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If I were Billy Eppler..., Part V

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If you were mad after Part III, you’re gonna LOVE this...

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Washington Nationals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Welcome to the 5th 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 $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. Build an offense that is worthy of Mike Trout

2. Shed as much pre-existing payroll as possible

3. Supercharge the pitching depth chart

4. Fill in the gaps with call-ups and inexpensive free agent arms

You know exactly where this is going. The Angels offense has drifted along in sub-adequacy for the whole of the Trout era, and we’ve been hurt. No longer must we thousand-yard stare silently in a dark corner of the room as we replay in our heads over and over again how close we were to the playoffs—how just one more run on this seemingly trivial game in August would have been the difference between a lost season and a deep playoff run. What better way to get those difference-making runs than to get people who can get on base for Trout and/or drive him in? The focus must be impact bats, or Trout’s contributions will be once again mitigated as he continues to be pitched around for the remainder of his tenure as an Angel.

After acquiring the valuable Big Kahuna barreled-ballers, the key to a successful off-season is making room for them, both physically and financially. Refraining from most arbitration-eligible players (you know, the ones who have kept us securely in meh-to-pretty okay territory) will keep the total package at a much lower price than expected.

After tendering contracts to the few decent players, most of them must be traded. We will send them, along with any other movable contracts, to various teams for near-major league solid-to-strong pitching talent as well as other necessary high-upside low-to-mid-level prospects in areas of need, keeping in line with the present organizational philosophy: building a contender while constructing a top farm system for the future.

Then comes the movement. The multiple new AAA pieces, as well as the current Salt Lake Bees and Mobile Baybears (Rocket City Trash Pandas soon enough!), will have a metaphorical battle royale to decide which league-minimum makers earn the privilege to fill in the gaps.

This methodology will not only make the Angels a juggernaut here and now on the back of a Colorado Rockies-type lineup and strong defense, it will stockpile controllable, ultra-cheap, well-regarded arms to give the team a similar outlook to the Atlanta Braves, who are widely believed to be in the prenatal stages of what is soon to be a dynastic decade. The extreme outlier combination of mega-contracts and pre-arbitration younglings may be unorthodox, but it has a more positive prospective outlook than continuing to try to pull off a tightrope act upon the Wire of Mediocrity.

Before assessing the acquisitions, we will begin by non-tendering Matt Shoemaker, Cam Bedrosian, J.C. Ramirez, and Nick Tropeano to save $11 million. We will tender contracts to Jose Alvarez, Blake Parker, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Hansel Robles ($1.4 million). All but Hansel Robles will be gone by the end of the article, however.

Let’s move on to the acquisitions.


First Base/OF - Bryce Harper

13 years, $400 million [$30.77M AAV], 2 opt-outs (2022 and 2024), full NTC

My memes have been dreams for long enough. It is time to pull the trigger and get the absolute scariest one-two punch in all of baseball: Harper-Trout. I have argued many times before in favor a Bryce Harper acquisition, including at the non-waiver trade deadline, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, because I want to win. Bryce Harper is not just an impact bat. Outside of Trout, an argument can easily be made that he is THE impact bat. For one, his walk rate rivals only that of Mike Trout. He gets on base so frequently, even when he slumps, that it is almost like having a Trout (the kind who gets intentionally walked way too frequently) batting in front of Trout. Isn’t that what we all want: a guy that Trout can drive in... always?

Second, because it’s financially feasible. You may scoff and guffaw and chortle, but I can not only add him, I can add yet another strong bat to complement him and still find myself under budget. Bryce Harper is more affordable than many fans realize, even as that scary “$400 million” up there in bold may look threatening.

Third, it keeps Trout in Anaheim. If there was anything that said, “Hey bud, we want to keep you and here’s how we’re going to prove it,” then acquiring Harper with the intention of re-signing Trout as well is probably that move. Besides, the two of them are buddies! With Richards’ departure, he’s going to need another guy to race golf carts with.

