What kind of team can a newly appointed GM build for Mike Scioscia?
The Los Angeles Angels have been one of the most talked-about teams in the offseason so far.
Owner Arte Moreno has been completely unwilling to accept failure in the past and has proven willing to do just about anything to produce a winning ball club. Following a disappointing 2010 offseason sandwiched by two disappointing regular seasons, the Angels have raised payroll by $20 million and fired much of the front office, including General Manager Tony Reagins and most of his staff.
So with the expectations high and possibilities seemingly endless, what will the Angels do next in their attempt to return to the postseason?
Despite a poor performance in 2011, Angels LF Vernon Wells will make $24 million dollars in 2012
The Angels 2012 payroll following arbitration hearings and contractual player raises is set for approximately $119 million. This is $22 million less than their 2011 payroll. Every position player from 2011 is under contract for 2012, which lessens the necessity to spend large amounts of cash on a free agent, but also causes possible hardship because a non-pitcher free agent signing would likely accompany a trade.
Further complicating the issue is the continued development of outfielder Mike Trout. Despite being only 20 years old, Trout has the look of an everyday player and should push aside veterans Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu in his quest for regular playing time.
How deep are Arte Moreno's pockets?
Before dreaming of wild free agency adventures, Angels fans should first understand the economic climate of the team. The Angels were able to make the playoffs five out six years between 2004 and 2009 with an average payroll of $106 million. The Angels failed to make the playoffs in 2010 with a $121 million dollar payroll and fell short again in 2011 with a $144 million payroll. Angels VP of Communications Tim Mead admitted that the Angels have lost money for the past two years and fans need to realize that Arte Moreno did not become a billionaire by losing money on his investments.
However, Moreno has made it clear that he is willing to spend what it takes to win. While this does not mean the new GM will have the green light to spend like the Yankees, it does mean Los Angeles should be in the thick of any race to sign needed free agents. Realistically though, the Angels payroll will probably decrease in 2012.
The offense appears to be priority number one on the Angels agenda.
In 2011 the Angels offense ranked 10th in the American League in runs scored. To put this into perspective, the Royals, Orioles and Indians all put more runs on the board than Los Angeles did in 2011. Adding legitimacy to the call for offense, three of the top four offenses in the league made the playoffs, and the other was one pitch away (Boston Red Sox).
If the Angels intend to play meaningful October baseball in 2012, then offense needs to be their first priority. With every position player set to return for 2012 and Mike Trout and Kendrys Morales needing spots to play, the new General Manager will need to be creative in positioning the Angels for a 2012 title run.
Will 2012 be the year the Angels no longer play the sub .200 hitting Jeff Mathis?
The Angels are the only team in the American League that essentially bats a pitcher. This may be an insult to pitchers as most would probably hit over .200 if given the opportunity Jeff Mathis has received. While no one doubts Mathis' athletic prowess behind the plate, his defensive metrics have never been superb and his offense ranks among the worst of all time, behind even the infamous Mario Mendoza whom the "Mendoza Line" (.200 batting average) was named after.
The Angels need to cut Mathis to save the $1.7 million dollars he's making and to save the team from having Scioscia pencil him into the starting lineup everyday. It's time to call mercy on this one, doing so decreases the post-arbitration down to approximately $117 million.
Bobby Abreu may have played his final game in an Angels uniform
I expect the Angels to look into trading Bobby Abreu, but his inability to play the field and his $9 million dollar price tag will make this difficult. The Angels will be forced to eat more than $6 million of the contract, but they should be able to pull off a trade. This will lower payroll to around $114 million after arbitration, clear room for Mike Trout and Kendrys Morales and is a necessary move.
Next on the agenda, upgrading third base. Current third baseman Alberto Callaspo flashed some fancy leather at the hot corner and managed to hit .288 with a solid .366 OBP. Many major league teams would love to see this from their third basemen, but the Angels are unique in that they have several hitters just like Callaspo already in the lineup. Los Angeles needs power and the hot corner is the most easily upgradeable position at this time.
Is Aramis Ramirez headed to Anaheim?
The free agent market at third base is relatively shallow. In fact, the only third baseman eligible for free agency that would be considered an offensive upgrade is Aramis Ramirez. The 34-year-old third baseman hit .306/.361 with 35 doubles and 26 home runs in 149 games with the Cubs in 2011.
If Albert Pujols were to show a willingness to sign somewhere other than St. Louis, the Angels would certainly do everything within their power to sign him and place him at 3B, but this situation seems highly unlikely. Still, expect the Angels, along with every other Major League team to check in on the slugger.
Another avenue the Angels could travel down is signing shortstop Jose Reyes. Reyes does not seem like the middle of the order bat the Angels are looking for but the likelihood of Reyes signing with Anaheim isn't far fetched. The Angels expressed interest in acquiring Jose Reyes at the trade deadline when they offered Erick Aybar for him and Jose Reyes reportedly expressed interest in playing for the Angels.
