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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.

Meet The New Angels: Johnny Giavotella

December 26th, 2014

Johnny Arthur Giavotella

Age: 27 | Height: 5’8 | Weight: 185
Bats: R | Throws: R
Pos: 2B/3B

 

Birthplace: Metairie, Louisiana

Giavotella was born and raised in the NOLA metro area and remained in the Big Easy through college, attending the University of New Orleans.

 

Drafted: 2nd round, 2008 – Kansas City Royals

After excelling as a two-way player in high school, Giavotella moved to the keystone exclusively at UNO and helped guide the Privateers to berths in two consecutive NCAA tournaments (’07 & ’08). Giavotella hit .354/.470/.591 in his junior year, earning him third-team All-American honors and the good fortune of being selected as the 49th overall pick in the 2008 draft.

 

Nickname: Goes by “Gio,” even though his name is spelled G-I-A.

As a short-statured guy from La Nouvelle-Orléans, I feel like “Napoleon” should also be on the table… ooh or maybe “Nap Gio”? Yep, I’m going Nap Gio.

 

Prospect Status:

Giavotella was a Top 15 prospect in Kansas City’s historically deep farm system a few years back, but he graduated out of their ranks in 2011. He peaked at #11 in 2008 per Baseball America, at #9 in 2011 per Baseball Prospectus, and at #12 for Minor League Ball in 2011.

 

Scouting Report Key Phrases: excellent feel for the strike zonefew weaknesses at the plate; has plenty of popdefense still needs some workpatient approach and a very short, quick swing

Pretty positive, right? Well, here’s the catch: All of those reports are from 2011 or earlier. Giavotella has had several opportunities to make his skill set work at the big-league level, but it just hasn’t happened. The 2014 BP Annual summed up his adaptation struggles in a single sentence: “The bat speed that works in Omaha is exploited in Kansas City.” In other words, Gio has had trouble dealing with big-league heaters, and attempts to cheat on said fastballs have left him vulnerable to off-speed stuff.

But with just 89 MLB plate appearances for Giavotella in the last two years, and only 465 total spread over four partial seasons, it’s too early to write him off completely. He’s dominated Triple-A pitching so thoroughly — .835 OPS in 1,800 PA — that one can’t reasonably believe that his .612 OPS in the bigs represents his true talent level. He probably won’t ever come close to mimicking his PCL numbers in the pros, but he should at least be able to make his way into the .700 club.

Probably the biggest thing working in Giavotella’s favor is his reverse platoon split. While most right-handed batters fare better when facing southpaws, Gio is one of the select few who excels against same-sided pitching. Across all levels in his seven seasons of pro ball, he owns an .803 OPS vs RHPs and a .755 OPS vs LHPs. A difference of 48 points might not seem like much, but that gap has widened significantly in the high minors. Since reaching Triple-A in 2011, his handedness split has increased to nearly 100 points — .813 vs .721. If Giavotella can find a way to get things going against MLB pitching, the Angels might not have to find a lefty batter to work a platoon at the keystone.

 

Injury History:

Other than an operation to repair a slightly torn labrum in his right hip during the 2011 offseason, Giavotella has been of remarkably good health. So far as I can tell, he hasn’t spent a single day on the disabled list in seven years. Not sure I’d say that the ability to stay healthy is a skill, but it’s certainly an asset.

 

Quotes:

MLB.com – September 12, 2011

“I think based on my size, a lot of people have doubts about me, and knowing that motivates me to practice harder and prove them wrong.”

 

NOLA.com – April 24, 2014 

“On the business side of things, it enters my mind, thinking about my future, where I’ll be next year,” he said… “Hopefully a team will have confidence in me, pick me up and keep me in the big leagues the entire season.”

 

Does He Twitter?: Yep! Though he may need to change his handle now.

I bet @Gio2bOC isn’t taken.

Angels in Winter League Action

December 23rd, 2014

 

There are as many as 20 Angels farm hands currently playing baseball in one of the four offseason Caribbean Leagues, but only a handful are really worth checking in on. Here, in no particular order, are brief summaries on five Halos of note who decided not to take the winter off:

 

Jose Alvarez – LHP

1.74 ERA with 39 K, 15 BB in 51.2 IP

Alvarez has become something of a fixture in the Venezuelan Winter League. The southpaw has made at least one offseason appearance in the league each of the last nine years, all with Caribes de Anzoátegui. He’s had success in the VWL in the past — a 3.37 ERA in 139 IP from ’07-’13 — but never quite to this extent.

While 50+ innings of work during the winter might be cause for alarm with some young arms, for Alvarez it’s a welcome sight. An elbow strain limited him to all of 31.2 innings during the regular season, so his offseason time at home is acting more as an extended rehab assignment than the usual inning here and there to keep things loose.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Alvarez’s numbers are predictive of anything going forward, but it is at least nice to see that his elbow woes are behind him. If he can stay healthy, he should serve as part of the crucial barrier between the Opening Day rotation and folks of the Randy Wolf/Kevin Correia ilk.

 

Carlos Perez – C

.338/.373/.523 with 4 HR, 10 2B in 144 PA

If Perez’s hope this winter was to give the Halos a good first impression, he’s certainly succeeded. The Venezuelan backstop hit just .271/.286/.373 over 59 plate appearances in the VWL last year, but is near the top of the league in just about every offensive category this time around.

