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Angels Acquire Matt Joyce From Rays For Kevin Jepsen

December 16th, 2014
He gone.

He gone.

 

It seems the Angels are fixed on working in pairs* this winter. The club has made two trades with the Dodgers, two waiver claims from the D’Backs, a trade and a waiver claim with the Astros, a trade and a Rule 5 Draft selection with the Rockies, and, now, two trades with the Rays: The Halos acquired veteran outfielder Matt Joyce from Tampa Bay in exchange for Kevin Jepsen on Tuesday, giving the team some much-needed depth at designated hitter and an extra lefty bat to man the outfield corners.

Joyce, 30, immediately bolsters what were very low expectations at DH next season. ZiPS projected the tag team of C.J Cron, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and Efren Navarro to combine for 0.7 WAR at the position in 2015, which was the second-lowest expected total for an AL team. With Joyce added to the mix, that total jumps to 1.6 WAR, right into the middle of the pack.

Jerry Dipoto is saying that Joyce will serve as the primary DH, but I’d be surprised if that title is more than semantic. In a league that’s still dominated by right-handed pitchers, of course the lefty hitter would be the primary guy. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll start every game. For as good as Joyce is at crushing righties (.355 wOBA!), he’s undeniably terrible (.257 wOBA) against southpaws. Knowing that—and you can bet the Angels are well aware of the dichotomy—there’s no reason for Mike Scioscia to start Joyce against lefties when Cron is waiting in the wings. For all C.J.’s troubles with plate discipline, I think he can be counted on to at least be better than Joyce vs. LHPs. Cron didn’t have much of a platoon split in 2014, but his K rate was seven percent better when he had the handedness advantage.

Oddly, Joyce has always been a much better player in the first half than the second. Over the last four years he’s averaged a 145-point drop in OPS after the All-Star break, and for his career holds a .356 wOBA vs. a .325 wOBA between the two halves. There’s no way of knowing what causes his annual second-half dip in numbers, but I think it’s safe to say it’s more than just random noise, and thus is something to be addressed. Just how the Halos plan on dealing with his seemingly inevitable post-ASB decline is unknown, but it should be interesting to keep an eye on.

Joyce is expected to make ~$5 million this winter–his final season of arbitration–which represents only about a $2.5 million pay hike over what the club would have paid Jepsen. If we assume Jepsen would have earned roughly $4 million next season, his final arbitration year, then the Halos just saved a couple million. Sort of. Not really.

In Kevin Jepsen, the Angels lose a late-innings reliever who appeared to be finally coming into his own in 2014. The right-hander, also 30, posted career bests in just about every meaningful statistical category last season, including earned-run average (2.63), innings pitched (65), and strikeouts per nine (10.4). If you believe that Jepsen is a safe bet to repeat that performance next year, then his loss is pretty massive hit to the bullpen. If you’re like me, though, and believe that relievers are the biggest gambles in the game and that there was a slim chance he’d ever be that good again—Hello, .547 OPS-against!—then his jettison to St. Petersburg looks like a master stroke. Two years of a solid but injury-prone reliever for one year of an affordable, quality lefty bat? Yes, please.

Even without Jepsen (and Jairo Diaz), the Halos still have a powerful and deep relief corps on their hands. Huston Street, Joe Smith, Mike Morin, Cesar Ramos, Cory Rasmus, Fernando Salas, and Hector Santiago/Vinnie Pestano should be more than enough to keep teams off the board in the late innings. And should one of them get hurt? There’s still Cam Bedrosian, Drew Rucinski, Jeremy McBryde, Danny Reynolds, and Trevor Gott standing by to fill in. Mourn the loss of a long-tenured Angel, but not what it might mean for the bullpen. It’s still in very good shape.