And finally, this makes sense for the owner as well. Accumulating “Faces of the Franchise” can never hurt, especially as it puts butts in seats and generates massive revenue for the business. It’s effort on the part of the Front Office and the ownership, and fans can respect that and will reward the effort with cold, hard cash. They may even actually show up for the game!

Third Base - Josh Donaldson

4 years, $74 million [$18.5M AAV], partial NTC

To complement the 2014 and 2016 AL MVP winner, how about the top dog from 2015? Well, okay. Harper won the MVP in 2015 too, but I meant in the American League.

While it may not exactly be a positive thing, Josh Donaldson’s injury-riddled 2018 will keep his price lower than it probably has any right to be. He had 5 consecutive years of MVP-level play and down the stretch, Donaldson regained his former glory. At 33, he’s not young, but he’s certainly an impact piece with top-3 defense at 3rd base behind only Matt Chapman and Manny Machado in the AL and a powerful bat. And yes, the dude can mash. If we are looking for someone to drive in the on-base duo of Trout and Harper, Donaldson can deliver RBIs in droves.

Before we go further, whisper this to yourself: Harper, Trout, Donaldson.

Starting Pitcher Prospect - Justus Sheffield

Pre-arbitration after call-up [$555,000 AAV]

Trade Proposal: Justus Sheffield and PTBNL for Tyler Skaggs and Jahmai Jones

"Established LHP Skaggs for rookie LHP Sheffield? And why in God’s name would you give up Jahmai Jones too?" Well, the reasons for the move correlate directly with the cost of the trade—a cost which will be recouped through other moves, I might add.

Notably, Skaggs has three years of control left and has a very low price tag for a guy who was hovering at or below an ERA of 3 for most of the season until his back injuries. That’s the problem though: more injuries. Tyler Skaggs was seemingly born with glass bones and paper skin. It is only a matter of time before he doesn’t recover and we’re left dreaming about what could have been. Jahmai Jones exists as part of the trade simply so that we can move Cashman’s needle. You have to give to get, and a 45 grade prospect (much as I may love him) who is learning a new position is something you can afford to give up to get a near-top 50 MLB-ready LHP rookie making league minimum for years.

Could Sheffield also become injury prone or Skaggs/Jones pan out? Sure. But Justus is cheaper, more controllable, and lets me get Harper. Besides, I’m banking on the PTBNL turning into a Paul Goldschmidt.

Also, yes, I realize Sheffield is the Yankees top prospect, but that actually says more about the current state of their farm system after all of the good farmhands were promoted or traded than it does about this trade. Sheffield is pretty good, but fans definitely overvalue him much in the same way we did with Sean Newcomb.

Trading Skaggs cuts payroll an approximate $5 million in 2019, $5.5 million in 2020, and $8.5 million in 2021.

Starting Pitcher Prospect - Anthony Banda

Pre-arbitration after call-up [$555,000 AAV]

Trade Proposal: Anthony Banda and Ronaldo Hernandez for Andrew Heaney, Jose Alvarez, and Nonie Williams

Once again, you have to move the needle, and I need to cut payroll. Andrew Heaney, much like Skaggs, has been injury prone while also being a decent pitcher. He makes a little bit less while having the same team control. Jose Alvarez will be dearly missed as he makes his money pitching for Tampa Bay. Anthony Banda is definitely a drop-off from Heaney in this case, so I also acquired near-ready similarly-valued catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez. I would have asked for more, but I didn’t want to eat any salary. The Rays can always use pitching upgrades, especially since they are using some seriously weird 40-ish grade options for their Opener and Long Reliever roles. Adding a lottery ticket in the still-young and toolsy Nonie Williams is just gravy for the Rays.

There were better pitching options I could have possibly acquired from them, but we are going to need Hernandez in a bench role for 2019 and as a starter the year after.

Trading Heaney and Alvarez cuts payroll an approximate $7 million in 2019, $7.5 million in 2020, and $7 million in 2021.

