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If I were Billy Eppler..., Part III

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H.T. Ennis’s take on the offseason fun!

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Welcome to the 3rd 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 |

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. Holes in the lineup

2. Starting pitching

There’s nothing that kills me more as a fan than seeing holes in the lineup or pitchers that clearly don’t have the stuff to compete at a high level in the major leagues. In comparison, established major leaguers who are having an off year (or are playing at a level much lower than expected) pale in comparison. Hitters and starters are easier to address, as they are a more solid bet than relievers. The bullpen is incredibly volatile, and to improve it as a whole, you need to get lucky. Yes, you can go out and sign Craig Kimbrel, but then maybe he turns into Andrew Miller. The same may happen for position players or starters, but usually they are safer.

There is nothing we can do with Kole Calhoun. He is an established major leaguer coming off a horrendous season. To move him would be selling at an all-time low and to replace him with a better option would cost money we don’t have. Simply speaking, there are other holes to patch which would improve the team much more than replacing Calhoun would. He stays.

The same goes for Zack Cozart. To expect him to produce at his 2017 level is a stretch, but production at the level of his 2015-16 numbers (.743 OPS) is very possible. Adding this to his versatility in the field and his defense, this makes him a member of the 2019 Angels.

Similarly, there is nothing to be gained by replacing Albert Pujols at first base. In 2018, he returned to the field and played decently, and his hitting floor remains consistent. Although he has fallen off a cliff from his earlier days, he has found a soft landing spot as a slightly-below average major league hitter. As long as he gets moved down in the order, I have no qualms with him in the lineup for 120-140 games at first base.

As such, the places we can improve are at catcher and third base. I look there, coupled with the pitching improvements.

We are only non-tendering Nick Tropeano to save $1.6 million. All the other possible candidates (Matt Shoemaker, Hansel Robles) are priced reasonably for the level of value they bring. For $4.3 million, Shoemaker brings innings. For $1.4 million, Robles brings passable relief.

Note: I genuinely believe David Fletcher will start the season on the bench. Zack Cozart deserves every opportunity to prove that he still is a solid player.

All we can do about the bullpen is pray.


The Theme

The theme of the 2019 Angels should be to go after players who work counts and hunt for mistakes. With the advent of bullpenning, starters are now encouraged to throw secondary pitches early in games, meaning that each at-bat will be a hard at-bat. The goal should be to make the starter use their full arsenal the first time through the order and then attack them the second time through the order before the bullpen comes in.


Catcher - Devin Mesoraco

1 year, $5.78 million

Ever since his breakout year in 2014 with the Reds, Mesoraco has had bad luck with injuries. He was recently moved to the Mets, where he attempted to get his career back on track. At just 30 years old, the potential is still there, and he should be willing to sign a one-year deal to prove to major league baseball teams that the 2014 Mesoraco is still there. He has a career 8.77% walk rate, a high number for a catcher. At such a high walk rate, Mesoraco will never be an automatic out, something that the Angels should be looking at.

4th Outfielder - Eric Young Jr.

1 year, $545,000

Eric Young Jr. has proven to be a solid outfielder over his past two seasons with the Angels. I see no reason to pay more for a backup outfielder when there is one with time in the organization who has filled in well for Mike Trout.

Third Baseman - Matt Carpenter

1 years, $14.5 million [$8.67M AAV] (2020 team option for $18.5 million)

Trade Proposal: Matt Carpenter for Tyler Skaggs, Keynan Middleton, Brandon Marsh, and Matt Thaiss

Matt Carpenter is another guy who has worked the count well his entire career. In 2018, he saw over 4 pitches a plate appearance, up there with Joey Votto, Mike Trout, and Mookie Betts. 6 of the 7 seasons he’s played full time, he’s had an OPS over .800. In 2018, he finished with 4.9 bWAR, and he is as consistent as consistent can be. He struggled a little with the overshift, but he recovered to post some of the best numbers of his life and shoot himself into the MVP conversation. He plays passable third base, although the Cardinals have moved him to first in the past few seasons. However, with Andrelton Simmons to his left, Carpenter’s range will not be as important (look what Simmons did with Yunel Escobar next to him), and his on-base skills in front of Mike Trout are too important to pass up this opportunity. I feel the package of Tyler Skaggs, Keynan Middleton, Brandon Marsh, and Matt Thaiss gets two years of Carpenter-control.

