The Angels have become a team ravaged with injuries to their young players and bloated contracts committed to post-prime aging players.
As recent as 2014, the Angels had won 98 games, the AL West Crown, and looked like a team with very few holes. In 2015, the cracks started to show. The team traded troubled star Josh Hamiliton to Texas for virtually no salary relief. Albert Pujols was clearly declining earlier than expected. General Manager Jerry Dipoto resigned amongst a dispute over philosophy with manager Mike Scioscia. Even with all of that, the team still won 85 games with a furious playoff push in September.
Last season was probably the last stand for a roster that has too many holes for just a few bandages to patch up. There are real problems here, including an awful starting rotation, thin bullpen, and lack of real support around perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout. These problems have led the Angels to a miserable first half in 2016. At 38-52, the team is going worst than nowhere. They are floundering.
So how to the Angels solve this? First off, having plenty of money helps. According to Spotrac.com, the Angels are carrying a hefty $178 million payroll in 2015. Any team with the ability to spend close to $200 on their roster has the ability to patch up blemishes in the short term, but this can also help the Angels dig out of their current predicament.
Efficient Use of Money
Just because you can spend more, doesn’t always mean you should.
The Angels have about $50 Million coming off of the books this offseason, not including arbitration raises. A significant arbitration raise will be handed out to Kole Calhoun, and Mike Trout’s contract includes a $4 Million raise for 2017. All told, the Angels will have a large number of dollars that can be reallocated to parts of the roster in sore need of help. These parts of the roster include the starting rotation, outfield, and bullpen. With about $40 million in extra money, it probably doesn’t make sense to blow it all on Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman. What about more prudent uses of that cash?
If the Angels were to save salary in the next few offseason instead of burning away on free agents, the team would create flexibility it hasn’t had in the recent past. One option that teams seldom take advantage of (except for the Braves) are the Competitive Balance Rounds in the Draft. These are two sets of picks at then end of the first and second round in the draft, which are given to teams in either league with the lowest revenue. Teams you typically see with Competitive Balance picks include the Marlins, Rays, Athletics, Rockies, Pirates, and other teams that may have found themselves rebuilding.
The real opportunity here is that teams with Competitive Balance Picks value cash much more than other teams. To teams like the Pirates, $12 Million of dead money can cost them multiple players for that season and beyond. Teams like the Angels who have better financial resources could swing deals with these low-revenue teams to secure high-end draft picks in exchange for eating dead money.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the $26 Million being paid to Josh Hamiliton this year and next result in two top-100 draft picks in this year’s draft and next? The Braves have already taken advantage of this strategy. In 2015, the Braves took on the injured Bronson Arroyo and his $8 Million of dead money in exchange for Touki Toussaint, the Diamondbacks first round and 14th overall pick from just a year before.
Eating dead money for other teams can lead to acquiring young assets. This offseason, if may be better for the Angels to look into creative ways of acquiring young talent through deals similar to the Braves acquiring Toussaint. In this way, teams can almost purchase young players as though they are cheap free agents. The payoff may not be great at first, but it is a better long-term option than consistently signing aging veterans as stopgap solutions for one year at a time.
Who to Trade and Who to Keep
Mike Trout isn’t going anywhere. He shouldn’t go anywhere. On pace for another 10 WAR season, Trout has again topped FanGraphs’ list of most valuable trade assets. In this case, his value almost surely cannot be adequately compensated in a trade.
The Angels have other appealing assets. Third Basemen Yunel Escobar is hitting .317/.365/.413 with a 116 wRC+ and has a team option worth $7 million for 2017. While his defense has started grade out as slightly below average, he is a cheap and reliable option for a contending team in need of infield help. Potential fits include the Mets and Royals.
Closer Huston Street has had a down season to say the least. With a 5.09 ERA and 5.27 FIP, no team is clamoring to trade for him. Street’s velocity is down from an 88.5 mph average on his fastball from last year to 87.9 mph this year. A drop in velocity is never a good sign for a reliever about to turn 33, but it doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. If Street can put together a nice finish to 2016, he could recoup the value he’s lost in the eyes of other teams due to his rough season. This could prove huge for the Angels, as they could look to deal him to any team in need of bullpen help that may have lost out on the Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen sweepstakes. Therefore, the best time to deal Street is this offseason, given that he is able to regroup and return to form.
The starting rotation has been torn apart through injury and decline. It is likely that both Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney will have Tommy John Surgery, even as Richards tries to avoid the surgery. Jered Weaver has seen his fastball velocity to drop to a high-school level 82.6 mph. CJ Wilson has not and will not pitch in 2016 due to shoulder surgery. In their place, righty Matt Shoemaker has returned to post a 4.45 ERA and 3.66 FIP. Shoemaker has been steady for the Angels, also posting a 1.9 fWAR in 2016. Last season, he was demoted to the minors. This season, he’s the team’s best pitcher.
In an opposite trend, fellow righty Nick Tropeano has posted a 3.12 ERA with a 4.75 FIP in 12 starts. Between Shoemaker and Tropeano, there is something to look forward to in the Angels rotation. Both have plenty of club control remaining, as Tropeano won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2018 season and Shoemaker won’t be a free agent until after the 2020 season. It may make more sense to keep both starters, as neither of them would bring back a significant return even with the market for starting pitchers as barren as it it. These two just don’t have the track record just yet.
In the end, an efficient use of money along with an investment in young assets could help bring the Angels back into contention. If they retool with an eye on the future, there is a good chance that the team will be able to still take advantage of the best years Mike Trout still has in store.
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Ronnie Socash is a contributing writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him at @RJSocash.