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2012 Offseason Redux

December 20th, 2013

Where would the Angels be today if they retained Zack Greinke instead of signing Josh Hamilton?

As we all know, the Angels are currently in a state of despair, suffering from the early effects of doling out enormous contracts to the likes of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and learning that they actually need pitching to win.

Right now, the Angels’ best bet to contend in 2014 is to acquire at least one more starter, but with the apparently high prices starting pitchers have been accustomed to this winter (how the hell does Jason Vargas get four years!), that goal may not be feasible.

Of course, the Angels wouldn’t be in this situation were they to have played out the 2012 offseason much differently. Hindsight is always favorable, and the Angels obviously didn’t have that luxury, but there were still some moves that made quite a bit of sense at the time that would have significantly altered the club’s current outlook. So, what exactly could they have done?

The Rotation

Coming off a 89-win season that saw them fall just short of the postseason, the Angels were facing a pivotal decision in how to shape their rotation for the 2013 season. C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver were locks to be holdovers, but the club held team options on Ervin Santana and Dan Haren, and mid-season acquisition Zack Greinke was entering the free agent market as one of the top prizes available that winter.

The team’s first choice was declining Haren’s option, which looking back, was probably the right move. However, at the time, it was a relatively tough decision. Coming off a 88 ERA+ season in which he failed to top 200 innings for the first time in over eight years, there was clearly something wrong with Haren. And it is likely the Angels had knowledge of some significant medical issue that would have prevented him from returning to pre-2012 form. So, while it is easy to say this was the right call, the Angels really couldn’t afford to pay $13 million for a chance* of him regaining his status. Option declined.

Like Haren, Santana was coming off what was easily the worst season of his career, but unlike Haren, Santana had a history of bouncing back from disappointing performances before, and he had no known medical ailments at the time. Also, his poor showing could be somewhat explained by an abnormally high home run per fly ball rate of 18.9%, over 6% more than his previous career high.

Santana’s 2013 option was for $13 million, thus making him semi-affordable. Plus, taking a chance on Santana was much more likely to pay off compared to trading for Tommy Hanson, whose shoulder was basically ground beef at the time of his acquisition.

Plus, as bad as Santana was in 2012, he should’ve been expected to at least put up 190+ innings of ~4.00 ERA in 2013, which would have negated the Joe Blanton signing.

Also, the Angels were only able to grab reliever Brandon Sisk in return for Santana last offseason, and if that was how low his trade value was, I believe they would have been better off just keeping Santana.

By retaining Santana, dismissing Haren, and not making the ill-fated decisions to sign Blanton and trade for Hanson, the Angels’ projected rotation for 2013 now looks like this:

1. Jered Weaver
2. CJ Wilson
3. Ervin Santana
4. Jerome Williams
5. Garrett Richards

Plus, Jordan Walden would still be in the bullpen.

Obviously, it doesn’t look too bright after the first two spots, so some additions would have been necessary.

That leads us to what could’ve been the most pivotal move of the Angels’ 2012 offseason: re-signing Zack Greinke.

Quite simply, signing Greinke would significantly boost that rotation on paper, and it would have also prevented the club from bringing in Josh Hamilton. Assuming the Angels could’ve gotten him for the same $159 million total he received from the Dodgers, Greinke would have cost the Angels about $35 million more than Hamilton, which is no small fee. The Angels used some of that excess money by bringing in the aforementioned Blanton and Hanson, which accounted for a total payroll commitment of roughly $19 million, plus two more years of arbitration eligibility for Hanson.

At the time, Hanson was expected by some to be a league average pitcher or better, so it is very possible that if he were to have met those results, he could’ve earned about $10 million during that two-year period, and that’s probably on the conservative side.

So, in total, the difference between Hamilton and Greinke really would’ve been closer to $5 million when accounting for what the Angels used that excess money on (we’re not including Sean Burnett here, which will be explained later). Even at the time, it seemed more reasonable to pay Greinke that sum compared to Hamilton + spare parts.

With Greinke in tow, the Angels now have one open spot in their rotation, which could be filled by doing the same deal the club made in reality by sending Kendrys Morales to Seattle for Jason Vargas, making an Angels’ projected rotation of:

1. Weaver
2. Greinke
3. Wilson
4. Vargas
5. Santana

With Williams and Richards as depth.

Not too shabby.

The Bullpen

With Walden still on the roster, the Angels have a suitable relief crop consisting of Walden, Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen, Nick Maronde, Williams, and Richards.

Considering most clubs tend to carry 6-7 relievers, the above group would, on the surface, likely consist of their projected bullpen.

However, it is likely that the club would’ve sent Maronde back to the minors to work on him transitioning to rotation leaving at least one opening.

To fill that hole, we’ll go with what the real Angels did in signing Sean Burnett, who without the benefit of hindsight, was actually a pretty favorable deal at the time, as Burnett brought the ability to pitch in high-leverage situations, and it would have given the Angels a second left-hander (behind Downs) in their bullpen.