The one thing that gives me pause about this deal is that it’s cemented in many minds the notion that Mike Trout will hit third in 2015. This is a terrible idea. As I’ve written before, optimal lineup construction isn’t the big game-changer that many want it to be, unless it involves Mike Trout. He has been so much better than everyone else the last three seasons that willfully choosing to give him fewer plate appearances—which is all moving to the three hole actually does for sure—should be grounds for excommunication from Major League Baseball. With the combination of Iannetta and Aybar at the bottom of the lineup, Trout gets all the run-producing opportunities he needs batting second—he did just lead the league in RBI, did he not? Slotting Matt Joyce into the two hole, .342 OBP and all, isn’t going to make a difference on that front.

A potential Opening Day lineup, as things stand:

RF Calhoun
CF Trout
1B Pujols
LF Hamilton
DH Joyce/Cron
3B Freese
SS Aybar
C Iannetta
2B Green/Rutledge

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*I guess we should expect a second transaction with the Rangers any day now…

Should The Angels Bid For Jung-ho Kang?

December 15th, 2014
kang

If Kang doesn’t work out, there’s always Kodos.

 

Korean superstar Jung-ho Kang was posted Monday evening, adding some much-needed intrigue to this winter’s market for middle infielders. MLB clubs have until Friday to submit bids for the 27-year-old shortstop, who hit a Bondsian .356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs in 2014, earning his league’s MVP award. The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) is a notoriously offense-friendly league, so it’s tough to take Kang’s numbers at face value, but there’s no denying he’s got some wallop in his bat.

The Mets, A’s, and Giants are the only teams to be directly linked to Kang so far, but there are also several other clubs who at least have him on their radar. Since Kang’s future might involve a position shift to either third or second base, where the Angels are noticeably weakest at the moment, we thought it behooved us touch on whether or not Jerry Dipoto should make a run at him.

But first, a little history…

Oh My! Dick Enberg Voted into Hall of Fame

December 12th, 2014
jhgkjhg

“And the halo shines tonight!”

 

Earlier this week, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that former Angels and current Padres play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg had won the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence.  Enberg was the voice of the California Angels from 1969 to 1978, and was a guest announcer often in 1985 during the Angels’ 25th franchise anniversary season.

Enberg grew up in the midwest as a Tigers fan and attended Indiana Univeristy where he earned a masters and doctorate in health sciences.  His first love was sports, though, and he worked the airwaves calling Indiana Hoosiers football and basketball games.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1961 and found employment with Gene Autry’s KTLA television station and his KMPC radio station calling UCLA Bruins basketball games and Los Angeles Rams football games.  He also worked as a baseball coach from 1961 to 1965 for Cal State Northridge.

At the end of the 1968 baseball season, long-time Angels play-by-play man Buddy Blattner decided to move back home to Missouri, so that left the Angels’ play-by-play spot open.  The honey-voiced Enberg was an in-house talent whom Autry hired to take over for Blattner, and Enberg ended up working the mic as the Angels’ lead broadcaster for the next ten years, his distinctive “Oh, My!” often punctuating a phenomenal play on the field.

When asked in 2010 by Los Angeles Times reporter Jeff Fellenzer for an article titled “Q & A with Dick Enberg” if he could recall his most memorable games as a broadcaster, Enberg replied:

 

That’s easy. I’ve said many times that in all of sport, the most exciting game for an announcer is calling a no-hit, no-run game. There’s nothing like it, the drama of knowing from the seventh inning on that there’s the potential of a no-hitter. And the importance of every out, every nuance, every subtlety, and then to have it grow in theater and become more compelling, into the eighth and ninth, and then you ultimately finish with one.

As an announcer, to be able to sink your teeth into a no-hitter and have it come to fruition — there’s just nothing like it. You can hear the sounds of the no-hitter as well. Having the joy of calling Nolan Ryan’s no-hitter in 1973 in Detroit, where I had been so many times as a kid, was special.

There was Rod Carew’s 3,000th hit and other individual accomplishments. But you know those are coming, and you’re prepared for them. You’re never prepared to see a no-hitter when you come to the ballpark. And then it happens, and it’s like a joyful script that lands in your lap. The no-hitter is the most delicious experience any sportscaster can encounter.

