November 2012

A quick word about the Angels’ payroll …

I keep getting questions about the 2013 payroll and how much money Jerry Dipoto can spend on starting pitching, but it’s hard to give a definite answer because the Angels won’t publicly say where they project it.

As I’ve written all along, though, my best assumption for 2013 — based on conversations with others, and simply the Angels’ approach thus far — is that they’ll be somewhere between $140 and $145 million; maybe a little less, maybe a little more. It won’t be $159 million like last year.

If that ends up being the case, it leaves them with less than you might think.

Here’s a breakdown, with a little help from The Count 

* The Angels owe just over $96 million to the following eight players: Vernon Wells, Jered Weaver, Albert PujolsC.J. Wilson, Howie Kendrick, Erick AybarChris Iannetta and Scott Downs.

* Ryan Madson, the ninth signed player, could make somewhere between $3.5 million and $7 million. Let’s assume, for the purposes of this exercise, that he makes $6 million — easily attainable if healthy. That puts them at $102 million.

* The Angels paid $3.5 million to buy out Dan Haren‘s option, and they paid the Royals $1 million in sending Ervin Santana to Kansas City. That’s now roughly $107 million (we’ll round up).

* The Angels will tender contracts to all four of their arbitration-eligible players. If we’re using MLBTradeRumors.com’s arbitration projections — about as accurate as you can find — that puts Kendrys Morales ($4.8 million), Alberto Callaspo ($4.2 million), Jerome Williams ($1.9 million) and Kevin Jepsen ($1.1 million) at a combined $12 million. Now we’re looking at about $119 million.

* You’d think that leaves them with somewhere between $21 to $26 million based on the earlier payroll projection, right? Well, you have to account for everyone else. I’ve currently listed 13 active players the Angels are accounting for on their 25-man roster. Let’s say they sign two starters and nothing more. That’s 15, leaving them with 10 players who make the Major League minimum because they’re between zero to three years of service time. Those contracts are usually about $500,000, so that’s an additional $5 million, putting them at $124 million.

If we bump that up to $125 million — some of the arbitration guys may get a little more; the Angels may pay Mike Trout a little extra after his near-MVP season — that leaves them with $15 to $20 million, if my payroll projection holds true. I’ve been told the Angels likely won’t be paying Zack Greinke $150 million on a six-year contract (an average of $25 million a year), and perhaps you can see why based on this breakdown. Will he really get that much? That’s the big question. Are they out on Greinke? I wouldn’t go that far just yet.

But the Angels need two starters, and if Greinke prices himself out of Anaheim, the alternate route could be to sign one mid-rotation starter, one innings-eater and more relievers.

Obligatory PSA: The current payroll is a rough estimation, and the payroll projection is an educated guess. I’m just trying to provide as clear a picture as I can. We won’t know for sure until the offseason concludes — and as last year showed, anything can happen.

Alden 

Is this the end of Frieri’s closing days? …

The Angels are closing in on a one-year agreement with Ryan Madson.

And if the deal does indeed get finalized (it can happen as early as Tuesday), you have to figure it’s so that Madson eventually becomes the closer. Recovery from Tommy John surgery may not have him ready by Opening Day, and he’ll probably need a tune-up before resuming the ninth inning (see: Nathan, Joe in 2011). But part of the appeal for Madson to sign this early, and take a low-base, high-incentive salary, is to close on a contending team. And surely the Angels sold him on that.

That would move Ernesto Frieri to the eighth inning, one year after being one of baseball’s biggest surprises.

Frieri was basically unhittable shortly after coming over from the Padres in early May, finishing the year with a 2.32 ERA, a .96 WHIP, 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings and 23 saves in 26 chances. But Madson was one of the game’s best late-inning relievers from 2008-11, posting a 2.86 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP while averaging 68 innings, 68 strikeouts and 18 walks per season. He has the better track record, is less prone to walks and went 32-for-34 in saves with the Phillies in 2011 (giving up only two homers despite pitching out of Citizens Bank Park).

