Angels a la Braves

"$223 million? Sounds nice." - Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves did a very wise thing: locking up their young core--five separate contracts--for roughly what it cost us to sign Albert Pujols. How would it look for the Angels to do the same?

If any part of you is or ever was an Atlanta Braves fan, this was a great offseason.

Within about two weeks, the team locked up Jason Heyward (2 years, $13.3 million), Freddie Freeman (8 years, $135 million), Julio Teheran (6 years, $32.4 million w/ 2020 option), Craig Kimbrel (4 years, $42 million w/ 2018 option) and Andrelton Simmons (7 years, $58 million) to contracts. These are all players who were either arbitration-eligible or pre-arbitration, and the team collectively ensured 27 seasons from them for $280.7 million.

Believe it or not, the Angels have enough of those types of guys budding--before considering Mike Trout--to consider them a "core."

We'll definitely get to Trout (I've done this separately before, but now I can do so with a bit more grounding due to leaked talks and figures supposedly put out), but before that, there's a handful of players I'd like to talk about. Now, most of these are contingent on decent 2015 showings, but let's get it rolling!

PRE-ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE (WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE AFTER 2014 SEASON)

KOLE CALHOUN (OF, AGE 26)

This may very well be premature, as Calhoun has yet to play a full season in the major leagues. However, if he repeats his 2013 showing across a full season, this is suddenly a bit more realistic. Calhoun's 2013 slash of .282/.347/.462 would be something much desired to see, or even something in a 5% range of that. And those stats could pay, and it would be smart of the Angels--who are not unfamiliar with locking players up to extensions (i.e. Jered Weaver, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Chris Iannetta)--to pay sooner rather than later. I modeled partially after Ryan Braun's first contract extension with the Brewers, completed after 2007 when Braun had 0.113 years of service time (comparable to Calhoun's 0.130 currently, which will likely become ~1.115 or so by season's end). The Brewers paid out at 8 years and $45 million. Now, the Angels should not give Calhoun 8 years right off the bat. But 5 years makes sense, as it gets through all the arbitration years and locks in Calhoun's salary to free agency. For Calhoun, if he performs at or around his 2013 stint, I'm looking at 5 years and $22 million. The payout structure:

2015 $500,000
2016 $900,000
2017 $4,100,000
2018 $6,500,000
2019 $10,000,000


I tried to mimic the arbitration process in this contract, roughly. It's a team-friendly deal that offers a pretty hefty backload (the final three years hold $20.6 million, or 93.6%, of the total contract), but still not one that is all that damaging to the payroll. For luxury tax purposes, this comes out to $4.4 million AAV, which will hurt a bit for the first couple of seasons, but possibly be a steal thereafter. Starting after the 2016 season, significant money comes off the luxury tax payroll (Jered Weaver's $17 million AAV and C.J. Wilson's $15 million AAV get things started), and while most of that will, rightfully so, be allocated to Mike Trout, it'd be fair and a pleasant change to see the remaining balance be used on youth.

TYLER SKAGGS (SP, AGE 22)

Skaggs is a very interesting case. He's Mike Trout's age, which is a strange thing to consider. He has options left to the minor leagues. He's yet to last a full season in the big leagues. He is already under control for six seasons, 5 of which come after this 2014 season. Two models I was intrigued to use for building Skaggs' extension: Matt Moore and Julio Teheran. Moore's extension was EXTREMELY precocious on the surface, as he'd appeared in just 9.1 innings in the majors and hadn't even accrued enough time to be Rookie of the Year eligible in that season of 2011. But the Rays are ardent about hanging onto young talent, and they did just that--a guarantee of 5 years, $14 million, plus three team options. If the team declines on any of them, Moore's contract voids out. If the team declines on his first option (2017), Moore is still arbitration eligible and can have a new contract built. How about that? In total, Moore's max value is 8 years, $40 million. Teheran's case more mimics that of Skaggs, as Teheran had experience in two seasons prior to this one, although he held onto his rookie eligiblity this season even still. Teheran's total contract, max value, is 7 years, $43.4 million. If Skaggs can show marked improvement from his brief stints with Arizona, he's in the market for a cheap, but beneficial nonetheless, lockup. I'm looking at 6 years and $26 million at maximum value for Skaggs. The payout structure:

2015 $550,000
2016 $950,000
2017 $2,500,000
2018 $4,500,000
2019 $7,500,000 (mutual option; $500,000 buyout)
2020 $10,000,000 (team option; $1,500,000 buyout)


