Halos Daily

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Offseason Review: Where The Angels Stand Heading Toward Spring Training

January 15th, 2015

 

It’s been a busy offseason in the AL West. Billy Beane traded pretty much all of the A’s for other baseball players, leading analysts to question Oakland’s process for the first time in many years. The Mariners added meat to the middle of their lineup, and did so without sacrificing their depth on the mound. Texas has been relatively quiet, counting on bounce-back seasons and clean bills of health in 2015. The Astros have added key contributors, and Houston appears to be approaching contention for the first time since joining the American League.

So where does all of this leave the Angels? After dominating in the regular season, the Halos took an early exit in October, largely due to their lack of star power in the rotation. To address this, GM Jerry Dipoto shipped Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers in exchange for southpaw Andrew Heaney. Other key transactions included sending Hank Conger to Houston (netting Nick Tropeano in return) and trading Kevin Jepsen to the Rays for Matt Joyce. Second base is the Angels’ most uncertain position, with a foursome of Taylor Featherston, Johnny Giavotella, Josh Rutledge, and Grant Green competing for at-bats.

Prior to the frenzy that has been this offseason, the Angels were among the favorites to compete for the World Series crown in 2015. Despite (in this humble blogger’s opinion) improving their squad, the Angels aren’t getting much love this off-season. FanGraphs projects them to finish third in the division, one game behind the final Wild Card spot. But why might the Angels take a step backwards after last season’s dominance?

The Annual Angels Arbitration Primer

January 13th, 2015

 

It’s that time of the year again. With the arrival of Tuesday’s filing deadline, we’ve finally reached that month-long lull where everyone is so baseball-starved they feign interest in what their team’s fourth outfielder might end up earning in salary arbitration, and whether he’s really worth that extra $500k for which he’s asking. In other words, we’ve reached the nadir of the baseball offseason. The silver lining? Only five and a half weeks until pitchers and catchers report!

The Angels had five players file for arbitration in 2013, and another four last winter. This year, there are eight who are arb-eligible: Drew Butera, Collin Cowgill, David Freese, Matt Joyce, Cesar Ramos, Garrett Richards, Fernando Salas, and Hector Santiago. Of the eight, only Freese and Joyce are in their third and most expensive final year of team control. Overall, the Halos are expected to dole out about $22 million in arb salaries over the next month, plus the $1.15 million already agreed to with Vinnie Pestano.

Here’s a not-so-quick refresher on the ins and outs of arbitration:

Adopted in 1974 by MLB owners attempting to curb contract holdouts and ultimately prevent free agency from happening—lol good job, good effort—salary arbitration is an offseason process that allows eligible team-controlled players to negotiate a pay raise with their respective teams. All players heading into their fourth, fifth, and sixth years of MLB service time are eligible for arbitration, as are a small percentage of players (Super Twos) who are between their second and third year.

Service time is allotted based on days on a team’s 25-man roster, including time spent on the disabled list. Tyler Skaggs, for instance, will earn a full year of service time next season even though he’ll spend all of it on the sidelines, putting him a year closer to arbitration when he does eventually return in 2016. If a player has multiple partial seasons under his belt, his days on the roster are summed. If/when he reaches 172 days, he’s accredited a year of service time.

Once a player officially files for arbitration—not sure why this isn’t just automatic—he and his respective team have a four-day window to exchange salary figures. This is where each party submits the dollar amount they think the player deserves for the upcoming season, based on performance and precedent. (This year, the deadline for exchanging figures is this coming Friday, Jan. 16.) Sometimes the gap between the player’s figure and the team’s is large, sometimes it isn’t. No matter the discrepancy, the two sides can agree to a compromise at any time if they see so fit.

If they can’t come to terms before their pre-scheduled arbitration hearing, which will take place sometime between Feb. 1-21, then both sides must argue their case in front of arbitrators for each side plus a neutral third party, who ultimately chooses one salary figure or the other. Hearings used to be a somewhat common occurrence, but they almost never happen anymore: only three cases went to a hearing last winter (of 146 possible), and none (of 133) the year before that. Arbitrators are notorious for favoring traditional stats in their weighing of cases, so it’s possible we’re at a point now where their valuations have become antiquated for both teams and agents.

