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If I were Billy Eppler ..., Part IV

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Prepare to be underwhelmed...until the very end

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

What’s going on, Halo fans? We’re on the fourth installment of this series meaning it’s my time to give this offseason simulation a crack. We’re under the same presumption that we have $45 million to work with and trades have to be as realistic as possible (even if it means giving up players we highly value). Like everyone else, my arbitration figures come from MLBTR’s estimates. Let’s jump into it.

I realize the “Trout contention window” is starting to get narrower and narrower as his free agency in 2020 continues to loom over the franchise. I also realize this means fans are eager to spend Arte’s money on free agents this winter in order to capitalize on Trout’s greatness. My winter is more modest than others and it continues to change on a day-to-day basis, but here’s my line of thinking for this winter. I’ll break down each move and how it has a domino effect on other roster moves. My main goals are 1) solidifying second base 2) beefing up first base and 3) supplementing the current core with a much deeper and more versatile roster without breaking the bank and keeping future payroll, meaning within the next year or two, within a reasonable level.

Neil Walker

2-years, $24 million with a $13 million vesting option for a third year based off of plate appearances accumulated in both 2018 and 2019

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

We all know second base has been an issue since Howie was traded to the hated Dodgers and we all have different ideas on how to get one. The popular consensus around Halos Heaven seems to be focused on two main guys: Cesar Hernandez and Dee Gordon. I decided to go the free agent route. I approached Matt Klentak, in this hypothetical scenario where I’m Eppler, about a package based around Tyler Skaggs and Brandon Marsh for Hernandez and was immediately rebuffed. No harm done, I tried and didn’t want to blow the wad in one trade (even if Hernandez is a perfect fit for the team). I called up Jeter, but he was asking for too much for Gordon on top of taking on the remainder of Dee’s contract (more on Jeter later). This led to me a former Angels target in Neil Walker. Walker has had some injury issues, only playing in 113 and 111 games the past two seasons, but this could work in our favor. Not many teams are looking for a second baseman to begin with, so the 32-year old Walker will be hard-pressed to find three guaranteed years on the open market.

Walker is a very consistent hitter, though, and despite all of the red flags related to health. I like the idea of a nominal contract given to a very good Major League player. Career wRC+ of 114, career OBP and wOBA of .341 and .338, decent pop from a second baseman (his .174 ISO was easily better than the league average second baseman of .146). While his defense isn’t anything spectacular, he’s about average and range is becoming less of a factor with so many defensive shifts and scouting reports coming into play. I’d love a glove like Ian Kinsler, Dee Gordon, or Cesar Hernandez next to Andrelton Simmons, but we can’t get a perfect player, and I love the idea of adding a very solid switch-hitter in the middle of the lineup. Second base is solved for the next two years- at least.

Logan Morrison

Two-years, $22 million with an opt-out after the first year

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is where I expect to catch a lot of flack, yet I don’t care. Morrison really opened my eyes to what can happen when a player uses data to his advantage, then proceeds to break out in a big way.

Heading into his age-29 season, Morrison was never the player the Marlins and Mariners expected him to become. A former top prospect, he was heading into the realm of “busts” and “AAAA player” titles. Then the Rays gave him a chance. More or less of the same in 2016, but in the second half of 2016, granted only 26 games, 2017 Morrison started to poke his head in. Morrison put it all together, his already exceptional plate discipline took another step as he walked at a very healthy 13.5% rate. He swung at less pitches outside of the zone than in recent memory (27.7% was his lowest since being, basically, a part-time player with Miami in 2013). More importantly, Morrison joined the “flyball revolution”, making a concerted effort to hit the ball in the air more. His flyball percentage (FB%) generally hovered in the mid-to-upper 30 percents throughout his career, but soared to a 46.2% rate in 2017. This led to an absolutely bonkers 22.5 HR/FB% while also keeping his infield flyball rate lower (this is key in hitting flyballs, keep the infield flyball rate down). It was a matter of adjustments for the 6’3’’ and 245 lb. behemoth to tap into his power. Watch some highlights, he’s getting allllll of that weight behind those pitches.