The real Angels also went out and signed Ryan Madson, who as we know now, wouldn’t throw a pitch for the club last year as injuries kept him sidelined. But we didn’t know that then, and it was a great buy-low signing at the time.

Madson was expected to be ready a couple of months into the season, giving the Angels added depth were injuries to strike, while also giving the club a strong 9th inning option that would’ve pushed Frieri to a more suitable set-up role.

So, the Angels projected bullpen now looks like this:

Closer: Ernesto Frieri
Set-up: Jordan Walden
Set-up: Sean Burnett
Mid-relief: Kevin Jepsen
Mid-relief: Jerome Williams
Mid-relief: Garrett Richards
Lefty specialist: Scott Downs

Plus, Maronde in the minors and Madson expected to return from injury.

The Offense

The offense was supposed to be the Angels’ strength heading into 2013, and it was, as the Angels’ offense ranked 4th in baseball in runs scored.

As I wrote above, this hypothetical Angels squad has not signed Josh Hamilton, and has traded Kendrys Morales away to Seattle, leaving us with this lineup:

C: Chris Iannetta
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Howie Kendrick
SS: Erick Aybar
3B: Alberto Callaspo
LF: Mike Trout
CF: Peter Bourjos
RF: Mark Trumbo
DH: ???
Bench: Hank Conger
Bench: Andrew Romine
Bench: Vernon Wells

Ok, so obviously were gonna do the same deal the real Angels did and send Vernon Wells to the Yankees. We’ll also extend Chris Iannetta like the real club did, although that would have no effect on the 2013 roster makeup.

To fill the open bench spot with Vernon gone, we’ll call-up Kole Calhoun to make him the full-time reserve outfielder.

So, the Angels basically need just one bat, preferably a right fielder to allow Pujols and Trumbo to rotate between first and DH. Luckily for us, the decision of whom to sign is quite easy.

Bringing back Torii Hunter is all too obvious with this new roster. We know he wanted to stay in Anaheim, so it’s likely he would’ve accepted the same two-year, $26 million offer that he got from Detroit.

At two years, Hunter is a solid bet to put up adequate production, and his presence in right field would allow the club to alternate Trumbo and Pujols between DH and first, both upgrading the club’s defense significantly, and allowing Pujols to rest his legs.

So, in case you just skipped to the bottom, here are the moves that the hypothetical Angels made last offseason:

  • Declined Dan Haren’s option
  • Picked up Ervin Santana’s option
  • Re-signed Zack Greinke
  • Traded Kendrys Morales to Seattle for Jason Vargas
  • Signed Sean Burnett
  • Signed Ryan Madson
  • Traded Vernon Wells to the Yankees
  • Re-signed Torii Hunter

Aside from those moves, the Angels also retain Jordan Walden and avoid the acquisitions of Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton, and Josh Hamilton.

All of that creates this 25-man roster for the hypothetical 2013 Angels:

C: Chris Iannetta
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Howie Kendrick
SS: Erick Aybar
3B: Alberto Callaspo
LF: Mike Trout
CF: Peter Bourjos
RF: Torii Hunter
DH: Mark Trumbo
Bench: Hank Conger
Bench: Andrew Romine
Bench: Kole Calhoun

SP: Jered Weaver
SP: Zack Greinke
SP: CJ Wilson
SP: Jason Vargas
SP: Ervin Santana

Closer: Ernesto Frieri
Set-up: Jordan Walden
Set-up: Sean Burnett
Mid-relief: Kevin Jepsen
Mid-relief: Jerome Williams
Mid-relief: Garrett Richards
Lefty specialist: Scott Downs
DL: Ryan Madson

As for how it affects this offseason, the team still could’ve dealt Callaspo at the deadline, and traded Bourjos to St. Louis for David Freese, allowing Freese to take over at third, and Calhoun to step into a starting job, much like it is now.

Pitching-wise, there still would’ve been a bit of turn-over, but the team wouldn’t have been as desperate as they are now.

Downs and Madson would become free agents, while non-tendering Jerome Williams would also still likely happen. However, in the rotation, the Angels would have two open spots, as both Santana and Vargas are free agents. Realistically, the Angels could insert Richards into a starting role to fill one of those voids. A front three of Greinke, Weaver, and Wilson would be phenomenal, which means the club could choose to go after a cheaper option in that final role, or re-sign one of Vargas and Santana.

So, if this hypothetical scenario were reality, the Angels 2013 offseason need(s) would consist of one starting pitcher.

Oh, and the Angels still manage to keep their first round draft pick.

If only…

You can follow Justin Millar on twitter at @justinmillar1, or email him at Justinmillar1@gmail.com.


One Coment

  • Underdog Lefty says on: December 20, 2013 at 1:20 pm


    Nice piece Juston, it’s given me the incentive to look back and consider the woulda’s/coulda’s with my first wife to see if I maybe would still be married to her instead of being with my third wife now.

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