Time for my favorite column of the off-season, except in off-seasons in which the Angels have a lot of work to do because they didn't make the post-season… like this season. So, I guess this is not-so-much my favorite, but I still enjoy it because for this one time only I allow myself to fantasize and pretend that I am running the Angels.
OK, that's not true. I do that all the time, I just don't usually allow it to spill over into blog form. But today I will. I'm embarrassed to admit how much time I've spent formulating this off-season plan, wrestling over it in my mind even though it will never ever be put into action. So, without further adieu, here is my plan.
First the quick caveats. We don't know what the Angels' 2013 payroll will be, but I am going to peg it at $150 million which, after some rough estimates of arbitration outcomes, puts the Angels at $112 million in committed payroll for 17 players. So, that is the budget I will constrain this little exercise to. Also, I'm clearly limited on insider info, so free agent values and trade packages are estimated to the best of may ability.
Let's do it!
Step #1 – Re-sign Zack Greinke before he hits free agency
This absolutely has to happen, really before anything because it sets up so much of the rest of the plan. The real crucial element of it though is the additional cost of not keeping Greinke because of the strong possibility that he could wind up in Texas. That unto itself makes it worth overpaying him to the tune of six years, $125 million. That's a lot for the Angels to pay, but they can afford it, for now. It also means Texas will have to spend their budget on a lesser pitcher or possibly even give away key pieces of their farm system to trade for a comparable pitcher, like Cliff Lee, that they could've otherwise used to address other roster holes had they just signed Greinke.
If it only it was that easy in real life. Anyway, backload Greinke's deal a bit so that he earns $18 million in 2013 and the available spending money drops from $38 million to $20 million.
Step #2 – Trade Vernon Wells for a nothing prospect and $1 million in 2013 and 2014
I call this the Gary Matthews Dump version 2.0. Wells just needs to go. He isn't going to play enough to be happy, but he might play enough to hold back the Angel lineup since Scioscia just can't seem to totally quit him. Besides, he actually has a tiny bit of value right now since he put up slightly offer better than awful numbers after returning from his injury. I'd try and flip him to Baltimore as an upgrade over Lew Ford as Nate McLouth's platoon partner and bring back some fringy Triple-A pitcher back.
Step #3 – Keep Callaspo but jettison Izturis
I like Izturis better than Callaspo, but Izturis is too injury-prone to take over at third base and their just isn't any quality third basemen available to replace Callaspo. What they need is a steady defender who can hit just well enough to stay in the lineup for the next year or two while they wait on Kaleb Cowart. That couldn't be a better description of Callaspo. Plus, the Angels have Luis Jimenez waiting in the wings for a promotion if Callaspo struggles with the bat again. As for Izturis, his slot can be taken over by Andrew Romine with ease.
Step #4 – Keep Torii
I'm kind of against this, but I think there is something to be said for maintaining consistency. The Angels had a good offense last year and Hunter was a key clubhouse leader, so let's not mess with something that isn't broken. It sounds like he is going to test the market a bit, so, unfortunately, that means this will have to be a two-year deal around $16 million. That reduces the available budget to $13 million. Zoiks.
Step #5 – Replace Santana with Richards
This one is easy, Santana is maddening. Richards is probably going to be maddening as well, but at least he will cost significantly less. Besides, at some point this expensive roster needs to get some utility out of cheap young players.
Step #6a – Replace Dan Haren with…
Ah, a cliffhanger! Look, I like Haren a lot and wish he could stay, but what the Angels need is a little more reliability from the rotation. They already have to worry about Richards finally getting his shot and Wilson bouncing back from his elbow problems, so whatever they can do to get some consistency from their last rotation spot is key and they just can't do that with all the questions over Haren's back problems and performance problems last season.
