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The State of the Angels Roster

October 30th, 2014
"How about now? Can we go over the luxury tax now?"

“How about now? Can we go over the luxury tax now?”

The offseason is officially upon us. Before we get into months of back-and-forth about of who should sign whom for what this offseason, we thought it might be a good idea to break down the 40-man roster as it stands today. Several familiar faces have parted ways with the organization this month, and a few more could join them on the open market before too long. Also, four Halos will file for arbitration for the first time this winter, further complicating what was already a rather tight budget.

Here’s a rundown of the roster, broken into five categories:

 

The Contract Guys: Albert Pujols (’21), Mike Trout (’20), Josh Hamilton (’17), Erick Aybar (’16), C.J. Wilson (’16), Jered Weaver (’16), Joe Smith (’16), Howie Kendrick (’15), Chris Iannetta (’15), Huston Street (’15 option)

 

The Angels have 10 players already under contract for 2015, and seven of those are locked down for at least another season beyond that. If no contract extensions are negotiated, next year could be the last in Anaheim for Howie Kendrick, Chris Iannetta, and Huston Street, the latter of whom just had his $7 million option for 2015 picked up on Thursday.

These deals cover six of the starting nine, two rotation spots, the set-up man, and the closer, leaving only a smattering of spots to fill with arbitration and pre-arb players. This cuts both ways. It’s undoubtedly a good thing to have many of the most important positions on the field held down by quality players, but when those contracts add up—and/or the players flame out—it becomes difficult to maneuver financially and logistically in other areas of need.

The 10 guaranteed contracts for 2015 will set the Angels back $127.5 million in absolute payroll, which jumps to more than $140 million for luxury tax purposes. This is because luxury tax totals are calculated using average annual values for multi-year deals, meaning Mike Trout is hit for ~$24 million each year of his contract ($144.5 million/6 years) despite an actual salary of $5.25 million next season. Trout’s tax total more or less replaces the 2014 money given to Vernon Wells and Joe Blanton, who are finally off the books.

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The Dearly Departed:  Jason Grilli (FA), Joe Thatcher (FA), John McDonald (FA), Tony Campana (FA), Michael Kohn (FA), Ian Stewart (FA), Brennan Boesch (FA), John Buck (FA), John Hester (FA), Sean Burnett ($500K buyout), Brian Moran (Rule 5 return), Luis Jimenez (Waivers)

 

Of the nine players leaving the Angels through free agency (so far) this month, six are doing so after declining their outright assignments to the minors. Only Jason Grilli, Joe Thatcher, and John McDonald are MLB free agents in the traditional sense. Michael Kohn (Rays) and John Hester (Phillies) have already signed on with other clubs, so we know for sure that at least two of the nine won’t re-up with the Halos this winter.

Sean Burnett was just one of two Angels players with a contract option for 2015—the other is Huston Street. Given that Burnett underwent Tommy John surgery just four months ago, declining his $4.5 million team option was a no-brainer. The southpaw finishes his three-year deal with all of 10⅓ innings pitched as a Halo. Sad as that is, he probably gave the club the best return of the four arms added in the 2012 offseason.

Brian Moran was also a Tommy John victim, and never got the chance to take the hill for the Angels. As a Rule 5 pick, he needed to either remain on the club’s Active Roster all year or return to the Mariners along with $25,000. Usually, once the season is up the player can be moved around the organization at will. Because Moran didn’t spend at least 90 in-season days off the DL, though, the Halos would have had to abide by the same keep-him-or-return-him rules next season were they to hang onto him. Two years of that nonsense is ridiculous, so he’s now back with the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate. No idea if the $25,000 fee still applied.

