By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
Starting now at the 2017 Trade Deadline and for the next three years that follow the Angels primary, perhaps even their only, goal should be to build a contending team around the once-in-a-generation-talent that is Mike Trout.
Nothing else matters. Money doesn’t matter. The farm system doesn’t matter.
Only winning a World Series Championship with the best player in baseball, nay, perhaps one of the greatest players ever, matters, period.
Now certainly the Moreno-guided payroll Billy Eppler needs to manage and the prospects he needs to develop and/or trade will contribute to this One Goal to Rule Them All.
But the only way the Angels become the Lord of the World Series Rings is if we improve in every possible area we can through intelligent spending, identifying the prospects we absolutely have to keep, and trading away the prospects we can afford to part with in order to fill our other areas of need in this very well defined window of contention.
Angels fans need to be prepared for the team to spend money whether it is now or in the off-season. They also need to be prepared to see one or more of their favorite prospects names heading out the door to another team in trade over the next 3 years.
Nothing else matters but Trout and winning it all. This is our time to shine. It is time for Eppler to pull out all the stops. It is time for Arte Moreno to open up the pocketbook and, just like in the movie ‘The Natural’, say to his General Manager, “Pick me out a winner Billy!”
Our ‘Savoy Special’ could actually turn out to be a big bat! It could also turn out to be a starting pitcher. Perhaps even a high-end bullpen piece. Heck with the amount of payroll Eppler has to work with now and in the off-season it could be a combination of all three, perhaps more.
According to the team payroll sheet I use for the Annual Primer Series, the Angels currently project to have approximately $145M-150M in Average Annual Value on the books heading into the off-season. Currently the CBT threshold is $195M and will rise to $197M in 2018, which means Billy Eppler has roughly $47M-$52M in AAV below the threshold.
Additionally, if Eppler decides to decline Street’s and Nolasco’s options or trade them prior to the start of the 2018 season, he will save an extra $20.925M. If he also trades Cron that would save another $2M-4M creating a net increase of nearly $25M to the 2018 off-season payroll space, resulting in an estimated gap of $70M-77M in AAV that Billy can potentially utilize and spend either now, making trades, or more likely on free agent contracts and/or trades in the off-season.
The really important factor will be in how the Angels distribute this vast sum to help fill the holes in their lineup, rotation, and bullpen. Do they drop it on a couple of superstar type players like J.D. Martinez and Yu Darvish? Or do they spread the love around and sign some borderline star players like Mike Moustakas, Zack Cozart, and Cameron Maybin? The method and way Eppler applies this payroll will be critical in succeeding seasons so he has to be smart in how and whom he applies it too.
Let me ask the audience a question: What do players like Jose Quintana, Julio Teheran, Jedd Gyorko, Kolten Wong, Christian Yelich, Matt Carpenter, Brandon Belt, Freddie Freeman, Dee Gordon, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, and even Giancarlo Stanton have in common?
The answer is controllable contracts with Average Annual Values that are at prices better than you can find on the free agent market or, in some cases, trade.
This is why, in particular, the Angels have already been associated with Belt, Quintana, and Gordon. Eppler wants and needs at least one of the controllable players, above, to fill a hole around the diamond or in the rotation as it will incrementally boost our available budget in the off-season. Any equivalent player in free agency would cost a lot more in terms of AAV (think Quintana’s AAV of $5.3M versus, say, Darvish at $25M AAV).
Clearly some of the players listed above are not available at this time such as Carrasco and Kluber for instance. The Cubs struck and landed Quintana so he is not available anymore. The rest of those names belong to teams that are already out of the playoff race or are on the bubble so they may or may not be available in trade.
The important thing is that every single one of those names is controlled through at least 2020, aligning with our only real goal. Of course Eppler could go after pre-arbitration players or prospects, to gain years of control and cost savings, but there is higher risk to total team performance (wins) with a lot of those options but, they too, would align with our Trout window of contention.
As we stated in the previous articles Eppler is surveying the landscape to determine if one (or more) of those players is obtainable now leading up to the deadline. If he finds a price he likes it is almost a certainty he will pull the trigger to give the 2017 team a chance to grab a Wild Card berth.
If however the deadline prices prove to be too high on these players, or other pre-arbitration players of interest, Billy may be forced to make the decision to do a complete sell-off of expendable assets and punt the rest of the season. Both options help polish the team for 2018, they just take different routes to do it.
Hopefully it does not come down to a complete sell-off of short-term assets. When you consider the possibility that, later in the 2nd half, we might see the return of Huston Street, Garrett Richards, Andrew Bailey, and even Andrew Heaney, adding one (or more) of the star players above or even one of the names listed in the Big Splash/Small Splash articles would significantly improve the Angels win-curve in 2017 increasing the odds to secure a Wild Card berth.
