Is the Impossible, Possible?
By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
Edited by Chance Hevia (Inside Pitch) and Jason Sinner (Dochalo)
The Angels, as currently constructed, will be entering the new season with what can only be described as one of the best set of outfielders in all of baseball featuring a unique, Hall of Fame-bound, league-enviable center fielder, a competent, defensively-sound right fielder, and a two-time Silver Slugger and four-time All-Star roaming left field.
Across the last few years the Angels have had fantastic production out of center and right field so if newly minted Justin Upton can produce 3+ WAR per year during his tenure in Anaheim, the Angels will very likely have the most productive outfield trio in all of baseball, creating a great basis to build the rest of the team around this off-season.
Clearly 2017 was the banner year of production for the Halos in left field over the last three seasons. These players, by recent standards, produced a staggering 1.3 WAR in 2017.
Comparatively in 2016 they generated a feeble -0.8 WAR, led by the performances of Jefry Marte and Shane Robinson sharing the top spot at 0.3 WAR each and dragged down by the other seven guys we ran out there that season.
Two years ago, in 2015, they had a pathetic -1.1 WAR, led by no one in particular at 0.1 WAR apiece (five different players) and anchored down by, the renowned, Matt Joyce’s -0.7 WAR blood offering.
Suffice it to say, this year was a refreshing change of pace. A significant part of that came from the late August acquisition of Justin Upton (0.9 WAR over 115 PA’s). If he had played the full season (500+ PA’s) that number would have been close to the 5 WAR he actually did produce, giving a huge boost to the team.
Back in the Strategy article(s) we made an assumption that Justin will remain in Anaheim by either not opting-out or renegotiating with the team for slightly more money, an extra year or two, and/or a full no-trade clause, which he ultimately did.
The two sides, fortunately, settled on a 5-year, $106M contract which equates to an AAV of $21.2M per season. This settles our outfield situation for at least the next 2-3 years and can free Eppler to use one or more of our outfield prospects to acquire additional impact talent.
This was a win-win scenario for the Angels and for Upton. Eppler and company have filled our left field hole at a fair market rate and restructured Upton’s contract to free up a bit of immediate payroll while Justin gets to play in an area and environment he feels comfortable in and foregoes having to test the free agent market again.
If you look at the 2016-2017 off-season, the Mets signed Yoenis Cespedes, a very close comparable to J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton, for 4 years, $110M, which is an AAV of $27.5M per year. Cespedes, at the time of signing, had an approximate wRC+ of 123 with slightly better defense in relation to J.D. and Justin so in comparison it appears we hit the market rate or reached a slightly better than market rate on Upton’s deal.
In the end Billy Eppler finally nailed down a more permanent, long-term, left fielder which will be a welcome change and improvement for the next five seasons.
Author’s Choice –
Based on the O.C. Register’s Jeff Fletcher’s reporting prior to the season’s end combined with the fact that Billy Eppler, by making the trade with the Tigers in the first place, risked the chance Justin might not opt-out, clearly made him the most probable target to fill our left field hole on a long-term contract and that is what obviously happened. This feels like a solid move for the Halos.
That is one big, beautiful light blue bar to the left, rising like an Ares skyscraper in the heart of Anaheim for all to see and be amazed.
Obviously the Angels have zero production problems in center field with Mike Trout yielding a pristine 6.6 WAR (the other 0.3 came out of the DH spot) in an injury-shortened season.
The only problem that the Angels face with Mike right now is building a team around him that can effectively compete and make a deep push into the playoffs on an annual basis.
Thankfully this 2017-2018 off-season should prove to be a turning point in building a quality roster that can achieve the one and only primary goal of creating a championship-caliber team that we discussed in the Introduction.
Hopefully, in addition to improving the roster, Arte Moreno and Billy Eppler are also setting the groundwork for a huge extension contract for Mike, to keep him in Anaheim the rest of his career.
This is a topic of some concern for Angels fans and this off-season’s success or failure will prove critical from an optics point-of-view for Mike. The odds of him staying seem pretty good if the Angels can show him that they are improving the team and creating a strong supporting cast to make a solid regular-season run to win the Division.
If the Angels can do this and have a successful 2018 where they at least make the playoffs as well as setting the table for a strong 2019 and beyond it seems probable that Trout will sign that critical extension through the end of his playing days.
So what will it take to keep Mike?
Currently Trout has a 3-year running average of 8.3 WAR (WOW!). Assuming he plays full-time next year and pulls in a typical 8-9 WAR season that number will not change when the Angels enter the 2018-2019 off-season.
That winter market will see names like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Clayton Kershaw receive huge, record-breaking contracts. Specifically both Harper and Machado are likely to crest $400M in total contract value. Kershaw may crest $35M in AAV too (and Bryce and Manny might as well).