Starting Pitcher Prospect - Dakota Hudson

Pre-arbitration after call-up [$555,000 AAV]

Trade Proposal: Dakota Hudson and Ryan Helsley for Blake Parker, Kole Calhoun, Matt Thaiss, and $4.3 million

In addition to acquiring the arms and cutting the tendered contracts, we have to move Kole Calhoun. The Cardinals were notorious for needing both outfield and bullpen help last year, and this would solve their problems while also being huge for our starting rotation depth. Kole Calhoun is superfluous with the acquisition of Harper and Parker’s contributions can be made up for elsewhere.

Hudson and Helsley are both respectable starting pitching prospects, and while I would rather not eat any of Calhoun’s contract, I felt that it was worth it for both of the pieces instead of just Hudson.

Trading Parker, Calhoun, and cash cuts the AAV of payroll an approximate $7.8 million in 2019 and $5.5 million in 2020.

Relief Pitcher Prospect - Marcos Diplan

Pre-arbitration after call-up [$555,000 AAV]

Trade Proposal: Marcos Diplan and Nate Orf for Zack Cozart, Jesus Castillo, and $2 million

An under-the-radar move that many people would likely see as just cutting payroll, Marcos Diplan is a moderately-regarded starting pitching prospect that would likely benefit from a move to the bullpen, a transition I will happily follow through on. Nate Orf, meanwhile, is a sleeper middle infield prospect that could be a solid acquisition. The former Fringe Five regular is, at the very least, a fantastic baserunner and able to get on base at an above average clip.

Oh, by the way, this was very much about cutting payroll too. Those aforementioned people would be right in that assessment. This cuts payroll by an additional $10.67 million.

For any who bemoan trading away AA prospect Jesus Castillo, well, he was approximately 14th or so on my starting pitching depth chart after all the moves.

Relief Pitcher - Kelvin Herrera

2 years, $16 million [$8M AAV]

Precisely one day after the Josh Donaldson acquisition, all 4 trades will have already gone through. Kelvin Herrera will be my next target. This may seem to go against everything I have cut payroll for at this point, but guess what? I think that we need an established closer.

“But Rick,” you ask. “Why would you say such a barbaric and traditional sentence on such a progressive and statistically inclined blog?”

Because you all are gonna make me lose my mind if I read about how we need a closer ONE. MORE. TIME.

Actually, it’s because Herrera is awesome and a fantastic value pick. Also, while we just look at numbers and results all day long, Herrera is able to be a nice leader in the bullpen to show Anderson, Buttrey, Middleton, and others the ropes and the bulldog sort of mentality one needs to have in that role.

I would also feel much more comfortable with him as a high leverage guy than literally anyone else who throws baseballs on the entire 40-man roster.

Or maybe he could be an Opener that I would trust if the game shifts that way. Regardless, he’s yours now.

Starting Pitcher - Tyson Ross

1 year, $5 million [$5M AAV]

This move mainly exists to give the starting rotation any kind of leadership. Tyson Ross is a grizzled veteran who was once very good. He has dropped down to “decent” since his thoracic outlet surgery, but we will take that for 5 mil.

At this point, it is probably necessary to address why the 5 million here and the 8 million per for Herrera are okay but the arbitration-eligible players who made approximately the same or less are not. It’s not that they’re not okay; it’s that they had value that we were able to cash in on for the long run while simultaneously cutting costs.

If the pitchers he’s blocking prove themselves over time, he can be flipped at the deadline to a contender for more prospects! He knows the drill by now.


There is one other order of business:

Early Season Call-Up - Jo Adell

Though starting in AAA Salt Lake, by May or June, I fully expect to call Jo Adell up to the majors. Barring him looking like Danny Espinosa, I will move him to RF or LF, and Harper or Upton will be moved to first base. Harper will likely start to platoon with Pujols first, but dependent upon Upton’s defense, Justin may be moved to the corner while Harper goes to left. If Jo Adell is not ready,—and he may not be!—he will become full-time right or center fielder in 2020 while Upton or Harper becomes full-time first baseman.

Taylor Ward will be optioned to AAA in a corresponding move to make room on the 25-man roster.


Offseason in review

My gross off-season expenditures came out to $68.57 million and my savings came out to $43.47 million. We had $28.5 million to play with. From what I understand, I have stayed under budget by $3.4 million. This amount might allow me to acquire a Tony Sipp type piece or just let alone for the next year.

