We saw the Yankees basically bullpen the AL wild-card game. Sure, it was on accident, but their bullpen pitched 8.2 innings. And they did it well. This made me think about whether a team could put together a pitching staff that is almost completely used for bullpenning for the entire season.
To see if this would be possible, we will look at the Yankees since they are the team most closely equipped for it already. In the wild-card game, they essentially used four relief pitchers (let’s not count the one out Luis Severino had). Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Aroldis Chapman combined for 8.2 innings and one earned run. Clearly, if a team could do this all the time, they would. In that game they did not use other relievers Dellin Betances and Adam Warren, as well as regular starting pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Jaime Garcia, who would have been available that night.
Since we now know what happened in that bullpen game, can we find out if it is possible to do it over a full season? First off, and MLB roster is comprised of 25 men for any given game and an additional 15 that can be called up if needed. An AL team can get by with 12 position players: one for every starting position (including DH) plus a fourth outfielder, utility infielder, and backup catcher. Let’s say a team’s backups can field multiple positions, like many can. We can get rid of the everyday DH and use one of the backups or starters in that role for a needed day off. That leaves us with 11 position players and room for 14 pitchers.
Many of the Yankees’ own relievers can go multiple innings. Among those pitchers are Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Warren, and occasionally Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances. Each are effective in their own right. The problem we have to face is the amount of rest needed for these pitchers. The four from the wild-card game each pitched with two days of rest, so we’ll set that as a bench mark. I also don’t want to assume a team needs five pitchers each game like they did in the wild card.
I don’t want to completely get rid of the starting pitcher. It would be dumb to just throw away what Luis Severino and other starters bring to that team. Instead, I want to put a hard limit on how much they pitch each game and how often they pitch. Theoretically, a team could go with a three-game cycle of pitchers. Games are played almost every day during the season, so the two days of rest benchmark will be used here. If we are using four pitchers per game every three games, we need 12 pitchers.
I didn’t make this with any set reason, just the best options the Yankees would have in my view. There are many other options available for them and some may be even better. But, if this is the set of pitchers being used, that leaves two extra spots for our 14 available pitchers. Those two extra spots can be utilized for guys needed for extra innings that can pitch multiple innings, or a guy needed for an inning or two in case one of the above gets into trouble.
If a team were to go by this set of pitchers, the regular starting pitchers would be throwing 162 innings over a season. That would be seen as pretty normal for a starting pitcher over the course of a season and in some cases much less. Severino pitched 193 innings himself. The relievers, however, would see a pretty big bump in action. They would pitch 108 innings in a season, more than any of the pitchers above did last year. However, some of those pitchers were starters to begin their careers. Green, Warren, Betances, and Holder have each pitched more than 108 innings in a season. Now, that could be a reason for their increased effectiveness as relievers, but they would still only be pitching two innings in a game, not five or six.
It is possible to ask these relievers to stretch their arms out to be able to throw that many innings in a season. Relievers do transition to starting and this wouldn’t be quite the workload necessary. If a pitcher needs a break during a cycle through this set of pitchers, that could be what the additional two pitchers on the roster are for, or some of the 40-man pitchers could be called up to give a guy a break. They could also call up an actual starter from the minors to take over for four or five innings after the three-inning “starter” in this example. My point here is that if the relievers get tired over the course of a season, there are ways to give them breaks. Plus, the Yankees have so many resources and available pitchers that they have that capability to give breaks.
If the Yankees wanted to, they could keep Severino, Tanaka, Gray, Green, Warren, Robertson, Kahnle, Betances, and Chapman all on the roster for the whole season. That makes up 3/4 of the necessary pitchers. Shreve, Holder, and Gallegos could each be cycled up and down from AAA with other pitchers like Ben Heller, Domingo German, etc. in order to give breaks to the core nine pitchers. Another solution is to go out and get more relievers who can pitch multiple innings on a regular basis. They certainly have the prospects to do that. Pitchers like Brad Hand, Yusmeiro Petit, and Mike Minor each pitched over 77 innings and were very effective doing so.