Step #6b – …Jon Niese who the Angels acquired in exchange for Peter Bourjos and Hank Conger
Niese probably isn't the kind of name you would hope for, but you can blame the Angels for murdering Speedy Petey's trade value this last season. However, Niese is a pretty darn good pitcher. He may lack the upside of some other guys, but he is just 25 years old and already locked into a team-friendly long-term contract (which pays him just over $3 million in 2013). Most importantly, he has turned in two full season of strong, consistent work. The Mets realize they can use him to acquire some assets, so they are looking to move him and getting a quality outfielder like Bourjos is something I suspect they can't resist given the current state of their outfield which is a mess of platoon players that can't hit and/or field. Still, I'm not sure Bourjos is enough, so I'm tossing in Conger, who has no future in Anaheim, to sweeten the pot. The budget now stands at $10 million.
As for the idea of trading Bourjos, that is not something I take lightly. It is a huge risk for the years after 2013 since both Hunter and Morales could be gone or playing poorly. However, I just can't reconcile the idea of moving him or Trout to left field permanently. Defense is a big part of both of their games and it would be greatly reducing their potential value by shifting them out of center. If the Angels can get a good long-term value at a position of greater need, they need to do it. Besides, this way the Angels are free to pursue Shin-Soo Choo in free agency in 2014.
Step #7 – Reconstruct the bullpen
So far the team looks more or less the same and I'm OK with that. The Angels were a good team last year that dealt with some significant bad luck. They also dealt with a significantly bad bullpen. This unit needs a makeover, but not a total one. They already got a head start with the September promotion of Nick Maronde, who is a real weapon as a middle relief southpaw. I also have no problem with Frieri as the de facto closer, especially if Scioscia continues to mix in Downs if the situation calls for it, even if Downs is not quite the same pitcher. The only other holdovers are Jordan Walden, who they have to try and salvage, and Kevin Jepsen. I don't trust either of those guys, even if Jepsen did pitch well in the second half. We've seen that movie before and we know how it ends. This team needs two more quality right-handed middle relievers. The first guy to grab is Jon Rauch for $3.5 million. He isn't great but he would give the Angels a veteran who doesn't walk a lot of batters, which is actually a major need for the Halos. I know, another veteran re-tread and another Met, but the whole bullpen can't be youngsters. But just to hedge my bet, I'm also signing Matt Lindstrom, who is a similar pitcher to Rauch, but coming off a better season. He also is a groundball pitcher, another skill the Halos' current relievers lack. Give him another $3.5 million this bullpen looks a whole lot better.
Step #8 – Get some bench insurance
After jettisoning Wells and Bourjos, the Angels are in deep trouble if any of their outfielders get hurt. I have no problem with Kole Calhoun as a reserve outfielder though, so he gets a bench spot for sure. He joins Romine and Bobby Wilson, leaving one spot which I think needs to go to a more established veteran that can help out in multiple spots and be something of a security blanket for Scioscia if they lose a regular to injury. Sadly, even the free agent options here are sparse. The best available is washed up utilityman Ty Wigginton. He probably can't hit much anymore, but he can play third, second, first, left or right. He also is not going to complain about being a bench player, so kick him $3 million and give him a jersey. If he doesn't like that, I'd be willing to settle for Scott Hairston for $2 million.
So there you have it, a full roster and right on budget. It still leaves the Angels with a similar roster to a very good team from last season and even makes them a bit younger in the process. All this team really needs is some better luck and I think the moves here give them just that by removing some of the variability from the roster.
C – Chris Iannetta
1B – Albert Pujols
2B – Howie Kendrick
3B – Alberto Callaspo
SS – Erick Aybar
LF - Mark Trumbo
CF - Mike Trout
RF – Torii Hunter
DH – Kendrys Morales
Bench – Bobby Wilson; Andrew Romine; Kole Calhoun; Ty Wigginton
SP1 - Jered Weaver
SP2 - Zack Greinke
SP3 - C.J. Wilson
SP4 - Jon Niese
SP5 - Garrett Richards
CL – Ernesto Frieri
RH Relief - Matt Lindstrom; Kevin Jepsen; Jon Rauch; Jordan Walden
LH Relief - Scott Downs, Nick Maronde