The non-tender deadline is upon us. By the end of the day several players will find themselves unwilling entrants to the free agent market. The Angels are a team that has many non-tender decisions to make with eight players eligible for arbitration. Mark Trumbo, David Freese and Ernesto Frieri will all obviously be tendered contracts. Fernando Salas should as well given what the Angels gave up to have him added to the Freese trade, even if Salas' performance history is mixed. That leaves four players for the Halos to really think on. Tommy Hanson, Jerome Williams, Kevin Jepsen and Chris Nelson could all very well be cut loose today. All four of them probably should be non-tendered, but before taking that big step, let's at least consider what alternatives the Angels have with each of the four cases.
Coming off a truly awful season and set to make roughly $4 million, Hanson should be an easy non-tender, but there is at least a little reason to think about other routes to take with him. For starters, $4 million isn't a huge amount of money. If the Halos weren't being so damned stubborn about the luxury tax, they could just cut Joe Blanton loose and use Hanson as their swingman. Blanton is a poor starter who profiles as a poor reliever. There is no upside on either side. Hanson is a poor starter, but at least there is a chance that he might be something a little bit better. We saw flashes last season of Hanson adjusting his mechanics and regaining velocity to make him much more effective. The Angels need better than that in their rotation, but as a #6 starter, you could do a lot worse… like, say, Joe Blanton.
As a reliever, Hanson had a very short audition late in the season and there were some real eye opening moments even if the stats weren't that great. Hanson was able to consistently throw in the mid-nineties and was able to be focus more on just throwing his fastball and curveball. His mechanics and shoulder woes might make him too inconsistent, but there certainly appears to be a good chance that Hanson could be at least an above average reliever if not more.
If the Angels don't want to take a chance on that upside because of salary commitments, one would think that some other team might be willing to do so. Would it not be a worthwhile gamble for the Marlins or Astros to trade a fringe prospect for Hanson and assume his $4 million salary obligation in hopes that Hanson becomes a more reliable starter or a highly effective reliever who they can then flip at the trade deadline for a more substantial prospect or two?
Both of those options make a lot of sense, yet Hanson is probably going to be non-tendered anyway.
Over the weekend, Jerome's agent all but begged the Halos to non-tender Williams. It is hard to see him doing that unless he had already heard from other teams that they had interest in signing Williams to start for them. Williams is a lot like Hanson for the Angels. He, too, is slotted to make about $4 million in 2014. He, too, is not good enough to be a starter for the Angels if they hope to contend. He, too, is more effective as a reliever and would be an upgrade over Blanton as a swingman. However, the upside in the rotation or bullpen isn't enough to make the Angels seriously consider keeping him and eating Blanton's salary.
A trade, on the other hand, could make sense. Again, $4 million is chump change in today's market. With Williams' durability, he would seem like a great fit on a non-contender in the NL to soak up 175 innings. If the Angels can get so much as a fringe prospect or a few hundred thousand bucks for the rights to Williams, they should jump on the chance. It is always better to get a tiny bit of something in exchange for an unwanted asset instead of nothing like they did with the Dan Haren debacle last offseason. Alas, Williams and his agent will likely get their wish and Williams will sign elsewhere for about 75% of the money that he would've gotten had he been tendered.
Jepsen is actually the one guy on this list who probably will be tendered an offer. He has done virtually nothing to earn the roughly $1.4 million he is projected to earn in 2014, but at the end of the day it is just $1.4 million. With the way the current Angel bullpen depth chart is set up, tendering Jepsen an offer should guarantee him the final opening in the 'pen. The key word there is "should." As the 12th guy on the staff, you could do a lot worse than Jepsen as he still throws in the high-to-mid nineties with a cutter/slider/whatever and at least some kind of track record of success. The alternative would be to open up the spot to a battle royale competition in spring training amongst all the youngsters like Michael Kohn, Nick Maronde, Mike Morin, R.J. Alvarez, Buddy Boshers and whatever non-roster invitees Dipoto adds between now and training camp. That competition would be good for getting the maximum utility out of the roster spot rather than hoping that the good version of Jepsen decides to show up in 2014.
Well, why not have both? Like I said, that $1.4 million isn't going to break anyone's bank. At the same time, the Angels are so close to the luxury tax that they could use the roughly $1 million in relief they would get by dumping Jepsen and replacing him with a minimum salary youngster. That would suggest that they should non-tender Jepsen, but what it really means is that they should hold onto Jepsen until they know they have a clear upgrade over him to take that final bullpen spot and then trade Jepsen and his salary to get that relief if they still feel they need it. With the Jepsen's velocity and stuff, there should be someone willing to roll the dice on him and possibly turn him into this generation's Kevin Gregg. If nobody beats out Jepsen and the Angels have to keep him, so be it. They can cut fat elsewhere to recoup the potential luxury tax savings.
Anyone who read the player power rankings last season knows the level of my disdain for Chris Nelson, but that disdain was for Chis Nelson: Potential Starting Third Baseman. I might have a tolerance for Chris Nelson: Utilityman. One of the things that killed the Angels last season was their lack of bench depth. Far too much playing time was given to the likes of Brendan Harris, Luis Jimenez, Collin Cowgill and Brad Hawpe. The Angels need to have a more reliable bench this season. Alas, that looks like it could be too expensive when you see players like Nick Punto signing for $3 million and Skip Schumaker signing for two years and $5 million. Those quality bench players are getting expensive. Nelson, who can play both third and second, could be kept for a third of what the more established players are getting and provide almost as much value.
Nelson was positively dreadful for the Angels, Yankees and Rockies last season, but he had a solid Coors Field and BABIP aided offensive line in 2012. If he can get his bat to produce at a level near the midpoint of his last two seasons, it would be a more than playable as a utilityman. Defense is an issue as Nelson grades out as a poor defender at third and would be hard-pressed to fill in at second base for more than a few innings before his defensive limitations were exposed. Yes, the Angels should try and do better, but with their self-imposed budgetary constraints, they can't afford to do better. At least with Nelson they know they have someone who has recent success in the majors as opposed to going into training camp with a bunch of unproven non-roster invitees and hoping one of them emerges as a viable bench option to back-up the injury-prone Freese and challenge the unproven Grant Green at second (assuming a Kendrick trade).
Even with the inflated market for bench players right now, the Angels likely will non-tender Nelson. He won't cost much more than the league minimum, but the fact remains is that he has been a sub-replacement level player in his three seasons in the majors. Guaranteeing him a roster spot would be short-sighted if Dipoto thinks he can dig up a better option elsewhere. If he doesn't think that, then maybe Nelson actually is worth keeping.