The Angels have two remaining arbitration eligible players: David Freese and Kevin Jepsen. Now, Jepsen is not so much a concern; the gap between his filing number and the team's is a mere $325,000. A settlement before the scheduled hearing date is very likely for him, and likely to be in the vicinity of $1.5 million.
Freese, however, appears to be a different story. After a down season, and in his first season with the Angels, he filed for $6 million, while the Angels countered at $4.1 million. This could be a bit more interesting.
The gap between numbers of $1,900,000 is among the largest arbitration gaps in baseball. It could lead to a hearing, and though his presence in Anaheim is not exactly a dire need in the long-term, it would be nice to not get off on a rocky start with our new third baseman.
So hear me out, before you raise your pitchforks to the following idea: Why not extend Freese?
Now, many of you, understandably so, feel that the Angels have NO business extending anyone whose name is not Mike Trout, until Trout has been signed to a long-term deal. And I completely understand that. However, Freese's deal would be at least 10% the cost of Trout's, if not less, and unlikely to at all effect available funds for Trout's deal.
Onward to extension talks!
General consensus seems to be that Kaleb Cowart will be MLB-ready either at the start of 2015, or midseason in 2015. His stock has fallen to the point where SB Nation's own John Sickels does not even consider Cowart the Angels' top prospect (he tumbled to #4 on the list for 2014), and MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, who ranked Cowart 77th overall in baseball's top 100 prospects last season, did not even list Cowart in the top ten third basemen in the minor leagues. This could be premature after Cowart's first down season (and in AA Arkansas, where many good hitters struggle at first), but it's apparent at this point that Cowart's upside is not nearly the same as it was when he was named Gatorade's High School Player of the Year and drafted 18th overall in 2010. So, some insurance with Freese wouldn't quite be a problem.
But wait, isn't Grant Green third base insurance? Technically, yes, but his third base defense is akin to Trumbo's third base massacre. Plus, Green is also heir apparent to second base or shortstop as well as third, should either Howie Kendrick or Erick Aybar become trade bait for any reason. Counting on Green to back up Freese isn't wise.
But what about Luis Jimenez? His third base defense is far better than Green's, and he has experience playing there for the Angels last season! Ah, that may be true, but Jimenez has never had a clear-cut role with the team, is 26 and has little to no ceiling remaining. He had the misfortune of having a timeline overlap with Alberto Callaspo and Kaleb Cowart, and thusly never getting much of an opportunity to call third base his own. And with Freese in Anaheim now, it's highly unlikely we'll see much more of Lucho as a starter; his role appears on the bench, if in Anaheim at all.
On the plus side of things, Freese appears relatively cheap to extend. The midpoint of the two arbitration filings is $5.05 million, less than new setup man Joe Smith will make in 2014, and about $25,000 more than Chris Iannetta's 2014 salary. The team, knowing Cowart's minor league path could be unpredictable at this point, could sign a simple two-year deal with a team option for a third year.
On the minus side of things, Freese himself appears as if he might be an unpredictable case. He has had only two seasons in which he's played above 130 games, with starkly different results for each; in 2012 he put up an All-Star campaign, with a .293/.372/.467 slash, a 129 OPS+, 20 home runs and 79 runs batted in. 2013 saw him slip to a slash of .262/.340/.381, a 101 OPS+, 9 home runs and 60 runs batted in. In other words? Fans fear a return of Alberto Callaspo; another player who is average to slightly above average at the bat, but rather underwhelming as a third baseman.
A deeper look into his 2013 season shows that his overall statistics were maligned greatly by an injury-plagued April in which he batted just .163 with a .459 OPS. Removing his injured April, Freese's slash line improves to .274/.350/.402. In other words, although still a slight down season, Freese ended the season stronger than his overall statistics would lead you to believe; almost like a 2012 Albert Pujols scenario.
There's reason to believe Freese can easily post his career average slash of .286/.356/.427 in Anaheim--a slash line achieved only three times by Angels third basemen in the past ten seasons. So why not extend on that?
It's a simple process. Freese won't need a whole ton of money. The following could probably do the deal:
|2014||$4,250,000||$800,000 signing bonus|
|2016||$7,500,000||team option; $1,750,000 buyout|
The guarantee here is two years and $13.8 million. The maximum is three years and $19.55 million. The 2016 option exists more as insurance for if Kaleb Cowart fizzles and Grant Green's third base project fails (both have decent chances at occurring). If either Cowart or Green can man third by the time Freese's guaranteed contract is up, he hits the free agent market.
Also, this kind of extension is quite team friendly, to the point where if Freese's 2014 disappoints, he is very much a tradeable asset and far from being an albatross on most payrolls. This contract, in that regard, is similar to those which Iannetta, Kendrick and Aybar all have: friendly for the team, easy to flip if need be, but still fair to the player.
The question I alluded to earlier, now: How does this Freese extension effect Mike Trout's potential extension?
The answer? It doesn't, at least not significantly. Coming off of the books after this season are Vernon Wells ($18.6 million, the bulk of the money leaving us), Joe Blanton ($8.5 million, which includes his $1 million buyout for 2015 that is all but certain to be exercised), Raul Ibanez ($5 million, assuming he hits 400 plate appearances), and possibly Sean Burnett ($4.25 million, which includes his $500,000 buyout for 2015). Assuming the Angels do NOT pick up Burnett's 2015 option, that's a whopping $36.35 million coming off the payroll. Freese's projected 2015 salary of $7 million leaves over $29 million left for Trout's 2015 salary on any extension, which would be plenty to cover almost any scenario, including the one I suggested recently.
Oh, and the effect on the 2014 payroll? Signing bonus plus salary makes $5.05 million, the exact midpoint of the figures submitted by Freese and the team. It wouldn't preclude any significant moves such as Masahiro Tanaka or Matt Garza.
Pitchforks, lowered. Freese, paid. Universe, as it should be.