It’s tough to know whether his offseason numbers will afford him an advantage in the back-up catcher race when spring rolls around, but at least they won’t hurt his chances. Perez definitely has the most upside of the Angels’ second-string options and has little left to prove at Triple-A, so the position should be his to earn. Whether Scioscia will feel the same… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

Jett Bandy – C

.213/.254/.295 with 0 HR, 5 2B in 67 PA

While everything’s looking up for Perez in Venezuela this winter, things haven’t been going so great for Jett Bandy in the Dominican. The UofA alum has struggled in his first full month on the 40-man roster, racking up just 18 total bases in 20 games so far. Bandy spent a career-high 91 games behind the dish during the regular season, so it’s reasonable to wonder if he’s simply run out of gas at this point in the year.

Whether or not he turns things around this winter, a single down month shouldn’t have much of an impact on Bandy’s standing with the Angels. His strong season in the Texas League (.762 OPS; 13 homers) should carry far more weight than anything he does or doesn’t do in the next month.

 

Atahualpa Severino – LHP

4.50 ERA with 17 K, 2 BB in 12 IP

A nine-year veteran of the minor-league circuit, Severino spent time with the Nats, Pirates, Royals and Braves before signing his minors pact with the Halos earlier this month. The 30-year-old doesn’t have the clearest path to Anaheim, but he could end up making a cameo or two — especially if he continues to demonstrate improved control of his fastball/slider combo.

The left-hander struggled to get his walk rate below 6.0 per nine in his first three seasons at Triple-A, but has limited batters to just 3.5 free passes per nine the last two years. And as his walks have gone down, his strikeouts have climbed, peaking at 10.9 per nine this past season. If Severino’s 17 K/2 BB ratio this winter is an indication of where he’s headed in 2015, the Angels might have a viable LOOGY on their hands.

 

Johnny Giavotella – 2B

.178/.260/.222 with 0 HR, 2 2B in 50 PA

Whatever it is the Angels saw in Giavotella that prompted last week’s trade, they didn’t see it in his play this winter. The newest Halo is having a rather miserable go of things in Venezuela, managing just two extra-base hits in 50 turns at the plate thus far.

Like with Bandy, Giavotella’s bummer of a winter shouldn’t affect his chances of making squad out of camp come spring. The second baseman’s track record of success at Triple-A — .835 OPS in 1,840 plate appearances — should speak much louder than a measly 50+ trips to the dish in La Guaira. As we noted on Monday, Giavotella’s strong reverse platoon split is the thing to keep an eye on.

 

Halos Add Giavotella To Keystone Mix

December 19th, 2014
Dipoto is adding one new middle infielder for every tie he'll get this Christmas.

Dipoto is adding one new middle infielder for every tie he’ll get this Christmas.

 

The Angels made yet another trade early Friday afternoon, acquiring recently DFA’d second baseman Johnny Giavotella from the Royals for minor-league reliever Brian Broderick. The addition of Giavotella runs the total of Halos right-handed hitters jockeying for work at second base to four, which should make things interesting come Spring Training.

Giavotella, 27, was a top prospect in KC’s system a few years back, but never found a way to stick on the big-league roster. He put up solid numbers at Triple-A each of the last four seasons — good for a combined .315/.384/.451 slash line — but had trouble translating that success to the big-league level. In 465 MLB plate appearances over those same four seasons, Giavotella hit just .238/.277/.334. Plate discipline is his biggest asset in the batter’s box in the minors — his career K/BB ratio is nearly 1-to-1 – but it mysteriously disappears every time he arrives in Kansas City. The New Orleans native never got more than 120 big-league plate appearances at any one time after his inaugural cup of coffee back in 2011, so it could be that he just needs a little more time to adapt to MLB pitching. It’s hard to adjust to something fully when opportunities come in small spurts over large swaths of time. Can you imagine being a successful anything if you were given only a month every year to ply your trade against the best in the business?

On the offensive side of things, there really isn’t much to separate “Gio” <sic> from his trio of keystone competitors in Anaheim. If one could combine the best assets of each player, the Halos would have a great, young-ish second baseman on their hands. Apart, though, each has his limitations: Josh Rutledge has the most power potential, but he lacks Giavotella’s eye; Grant Green probably has the best bat-to-ball skills, but he doesn’t have Taylor Featherston’s speed out of the box. Given the similar offensive profiles, the deciding factors in the campaign for the starting second-base gig will likely be some combination of defense/versatility and Spring Training numbers, which are functionally useless but somehow still alluring to teams.

I presume that Giavotella’s signing finally closes the door on bringing Gordon Beckham back into the fold. With four right-handed hitting second basemen already on the roster, there’s no reason in paying seven figures for another, especially when his upside is equal to that of the existing quartet. However, I would be surprised if this latest acquisition ends the team’s pursuit of middle infielders entirely. For instance, switch-hitting grit machine Nick Punto just landed on the open market, and could be a nice fit for the Angels. He doesn’t really hit worth a darn anymore, but he does play the entire infield with aplomb and it’d be nice to have at least one left-handed hitting option on the infield. I wrote a 1,200+ word article Thursday on how Dipoto doesn’t seem to like switch-hitters all that much, so now would seem the most obvious time for him to sign someone like Punto. Just because.

Oh right, the other part of the trade…

Brian Broderick, 28, spent all of 2014 playing independent ball and only joined the Halos earlier this month after lighting up the radar gun in the Mexican League, so his absence should have close to no impact on the team going forward. He could become another live-arm guy in KC’s bullpen when all is said and done, I suppose, but he was never a big part of the Angels’ plans.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Giavotella, the Angels released fellow infielder Shawn O’Malley.

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