So, that probably means Frieri is the setup man, with Kevin Jepsen in the seventh, Scott Downs as a floater and the likes of Nick Maronde, Jordan Walden, etc. filling out the ‘pen (though the offseason is still very young). Here’s what Jerry Dipoto told me early in the offseason about Frieri and his plans for the ninth. Appropriate on a day like today, methinks …

“We didn’t acquire Ernie with the idea that he was going to step in as our closer. We acquired him with the idea that he was going to help us get the last nine outs and he earned being the closer. That wasn’t the design. Obviously, if our staff remained unchanged, then he has a very good chance to be that guy again. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Ernie had a fabulous year. It’s very easy to lose track with the two emotional losses versus Texas and Kansas City down towards the end how good this guy was all year. It was phenomenal how big an impact he made on our season and on our team. One thing I’m certain of is that Ernesto in 2012 was a huge advantage to us and we have every expectation that he’s going to be just as high an impact in 2013. But like the question I answered a year ago, we’ll go into the offseason with the idea that Ernie is our ninth-inning guy, and we’re going to try to craft a group in that bullpen that works, and however most effectively we can get those last nine outs, we’ll get them.” 

Alden

Getting ready for the Rule 5 Draft …

By 8:59 p.m. PT today, teams must set their 40-man rosters in anticipation for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. This is when teams choose whether or not to “protect” their eligible players from being taken in that Draft, which takes place at the end of each year’s Winter Meetings (this one being Dec. 6, in Nashville, Tenn.).

For those unfamiliar with the process, here’s a quick primer …

Players who signed after age 18 and have been in the Minors for four years, or players who signed at 18 or younger and have been in the Minors for five years, are eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 Draft if not on the 40-man roster. Now, it’s very rare that teams will find success through the Rule 5 Draft (Josh Hamilton, Johan Santana and Dan Uggla are among very few success stories) because, frankly, there’s a reason players are left exposed despite being in a system so long. Any player taken in the Rule 5 Draft costs $50,000. That player, then, must remain on the drafting team’s active Major League roster during the following season or be offered back to the original club for $25,000.

The Angels’ 40-man roster is currently at 31, so there’s some wiggle room (though the Angels must keep space for all the pitching they want to acquire this offseason). Also, an important side note: Any player who signs a Minor League deal before the Rule 5 Draft can be taken, regardless of his service time. That means each of the players the Angels signed this offseason are eligible if left off. As for guys who have been in their system for a while? Here are some names to watch …

* Travis Witherspoon, a 23-year-old center fielder who hit .268 with a .350 on-base percentage, 13 homers and 34 RBIs in high A and Double-A this season.

* Carlos Ramirez, 24, who posted a .205/.312/.276 slash line in 85 Double-A games. Ramirez, like Witherspoon, played in the Arizona Fall League.

* Orangel Arenas, a 23-year-old right-hander who went 5-11 with a 5.26 ERA in 27 games (24 starts) in Double-A.

* Matt Shoemaker, who’s 26 and went 11-10 with a 5.65 ERA in 29 Triple-A starts.

* Ryan Brasier, a 25-year-old right-handed reliever who posted a 4.37 ERA and 13 saves in 59 2/3 Triple-A innings.

* Efren Navarro, a 26-year-old lefty-hitting first baseman who won a Minor League Gold Glove in 2011 and posted a .294/.336/.403 slash line in Triple-A.

* Matt Long, a 25-year-old lefty-hitting outfielder who posted a .282/.350/.462 slash line with 23 steals in Double-A and Triple-A.

* Jeremy Berg, 26, posted a 3.75 ERA in 74 1/3 innings at Double-A and Triple-A.

Alden 

Sun sets on the Arizona Fall League …

The Scottsdale Scorpions, made up partly of Angels prospects, finished the Arizona Fall League 15-16 — not good enough to qualify for the championship game — and top prospect Kaleb Cowart (pictured) struggled. The 20-year-old, switch-hitting, former first-round pick, who rose to No. 1 in the Angels’ system by the end of the season, posted a .200/.265/.283 slash line with one home run in 17 AFL games. As one scout said, he was simply “out of gas.” The same thing happened to Mike Trout in 2011, playing a lot in September with the Angels and scuffling big time while on the same team as Bryce Harper in the AFL. So, what do you make of Cowart’s fall? Nothing. He’s still a talented prospect the Angels hope can be their everyday third baseman by 2014 (though 2015 may be a safer bet). Below are how the rest of the Angels prospects did in the AFL. For more info on the league, go here, and for more info on these guys, click here