Could the Angels swing a deal for David Wright?
A trade for David Wright could be a strong possibility. The Mets intend to reduce their payroll down from $140 million to between $100-110 million. Wright will make $15 million in 2012 and has a $16 million dollar option for 2013, but that becomes void if he's traded, making him a one year rental. The Mets are reportedly shopping David Wright this offseason and early speculation puts the Angels and Rockies as the favorites. The Angels may want to lock Wright up on a long term deal, but with a trade eliminating the option year, it seems unlikely Wright would do that as he would only be a year away from a larger payday.
Ryan Zimmerman is an intriguing name that has popped up lately. Former Nationals GM Jim Bowden thinks it would be a good idea for the Nats to trade their star third baseman to the Angels. This seems unlikely because the Nationals do not have payroll issues and have not expressed interest in trading Zimmerman, whose contract runs through 2013. This sounds more like fan fodder rather than legitimate possibility.
Realistically, Wright makes the most sense for the Angels. He plays solid defense, is the middle of the order bat they are looking for and can even steal a few bases. In fact, David Wright may be one of the few players whose numbers would improve by switching to the American League. The Mets new stadium is a place where home runs go to die. I expect the Angels will build a package of 3B Alberto Callaspo, RHP Garrett Richards and minor league reliever Steven Geltz for one year of Wright. It may seem like overpaying, but by playing in Los Angeles the Angels will theoretically increase the likelihood of Wright re-signing with the team.
The Angels would take on all of Wright's remaining $15 million dollars, and subtracting the approximately 2.5 million that Richards and Callaspo make will increase the team payroll to approximately $126.5 million.
Jordan Walden and his fellow relievers could use some help
No closer in Major League Baseball blew more saves (10) in 2011 than Jordan Walden and the Angels were only two games out of the Wild Card entering the final series of the season. Let the enormity of that statistic sink in before deciding whether or not the Angels could use another quality reliever with closing experience. The Angels bullpen was so bad in 2011 that it had to resort to relying on Bobby Cassevah to nail down the 7th inning, the same Bobby Cassevah that has posted an ERA of 4.27 and 4.64 the past two seasons in AAA.
Los Angeles has a wealth of minor league relievers that could become effective major league relievers soon, but until they become established arms, the Angels could use one or two more reliable right handed relievers. The free agent class of relievers is a relatively deep one this year.
- Closers - Heath Bell, Frank Francisco, Jon Papelbon and Ryan Madson
- Set-up - Joe Nathan, Brad Lidge and Kerry Wood.
If the Angels are looking to save a considerable amount of money, they may only have enough money to sign one of these relievers. Kerry Wood took less money to play in Chicago two years ago and seems to be interested in only pitching for the Cubs. The Phillies and Madson have expressed mutual interest and Madson is expected to remain the Phillies closer. Jon Papelbon's price tag appears to be outside of what the Angels can realistically afford and Heath Bell may accept arbitration just to stay in San Diego.
This leaves Frank Francisco, Joe Nathan and Brad Lidge. Both Francisco and Lidge were untouchable in the second half of 2011 and would be valuable additions to the Angels bullpen. However, when healthy, Lidge is in another class of elite relievers and that is something the Angels desperately need. I believe the realistic signing here would be for the Angels to offer Lidge a multi-year deal as their set-up man, throw in incentives just in case he needs to take over for Jordan Walden and call it an offseason. I think two years, $11 million with a third year club option worth $7 million would be enough to lure Lidge out west.
Can the Angels end their post season drought in 2012?
The final payroll entering the 2012 season would be $132 million, a full $10 million less than it was in 2011. Here is what I realistically expect the Angels to look like in 2012.
- SS Erick Aybar
- 2B Howie Kendrick
- 3B David Wright
- DH Kendrys Morales
- RF Torii Hunter
- 1B Mark Trumbo
- CF Peter Bourjos
- LF Mike Trout
- C Bobby Wilson
- Bench: OF Vernon Wells, C Hank Conger, INF Maicer Izturis, OF Jeremy Moore
- Rotation: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Jerome Williams, Tyler Chatwood
- Bullpen: Jordan Walden (9), Brad Lidge (8), Scott Downs (7), Hisanori Takahashi (L), Rich Thompson, Michael Kohn, Trevor Bell
Keep in mind that even though this has Vernon Wells and Maicer Izturis listed on the bench, they will both see regular starts. This is simply how the Angels would line up on any random day. The middle of the order looks dangerous again, youngsters Peter Bourjos, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo provide a dangerous bottom half of the order and the bullpen is greatly improved. If the Angels hire a creative General Manager, this is the team that I envision in 2012.