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If I were Billy Eppler..., Part II

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It’s time to play with some imaginary money.

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Because so many baseball fans love to play GM every offseason, we here at Halos Heaven decided to get in on the action. You may have seen Jessica DeLine’s post a couple of days ago. That was the first part of a series in which each member of the HH staff outlines his or her ideal offseason.

The basic guidelines for the series are as follows. For the luxury tax payroll, we are using the number calculated by Cot’s Contracts, which is about $142.3 million for next season.

The luxury tax threshold, which owner Arte Moreno has indicated as the spending limit in years past, is $197 million for 2018, leaving us with almost $55 million to play with. We then knocked that number down to $45 million to ensure that there is enough payroll flexibility to make mid-season acquisitions possible.

As for our proposed offseason moves, we are using MLB Trade Rumors’ free-agent predictions and FanGraphs’ crowdsourced contract estimates as baselines for any free-agent signings.

For trades, we vowed to keep them as realistic as possible. A common tactic among baseball fans on the internet is simply suggesting that their team trade a bunch of players they don’t like in exchange for some they do. That’s not how trades actually work, so that’s off limits.

And lastly, if we are acquiring an arbitration-eligible player, we are using MLB TR’s arbitration projections to calculate the player’s effect on the payroll, as the final arbitration numbers are not yet in.

Got it?

Here’s my plan of attack, and you can look for the rest of the HH staff’s plans in the coming days.

Dee Gordon

Three years, $37.9 million, plus a $14 million vesting option for 2021 (includes a $1 million buyout) remaining on current contract

MLB: Miami Marlins at New York Mets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

In a perfect world, Cesar Hernandez, currently of the Phillies, would man second base for the Angels next year. He’s only 27 years old; he’s under team control for three more cost-controlled seasons; and he has carried a .372 on-base percentage since 2016.

But the Angels have reportedly been eyeing the switch-hitter since last offseason and have thus far been unwilling to meet Philadelphia’s asking price, and I would be, too. Detroit’s Ian Kinsler would also work, but he’d only be a one-year solution, and I’m looking longer term here.

Fortunately for the Angels, the Marlins came under new ownership recently, and they are aiming to shed about $50 million of their payroll. Enter: Dee Gordon.

The Dodgers traded the speedy Gordon to the Marlins prior to the 2015 season, which ended up being his breakout season; he posted 4.8 Wins Above Replacement that year. The following year, however, Gordon was busted for performance-enhancing drugs and suspended for 80 games.

When he was on the field in 2016, he posted his worst offensive numbers since 2013, hitting .265/.305/.335 (73 wRC+, where 100 is average). But he rebounded this season, getting on base at a .341 clip while accumulating 3.3 WAR and swiping a league-leading 60 bases.

Gordon won’t draw many walks or hit more than a handful of home runs, but he will more than make up for it with his solid glove work and elite baserunning. By FanGraphs’ baserunning metric, the 29-year-old was the second-most valuable baserunner in the National League in 2017, and he was baseball’s best defensive second baseman by Ultimate Zone Rating.

The money left on Gordon’s contract along with Miami’s desire to trim payroll and begin rebuilding means that Gordon shouldn’t have an exorbitant asking price attached to him and can likely be had for a reasonable bundle of prospects. I’d take on the remainder of the money and center the package around Chris Rodriguez and Jaime Barria, two right-handed pitchers who MLB Pipeline ranks as the seventh and eighth-best prospects in the Angels’ system, respectively.

In this scenario, the Angels would manage to hold on to their best prospects (Jo Adell, Jahmai Jones, Matt Thaiss, Griffin Canning, and Brandon Marsh) while acquiring their everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter for the next three or four years at a fair annual rate.

Yonder Alonso

Two years, $22 million

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Angels rolled out the worst offensive first basemen in the American League in 2017, accruing a 90 wRC+ at the position, and reports indicate that they are hunting for a suitable one on the free-agent market.

They’ve been connected to Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison, and Lucas Duda. However, I’d bypass those three and go with Yonder Alonso instead. The left-handed hitter spent the first six seasons of his career as a mediocre hitter, playing for the Reds, Padres, and A’s and never posting a wRC+ higher than 110 over a full season. But he flipped a switch last year, slashing .275/.372/.562 (146 wRC+) with 20 home runs in the first half on his way to his first career All-Star selection.

His power dissipated after the break, but Alonso’s improved patience at the plate remained steady, enjoying a 13% walk rate and .354 OBP in the second half to finish the season with a .266/.365/.501 (132 wRC+) line. GM Billy Eppler is prioritizing OBP this offseason, and Alonso fits the mold, even if he is ultimately unable to rekindle his All-Star form.