LHRP Buddy Boshers: 4 R (3 ER), 3 SO, 3 BB, 2 2/3 IP

RHRP Bobby Cassevah: 2-0, 3.13 ERA, 6 GS, 23 IP, 18 SO, 8 BB

RHRP Ryan Chaffee: 8 R, 9 SO, 6 BB, 6 1/3 IP

RHRP Kevin Johnson: 3.75 ERA, 7 SO, 1 BB, 12 IP

C Carlos Ramirez: 6-for-24, 4 RBI

OF Randal Grichuk: .228/.297/.351, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 16 G

CF Travis Witherspoon: .219/.288/.411, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 21 G

Alden 

Groundskeepers holding food drive

If you get a chance at some point this weekend, head down to Angel Stadium with non-perishable food items. It’s for a good cause, and it could be a lot of fun. Here’s some info from the Angels’ media-relations department …

WHO: The Angels’ Groundskeepers will host their 12th annual Thanksgiving Holiday Canned Food Drive from Friday, November 16th thru Sunday, November 18th at Angel Stadium of Anaheim (weather permitting). All proceeds will benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County in the fight against hunger during the holiday season.

WHAT: Fans will have the opportunity to step up to the plate at Angel Stadium and take a swing for the fences. Donations of three cans of non-perishable food or $2 will be good for one swing against a pitching machine with a maximum of 20 pitches per participant. A donation of two canned food items or $1 per pitch will allow fans to test their pitching skills in the bullpen. Fans will also have the opportunity to shag fly balls in the outfield for a donation of $25 for 15 minutes. The Angels will provide bats, balls and helmets. The Angels Clubhouse Attendants will also provide a tour of the Clubhouse for a donation of $10.

WHEN: Friday, November 16th thru Sunday, November 18th at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Hours for the food drive will be 8AM – 4PM.

WHERE:  Participants will enter Angel Stadium through Gate #1 and proceed to the Field Level.

MISC: Those who are unable to attend, but would like to make a monetary donation, may send checks to: Second Harvest Food Bank, 8014 Marine Way, Irvine, CA 92618 or visit their website at: www.feedoc.org

Alden 

Why Mike Trout should’ve won the MVP …

And now, at last, it’s over.

That heated MVP debate — which saw countless bloggers, reporters, columnists, broadcasters, analysts, fans, executives, players and even Nate Silver take hard stances – can be put to rest. Miguel Cabrera edged out Mike Trout for the American League Most Valuable Player Award, in a vote that was nowhere near as close as many expected, and the argument has been settled for good. Turn on the lights, settle your bar tab, stop the music and drive home safely, everyone.

Right?

Nah, probably not. This is a debate that will probably continue for a long, long time.

And in my mind — with the risk of coming off as a complete homer — Trout was the AL MVP in 2012.

It has nothing to do with WAR. I just think Trout was a better all-around player who did more for his team this year. Simple as that. Cabrera’s season — .330 batting average, 44 homers, 139 RBIs; 1.081 OPS in the final two months — was outstanding. He was clearly the better hitter — but only slightly. Trout was far better on the bases, far better on the field and, in many ways, his season was unprecedented (Cabrera can’t say that).

The fact Trout did most of it at age 20, and all of it despite spending the first month in the Minors, shouldn’t help him in this argument; just like track record shouldn’t help Cabrera. But to vote for Cabrera over Trout, in my mind, is to almost ignore the importance of baserunning and defense in this game. And I thought we had evolved from that.

***

I don’t really fault those who voted Cabrera, but I find fault in the way some may have reached those conclusions. See, if you’re going to vote for Cabrera, vote for him because he’s the best hitter on the planet, which he is. Don’t vote for him due to things that were in many ways out of his control.

Like …

The Triple Crown

An incredibly rare achievement — only 15 others have done it, and none since 1967 — but also one that’s dependent on how others do.

Those batting-average, home-run and RBI totals Cabrera used to win the honor would’ve won him the Triple Crown only one other time since 2000 (in ’08). In all the other years, he’d be short in batting average, or homers, or RBIs — and in several cases, more than one. I’m not dismissing it, just trying to point out how arbitrary it can be.

On four occasions — twice with Ted Williams, once each with Lou Gehrig and Chuck Klein — the Triple Crown winner and MVP were different.

Here’s one reason why 2012 should’ve made it five: As rare as the Triple Crown is, Trout notched an even rarer feat. He topped 125 runs, 45 steals and 30 homers in the same season. No other player in history has done all three of those in one season. And on top of that, he hit over .320.

