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If I were Billy Eppler..., Part IV

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Raising the floor so our stars can shine

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

Welcome to the 4th 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

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 Priorities: Pitching, raising the floor, Pitching, OBP, and Pitching.

My general thinking is that there are very few players capable of winning a ball game. Fortunately for the Angels, we have a few in Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Andrelton Simmons, and (when he’s hot) Justin Upton. However, there are a great many players capable of losing ball games. We’ve seen plenty of that when Eduardo Paredes was on the mound, or the cast of over matched role players were creating 1-2-3 innings for the other side.

I also think we have a stellar infield defense and can build a ground ball-centric pitching staff without breaking the bank. While there are sexy names on the FA market, the Angels have too many holes to fill by pursuing a top end talent if they want to stay within budget.

Looking at Jessica’s great breakdown of the positions most in need of OBP help, I want to elevate the role players to average or above, give our stars far more opportunities to win games, have the ability to win games on nights our stars don’t shine their brightest, and plan for the future.

First: Make More Payroll Room by non-tendering JC Ramirez and Matt Shoemaker, saving $6.2 million.

Baseball can be a cruel business. JC is hurt and will only be available for half the year at best. With no margin for error, I need all the payroll space I can get. Hopefully Shoemaker is finally healed and can be brought back for a lower number. But at this point, I trust Felix Pena to give me 100+ quality innings more than I trust Shoemaker to do the same.

Pitching:

Sign Gio Gonzalez 2 Years $24 Million

32,32,31. That’s the number of games started per year by Gio the last three years. And in that time, he’s generated ground balls about 50% of the time. 180 innings of balls hit to Cozart, Simba, and Fletcher would go a long way for this ball club.

Sign Trevor Cahill 2 Years $14 Million

He can start, he can relieve, and he’d do a bit of both on my squad next year. He also does two things exceptionally well: miss bats and get ground balls. Last year he struck out over 27% of the batters he faced and got another 52% to hit the ball on the ground. It will be up to my staff to best utilize him and keep him fresh/healthy, but another 100 innings of plus production out of him will certainly give the Angels more opportunities to win games.

Cahill would be this year’s Petit, pitching crucial innings in tight games and occasionally getting a start. Paired with Alvarez and Taylor Cole, the long relief portion of the pitching staff would need to be its strength and likely determine the fate of the franchise in 2019.

Sign Shawn Kelley 1 Year $2 Million

Shawn isn’t on any of the Top 50 lists and there are more relievers than there are big league spots available. This isn’t a sexy pick, but Shawn strikes out better than a batter per inning, limits walks well, and has been durable the last several years. In short, he gets the job done and isn’t expensive. Just what we need.

Catcher and Depth

Sign Kurt Suzuki 1 Year $6 Million

I’ve always liked Suzuki, which is why I go with him here over the recently released Robinson Chirinos. Kurt is a class act off the field who went above and beyond in the wake of the Nick Adenhart tragedy. But this is a baseball move.

Kurt’s batting line the last three years is .270/.327/.456 which would easily outpace any catcher in the Angels system. Against lefties, a crux for the Halos last year, Suzuki carries a lifetime .256/.315/.392 slash. He could take DH duties away from Pujols against southpaws, maybe even learn a little first base. And Kurt is a decent bat off the bench.

The sexy pick here is Wilson Ramos. His slash line over the last three years is .298/.343/.483. That’s a noted improvement over Suzuki, but not enough to justify $20-30 million in payroll obligations.

Trade Joe Gatto and Jeremiah Jackson to Miami for Derek Dietrich

Dietrich is a Swiss Army knife with solid on base skills. He’s projected to make $4.8 million on a Miami team that isn’t looking to compete, but is looking to dump payroll. The Angels lose a fringe back end starter and a short stop with serious upside, the fish get some cheap innings from Gatto during non-competitive seasons and an exciting prospect who may contribute during their next competitive window.

For his career, Dietrich sports a .335 OBP. His offensive profile has been above average each of the last three years by both OPS+ and wRC+. He can cover just about anywhere on the field other than short and center. He’s more a consistent Marwin Gonzalez and is under control for a couple of years at a fraction of the cost.

Credit Chase for originally floating the idea of acquiring Dietrich. Hopefully the pieces going to Miami are in line with reality.

Sign Jon Jay for one year $3.5 million

We need a fourth outfielder capable of giving Trout a day off. We could also use a left handed bat off the bench. Over the last three years, Jay carries a .346 OBP, and he’s a career .358 OBP producer against left handers. His best glove work has been in center, but he could take time from Calhoun and be a lead off option if Calhoun’s bat continues to falter. And the one year deal means he won’t block Adell once he’s ready.

Overall Team

This is a team with many moving parts. Outside of CF and SS, a number of players could fill any of the other roles on any given night. Lineup construction would be dictated more by match ups than roles. This is a lineup and bullpen that will give Ausmus flexibility.

Most importantly, this scenario shores up all of our weaknesses without gutting the farm. While you can never have enough start power, we don’t have the resources to go big star hunting and keep the farm under the terms of this series. What we need to do is build as solid of a foundation as possible so our stars can shine. After all, we have the brightest star in the game in Mike Trout with Shohei Ohtani not too far behind.

It is hard for me to conjure up a concrete lineup due to the versatility possible by my acquisitions. The Angels would likely look more like the Dodgers and Cubs of recent years, deploying assets as they are most likely to succeed. Here is a depth chart:

Starting Pitchers

Skaggs, Heaney, Gonzalez, Pena, Barria, Cahill with Tropeano, Canning, and Suarez in AAA.

Multi Inning Relievers

Cahill, Cole, Alvarez, Pena

One Inning Relievers

Buttrey, Parker, Robles, Bedrosian, Kelley

Position Player Depth Chart:

1B: Deitrich, Pujols, Suzuki? with Fernandez in AAA.

2B: Fletcher, Cozart, Deitrich, with Regnifo in AAA.

3B: Cozart, Fletcher, Deitrich, with Ward and Regnifo in AAA.

SS: Simba, Cozart, Fletcher, with Regnifo in AAA.

LF: Upton, Deitrich, Jay, Fletcher with Hermasillo in AAA.

CF: Trout, Jay with Hermasillo in AAA.

RF: Calhoun, Jay, Deitrich, with Hermasillo in AAA.

Lineup vs. Lefties:

Jon Jay - RF

Mike Trout - CF

Shohei Ohtani - DH

Justin Upton - LF

Andrelton Simmons - SS

Derek Deitrich - 1B

Kurt Suzuki - C

Zack Cozart - 3B

David Fletcher - 2B

Lineup vs. Righties

Derek Deitrich - 1B

Mike Trout - CF

Shohei Ohtani - DH

Justin Upton - LF

Andrelton Simmons - SS

Jon Jay/Kole Calhoun - RF

Kurt Suzuki - C

Zack Cozart - 3B

David Fletcher - 2B

The total offseason expenditure is $28.3 million This would bring the team’s Opening Day payroll to $174.6 million for luxury tax calculations, not including benefits.

Maybe Eppler has more room in real life. If I had another $10-$15 million, I’d purse Charlie Morton to add some top end potential to the rotation, maybe Happ. That certainly would be a huge boost.

My overall goal is to take the 1100 at bats given to guys like Luis Valbuena, Jabari Blash and Kaleb Cowart last year and get them to at least league average, turning the lineup over a few dozen times more and getting our core more opportunities to do damage. With a trio of effective multi inning relievers behind a decent rotation, effective bullpen management should be able to keep us in more games than not.