By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer -
“Don’t be fooled by the rock pile that I’ve got! I’m still, I’m still C.J. on the block!” – Alternative J-Lo Lyrics
On January 19th, 2017, news broke out of Caracas, Venezuela, via Efrain Zavarce on Twitter, that free agent infielder Luis Valbuena was on the verge of signing with the Angels on a multi-year deal.
Days passed before the signing was officially confirmed with the two sides agreeing to a 2-year, $14.5M deal with a mutual option, per Jeff Fletcher, worth an additional $8.5M-$10M (based on PA’s) for a potential total contract of 3 years, $23M.
It was initially thought that Valbuena would act as a platoon partner to hitters like Danny Espinosa and Yunel Escobar but shortly after the signing announcement GM Billy Eppler dropped a small bombshell, declaring that Luis would receive bats at 1B in 2017.
Scene: C.J. Cron walks into his new clubhouse, “…. (Record scratch screech) …. You’re probably wondering how I got here?”
If you are a fan of the AngelsWin.com Primer Series (and frankly who isn’t, am I right? Amirite?!?!?) you may recall that in Part VI, First Base, the possibility of a Cron trade was proposed, in part, because C.J.’s offensive production could be replicated easily through free agency or trade.
Now certainly Billy Eppler does not have to trade Cron, as C.J. has one more Minor League option left which would allow the Angels to send him down to Salt Lake City to start 2017. Retaining him would give the Angels a tremendous amount of flexibility in the upcoming season and would give them solid options if Albert Pujols starts the year on the disabled list.
On the other side of the coin, C.J. does have a substantial amount of trade value primarily due to his four remaining years of control, his above average offensive production, and his very reasonable projected salary. The latter in particular will be attractive to small market teams and clubs with tight payroll space.
The free agent and trade markets this year had (and still have) a glut of corner infield bats, particularly 1B types, which created a difficult signing environment due to an abnormally large supply with a large but not equitable demand. Several teams including the Indians, Blue Jays, and Phillies, for instance, have already locked up many of the better hitters that were available. This leaves the Angels with a favorable market for Cron, due to his youth, ability, and price, but an unfavorable market in terms of demand as there are few teams left in need of his services.
In fact when you examine 1B and DH needs in both Leagues it becomes patently clear that there are perhaps only three teams left, the Royals, Rockies, and Rays, with a possible need for C.J.’s services. It is certainly possible that another team could enter the picture but they would have to make space for Cron by moving one of their current slated options off of 1B or DH.
In order to understand C.J.’s trade market we need to know how much surplus value he has. Using a rudimentary $/WAR system you can determine a ballpark number for Cron’s surplus value as seen below:
C.J.’s estimated salary consists of the $550,000 he will make in 2017 and the projected arbitration salaries of $3.5M, $6M, and $10.5M he will make in 2018-2020. Remember that sluggers like him are often heavily rewarded in the current arbitration process.
Also, as part of this simple model, we have used a base free agent $/WAR starting value of $8,531,710, a carryover value from last year’s FA market, for 2017 and increased it by a standard 10% per year to determine future $/WAR values for 2018-2020. Again this is a rough approximation method; take it with a grain of salt.
After that it is simply adding in his projected WAR value of 1.5 WAR across all four seasons (this assumes no further improvement by Cron), multiplying by each individual year’s $/WAR value, adding them up and subtracting out his estimated salary to arrive at his full Net Worth of nearly $39M.
This basic model is good for getting a feel for relative values of players on the market but it does not encapsulate certain, more complex, economic, positional, and market factors that MLB teams consider in their valuations.
More importantly it is not the only way to look at C.J.’s value. For instance Luis Valbuena, who just signed for an average annual value of $7.67M per season, is a pretty equivalent player to Cron. You could point to Valbuena’s AAV as the marker for C.J.’s yearly value which would actually lower his surplus value too approximately $31M-$32M give or take.