Luis Jimenez was snagged off waivers by the Brewers on Monday, which we covered in depth here. It’s possible that one or more fringe players (Yoslan Herrera?) will jump ship between now and December’s non-tender deadline, but it seems more likely that the roster is done leaking until the front office makes up its mind about arbitration cases. Speaking of which…

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The Arbitration Dudes: David Freese (3rd year), Gordon Beckham (3rd), Kevin Jepsen (3rd; Super Two), Wade LeBlanc (2nd; ST), Vinnie Pestano (2nd; ST), Fernando Salas (2nd), Hector Santiago (1st), Garrett Richards (1st), Hank Conger (1st), Collin Cowgill (1st)

 

Jerry Dipoto and crew have their work cut out for them on the arbitration front this winter. The Angels have 10 players who could potentially file this offseason, including four newcomers. While the club was able to dwindle their arb-eligible numbers from eight to three last year through several non-tenders and a couple of timely trades, most are likely to stay on the board this time around.

The only certain non-tender candidate in the group is Wade LeBlanc, who isn’t worth the pay raise he’s required as a Super Two player. Gordon Beckham and Vinnie Pestano can be argued as on-the-fence guys, but everyone else seems a shoo-in to return to Anaheim in 2015—or at least be offered a contract.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts that this year’s Super Two cutoff will be 2.128 service days, meaning that both Garrett Richards (2.148) and Collin Cowgill (2.151) will qualify. I don’t have the skills necessary to project what everyone will earn through the arb process this winter, but I guarantee that Richards, Cowgill, and Jepsen are in line for pretty large pay bumps given their 2014 performances and the extra dough typically afforded to Super Two guys.

The Angels could fork over upwards of $20 million in arbitration salaries when all is said and done this offseason, which will leave little to no room for signing free agents if the club wants to remain under the luxury tax in 2015. The team has ~$140 million in luxury-tax money already guaranteed to 10 players for next season. Add roughly $20 million for the nine arbitration guys, the required $11 million in Player Benefit Costs, and the MLB minimum of $500K for each of the 21 remaining pre-arb players on the roster, and there’s about $8 million left to play with before hitting the $189 million ceiling—and that’s a conservative estimate. Once again, it appears the team’s best (only?) opportunity to add impact talent will be via the trading block.

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The New Hires: Jackson Williams (C), Roger Kieschnick (OF), Alfredo Marte (OF)

 

The three newest Halos were all added on the waiver wire this month. I suppose it’s possible they’ll vie for roster spots come spring, but they’re likely just filler until something more exciting shows up. They come to the Angels from two of the NL’s most hitter-friendly environments—Coors Field and Chase Field—but don’t have even mediocre offensive numbers to show for it.

Jackson Williams is John Hester’s replacement as the organization’s third-string backstop, a position that’s seen less action at the big-league level the past two years (i.e. 5 PAs) than the club’s bullpen catchers. While Hester frequently appeared on the leaderboard of baseball’s worst pitch-framers–in the majors and the minors–Williams has a reputation as a solid defensive catcher. He’s never hit a lick, so least he’s got that going for him.

Alfredo Marte is the youngster of the group, but he’ll be 26 next season. For more detailed info on him and Roger Kieschnick, check this out.

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The Rest: Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian, Jairo Diaz, Yoslan Herrera, Mike Morin, Cory Rasmus, Michael Roth, Drew Rucinski, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, C.J. Cron, Efren Navarro, Shawn O’Malley, Kole Calhoun, Grant Green

 

There’s a lot to like about the 15 incumbent pre-arbitration players on the 40-man roster. Their average age is just over 25 if you remove outlier Yoslan Herrera (33) from the group, and only Cory Rasmus and Kole Calhoun are within a year of heading to arbitration. Calhoun and Matt Shoemaker have provided the biggest impact in Anaheim thus far, but Cam Bedrosian, Jairo Diaz, and Mike Morin could provide a solid, young foundation for the bullpen for many years to come.

With Tyler Skaggs on the shelf for all of 2015, Rasmus, Jose Alvarez, and Drew Rucinski are likely to get a shot at cracking the back of the rotation. Michael Roth might get an audition as well, but there’s probably not much faith in his pitch-to-contact-and-walk-everybody-else approach. Shoemaker has cemented his place in the rotation, the only question is whether he’ll usurp C.J. Wilson as the No. 3 starter.

