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If I were Billy Eppler..., Part VII

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Pitching, pitching, pitching. Oh wait, we need offense? Alright then, offense.

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Welcome to the seventh 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 | Part VI

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 my post here to see how I 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, MLBTR’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. Add quality starting pitching

2. Utilize the farm system to acquire better talent and achieve cost control

3. Add to the offense where possible

As a 2018 ballclub, the Angels fared in the middling of the pack with respect to position players (100 wRC+ and a 24.4 fWAR places them 12th in that category). While the top-heavy approach to roster construction is concerning, it’s no match for the team’s pitching (19th in rotation fWAR, 20th in bullpen fWAR), and that’s where the resources should be primarily focused this offseason.

With so many holes—starting pitching, relief pitching, catcher, first base, third base, right field, and bench depth—and not enough to fill them all effectively, I have my work cut out for me as I navigate the winter and possibly the spring, too. One miss with a semi-major move and the entire season could be potentially lost. Every day not spent winning is a day spent losing, and while proper processes have been put into place, results are yet to follow (one might even say that I’m shadow banned from Angel Stadium for signing Logan Morrison last year). That changes now.


Non-tender Matt Shoemaker and J.C. Ramirez

Save $4.5 million and $2.25 million, respectively [Max payroll remaining: $35.25M]

While both have been helpful pieces in the past, that doesn’t help moving forward with a shaky durability outlook and questionable effectiveness. The money can be spent in a more productive way, and while Shoemaker may very well end up being a productive innings-eater, I’m not sure probabilities point to such an occurrence (I have medicals, but at the same time I don’t have medicals, if you catch my drift).

SP — Patrick Corbin

5 years, $100 million [$20M AAV, max payroll remaining: $15.25M]

Surprisingly durable since a Tommy John in ‘14, Corbin has thrown very effectively in the past four years; over that time he’s put up a 3.66 FIP in 105 starts and 118 total appearances. This season he finished fifth in Cy Young voting with a 2.47 FIP, striking out over 11 batters per inning with impressive command. A filthy slider is buoyed by the introduction of a curveball (and a scrapping of the changeup), which introduces three speeds to keep hitters guessing. And while a 91.3 mph average four-seam fastball velocity may have observers nervous how the pitcher is to age, Corbin held his velocity well throughout the season.

Corbin is really really good now, and while another 6-win season may not be in the cards I see a perennial frontline starter that has found out how to pitch with middle-of-the-road velocity.

SP — Yusei Kikuchi

5 years, $50 million [$10M AAV, max payroll remaining: $5.25M]

Kikuchi plays for the Seibu Lions in the NPB, and has put up terrific numbers over the past two seasons, averaging 175 innings and K/BB ratios of 4.43 and 3.40, respectively. The southpaw is hailed as a mid-rotation arm with the upside of a #2 starter. From Eric Longenhagen:

Kikuchi sits mostly 92-93, but he’ll top out around 96 during most of his starts, and he’s thrown as hard as 98. He has two plus breaking balls — a mid-80s slider and mid-70s, 12-6 curveball — that he uses much more often than a fringe-average changeup. He’s a premium athlete who fields his positions well and controls the running game with quick times to home from the stretch. General consensus among scouts/clubs with whom I spoke has Kikuchi projected as an above-average big-league starter with a shot at being a No. 2 if his command continues to develop as it has the last few years. But shoulder issues have plagued Kikuchi several times during his career in Japan, so in addition to the risk associated with a transition from NPB to MLB (slightly different balls, pitching every fifth day instead of once a week) there’s heightened injury risk here, too.

The median Fangraphs’ crowd estimate has Kikuchi at 4/52 while MLBTR has him at 6/42. I’ll split the difference in AAV, give him a fifth year, and call it a day. There is a posting fee as a percentage of Kikuchi’s initial contract, which would total around 15-20% or $8-10 million. However, this doesn’t count for luxury tax purposes and I believe Arte Moreno will be willing to cover the posting fee as merchandising sales and attraction of new fans will more than make up the difference over the life of the contract.

Kikuchi is just 27 years old, so I’m willing to bet that he will adapt to baseball’s more heightened challenges.

SP — J.A. Happ

2 years, $30 million with a $12 million club option for 2021 [$15M AAV, max payroll remaining: -$9.75M]

Since 2015, J.A. Happ ranks 22nd in Fangraphs’ WAR among qualified starting pitchers. The names clustered within a win of him on that list? Kyle Hendricks, Madison Bumgarner, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Gio Gonzalez (also a free agent), Carlos Martinez, and Rick Porcello. All solid pitchers, by every stretch of the imagination. The only difference is that Happ has gotten better with age, posting an average of 3.1 fWAR since 2015, and not deviating from that by more than three-tenths of a win. His velocity has held steady, too, which is an encouraging sign.