 

After his decade calling Angel games, the time came for Enberg to share his talent with the rest of the country as he signed with NBC and later CBS and ESPN to work national regular season and post season baseball games as well as golf tournaments, tennis grand slam events, eight Super Bowls, and the Olympics.

In December of 2009, Enberg was hired to be the play-by-play man for the San Diego Padres, a position the 79-year-old continues to hold, and on Wednesday he was announced as the newest Ford C. Frick Award winner, joining such baseball broadcasting luminaries as Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, Harry Caray, Jaime Jarrin, and Jerry Coleman.

Did You Know?:  Enberg also was a long time television announcer for the New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses Parade as well as the host of several television game shows like this one.

 

Howie Kendrick Traded To Dodgers

December 11th, 2014
He gone.

He gone.

 

All week Jerry Dipoto was playing it cool. He said time and again that the Angels’ plans for the Winter Meetings were simply to fill a few holes at the bottom of the roster, and he backed it up with a deal for a new fringe player each morning: Marc Krauss on Monday; Drew Butera on Tuesday; Scott Snodgress on Wednesday. Dipoto was so casual in his words and his overall demeanor—showing up to his MLB Network interview in a pullover sweater rather than his customary suit and tie—that it was easy to overlook the prescient caveat he fit into just about every interview: that the team would make a big move “should an opportunity present itself.”

Well at about 9:00 pm Wednesday night, that opportunity came. The Angels saw their chance to add a promising, cost-controlled starting pitcher and they took it, sending Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers for young left-hander Andrew Heaney, who had just been acquired from the Marlins hours earlier1. A one-for-one deal, no money involved.

There’s a lot to unravel in this trade, and I’m not sure I can digest Kendrick playing for the Dodgers just yet, so let’s start by talking about Heaney…

The 23-year-old began his Wednesday as the top prospect in the Miami Marlins system and the No. 18 prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. The southpaw struggled in his first cup of coffee with Miami in September, but he had already blown past his career high in innings pitched at that point and had started the year at Double-A, so there’s really not much to be read into those 29.1 innings. What can be scrutinized are the 137.1 innings he threw in the minors this past season, where he posted a stellar 3.28 ERA, 0.7 HR/9, 2.4 BB/9, and 9.4 K/9 between the Southern League and the hitter-friendly PCL.

Heaney’s smooth, repeatable delivery and a solid three-pitch arsenal (sinker, slider, change) has earned him a No. 2 starter ceiling and a mid-rotation floor over at Baseball Prospectus, and glowing reviews from around the scouting world. Perhaps the most exciting thing about him is that, unlike rotation-mates C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago, Heaney has excellent control—a career 2.4 BB/9 in the minors. His command within the strike zone still needs a little work, but you could probably say that about every 23-year-old pitcher ever.

Heaney was with the big-league club in Miami for only a little more than a month, meaning the Angels will get a full six years with left-hander in the rotation. He is more than ready for a shot in Anaheim, so his arrival likely means that Cory Rasmus will abandon his conversion to starter, and that Hector Santiago could begin the year as a second lefty in the bullpen (if Garrett Richards is healthy). What does this mean for Nick Tropeano? Well, it probably means he’ll start the year at Triple-A, where teams with rotation depth typically store their extra arms. Extra arms! The Angels! What is happening?!

As for Kendrick…

Howie was a cornerstone in Anaheim for nine seasons, and part of the organization for more than a third of his life. He leaves the Angels just a couple seasons shy of taking the reins from Bobby Grich as the best second baseman in franchise history, but still comes away as the easy runner-up. It goes without saying that he will be greatly missed. Watching Kendrick and Aybar man the middle of the infield the last nine years has been a joy to watch, and it’ll be a long while before it won’t be weird to see Kendrick in a Dodger uniform–I never got used to Garrett Anderson in blue.

So far as replacing Kendrick goes, the Angels’ plans are rather unclear. The late-night addition of Josh Rutledge from Colorado gives the club an immediate option at the keystone, but it’s hard to believe he’ll be the guy manning second come Opening Day. Alex Yarbrough, the top positional prospect in the system (non-Baldoquin division), is another option, but he’s still at least half a season away from a promotion to the big stage. Grant Green’s could also get a shot at the starting job, I suppose, but it just seems unlikely.

