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.

Halos Acquire INF Taylor Featherston in Rule 5 Draft

December 11th, 2014

 

Heading into the 2013 offseason, the Angels hadn’t selected a player in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 Draft since the start of George W. Bush’s first term in office. Now they’ve made an acquisition two years in a row: Last winter it was LHP Brian Moran from the Mariners, and this morning it was 2B/SS Taylor Featherston from the Rockies.

Like last year, the Halos didn’t actually draft the guy they ended up getting, but rather worked out a trade, for cash, with the team who selected him earlier in the process. Which teams those were doesn’t really matter, but for the sake of thoroughness, they were the Blue Jays (Moran) and Cubs (Featherston).

Featherston, 25, spent all three of his years at TCU as the club’s starting shortstop, but has received a majority of his playing time in the minors at the keystone. He’s never been young for his level, but he hasn’t been considerably older either, so it’s probably safe to read into his strong offensive numbers.

In 2014, Featherston batted .260/.322/.439 with 16 home runs in 550 plate appearances in the Texas League, leading the league in extra-base hits in his first foray into the high minors. While his .760 OPS doesn’t exactly pop off the page, it’s worth keeping in mind that the league-average OPS was .695 and that top Angels prospect Alex Yarbrough, also a second baseman, posted a .718 OPS in the same circuit. Oh yeah, and Featherston followed up his Double-A debut with a solid performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .294/.355/.456.

I think it’s safe to say his bat can play, so though Featherston’s yet to appear above Double-A, he will likely compete with Grant Green and new acquisition Josh Rutledge next spring for the openings at second base and utility infielder. Each of the trio carries some pop and strong bat-to-ball skills from the right side of the plate, so it’s tough to discern at this point who’ll end up where.

Since there isn’t much separation in the three players’ offensive profiles, a spot on the roster could come down to what they can do on defense. There’s not much information out there on Featherston’s glove, but the little we know seems to indicate that he is a much better fielder than either Green or Rutledge. According to Baseball Prospectus, Featherston has been worth 13.3 fielding runs above average in his four minor-league seasons, while Green and Rutledge are way, way in the red. Advantage, new guy.

As Featherston is a Rule 5 player, the Angels are required to keep him on the 25-man roster for the entire 2015 season if they want him to remain in the organization. If they decide to go with Green and Rutledge instead, the club must either return Featherston to the Rockies (along with $25,000), or work out a trade with Colorado so they can stash him in Triple-A. If I had to hazard a guess right now, I’d say that he’s the most likely candidate for the utility infielder gig, at least to start the year.

Featherston wasn’t the only Rule 5 acquisition by the Angels this morning. In the minor-league phases of the draft, the club selected infielder Chris Curley from the White Sox, Pedro Ruiz from the D’Backs, and outfielder Kentrail Davis from the Brewers. While Davis has first-round pedigree, none of that three are are likely to serve as more than organizational depth for the farm system.

 

Angels Acquire Josh Rutledge from Rockies for Jairo Diaz

December 11th, 2014
Josh-Rutledge-Daniel-Shirley

While not nearly as good as Howie Kendrick, Rutledge is under club control for the next four years.

 

In the immediate wake of Howie Kendrick’s shocking trade to the Dodgers, the Angels have made a minor move to address their middle infield depth, acquiring infielder Josh Rutledge from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for right-handed reliever Jairo Diaz, the club announced.

The 25-year-old Rutledge is somewhat of an intriguing addition, though the move shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the Halos have been tied to him in recent days. Rutledge gives the Angels an option capable of playing both second base and shortstop, though he grades out sub-par defensively at both positions. He has hit a decent .259/.308/.403 in 947 plate appearances with the Rockies over the past three years, though the role of Coors Field places his career OPS+ at just 83. Thus far, he has produced a -1.1 career WAR. However, he still offers potential everyday player upside, and has a strong track record of performance in the minors, with a .328/.386/.506 career slash line.

As the Orange County Register’s Jeff Fletcher notes, the Halos likely don’t view Rutledge as an immediate everyday fill-in for Kendrick, as he is rather young, has options remaining, and hasn’t quite played up to his skill level yet. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, the plan is for Rutledge to compete with Grant Green for the starting second base job, though an outside candidate – such as Gordon Beckham – could be considered as well.

Having yet to reach arbitration eligibility, Rutledge has four more years of club control remaining, which isn’t insignificant considering Kendrick was scheduled to reach free agency next winter.

The 23-year-old Diaz has electric raw stuff, with a heater that routinely reaches triple-digits, and a plus breaking ball. Many have anointed him as having closer potential, but he likely wasn’t slated for a major role in the Angels’ 2015 bullpen. In 64.2 minor league innings last season, Diaz notched a 3.48 ERA, 11.8 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9. He reached the big leagues for a five-game trial in September, allowing two runs with eight strikeouts in 5.2 innings.

Overall, the Angels had a rather eventful day. They essentially traded Howie Kendrick and Jairo Diaz for Andrew Heaney and Josh Rutledge, which represents a significant improvement in terms of both youth and cost control.

 

Diamonds in the Non-Tender

December 3rd, 2014

 

As expected, the Angels did not tender contracts to Gordon Beckham and Wade LeBlanc on Tuesday. To add a little intrigue to the proceedings, they also non-tendered Yoslan Herrera, who wasn’t anywhere close to being expensive but probably won’t come back on more than a minor-league deal. (UPDATE: He got exactly that.)

Word on the street is the Angels are going to try re-signing the trio to lesser deals, which is likely the case for every team and their non-tenders. Not everyone is going to be happy returning to the organization that just spurned them, though, so it’s possible that one or more of new free agents will make their way to Anaheim.

The Halos are reportedly still on the prowl for lefty bullpen help, a utility infielder, and possibly a lefty bench bat, so for today let’s focus in on the non-tenders from across the league who fit that bill.

Disclaimer: If it seems like I’m saying the Angels should bring in way too many of these guys, that’s because I am. I’d probably sign each and every one of the bullpen arms to a minor-league deal if I could. Just in case.

 

 

Lefty Relievers

 

Wesley Wright – Age: 30

2014 Stats: 3.17 ERA, 3.5 BB/9 and 6.9 K/9 in 48.1 IP

Wright was solid for the Cubs in 2014, so his place on this list comes as a bit of a surprise. Epstein and company do have a half dozen southpaws on their 40-man roster, so I guess they decided Wright wasn’t worth the $2 million he’s projected to make in his final year of arbitration.

Wright’s held lefties to a .292 wOBA in his seven big-league seasons and owns a solid 3.54 FIP over the last four. The guy is a mess against right-handed batters (.358 wOBA), but those can be avoided for the most part. Wright is liable to get a big-league money from somebody, so if the Angels are looking for a minor-league deal with a Spring Training invite, he’s probably not their guy. If they are OK with giving him an MLB contract, he’s definitely the best of the non-tender bunch.

 

Francisely Bueno – Age: 34

4.18 ERA, 1.9 BB/9 and 5.6 K/9 in 32.1 IP

Bueno earned the most big-league playing time of his career in 2014, but was pushed out of a crowded Royals bullpen by Brandon Finnegan at the end of the year. The lefty has amassed a pretty extreme platoon split in parts of four MLB seasons–.237 wOBA vs. LHB, .336 wOBA vs RHB–but he’s done so in just 60.1 innings overall, so it’s impossible to determine if that’s just small sample noise.

Bueno’s strikeout rate leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s not untenable when paired with his control numbers. If he could get even a little closer to the 8.3 K/9 rate he posted in the PCL the last three seasons, he could end being a great bargain for somebody. No reason to not take a flyer on him, at least.

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!