In any event, the last Halos player to make it all the way to a hearing was Jered Weaver in 2011. He somehow lost his case, saving the Angels a whopping $1.435 million. Many like to speculate that hearings can become contentious and lead to bad blood between a player and his team, that obviously wasn’t the case with Weaver: He signed his five-year contract extension just a few months after his hearing. Sadly, his signing bonus was only a cool $1 million, and not exactly $1.435 million.

The last Angels player to win a hearing was, believe it or not, Jeff Mathis. The Halos highlighted the catcher’s anemic offensive output as the reason he was worth only $700k in 2010, while Mathis and his crew focused on defense and the fact that he’d started 13 more games than Mike Napoli in 2008 and 2009. *world’s deepest sigh* In the end, the amount of labor mattered more to the arbitrator than performance, and Mathis got $1.3 million. The money is whatever, but I find the overall decision-making process involved pretty fascinating. For more details on that particular case, check out B.J. Rains’ write-up over at MLB Trade Rumors.

The Angels settled with all their arb-eligible players by Jan. 31 last year and Jan. 30 the year before that. So unless there’s a massive divide in salary figures for a particular player for some reason, expect everything to be wrapped up by the end of the month. No matter what, when all is said and done the team’s payroll for 2015 (non-luxury-tax variety) should come in at about $150 million.

Angels Deal Top Prospect For 3B Depth

January 9th, 2015

 

I guess the Angels aren’t so worried about hoarding all their starting pitching anymore. The club dealt top pitching prospect Ricardo Sanchez to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday in exchange for two other minor leaguers: third baseman Kyle Kubitza and righty reliever Nate Hyatt.

The 17-year-old Sanchez was either the second- or third-best pitcher in the Angels farm system, depending on how one feels about his ceiling in relation to Sean Newcomb’s. Being a top-three arm in the organization was a bit of a dubious honor at the beginning of 2014, when the top end consisted of guys with utility but limited upside. Now, though, after a wave of additions through the draft and trades in the last year to restock the franchise’s pitching depth, it means the Halos have bid farewell to a young left-hander with serious potential.

Signed out of Venezuela in July 2013, Sanchez made his organizational debut in the Arizona Rookie League this past summer and was quick to make an impact despite being the second youngest pitcher in the league. The diminutive southpaw posted a 3.49 ERA and struck out 10 batters per nine in 38 ⅔ innings, never going more than four frames in any of his 12 appearances. His control (5.1 BB/9) left a bit to be desired, but that’s the case with just about every teenage arm ever. The most important thing—the thing that probably caught Atlanta’s attention—is that Sanchez more than held his own against guys three and four years his senior, and did so with a three-pitch arsenal that belies his age. The Braves potentially have a special pitcher on their hands, and I’m sure they’re excited to add him to their growing list of young, promising arms.

Why, you may be asking, did the Angels give up Sanchez when he represents something the farm system has been without since maybe the Dan Haren trade? Well, there are (at least) two reasons:

1) Even with his inaugural success, Sanchez is still several years and many developmental hurdles away from contributing at the big-league level. The Angels could afford to part ways with him simply because his future is still so volatile. If everything goes well and Sanchez is able to avoid major injury in the next few seasons, he could break into the Braves rotation by 2018. But there’s a reason an acronymic axiom like TINSTAAPP exists: even a single stumble in his race to the show could send him careening off track for years. Considering the Angels are going into 2015 expecting to repeat as AL West champs, it makes more sense to invest in potential contributors for next season and beyond than guys who, in the best-case scenario, are still four seasons away.

2) The Angels are pretty set so far as pitching depth goes, even with Sanchez gone. The additions of Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago, Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, Jose Alvarez, Cesar Ramos, and Sean Newcomb, among others, have given the club the leeway to add depth elsewhere on the diamond via starting pitching. It’s a bit strange to write sincerely that the Halos have rotation depth to spare, but it’s true. Jerry Dipoto has worked some serious magic over the last year-plus to turn the weakest point in the organization into a strength, and now he’s using it to shore up other potential holes.