The clearest answer, to me, seems to be to use the money saved by dealing Kendrick to pick up some veteran help at the keystone. Before Howie’s trade, the Angels had about $10 million in wiggle room before hitting the luxury tax threshold. Now, that number is closer to $19 million. There’s no reason for the front office to go out and spent all their funds, but someone like Jed Lowrie, Stephen Drew, or Asdrubal Cabrera could be within reach.

All in all, I really like this trade for the Angels. Yes, they created a hole on the infield and in the lineup, but in return they got a pitcher who should anchor the middle of the rotation for much of the next decade. There’s still plenty of time to find an adequate replacement for Howie, and even if they don’t the team is so strong elsewhere on the diamond that they can afford to be subpar at one position.

__

1 I have no idea if the Angels and Marlins ever talked about a one-for-one Heaney/Kendrick swap, but one imagines it came up at some point. Does Miami feel bad about having four years of Gordon rather than one of Kendrick? Probably not. Also worth noting that Miami was one of four teams on Howie’s limited no-trade clause.

Winter Meetings: Day 3

December 10th, 2014

 

- 9:20 pm -

Oh dear lord. Howie Kendrick’s been traded to the Dodgers. Full post here.

 

***

 

- 9:05 pm -

It seems Jerry Dipoto and everyone else has decided to take a step back this evening and stand in awe of the workings of the Dodgers’ Dream Team front office. Remember how they snatched Jimmy Rollins from the Phillies earlier this afternoon? Then bamboozled the Marlins by dangling Dee Gordon? Well now they’re closing in on a multi-year deal with Brandon McCarthy that’ll complete their rotation. McCarthy obviously isn’t the best pitcher available, but when you consider that he’s going to be the club’s No. 4 starter at best, it’s a more than understandable move. What’s more, the Dodgers have pretty much filled all their roster holes (except catcher) in the span of 12 hours. Now all they have left to do is collect more promising prospects to clear up their outfield glut. At this moment, I’m exceedingly glad the Angels don’t play in the NL West.

Believe it or not, there is at least one other thing going on as well:

- The Red Sox may or may not have acquired Wade Miley from the D’Backs for Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, and a third piece. All the big-name newsbreakers had it confirmed, then 10 minutes later new Arizona GM Dave Stewart came out and denied it. Who knows.

 

***

 

- 5:00 pm -

The Angels are “very unlikely” to land their infielder today, per Alden Gonzalez.

The same can’t be said for the folks up in Chavez Ravine. Not only did the Dodgers acquire long-time Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins this afternoon, they also got four promising young players from the Marlins, including top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney. All new GM Farhad Zaidi had to give up for that score was Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, and a still-unknown minor leaguer. Unless that prospect ends up being Julio Urias or something, that deal is going to go down as the biggest steal of the winter.

Oh yeah, and the Dodgers probably aren’t done. They still have about seven outfielders on the roster, so there’s still a chance they’ll send Matt Kemp to San Diego for even more young, cost-controlled talent. Good day to be a Dodger fan.

 

***

 

- 2:50 pm -

Nothing new to report on the Angels’ quest for a middle infielder, but there were a couple interesting bits of information in Mike Scioscia’s media session this morning:

1) Garrett Richards is unlikely to be fully healthy by the start of 2015, but should be good to go by the end of April. This has always been a possibility, but until today no one had ruled out an Opening Day return. Richards was just cleared to throw earlier this week, so it seems the Halos got a much more definitive idea of his rehab timeline after seeing him play some catch. Far, far too soon to be worried about his recovery.

