.

In order to grasp the offensive potential of our internal options let’s use the standard benchmarks set in Part II of the Primer series starting with ISO:

Alfredo Marte leads on this graph followed by the consistent Kyle Kubitza. Hinshaw spiked high in 2014 but his other two professional seasons are less than desirable to see in a full time outfielder. Chad’s book has not been written yet but he’s not seen as a high power type.

Cowgill has shown glimpses of better power but his inconsistent play time and injuries have kept him from really shining on a regular basis. Navarro, as we discussed in Part III of the Primer is more of a singles and doubles type of hitter.

Looking further here are their BB/K ratios:

As expected, Navarro’s and Kubitza’s on base skills lead the chart. Hinshaw is in the same range with the power hitting Marte and the defensively solid Cowgill picking up the rear.

Finally let’s examine their wRC+:

Kubitza, Marte, and Navarro sit in the top of the graph. Hinshaw is beginning to show similar ability but he’ll need to show a better gap to gap approach and improve his versatility if he ever wants to be a full time contributor.

Cowgill rounds out the bottom but his results are primarily due to his inconsistent playing time so the graph may not be showing his true potential (or lack of).

So where does this leave the Angels in terms of their left field solution?

Defensively Cowgill is the best of the group but all of the players listed don’t normally call left field their primary home although all of them can play average defense at the position.

Unfortunately none of them jump out and scream full-time regular.

The free agent market does offer other opportunities but most of those are likely to cost too much for the budget conscious version of the 2016 Angels.

Top names like Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cepsedes, Alex Gordon, and Ben Zobrist will not come cheap.

Upton, Heyward, and Cespedes have all been rumored to receive paydays that will top $150MM or more and based on recent history Upton and Heyward could easily top $200MM due to their young age and pedigrees.

Lower tier free agents such as Gerardo Parra, Dexter Fowler, and Austin Jackson are much more achievable for the Halos but are not necessarily huge production for value improvements over our in-house options ($550K Kubitza vs. a $15MM Jackson for instance).

Of course all of this changes if Arte spends big.

The reality, based on the financial discussion from Part I of the Primer Series, is that if Arte Moreno authorizes a significant payroll increase the Angels can blow past the Luxury Tax threshold and acquire at least one big-ticket free agent.

If that happens (and it seems more likely than ever now that the Angels have traded for Simmons) it would not be surprising at all to see the Angels go after any of the Top 4 names (Price, Greinke, Heyward, and Upton) in free agency and possibly more.

This is not just limited to free agency either as the trade market could also have some interesting choices for the Halos.

Major League names such as Jose Bautista, J.D. Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, and Curtis Granderson could make sense for the team if they are available and the front office can create the payroll space for one of them.

However none of those names have more than 2 years of team service so they are not ideal in terms of long term control.

To get a better idea of how some of these free agent and trade target possibilities compare lets apply our standard offensive benchmarks again, as always, starting with ISO:

Seeing Kole Calhoun at the top of this graph is both surprising and unsurprising.

It’s the former because he clearly leads the graph which you wouldn’t necessarily expect and it’s the latter too because he has had a pretty solid history of power throughout his Minor and Major League career.

Heyward, Gordon, and Zobrist round out the top four with Fowler, Jackson, and Parra bringing up the rear at or below the LF ISO League average.

Next we look at BB/K ratios:

So yeah we’ve pretty firmly established Zobrist’s on-base skills. Behind him though is our good friend Mr. Calhoun along with Heyward, Fowler, and Gordon. Grouped below those five, Jackson and Parra troll the bottom of the graph at the League average line.

Finally, wRC+:

Clearly Kole’s doing a pretty decent job as he’s in the same ballpark here as Zobrist, Gordon, and Heyward.

Following closely to that group is Fowler followed by Jackson and to a lesser degree Parra who has basically been below League average.

So there are options for our corner outfield needs with some obviously better than others in terms of Major League talent.

Minor League names of interest include Jackie Bradley Jr. (Red Sox AAA/MLB), Josh Bell (Pirates AAA), Eric Campbell (Mets AAA), Eddie Rosario (Twins AAA/MLB), Max Kepler (Twins AA), and Aaron Hicks (Twins AAA/MLB).

Educated Guess – Although it would be nice to acquire Upton, Heyward, or Cespedes, the prices will be out of bounds for the Angels payroll unless we trade at least two of our big contracts or Arte opens his pocketbook.

If the Angels are budget constrained, one of Ben Zobrist, Alex Gordon, or Dexter Fowler seems achievable if the Angels make financial room. Additionally Zobrist or Gordon would fit the team time horizon in terms of contract length. Parra might be a good choice defensively as he can play all 3 OF positions but all signs point to his 2015 offensive outburst being an outlier.

However if Arte takes Eppler to the ATM machine, Jason Heyward seems like a prime target with Upton and Gordon secondary choices and Cespedes a distant third (and only if his price is reasonable) if Billy Eppler continues to make good on his desire to improve the defensive spectrum of players as his main priority.

In light of the Andrelton Simmons trade the Angels do seem even more poised to do damage in the free agent market so the ATM machine scenario is, as we say in the rocket science realm, “Ready for launch!”

Author’s Choice – Kole Calhoun will be our starting left fielder for the 2016 season (see the upcoming RF section for further, unsurprising details).

The next section will cover both Center Field and Right Field.
Love to hear what you think!

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