Happ is that boring dividend stock in your portfolio that allows you to keep on chugging along, counterbalancing the riskier plays taken. While I may already have enough pitching, I’d be remiss if I didn’t pick him up; I’ll have to close the payroll budget elsewhere, DFA’ing Jabari Blash to make room for Happ.

Zack Cozart to Brewers

Cozart’s first season in Anaheim did not go well, in any respects. Some might refer to it as a down year, but many concerns emerged and are yet to see a resolution. While Cozart displayed versatility, his defense at third had a lot to be desired as he displayed particularly poor range at the hot corner. Different angles could be the culprit, as could poor footwork. Whatever it is, it appeared Cozart never felt truly comfortable there. Furthermore, Cozart’s BABIP came way down from Great American Ball Park, and the “launch angle” swing he had discussed didn’t carry over thanks to the marine layer and AL West’s bigger parks. While I could patiently wait on a bounce-back, I see the writing on the wall much more clearly: a lackluster defender at third with a fly-ball approach in a park not optimized for that swing.

Luckily, Cozart has positional flexibility and the Brewers were 30th (-1.7 fWAR, yikes) in 2018 shortstop production. Given the dearth of good shortstops on the market, Cozart fits the niche and would be well-served in returning to his original position. The Angels may have to eat some salary because of the uncertain nature of Cozart’s shoulder, but the market is so favorable that I’m not sure it’s necessary. Any return will do, so long as it does not affect the MLB payroll. In light of that, I’ll DFA my acquisition immediately after acquiring.

Proposed trade:

Brewers get: INF Zack Cozart, $2M

Angels get: RP Xavier Cedeno [Max payroll remaining: $1.92M]

3b — Jeimer Candelario

RP — Joe Jimenez

Jeimer Candelario, my replacement for the promptly shipped-out Cozart, is a 24-year old switch-hitting third baseman on the Tigers. The Tigers are looking to build for the future, and that future is so far away that there’s a high chance Candelario may never have more value than he does now. The long-nomenclatured corner infielder has good power at the plate, is patient, and is still developing his contact stroke. Furthermore, he projects as an average defender at third base through his prime years and recorded -1 DRS/3.2 UZR across a full season at the hot corner to go along with a .224/.317/.393 (95 wRC+) for a 2.5 fWAR, which is above average. Players like these are expensive to acquire when mature, so I’m going to pounce and hope for player development to continue to improve an already-good product.

Joe Jimenez is another gem on the Tigers, and I suspect that he will be a lot more difficult to acquire than Candelario will be. Jimenez, a power reliever on the Tigers, has a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a mid-80s slider with deception and plane; he finally was able to harness command and the results showed that with a 11.2 K/9, 3.16 BB/9, and a 2.91 FIP. He’s definitely a potential back-end arm.

The price was more than what I would have liked to pay, but that’s the nature of making a trade. Tyler Skaggs goes to the Tigers, who can be flipped at the trade deadline; Jahmai Jones will come useful at second base or could play outfield, depending on the extent of his bat; Trent Deveaux is an exciting, toolsy outfield project for the Tigers, who absolutely adore upside. Part of the high price is to encourage the Tigers to move on the deal, as they would otherwise have no incentive to do so.

This trade gives me two pre-arb building blocks for the future (one at third base) and manages to shed salary to help with this season.

Proposed trade:

Tigers get: SP Tyler Skaggs, 2b/OF Jahmai Jones, OF Trent Deveaux

Angels get: 3b Jeimer Candelario, RP Joe Jimenez [Max payroll remaining: $5.67 million]

1b/3b/UTIL — Derek Dietrich

2 years, $11 million [$5.5M AAV {$5M in ‘19, $6M in ‘20}, Max payroll remaining: $670,000]

Dietrich has hit well and played all over the diamond his entire career, and don’t let the WAR figure fool you on his value. The Marlins used him wherever they needed help, not necessarily where his value was maximized since their main objective was not to win games. Dietrich’s 109 wRC+ was seemingly overshadowed by his 0.8 fWAR, which was because he put up a whopping -8 UZR/-15 DRS in left field, where he was positioned three-quarters of the year. Dietrich is viable, though, at first base, second base, and third base.