2) Mike Scioscia is open to batting Mike Trout in the three spot next season, which … I don’t want to overreact to an offhand comment made in December, but this seems like an awful decision. It’s long been understood that lineup construction makes surprisingly little difference in a team’s overall run production. I get that. The thing is, though, most lineups don’t have Mike Trout. When he’s in your lineup, the goal should be to get him as many plate appearances as possible, not drop him down in the order so he can “drive in more runs.” With Chris Iannetta in the nine hole, Trout will get just as many RBI opportunities, if not more, as the two hitter as he would in the three spot with Kendrick ahead of him.

Other notes:

- The Phillies have *finally* started to clear house. Jimmy Rollins is reportedly going to the Dodgers in return for two pitching prospects. Philadelphia fans are probably praying that Julio Urias is one of the arms going east, but that’d be a massive overpay on L.A.’s part. Much more likely that it’ll be Zach Lee and some other guy from the low minors.

- The Phillies are also close on a deal that’d send Antonio Bastardo to the Pirates for an unknown return. Seems like it’s only a matter of time before Cole Hamels hits the road.

 

- 11:55 pm -

Another day, another small deal. The Angels have crossed yet another item off their short Winter Meetings checklist, signing lefty reliever Scott Snodgress to a minor-league contract with an invite to Spring Training. The 25-year-old Snodgress was one of the many southpaws non-tendered at the start of the month, after making all of four appearances with the White Sox in 2014.

Snodgress has never put up numbers that jump off the page, but there is some reason to believe he has better days ahead of him. Until July of this year, the Stanford alum was just another lefty starter with maybe enough deception to crack the back end of an MLB rotation at some point. When moved to the bullpen upon his promotion to Triple-A, though, an immediate improvement in his peripherals hinted at the possibility of a bright future as a reliever. Snodgress doesn’t have great control, but his mid-90s fastball, 6’6″ frame, and three-quarters delivery should be unsettling enough to hitters to offset his walk-rate woes, especially in a LOOGY role. The southpaw complemented his plus heater with a slider and a change-up while working as a starter, but effectively dropped the cambio from his arsenal when moved to the ‘pen.

Snodgress’s size, arsenal, and projection are strikingly similar to those of Mark Sappington, who the Angels shipped off to Tampa Bay last month for Cesar Ramos. The biggest difference between the two, other than the whole throwing-with-a-different-arm thing, is that Snodgress has actually had success in the high minors. Sappington has most definitely not. Trading away Sappington, then, only to get the slightly more productive lefty version of him at no cost a month later is some pretty sweet maneuvering by Dipoto and crew. /tips cap

 

***

 

- 9:15 am - 

Jon Lester finally came off the board late Tuesday night, signing a six-year, $155 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. His departure to the North Side opens the doors for things to get pretty hectic the next two days. Many teams were waiting for Lester to sign to see how the chips would fall, and now that he has there shouldn’t be anything holding them back. The Red Sox, Giants, Dodgers, Royals, Tigers, Yankees, and more still need starting pitching, and there’s plenty of it to be had. I’d be surprised if at least two more starters aren’t traded or inked to lucrative contracts before Thursday afternoon’s Rule 5 draft.

For the Angels, the modus operandi for the remainder of the trip appears to be adding depth in the middle infield. As was written last night, there are at least seven guys the front office is looking at: Brock Holt, Eugenio Suarez, Marwin Gonzalez, Nick Ahmed, Pete Kozma, Eduardo Escobar, and Josh Rutledge. If tasked to rank which players would bring the best return, it’d probably be in that order. Word on the rumor mill is that the Halos are looking to deal from their surplus of righty relief pitchers to acquire their infield help, but it’s not clear who is and isn’t available among that group.

The best of the rest:

- The Astros have shored up their bullpen some, signing Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson to multi-year deals. Is it just me, or does it feel like almost every free-agent pitcher this winter was on the A’s at some point in time?

- The Phillies are probably going to trade Cole Hamels. The Red Sox, Giants, and Dodgers are all said to have interest in the three-time All-Star, but only two of those teams have the volume of high-ceiling prospects necessary to get a deal done, and only Boston has the absolute dire need for rotation help to make it worth the cost.

Recaps: Day 1 | Day 2

 

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Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!