clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

If I were Billy Eppler..., Part V

New, 149 comments

What we learned from this exercise: walking the tightrope between present and future is dangerous yet exhilarating.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

MLB: General Managers Meetings
In which I put my thinking cap on.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the fifth installment of the If I were Billy Eppler series, where HH writers explicate the transactions for their desired Angels offseason. Previous editions by various authors can be found here: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

In order to rosterbate responsibly, guidelines for the series are as follows.

For the luxury tax payroll, the $142.3 million calculated by Cot’s contracts is the amount of present obligations for the 2018 season (use the Tax Tracker tab). Cot’s is chosen as it is the most reliable, publicly available source.

The luxury tax threshold, which owner Arte Moreno has indicated as the spending limit in years past, is $197 million for 2018, leaving almost $55 million to be played with. That figure has been knocked down to $45 million to ensure there is enough payroll flexibility to make mid-season acquisitions.

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

Trades must be as realistic as possible. One popular tactic among baseball fans on the internet is offering a bunch of players you don’t like in exchange for some you do. In reality, that’s not how trades actually work, so that’s off limits.

Finally, if an arbitration-eligible player is to be involved in a transaction, MLB TR’s arbitration projections are to be used to calculate the player’s luxury tax implications since final arbitration numbers are not yet in.

Got it? Let’s go.


My offseason priorities

1. Upgrade the IKEA ball pit that is second base, finding a long-term answer if possible.

2. Upgrade at least one of first base or third base.

3. Look for versatility and opportunity, in whatever forms those present themselves.


Finding a meaningful second base improvement, by far the paramount priority, isn’t difficult this winter. Between the trade and free agent markets, Cesar Hernandez, Dee Gordon, Ian Kinsler, Neil Walker, and Zack Cozart are all available. By Fangraphs’ metrics, each recorded more than two wins this year.

While Walker thrives on offense, his shaky injury history gives me pause that he can field a premium position or stay on the field consistently, and I don’t have access to the medicals to convince me otherwise.

Moving Cozart to second will extinguish his defensive value from very good to around average. He still has to learn the position, after all. Even though he has made a concerted effort towards lifting the ball, I doubt he comes anywhere close to the 141 wRC+ (41% above average) he put up over the season, most of which was spent in Great American Ball Park, tied with Coors Field for the easiest stadium for a right-handed hitter to hit home runs in. Between those, the durability issues, and the fact that he would need to see the green to be convinced a position change is in his best interest, Cozart is a much riskier proposition than appears at first glance.

I’m not comfortable giving a long-term deal to a player (Dee Gordon) with a speed and defense profile, both of which decline several years earlier than hitting. Gordon, who will be 30 for most of next season, has been caught using performance enhancers, which introduces an additional element of risk.

While Cesar Hernandez is the best player of the bunch and is controllable for three years, he would likely require two pre-arb starters given where the Phillies are in their rebuild (likely a combination of Heaney, Tropeano, Bridwell, Jaime Barria, Jahmai Jones). Recall that the Phillies have two core outfielders in addition to two high outfield draft picks—Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Mickey Moniak, Adam Haseley, respectively—and their core first baseman, Rhys Hoskins, is capable of playing an outfield corner competently. A minor leaguer far from the big leagues would not pique the Phillies’ interest. Instead, they need quality MLB-ready starters in volume, pitching this team cannot afford to concede.

By waiting another year, the team will also gain a clearer understanding of what the true value of their up-and-coming outfielders—namely, Adell and Marsh—are and pay a lower asking price for the same asset. Moreover, it also does not preclude them from taking advantage of an opportunity that may arise later during the season.

MLB: New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

2b — Ian Kinsler

1 year, $10 million [$10M AAV, max payroll remaining: $35 million]

Kinsler’s defense has remained strong, though his offensive results took a hit. A .244 BABIP highlighted how flukishly low that number is for someone of his swing type and speed. A deeper dive of batted ball data reveals Kinsler is still a similar hitter, and in some ways he has improved.