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

Opening Day lineup:

  1. Bryce Harper (RF)
  2. Mike Trout (CF)
  3. Josh Donaldson (3B)
  4. Shohei Ohtani (DH)
  5. Justin Upton (LF)
  6. Andrelton Simmons (SS)
  7. Albert Pujols (1B)
  8. Jose Briceno (C)
  9. David Fletcher (2B)

Bench:

Nate Orf (UTIL)

Francisco Arcia (C/RP)

Taylor Ward (3B/1B)

We will see how Orf performs and possibly swap him with Fletcher (2B and UTIL) depending on who is on a hot streak.

Projected every day lineup:

  1. Bryce Harper (LF)
  2. Mike Trout (CF)
  3. Josh Donaldson (3B)
  4. Shohei Ohtani (DH)
  5. Justin Upton (1B)
  6. Andrelton Simmons (SS)
  7. Jo Adell (RF)
  8. Jose Briceno (C)
  9. David Fletcher (2B)

Bench:

Nate Orf (UTIL)

Ronaldo Hernandez (C)

Albert Pujols (1B/DH)

Starting rotation:

  1. Tyson Ross
  2. Jaime Barria
  3. Felix Pena (Future Swingman)
  4. Justus Sheffield
  5. Dakota Hudson

Down the depth chart:

Anthony Banda, Griffin Canning, Jose Suarez, Ryan Helsley, Patrick Sandoval, Luis Pena, Alex Meyer (once off the DL)

As the season progresses, those listed on the depth chart will battle for playing time as Felix Pena shifts to the bullpen. The most successful of these arms are the future through the remainder of the Trout window and onward.

Bullpen:

  1. Kelvin Herrera
  2. Felix Pena (Swingman/Long Relief, after SP prospects make their way up the depth chart)
  3. Ty Buttrey
  4. Justin Anderson
  5. Hansel Robles
  6. Taylor Cole
  7. Noe Ramirez
  8. Jeremy Rhoades

Other options:

Marcos Diplan, Luis Pena, Keynan Middleton (once off the DL), Alex Meyer (once off the DL)


Summary

This offseason successfully gathered a rather impressive array of arms without the use of the waiver wire and while on a strict financial diet due to the initial offensive feast. An elite offense with a young, bright rotation, and a solid closer might be just the combination to set the Angels on the path to the playoffs.

My biggest takeaway from this is probably very different than a lot of other people’s. Billy Eppler has worked very hard to make sure that we teeter on the edge of contention, if even, by making waiver wire addition after waiver wire addition. The bullpen additions have proven to be average to solid over time while the starting pitching options that we have had have proven to be unreliable due to durability questions. By the end of 2018, the pitching staff was so rocked by injuries and volatility in the bullpen, that it didn’t look much better than my current projected starting pitching depth. In fact, this final product looks like a souped-up version of last year's, with a lineup that keeps you interested while the arms do just enough. Stockpiling B- tier starting pitchers would likely keep us at a 4 ERA over the season while an offense the likes of which I created here would probably generate closer to 5 to 5.5 runs per game.

It is far better, in my opinion, to build a reliable offense than a solid pitching staff, especially in a pitcher’s park like Angel Stadium. The marine layer helps to offset mediocre pitching, but run production is a major area of need. With a front 6 of Harper, Trout, Donaldson, Ohtani, Upton, and Simmons, it feels like getting shut out is a near impossibility.

In short, the 2019 Angels would not be dissimilar in concept to the wartorn team of the previous year, banking on offense and the bullpen to carry a young, cost-controlled rotation that is almost entirely making league minimum. The difference is that we would have an exponentially higher floor at the back end of the rotation (we were unironically using Odrisamer Despaigne in 2018), the elite reliever who refrains from blowing saves sometimes in Herrera that last year never saw, and an offense that replaces the disappointing Kole Calhoun, Zack Cozart, and Jabari Blash/Chris Young with the excellence of Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson... and hopefully the glorious rise of Jo Adell.