In the end we will settle for a surplus value of $35M for the purposes of this article. However this only has meaning for a team that has a real need for C.J.’s services at 1B or DH. For instance the Reds already have Joey Votto so from a performance perspective it would make zero sense for them to acquire C.J. unless they are tearing down the team for a rebuild and are moving Votto this season.
Fortunately for the Angels the three teams mentioned above do have a need so let us examine each one and talk about a potential return. This will be a purely speculative exercise but it can start a conversation about realistic expectations in any potential Cron trade.
Remember that the Angels could still use another rotation and bullpen arm plus they could still choose to upgrade at catcher and possibly 3B as well so those are the needs we will focus on.
To start off we will take a look at Kansas City which has apparently determined to make one last World Series run before they lose a significant number of high-profile players to free agency after next year including CF Lorenzo Cain, 1B Eric Hosmer, and 3B Mike Moustakas.
Currently the Royals depth chart shows Cheslor Cuthbert as their lead DH option, followed by the recently waiver-claimed Peter O’Brien, and RF Jorge Soler. Eric Hosmer is listed as the primary option at 1B, followed by 2B Whit Merrifield, but Eric rated out as one of the worst defenders at 1B in 2016 making him a possible candidate to slide over to their DH spot.
In 2016, Kansas City ranked 14th vs. LHP with a wRC+ of 100 and ranked 27th vs. RHP with a wRC+ of 84. Clearly they need and want help offensively against right-handers and someone like C.J. could certainly aid them in that department.
So what do the Royals have that the Angels might want?
In a perfect world the first name that would roll off my tongue is 3B Mike Moustakas. He is in his last year of team control and, as noted above, will hit free agency after this season.
There could be a scenario where the Royals would trade him for C.J. and either move Cheslor Cuthbert over to 3B, his natural position, or, perhaps, the Angels could add 3B Yunel Escobar, who is also in his last year of control, to the trade and the Royals could simply option Cuthbert down to the Minors as a depth move to keep giving him regular at-bats in preparation to take over the hot corner next year.
Beyond Moose, the Angels would probably have interest in one of Kansas City’s starting pitchers. The name that really stands out to me is LHP Matthew Strahm who pitched well out of their bullpen in 2016 and is a capable starting rotation candidate.
There is also an outside possibility Eppler might be eyeing left-hander Mike Minor too but he is recovering from Tommy John Surgery and only pitched a total of 42.1 innings in 2016. He is probably a bullpen candidate more so than a starting option making him a less likely nominee overall.
Beyond Moustakas, Strahm, and Minor there is not much more that would likely be of interest to the Angels on the Major League roster. The Royals bullpen is currently a bit thin in depth (likely another reason they want Mike Minor pitching in relief) and the rest of their available position players do not match up well with Eppler’s needs.
The Angels might have interest in prospects like RHP Alec Mills, LHP Eric Skoglund, or OF Jorge Bonifacio but Billy probably has his sights set higher with the Royals.
Based on that let us look at both of the Mike’s and Matt’s relative surplus value:
As you can see this is why young prospects like Matthew Strahm are the bread and butter of all MLB teams, as the value you can potentially get from one moderately successful MLB player like him is significant.
Strahm’s valuation is probably a fairly accurate one from this point forward in strict terms of $/WAR. We should note though that most prospects like him will NOT be valuated that high at this point in their careers.
Only the most elite prospects in baseball will have a valuation close to the $75M listed above so, in reality, Strahm, at this point in time only, is probably worth closer to $30M-$40M simply because he is not a proven, tested entity in the Major League scene. For the purposes of this article we will assume a value of $35M which seems reasonable for the here and now, preseason 2017.
One year of a 3-WAR Mike Moustakas seems reasonable at an approximate $17M valuation too. Steamer estimates 3.1 WAR from him for 2017 even off of an injury plagued season so the 3 WAR input above seems acceptable.
Minor who, as a reliever and coming off a partial season after Tommy John Surgery and a shoulder issue, is marked at ½ WAR, working out of the bullpen, actually has a negative valuation so he would be a big gamble for Eppler if he targeted him in trade.