Starting Pitcher #1 - James Paxton

2019 estimated arbitration salary $9M (2 more years of control)

Trade Proposal: James Paxton for Griffin Canning, Jahmai Jones, Jose Suarez, and Patrick Sandoval

Paxton is the move this offseason. Over the past two seasons, he has compiled a 1.10 WHIP with a K/9 over 11 and has thrown 148 innings a season. He should only get better with the Angels defense behind him. There’s no need to sell you on Paxton’s talent. There are only two concerns: the injuries and the price.

Injuries are a fact of life. Mike Trout has been injured in two straight seasons, but no one would describe him as injury-prone or would be prevented from wanting him on their team because of the injuries. The truth is Paxton is the best pitcher on the market, free agent or trade, and had he not been injured, he might not be on the block.

The price is steep but fair. Canning is a stud in the making, and Suarez and Sandoval should be solid pitchers at the major league level. Meanwhile, Jones is struggling with his move to second base, but he should figure it out in the end with versatility. Paxton is better than Gerrit Cole was at the time of his trade, and he still has two years of control left.

This is how we win. This is the move we need to make to show Mike Trout we are serious.

Starting Pitcher #2 - Garrett Richards

1 year, $4.5 million (team option $4.5 million)

Richards has too much upside to let him go just like that. Pay him for his rehab, and then if it goes well, get a team-friendly deal for 2020. This is a no-brainer.

The money is more expensive than Nathan Eovaldi got, but also Richards’ resume is better than Eovaldi’s at the time of the TJ surgery. This is the contract that Jon Heyman expects. Let’s get it done.

Starting Pitcher #3 - Jeremy Hellickson

2 years, $10.4 million [$5.2 million AAV]

Hellickson is someone who is a solid pitcher but needs innings. The Angels, starving for pitching, can provide those innings for innings. He deserves a comfy two-year deal on the heels of his success in limited opportunity with the Nationals. Hopefully, he can provide stability to the Angels rotation.


Offseason in review

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

Projected lineup:

  1. Matt Carpenter (3B)
  2. Mike Trout (CF)
  3. Shohei Ohtani (DH)
  4. Justin Upton (LF)
  5. Albert Pujols (1B)
  6. Andrelton Simmons (SS)
  7. Zack Cozart (2B)
  8. Kole Calhoun (RF)
  9. Devin Mesoraco (C)

Bench:

  1. Jose Briceno/Francisco Arcia/Kevan Smith (C)
  2. David Fletcher (IF)
  3. Eric Young Jr. (OF)

Starting rotation:

  1. James Paxton (LHP)
  2. Andrew Heaney (LHP)
  3. Jeremy Hellickson (RHP)
  4. Jaime Barria (RHP)
  5. Matt Shoemaker (RHP)

Bullpen pecking order:

  1. Ty Buttrey (RHP)
  2. Blake Parker (RHP)
  3. Justin Anderson (RHP)
  4. Cam Bedrosian (RHP)
  5. Jose Alvarez (LHP)
  6. Hansel Robles (RHP)
  7. JC Ramirez (RHP)
  8. Jake Jewell (RHP)

Summary

Improve where you can, pray for luck where you can’t.

Here, we kept the core intact and added two solid players in Carpenter and Paxton at the expense of Skaggs and most of our top 10 prospects. My goal was to keep Adell, and I was successful in doing that. The lineup is deeper once again, and the rotation has a headman. As for the bullpen...we can only hope that it survives the season.

The total offseason expenditure is $28.5 million - right on target! This would bring the team’s Opening Day payroll to $174.8 million for luxury tax calculations, not including benefits.