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If I were Billy Eppler..., Part VI

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Turk tempts fate, and sends Jo packing

Los Angeles Angels Introduce Joe Maddon - News Conference
Give me pitching and I’ll give you the future.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Welcome to the sixth 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: Jessica DeLine

Part II: H.T. Ennis

Part III: Noy Telinú

Part IV: Jeff Joiner

Part V: Chase Kimura

In order to rosterbate responsibly, guidelines for the series are as follows.

For the luxury tax payroll, $157.4 million is the amount of estimated present obligations for the 2020 season, when contracts, arbitration-eligible players, 40-man salaries, and player benefits are accounted for.

All in all, 25-man player salaries will be estimated at $175 million for the upcoming season, which is achieved by adding 10% to the prior year’s 25-man player payroll. See this payroll post for more information. Assuming no additional arbitration-eligible players are non-tendered, this gives the GM $34.3 million to spend during the offseason (Justin Bour, Luis Garcia, and Nick Tropeano have already been non-tendered, and this is reflected in these numbers).

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. Furthermore, even if player values are equal, teams make acquisition decisions based on player tendencies, immediate needs, supply and demand, ability to develop talent, among other things: that is to say, trades made should be mutually beneficial. The Baseball Trade Values trade estimator can be used as another data point to estimate, though at the end of the day, each team has their own motivations and apparatuses to value players differently, and this should be taken into account.

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. A six-deep MLB rotation that can eat innings
  2. Addressing the pitching pipeline gap in the upper minors
  3. More depth and oomph at backstop
  4. Predictable thump at 3B

In a number of ways, this can be thought of as a mock-inflammatory addendum, or counterpoint, to Jeff Joiner’s and Chase Kimura’s roster-fostering in Part IV and Part V of the series. While each of Halos Heaven’s writers authored these thought bubbles independently (and can only peek at each others’ homework once scheduled for publication), some of us frequently share opinions on team direction, and Jeff, Chase and I do that with some regularity.

There are some common underpinnings to these recent offseason think-throughs: (1) going after Zack Wheeler and/or Kyle Gibson in free agency, (2) bringing home Orange Co. native Mike Moustakas to add some left-handed launch to the middle-of-the-lineup, and (3) targeting Willson Contreras in trade while flipping top prospect Jo Adell and #4/5 starter Andrew Heaney to the...

Oh, whoops, did I just slip Jo Adell into that sentence there? Ahem, not sure that was either Jeff’s or Chase’s angle, but we’ll get to that in a second.

If the budget was a bit more flush, my approach would be pretty straightforward: I’d target Yasmani Grandal ($16m AAV/4yrs) and Mike Moustakas ($10m AAV/2yrs+option) to balance the offense, add one #2 starter from the second tier of frontline talent (Wheeler/Ryu) at a $17-19 AAV, and plus in a #4 from the Gibson/Miley/Roark tier at $9-10m AAV for the rotation. I would shed Heaney, LaStella and Cozart in some of the ways proposed below, seeking partial relief from Cozart’s contract, hoping to recover $12-15m between the three of them. That assumes a new active player payroll allocation in the neighborhood of $50m, elevating player payroll to the $190-195m range for the 2020-21 timeframe.

But ever since owner Arturo Moreno hired his new financial assistant Rahul Setty from the unwashed ranks of hooters and boo-birds in the shambling Angels blogosphere, rather pinchpenny and pessimistic guardrails have been placed on the budget. Despite the 2020 offseason being long-talked about in the front office as the team’s window to be both aggressive and opportunistic, and despite the fact that significant capital will free up in the next two years with the expiration of the Cozart, Simmons and Pujols contracts, we’ve come in $15m+ below expectations! Now, I will say, this year’s fiscal conservatism is a bit of a headscratcher given the recent hiring of legacy managerial field talent like Maddon and LaRussa, plus the earth-shattering lifetime contract previously dispensed to Mike Trout, but never put it past the Angels to square a circle by cutting corners!

Alas, given the financial constraints, combined with a clear win-now injunction from ownership, it’s become clear that it’s necessary to raid the prospect cookie jar again, and deal from the top shelf. Consider the meat of this exposition to be a threefold proposition on how the team can go all in to compete in the next two years, while nonetheless resuscitating the pitching pipeline over the longer span, at the expense of one key impact prospect in Jo Adell.


ROLLING IN THE DEEP: ADELL FINDS 3 WAYS TO GO CENTRAL

One doesn’t approach the prospect of trading a top-five prospect lightly, so I want to have multiple alternatives at our disposal. I’d like to pitch the kid to several teams, create a little FOMO, and play offers against each other. I’m selecting three teams at crucial turning points in their competitive arcs – either because key franchise players are within two years of free agency, or because they are in a rebuilding phase, and seeking a new nucleus of talent to drive them into contention again.