C.J. Cron, Efren Navarro, Shawn O’Malley, and Grant Green will certainly hang around as role players, but it’s hard to see them doing much more than that.

All of these guys will get somewhere between $500K and $530K in 2015.

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If we assume that Wade LeBlanc gets non-tendered, that Jackson Williams will be activated from the DL soon, and that Tyler Skaggs won’t make a miraculous comeback from elbow surgery, then we can say the Angels’ 40-man roster stands at 36. This leaves four open spots for free-agent acquisitions this winter; maybe one or two more if a trade goes down.

Just who those acquisitions might be is a subject for a later date. Specifically, sometime this weekend.

Stay tuned.

Luis Jimenez Claimed By The Brewers

October 27th, 2014

Lucho

 

Angels reserve infielder Luis Jimenez was claimed off waivers on Monday. The 26-year-old was snatched off the wire by the Milwaukee Brewers, leaving the Halos with few back-up options at the hot corner should they choose to non-tender Gordon Beckham in the next month. Lucho got playing time with the Halos in 2013 and 2014 only, which would usually leave the team with another year to move him at will between Triple-A and Anaheim. But because he also spent all of 2012 on the 40-man roster, his option years were exhausted. This means teams are now required to pass him through waivers unclaimed to send him to the minors.

While Jimenez’s hit tool carried him through the Angels’ farm system, his hacktastic approach at the plate never translated to success in the majors. He batted .234/.268/.291 in Anaheim the last two years, drawing just two walks in 151 plate appearances. What allowed him to keep coming back to the show was his much-improved defense, which garnered praise across the league and quickly earned him fan-favorite status. (A quick perusal of Lucho’s MLB dot com highlights page returns mostly defensive gems, like this one and this one.) There was never really a strong #LibreLucho campaign—at least that I’m aware of—but there was still an abundance of love for the always smiling infielder.

His departure shouldn’t have too much of an impact on the team’s offseason plans, other than to make a non-tender decision a bit tougher. With Jimenez around, the Angels could have reasonably opted to part ways with Gordon Beckham and his projected salary of ~$5 million, saving some change for a move elsewhere. With Jimenez (and John McDonald) gone, however, the only line of defense at third beyond Beckham is Grant Green, who has a hard enough time playing second base. The Halos are going to be on the hook for at least $6 million to retain David Freese, so the question becomes just how much faith they have in his health and production. Do they need to cough up considerable money for a failsafe like Beckham? Or are they better off grabbing cheap filler from the open market and hoping they don’t have to rely on it? I’d lean toward the latter, if only because the available funds this winter are so low.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t make note of Jimenez’s decision to play each game in extreme discomfort. I speak, of course, of his choice to wear his baseball cap over his ears, as though they might get clipped by a stray ball if not tucked safely under his hat’s brim. How or when Lucho settled on the ski-cap look is a bit of a mystery, as his team photo has standard ear placement. All I know for certain is that it makes me uncomfortable as all get-out. I guess that means I have a weird ear thing? Anyway, here’s to hoping Milwaukee has hats that fit his head.

Exclusive: 2015 Angel Stadium Giveaways

October 22nd, 2014

 

In order to push back at the cloud of baseball sadness that’s hovered over Southern California the past two weeks, the folks in marketing have given us a exclusive first look at five of the Angel Stadium promotional giveaways for the 2015 season. Sure, the promotions are a bit on the unorthodox side—one might even say they’re not real!—but there’s nothing here that Bill Veeck wouldn’t have marketed the hell out of.

Without further ado:

 

AlbertAnkleWeights

 

Albert’s Ankle Weights – April 16

When I was six, what I wanted more than anything was to “Be Like Mike.” But as I was a four-foot-nothing kid with the coordination of a horse on ice, I decided my best was to focus on being like Mike in non-basketball arenas. My first-grade teacher was a bit taken aback at my insistence on placing wagers on classmates’ test scores in the days before an exam, but eventually came around when I assured her I was good for the watermelon Jolly Ranchers I’d promised, and that I was just doing what the catchy song on TV told me to do. I lost a lot of candy that year.