 

Speaking of which, the hole that existed behind David Freese at third was a massive one before Kyle Kubitza joined the fold. Before Thursday, the Angels’ only line of defense between Freese and having to bring John McDonald out of retirement was a quartet of infielders with a combined 10 games of MLB experience at third base. And seeing as how three—Grant Green, Josh Rutledge, and Johnny Giavotella—of those four are widely regarded as below-average defenders at second base, I can’t imagine how bad things might have gotten at the hot corner should they have needed to spell Freese for a chunk of time. Kubitza, unlike his roster competition, is a third baseman by trade and a pretty good defensive one at that. When rating him as the Braves’ No. 8 prospect in November, Baseball Prospectus noted that Kubitza has a “plus arm,” “quick feet,” and “soft hands,” which sounds like a pretty solid combination.

The 24-year-old will likely begin 2015 with some seasoning at Triple-A, but he shouldn’t be long for Salt Lake. He hit .295/.405/.470 with eight homers, 11 triples, and 31 doubles in 529 plate appearances at Double-A this past season, and seems primed to put up even bigger numbers in the PCL. Kubitza’s biggest strength at the plate is easily his patience: He walked in 14.5% of his plate appearances in 2014 and has averaged nearly 80 free passes in each of his three full seasons thus far. On the flip side, his biggest weakness is the swing-and-miss: His strikeout percentage hovers right around 25% at every level. That’s a slightly better than Brandon Wood managed at Double-A, but not much.

If Kubitza had (quite a bit) more pop to go with his two true-outcome tendencies, one might squint into a mirror and see a slightly smaller Troy Glaus. As it is, though, Kubitza’s power is much more of the gap variety—his current high for home runs is 12. With his 6’3 frame, there’s always a chance he’ll start clearing the fence more often, but failing to develop that kind of pop shouldn’t make or break his chances. So long as the extra-base hits are coming regularly, it doesn’t matter if they go off the wall or over it. It’s impossible to say whether Kubitza is the “Third Baseman of the Future” just yet, but he’s certainly a helluva lot better than anyone else the club had roaming around.

Nate Hyatt, 24, spent the last two seasons pitching well in High-A, where he posted a 3.20 ERA, struck out 10.5 per nine, and allowed just four home runs in 109 ⅔ innings. What held him back from a promotion to the high minors were control issues. The right-hander not only walked 4.7 batters per nine in his 100+ innings in the Carolina League, he also managed to throw 15 wild pitches. The Angels have shown no hesitation in recent years promoting relievers with questionable control–see: Michael Kohn, Jairo Diaz, Nick Maronde, etc.–so there’s no reason to believe Hyatt can’t make his way from Double-A to a September appearance in Anaheim next season. Well, except for the fact that the club still has about 15 righty relievers ahead of him on the depth chart…

Of note: Kubitza was on the Braves’ 40-man roster, so the Halos were forced to DFA recent waiver claim Marc Krauss in order to make room on theirs. Krauss will probably clear waivers and remain with the club, but it shouldn’t be catastrophic if he doesn’t. He was likely no more than an emergency DH option when the Angels picked him up. Now that Matt Joyce is on the scene, Krauss’ role has been relegated to organizational depth.

Randy Johnson, the California Angels, and an Epic Moment in Baseball History

January 7th, 2015
The Angels went a combined

The Angels went a combined 17-34 in games against the four newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

After the announcement regarding the newest members of the Hall of Fame yesterday, I started wondering how the Angels fared when they crossed paths with these four all-time greats. So I popped on over to Baseball-Reference to see what I could find.

As you can imagine, the Angels had little contact with the two National Leaguers, but there was a history there.  The Angels played the Craig Biggio Astros five times towards the end of the scrappy by-then-outfielder’s career.  He hit just .222 versus the Halos, and the Angels won three of the five games.

