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Earning Their Halos: Extension Talk

A look at some possible extension candidates for the Angels

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Angels have the day off after a getaway game victory that sealed the deal for the series sweep against the Cincinnati Reds, the Angels third consecutive series victory on the road after some impressive victories against the stacked Toronto Blue Jays and potent Detroit Tigers. While that’s all fine and dandy, the Angels are still in the midst of their worst season since 1999, when they finished 70-92 underneath Terry Collins and Joe Maddon, with only 29 more games to go. So naturally a lot of us fans have been thinking about the offseason, the draft, and the overall future for the Angels since...well, the season began with a sweep from the spooky Chicago Cubs. It takes a series like that against, arguably, the most efficiently run and youthfully brimming organization to realize how far of an uphill battle you face to be competitive again. This is not necessarily a post on how to “Make the Angels Great Again”, but it does have the scope in mind of long-term, sustainable, organic success.

It all starts out with young talent, an area the Angels sorely lack in, but are not completely devoid of. For this, I have the next 5 years as my benchmark, meaning I’m really only taking players into consideration that could still be around and contributing in 5 years. Obviously everyone will start out with Mike Trout, because he is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but that’s a no-brainer, we’d all like to see Trout donning a halo from the time he was drafted, till the time he’s 40 and doing his farewell tour right before the Hall of Fame. He’s currently signed through 2020, so there’s time to try and build a better club around him in hopes that he’ll want to stay. Let’s just make sure he has plenty of seat belts and air bags. Oh, and wrap him up in bubble wrap. Pujols and Simmons are also under contract for the foreseeable future, whether you want to believe it or not (sorry, El Hombre), so we’ll mostly be leaving them out of the conversation as well. Extension talks have become a cornerstone for Major League clubs regardless of payroll and overall market size, the Tampa Bay Rays really set the tone for this when they locked up face-of-the franchise Evan Longoria back in 2008 with this nifty extension. Since then, more and more teams have started locking up young talent before they even hit arbitration, use the 6-year $144.5 million dollar extension the Angels inked Trout up for two years ago. Trout and Longoria are far from the only ones, we’ve seen the Giants lock up Buster Posey (and a number of other young players in fact), the Dodgers with Kershaw (albeit with an opt-out clause in 2018), Kansas City getting tremendous value in their deal with elite catcher Salvador Perez, and even teams like Atlanta with their deals with Freddie Freeman and stud RHP Julio Teheran.

More and more teams are beginning to avoid arbitration all together by signing players at an earlier stage in their career. It benefits both parties, the club locks their young talent up at a, usually, team-friendly deal and the players get some financial security in the event of injuries or lack of effectiveness. So with that being said, are there any worthwhile extension candidates on the active 40-man roster? For a team that consistently and annually ranks at the bottom of farm system rankings, they have produced a fair amount of talent. Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Kole Calhoun, CJ Cron, and even Jett Bandy have all emerged showing varying degrees of self-worth and talent. But how do you know who to lock up and for how much? For as much value as these sort of extensions can provide, they also contain their fair amounts of risk. But enough backstory, let’s jump into the juicy baseball discussion on this boring day off.

Let’s start off with the guys already in the arbitration process. This would include Garrett Richards (in his second year of arbitration) and Kole Calhoun, who’s about to enter his second year in arbitration. Both players I think we can all agree on being vital to the teams success. Should the Angels lock them up is the question. I’ll start by looking at the Angels’ ace Richards first, he might be the most interesting.

Garrett Richards:

Another season, another one cut short for the 28-year old flamethrowing right hander. We all remember the gruesome knee injury he sustained in Boston back in 2014 , and we all remember the early panic when it looked like he was destined for Tommy John surgery. A sigh of relief swept through Angels nation as it looks more and more likely he’ll avoid the surgery after undergoing a stem-cell therapy in his right elbow back on May 16. 2016 was a lost cause, but avoiding missing all of 2017 is a bittersweet gift from the baseball gods that seem to enjoy unleashing their anger on the Angels’ elbows this year. Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano were the latest causalities, the Angels couldn’t afford to lose Richards for all of 2017 as well. But what does it mean towards a possible extension? Unfortunately for those of you who want to see “G-Rich” hang around for a while, I don’t know if this is the guy. Garrett’s already 28-years old and while that’s not old by any standard, it becomes something to take into consideration when discussing an extension. Richards is a free agent after the 2018 season, meaning he’s still got two more years of arbitration. He’s earning $6.42 million this year and we shouldn’t expect to see a huge pay-bump seeing as he only pitched 34.2 innings this year. The arbitration process, even though most players don’t actually get to the point where they take the team to court and plea their case in front of a non-biased third party (the arbitrator), is mostly dependent on service time and counting stats. Neither of which Richards accumulated a whole lot of this past season.