The competition for these players will be fierce as the Dodgers, Yankees, Nationals, and Phillies, all large market teams, will rightfully lure them in with their deep pockets. Once these players have signed these mega-contracts the Angels will be free and clear to offer Mike Trout the greatest extension contract in the history of baseball.
That number is very likely going to be $500M+. You should prepare yourselves mentally for this probable fact. As frightening as that number sounds to long-term payroll, the even scarier thing is that Trout is worth it, in terms of how teams currently model and valuate players.
In 2019 the free agent $/WAR value is likely to be close to $11M/WAR, give or take. If you use a very conservative $9.5M/WAR, while applying a modest 5% inflation increase per year, and begin with a base Mike Trout WAR per season of 8 WAR through his age 30 season, with a -0.5 decline in WAR through his age 34 season, and then a -1.0 WAR per year decrease after that, you get the following free agent value through his age 38 season:
Yes you are reading that right. That basic, conservative valuation puts a free agent value of $870M on Mike Trout if he were a free agent in the 2018-2019 off-season, signing a 12-year deal.
Now, of course, no team will actually pay him that in free agency, it is simply an unprecedented number. Even the Yankees or Dodgers would refuse to go that high and invest that much money in one player.
This is why the 2018-2019 free agent class is so important in setting the bar for free agent value. The highest paid position player in baseball, Giancarlo Stanton, received a 13 year, $325M contract three years ago prior to the 2015 season. He set the bar then just like Harper, Machado, and Kershaw will set the bar next year.
Simply put if Harper, for example, sets the pace with a 12 year, $450M contract, you can rest assured that Trout will be paid more. It seems reasonable that a deal at or exceeding $500M over 12 years not only rewards Mike as being the best player in baseball it sets an appropriately record-breaking salary figure that will not soon be bested in the next handful of years. Trout would be the first half-billion player in any sport and he would be underpaid in comparison to his actual production in free agent market terms.
Even if you use a lower starting value of $8.5M/WAR, a lower inflation value of 2%, and start out at 7 WAR per season through age 30 (with the same decline from above) it still comes out to $564M! No matter how you parse it, Mike Trout is very valuable!
This is why the Angels should do everything they can to extend Trout because if you believe the numbers from above it is an insanely good value play. Anytime you can obtain surplus value in a trade or through a free agent signing you should seriously consider doing it and this is potentially the mother of all value-signings!
Author’s Choice –
Mike Trout for at least the next 3 years and hopefully the next 13 years, if not longer, even if he still wants to play at age 39 or beyond (and hey why not others have!)! ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️!!!!
Good ol’ reliable Kole Calhoun!
Steady with the glove in 2017, Kole struggled earlier in the year at the plate but picked it up in the 2nd half of the season.
Last year around this time, Eppler signed Calhoun to a very team-friendly, 3 year, $26M extension contract with a $14M option year in 2020. Already the Angels have accumulated enough value from Kole’s play in 2017 to justify the move, making this a potentially rewarding deal for the team (high surplus value) and for Calhoun’s family.
Although you should fully expect to see Calhoun manning right field again in 2018, there is a very remote possibility that the Angels could trade Kole for an upgrade at another position and pursue a different right fielder.
For the Angels this type of move would only make sense if they could significantly upgrade one or more areas of the roster, thereby replacing and building upon Kole’s production. It wouldn’t make too much sense to move him otherwise.
Frankly in the free agent market there are no “must-have”, game-changing names except for Shohei Otani. Certainly players like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and J.D. Martinez could impact the team but they will also negatively impact the Angels payroll to a degree that would hurt our future ability to add mid-season or next off-season.
In the trade market there are only three potential names that have been bandied about as being available this off-season by their respective teams: Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Archer, and Christian Yelich. Each of these players presents advantages and disadvantages for the Angels.
Yelich is a rising young superstar who is under contractual control for the next five seasons at an extremely reasonable $58.25M. He has a 3-year running average of 4.3 WAR and there is no reason to believe that his production will subside anytime soon.
The problem with Christian is that he has so much surplus value only the teams with the most premium farm systems would be able to put together a package of prospects that Miami will almost certainly covet in exchange. The Angels could certainly offer Calhoun and perhaps one of our starters as collateral in addition to one of our top prospects but it seems unlikely the Marlins would have interest, thus making Yelich almost certainly off-limits to the Halos.
Archer’s issue is also his extensive surplus value. He is under guaranteed contractual control for two more years at an insanely low AAV of $4.25M with two additional team option years attached at $9M and $11M each (still crazy low). Chris has a 3-year running average of 4.4 WAR although he is fast approaching 30 years old and could begin a decline phase in his latter years.
