It's summer, which means two things for fans of a mediocre team that is (miraculously) just three games out of first: (1) it's time to talk about fantastical mid-season trades, and (2) it's almost time to talk about off-season moves to make up for the lack of a fantastical mid-season trade. The two are related, because the plausibility of each depends on the Angels' long-term roster commitments. You might be excited about Scott Kazmir and Gary Matthews Jr. taking $26 million off the books next year, but you'd be forgetting that just about everyone else will be getting a raise. So here are the straightest facts I could find, mostly from Cot's. Use them when plotting your next Fielder-for-Aybar trade scenario.
From the "It's Not My Money" Department
Just for fun (or maybe out of self-loathing), here's a peek at Tony's ledger on the Vernon Wells trade after 76 games:
Assets ----- Not paying Mike Napoli $2.7M Not paying Juan Rivera $2.6M Pity money (<3 Alex) $2.3M ----- Total Assets $7.6M Liabilities ----- Moneybomb! $10.8M Mike Napoli 1.4 WAR $7.0M Juan Rivera 0.4 WAR $2.0M Vernon Wells -0.3 WAR $1.5M ----- Total Liabilities $21.3M Net Loss ----- Year To Date $13.7M Projected $29.2M
If converting WAR to dollars seems a little abstract, then let me to put it another way.
Flash back to November 2010
Tony: Hey Arte, I have this great plan about how to return to the playoffs next season.
Arte: What's that?
Tony: You give me millions and millions of dollars in cash, and I'll throw it in one of those empty dumpsters in the basement underneath the clubhouse. Then we'll douse it in gasoline and light the whole thing on fire.
Arte: How is that supposed to help? That's money I could spend to get better players.
Tony: You're going to love this: I heard Mark Whicker say that the Angels "just needed someone to light a fire under them." It's so perfect!
Arte: Well, it still doesn't sound like a good idea to me, but baseball operations are your end of the business...
Flash forward to June 2011
Arte: Reagins, you bastard! We're still a .500 team. You told me you had a plan!
Tony: I did, Arte, it's just that--things got...complicated.
Arte: I told you, if you forget where your parking spot is again, just tell the staff and they'll walk you out.
Tony: No, it's not that. I did what I said I would do: I took your money, heaved it in a dumpster, and poured gasoline all over it. But it wouldn't light itself on fire!
Arte: I think you're missing a step there.
Tony: I can't figure it out, but I've got another plan. You see, I read Whicker's latest column, and he said that "the Angels just need an igniter in the clubhouse."
This is why Arte's money matters to fans. What he spends on bad players can't be spent on good players. And he's only willing to spend so much.
You can either read between the lines when Arte Moreno talks about revenues and expenditures, or else just look at the actual revenues and expenditures and figure it our for yourself. You should reach the same conclusion: the team cannot sustain its current $140 million payroll on its current revenue streams. The future likely holds an annual payroll in the $125-$135 million range, and if the league-wide decrease in attendance is any indication, it would be most realistic to assume a figure closer to the lower bound. Let's break down the projected spending for 2012.
Money that is all but spent
The Angels are contractually required to spend this money next year, or find someone else who is willing to do it for them. That's likely not going to happen, as I'll explain.
2012 salary: $21 million
The unwanted gift that keeps on giving ($21M in 2012), and giving ($21M in 2013), and giving ($21M in 2014). Maybe he'll save the team by opting out of the remaining three years on his contract, and maybe the baby boomers will save Social Security by giving up on their benefits.
2012 salary: $18 million
With Torii projected to finish the season batting .248 / .322 / .407, the Angels are paying a premium on the twilight of his career. At this point, they can only hope to avoid paying for the nightfall as well.
2012 salary: $12.8 million
When you consider how awesome he is, Haren is relatively cheap. Easily the best long-term contract the Angels' stable. They need more assets like this one, and fewer like the ones above.
2012 salary: $11.2 million
This looked like it was going to be a bargain in early 2009, when Ervin was one the best pitchers in the American League. I just hope Tony checked on Ervin's elbow before inking the deal.
2012 salary: $9 million (vesting option)
Abreu would have to break a leg, like, yesterday in order to miss out on the 119 PA needed to trigger his vesting option on 2012. At least the old man can still get on base, which is more than can be said for the other old men on the team.
2012 salary: $5 million
Meh. He's probably worth it.
2012 salary: $4.2 million
Not much better than a AAAA-type, but at ten times the price. Why can't the Angels produce any left-handed relievers of their own?
2012 salary: $3.8 million
Izturis is a very good player at this price, even in light of the injury risk. It's too bad there aren't three or four middle-infield positions, or the Angels would rock the world.