Kinsler batted ball, 2015-17

Season O-Swing % O-Contact % Hard% Fly Ball% Line Drive %
Season O-Swing % O-Contact % Hard% Fly Ball% Line Drive %
2015 29.5% 76.0% 26.4% 40.7% 25.4%
2016 28.7% 71.5% 34.0% 44.5% 23.9%
2017 29.3% 73.2% 37.0% 46.5% 20.6%
Plate discipline information courtesy of Pitch Info Fangraphs

While the line drive percentage took a hit, both his hard-hit rate and fly ball rate increased with plate discipline metrics holding steady. The underlying asset here is still intact. In fact, his defense is still intact (6 DRS, 6.2 UZR) and his xwOBA is higher than league average on offense, meaning his wRC+ should have been several points above 100, rather than the 91 actually recorded. This was a down year for Kinsler, and it’s not like this isn’t an athletic player: he had average sprint speed among all second baseman.

If I’m being honest, whether or not Angels fans give their stamp of approval is a non-issue. This isn’t Chuck E. Cheese, Taco Bell, or the Katella Avenue Bouncy House Emporium. This is the Angels Angels of Anaheim, and the objective here is to win games. Kinsler, objectively, helps them do just that—in fact, he projects as a 2.8 WAR player next year—and he’s just one year removed from a 6 WAR season. He carries the upside without the pain of the acquisition cost.

The risk here is that he’s on the brink of the end, but then again, that’s what everyone says about any and every over-30 player who had a down year. His defensive skills make for a nice floor even if the bat doesn’t bounce back, and he mashed off lefties to the tune of 33 percent above average both last season and over his career. That would make for a nice leadoff hitter a third of the time, which is an unexpected bonus. Given how high the asking price is for Hernandez, it makes sense to pursue an alternative that provides comparable production.

Proposed trade:

LAA gets: 2b Ian Kinsler, $1 million

DET gets: RHP Jake Jewell

The Angels get a three-win player with bounce-back upside and minimal cash to soften the blow from the luxury tax. The Tigers get a righty with big-league caliber stuff and much-improved command that could fill into the rotation as soon as late 2018, and Eppler me and Avila shake hands once again (virtually, I’m guessing). Supply and demand works in the Angels’ favor here as the Tigers’ main focus is to shed payroll after years of paying the luxury tax. LAA absorbs most of the contract but pays less than it otherwise would in prospect currency.

That brings us to the first base position, where Eric Hosmer, Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison, and miscellaneous platoon bats are available. With Hosmer too inconsistent (and expensive), Santana seems the obvious choice. With payroll flexibility for the next several years looming in the back of my mind, I decided to roll with Morrison for a fraction of the price.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

1b — Logan Morrison

2 years, $20 million, with a third-year club option for $12 million. [$10M AAV, max payroll remaining: $25M]

While I wholeheartedly agree Santana is the safe, high-floor option, “as many as ten teams” are interested in him, including eight teams in win-now mode: LAA, SEA, CLE, NYM, TEX, STL, and TB. Ultimately, I think he exceeds Dave Cameron’s estimate of 4/72, with a fierce bidding war that takes the Angels out of his price range.

With a 137 wRC+ against righties and a 109 wRC+ against lefties, LoMo does not require a platoon partner, unlike other second-tier first base options. Just like Santana and Hosmer, he is also left-handed and would help balance the lineup. Even though his track record leaves much to be desired, most historical batted ball data is moot as he has bought into the fly-ball revolution and seen tangible results: he put up a 3.3 fWAR and 3.6 bWAR this year, good for a .246/.353/.516 slash line with 38 home runs.

Logan Morrison batted ball, 2015-17

Season GB/FB Hard%
Season GB/FB Hard%
2015 1.14 30.60%
2016 1.27 34.20%
2017 0.72 37.40%

If his .367 expected wOBA, a stat more indicative of a hitter’s true talent level than wOBA since it strips out defensive positioning, didn’t convince you on the offensive end, Morrison put up a decent year on the defensive end with 1 defensive run saved and 1.2 UZR. He can cover an outfield corner in a pinch; he entered the league as an outfielder. That .367 xwOBA, by the way, is 46 points above the league average and five points better than that of Carlos Santana.