After a late-season trade to Seattle this year, Alonso was mostly deployed in a platoon role, as he struggled against lefties to the tune of a .679 OPS on the season. Therefore, I’d have him share time at first base with C.J. Cron, though I might not employ a strict platoon.

Juan Nicasio

Three years, $18 million

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Angels bullpen finished fifth in the majors in both ERA and WAR last season, but it could use a few reinforcements. Juan Nicasio is a hard-throwing, 31-year-old righty who had the best season of his career this year and owns a 3.32 FIP over the last three seasons.

In 2017, Nicasio’s fastball averaged nearly 96 mph; he posted a career-best 2.61 ERA and a career-low 6.9% walk rate in 72 13 frames; and he held opposing hitters to a .216/.277/.333 line. Signing free-agent relievers is always a risky proposition, but Nicasio is worth taking a chance on.

Eduardo Nunez

Two years, $14 million

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

With Yunel Escobar’s departure, the Angels are currently without an everyday third baseman. There are a couple of such players available including Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier, but neither are great fits.

Therefore, I would opt to add Eduardo Nunez to the fold. He’s probably not good enough to be a regular, but he can split time with Luis Valbuena at the hot corner. Additionally, he could play a utility role when he’s not starting, as he can play second base and shortstop competently and has even spent time in left field.

As for his offensive skill set, the 30-year-old has a contact-first approach, doesn’t walk much, and runs the bases well. Since 2015, he has hit .296/.332/.443 (106 wRC+), and he has stolen 64 bases over the last two years.

A common knock against Nunez is that while he can play multiple positions, he’s not particularly good at any of them, which is true. But with Gordon and Andrelton Simmons in the middle of the infield, Nunez would almost exclusively man third base where he has been pretty average of late, accumulating -1 Defensive Runs Saved and a -2.1 UZR since 2015.

Nunez certainly wouldn’t be a flashy acquisition, but he would give the Angels some depth in addition to the flexibility to add an everyday third baseman next winter if one just so happened to hit the free-agent market (Manny Machado, perhaps?).

Ben Revere

One year, $4 million

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Angels Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Revere was quietly productive in the second half this year. After a dismal first half that saw him put together a .562 OPS, he hit .336/.378/.392 (113 wRC+) following the All-Star break. He won’t be called upon to play nearly as often next season now that Justin Upton will be in left field from the start of the season, but his speed and ability to play all three outfield positions make him a fine fourth outfielder.

Nick Hundley

One year, $2 million

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Francisco Giants Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Martin Maldonado won a Gold Glove for his superb work behind the dish this year. The problem was that he played in more games than any other AL catcher (138) and surpassed his career-high in games played by 59, which likely caused the severe mid-season dip in offensive production.

Through the first three months of the season, Maldonado was hitting .252/.317/.414 (99 wRC+). But over the final three months, he hit just .188/.232/.319 (44 wRC+).

I suspect that the quality of his backup catcher, Juan Graterol, had something to do with Maldonado playing so much. Graterol’s 16 wRC+ ranked 456th out 459 players with at least 80 plate appearances this year.

That’s why I would sign a backup catcher, as it would go a long way in preserving Maldonado’s performance. I’d choose Nick Hundley, who hits lefties well, slashing .311/.347/.509 (115 wRC+) against southpaws since 2015. Maybe Maldonado can get a day off against a tough lefty once in while?

If all of these moves happened, my Opening Day lineup (vs. RHP) would look something like this:

2B Dee Gordon (L)

CF Mike Trout (R)

LF Justin Upton (R)

1B Yonder Alonso (L)

DH Albert Pujols (R)

RF Kole Calhoun (L)

SS Andrelton Simmons (R)

3B Luis Valbuena (L)

C Martin Maldonado (R)

And the bench:

OF Ben Revere (L)

1B C.J. Cron (R)

UTIL Eduardo Nunez (R)

C Nick Hundley (R)

The rotation would consist of righties Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, and Nick Tropeano and lefties Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs. Blake Parker, Blake Wood, Cam Bedrosian, JC Ramirez, Juan Nicasio, Keynan Middleton, and Parker Bridwell would reside in the bullpen.

The additions of Gordon and Alonso would fix major areas of need and balance the lineup between lefties and righties. Nunez would provide versatility and, along with Gordon and Revere, plenty of speed. Hundley would allow Mike Scioscia to confidently give Maldonado a day off every so often. And Nicasio would shore up the backend of the bullpen.

The six moves total about $40 million in average annual value, which would bring the luxury tax payroll to approximately $182 million. In addition, I didn’t make any contractual commitments longer than four years, and I surrendered very few prospects. I also avoided giving up any of the team’s draft picks by not signing any free agents who received qualifying offers.

Your turn, Eppler.