Morrison has low marks on defense based over the course of his career, but in 2017, he was about league average defensively at first base. Something I could live with if he produces with the stick. This contract also gives Logan some incentive, if he has another big year, he could head into next winter with an opt-out clause and only being in his age 31-season. It’s not a super long-term commitment for the Angels either. FanGraphs has the value of 1 fWAR at about $8 million, Morrison doesn’t need to duplicate his 3.3 fWAR season, even if he regresses to a 2ish fWAR season he’d be well worth the contract. Oh, and he doesn’t really have any split concerns. While, like most lefties, he isn’t as strong against same side pitching, he’s not bad enough to require a platoon partner. This is also key for a roster that has strictly DH Albert Pujols on it.

And can we stop with the ancient/old comments? The dude turned 30 in August and most likely won’t get more than three years in a contract.

Chris Iannetta

One-year, $3 million

MLB: Miami Marlins at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Just in time for Thanksgiving, it’s time to reunite with loved ones from the past. Enter “Destructobeam.”

Martin Maldonado was rewarded with a Gold Glove for his defensive efforts this season, but all of that playing time also took its toll on his offense as the season progressed. You can read more about Maldonado, and his offense, specifically here in an article I did last month. To summarize, Maldonado needs a competent backup catcher and Juan Graterol ain’t gonna cut it. Ideally, this new backup could also bring something to table offensively.

Iannetta went back to his OBP ways with Arizona this year, hitting a healthy 120 wRC+ with an even sexier .367 wOBA in 89 games. His defense, and more famously pitch-framing, have ranged from good-to-bad in recent years, but this excellent FanGraphs article might shed some light on why that’s the case. Seriously, take a break from reading this to check that out.

This could lighten the workload on Maldy and perhaps help salvage some offense from the catcher position. If Iannetta catches 60-70 games with his usual rock-solid bat, we could have a very good tandem behind the plate. Again, it’s not a huge commitment and it makes the team quite a bit better and deeper.

Mike Minor

Three-years, $24 million

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

I actually think this one is the least likely to happen, since I, Billy Eppler, don’t tend to go big on free agent relievers, but Mike Minor fits like a freshly broken-in glove. After struggling with health and performance as a starting pitcher with Atlanta, the Royals turned Minor into a Swiss army knife out of the bullpen. Eppler loves guys in the pen who throw multiple innings and Minor’s completely capable of doing so. In the 65 games Minor appeared in for Kansas City, Minor pitched more than one inning 19 times. Being a former starter, this should be easy for Minor.

The move to the pen helped in a number of ways, Minor’s fastball velocity sat in the 91-92 mph range as a starter, but jumped to an average of 94.9 mph in the bullpen along with an uptick in his slider (career mph of 86.1 to 89 mph). He struck out a very solid 10.2 batters per nine innings, only walker 2.55 per nine innings, and only gave up 0.58 home runs per nine innings, while improving his groundball rate by nearly 6%. That is a recipe for success. A left-handed reliever who can pitch multiple innings with no concerning split problems is just what the doctor ordered and while Jose Alvarez isn’t horrible, the Angels can make a significant upgrade here. Minor is a perfect fit for a pen that hasn’t had a shutdown lefty in quite some time (Scott Downs, maybe?).

So that’s really about it for free agency. I got us a second baseman, a first baseman, solidified catching, and added a much-needed lefty reliever. I spent about $34 of the $45 million, but there are still areas to address. I gotta get creative to fill out the rest of the roster. I still need a fourth outfielder, a utility infielder, and some pitching depth. This is where it gets fun. Small trade time!

Miguel Rojas/Brad Zielger + Cash

MLB: Miami Marlins at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I decided to call Jeter up again with a different proposal this time. I need someone who can backup Andrelton, give us insurance for Walker at second, and give a right-handed option to pair with Luis Valbuena at third base. Miguel Rojas isn’t a left-handed pitching killer, but his numbers against the left-handed pitching are much more palatable than Valbuena’s. He’s also pretty solid at the key infield positions with good-to-great range. Rojas is 28 and will be arbitration eligible for the first time this winter, he’s going to get start getting more expensive, and that doesn’t bode well for a team looking to shed payroll (despite Rojas’ modest $1.1 million estimate in 2018).

