Sunday, December 6, 2015

By Robert Cunningham, Staff Writer - 

The nice thing about having the best center fielder and player in baseball signed to a multi-year contract is that he brings so much certainty to a high-value, up-the-middle position.

Mike Trout continues to perform at a legendary level and he is the one, bright superstar that any team would love to build around and we, the fans, are really lucky he plays for the Angels.

For anyone who still has doubts about what direction the team should take, the fact that we have a Hall of Fame player in his prime years should erase that doubt.

The only way a complete rebuild happens is if we trade Mike Trout and to be completely frank his value in 2016, even with his current contract, is probably worth eight to ten Top 20 prospects or 4-5 elite MLB players.

His singular value to any team is what you wish for and build around not dismantle, i.e. a rebuild is out of the question as it should be.

Behind Trout the only three players that can readily back him up are Collin Cowgill, recently signed Rafael Ortega, and recently claimed Todd Cunningham (Great name!).

Just for kicks:

Educated Guess and Author’s Choice Mike Trout, all day, every day, for the rest of human history.

Right Field

So it is pretty clear that Kole Calhoun has right field locked up for the foreseeable future.

The only way this might change is if the Angels acquire an OF they would prefer to play in RF and move Calhoun over to LF.

That seems unlikely as Kole has shown a very accurate and strong arm but if a player is acquired that would fit better, or at least equal, at the position, such as Jason Heyward or J.D. Martinez for instance, the Angels could potentially shift him over to LF.

Since we’ve already covered several different corner outfield options in the Left Field section let’s focus on the three above starting with ISO:

Calhoun and Martinez lead the chart with Heyward a little closer to League average. In recent years power has become scarce (or League drug policies have improved) so any of these three players would provide League average or better power in RF.

Now let’s look at BB/K:

Here Kole and Jason lead in the graph with Martinez a distant third.

You’ll notice that Calhoun dipped below League average in the last two years and that primarily is a result of him exchanging plate discipline for better power numbers.

If the Angels do bring in another RF and move Kole to LF it would seem likely that the Angels would ask him to continue the conversion and move him permanently into the middle of the order which will keep his BB/K ratio suppressed compared to the leadoff version of Calhoun.

Finally we’ll examine wRC+:

Overall Calhoun leads the graph followed by an inconsistent Martinez and a steadier Heyward. Realistically any of those three would excel in RF and of course we know that Kole has been doing an excellent job there.

The real discriminator would be defense. Here Heyward clearly leads the pack but that is no slight towards Calhoun as he is an excellent defender in his own right. Martinez is more of an average defensive RF but he has a cannon for an arm. Any of them would be a boon defensively in RF.

Beyond defense you can speak about base running and base stealing.

As Dayn Perry wrote, Heyward adds unheralded value on the base paths. Jason has a career 76.1% success rate and knows how and when to take the extra base and avoids hitting into the double play better than most. Calhoun and Martinez aren’t good base stealers although both of them can run the bases fairly well.

You may be thinking at this point why there is such a limited list of candidates in this RF section. The answer revolves around Eppler’s statement that he wants to improve the “defensive spectrum of players” at each position.

If you pull up a list of qualified top defensive RF’s from 2014-2015 you have only four players who produced positive ‘DEF’: Jason Heyward, Lorenzo Cain, Ender Inciarte, and Kole Calhoun.

Even J.D. Martinez has a slightly negative FanGraphs DEF valuation over that time period (he’s ranked 5th overall behind the four above). This list should prove that high quality defensive RF’s are in short supply.

In fact they are in such short supply that when you have the chance to acquire one you should take it.

Since Lorenzo Cain, Ender Inciarte, and J.D. Martinez are very unlikely to be traded (Royals won a WS with Cain, the Diamondbacks are loading up so Inciarte is likely staying put, and the Tigers owner wants to win now) there is only one viable candidate left and that is free agent Jason Heyward.

Acquiring Heyward isn’t a necessity but when you have the opportunity to bring in an impact player at such a young age it is the type of decision you have to seriously consider even at the high price he’ll require to sign. This is, in part, why Eppler traded for Simmons.

As was stated above in the CF section the Angels have five years of a Hall of Fame player who they can’t trade because no team can come close to providing the return value he would demand and the Angels have no debt and have a lot of money coming off the books in 2017.

The only logical choice is for Arte to spend. Heyward represents one of the wisest investments on the market in terms of ability, youth, and the potential to impact the team. He fits the need to fill a corner OF spot and he can hit at the top of the order which are both critical areas of need for the team.

Now there is a very real possibility that the Angels could lose out on the bidding for Heyward. That would result in the Angels going to Plan B where they keep Calhoun in RF and go after Upton, Cespedes, or Gordon for LF. That wouldn’t be a total disaster but it’s not the ideal outcome that Jason represents for the Angels needs.

Heyward is a very complete player in that he has solid offensive production, is a smart base runner and base stealer, and is a premier defender not only in RF but he can also play CF and LF if necessary (positional flexibility). It is the latter aspect that is probably the most appealing ability that Heyward can bring to the Halos.

One important reason why our RF defense needs to be strong is the fact that there are a lot of left-handed power hitters in the American League West. Names like Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, and Robinson Cano, for instance, dot the AL West landscape.

Now certainly some balls they hit leave the field of play but those players and others like them generally hit a lot of doubles and singles to CF and RF and having an elite defender, to complement Trout in CF, makes a lot of sense in terms of run prevention and limiting potential triples or doubles to doubles and singles.

Kole was very active in RF this year and it doesn’t seem to be a fluke coincidence so it is an important defensive position for the Angels in the foreseeable future and Heyward is one of the elite OF defenders in all of baseball.

Educated Guess and Author’s Choice – The Angels sign Jason Heyward to a 10 Year, $250MM contract to play RF and move Kole Calhoun over to LF creating the best offensive and defensive outfield unit in baseball.

Jason Heyward will hit out of the leadoff or 2-hole spot and Calhoun, with his better power, will hit in the middle of the lineup, likely behind Pujols or Cron (4 or 5-hole).

This belief in acquiring Heyward is about as strong as I’ve ever felt about a free agent target in the last few years. It may not come to fruition as the author isn’t inside Jason’s head and doesn’t understand his wants and where he would like to play baseball but the Angels need and should go above and beyond to acquire him. It is a great fit and I hope they’re able to close the deal.

In the next Section we’ll discuss Designated Hitter and the Bench.
Love to hear what you think!

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