I understand where the anti-LoMo crowd is coming from a track record standpoint, but many of his detractors are oblivious to the bigger picture. In a nutshell, it can be boiled down to this: Statcast data, batted ball data, and results all align, which bodes extremely well for Morrison’s future—and that’s all without acknowledging he had his best defensive year in several years. Process is more important than outcome, but it’s reassuring when the two are in accordance with one another.

It’s not flashy, but Morrison has the floor of an average regular with a ceiling of three to three and a half wins per year. This is a good hedge through diversification in the juiced ball era, and given that a win costs about $8 million in free agency, LoMo has to be worth just 2.5 wins over two years for this deal to be worth it. If you factor in the opportunity cost of C.J. Cron, whom Fangraphs’ Steamer projects to be worth 1.1 wins, then Morrison has to be worth 4.7 wins over the two years, which he should be able to clear even if he experiences natural, aging-related regression. Even at league average production (2 WAR per year), this is still acceptable since my pro scouting department is more adept in discovering pitchers as opposed to hitters.

In my aforementioned priorities section, I stated my intention to upgrade first or third base. I attribute that to the fact that I see Luis Valbuena as a versatile corner infielder well above average against righties moving forward. His wRC+ the last four years versus RHP? 127, 124, 130, and 104. He’d have to be platooned against lefties, which is why I went with Morrison at first base, who doesn’t need a platoon partner.

I took Morrison over Todd Frazier and Mike Moustakas since Moustakas strikes me as a player with little to no athleticism and will age poorly, while Todd Frazier’s insanely high popup rate (18.5%) could decimate his offensive value at any minute of a long-term deal. Nobody should expect Frazier to put up as high OBP as he did since his walk rate was nearly five points higher than that of last year, well above his career averages. His plate discipline was very good, but I’m not sold on a deal of considerable length. Take it from impartial observer Dave Cameron if you think I’m being irrational (parentheses mine).

Over the last three years, Todd Frazier has hit 109 infield flies; no one else has over 100, and Manny Machado ranks third, some 20 pop ups behind Frazier. He remains a decent (above average) player despite this significant flaw, but he’s the kind of guy who could become unplayable pretty quickly if the power declines at all (It certainly would in Anaheim. Remember the marine layer and bigger outfield?). His power and defense at third still make him worth pursuing, but you want as short a deal as you can get with Frazier, because when the end comes for him, it will probably come quickly.

Plugging first base effectively, conserving payroll flexibility, and going after a long-term fix in Manny Machado the next offseason makes the most sense. Signing Carlos Santana would likely preclude them me from doing so.

Let’s move on to the other half of the third base platoon.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

3b/UTIL — Howie Kendrick

1 year, $7 million [$7M AAV, max payroll remaining: $18M]

The long-time fan favorite returns in this scenario as the weak side platoon at the hot corner, contributing his career 112 wRC+ to the lineup. That’s not all, though. This past season, HK47 split time between third base, second base, left field, dabbling at first and right field. Together with Valbuena, that’s a platoon that is likely to provide above average production for the combined average annual value of $13.5 million.

After signing Morrison and Kinsler, I feel the need to bring in a known quantity and Kendrick fits the bill. Eduardo Nuñez does too, but he has a 97 wRC+ against lefties and would require a two-year commitment as opposed to one. For a team that doesn’t have a position for him, this doesn’t make sense. Kendrick does what Nuñez does, but with a slightly better bat and slightly worse defense—with the juiced ball, that’s a trade-off worth taking.

The Angels and Kendrick are a perfect marriage: the Angels get improved production and insurance at several positions while Kendrick gets guaranteed playing time (250-300 PA, at minimum) that would likely increase with injuries to other players. This would be playing for his hometown team, a highly motivated team on the brink of the playoffs.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

SP — Tyler Chatwood

3 years, $30 million [$10M AAV, max payroll remaining: $8 million]

I seriously doubt MLBTR’s prediction of 3/20 comes close, while Cameron’s 3/30 is right on the money.