Playoffs

Yes, the Tigers made the playoffs, but they did so by winning one less game than the Angels (89-88) because they had the benefit of playing in the much-weaker AL Central.

And then there’s how they performed down the stretch, a big sticking point for Cabrera supporters. After Aug. 31, Cabrera posted a .344/.411/.670 slash line. Trout: .289/.400/.500. But who’s to say September is any more important than, say, June or July? (Heck, if  you ask the Angels, the vast majority will say a run-starved, Trout-less April is the reason they ultimately didn’t make the playoffs.) Don’t they all count towards the aggregate number of wins that decide whether or not you play on?

“I think if I don’t win the Triple Crown, if we don’t get into the playoffs, I think there’s no question Trout would be the MVP,” said Cabrera, who, to his credit, was very complimentary and respectful of Trout in a conference call. “I think winning the Triple Crown helped me a lot to win this. I think [getting to the playoffs] helped me a lot.”

There were many reasons to like Cabrera, but those two shouldn’t have been major factors.

***

Most importantly, though, I simply can’t ignore how much better Trout was than Cabrera in every other aspect besides standing in a batter’s box, and how important that was to his team.

Here are some stats courtesy of Silver’s blog post (the same one he used to pick 99 of 100 states accurately in the last two presidential elections) …

Trout gave the Angels 12 additional runs on the bases when compared to an average runner, while Cabrera cost the Tigers three.

Trout saved 11 runs on defense according to UZR, while Cabrera (who, granted, played a better third base than I expected) cost them 10.

Again, no disrespect to Cabrera, who I’ve enjoyed watching since he was a much slimmer shortstop coming up in the Marlins’ system. I just think Trout did more for his team, and I think a lot of voters got caught up in the hollow luster of a Triple Crown and a playoff berth.

Trout should’ve won the MVP — and you don’t need to cite a 10.7 WAR to believe it.

Alden 

Is the Angels’ lineup already set? …

The Angels have made it clear — even though their roster configuration can do it for them — that pitching is priority Nos. 1, 2 and 3 this offseason. It has to be with only Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson returning from the 2012 rotation and with a bullpen that blew 22 saves this past season.

That’s why the Angels never had a chance with Torii Hunter, even though the veteran outfielder was willing to give them a hometown discount. On Wednesday morning, Hunter signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the Tigers, choosing not to wait on the Angels because they continue to scrounge for pitching (most likely via the free-agent market) and couldn’t offer more than a one-year, $5 million contract to a 37-year-old coming off a career year.

Question is: Are the Angels done with the position-player half of their roster?

It’s still early, and a lot can happen, but at the very least, it looks like they very well can be.

“It’s so early in the offseason that it’s impossible to say, but the reality is we are focused on pitching,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Right now, our primary focus is on pitching and we’re very comfortable with the position-player club that we have.”

Here are the 13 position players I’d have slated to join the active roster if the season started today …

OF: Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo, Vernon Wells, Kole Calhoun
INF: Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Albert Pujols, Andrew Romine
C: Chris Iannetta, Hank Conger
DH: Kendrys Morales

And as @GBenn823 asked via Twitter, here’s how I would do the lineup …

Trout, LF
Aybar, SS
Pujols, 1B
Morales, DH*
Trumbo, RF
Kendrick, 2B
Callaspo, 3B
Iannetta, C
Bourjos, CF

* Wells can start at DH (or perhaps right field) against a lefty, which were the days Morales sat in 2012. 

The Angels would probably still deal Wells if they can find someone to kick in a little money on the $42 million owed to him the next two years, and they may look to shore other areas up to create more competition in camp. But their attention is turned almost solely to pitching, most notably Zack Greinke.

Alden 

Minor League free agents …

Baseball America compiled a list of Minor League free agents by club on Tuesday, and the Angels had 18. Among the notables is center fielder Jeremy Moore, who played in eight games with the Angels in 2011, was invited to Spring Training earlier this year and missed all of 2012 after undergoing hip surgery.