These three teams – the Cubs, Indians and Tigers – are all Midwestern clubs in their respective league Central Divisions, just a short flight north of Jo Adell’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Each team occupies an urban metro (Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago) that is heavily or majority African-American, indicating a powerful opportunity to build a community and passionate fanbase around a rare young African-American baseball talent who has a knack for capturing the media with key moments. That’s important, because the trades I’m contemplating ask a lot of their respective fanbases, either because a beloved homegrown player is involved, or because a #1 draft pick is included in the trade. Let’s look at the three packages:

Scenario 1:

Trade Jo Adell (OF) and Andrew Heaney (SP) to the Detroit Tigers for Matthew Boyd (SP), Casey Mize (SP) and Joey Wentz (SP)

Net cost to Angels (2020): +$1.4m

Scenario 2:

Trade Jo Adell (OF), Andrew Heaney (SP) and Zack Cozart (SS/3B) to the Chicago Cubs for Kris Bryant (3B), Willson Contreras (C) and Brailyn Marquez (SP)

Net cost to Angels (2020): +$5.3m

Scenario 3:

Trade Jo Adell (OF), Andrew Heaney (SP) and Andrelton Simmons (SS) to the Cleveland Indians for Francisco Lindor (SS), Corey Kluber (SP), Aaron Civale (SP), James Karinchak (RHRP), Daniel Espino (SP)

Net cost to Angels (2020): +$14.7m

I list these in relative order of appeal to me, and to some extent, in the order I feel describes the likelihood of mutual appreciation between clubs.

#1 is a variation on a proposal I offered when Halos Heaven writers were messing around with the Baseball Trade Values trade simulator at last year’s trade deadline, and it feels like a natural exchange. Detroit’s farm is overweight in pitching, and Anaheim’s is overweight in outfield bats. Because starting pitching is inherently riskier than impact offensive prospects, and because Adell is ranked higher than Casey Mize, we need a little extra to balance the trade out. Matthew Boyd is merely a placeholder for Detroit at the moment, given they are 2-3 years out from contending, but he’s a mid-rotation arm who could make an immediate impact in Anaheim. Jo Adell fits right into a Tigers outfield desperate for power and athleticism. He’ll be entering his prime right as Detroit enters their window of contention again. The addition of Wentz offers a backend starter type to Anaheim within a year or so of cracking the MLB, while letting Detroit retain some of their higher-end pitching prospects. If Detroit is too wedded to Mize to make a swap, I would also consider the duo of Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal in exchange for Mize/Wentz. It’s the difference between a #1 and #4-5 starter combo and two mid-rotation guys who might become something more.

The #2 trade scenario introduces two Cubs fixtures that have already been widely rumored to be on the block this offseason. Because this has the Angels absorbing a fair amount of contract cost, I ask the Cubs to pitch in for 2020 and carry the last year of Cozart’s contract. With several questions in their infield, the Cubs could make use of a glove-first veteran with positional flexibility, even if he does not play regularly. Heaney brings the Cubs a couple years of rotation depth, and Adell solves two of the Cubs’ most pressing questions: What is the near-term solution in centerfield, and who becomes the face of the franchise after Bryant leaves? Meanwhile, the Angels get two years of an All Star third baseman, and four years of one of the MLB’s best offensive catchers – a duo that will, in a typical year, deliver 7-8 wins between them. If you think, like I do, that Jo Adell projects as a young Upton-like player (great power/speed, but high Ks and modest OBA) who is likely to average ~4 WAR per season, then you are trading 6 player-seasons of Adell for 6 player-seasons between Bryant and Contreras at similar win returns. But because the capital investment is so much greater, I’m also asking for Brailyn Marquez in the package – a high risk/high reward lefty with a 100 mph fastball who is a couple years from the show, but has the tantalizing ceiling of a frontline starter or a killer closer if everything breaks just right. (OTOH, he may just break.) Baseball Trade Values thinks the Cubs are getting the better end of the deal in this swap by a large margin – though I doubt Cubs fans would agree – so Marquez evens out the ledger a bit.

