A friend of mine is trying to get a job within baseball operations (Aren’t we all?), and the truth is that he has a good baseball resume. He was a teammate of mine at D3 Powerhouse Vassar College, pursued pro ball through various independent leagues, and is currently pursuing a masters in Sports Something from Somewhere. As part of the interview process, front offices send him questions that any open-minded executive would ask of his interviewees. He screens the questions through me, presumably because I’m a respectable baseball mind who spews something between hot takes and baseball research on my baseball blog on the internet. One that interested me was “Who is the most underrated position player in the MLB?” (My knee jerk answer was Mike Trout, my half baked answer was Jed Lowrie, and I ultimately settled on George Springer. The last two weeks have made me feel good about that.) But today’s post centers on another question: “Who should the Angels top 3 trade targets be this offseason?”
To answer that question, takes a fairly good understanding of where the Angels are and how they would like to get into the playoffs. It’s an organization defined by Mike Trout. We ran a post in March from an Angels fan venting about wasting Mike Trout’s prime. And then we ran another that painted a picture of a rudderless catamaran cratering towards a Titanic-iceberg lest they dramatically remake the Angels roster. Then, something kinda funny happened: The Angels finished with an 80-82 mark and were just one game out of the playoffs with two weeks to play despite missing about two months from their star. That doesn’t sound like a ship without a rudder, nor a roster wasting a generational talent.
So how did the Angels wind up a “pretty good” team in 2017? Well, their position players finished exactly in the middle of the AL in terms of WAR, but exactly last in the AL in terms of wOBA, the metric that quantifies offensive contributions. The insinutation then, is that the pitching must have been above average. Well… would you believe they finished exactly in the middle of the AL in terms of WAR from pitchers? I could throw more stats at you, but the short story is that their relievers were really good, and their starters weren’t.
It follows that from a macro perspective, the Angels should have two offseason goals: Improve their offense, and starting pitching.
The starting pitching part is tricky though. The Angels definitely have a plan there, but the answer isn’t straightforward. Where they have depth, they don’t have 5 top guys in the way that the Nationals or Cubs did in 2017. Plus, each of their guys has injury concerns. Here’s a quick rundown of each of the guys who made a start for the Angels in 2017:
- Ricky Nolasco is a very average MLB starting pitcher, with a $13M option for next year that the Angels would be wise to pass
- JC Ramirez made 24 effective starts last year, but deferred Tommy John surgery by opting for stem cell therapy
- Matt Shoemaker is talented, but the results haven’t followed. He also missed the last 12 weeks after of the season after he had surgery to repair the radial nerve in his right (pitching) forearm.
- Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs both recovered from Tommy John surgery to tease at why they’re former first round picks.
- Garrett Richards is very talented, sporting a 3.06 ERA over the last 4 seasons, but has managed just 62.1 innings pitched in 2016 and 2017 as he battles his own arm problems.
- Parker Bridwell, Yusmeiro Petit, and Jesse Chavez are the type of guys who keep you in games if those first 7 all flame out.
The Angels rotation will probably be fine. Law of averages right? Some of those guys have to get healthy eventually. Just ask the Mets! Sure, they might be wise to lock up a top of the rotation guy, but what team wouldn’t?
The offense is where they have some real flexibility. They’re locked into whatever Albert Pujols is in 2018, defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons is unlikely to improve on his 2017 offensive season, and Kole Calhoun is locked down on a reasonable multi-year deal to play right field. But beyond those three (and Mike Trout), the Angels have a chance to significantly revamp their lineup this offseason.
They likely knew that when they traded for Justin Upton in August, thinking that an inside track to the outfielder was a good idea. Depending on their choices for Ricky Nolasco and Huston Street, the Angels will likely have something like $40Mil to go sign Justin Upton, a second baseman, and explore upgrades elsewhere.
But in thinking through how they would pursue Justin Upton assuming he opts out of his current deal, does a deal significantly above his current 4/89 really make much sense? He just turned 30, and long ago showed signs of slowing down.
If you’re the Angels and you’re surveying the available options, wouldn’t rolling the dice on a couple of other free agents sound enticing? While Carlos Gonzalez and Jose Bautista both looked lost at times this year, the talent is obviously there. With the Angels rolling the dice on their stable of pitchers, why not do the same on the offense and hope that everything comes up Aces?
Regardless of how strongly they pursue Upton, it’s obvious that his decision whether to opt-out will significantly impact both their free agent and trade pursuits.
Back to the question that was originally posed: Who should the Angels top 3 trade targets be this offseason?
I hit my friend with a series of trade targets that were all unlikely, but intriguing. I will run through them here for you quickly:
- Ian Kinsler and Nick Castellanos – The Tigers are in “sell” mode and Kinsler could likely be had for relatively cheap as he’s a free agent at the end of next year. He would significantly enhance their lineup, if not make them a bit too right-handed. Castellanos – ditto, but would require more in trade chips.
- Marcell Ozuna – The Marlins have signaled that they intend to cut payroll and Ozuna is projected to make $15M through arbitration this offseason.
- Dee Gordon – Another Marlin who would be available due to the payroll slash. Would be a good fit atop the Angels lineup in front of Trout.
- Brett Gardner – In May, I suggested a Gardner for Starling Marte swap and was met with death threats. He would also fit well atop the Angels lineup and could be had for pennies.
- Andrew McCutchen // Austin Meadows – The Pirates have long been rumored to be dealing their star. I think it’s increasingly unlikely, especially given his second half resurgence. A swap of Meadows for more pitching makes sense. Why not with the Angels?
- Matt Kemp – Doesn’t fit, but the Braves fan in me is trying to give him away.
Of course, all of those outfield trade targets only make sense in a world where Justin Upton opts out. He’s the key to their whole offseason plan. So who are my top three Angels trade targets? Nick Castellanos, Dee Gordon, and Austin Meadows. Go get it done AJ Preller.