This deal is kind of hierarchical. If Skaggs goes his first four years and declines his end of the option for the 2019 season, he is still under team control and the team can still tender him an offer. It's his bluff, if he feels he deserves or can make more than $7.5 million come 2019. However, the team holds his option for the 2020 season; should they deny the option, Skaggs would be a free agent, as he will have fulfilled six seasons and reached the open market. In the first scenario, the contract is 4 years and $9 million. In the second scenario, it is 5 years and $17.5 million. And, again, in the third scenario, it is 6 years and $26 million. The AAV for luxury tax purposes, I believe, would go only off of guaranteed money, which would make it $2.25 million. But if he takes both options, the final season counts against us at a rate of ~$4.33 million.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE (WILL BE ELIGIBLE FOR ARBITRATION AFTER 2014, OR ALREADY ARE ELIGIBLE)

GARRETT RICHARDS (SP, AGE 26)

Richards looks like, out of anyone not named Mike Trout who is mentioned for an extension in this article, the man most likely to get one. After three seasons in which he's ridden the constant shuttle between the bullpen, the rotation and AAA, Richards has been verbally committed, by Jerry Dipoto, to the 2014 rotation. He's "finally" earned his opportunity (as if he didn't long ago), and this will be his final pre-arb season. It's more make-or-break for him than it is for anyone else on the team. Another iffy season could mean no extension and even possibly non-tender rumors. But, if his first consistent stint as a starter yields productive or improved fruit, an extension is very logical and increasingly likely. As a starter consistently at the second half of last season, Richards posted a 3.72 ERA and a K/BB slightly above 2; something around that this coming season could be extension time for Richards. I'd give him a max value of 6 years and $59 million. The payout structure:

2015 $3,000,000
2016 $5,500,000
2017 $9,000,000
2018 $13,000,000
2019 $13,000,000
2020 $15,500,000 (mutual option; $3,000,000 buyout)


Richards can be something really awesome. Even if, after his age-31 season in 2019, he thinks he can go fetch more on the open market, the guarantee on this deal is 5 years and $46.5 million. His ERA has lowered with each season, and his games started has increased with each season. His K/BB rate has increased with each season. His WHIP has lowered with each season. His H/9, BB/9 and HR/9 have lowered with each season, while his K/9 have increased. That's a LOT of trending to signal something good for GR. Even if this season is mediocre, he's entering his prime years, and it'd be unwise to not lock them up after 2014.

HECTOR SANTIAGO (SP, AGE 26)

There's things that Santiago and Richards have in common. They're both headed into their age-26 season. Both will be arbitration-eligible after the 2014 season. Last season saw both of them get their first significant opportunities to start games. They both topped 140 innings (Richards 145, Santiago 149). And both are having a lot of confidence vested in them by Jerry Dipoto as members of the starting rotation, making 2014 a year to prove A LOT. Santiago projects to be very good as an Angel--in my opinion, the best lefty the team has had since Jarrod Washburn. Although a bulky BB/9 rate stands in the way of him becoming a premier pitcher, a regression to the mean in that regard could make that difference. Left-handed pitching is hard to come by, and even harder to come by at a young age with much club control to be had. When it manages to leak into the free agent market, left-handed pitching gets the big bucks. CC Sabathia? Originally, 7 years and $161 million--an AAV of $23 million. Cliff Lee? 5 years, $120 million--an AAV of $24 million. Even C.J. Wilson, signing with the Angels for 5 years and $77.5 million--a $15.5 million AAV. An average-to-slightly-above-average lefty can fetch a $13-15 million AAV. Let's lock up Santiago before he's worth that, to a max value of 5 years and $43 million. The payout structure:

2015 $3,000,000
2016 $5,000,000
2017 $8,000,000
2018 $12,000,000
2019 $15,000,000 (mutual option; $2,500,000 buyout)


At its base, this deal is worth a guarantee of 4 years and $30.5 million. And realistically speaking, that's a sweet deal for a guy who's a third of your post-Weaver triumvirate, along with Richards and Skaggs. Again, after his age-30 season, if Santiago is beginning to exit his prime, we can simply write him a $2.5 million check and wish him the best. If he's still riding high enough to maintain his prime for one more season, we exercise the option and hope he does the same. And if he's really performing above $15 million per year, and he declines his option, then we fight to keep him in the rotation. Quality lefties are hard to come by, and I am confident that if Santiago's walk rate goes down by even 0.5, we're in for something great out of this guy.