He, too, would require a king’s ransom, likely requiring Calhoun (with Corey Dickerson moving to DH and either Souza or Kole manning LF and RF), one of our starters, C.J. Cron, and one of our top OF prospects. Although we would be losing a lot of production the real hidden advantage here is the minuscule amount of payroll Archer would require, which would still allow the Angels to go out on the free agent or trade markets and find a replacement right fielder. This too, just like a Yelich trade, would be very challenging for Eppler to execute based on our available resources making it unlikely to occur.
Finally Giancarlo has an unusual contract where he can opt-out after the 2020 season. Because of this, his contract is currently split into two time frames: 1 ) The next three years he is owed $25M, $26M, and $26M, respectively and that translates to an AAV of $17.83M per season which includes the 2015-2017 time frame and 2 ) The seven follow-on years he is owed a total of $208M which translates to an AAV of $29.714M per season over the 2021-2027 time frame. Additionally Stanton has a $25M team option for 2028 with a $10M buy-out.
From a strategic standpoint, finding a slugger that can, when healthy, produce upwards of 6+ WAR, at that reasonable price over the next three seasons, would be an exceptional value to acquire. Remember we just signed Justin, who is two years older with a 3-year running average of 3.27 WAR, to a 5-year, $106M deal at an AAV of $21.2M so in comparison Stanton, over the next three years, is potentially giving you double the WAR with an AAV that is $3.5M less.
The reality is that after the 2018-2019 off-season when Harper, Kershaw, Machado, and, hopefully, Trout (mega-extension) shatter the ceiling of the top contracts ever signed it will make Giancarlo’s decision to opt-out two years after that off-season a lot more likely as he can easily make an additional $50M in free agency. This means that, barring an unhealthy 2020, Stanton would almost certainly opt-out which means that any team acquiring him should only be paying for his next three seasons of control.
Realistically only the large payroll teams can afford Giancarlo and it has been noted he would prefer to play on the West or East coasts. His surplus value is approximately $100M (depends on what valuation model you are using but it is in the ballpark based on his 3-year running average of 4.7 WAR) so out of the three names we have listed here he is probably the “easiest” to trade for in terms of players and prospects if an acquiring team is willing to take on most or all of his remaining contract.
To be very clear to everyone reading, acquiring a player like Stanton is a real long shot for any team, much less the Angels. The advantages we have include our geographic location (Los Angeles) which Giancarlo has stated as a preferred destination to play, enough payroll space to actually make it work, and enough resources and prospect capital to make one really significant trade for a player like him.
The disadvantages include other clubs like the Dodgers, Phillies, Giants, Yankees, Nationals, and Red Sox that will also inquire on him and in some cases have potentially more attractive prospects in addition to the fact that a contract of this size and complexity will be very difficult to negotiate and pull off. The odds are no more than 10%-15% that the Angels could make this happen in my opinion as an outsider looking in.
Eppler would clearly have to send Kole to offset some of Stanton’s salary and provide a great deal of collateral value in the trade as well as at least one top outfield prospect like Jahmai Jones, Jordon Adell, or Brandon Marsh (probably the former).
Additionally the Angels would probably need to provide at least one other quality prospect and another “filler” type prospect (think something like Chris Rodriguez and Kaleb Cowart for instance). Also if Billy offers to take on another heavy Marlins contract like Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, or Brad Ziegler it could improve our chances to acquire Giancarlo and could lower the acquisition price slightly.
For those of you concerned about the Angels ability to add Stanton to team payroll I have added Giancarlo’s three years to our current roster, replacing Calhoun, which changes the payroll numbers to the following:
2018-2020 Actual Payroll
2018-2020 AAV Payroll
Clearly the Angels can manage a Stanton addition in terms of both actual team payroll and in regard to the Competitive Balance Tax threshold. The numbers above certainly do not account for the other moves the Angels will make but they also do not consider players that will eventually be traded off of the roster as well. The bottom line is that Giancarlo’s contract is manageable heading into the 2018-2020 time frame.
In the end, Calhoun will likely be our starting right fielder on Opening Day 2018 and that is perfectly fine (I personally love Kole!).
However if Eppler thinks he can improve the team significantly by expending the right set of resources and can navigate the very complex deal-making required for a Stanton, Archer, or Yelich trade, you have to seriously consider it in the Mike Trout window of contention.
Just don’t hold your breath we’d hate to be responsible for a bunch of fainting Angels fans!
Author’s Choice –
Kole Calhoun is the logical, six sigma choice here but keep in mind that the Angels are prepared to strike either this year or next and could add an additional All-Star player now, or then, potentially running up over the Luxury Tax threshold in the two-year period in 2019 and 2020 or 2020 and 2021 for Moreno’s “right” player scenario which could make Mr. Grit Jr. expendable in a very narrow set of improbable-trade frameworks.
In the next Section we will discuss our backstops and bench players.