Speaking of high-risk-high-reward, we finally introduce scenario #3. Here the Angels sponge up a couple of Cleveland’s most costly contracts in Lindor and Kluber, and only ask Cleveland to pay the final of year of the Simmons contract in the bargain. They get Adell, who slots immediately into their outfield, and the Angels net three high-variability arms who might be under-the-radar studs, or who might be exposed and fall to earth in future years. Let’s hope Civale becomes a dependable mid-rotation asset, and Karinchak a solid late-inning reliever. Daniel Espino could have easily been the Angels’ first-round selection in the last draft – he’s a long-term project, but he has frontline starter ceiling. The rest is transparent: two years of big talent at big cost. Lindor is one of the best shortstops in the game, on both sides of the game, and Kluber is a two time Cy Young winner coming back from a lost season of injury. Cleveland believed enough in his recovery to pick up the first of two team option years on him, but there’s a non-trivial chance that he struggles in 2020. If he does recover, however, his upside is as high as almost any free agent on the market this offseason.

Most of the Angels fanbase is going to be reluctant to give up Adell in almost any scenario this offseason – and I think Moreno and Eppler feel the same. But Bryant and Lindor carry the star power that might loosen Arte’s grip a bit, and Mize is a #1 draft pick that has the unquestionable profile of an ace, if he can stay healthy (a legit what-if to consider!). Meanwhile, there’s a prospect in the Angels pipeline, almost on the same schedule as Adell, who strikes me as an even better fit for the current LAA roster. He’s a left-handed 20/20 threat who is likely to produce a higher OBP than Adell while playing plus defense at all outfield positions. I like Brandon Marsh as a player who might premiere as early as mid-2020 and eventually slot right in front of Trout at leadoff. Given that possibility, I’m willing to rebalance the farm a little toward pitching (I bring back young pitching in every scenario above), while maximizing return on a resource we have a lot of at every level of the system: athletic outfielders.


ROUNDING OUT THE SQUAD

It’s a bit of a complicated flow chart – at least from a budgetary perspective – in describing the next moves, depending on which of the scenarios one pursues. But let’s lay out some of the commonalities, and I’ll plug in caveats where reasonable.

Sign Zack Wheeler

5 years, $95 million [$19M AAV]

I won’t rehearse the metrics – Chase does a phenomenal job of exhaustively laying out the bullish performance-based case for Wheeler, though I think he’ll cost closer to $100m, as MLBTR predicts. No, no Gerrit Cole – I’m quite nervous about hamstringing the team with another ~$250m near-decade-long commitment when the past decade has shown us how difficult it is to be flexible and contend in the face of multiple anchor contracts.

I propose a backweighted contract for Zack ($17m, 18m, 19m, 20m, 21m). Am also open to Ryu on a three-year deal as an alternative – both Ryu and Wheeler come with injury risk, and Ryu can be had for fewer years and no draft prospect penalty – but I do like Wheeler’s age and peripherals, despite the QO cost in a draft year full of strong collegiate pitching. Wheeler is a consistent target across all three Adell trade scenarios.

Trade Tommy La Stella, Jose Suarez + Max Stassi to the Cincinnati Reds for Anthony DeSclafani + Curt Casali

In scenarios #1 and #3 also send Zack Cozart and cash to Reds; net outlay ranges from +$2.6m to -$10m Angels based on how much of Cozart’s contract Reds absorb

DeSclafani is an under-radar performer in his final year with the Reds, coming off a fine 31-start season where he quietly proved durable and put up a 117 ERA+. He’s also an extension candidate if he holds course in 2020. Suarez is a step down for the Reds, but is young and coachable, and delivers the Reds more value over the long-term.

The Reds’ biggest offseason need is resolution at middle infield both positions, so La Stella and Cozart fit well, either as starters or depth pieces, performance-depending. Cincinnati is where Cozart last thrived, and La Stella clearly knows the NL Central well, spending four solid years with the Cubs. Curt Casali, meanwhile, hits well for a catcher, and is a very good pitch framer with a proven blocking game.

Sign Kyle Gibson

3 years, $30 million [$10M AAV]

Team does not pursue this course in Scenario #3, where Civale plays this role, and the team has already acquired multiple starters. Another backweighted contract ($8m, 10m, 12m). His K-rates have been improving (though it’s a league-wide trend), I love his groundball rates, and I put down his sub-par second half to his GI issues. Otherwise, he’s a pretty reliable #4, and good for 25-30 starts in most seasons.

Sign Mike Moustakas

2 years, $20 million [$10M AAV], third-year $12m player option vests at 120 games played (‘21)

Team does not pursue this course in Scenario #2, where Cubs’ Kris Bryant serves same role. Moustakas has a home in Malibu, and has long-desired to play for the Angels. Hopefully the third-year vesting option is enough to reel him in.