Most importantly, as one Angelswin.com member put it, it improves the team now and tomorrow. Perhaps even more importantly it could weaken one of our rivals if we acquire a player that one of them really needs (Notably Quintana to the Cubs prevented the Astros from acquiring him).
That was one of the primary reasons I suggested that the Angels could make one or more lateral trades at this season’s deadline. Using one or more of our expendable assets, such as a reliever for instance, allows Eppler to target specific teams and prospects (or players even) that we can choose to keep or flip in a different trade for another asset Billy prefers.
For example say the Giants are willing to trade Brandon Belt to the Angels but in addition to the package of players and prospects already negotiated we need to provide a starting pitching prospect that is near-MLB ready with mid-rotation upside.
Someone like Nate Smith doesn’t quite cut it, so Eppler sends Bud Norris to the Nationals in exchange for AAA RHP Erick Fedde and uses him to complete the Belt deal. This improves the Angels now and in the future and prevents one of our rivals from obtaining him and using him against us the next three years. This is an example of the type of idea that Eppler may try to use here in the last two weeks of July.
This trade deadline market was expected to be a busy one with transactions happening early and often but that has not materialized (yet anyway).
In the National League, the Division and Wild Card leaders have fairly extensive leads and few weaknesses that require an upgrade and, in the American League, there are a slew of teams that could potentially compete for the Wild Card and their GM’s are facing difficult decisions on whether to go for it or not. It has frozen the trade market a bit leading into the All-Star Break.
For the Angels this may have been a blessing because it has allowed them to really take stock of the trade market and the available opportunities and costs associated with it. It also allows them to take the maximum time in evaluating our performance after the All-Star Break.
What happens next will give Angels fans clues to what awaits in the off-season.
For instance if Eppler manages to acquire 2B Dee Gordon now, at the deadline, we obviously know that his focus in any other trades or in the off-season free agent market will be pointed at LF, SP, 1B, and 3B. More importantly we will not only need to fill those positions but one or more of those players will need to be able to hit out of the lead-off spot and/or the 2-hole as well since both Maybin and Escobar are in their final seasons.
If Billy can check off some boxes now, at reasonable prices, he will. Otherwise it is a fire sale of any or all of the remaining names listed in the first submission in this series.
Finally I want to take a brief moment and talk about the future.
Before the 2020 season begins we will almost certainly have our answer on whether or not Mike Trout will be here the rest of his career or not. In fact I would postulate that if he has not signed a new or even lifetime extension by Opening Day 2019 we will have our answer then.
First of all, in my heart, I believe Mike Trout just wants to win. Everything I have ever observed about Mike is that he wants himself and his team to win a championship.
Secondly, it also appears that he is not quite comfortable being in the limelight and having a lot of attention focused on him personally. That is a testament to how he was raised in my opinion but it is also, if true, a personality trait that could work in the Angels favor in terms of retaining him in a less visible MLB market here in Anaheim.
Third I do not feel that Trout is all about the money, he seems like a very good, loyal man, but an athlete of his caliber needs to be paid commensurately.
By the beginning of the 2019 season Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, and Manny Machado will probably all have shiny, new record-breaking contracts and the currency market for Mike will be set, removing the last possible road block for the Angels to strike with a top-of-the-line offer (if they have not done so already).
In 2019 the Competitive Balance Tax threshold will be at $206M. The Angels will likely spend a lot this upcoming off-season but there should be plenty of room available to allocate towards a Trout extension. That extension, if the Angels do it, will likely be a 10-13 year deal (possibly with option years) at an AAV of approximately $40M give or take. Basically a $400M-500M contract.
That would, in 2019, equate to about 20-22% of a projected $190M team payroll. It is a lot for one player but this is not a normal guy. This is a guy who shapes the future of any team he is on. A once-in-a-generation talent. If Arte thought the fan-base would get mad when Torii Hunter left he needs to consider what will happen if he lets Mike Trout walk into free agency.
If the unthinkable does happen the players that Billy Eppler acquires between now and then will set the table for what could become one of the greatest trade deadline sell-offs in the history of baseball.
In one fell swoop the Angels, at the 2020 trade deadline, could trade multiple Angels players including Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, Andrelton Simmons, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, and Cam Bedrosian, among others and instantly rebuild our farm system to compete in the following seasons.
This is not the ideal outcome but Angels fans should take some heart in knowing that if our world shatters in a Trout-less Anaheim that some of the shards can be reclaimed and put back together again.
The important thing to remember is that the Angels future is bright moving forward. Billy Eppler has a growing set of resources, particularly in expanding payroll but also a rapidly blooming farm system, now to support the currently, shrinking tenure of Mike Trout and the long-term outlook that screams more success is to come in the next 10 years.