In the same vein, most of us will never swing a baseball bat like The Machine, but we can sure as heck learn to run like him. Available to the first 20,000 fans in attendance, the commemorative Albert Pujols Ankle Weights don’t just slow you to a snail’s pace, their patented Shin Splinters™ also dig into your leg on every step to ensure you aren’t without Albert’s signature look of pain and agony as you go about your day. You think taking short, strained breaths with pursed lips is a weird thing to do while running? You won’t after five minutes in Albert Pujols Ankle Weights! And if you’re not afflicted with a chronic hitch in your step after a week, we’ll give you a second pair free, no questions asked!

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TroutMike

Not to scale, and not too scaly.

 

The Trout Mike – June 8

The only thing better than a good pun is a bad pun that lingers in your mind for weeks, like an earworm of equivocality. These puns begin life painfully unfunny but somehow become less and less reprehensible the longer they stay in your mind, to the point where you eventually find the wordplay amusing and decide to share it with a friend or family member. This is a huge mistake, without fail. BUT, I’ll be damned if that friend or family member doesn’t think back on it at some point and smirk. And that’s all you can ask for, right?

With that in mind, we introduce the Trout Mike. A vintage microphone of the piscine persuasion, this battery-powered and bad-pun-inspired collectible has speakers built right into the tail so that you can provide amplified play-by-play or color commentary to any occasion. Whether it’s creeping people out at the park or pranking friends into finding the nearest white courtesy phone at the airport, the Trout Mike will be your MVP. You thought your co-workers didn’t like you before? Man are they gonna hate you now.

Note: Please, for the love of god, don’t use your Trout Mike until you leave the ballpark. Two broadcasters is more than enough. Let’s be better than TBS.

2014 Highlights: The Streak

October 20th, 2014
Kendrick

Howie Kendrick, temporary clean-up hitter extraordinaire.

Previously, on 2014 Highlights: The Arrow Game; The Sweep

Entering September, the Angels’ second-half record was solid (26-16) but the offensive juggernaut that carried them through the season’s first three months and change was nowhere to be found. The team that averaged an MLB-best 5.1 runs per game in the first half was managing only 3.8 a game post-All-Star break. Strong pitching allowed the Halos to gain ground despite their impotence at the plate, but with Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs out for the season, the bats would have to come alive in September if the club wanted to secure the AL West title.

Does 86 runs in 10-game span qualify as coming alive? I feel like it might.

After two milquetoast losses to Astros to begin the month, the Halos put in their Game Genie and went into god mode for nearly a fortnight, mashing their way to a 10-game winning streak. The team averaged almost nine runs a contest during the stretch, never once scoring fewer than five runs and only twice plating fewer than seven. When laid out in a row–5, 7, 8, 14, 12, 9, 8, 7, 11, 5–their runs read more like hit totals than anything else. The streak matched a number of franchise records, including consecutive games (8) with 7+ runs, and consecutive games (6) with a margin of victory of four or greater. In just 10 days, the team raised its second-half scoring average by close to a full run, up to 4.7 per game, and extended its division lead to an uncatchable 11.

On the micro level, Scioscialism was in full effect during the streak. Nine Angels had at least five hits over the 10 games and six guys had 12 or more knocks. The team batted .329/.392/.541 overall in the stretch, and no player with more than four ABs failed to tally at least one base hit. Howie Kendrick was the team’s fearless leader on offense, jumping into the clean-up role and batting .500/.532/.795 with seven extra-base hits in 47 plate appearances. No one else came within seven hits of Howie, who managed to raise his OPS by 44 points. That’s not easy to do in September.