Here’s the full slate from the publication …

RHP: Adam Russell (AAA), Sean White (AAA)
LHP: Manuel Flores (HiA), Matt Meyer (AAA), Greg Smith (AAA)
C: Alberto Rosario (AA), Carson Vitale (LoA)
1B: Paul McAnulty (AA)
2B: Renny Osuna (AA)
3B: Jimmy Swift (AAA)
SS: Ryan Barba (HiA), Ed Lucas (AAA), Darwin Perez (AA)
OF: Cory Aldridge (AAA), Angel Castillo (AA), Trevor Crowe (AAA), Doug Deeds (AAA), Moore (AAA)

Alden 

Haren-for-Marmol deal apparently not happening

UPDATE, 7:30 P.M. PT: The proposed deal swapping Haren for Marmol is “not happening,” a source told MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal said Marmol was going to OK the deal to the Angels — like he said — but the Cubs pulled it off the table. Angels still have until 9.m. PT to decide on Haren’s $15.5 million option, with a $3.5 million buyout. They can still exercise it and trade him later.

——-

UPDATE, 6 P.M. PT: A source close to the situation said reports of a completed deal are “premature” because the Angels are “still in active discussions with more than one team.”

News first broke when Marmol, speaking from the Dominican Republic, told the local publication El Caribe that he had been traded, adding in Spanish: “I like Anaheim. They have talent and they’ll give me an opportunity. I’m grateful to Chicago.” CBSSports.com first reported that Haren was headed to Chicago, with a source confirming that the deal is “headed in that direction.”

Marmol, who has compiled 115 saves in his seven-year career, will make $9.8 million in his walk year in 2013 and had to waive a no-trade clause to go to the Angels.

“There were a lot of teams interested,” he told El Caribe, “but Anaheim has a lot of talent and will be in contention.”

——-

5:15 P.M.: The Angels have reportedly traded starting pitcher Dan Haren to the Cubs in exchange for reliever Carlos Marmol. Marmol told a media outlet in the Dominican Republic, and CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman confirmed that Haren is indeed going to Chicago.

Still no word from the Angels or Cubs, but a source close to the situation said the deal is “headed in that direction.”

The Angels had until 9 p.m. PT to make a decision on Haren’s $15.5 million contract, which has a $3.5 million buyout, and were looking to trade him. Marmol posted a 3.42 ERA in 55 1/3 innings last year, striking out 72 batters and walking 45 while going 20-for-23 in saves. He’s signed through next season for $9.8 million.

– Alden Gonzalez

Hunter sees writing on wall, but keeps hope alive

The Angels declined to tender Torii Hunter a $13.3 million qualifying offer today. It’s an expected move, yes, but it’s also a sign of how far apart the two sides are. Frankly, they’re far. Very far. And Hunter is starting to realize that it may not work out. But he’s also holding out hope.

Here’s what he said when reached by phone today …

On not receiving a qualifying offer …

I figured they wouldn’t. I’m not surprised. They have so much going on with Vernon Wells’ contract and they have to wheel and deal. I mean, all is not lost. There’s still a chance that I can be there, so we’ll see what happens. But right now, it’s the business side of baseball and my agent, Larry Reynolds, and I, we’re going to just come up with a game plan because it’s also a business for me. This is my business, this is my company, this is my job – me. And I have to take care of that company, so that’s what I’m going to do to the best of my availability.

On having to move on …

Moving on doesn’t mean I have to stray away from the Angels. Yeah, I have to move on. I have to go out there and see what’s out there for me. But as a free agent, the Angels are a part of that, too. Like I said, there’s still love in my heart for the Angels. Don’t get it twisted. But I have to be ready to take care of my company, which is me.

On how it’s gone …

Just individually – I love the Angels’ organization, I love the fans, I love my teammates, I love my manager. So, of course, I want to be there and you’ve been hearing about that all season. But it’s just not working out. It didn’t work out today. But all is not lost.

On the confidence level for a return …

It’s pretty low. … But you know, like I said, all is not lost and you never know. [Owner] Arte [Moreno] knows what he’s doing, he’s a business man, and when you think something’s not going to happen with him, it happens. I still think there’s a shot, but at the same time, there’s going to be a lot of teams with shots. I have to do that.

On playing on a winning team …

My plan is to win no matter what, and if I’m on a winning team, of course I’m going to try to get with a ballclub that’s trying to win. That’s the plan.

On playing center field …

I will be in shape for center field. … Don’t get it twisted, because a lot of people look into the numbers, I can play the outfield no matter where it is. I can play it no matter what. So any team asks me to play anywhere, I can play it, no matter what. And I’d probably be a lot better than normal.

Alden 

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