If the Angels were to entertain discussions with the Royals it would likely revolve around a Cron for Strahm or Cron for Moustakas deal.
A straight up trade of C.J. for LHP Matthew Strahm would make a fair amount of sense for both sides. The Royals can probably afford to part with one starter (which may be the reason they acquired Karns in the first place) and the Angels can afford the luxury of moving Cron, now that Valbuena is in the fold.
However it is very possible that Billy Eppler has greater interest in Mike Moustakas. Not only is Moose an above average hitter he is also a good defender at 3B which is a stated goal for the team. He only has one year of control but he seems like a very likely target in free agency next offseason for the Halos, so bringing him into the fold now would give Eppler and Scioscia a “test trial” look at a player they may want to invest in long term.
Over the last two years, Moose, in a limited sample size, has reduced his strikeout rate, generated a significant increase in hard contact, raised his HR/FB ratios, has become less of a pull hitter and more of an all-fields approach guy, and has made great strides in hitting both left-handed and right-handed pitching. He appears to be on the verge of really hitting his stride and achieving his full potential.
It is possible that the Angels could convince the Royals to part with one year of Moose and six years of Strahm for four years of Cron, one year of Escobar, six years of a left-handed hitting utility player like Sherman Johnson (or Kaleb Cowart or Nolan Fontana) who could platoon as needed with Merrifield and Cuthbert next year and beyond, and perhaps a right-handed reliever like Mike Morin (2-4 years based on performance) or Deolis Guerra (3-5 years based on performance) for instance. If Eppler wanted he could add one or more additional prospects to sweeten the deal.
Kansas City would get a long term power option that would improve their team offensive production against right-handed pitching, a temporary one year replacement third baseman in Yunel to give Cuthbert more development time, a utility option in Johnson (or Cowart/Fontana) that can play good defense at 2B and 3B with another left-handed bat to platoon against RHP, and a mid-inning reliever to fill out their bullpen. The Angels upgrade for one year at 3B defensively (and probably offensively) and add a nice left-handed arm to their rotation for 2017 and beyond.
If Eppler managed this one it would be an impressive moment. Some may argue that the price of pitching is high this offseason but there is also an argument to be made for positional and payroll needs as well which are also big drivers of front office decisions particularly for smaller market teams like the Royals.
A while back Colorado made a surprising move to sign OF/INF Ian Desmond to a large $70M contract in order to play first base. Even further back, than that, the Rockies were heavily rumored to be shopping one of their outfielders as well.
The idea of pouring that much money into an athletic player like Desmond to play first base seems pretty ludicrous on the surface. The thought of course is that the Rockies will move someone like Charlie Blackmon in trade for other areas of need and then move Ian into center field.
This of course makes a great deal of sense (but hey Colorado does not have a very glorious, recent history of good moves so…) and the side effect of a Blackmon trade/Desmond move is that the Rockies would now need an everyday 1B (or platoon partner). Enter the Angels and C.J. Cron.
For 2016, the Rockies were ranked 25th in wRC+ vs. LHP (84) and ranked 16th in wRC+ vs. RHP (96). A hitter like C.J. would certainly improve their numbers against the latter and be around team average against the former.
In this scenario, beyond the need for a 1B, they may want to acquire a veteran catcher as both Wolters and Murphy have little Major League experience. Also the Rockies might want to upgrade over their utility infielder Adames who has shown poorly against RHP so far in his career. Finally the Rockies may be looking for additional rotation help, possibly a left-handed option but that is speculation on my part.
Clearly the Angels have Cron to offer for the former. Carlos Perez (~$30M in surplus value) may be of interest to the Rockies, or not, but it is unclear. The Angels currently have Pennington (~ $5M), Cowart (~$10M), Johnson (~$20M), and Fontana (~$10M) as utility options so they can afford to deal from depth. In terms of LHP the Angels could offer someone like Nate Smith but that would drain from our own depth in that department.