Total 2012 commitment: $85 million
This money isn't going anywhere. Moving most of these players would either require the Angels to either eat the money outright or else take on a comparably sized contract in exchange. Dan Haren is the only high-paid player with positive trade value, but why would you want to trade him? Although the $85 million due to these eight players could buy a tolerable baseball team in its own right, the 2012 Angels are just getting started.
Maintaining the status quo
While no one is forcing the Angels to spend money on their arbitration-eligible players, they almost certainly will. It would be virtually impossible to find equivalent-or-better production on the open market at lower cost (look at the list of available free agents if you don't believe me). The eventual salaries might vary, but a 50% raise year-over-year is the overall pattern for players who perform well.
2012 salary: $12 million (estimated Arb 3)
In the midst of another sensational season, you can bet that Scott Boras will be pushing hard in arbitration, and this time he might win. You can also forget about a multi-year extension this late in the game.
2012 salary: $5 millio (estimated Arb 3)
Howie is still the best hitter on the team, almost half-way through the season. He has a nice raise coming his way.
2012 salary: $4.5 million (estimated Arb 3)
This one could change a bit depending on Erick's second half, but the league is short on talent at shortstop right now. This could make his mediocre performance look even better to an arbitration panel.
2012 salary: $3 million (estimated Arb 2)
That's $16.5 million total for four slap-hitting middle-infielders. It must be nice to have a real third baseman.
2012 salary: $3.5 million (estimated hospice care)
This one's hard to predict. A player can't take more than a 20% pay cut in arbitration, but Darth Boras might suggest the need to slip Kendrys a few extra bucks to keep him "motivated," assuming he can even walk in the spring.
2012 salary: $1 million (estimated loyalty-rewards program)
Oh, Reggie. The perpetual fifth-outfielder. Do you really think the Angels will give up on their favorite replacement player just now, considering all the aging bodies in the outfield?
Total 2012 commitment: $28.5 million
This money is "fungible," meaning the Angels could actually turn one or more of their arbitration-eligibles into other players via trade. A positional upgrade would be the only motivation, however, and that's likely to add payroll, not decrease it. So the Angels have little choice but to spend at least this much money, just to maintain the status quo.
Invaluable professional services
The loss of which would cause incalculable and irreperable damage to baseball operations, to say nothing of the bottomless personal anguish inflicted upon prominent and influential persons within the franchise
Did you think I'd forget?
2012 salary: $2.5 million (estimated insanity)
I wouldn't let Jeff Mathis near an Angels uniform if he worked for the team laundry service. Mike Scioscia says: "You can't non-tender my heart!"
Absolute minimum for all the rest
That's $116 million to cover 15 roster spots in 2012, up from $100 million for the same 15 spots in 2011. To field a major-league team, the Angels must fill the remaining 10 spots with at least league-minimum salaries, which go for about $450,000 each. They will need at least two starting pitchers, five relievers, two position players, and a catcher to play on the days when Jeff Mathis has to recharge his mana. They do have in-house (although mostly uninspiring) candidates for all of these jobs.
You're not expecting Morales to be totally healthy, are you?
Now guess which member of the $60-million outfield has the highest WAR to date
Joel Pineiro is a free agent, you know
That means someone else has to take the ball every fifth day
Still need a long reliever to pitch garbage time
Matt Palmer or Trevor Bell
How about more important late innings?
At least there's no more Rodney
You can't expect Mathis to
pitch catch every day
Add it all up, and you get:
Salary commitment for 2012: $120 million
The Angels cannot spend less money than this on a 25-man roster while still maintaining the same level of competitiveness, that is to say, without going into rebuilding mode. They might shuffle the deck, or save a couple million somehow, but in the end, the tweaks will probably just even out at about $120 million. Anything Tony Reagins (or, more optimistically, his successor) does to improve competitiveness will have to be added on top.
Unfortunately, this baseline figure will only buy back the same .500 team, except one year older. While that's usually a good thing for young players, the offense is built around a shriveled core of outfielders well past their primes. But with a $125-$135 million budget for 2012, the Angels have only about $5-$15 million of payroll space remaining. And they'll probably need to spend some, or possibly all of it this winter on a free-agent starting pitcher to replace Joel Pineiro.
This can't be news to the Angels front office. They must have planned this all out last winter, and whoever made the decision must have said, "Yup, this is the team we want to go to war with 2011 and then again in 2012." Well, that team is pretty comfortably mediocre, and their playoff chances depend on a Ranger collapse.
So how would you fix them?