Welcome to the ..... 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 | Part V
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.
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. Starting Pitching
Based off of the current payroll wiggle room, the numerous holes on offense, and a need for pitching (which equals $$$), I’m taking a relatively conservative approach this winter. My goal is to A) stay within the budget constraints Arte has given me and B) raise the floor of the overall club, while not sacrificing too much in terms of prospects. Let’s get it.
Starting Pitcher- Sonny Gray
2019 Arbitration Salary (Estimated): $9.1 million (one year left of club control)
Gray is a popular trade commodity among fan bases all around the game. He went from being a sneaky, under-the-radar addition, to being one of the most coveted trade targets as Cashman attempts to recoup some value in a buy-low candidate.
The term “buy-low” is the perfect way to describe Gray. After being a stalwart in the Oakland A’s rotation, Gray was acquired by the New York Yankees last summer to be the #2 he’s usually shown that he’s capable of being. However, he limped through the end of the 2018 season with ERA near 5.00, a career-high walk rate, and a demotion to the bullpen.
There are plenty of reasons to be interested in Gray, however, and these reasons merit taking a chance on a guy who will only be entering his age 29-season before he heads into free agency. Usually, you attempt to see what happened differently when a pitcher like Gray suffers an unusually bad campaign. He maintained his fastball and sinker velocity (his four-seam fastball velocity was 93.6 mph which is almost exactly his career norm, as was his sinker clocked in at 93 mph). He’s always been able to use these fastball variations to generate a ton of groundballs, he constantly hovers around 50% in that department which helps lead to a low total of home runs given (he’s had a HR/9 ratio of just under 0.9 in his career).
The biggest change, then, seems to be that his pitch usage drastically changed. New York wanted their pitchers to utilize their breaking balls more, and while Gray has a very good curveball, it led to pretty poor results. He used his fastball nearly 20% less than his career norms, and his curveball nearly 10% more than in the previous three seasons. Without delving too much into it, I think it’s a big reason he saw such a drastic change in his walk rate, it’s much easier to throw fastballs for strikes, and the amount of damage he gave up (a hanging curveball is a hitter's best friend).
Gray was also much better away from the sandbox in New York having the largest gap in home/road OPS in the game with a .318 difference. I think going back to increasing his fastball usage and pitching in a place like Anaheim would do him wonders, while the cost would be a lottery ticket prospect or two. So I’m sending New York two prospects in outfielder and right-handed pitching prospect, D’Shawn Knowles and Joe Gatto.
Trade Proposal: D’Shawn Knowles and Joe Gatto for Sonny Gray.
Catcher- Martin Maldonado
2 years, $6 million.
I’m bringing an old friend back. Yes, I know, it’s not Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal, or any of the other sexy names (hello, J.T. Realmuto), but I value Maldonado’s glove work. Give me defense behind the plate without breaking the bank along with some familiarity to the organization. Bringing Maldonado back and fleecing the Astros for Patrick Sandoval? Sounds like a plan to me.
Any fan of the Angels, for at least the past few seasons, knows the value “Maldy” brought with the glove and his overall presence behind the plate. At the risk of sounding like Mike Scioscia, I think Maldonado brings all of the intangibles that a great defensive catcher brings to a team. Afterall, catchers defense is pretty tough to pinpoint, but mess around with this page from Baseball Prospectus, who have been honing in on catcher's defense the past few years. Maldy ranks pretty high annually on these lists in things like framing runs, throwing runs, etc. Dude is rock solid behind the plate and I value that on a good team. The Red Sox valued Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez’s gloves on their way to a World Series title, I think it’s a position where you can sacrifice a little offense as long as there’s a defensive stalwart there.
Speaking of his offense, I’m aware Maldonado’s a below average hitter (76 wRC+ and an OBP below .300), but the league is facing a scarcity of offensive-first catchers. The average wRC+ for catchers in the game last year was a measly 84. The Major League average of .232/.304/.372 makes Maldonado’s offense pretty palatable.
First Baseman/Utility- Derek Dietrich
2019 Arbitration Salary (Estimation): $4.8 million (three years of club control)
I know Jeff already mentioned this in his post, but I love the idea of a versatile, left-handed hitting player like Dietrich. His glove isn’t great at one position, but most options on the market are not great defensively. I’m gonna try and mask his defense at first base.
The Angels cannot have a player on the roster that is limited to only playing first base with Shohei Ohtani and Albert Pujols on the roster. They need someone who can move around the diamond. We gotta live with the defense, but a .265/.330/.421 line and 16 dingers for pretty cheap, I’ll take it. There were also rumors that Miami might simply non-tender Dietrich, so I’m betting on that and picking him up at his current rate.
Starting Pitcher- Nathan Eovaldi
4 years, $60 million.
Yeah, I’m on the Eovaldi hype train. I know it is a risk, I’m willing to live with that risk. Dude’s electric when he’s on the field. Love the +45% groundball rate, love the 100+ velocity, it’s not a backbreaking contract that most free agent starters his age require to sign. I know starting pitching health has been the Achilles heel of this team in recent years, but he’s back from Tommy John surgery and it shouldn’t deter the team from taking chances when the rewards could easily outweigh them.
Offseason in review
In any case, here are the team’s depth charts.
Projected lineup vs. RHP (debatable):
1. Dietrich 1B
2. Trout CF
3. Ohtani DH
4. Upton LF
5. Simmons SS
6. Cozart 3B
7. Calhoun RF
8. Maldonado C
9. Fletcher 2B
Pujols, Hermosillo/Bourjos, Briceno/Smith, one of the other kids in AAA.
Starting rotation (debatable):
Eovaldi, Heaney, Skaggs, Gray, and Barria
Buttrey, Parker, Anderson, Alvarez, Bedrosian, Robles, and Cole
The total offseason expenditure is $34.9 million This would bring the team’s Opening Day payroll to $181.4 million for luxury tax calculations, not including benefits.
Again, it’s certainly not a flashy offseason, but it’s close to the budget (I non-tendered Shoemaker and Ramirez in the aftermath to make room) and I wanted to leave some prospect capital if the team chooses to make a significant move at the deadline. There are too many holes on the roster and too few resources to fill them, so I wanted to raise the overall floor and depth of the club and feel like I have with this winter.