Here’s why Chatwood would be a great signing: a 2.57 road ERA over the last two years (his home field is Coors), high spin rate on breaking balls and the four-seam fastball, many ground balls induced, and throwing at a higher velocity. He has had TJ in the past, but it’s a non-issue since he was just 24 years old at the time of the surgery.

With eight rotation candidates already, the team has enough starting arms. That being said, most of these arms are wild cards. The bear case for Chatwood is a passable back-end starter with a high walk rate. The bull case, on the other hand, is a starter that profiles at the middle of a playoff rotation. With a solid pitching coach and philosophy that suits Chatwood’s strength, this is a no-brainer.

It is precisely at this point cash must be freed up towards ancillary pieces. The easiest way to accomplish this is through the non-tendering process.

Non-tender Blake Wood [Max payroll remaining: $10.2M]

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Cron’s inconsistency makes him expendable here. While he does have his hot streaks, his lengthy cold streaks for months at a time make him effectively unplayable. With no positional versatility and the DH spot occupied, Cron has no spot on this 25-man roster even if he functions as a pinch hitter.

Proposed trade:

LAA gets: C Nick Ciuffo [Max payroll remaining: $12.7M]

TB gets: 1b C.J. Cron, $0.3 million

The small market Rays get a first baseman to fill out their roster for the upcoming season in their favorite three true outcomes fashion. I suspect they will regroup with fierce competition from four teams in division, so Cron would be a cheap alternative, low expectations, and shorter left fields in the AL East. The Rays could subsequently flip him if Cron performs. Perhaps a change of scenery helps him do just that.

Ciuffo is likely a future backup. His real value is not intrinsic but found in the defensive competition and positive influence for Taylor Ward and Jack Kruger moving forward. Though the return seems overly light, a non-intriguing 45-grade prospect is what Cron’s value is and is in line with how talent evaluators and executives assess him.

It is here I briefly fiddled with trading for Rays LHP Xavier Cedeño as a situational lefty, but ultimately decided against it. Cedeño would require a 25-man spot, as he is out of options, and is coming off of forearm tightness. I was enamored with Jose Alvarado, but his lack of availability made it a pipe dream. Marc Rzepcynski (SEA) or Boone Logan (FA) were also given legitimate consideration, but ultimately decided against as Jose Alvarez fits the bill well enough.

Over the last three years, Alvarez owns a 2.72 ERA and 3.33 FIP against left-handed hitters. The .714 OPS against LHH this year is not ideal, but it looks to be an aberration. Alvarez’s expected wOBA against lefties from 2015-17 is 0.279 and 0.281 in 2017. Other relievers in such a range in this three-year span include Ken Giles (0.280 xwOBA), Brett Cecil (0.279 xwOBA), and Seung-Hwan Oh (0.278).

This is the part of winter where I need to stretch my budget as much as possible, starting with a proven arm or two.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

RP — Yusmeiro Petit

2 years, $10 million [$5M AAV, max payroll remaining: $7.7 million]

My jaw dropped to the floor when I found out neither Fangraphs nor MLBTR had Petit as a top-50 free agent. His hallmark multi-inning stints fit what the team intends to do. He came off a great year and is tailor-made for the AL West. Clearly inferior relievers will receive a higher annual salary. For the number of innings he will pitch next year, this is arbitrage at its finest. While I don’t doubt Felix Peña can go multiple innings, this is Petit’s core competency. Why question it?

RP — Jesse Chavez

1 year, $2.5 million [$2.5M AAV, max payroll remaining: $5.2 million]

Chavez impressed with both raw “stuff” and results after being moved to the bullpen. Small sample size, but he excelled with a 12.04 K/9, 1.84 BB/9, a 3.20 FIP. According to Statcast, he generated an expected wOBA of .293, which is 28 points better than league average. As a former starter, he would be able to deliver excellent results the first time through the order, going multiple innings when asked. He would also be a team player and good mentor for the younger relievers on the club, which is always a plus.

