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If I were Billy Eppler...Part I

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Introduce Brad Ausmus Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Welcome to the first 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.

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

For the luxury tax payroll, the $145 million calculated by Cot’s contracts is the amount of present obligations for the 2019 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 $206 million for 2019, leaving almost $61 million to be played with. Or does it? Read Rahul’s post here to see how he came up with the $28.5M number that we all try to stick to for these scenarios.

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. Pitching, pitching, pitching

2. Find another 2B/3B option

3. Find a competent MLB catcher

4. Acquire a real 1B to take bulk of duties

SP: Charlie Morton (2 years, $30 million)

The Angels have three starters (Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and Jaime Barria) who look to have guaranteed rotation spots for 2019. Shohei Ohtani’s Tommy John Surgery knocks him out for 2019, creating a huge need for impact starting pitching. Charlie Morton fits that mold.

The Angels sign a quality starter who ranks 17th in ERA (3.36) and 20th in fWAR (6.3) over the past two seasons. In the process, Houston is dealt another blow with Dallas Keuchel currently being a free agent and after learning that Lance McCullers Jr. will miss all of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Given that Morton will be 35 in November, the Angels might be able sign him to a short-term deal with a higher AAV.

That age doesn’t particularly worry me given he’s a bit of a late bloomer and has seen his velocity increase in five straight years. His 95.7 mph average fastball last year was a career high as was his ERA (3.13) and strikeout percentage (28.9 percent). This is a legitimately good starter who may come at a cheaper cost due to his age.

SP: Kyle Gibson (1 year, $7.9 million)

With one year of club control left, Gibson isn’t going to fetch a huge return, especially at a projected $7.9 million salary. That behooves the Angels, who are in need for a short-term play for 2019 and aren’t inclined to move big prospects yet. Gibson is coming off a career year at age 30, posting career highs in fWAR (2.8), ERA (3.62) and strikeout percentage (21.7 percent).

Like Morton, Gibson has some late-bloomer qualities to him. Gibson boasted a career best 93 mph average fastball last year and was one of the handful of pitcher to throw five pitches (Four-Seam Fastball, Sinker, Curveball, Slider, Change-Up) at least 10 percent of the time. Gibson’s Statcast profile is encouraging, showing some positive trends that would lend the Angels a quality starter for 2019.

Proposed trade:

LAA gets: RHP Kyle Gibson and $2 million

MIN gets: OF Michael Hermosillo and RHP Joe Gatto

RP: Jordan Lyles (1 year, $1.5 million)

Lyles, owner of a career 5.28 ERA in 768 2/3 innings, doesn’t appear to be anything special but hear me out. Lyles started to ditch his slider in favor of a curveball, the latter of which generated a 29.2 whiff percentage and limited hitters to a .319 slugging percentage last year. On top of it being one of the hardest curveballs in baseball (83.5 mph), the pitch also gained more vertical depth last year.

Lyles threw that curveball 28.7 percent of the time last year and he’d arguably benefit from using it more. Ditch the slider and change-up and let Lyles strictly throw his 93-95 mph fastball and curveball exclusively. Allow him to focus on his strengths and simplify his repertoire and there may be a valuable pitcher here.

On top of this, Lyles has the ability to start games, is only 28 years old and had his $3.5 million club option decline by Milwaukee, meaning his price likely won’t be high. There is some hidden value here and fits the mold of a low-cost bullpen acquisition for Eppler.

Catcher: Tucker Barnhart (3 years, $9.75 million+ $7.5 mil club option)

The Angels are starved for catching talent and Barnhart would represent a fairly big upgrade. 2018 was a step back for Barnhart where he saw a decline in throwing out runners (decrease from 56 percent to 24 percent), got on base less and hit for less power. Add in his usual poor pitch framing and it led to a mediocre season.

However, Barnhart was still worth 1.1 fWAR thanks to competent offensive production (89 wRC+) at the position and decent defensive skills. Barnhart will only be 28 next year, is signed to a very nice deal and has a track record of strong defensive skills and competent offense. Plus, have you seen the current state of catchers? It’s not pretty.

Even if his defense has fallen back a bit, Barnhart would represent a sizeable upgrade and there aren’t a whole lot of other options available. Barnhart is young, fills a long-term hole and is one of the better projected catchers for 2019.

Proposed trade:

LAA gets: C Tucker Barnhart

CIN gets: LHP Jose Suarez and OF D’Shawn Knowles

1B/2B/3B: Daniel Murphy (2 years, $14 million)

With Albert Pujols in decline and dealing with injuries, along with Shohei Ohtani’s uncertain timetable for returning to hitting, the Angels need a legitimate bat to slot in at first base and possibly designated hitter. Enter Daniel Murphy.