Clearly there is much more that would be needed to make this a reality, and I don’t have the resources to know if it is even possible. Maybe these guys simply couldn’t pitch that many innings over a full season or they would lose too much velocity of break on their pitches from fatigue. But I saw David Robertson pitch 3.1 masterful innings in the wild-card game and pitch another 1.2 innings three days later. Obviously that is only two outings, but he was nevertheless effective in doing it, and I believe if any team could make this happen, it would be the Yankees.
It was recently reported that the Nationals would not meet the hefty demands of Bryce Harper. These reports come from Bob Nightingale of USA Today and consist of a demand of $400 million for 10 years or more. This is beside the point though. After the report, I was browsing around on Facebook when I saw someone point out that because of Harper’s defense, he isn’t even worth $300 million. This got me thinking, what is Bryce Harper really worth?
At first glance, I believe that Harper is worth at least $300 million. As a matter in fact, I won’t even make a final decision until the end of this article. I’m discovering his value with you. We’ll first look at his defense, since that is the claim against Harper. For continuity and consistency, I will use FanGraphs’ version of defensive, offensive, and base-running values.
When it comes to Harper’s defense, his values have been up and down for his career. Last year they were up. And down. But up, since I’m using FanGraphs stats, and thus UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) will be used for my determination. The person from Facebook was likely using DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) because that was -3 while UZR was 8.7 for 2016.
Obviously defensive metrics like these are taken with a grain of salt because they have yet to be perfected. An 8.7 UZR is good. It isn’t top-tier, but it is definitely good. Plus the fact that right field isn’t the most inconsequential position. To make an impact in right field, a good arm is usually needed, and Harper had that in 2016. Yet 2015 was different, though, as both his arm rating and UZR were in the negative. Other than his 2014 UZR, everything else has been positive. His career totals are 17.4 for UZR and 16.3 for his arm. Like I said before, neither is is necessarily Gold Glove caliber, but he is definitely no scrub in the outfield. Even DRS, the metric I presume the Facebook man was using, has a total of 24 defensive runs saved for Harper on his career. So 2016 was his only year in the negative, and that was only -3.
Since I don’t want to only look at UZR and FanGraphs’ Arm ratings, I’ll also take a look at his Inside Edge fielding. All that does is show how often Harper executes on plays considered routine, likely, even, unlikely, remote, and impossible in descending order of probability. Except for routine plays, the rest have relatively small sample sizes on a season-wide basis for Harper. Each category has at least 30 samples for his career though, so the minimum number of samples to accurately represent the population is met. For routine plays, Harper performed as one would expect. He converted 99.6% of the plays in 2016 and 99.1% for his career, easily within the range of 90%-100% for the category. The next category, likely, has a range of 60%-90%. Harper was smack dab in the middle at 75% in 2016, but there were only 16 instances. Of the 70 in his career, he made 78.6% of the plays, well above the minimum expected of 60%. He performed even better in the even and unlikely categories. Remote plays were his only downside as he hasn’t made any of those plays in his career, but given the 39 instances it is hardly representative of his defensive play as a whole. He isn’t known as a burner and has been told by his coaches to tamp down the aggressiveness.
As a whole, his defense isn’t in question. Is it elite? No. He isn’t Jason Heyward or Mookie Betts in right field, but he was still fourth in the MLB in UZR for right fielders, so I don’t think his fielding is holding back his earning potential. If anything it may even be boosting it. Who wouldn’t want one of the premier hitting threats who can play a solid right field?
Because I want to save the more debatable part of Harper for last, we’re going to look at his base-running ability now. FanGraphs has the BsR (Base-Running Runs above average) stat, which sums up a player’s runs above average in terms of stolen bases, caught stealing, extra bases taken on hits, and double plays hit into. That gets boiled down to how many wins a player adds on the base paths. Harper’s BsR in 2016 stood at 2.4, or 2.4 runs added above the average player. He has 11.2 on his career.
To break it down, we will look at Harper’s wSB (weighted stolen bases), UBR (Ultimate Base Running), and wGDP (weighted ground into double plays). The wSB stat basically calculates how much a player helps by successfully advancing a base or hurts by being caught stealing. The Book gives success rates necessary for a base-stealer to add positive value in different situations. wSB simply adds together all the successes and failures and their weighted values (after all, a caught stealing is more costly than a stolen base is rewarding). In Harper’s case, he stole 21 bases in 2016, his highest total. He was also caught stealing 10 times. In all, he cost his team -0.3 runs trying to steal bases last year. It is an inconsequential amount, but for his career it is at -1.0. That is still too small to matter, but he is probably better off staying put unless he is sure he can make it to the next base. UBR and wGDP are higher on Harper. They are 5.5 and 6.7 for his career, respectively. Overall, Harper is a good base-runner. Still not elite, but he isn’t costing his team when running.
So far, Harper has graded well in both fielding and base running. In neither aspect of the game is Harper an elite player (though he’s arguably pretty close in the field). For Harper, and pretty much every player that makes big money in the MLB that isn’t a pitcher, the hitting is what will make and break him. The last two years have shown both sides of the spectrum of what Harper may turn out to be. In 2015, he was one of the two best players in baseball. Okay, he was the best. He flat-out outperformed Mike Trout (the true 2015 AL MVP, but that’s a debate for another time). Harper dominated in every form at the plate two years ago. If it weren’t for his negative defensive grade for the year, he would have broken the 10 fWAR barrier that only Trout has broken since 2004. He hit 42 home runs with 118 runs score and 99 RBI. If you don’t like those raw stats, he went and hit a batting line of .330/.460/.649. If you prefer metric stats, he went out and led in every iteration of runs created as well as wOBA. That stat line alone is worth $400 million.
But, we aren’t looking at one year of production. His 9.5 fWAR of 2015 is an anomaly so far. His second-highest is 4.6 in his rookie year. Last year it was 3.5. A 3.5-win player is not worth $400 million. A 4.6-win player is not worth $400 million. A 9.5-win player is. So, what is Harper really worth? Some (most) point to a reported injury that Harper had this past year that he played through anyway. This injury would have held him back. How much, though, we don’t know. We also don’t know if he will rebound to the 2015 version of him. Was that year a breakout year put on pause or was it in fact an anomaly?
To answer those questions, we need to dig a bit deeper than just his metric stats. In terms of exit velocity, Harper took a large step back from 91.4 mph to 89.5 mph in 2015 and 2016, respectively. In terms of home runs, Harper hit 19 in 2015 off of fastballs while regressing to eight last year. If it is a matter of catching up to fastballs, an injury definitely makes sense. 23-year-olds don’t suddenly lose their bat speed. That begins to happen at 33. When it comes to Harper’s batted balls, he increased the number of fly balls he hit and decreased in line drives. That usually translates to more home runs, but a drop in exit velocity answers that. Harper did hit more infield flies that in 2015. It was only a 3.1% change, but it does suggest he was just missing a bit more than the year prior.
Looking at the differences between the two years and what changed, I’m going to believe that he was injured. When reading online, most analysts believe that, and Harper even said he was injured. Only the Nationals said he wasn’t. With an injury, I have to believe that Harper was hampered by that rather than just a complete regression in skill. Harper has his hitting, and with the offseason to rest and heal he should come back and mash again.
One more tidbit about Harper’s hitting before we’re done here, though. His batting average of balls in play (BABIP) sat at a measly .264. That is well below the average of .300. One could look at Harper’s diminished exit velocity and how often he hit the ball soft, medium, and hard. Well, his average exit velocity is right around league average. He also was under league average for soft hits and above in hard hits. So that should translate to a bit above a .300 BABIP. Because of this, I’m going to factor in that Harper was pretty unlucky last year and his stats would look better if more balls fell into play like they should have.
Unfortunately, we aren’t quite done in determining Harper’s value. Since I’m going to believe that Harper was injured last year, that just adds to a pretty lengthy injury history. Lengthy injury histories aren’t something that teams like, but most of his have come from his aggressiveness on defense in his first few years. He took the pedal off the metal in 2015 and it translated to on-field success. If he continues to do that, I think he should be able to stay on the field.
Harper will also be 26 years old when he hits the open market in the 2018-2019 offseason. That is quite a bit younger than most free agents and it gives enough time for teams to lower their payrolls in time for a bidding war of great magnitude if they so choose (looking at you, Yankees). He will still have about six more years in his prime after he signs his potential mega-deal.
In prior years, teams have spent about $8 million per win above replacement. Obviously some players produce more than what they are being compensated for. No one is going to pay Mike Trout $80 million for one year. But, $40 million for a year isn’t out of the question, especially for someone of Trout’s caliber. This isn’t about Trout though, this is about Harper and what teams will pay him. He is said to be demanding $400 million for 10+ years. Is it conceivable that a team will pay him $40 million per year for 10 years if they expect similar success to 2015? Yes. He outperformed Trout and I think we can agree teams would hand him that amount of money in a pinch. It’s just a matter of whether or not it will happen.
Because I think Harper had an injury that didn’t allow him to play to his standard last year and he was unlucky with his hits, I do believe he can again reach his 2015 production. And because I believe he can get there again, I then have to believe a team will pay him at least $40 million for at least 10 years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a contract similar to Giancarlo Stanton’s in terms of length — 13 years. For 13 years, Harper would only have to reach an annual average of $30 million, which is much, much easier to come by. So yes, when Bryce Harper reaches free agency where teams can bid as much as they can, some team will pay him that much. Of course, Harper can underperform again this coming season, and it would be hard for him to command that kind of contract. I don’t think that will happen. Based on what he showed in 2015 and why he didn’t do as well last year, he is more than likely to ramp up production in 2017.
The Atlanta Braves recently signed pitcher Jacob Lindgren. Drafted as a relief by the Yankees out of Mississippi State in 2014, he was thought to be a candidate to ascend through the minor leagues quickly and join the major-league club within a year. That he did, as he dominated his way through the minors, albeit in short stints. His longest look came in AAA in 2015 where he held great numbers. He made his debut that year too.
Though Lindgren found his way onto the Yankees roster quickly, it was all for naught, as he sustained an injury to end the 2015 season and only pitched seven innings this past year. His performance with the Yankees two years ago was subpar, which led to a demotion before his injury. He also struggled in spring training before sustaining his second injury.
Though he was a starting pitcher for a year with Mississippi State, his short 5’11 stature meant he was all but destined for a career in the bullpen. He dominated in college which led to the Yankees’ belief in his ability to reach the majors. He has a good fastball-slider combination that he can use to strike out batters. His fastball doesn’t jump at batter like some, but the low- to mid-90s heat can still be utilized successfully in this league. The combination of his two best pitches can lead to success as long as he can further develop his command and sequencing.
Lindgren was the Yankees’ seventh-ranked prospect in 2015 according to MLB.com, but his injuries led to him falling of that board. Still just 23 years old, he can regain that prospect stature he had before with a successful run with the Braves. A rebuilding team, Atlanta may even give him the opportunity to complete his development in the MLB bullpen rather than in the minors. He proved what he can do in AAA, so all that’s really left is for him to pitch successfully in the majors.
The reason that Lindgren is even on the Braves is due to the fact that the Yankees ran out of room on their 40-man roster. Facing heavy competition from other relief pitchers in New York, especially with Jonathan Holder (who FanGraphs writer Jeff Sullivan deemed the most dominant relief pitcher in the minor leagues), Lindgren didn’t really have a spot with the Yankees this coming year. Rather than waste his time in New York, they cut him loose to give him a shot elsewhere.
With the new MLB CBA being agreed upon, details of the agreement are trickling in to the baseball news outlets. One of the major agreements is a new luxury-tax threshold for the upcoming 2017 season and beyond. The threshold will increase to $195 million for the 2017 season, an increase of $6 million. It will continue to increase over the four following seasons as well. This is good news for the Yankees.
For years, the Yankees have been over the luxury-tax line since its incorporation in the 2003 season. With incremental increases in taxes from being above the line, the Yankees have paid in excess of $276 million over the past 14 seasons, far more than any other team. Because of the funds that the Steinbrenners have had to issue out as an extra tax, Hal Steinbrenner has stated that he wants to go under the tax and reset the penalties against them.
As it stands, the Yankees have a payroll of approximately $136.2 million, albeit with only seven major leaguers signed to contracts. Their payroll includes the $21 million paid to Alex Rodriguez and $5.5 million of Brian McCann’s salary that they share with the Astros. With that said, they have seven players that they are likely to retain through arbitration, which adds approximately $22.1 million to their payroll according to MLBTradeRumors.com. After that, their payroll stands at about $158 million. To complete their 25-man roster, 11 MLB minimum contracts need to be added. At the new amount of $535,000, the total then stands at $164 million.
As their roster stands, the Yankees will be well under the tax threshold if they don’t sign a single MLB free agent. After a year of doing that already though, that is very, very unlikely. The team is already highly involved in negotiations with most of the top remaining free agents. Three of the players they are involved with include Aroldis Chapman, Edwin Encarnacion, and Rich Hill. Most of all, the Yankees are involved with Chapman and have long been thought to be the ultimate landing spot for him by several sources.
According to FanGraphs’ own Dave Cameron, Chapman projects to receive in the realm of $18.5 million as an annual average. He follows with an annual average of $21 million for Encarnacion. For the sake of this article and the point of the Yankees spending less (and my own belief of salary projection), I will use MLBTradeRumors’ Tim Dierkes’ salary projection for Rich Hill. He puts it at $16.7 million on average compared to Cameron’s $24-million average. The difference comes down to the third year, yet at a cheaper rate.
With these salaries, as with many large MLB contracts, there is an expectation of back-loading the deal, or having higher averages at the end of the contract. Because of this, a projection of first-year salaries close to $16 million for Chapman, $17 million for Encarnacion, and $13 million for Rich Hill are obtainable. For those values, the deals would have to be fairly back-loaded, which would sting a bit in the long-term. However, it is good to keep in mind that back-loaded deals wouldn’t hurt too much since two major salaries in C.C. Sabathia and Rodriguez will no longer have to be paid.
For the first-year salaries above, the Yankees could conceivable sign one of Chapman or Encarnacion and Rich Hill while staying below the luxury-tax threshold. They wouldn’t be far off if they decided to sign both Chapman and Encarnacion (a net $32 million added after factoring in league-minimum deals for two players sent to AAA).
All of this doesn’t even factor in the possibility of the Yankees trading Brett Gardner and/or Chase Headley. Trading both would give them the ability to add two of the above plus potentially Justin Turner while giving young players like Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin the opportunity to play.
Considering these possibilities, the Yankees would be able to creep just under the luxury-tax threshold heading into the season. This would reset their penalties with a year to spare before an expected spending spree during the 2018-2019 offseason thanks to the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and many others that may be available that winter. All of this is very speculative, but it shows that one of the premier teams in terms of spending has the potential to become much better than last year while spending much less. The Yankees having more money to spend is dangerous for the rest of the league and gives them the ability to cut bait and buy players if their top prospects don’t work out.
As a Yankees fan (albeit one that has only witnessed their 2009 World Series), I have never been more excited about the team’s present and future. With the MLB roster slowly filling with good, young talent, and with even more stirring circumstances in the minors, the Yankees have the potential to be another powerhouse team.
Right now, the Yankees are in the midst of a revolution. Out with the old (A-Rod and Teixeira) and in with the new (Sanchez, Judge and Austin). Despite missing out on the playoffs, they will feature a well-rounded lineup at the start of next year.
It’s safe to say that Gary Sanchez won’t enjoy quite the success he did in the last two months of this season. Actually, he won’t come close. This isn’t to say he will play poorly, it’s just that he played so well that he can’t come back to those levels. However, Sanchez will no doubt still be one of the better-hitting catchers in the MLB with average to plus defense behind the dish, so they will already be better in that position in 2017 than they were in 2016.
The Yankees infield is the most likely to change the least with only Greg Bird slotting in at first base. Didi Gregorious, Starlin Castro and Chase Headley are each under team control until at least 2018, and there isn’t anyone challenging them for their spots at the moment. At first base, though, I say it is most likely that Bird gets the spot because it is possible that Tyler Austin beats him out in spring training. Austin is more likely to be used as a quasi-utility player as he can play at first, in right field and DH.
In the outfield everything could remain the same as the end of the season with Hicks or Judge in right, Ellsbury in center and Gardner in left. It could also see some changes. Gardner and Ellsbury both have the potential to be traded over the offseason with Gardner the more likely of the two. There are options to fill those gaps if trades do happen. Mason Williams could fill in until Clint Frazier is (hopefully) ready later in the season. Hicks, Austin and Judge could also fill the holes if needed.
The Yankees pitching is the most worrisome issue. The starting pitching, that is. Masahiro Tanaka performed well in 2016, so there is no reason to think otherwise for the next year. Beyond that, though, are question marks. Nate Eovaldi will probably be a non-tender after his Tommy John surgery. Pineda had his usual ups and downs. Sabathia is still getting older. Then there are numerous options in Luis Severino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell. Severino will be given the longest look because of his end to the 2015 season, but it’s a toss-up from there.
The bullpen in New York is still a quality one despite trading away Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Dellin Betances is one of the best in the game, so that’s a good start. Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren and whoever misses out on the rotation gig will presumably fill in the rest with a lefty thrown in.
Now comes the most exciting part of the Yankees. With a system that starts with four top-30 prospects despite Sanchez already graduating, the Bombers are on their way to a good future. Frazier is in AAA and still needs to put up good at-bats before he gets the call to the majors, but that time will come soon enough. Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo will likely start the year in AA, so they won’t be seen until 2018 most likely, especially with the likes of Gregorious and Castro blocking them. Beyond their top three guys, the Yankees still have plenty of players who could make a major-league impact once it’s their time. Simply, there is a lot to be excited about when it comes to the team’s future.
The Yankees will have the 17th overall pick in next year’s draft, so they will be in familiar position after having the 16th and 18th picks in the two previous years. Their first-round picks in recent years have both been ones that I personally like, but who wouldn’t? James Kaprielian is shining in the Arizona Fall League and Blake Rutherford looks like a steal at the 18th pick, especially after his hot start to his pro career. This year will hopefully prove to be another that produces some good picks.
With the Yankees pretty much set with position players, there’s no reason to add any pricey free agents. It also wouldn’t be wise to block some of their young players out to prove themselves or ones that are close to ready in the minors. Pitching is another story.
As I stated before, their starting pitching has question marks when it comes to Sabathia’s age, Pineda’s consistency and Severino bouncing back. There also aren’t many pitchers on the free-agent market that stand out. Overpaying for Rich Hill would be contradictory to what the Yankees are trying to do in becoming younger, but his dominance when healthy is something that can’t be questioned. It wouldn’t be a bad move to sign him, but it would add yet another question mark to their rotation due to his injury history. Signing him also wouldn’t help any towards getting under the luxury tax, which Steinbrenner would like to do.
The only free-agent acquisition that I would like to see is a top-notch reliever, which means one of Chapman, Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon. Jansen is likely going back to the Dodgers and Melancon would be yet another righty for the bullpen. A reunion with Chapman would be the best move. Pairing him with Betances again would put the bullpen in great shape. It’s just that it will cost a lot.
In terms of trading, I am one that is all for trading Gardner, Ellsbury and/or Brian McCann. Ellsbury’s contract probably means he’s staying, but Gardner will be easy to move if Brian Cashman can get the right return. Some reports have said that a swap of him for a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher could work, and that would be just what the Yankees need. McCann will have high demand this offseason with multiple teams needing catchers and not enough free agents to go around. The Yankees will have to eat a good chunk of his contract to get anything of value in return, but it shouldn’t be a problem as they’d be shedding a good portion of his $17-million-per-year contract. It would also give younger players like Bird, Austin and Judge a chance to DH.
The Braves have been said to want a reunion with McCann but won’t trade Mike Foltynewicz for him. The Yankees will do well if they can eat about half of his contract and get a couple middling prospects with some upside.
With such a deep farm, the Yankees also have the ability to trade for a front-of-the-rotation starter. Landing one of the top guys on the trade market probably isn’t in their best interests, though. To get one of Chris Sale, Chris Archer or Sonny Gray will cost a good portion of what the Yankees were able to get for Chapman and Miller. Instead, they should look to trade from depth for a guy that is a step down from the others. With Torres looking like the better middle-infield prospect, trading Mateo as the headliner of a package for a starter would be a good move and won’t impact the team’s future too much.
In an ideal scenario, the Yankees will sign one of the top relievers to pair with Betances, stand pat on other free agents and see how Cashman can work the trade market for a third straight offseason. The Yankees likely aren’t a top contender next season, but the potential is there. If things break right with Judge, Bird, Sanchez and the rotation, they could find themselves at the top of the A.L. East. Right now, though, they should look to continue development of their top-three farm system and look at 2018 as the year to really contend.
Any fan that is somewhat invested in the game of baseball understands the importance of putting both a good team on the field at the MLB level while also sustaining an adequate farm system. The Angels have done neither.
This is a hard thing to do when the best player in baseball plays for you, but Arte Moreno and the Angels have managed to do that. Let’s take a look at how they ended up in this dire situation.
One thing the Angels do have (sorta) is a good core of players. They have Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, Andrelton Simmons and Garrett Richards. Trout and Simmons play at premium positions, Calhoun is a good two-way player and Richards has ace potential (given his arm doesn’t snap). They even have quality players in Yunel Escobar and C.J. Cron who are quietly productive. With the exception of Escobar, each of those players are controllable for the next several years. The team isn’t devoid of talent behind Mike Trout like some believe. They also have a few starting pitchers who have either shown success or are promising in Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, and Andrew Heaney. The only problem is that Heaney is done for next year already and Skaggs may be too if his stem-cell therapy doesn’t work.
The holes in the team are at second base, left field, starting pitching spots that aren’t guaranteed and the bullpen. Especially the bullpen. The only true bright spot of their bullpen is Cam Bedrosian while everyone else is expendable at best (unless Huston Street can return to form).
Now that we’ve looked at their roster heading into next season, how can they fix it?
Moreno has to let Billy Eppler spend some money this offseason. He isn’t paying Jered Weaver or C.J. Wilson anymore. That leaves them with roughly $30 million to spend before hitting the luxury tax, which Moreno has made clear he won’t go over. One thing this offseason is sure to provide is offense.
Obvious fixes would be to sign Yoenis Cespedes and one of Justin Turner — which would move either him or Escobar to second — or Neil Walker. The Angels can’t go another year with below-replacement-level players at those positions if they truly want to win. The smart route for them would be to avoid what are likely to be excessive bidding wars for Cespedes and Turner. Walker is a great fit at second for them. He offers good offense from the left side to couple with their righty-heavy lineup as well as average defense to a team that has seen paltry turnouts at the position.
As for left field, their are plenty of corner outfielders on the market. However, instead of paying too much for a reunion with Mark Trumbo, the Angels should look at Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gomez. Desmond and Fowler failed to garner much interest last offseason, so an offense-heavy free-agent class should keep their price tags down. As for Gomez, he was DFA’d by the Astros before playing somewhat better with the Rangers. Gomez is the higher risk/reward player while Fowler is the closest to a sure bet to perform consistently. Desmond is a wild card since he just converted to the outfield and profiled as below average in center. Shifting him to left with Trout in center could improve his defense, so he is also a viable option. The Angels took huge risks in the past that didn’t turn out well, so Fowler is probably their best option. Plus he adds another lefty bat against righties.
If the Angels can manage to add both Walker and Fowler, their offense would actually fill the basic requirements for a successful team. They would have a leadoff hitter in Fowler, and a number two in Calhoun, with Trout in the three slot. Either Cron or Pujols will bat fourth and fifth with Walker behind them. Then some mix of Escobar, Simmons and their catcher in the 7-9 spots.
As for fixing the rotation, that will be much harder, and they might just have to wait out the storm or go over the luxury tax. Overpaying for Jeremy Hellickson or Ivan Nova would be a bad move and Rich Hill isn’t a good fit for a fairly old roster that already has its risks. Henderson Alvarez could be a good bounce-back candidate after missing 2016 following a shoulder surgery. Andrew Cashner could be an option in a pitcher-friendly park in Anaheim, though the one in San Diego didn’t do him much good. Going into the season with Richards, Shoemaker, Skaggs, Nolasco and one of Alex Meyer, Nate Smith or Daniel Wright isn’t the end of the world. It just has its risks.
What about the farm?
According to RosterResource.com, the Angels have 11 home-grown players on their 40-man roster. That’s definitely on the lighter side compared to most teams, but it isn’t quite as extreme as the Padres’ six. They also only have six free-agent signings, which isn’t too large of an amount. The part of their roster that stands out is their eight waiver claims. The fact is that the Angels didn’t have the depth to fill their own roster with players already within their organization.
Going back to the team’s free-agent signings, six isn’t a large amount as I stated before. However, some of their more recent signings have been very costly (both in terms of monetary and baseball value). In the offseason prior to the 2012 and 2013 regular seasons, they signed Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton. Each of these players cost north of $15 million per season. Each also cost the team draft picks. They lost two first-round picks and a second-round pick.
The teams’ most recent top picks most likely aren’t going to make an impact with the MLB team. For one, Sean Newcomb definitely won’t since he’s on the Braves now. Taylor Ward and Matt Thaiss were both very weak first-round picks. Ward won’t hit and Thaiss is basically limited to first base.
This isn’t to say the Angels have nothing in the minors. Jahmai Jones is promising but very young and a few of their other 2016 picks could develop into good MLB players, including Brandon Marsh and Nonie Williams. Their farm isn’t deep enough to trade for any key pieces though, and they shouldn’t do that even if they did have the pieces. Eppler has a chance to use a top-10 pick this year as well as future picks to try and build the strong farm that the Angels have lacked for so long, so he can’t waste that opportunity on a middling team.
I feel that I’ve laid out the best-case scenario for the Angels next year with potential signings of Walker and Fowler, who would fit in very nicely with their current lineup. Any team with Mike Trout has a chance to be successful after all. They will need to sign those two players first, and then the rotation needs to have luck on its side with the injury situations. The bullpen is a clear gap in the roster, so safe signings over the offseason could complement Bedrosian and possibly Street. Their farm system is also a clear work in progress, but it isn’t empty in terms of talent. That talent is just a little ways off at the moment. Overall the future of the Angels seems dreadful, but if things break right they can be a contender next year. Their overall run differential was only 18 apart from the first-place Rangers, so they at least played in close games. Now all that needs to be done is execution by the players and by the front office to bring a winner back to Anaheim.