The Angels only met John Smoltz once in his career, on June 6th, 2005 in Atlanta.  He went up against John Lackey, and the Angels beat Smoltz 4-2.  The Hall of Famer went 8.1 innings that night, but he gave up four earned runs and 13 Angel hits.  Garret Anderson had a big night against him, getting two hits and three RBI.  G.A. was one of four players to get two hits off of Smoltz, and even the ill-fated Dallas McPherson was able to hit a single off of the future Hall of Famer.

The Angels had many more run-ins with the other two inductees.  Pedro Martinez pitched like a sure-fire Hall of Famer throughout his career against the Angels.  He went 9-1 with a 2.24 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 14 games.  The Halos faced Pedro just once in the playoffs, when Boston swept the Angels in the 2004 ALDS.  Pedro’s game was at Angel Stadium, and the diminutive hurler went seven innings while giving up three earned runs in the 8-3 Red Sox victory.

Seeing as he spent 10 years with the division rival Seattle Mariners, it’s no wonder Randy Johnson is the inductee the Angels faced the most.  In 31 career starts against the Halos, the Big Unit went 16-7 with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.  The mustachioed and mullet-ed wonder had 243 strikeouts and just 76 walks in those 31 games.

What really separates Randy Johnson from the other three men, as far as Halo fans are concerned, is one of the biggest games of Johnson’s legendary career, against the 1995 California Angels…

On the Ballot: Darin Erstad and Troy Percival

January 5th, 2015
Erstad congratulating Percival on his 300th save.

Erstad congratulating Percival on his 300th save.

In 2012, former Angel great Tim Salmon received five official votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame. But with the current ballot crowded with so many Hall-worthy candidates, it seems unlikely that Angel greats Darin Erstad and Troy Percival will receive even that small token of recognition in this year’s vote for the Hall of Fame. (Update: Percival got four votes, Erstad got one!)

Ersty and Percy are both on the Hall of Fame ballot for a reason though, and that is because both players achieved things on the baseball field that few major leaguers have the ability to achieve.

Darin Erstad was an incredible fielder who played Gold Glove caliber defense throughout his career.  He won the award three times while an Angel, as an outfielder in 2000 and 2002, and as a first baseman in 2004. He led the American League in hits in 2000, a season in which he hit .355 and became the first and only player to drive in 100 RBI from the leadoff spot.

Darin was a two time All-Star who finished his 14-year career with a slash line of .282/.336/.407 and 179 stolen bases.  During the playoffs, Erstad was somehow able to turn up his game, slashing .339/.368/.492 in 29 postseason contests. He hit a leadoff home run in the eighth inning of Game Six of the 2002 World Series to bring the Angels within one run of the Giants, even though he had a fracture in one of the bones in his wrist that would require surgery in the offseason.

And of course, the image of Darin drifting to his left for the final play of Game Seven, calling off right-fielder Alex Ochoa, and then catching the ball with two hands will be forever etched into the memory of Angel fans.

It’s fitting that the man who threw the pitch that got Kenny Lofton to hit that fly ball, Troy Percival, is on the same ballot as his long-time teammate. Troy was a four time All-Star with the Angels.  He came in fourth in Rookie of the Year voting with a 1.95 ERA as the set-up man for closer Lee Smith in 1995.  He took over the closer role the next year and flew with it.  Year after year for the Angels, he would lean in for the sign, squinting to pick up his catcher’s fingers, and then with the help of his high leg kick and powerful drive off of the rubber, pound the strike zone with upper nineties heat.

Percival finished his career with a 3.14 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and 358 saves, which is the ninth most in Major League history.  Like Erstad, Percival also came through for the Angels in the postseason, throwing ten strikeouts against just one walk in nine games, converting all of the seven save opportunities he faced.

Both men are currently enjoying their positions as manager of their alma mater’s baseball teams: Erstad with the University of Nebraska and Percival with the University of California, Riverside.

Looking Towards Next Year:  Four former Angels will be eligible for the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot — Garret Anderson, Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, and Jose Guillen.

 

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!