MLB: NL Wildcard-Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

C — Chris Iannetta

1 year, $2 million [$2M AAV, max payroll remaining: $3.2 million]

There aren’t very many easy decisions. This was one of them. I have doubts regarding the backstop’s desire to return to Anaheim, but Iannetta’s .865 OPS from the back-up position makes a lot of sense, and his 130 career wRC+ against lefties improves the output from the catching position—first base too, if Mike Scioscia feels adventurous. My views are in line with Carlos’ take from several days ago:

Iannetta is 34 and will not receive many offers to be a team’s primary catcher, despite a very strong season in Arizona last year. His framing runs have been all over the map the last three years, but as a part-time player I have faith he can stay fresh enough to keep his defense in line. As a guy who still knows how to get on base at a decent clip (walk rate above 11% each the last two years) and put an occasional mistake pitch over the fence, there is an opportunity to grab an undervalued asset.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

RP — Jake McGee

3 years, $21 million [$7M AAV, max payroll remaining: $0.1M]

Because trade acquisitions and free agent signings take up a 25-man roster spot, that pushes out players making league minimum. Due to this, there is $3.9 million more in salary maneuverability than previously anticipated; while this author is content with the roster, I would be remiss to not pick up a more than solid left-handed reliever if given the chance. I split the difference between MLBTR’s and Cameron’s predictions, which left McGee costing $7 million annually. One might argue Chavez will make more than the $2.5M I estimate, but the actual payroll should still be under the amount since Upton’s deal is heavily backloaded.

McGee throws 94-95 and was healthy for most of the year last year. Ignore the counting stats from the Coors effect, McGee is a very good reliever with a .278 xwOBA. Once away from Colorado, the strikeout numbers should improve and this team adds a player who can not only handle lefty-on-lefty matchups but also carries a career ERA 25 percent better than average. I’m not fond of giving most relievers a third year, but this bullpen could use a very good left-hander usable against batters of any handedness. McGee fits that bill with a track record of success. With money to spend, this is a gamble worth taking.

In order to make room for this free agent lefty, I have to clear a spot on the 40-man.

Non-tender C Carlos Perez [Max payroll remaining: $0.1M]

Graterol is a backup catcher with better defense than Perez, making CarPe the backup catcher to the backup catcher to the backup catcher to the catcher, and we can all agree that was gravy for even the most powerful kings and queens in the oldest, tallest castles. Perez has no value or trade value, so he has to go.

OF — Shane Robinson

NRI w/$100,000 bonus if he makes Opening Day roster [max payroll remaining: $0M]

Michael ‘Herm’ Hermosillo likely won’t be ready until mid-May but has shown promise. In the early weeks of the season the most important trait from a fourth outfielder, aside from being able to play all outfield spots, is speed on the bases. Robinson brings that at a fraction of the price and would be paid based on the prorated time he spends on a 25-man roster; he also does not take up a 40-man roster spot until officially making the team.


Offseason in review

The total offseason expenditure is $45 million. This would bring the team’s Opening Day payroll to $173.8 million for luxury tax calculations, not including benefits.

I took an opportunistic purview to the offseason, which also means a willingness to embrace smart risks. That meant picking up Ian Kinsler on the cheap to bolster middle infield defense and an affordable first baseman (Logan Morrison) to hedge bets towards the juiced ball—important because this team didn’t have any swing-changers taking advantage of current trends. It also meant finding a versatile platoon partner for Valbuena at third base, Howie Kendrick. Chatwood is a fascinating upside play away from the thin Denver air and, at the very least, should provide some stability to an injury-ravaged staff. McGee, Petit, Chavez, and Iannetta provide a host of ancillary benefits at good-to-great values. Making this many signings to the bullpen may be overkill, but since there existed a budget surplus, there was considerable downside in not spending the cash now.

The results speak for themselves. The offense and relief core receive a much-needed boost, and Chatwood could be the starter that stabilizes the whole operation. Defensive gains will come from the absence of Yunel Escobar (a combined -20 DRS over the last two seasons) and the addition of Ian Kinsler, another defensive stalwart up the middle.