On the Angels side Eppler probably would love to acquire a starter, bullpen piece, or catcher from the Rockies. Players like LHP Tyler Anderson, LHR Chris Rusin, RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP German Marquez, LHR Jake McGee, and C Tony Wolters are all possibilities. Here are their projected $/WAR values over their remaining years of control:
Clearly there are some disparities here that need to be addressed before proceeding.
Tyler Anderson is a 1st round draft pick and he does have a bright future but his actual trade value, right now, in 2017 is a fraction of the projected $108M listed above. Realistically his value is probably closer to $40M-$55M, give or take, due to his very limited MLB playing time. We will use $50M for this discussion.
Three years of Rusin, as a mid-innings reliever, and one year of Chatwood seem priced appropriately in the numbers above so we will let them be.
German Marquez, also a valued prospect, has very little MLB experience so his trade value, in preseason 2017, is also lower. Realistically he is probably worth about $30M-$35M in total value at this point in time. We will use $35M for this article.
McGee, based on his actual 2016 performance and his 2017 projection, makes sense but then, if you consider that if he had been available on the free agent market and had signed a one year deal, he probably would have received $8M-$12 or so from some team if he had been available, so we will use $10M as his value.
Finally Wolters, who only has one year of MLB experience under his belt and was only recently claimed off of waivers a year ago, probably does not have the full value listed above. Realistically, based on his pitch-framing success, he probably would be valued at about $20M at this point in time and that is what we will use here.
So if we are just talking about trading Cron, Anderson is almost certainly off limits. In fact Tyler may be unavailable period as he is the Rockies only lefty in their rotation as it is currently constructed.
A straight up trade of Cron for German Marquez might be achievable for both sides as the Rockies also have right-hander Jeff Hoffman available to join the rotation. This is a distinct possibility.
Beyond that any remaining combination may prove problematic to execute without the Angels or Rockies adding in other players and prospects or possibly involving a 3rd team in the trade. For instance Colorado will not move Wolters if they do not get Perez or another catcher back from a 3rd party.
Basically a trade with the Rockies will likely be a 3-way deal if it happens. It is easy to see, for example, a team like the Cubs, who reportedly expressed interest in Blackmon earlier in the offseason, get involved in a deal like this.
For example the Rockies could send Blackmon (~$30M in value) to Chicago and McGee ($10M) to the Angels, the Angels could send Cron ($35M) and Pennington ($5M) to the Rockies, and the Cubs could send two prospects like OF Mark Zagunis (~$20M) and RHR Felix Pena (~$10M) to the Angels. There are too many permutations and possibilities with too many teams, to list here, but you get the idea and can substitute in your preferred choices.
One final thought here is that the Angels could deal Carlos Perez (~$30M), rather than Cron, to the Rockies instead. In fact the Angels could send Perez and a utility player like Sherman Johnson to the Rockies and, as part of a 3-way trade, the Rockies could send Blackmon to the Cubs and McGee to us, and the Cubs could send Zagunis and Pena. The Rockies may not be comfortable with essentially two rookies behind the dish to start the season and acquiring Perez would allow them to start Murphy in the Minors to act as depth.
This would allow the Angels to deal Cron to one of the other teams listed in this article to fill out our rotation for instance. As indicated there are so many possibilities it is difficult to examine them all.
Finally we come to the Rays who have already made a series of moves designed to allow them to compete in 2017 and, as reported recently on MLBTradeRumors.com, have shown an interest in adding a big bat to their lineup.
Adding offense makes some sense as the Rays ranked 11th in wRC+ (101) versus LHP and ranked 14th in wRC+ (98) versus RHP in 2016. A hitter like C.J. would improve the latter quite a bit (but damage the former if he does not improve).
When you examine the Rays depth chart there is very little that needs improvement other than 2B. Likely Tampa wants to slide Brad Miller over to 2B (he is a former SS) and add a bat at 1B rather than dip into the 2B market but they certainly have multiple options here to address their roster. We will proceed with the assumption that a productive 1B bat is needed, particularly against RHP.