His left-handedness means that he hits righties better over his career (114 wRC+ vs a mere 86 against LHP’s), complementing the lineup’s right-handed skew. He’ll be nice, primarily playing first base against righties. You’re probably wondering why I say that. It’s because I’d...

DFA Albert Pujols

Pujols has not stayed healthy in the last three seasons, has not had a handedness split above 100 wRC+ in the last two seasons, and can no longer hit acceptably on a consistent basis. There is no denying that with no positional flexibility, Albert Pujols is a drag on this team and the opportunity cost of the decision enables Dietrich to man the greater half of the platoon. With a new manager and time ticking faster than ever, the sense of urgency is now to make this long-overdue move.

1b/DH — C.J. Cron

1 year, $670k [$670k AAV, Max payroll remaining: $0]

Cron would not be in this plan had it not been for a change. And that change is this:

Fangraphs

Cron improved his splits against lefties dramatically, posting a 151 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers this season. This development brings his career wRC+ against southpaws to 111, suddenly a viable option for the lesser half of a platoon.

His career wRC+ against righties? Also 111.

If Dietrich happens to get injured, or needs to cover other positions, Cron can easily step in and be the full-time first baseman. Otherwise, he will start at first base against lefties.

And while this is neither a starting role nor a large sum of money, Cron locks in a job at the MLB level in a league where first-base only types like Cron have no room for error.

Edit: on second thought, this salary is probably low by about $1.25 million, even if he doesn't sign until the spring. So tack on $2 million to this estimate, mentally.


Offseason in review

I was able to address most of the team’s needs, starting with the rotation in Patrick Corbin, Yusei Kikuchi, and J.A. Happ. It’s my opinion that Zack Cozart is a poor value, so I traded him away for salary relief to the Brewers before potential detrimental effects of the shoulder surgery can come to light following his lackluster season. Acquired our third baseman of the future in Jeimer Candelario, along with a very good reliever in Joe Jimenez; a heavy prospect cost but done to motivate the Tigers and provide us with salary relief. This enabled us to nab Dietrich after he was DFA’d by the Marlins, as well as Cron from the Rays to form a first base platoon for 2019.

Catcher was the one position I definitely wanted to bolster but couldn’t due to salary constraints, while I contemplated right field but most starting-quality outfielders will be as expensive as Calhoun is ($10.5M for ‘18), anyways. Relief pitching is always welcome, but paying through the teeth for up-and-down results doesn’t make sense—this year’s core should be better than last.

The 25-man roster:

Starting rotation:

  1. Patrick Corbin
  2. J.A. Happ
  3. Andrew Heaney
  4. Yusei Kikuchi
  5. Jaime Barria

Bullpen:

  1. CL — Hansel Robles
  2. SU — Ty Buttrey
  3. Middle relief — Joe Jimenez
  4. Middle relief — Blake Parker
  5. Middle relief — Cam Bedrosian
  6. Middle relief — Justin Anderson
  7. Long relief — Jose Alvarez

Projected lineup vs. RHP:

  1. DH — Shohei Ohtani
  2. CF — Mike Trout
  3. LF — Justin Upton
  4. 1b — Derek Dietrich
  5. SS — Andrelton Simmons
  6. 3b — Jeimer Candelario
  7. RF — Kole Calhoun
  8. C — Jose Briceño
  9. 2b — David Fletcher

Bench:

C — Kevan Smith

1b/DH — C.J. Cron

INF — Kaleb Cowart

OF — Michael Hermosillo

Further depth in the minors:

Starters: Felix Peña, Griffin Canning, Nick Tropeano, Jose Suarez

Relievers: Felix Peña, Keynan Middleton (inj.), Miguel Almonte, Austin Brice, Taylor Cole, Luke Farrell, Williams Jerez, Jake Jewell, Alex Meyer (inj.),

Position players: Luis Rengifo, Matt Thaiss, Taylor Ward


Summary

I feel good to the extent that I was able to upgrade the entire team as much as I did. After the additions of the first three starters, I was afraid I had pigeon-holed myself into doing nothing else for the entire winter but by maneuvering with the Cozart trade and the Candelario trade, I was able to achieve multiple objectives simultaneously and end up coming in exactly on budget. I spent exactly $28.5 million this offseason, bringing the total to the desired target of $191 million.

I don’t think this team would win the division necessarily, but it’s a team that can go toe-to-toe with 90% of teams in a given series and take home a wild card, providing a chance to go deeper in the postseason for the first time since 2014.