Though this team is not exactly risk-averse, the inclusion of Kendrick should mitigate concerns at several positions. While the excess of arms on paper could prove to be an awkward problem for starters and relievers alike, the situation should be expected to decide itself as the season unfolds. Both Kaleb Cowart and David Fletcher have previous shortstop experience, which means the utility infielder can come from within the organization. Since Robinson, Hermosillo, Cowart, and Fletcher can all steal a base in a pinch and Kendrick and Iannetta can pinch hit, further bench upgrades are unnecessary. If needed, these can be upgraded through waivers or small trades during the season.

In theory, Cesar Hernandez could have been acquired in exchange for starting pitching, but with injury histories of so many starters I chose to preserve depth instead. If I were to do it over, I would do the same due to the sheer volume of question marks. In my estimation, the marginal benefit this season of a Hernandez upgrade over Kinsler is approximately a win plus the opportunity cost due to the difference in the salaries of the two second basemen. The immediate marginal cost of such a trade would be greater than one win since it would involve surrendering at least one MLB-ready pre-arbitration pitcher in addition to another such pitcher or top prospect whose combined output in 2018 would be greater than 1 WAR.

Would a Cesar Hernandez trade be worth it? The question(s) one would need to answer are as follows: 1) Is the marginal benefit (the difference in production this year plus the difference in salaries that could be used to acquire another player) greater than the marginal cost (production surrendered this year)? and 2) Would the long-term benefits exceed the total costs? and 3) How do you weight the distribution of production? That is, a team in win-now mode values the upcoming season’s wins more highly than a rebuilding team, who may expect to contend several years from now. Would this difference affect the winning or losing of a division title? The wild card? Draft pick? Answering these questions would be enough content for another article altogether, but if one is interested in acquiring a player, these are questions that must be answered. After mentally running through this for Cesar Hernandez in the beginning stages of the writing process, the conclusion I came to was no, it would not be worth it.

In any case, here are the team’s depth charts.

Projected lineup vs. RHP (debatable):

Kole Calhoun, RF (LHH)

Ian Kinsler, 2b

Mike Trout, CF

Justin Upton, LF

Logan Morrison, 1b (LHH)

Albert Pujols, DH

Andrelton Simmons, SS

Luis Valbuena, 3b (LHH)

Martín Maldonado, C

Bench:

- 3b/UTIL Howie Kendrick

- UTIL Kaleb Cowart

- OF Shane Robinson

- C Chris Iannetta

Starting rotation (debatable):

Garrett Richards

Matt Shoemaker

Tyler Chatwood

Tyler Skaggs

Andrew Heaney

Other SP depth: Parker Bridwell, Nick Tropeano, JC Ramírez (DL), Jaime Barria, Troy Scribner, Osmer Morales, Jesus Castillo, Alex Meyer (DL), Nate Smith (DL)

Eight starters with MLB experience and three more waiting in the wings should be more than sufficient depth to last the season.

Bullpen:

Fluid bullpen roles in continuation of last season leave relievers with renewed tolerance for ambiguity.

RP — Yusmeiro Petit

RP — Jose Alvarez

RP — Jesse Chavez

RP — Keynan Middleton

RP — Jake McGee

SU — Cam Bedrosian

CL — Blake Parker

Other RP depth: Parker Bridwell, Nick Tropeano, JC Ramirez (DL), Jaime Barria, Eduardo Paredes, Noe Ramirez, Dayan Díaz, Felix Peña, Troy Scribner

The amount of bullpen flexibility here boggles the mind. Between relievers on the 25-man roster and the potential ones in Triple-A, there are thirteen players capable of pitching multiple inning relief appearances. For a injury-filled rotation, this is a godsend of reinforcements, an enviable mix of flexibility, ability, and pedigree.


In the end, I achieved the three priorities I set out to achieve—acquire a second baseman, first or third baseman, and pursue versatility and opportunity—while adhering to the payroll amount. I also maintained salary flexibility for tomorrow while fielding a competitive team today and, perhaps the most impressive part, not putting the minor league system or organizational depth on the backburner.