Monday, January 9, 2017

By Robert Cunningham, Senior Writer -

First of all let me start off by saying that the odds of the Angels interest level in Jose Bautista, much less signing him, are pretty low. This is simply a test case to identify any possible advantages and disadvantages his signing would bring to the Halos.

To start the conversation Billy Eppler would have to find a positional home for Bautista. The Angels are almost certainly not going to move a premier defender like Kole Calhoun out of right field and, based on Eppler’s early offseason strike in the trade market, Maybin seems set in left field and is likely to become our leadoff hitter.

Jose has not played third base in a long time and frankly Escobar’s bat is also valuable at the top of the lineup (likely the 2-hole) so the Angels probably do not want to downgrade even more defensively at third base despite the value of Bautista’s bat in the middle of the order.

This really only leaves first base and designated hitter and we know one of those spots is permanently (at least it seems like it) held for Albert Pujols. Of course this means that if the Angels really think Jose Bautista is a good idea, C.J. Cron would have to be moved in trade or relegated to a bench role.

Frankly taking Cron’s bat and moving it to the bench seems like a waste of a roster spot. He would only play on a part-time basis or as an injury reserve and would only see plate appearances late in a ballgame. Certainly he could bring a big bang against RHP and is still inexpensive enough that team payroll would not notice but this is a less than ideal scenario for the Angels.

What this means is that the Halos would have to trade C.J. in order to accommodate Jose Bautista at first base.

So for the sake of this hypothetical argument let us say that the Angels trade C.J. Cron to the Rockies for a relief pitcher and prospects, say LHR Jake McGee and one or two mid-tier prospects. This now opens the door for the Angels to sign Jose.

As we all know Bautista rejected the Qualifying Offer, which means the Angels will have to sacrifice their 2nd round pick in this year’s draft (their 1st round, #10 pick, is protected).

A 2nd round pick is of course a lot less valuable than a 1st round pick. Realistically speaking, this 2nd round pick is, in the author’s opinion, worth about $8M-$12M in 2017. For the purposes of this article we will assume the current value is $10M for simplicity’s sake.

Of course that pick could, in 2-5 years, turn out to be worth a lot more if the player selected in that slot pans out and becomes a star. However a lot of Minor League players never make it to the Majors particularly ones taken outside of the 1st round.

Basically Billy Eppler needs to decide if that 2nd round pick plus the money spent is worth the upgrade from Cron to Bautista and does it raise the floor of the team enough on the win curve to make a difference to the teams odds of competing and winning in 2017.

So how much money would the Angels have to spend to sign Jose to a 1-year contract?

Currently it has been rumored that Bautista wants a one year deal greater than the Qualifying Offer amount of $17.2M he rejected from the Blue Jays. FanGraphs Dave Cameron suggested that Jose could wind up signing a one year deal in the $20M-$25M range.

Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system pegs Bautista at a 3.1 zWAR while Steamer thinks he will produce 2.7 WAR. FanGraphs Depth Charts essentially combines those two projection systems with inputs from their staff and shows him at 2.8 WAR, which is what we will use for the remainder of this discussion.

Assuming a $/WAR value, in the 2017 free agency year, of $8.5M/WAR combined with Jose’s 2.8 WAR projection yields a free agency price of $23.8M. This price is approximately what Bautista should sign for if you believe in the projection systems and the $/WAR number above.

So if Eppler has to fork out $23.8M for a one year contract, exceed the Competitive Balance Tax threshold and incur a probable $500,000 in taxes at the end of the season (this is a fairly negligible issue in this scenario though), and lose an estimated $10M, 2nd round draft pick, despite what Cron brings back it does not seem worth it right? Maybe.

The final thing you have to consider in these scenarios are the opportunity costs on the back-end of a signing as well.

If the Angels sign Bautista, trade Cron, and then make it to the playoffs how many people would even remember the fact that we lost a 2nd round draft pick in 2017? My suspicion is not many.

In fact you could make a sound case that spending the money now, preseason, is infinitely better than trying to buy a bat at the trade deadline where you will undoubtedly have to pay more in prospect currency (something the Angels do not have).

Your next question might be what happens if the Angels are not competitive and have to sell at the trade deadline?

The answer here is that Eppler would almost certainly have plenty of suitors for Jose’s services in a deadline market. Bautista’s ability to play corner outfield, first base or DH would fit with a lot of clubs and his bat would likely be highly sought after as well.

If the Angels found themselves in this spot they could eat as much money as they need to in order to increase the return of players and prospects that a big bat like Jose would probably command on a pure rental contract.

Here is where the Angels would probably get equal or greater value back for what they had to sacrifice to sign him. As an example we will use the recent Carlos Beltran trade the Yankees executed near the trade deadline in 2016 as a comparable for Bautista’s relative value. It should be noted that Jose is 3 years younger than Beltran and would be 2 years younger relative to Carlos’ age if he were traded mid-year in 2017.

In that trade the Yankees acquired three Minor League pitchers including RHP Dillon Tate, who was the 4th overall pick (1st round) in the 2015 draft, RHP Erik Swanson, and RHP Nick Green. All three are young and playing in the lower Minors (Swanson had 1 inning in both AA and AAA in 2015). The Yankees went after young, unestablished, upside relying on their excellent scouting department to identify value.

The Angels, if they did sign Jose and had to trade him at the deadline, would likely be able to ask for a 1st round draft pick from the 2016 draft as the centerpiece of any trade. The value of that pick is probably at least double the value of our 2nd round 2017 draft pick (i.e. about $20M in value), not to mention that those prospects are already climbing their way closer to the Majors and that is time saved to help win in the Trout window of contention.

This also does not account for the value of any other pieces the Angels could potentially acquire as complimentary value in a trade which would likely add about $8M-$12M. Of course this assumes the Angels eat some of Bautista’s remaining 2017 salary. Notably the Angels, instead of asking for three lower level prospects, could ask for one or two mid-level or higher prospects instead or even a MLB player.

So the opportunity cost here involves a lot of factors. Perhaps the most important one is the ability to trade Cron successfully and for at least fair value (for the record about a $20M-$30 surplus). Others include Jose’s actual contract price, the delta upgrade from Cron’s performance to Jose’s, the loss of our 2nd round draft pick, and the potential recompense of making the playoffs or receiving players and prospects back in a mid-year trade.

There is a compelling case to be made that the Angels should sign Bautista if Eppler can move Cron and convince Arte that exceeding the Luxury Tax by a small amount of money is acceptable (which frankly should not be hard to do in theory). The downside risk in this is actually fairly small.

Basically you are losing approximately $35M in current 2017 value to sign Jose (again assuming you get fair trade value for Cron) in order to gain the opportunity of 1) potentially reaching the playoffs, 2) selling Bautista off at the trade deadline for a probable maximum upside of $30M-50M in 2017 value, or 3) getting nothing because Jose has been injured or has massively underperformed in the first half of 2017.

The overall risk in this scenario appears manageable. Bautista has proven himself to be pretty durable over the last several seasons so the odds of injury is not as high as it might be with other players. Additionally the projection systems do not see a sharp decline for 2017 reducing that risk a bit. Risk is further reduced because it appears Jose is heading for a one year deal in free agency which avoids long term entanglement with an aging veteran.

Again this is a hypothetical long shot of an idea in the first place simply based on our current team payroll concerns and positional availability.

However there does come a time where the opportunity cost makes enough sense that it could encourage a team like the Angels to seriously consider it as an option. There is a reason they call Bautista “Joey Bats” and eventually there could be enough reasons the Angels would want to capitalize on signing him if his market remains depressed and they can make room for him.
Love to hear what you think!
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