Ziegler hit a major speed bump in 2017 in an otherwise great career. This could be due to the high BABIP (.346) and bad luck. Regardless, I’m taking on a good chunk of his 2018 salary in order to mitigate a possible return for Miami. They’re about to be in a full rebuild and want to shed payroll, so I’ll help them out. We’ll take on $5 of the $8 million of Ziegler’s salary.

I’m offering a left-handed pitching prospect I like in Jose Suarez and a cheap utility infielder in David Fletcher. Suarez is a still a long ways away from the show, but Fletcher could step in to be a utility infielder for Miami sooner rather than later. I think I got use a very nice utility infielder and veteran submarine reliever who could bounce back. It’s almost a luxury, but I think Rojas gets more playing time than most utility infielders.

Matt Andriese

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

He gives up dingers, but Matt Andriese has some enticing peripherals and is only one year removed from a 2 fWAR season. The 4.50 ERA and 4.41 xFIP are not necessarily anything that leap off the screen, but Andriese has a solid K/9 ratio (7.54), BB/9 ratio (2.29), and groundball rate (44.9%) in his career. His HR/9 rate went way up in a historic year for home runs, but if he can get that unsightly 1.67 rate down to his career normal of 1.32, you have a solid back-end starter who isn’t even arbitration eligible until after the 2019 season.

The Rays have a need for a first baseman, so I’m offering CJ Cron to them. Cron can try to correct his consistency issues in Florida for a team in competitive limbo like Tampa Bay. LoMo’s already in the picture and Cron doesn’t play any other positions, I’d gladly trade him for someone who I think can be a league average/5th starter type in Matt Andriese. Gives them some options at the back end of the rotation and much needed-depth. I think he could fill a Jesse Chavez kind of role.

Paulo Orlando

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

I want some speed and defense for my fourth outfielder, so I called the Royals about Paulo Orlando. Won’t do much with the bat, but I love the idea of adding a burner on the bases and speed on the bench. I’m giving Kansas City Jose Alvarez in this deal, he’s been just above league average and helps them replace Mike Minor as a lefty in the pen. Alvarez isn’t a horrible pitcher, but I’d like to upgrade (see above with Minor) while getting a decent fourth outfielder while I’m at it. Could give Kole a breather against a tough lefty every once in a while too.

So that’s it, I await your pitch forks and torches because I didn’t build a juggernaut in one offseason. I wanted to improve two positions, the overall depth of the club, and give the team some pitching depth without sacrificing payroll beyond two years or the few trade chips the Angels have. There are guys like JD Martinez, Carlos Santana, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, and others out there, but I’m saving up so that Arte can greenlight one big move next winter: Manny Machado. So hold off going to Home Depot to buy those tiki torches or pitch forks, these moves are calculated to give the spending capability of adding a superstar when one is actually present. I’m not gonna reach on players this winter for the sake of adding players, this free agent pool is underwhelming, next winter has some legitimate studs. I’ll take some moderate upgrades this winter for a chance at Machado or Bryce Harper next winter.

Out of the $45 million, I spent $39.5 million. Cron and Alvarez were due for arbitration, so they kept costs down a bit. I non-tendered Blake Wood as well, saving around $4 million in total from trading or cutting arbitration eligible players, leaving me with about $8 million in payroll space. I’m also opting for the more modern route of twelve position players and thirteen pitchers with the health concerns of the rotation. The result isn’t anything spectacular, but I wanted to hold onto our prospects and wait for a big splash next winter.

12 position players-

Catcher: Martin Maldonado and Chris Iannetta

Infield: Logan Morrison, Neil Walker, Andrelton Simmons, Luis Valbuena, and Miguel Rojas

Outfield: Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, Justin Upton, and Paulo Orlando

Designated Hitter: Albert Pujols

13 Pitchers-

Starters: Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, with Nick Tropeano (with Parker Bridwell, Jaime Barria, Osmer Morales, Troy Scribner, and hopefully Nate Smith at Salt Lake)

Relievers: Eduardo Paredes, Matt Andriese, JC Ramirez, Brad Ziegler, Mike Minor, Cam Bedrosian, Keynan Middleton, and Blake Parker

Just keep this guy in mind and this winter becomes an easier pill to swallow

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports