Trying to Figure Out What the Angels Are Doing

The Angels are an odd team. They are perennially competing for a spot in the playoffs and in 2014 they had the best record in the AL, but each year it seems that they are out-performing their talent.

The simplest explanation is that the team is buoyed by Mike Trout, which is true. A team with the best player in baseball, and always one of the highest payrolls in baseball, should not be lagging this much. The Angels should be more than a perennial playoff contender. They should be World Series contenders. So, if there ever was a time for Arte Moreno to hand out his money, it’s this off-season which provides the Halos with everything they need to resolve the biggest issues the team faces.

They currently have $130,278,770 in payroll obligations, excluding pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players. The Angels carried payrolls of $168,299,326 and $151,298,162 in 2014 and 2015, respectively. MLB Trade Rumors projects $20,100,000 in arbitration salaries for six players, which brings the Angels 2016 payroll for 14 players to $150,278,770. If you leave three spots open on the 40-man roster, giving the Angels three players to add through free agency, and estimate that the remaining 23 players will cost the Angels $500,000 each, or $11,500,000 total, it would bring the payroll to a best-case scenario of $161,728,770.

Arte Moreno has said he would cross the luxury tax threshold, but that seems more like PR than an actual possibility, so I’ll cap the potential payroll at $189,000,000. That leaves the Angels with $27,271,230 of money to spend before surpassing the luxury tax threshold.

The Angels could use an upgrade to their DH/1B depth and a player like Mike Napoli would fit well with them, but that’s not a pressing need. The bullpen is also an area that could improve, however it’s not really a dire situation.

The most glaring holes on the Angels roster are the third base position and a corner outfield spot. Technically, it’s left field, but Kole Calhoun can play in any corner, so someone who plays either right or left field would work. For that matter, they would be fine with a center fielder because Trout could probably flex out of center field if needed.

A trade, at least a meaningful one, is out of the question because the Angels gave up their only valuable assets in the Andrelton Simmons deal. That may have been a pretty big mistake depending on how much money they plan to spend this offseason.

There does not seem to be a better fit for the Angels than Daniel Murphy. He could be the solution they have been seeking in their search for a left handed bat to slide in the middle of the order. Murphy’s defensive ability, or lack thereof, is somewhat overblown. Metrics tend to be fairly neutral on him, and some of his misadventures at second base overshadow the fact that he’s a competent third baseman. That is where he would best serve the Angels. FanGraphs’ contract crowdsource pegs Murphy for a contract with a $12,000,000 average annual value. I think Murphy could end up getting more than that, but let’s roll with that. The Angels are now down to $15.3 million.

That brings us to the outfield. Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, and Justin Upton would all fit in Anaheim. However, the Angels could only afford one of them if they backload the contract, which is possible, but set that possibility aside for the moment.

The other options would be Denard Span, Gerardo Parra, Nori Aoki, and Rajai Davis.

Span would seem to be an unnecessary injury risk for a team that would need him on the field to compete for a World Series and does not have a great backup option for the position. However, a healthy Span is a good fit with the Angels. He would add some much needed speed to that lineup and would probably fit in their budget, costing around $12,000,000 on a three-year contract.

Alternatively, a platoon of Nori Aoki or Gerardo Parra with Rajai Davis would probably cost the team around $10,000,000 combined and would provide competent left field options.

The issue with Span or an Aoki or Parra/Davis platoon is that it just puts the Angels back where they were: in the mix. It doesn’t distinguish them, and it doesn’t make them World Series contenders. It’s not improbable that a team with Murphy and one of the lesser outfield options could make a World Series run, it’s just also not improbable they would be sitting at home in October.

And that’s my potential issue with the Andrelton Simmons trade.

There’s been some discussion on the best way to use minor league resources in light of the Red Sox’s trade for Craig Kimbrel. However, I think it’s much more interesting to examine the issue by looking at the Angels and what they gave up in their trade for Andrelton Simmons.

Sean Newcomb was one, and maybe the only, valuable asset that the Angels possessed that they could move in an attempt to improve the team. They undoubtedly did that by getting Andrelton Simmons, but Simmons didn’t solve any immediate issues. He’s an improvement over Erick Aybar, but Erick Aybar really wasn’t an issue. And the trade begs the question, are the Angels looking past this year? The main benefit of Simmons is what he brings the team in 2017 and 2018, being a very good shortstop under a reasonable contract.

I don’t know if Billy Eppler shopped Newcomb around for a player like Carlos Gonzalez or any other available outfielders. Maybe Newcomb wasn’t enough. And Jay Bruce seems like a good fit, but Jay Bruce is a bet; he’s one of those players whose reputation of past performance seems to outpace his recent performance (Bruce had -.9 WAR in 2014 and .1 in 2015. Steamer projects him to have a .6 WAR in 2016).

Maybe Billy Eppler has all the money he needs to add Heyward, Cespedes, or Upton, or maybe he’s convinced he has the ability to add one of them on a back-loaded contract. Jeff Weaver and C.J. Wilson are off the payroll next year and all payroll obligations owed to Josh Hamilton will be off the books after 2017, so the financial situation looks better in the future.

And there are a lot of alternatives here. The Angels could band-aid third base by bringing back David Freese, or adding Juan Uribe. That may leave them with enough money to bring in one of the marquee free agents, but it still leaves them short of being a baseball powerhouse. It just makes them another good team with a shot at making the playoffs.

All of this is to say that the Angels are an interesting team. Mike Trout keeps them on the brink of being very good each year, but if Arte Moreno is willing to spend like the Dodgers and Yankees the Angels could be great. If they added Daniel Murphy and Jason Heyward they would have to be considered one of the best teams in the league. However, if they added Simmons at the cost of only being able to address either their third base or corner outfield issue instead of addressing both, then it seems like a misuse of their only minor league asset, and of Mike Trout’s greatness.

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I think you’re underselling the value of Andrelton’s defense, especially given his team friendly contract. Aybar is a solid defensive shortstop. Simmons is spectacular. Aybar is a free agent after 2016. Simmons is on a team friendly contract for several years. Coupled with Trout, that gives the Angels arguably the best defensive CF and SS in the league for years to come. That’s huge. The Angels pitching staff will certainly be a fan of this deal. I know next to nothing about the prospects involved in the trade, so I can’t speak to their value, nonetheless this strikes me as… Read more »

Mark Davidson

Trout is not even in the discussion for best defensive CF.

Mark Davidson

The Angels have a few arms at the major league level they could deal: sell high on Santiago; C.J. Wilson would draw interest; Tropeano is interesting, so they haven’t sold all their pieces, but they have sold their most valuable. I love Simmons and I think the trade was equally beneficial to both teams, but the value the Angels will get out of Simmons is potentially less than any team due to their league worst 41.5% GB rate. To that point, a flyball-centric staff works for the Halos because of the dimensions and location of their park (near enough to… Read more »