Murphy will be 34 on Opening Day, dealt with a knee issue most of last year and saw a steep drop in production but it’s worth noting he ran a 126 wRC+ over the final three months. There’s no guarantee the knee injury was either responsible for the down year nor will it go away in the future but if Murphy bounces back, he’s a huge value signing.

Murphy was legitimately one of the best hitters in baseball from 2016-2017, running a .334/.387/.569 line and the ninth best wRC+ (145). His poor defense has pushed him mainly into a first base role but he could handle designate hitter duties, along with some second base (and possibly third base) duties for the Angels, filling in for Zack Cozart and David Fletcher when needed.

The Angels need a legitimate MLB option to compete with Albert Pujols for first base at bats and a healthy Murphy could fill that role. Murphy really struggled versus lefties last year, meaning Pujols can handle duties versus left-handed pitching.

OF: Lonnie Chisenhall (1 yr, 2 million)

Had Chisenhall not been hampered by a calf injury last season, he would’ve been in line for a bigger deal. As it stands, he only played in 29 games but he was very productive, hitting .321/.394/.452 with 0.8 fWAR in that small sample. Chisenhall owns a career 104 wRC+ versus right-handed pitching, handles all three outfield positions and can probably play some third base like he used to prior to 2016.

Chisenhall was a steady one-and-a-half win player from 2014-2017 and represents a solid bench bat who can handle his own when he’s thrust into a starting role. This is a potential bargain signing.

Non-Tenders: Matt Shoemaker ($4.3 million), Hansel Robles ($1.3 million)

Non-tendering Shoemaker is tough given the injuries he’s gone through recently but $4.3 million for a 32-year-old pitcher with very few innings and little success over the past two years is tough to justify. For a team thin on pitching depth, this could be unwise but the club can find a similar option for a lower price on the market.

Hansel Robles is a justifiable non-tender given his price and lack of production. He throws hard and misses bats but his poor command and home run tendencies make him a fringe MLB option. Eppler finds guys like this all the time and given the amount of bubble guys on the pitching staff, this is an easy choice.

The total offseason expenditure is $30.1 million. This would bring the team’s Opening Day payroll to $176.4 million for luxury tax calculations, not including benefits.

I took an opportunistic purview to the offseason, which means the team should absolutely make moves to compete in 2019 but not make crippling short-sighted moves by moving big prospects for short-term plays. My scenario adds a few impact starting pitchers for 2019, another bullpen piece to create some competition, a long-term everyday catcher and a potential impact bat that steals plate appearances from an aging Albert Pujols.

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

Projected lineup vs. RHP

Kole Calhoun, RF

Daniel Murphy, 1B

Mike Trout, CF

Shohei Ohtani, DH

Justin Upton, LF

Andrelton Simmons, SS

Zack Cozart, 3B

David Fletcher, 2B

Tucker Barnhart, C

Projected lineup vs. LHP

Andrelton Simmons, SS

Mike Trout, CF

Shohei Ohtani, DH

Justin Upton, LF

Zack Cozart, 3B

Kole Calhoun, RF

Albert Pujols 1B

David Fletcher, 2B

Tucker Barnhart, C

Bench:

Albert Pujols/Daniel Murphy, 1B/DH

Jose Briceno, C

Taylor Ward 3B

Lonnie Chisenhall, OF/3B

Starting rotation:

Charlie Morton, RHP

Andrew Heaney, LHP

Kyle Gibson, RHP

Tyler Skaggs, LHP

Jaime Barria, RHP

Bullpen:

Ty Buttrey, RHP

Blake Parker, RHP

Justin Anderson, RHP

Jose Alvarez, LHP

Jordan Lyles, RHP

Cam Bedrosian, RHP

Other options: Keynan Middleton (injury), Noe Ramirez, Taylor Cole, Felix Pena, Nick Tropeano (injury), Hansel Robles, Alex Meyer (injury), Parker Bridwell

Summary

In this scenario, the Angels are spending a pretty hefty amount this offseason but many of the moves are for short-term additions, creating payroll flexibility for the future while putting a better team on the field in 2019. Clearly, the Angels biggest need is pitching and the club addresses that here, adding a legitimate top 30 MLB starter (Morton), a solid #4 starter (Gibson) and some bullpen depth (Lyles).

On top of the pitching issue, the club needs to add a legitimate big league catcher and some infield depth, namely at first base. Tucker Barnhart is a solid addition to catcher and his youth/club control makes him a long-term play. Daniel Murphy is a big depth addition given the downfall of Albert Pujols and Shohei Ohtani’s uncertain timetable for his return to hitting.