ERNESTO FRIERI (CL, AGE 28)

Ernasty. Big Ern. Mr. Freeze. We love the guy, even if he can't shut Texas down worth beans. Even if you don't like him, you at least have to admit he's become a much more reliable closing presence than the team has had in the years since K-Rod left (and yes, I'm calling Brian Fuentes out on this one). Looking at his statistics from last season, you'd get the impression that he was a mediocre closer that lost his touch last season. In actuality, though, his statistics were great when you removed his totals against the Rangers. Overall (including vs. TEX), Frieri's line last year included a 3.80 ERA, 1.238 WHIP, 7.2 H/9, 3.9 BB/9, 12.8 K/9, 1.4 HR/9, and a 3.27 K/BB. Take out his Texas numbers, and those become a 2.76 ERA, 1.097 WHIP, 5.8 H/9, 4.1 BB/9, 13.1 K/9, 0.7 HR/9, and a 3.21 K/BB. He's not nearly as unreliable as we may think; just plug someone else in to face Texas (like Joe Smith or Dane De La Rosa). Frieri deserves a decent deal that shows we have faith in him as our closer. Jerry Dipoto verbally committed him and gave him his vote of confidence as the team's 2014 closer. Let's invest in that. Max value from me, for Frieri, is 4 years and $25.5 million. The payout:

2015 $5,000,000
2016 $6,000,000
2017 $7,000,000
2018 $7,500,000 (vesting option; $1,000,000 buyout)


So THIS deal, at its base, promises 3 years and $19 million. I put a unique vesting option on this deal. Not one that vests based on games pitched or saves converted, but based on one sole statistic: blown saves. The option vests if, by the end of the third year, Frieri has blown no more than 12 saves over the life of the contract (i.e. up to and including 12). If the option does not vest, it becomes a team option, with a $1 million buyout. Keep in mind with that vesting option, he's blown 7 saves since becoming a closer mid-2012 (60-for-67 in save opportunities), which averages to about 4 per season. Aside from that, I think it's good to invest in a closer on the relative cheap (i.e. NOT paying over $12 million AAV like the Mets did for K-Rod). Which leaves us just one more player in this discussion...

MIKE TROUT (CF, AGE 22)

Michael Nelson Trout, the greatest player in all of baseball. A handful of players have carried that torch--Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey, Jr., Mickey Mantle, the list goes on. But for the first time in baseball history, the player that carries that torch is on OUR team. The team has already agreed to the largest pre-arbitration contract in baseball history with him. Rumor had it that, before and after that, the team was working to sign him to a 6-7 year deal in the neighborhood of $150-170 million, with a hefty backload. Many of us, myself included, have tried to play prognosticator and have all been quite pie-in-the-sky about it. So let's get real...well, mostly real. Because there's some things that I want to still play prognosticator with myself. But not a whole lot. So, assuming the rumors are true, I'm going to go, at max value, 8 years and $223 million for Mike Trout. The payout structure:

2015 $15,000,000
2016 $19,000,000
2017 $24,000,000
2018 $30,000,000
2019 $30,000,000
2020 $33,000,000
2021 $36,000,000 (mutual option; $4,000,000 buyout)
2022 $36,000,000 (team option; $7,000,000 buyout)


Trout's camp supposedly wants six years and then free agency; the team wants 7, and I'd assume they'd want more if possible. So 8 seems to be banking very heavily that the team gets what it wants, right? Not necessarily. There's six guaranteed years here, with a mutual option for a seventh. Assuming that gets exercised on both sides, the team retains full rights on Trout for an eighth year. So basically, it's as if Trout gets an opt-out after the sixth season. Assuming the six seasons are all the Angels get, and Trout declines his 2021 option, the deal's base value is 6 years, $155 million. If both sides exercise the 2021 option, it grows to 7 years, $194 million. And if the team exercises the eighth year, the deal reaches its full value, before incentives of any kind are reached. The AAV of this deal is $27,875,000 per season--yes, it falls short of Clayton Kershaw's AAV record, BUT it becomes the highest AAV of any deal for a position player in baseball history. Rightfully so.

After all these extensions, the team has committed, to six players (Calhoun, Skaggs, Richards, Santiago, Frieri, Trout), a collective 34 years and $398.5 million. It may not be the "young core" like the Braves have, but these six have an average age of 25, so it isn't as if they're geezers.

Is this fair? Likely? Logical? Tell me what you think.

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