(Strategy #2 only: Sign Gio Gonzalez)

2 years, $10 million [$5M AAV]

$4m in 2020, $6m in 2021. Estimators are torn on how players like Gonzalez and Brett Anderson land this offseason. I split the difference a bit here, and round out the starting six in Strategy #2 with a reliable innings-eater who deserves more.

Trade Noe Ramirez and Matt Thaiss to the Miami Marlins for Robert Dugger, Trevor Rogers and Jorge Guzman

Net salary relief: -$1.6m

The Marlins are in need of bats across the board, have no left-handed answers at the corners, and they crave more experienced bullpen help. Here we trade for three high-variability arms in the upper minors of Miami’s system (ranked #8, 16 and 23 by MLB Pipeline currently). Each are currently developing as starters, but Guzman in particular could move fast if he were made a late-inning reliever, given a 65 FV fastball and power slider combo.


Offseason in review

I won’t publicly greenshade the math for each scenario, but to hit a target between $34m-$36m, I look to the Reds to pick up $4m-7m of the Cozart contract in two of the proposals. Maybe that’s a slight stretch, but it doesn’t seem outlandish, given the team-player history.

This roadmap may shortchange the bench and bullpen a tad, but I tend to subscribe to the philosophy that a team shouldn’t spend more than 10% of its payroll on either bench or ‘pen, and we have enough in AA/AAA and can find more on the waiver wire to spare. This is still an organization that has some decent relievers in the pipe (eg, Mattson, Warren, Hofacket, Ryan), and it has corner IF/OFs and utility guys to spare. Most important to me is reviving the top of the MiLB starting pitching pipeline, where we’d ideally have six arms that can cover the six at the MLB level in the event of inevitable injuries. To that end, I bring in 4+ starter prospects at AA or higher regardless of which Adell trade scenario the team selects.

Each route, especially the Chicago and Cleveland routes, has the team going hard to win-now over the next two years, but frees up enough payroll again in 2022 to let the team go shopping where needed. Adell is a tough piece to lose, but power-first bats are largely commoditized now, and not as hard to grow or buy as starting pitching, as the fiercely competitive 2020 market demonstrates.

Now to the team’s depth charts:

Starting rotation :

Starting Rotation (Opening Day)

Scenario #1 Scenario #2 Scenario #3
Scenario #1 Scenario #2 Scenario #3
Zack Wheeler Zack Wheeler Zack Wheeler
Shohei Ohtani Shohei Ohtani Shohei Ohtani
Matthew Boyd Kyle Gibson Corey Kluber
Anthony DeSclafani Anthony DeSclafani Aaron Civale
Kyle Gibson Griffin Canning Anthony DeSclafani
Griffin Canning Gio Gonzalez Griffin Canning
(AAA: Casey Mize) (AAA: Patrick Sandoval) (AAA: Patrick Sandoval)

Projected lineup (w/ Ohtani):

Lineups w/ Ohtani

Scenario #1 Scenario #2 Scenario #3
Scenario #1 Scenario #2 Scenario #3
Fletcher 2B Fletcher 2B Lindor SS
Trout CF Trout CF Trout CF
Ohtani DH Ohtani DH Ohtani DH
Upton RF Bryant 3B Upton RF
Moustakas 3B Upton RF Moustakas 3B
Pujols/Walsh 1B Pujols/Walsh 1B Pujols/Walsh 1B
Simmons SS Contreras C Goodwin/Marsh LF
Casali C Simmons SS Casali C
Goodwin/Marsh LF Goodwin/Marsh LF Fletcher 2B

Projected lineup (no Ohtani):

Lineups w/o Ohtani

Scenario #1 Scenario #2 Scenario #3
Scenario #1 Scenario #2 Scenario #3
Fletcher 2B Fletcher 2B Lindor SS
Trout CF Trout CF Trout CF
Moustakas 3B Bryant 3B Moustakas 3B
Upton RF Upton RF Upton RF
Walsh 1B Contreras DH Walsh 1B
Pujols DH Simmons SS Pujols DH
Simmons SS Walsh 1B Goodwin/Marsh LF
Casali C Casali C Casali C
Goodwin/Marsh LF Goodwin/Marsh LF Fletcher 2B

Bench:

  • Kevan Smith (C) (or Curt Casali in Scenario #2)
  • Brandon Marsh (OF) (or Hermosillo/Ward – let them fight!)
  • Luis Rengifo (IF)
  • Jose Rojas (IF)

Bullpen:

  • Hansel Robles
  • Ty Buttrey
  • Keynan Middleton
  • James Karinchak (Scenario #3)
  • Cam Bedrosian
  • Jose Rodriguez
  • Justin Anderson
  • Isaac Mattson