We should see Richards signed to a similar one-year deal like he signed last winter with, again, a slightly higher salary. The more times you go through arbitration, the most is four, the higher you get paid. Pretty simple. But unless Garrett decides he wants a little more financial security in the event of another injury and the Angels themselves want to take a chance on him, I can’t see how or why they’d go past the remaining two years he has left. If they wanted to extend him to a contract that absorbs the remaining two years of arbitration and maybe a third and/or fourth year that’ll take a year or two of free agency away with a modest annual average value and lace it with countless incentives, I’d take a shot. Maybe something like 4-years at $45-$55 million with another $10-$15 in incentives? Basically, if he reaches those incentives, he’ll be well worth it. But I don’t see this happening (even if I dream about it). So I guess lets move to the “Red Baron”, Kole Calhoun

Kole Calhoun:

Kole’s having another solid, if not unspectacular, season. As of today he’s hitting .266/.347/.411 with his usual rock solid defense in right, he’s been worth a nice 2.7 fWAR, a fan favorite for his hustle and stature, and still under club control for three more seasons. Really he’s everything you want in a clubs complementary role player. He’ll enter his second year in arbitration after making $3.4 million his first time through this season. So we should expect a nice spike in his salary, probably something along the lines of what Garrett got, in the $6 million neighborhood. All-in-all, not bad for a player of Kole’s worth. Should the Angels lock him up is the question. Like Richards, Kole is 28 and he’ll be 29 in October while the Angels are watching the postseason from home. Still, being under club control for three more seasons and being a bit on the older side, any extension should be approached with caution. Much like Garrett, I think the only extension should consume his remaining arbitration years while possibly covering a year or two of free agency. If Kole decides to sign a team-friendly deal for four or five years then the Angels should listen, but that’s obviously speculation. If that’s not the case, I’m just letting Kole ride the arbitration process until he becomes a free agent in 2019. At the worst, they can offer him the Qualifying Offer to get draft pick compensation for losing him. Not a bad alternative.

Matt Shoemaker:

I covered Garrett and Kole first because they’re already in the midst of the arbitration process but “The Cobbler”, “Shoe-bacca”, and “Ol’ Shoey” is right behind them in their wake. The soon-to-be 30-year old was an undrafted free agent out of Michigan by the Angels who made it all the way to the majors and broke out in 2014 is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter. After his early season struggles, and a demotion to Salt Lake City, Shoemaker has been the most consistent and dependable pitcher on the staff. So should he be rewarded for his efforts and amazing underdog story? I’m still leaning towards another no. Shoemaker’s under club control through the 2020 season and is even older than Garrett and Kole, there shouldn’t be a feeling of anxiety or need to lock him up. Much like Kole, he seems like a player to keep going through the arbitration process and signing one year at a time. If the Angels go into a more drastic rebuild in the next year or two, he would in fact be one of the teams better trade chips. Cost-controlled starting pitching is the most valuable currency to have in the game. Might just make sense to hold onto him and continue let him doing his thing and evaluate where the club is in a year or two. The only other arbitration eligible players for 2017 are Johnny Giavotella and Cory Rasmus, both are non-tender candidates, so we’ll move to the pre-arbitration players.

CJ Cron:

Cron is in the midst of somewhat of a breakout season. Despite getting hit on the hand by a pitch and missing six weeks, Cron’s slashline is sitting pretty at .290/.339/.498 with 14 homeruns, that’s a solid .838 OPS and 128 OPS+ right there in 88 games. Fans have even begun to realize how much better the lineup is when Cron’s in it, even with his hot streaks, calling him a “Mini-Trumbo”, only Mark Trumbo has never had an on-base percentage as good as Cron’s. I’ll be the first to say that I thought Cron was a lost cause after inconsistency and a number of demotions to AAA the last two years, but he’s seemingly righted the ship, and his development is crucial for the Angels future. But he’s still not arbitration eligible until 2018 and he’s still not quite multi-faceted enough to justify a long term deal. Remember, he’s a DH on a team with Albert Pujols entrenched at that spot. Much like Shoemaker he could become a quality trade chip in upcoming seasons. I don’t get the sense of urgency in locking him up, but still a very important player moving forward.

I was gonna go over Heaney, Tropeano, and maybe even Bedrosian, but two are obviously recovering from pretty substantial injuries and I would like to see more from Bedrosian before thinking about an extension. I know it doesn’t seem like we went anywhere, but it does go to show how much young talent the Angels lack as result from bad drafts, losing picks due to compensation for the Pujols, Wilson, and Hamilton signings, and a complete lack of presence on the international market. The guy’s I’ve mentioned are good-to-great players, but I can only see an extension happening in the right circumstances. Hopefully some extension candidates emerge from Heaney and/or Skaggs and hopefully we’ll see some more young talent come up as Billy Eppler puts more emphasis on fixing the farm system. It will be interesting to follow these next few years. What does everyone think? Any worthwhile extension candidates?