I suppose one could make the argument that the Angels peaked too soon with their early September rampage, but that kind of assumes the team has some level of control over when they play well and when they don’t. I think everyone involved would have loved to have had The Streak coincide with the start of the playoffs, but baseball just doesn’t work like that. (Unless you’re the Royals, of course.) No, The Streak didn’t catapult the Halos to a second World Series championship, but it did propel them to their first division title since 2009 and all but guaranteed they would finish the year with the best record in baseball. No reason one can’t wish for a better October outcome and also appreciate the awesomeness of this particular feat. The second-longest winning streak in franchise history deserves its day in the sun. Now if only we could convince MLB dot com to create a 10-minute montage of The Streak’s best moments.

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One #SadFact for the road: All but the first game of The Streak were won sans Josh Hamilton. The idea the Angels needed his lagging bat in the lineup during the ALDS was already pretty ludicrous. When you add the fact that arguably the most productive offensive stretch in franchise history was ostensibly achieved without him just three weeks earlier? Looks real bad, Bob.

Up Next: The All-Star Game

2014 Highlights: The Sweep

October 18th, 2014
The exact moment the Angels stole the A's mojo.

The exact moment the Angels stole the A’s mojo.

 

Previously, on 2014 Highlights: The Arrow Game

Let’s set the stage. The Angels have spent the last 14 days dancing between two games back and two games ahead of the A’s in the AL West. Oakland has faltered some in the month, but still holds a +61 run-differential advantage (!) over the Halos and remains the consensus Best Team in Baseball. On one side, a rotation ace has just been lost for the season; on the other, two new aces are adjusting well to the pitcher-friendly confines of the Coliseum.

It is the final four days of August, and the Angels are hosting their division rivals for four games. Anything other than a sweep for the Halos will preserve the back-and-forth status quo. No one expects a sweep. Against the gauntlet of Sonny Gray, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Scott Kazmir, the most anyone is asking for is a split. Anaheim has swept Oakland only once the last three seasons, and not in a four-game set since 1997. The odds, they are long.

And yet…

The opening contest is a battle, with the Halos squeaking out a 4-3 win in 10 innings, but the rest are more or less a cakewalk. The Angels flat out dominate. Oakland scores just one run in the final 31 innings of the series, going 29 frames scoreless at one point, and is shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since 2006. Weaver outduels Lester, a desperation bullpen experiment outduels Samardzija, and Shoemaker outduels Kazmir. The Angels waltz to the sweep, expanding their division lead to a full five games and increasing their odds to win the West by a full 31 percent, from 61% to 92%.

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I honestly cannot remember another important regular season series ever going so well. I wrote a bit about the catharsis the sweep brought right after it happened, and reminiscing about it nearly two months later still brings with it a wave of endorphins. It was the pivotal point of the season for both teams: the Angels turning upward, into the best team in baseball; the A’s spiraling downward, into a near-full collapse.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of The Sweep. After it, the Angels needed to simply be mediocre down the stretch to take their first division title in four years. (They weren’t, of course, but that’s a story for another day.) They entered September an MLB-best 86-56, with 12 of their next 13 coming against sub-.500 opponents. With any other result in the series, who knows how the rest of the season plays out. Maybe the A’s aren’t so deflated for the stretch run, and maybe the Halos don’t click until it’s too late.

There were a lot of great individual moments in the series — e.g. the bullpen shutout, Coco Crisp robbing then dropping Chris Iannetta’s home run, Matt Shoemaker extending his scoreless innings streak — but my personal favorite was the obliteration of Scott Kazmir in the series’ final game. I don’t typically take pleasure in the pain of others, but Kazmir falling to pieces anytime he has anything to do with his former club is just too good not to revel in.  The southpaw allowed just 1⅓ innings on the day, and is now the not-so-proud owner of a 22.10 ERA against the Angels over three starts the last two seasons; he has not made it through the fourth inning nor allowed fewer than five runs in any of the three outings. I’m don’t know what kind of psychological hold the Halos have over Kazmir, but it sure makes for some fun baseball.

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Up Next: The Streak

 

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