Based on that what do the Rays have that the Angels need?
RHP Jake Odorizzi would likely pique Billy Eppler’s interest as he has three years of arbitration control remaining and is projected, per MLBTradeRumors.com, to make $4.6M in 2017, which is favorable to the Angels payroll situation and solidly fills an area of need.
Another obvious candidate is RHP Alex Cobb who will make $4.2M in his last year of team control in 2017 before he hits free agency.
The Angels would love to get LHP Blake Snell but frankly he is the only lefty projected to pitch in the Rays rotation and he likely costs more than Eppler can pay in all frankness.
Beyond those starters the Angels might have some level of interest in RHR Alex Colome, RHR Brad Boxberger, RHR Danny Farquhar, RHR Erasmo Ramirez, and LHR Xavier Cedeno among others but it seems unlikely that the Rays will give up any of those players if they are trying to win in 2017.
Beyond those MLB players, the Angels might have interest in some of the following prospects too: RHP Brent Honeywell (unlikely), RHP Jacob Faria, RHP Chih-Wei Hu, RHP Jaime Schultz, and SS Adrian Rondon among others.
So based on all of this a straight up trade of RHP Jake Odorizzi (~$29M) for 1B C.J. Cron (~$35M) looks pretty good on paper even if you add in a 20% premium on pitching in this year’s market. This trade really relies on the Rays willingness to part with him and it seems like they would rather move Cobb, who is in his last year of control, over Jake, making this trade less likely overall but not impossible. Its simplicity is its strength.
RHP Alex Cobb (~$10M) strikes me as the pitcher the Rays most desire to move and, considering how Eppler has been taking the “two birds, one stone” approach to some of his trades this offseason, it seems more likely that the Angels might find common ground on Cobb than any other pitcher the Rays have on their roster.
There is a scenario here where Eppler trades Cron for Cobb and perhaps one of their high quality relievers or a nice mid-tier to upper-tier pitching or hitting prospect (or both possibly). Alex has a career 52.5% GB% which would fit well into Eppler’s strategy of putting the ball on the ground and excellent infield defense.
If this happens expect the Angels to acquire Alex Cobb (~$10M), a reliever like Xavier Cedeno (~$10M) with three years of control left, and perhaps a low to mid-tier prospect for C.J. Cron (~$35M). The Angels could add in a utility middle infielder to the deal as Nick Franklin hasn’t exactly been a shining example of defensive talent or they could add another player or prospect to extract the talent that they really need and want from the Rays in this potential deal.
Beyond Cobb they could try to do a swap of Cron for Honeywell straight up and that would be a fair deal overall but the Rays rely heavily on their farm system and trading away a future middle or front of the rotation starter like him would be a leap of faith for Tampa’s investment in the 2017 season that they may not be able to afford to take.
First of all it seems unlikely (not impossible of course) that a C.J. Cron trade will happen soon. The Angels probably want to see how Pujols progresses in his recovery before trading away a needed replacement. Of course there is nothing stopping Billy Eppler from trading C.J. and simply signing one of the remaining free agent bats on a one year deal so there are options for the team.
Out of the three teams mentioned above it seems like the Royals and Rays are a little bit more likely trade suitors than the Rockies based on the aforementioned fact that any likely deal with Colorado would probably need a third party involved which makes any negotiations more complex. Not impossible mind you just that there are more moving parts.
The bottom line is that the Angels not only have time on their side they do not have to trade Cron to complete their offseason. However if they want to maximize their chances of competing in 2017 moving C.J. will probably bring back the pitching that our rotation and bullpen need to compete.
Personally the author would like to see a deal with the Royals first (Strahm in particular), then the Rays (Cobb plus one of their relievers and a prospect), and then the Rockies (the three way trade with the Cubs to acquire McGee, Zagunis, and Pena). All three suitors have their plusses and minuses but all of them will add temporary and long term value to the team in all likelihood so they are all good choices in the end.