We still don't know who the GM of the Angels will be this winter, but it is no matter to me. At least not right now. I've got plans of my own for what the Angels should do. Yes, it is time for me to play pretend and act out what I would do if Arte Moreno completely lost his mind and made me the GM of the Angels.
Though I am tempted to blow the thing up, I can't fathom willing wasting another year of Mike Trout's sublime excellence. I am, however, sick and tired of reckless spending, so there will be no nine-figure deals coming from me. No, sir, I'm going to make this roster younger and do it without significantly raising the payroll in 2014. Hopefully when it is all said and done, the lasting image of the 2014 Angels is a parade down Katella and not an ominous picture of an ill-fated press conference like the one above.
(As always, proposed trades are as fair as I can figure, but I fully realize that I don't know how much opposing teams value their players compared to how I value them.)
Cut the dead weight
First things first, the Angels need to clear some roster and salary flexibility. That means making a few tough decisions and some easy ones. The easy ones are non-tendering Tommy Hanson, J.C. Gutierrez, Chris Nelson and Kevin Jepsen. All four are coming off of terrible seasons and in no way worth the raise they will be due in arbitration.
Less easy is non-tendering Jerome Williams. You could do worse as a swing guy, but there is also no need to pay him $2 million or more. And, yes, that means keeping Blanton as the swing guy instead. I know how terrible he was, but as a long man and spot starter, he can't do that much damage. Besides, the Angels can't continue to pay guys several million bucks to not play for them.
The tough call though is letting Jason Vargas walk. He is a great fit for the team and shouldn't be prohibitively expensive, but if the Halos are going to spend that kind of money, they need to look for a bigger payoff. If that big payoff move falls through, Vargas is a nice fallback option, but nothing more.
Sign Masahiro Tanaka at all costs
This is that big payoff move. The Angel rotation is at great risk. Jered Weaver is great, but his arm has A LOT of mileage on it and it is starting to show. C.J. Wilson was excellent in 2013, but he is also 32 years old. This rotation needs to get young and talented in a hurry. Last time I checked, the farm system isn't going to help with that. That means it is time to get creative and a little bit desperate.
Tanaka is the best young arm on the market. He probably isn't on par with Yu Darvish, but reports indicate that he should be pretty good and ready to go right away. What also helps is that the Angels do have cash to spend but not luxury tax room. They can thus pony up the $30+ million in posting fee (that might be less based on if the posting system changes) and then shell out a six-year deal in the $45-55 million range to land Tanaka. From a luxury tax perspective, they are essentially swapping out Vargas' number for Tanaka and getting the benefit of all that upside.
There is bound to be intense interest in Tanaka though, so if I were GM, I would be fully prepared to spend on him like he is Yu Darvish, even if the talent isn't totally there. Sometimes you have to pay a premium for your own desperation. Seriously, if this doesn't happen, it blows up my whole plan.
Trade Howie Kendrick
Yes, the Angels just got good young pitching in Tanaka, but I'm greedy. I want more. The best way to make that happen is to trade Howie Kendrick. He has the most value out of anyone on the roster not named Mike Trout but a bigger reason is that shedding his salary gives the Angels more flexibility under the luxury tax to sign Mike Trout to an extension this winter or next. It is also fairly certain that Kendrick will return a high quality young arm since he was almost trade for Zach Lee and more at the deadline. Once the Robinson Cano situation settles, the Angels should be able to find a new home for Howie in LA (for Lee), KC (for Ventura maybe) or Toronto (for Sanchez, Stroman or Nolin). Those are just the obvious suitors. The Yankees, Orioles and Nationals could all work their way into the conversation as well. For the purposes of this exercise, let's assume the LA teams consummate the rumored Kendrick for Zach Lee and Chris Withrow deal.
That leaves Grant Green as the starting second baseman. He seems like he should be good enough to hold that position down with his bat, but the glove is more of a concern, so as a corollary to the Kendrick trade, the Angels need to pursue a more reliable veteran back-up infielder. No more of this Brendan Harris crap. That's why I would pursue Willie Bloomquist. He is no defense wizard either, but he can play the entire infield and has shown that he can handle the bat well enough to not be a liability.
Trade Peter Bourjos
This was the toughest decision of them all. The Angels are going to have to trade either Bourjos or Trumbo. Their needs are too great to hold onto them both. Trumbo clearly has more value than Bourjos due to his proven power. Bourjos might've had more value than Trumbo not so long ago, but his rash of injuries have killed much of that. That would mean trading low on Bourjos though, which is obviously less than ideal. Alas, having just unloaded Kendrick, I'm worried about the lineup. Trumbo might be an OBP risk, but his power is essential, especially if Pujols can't get healthy. Bourjos is expendable since Trout can provide comparable defense in center. Additionally, I'm mildly concerned that keeping Bourjos and sticking Trout in left field isn't going to help the cause of keeping Trout in Anaheim for the next decade. Sorry, Petey, you have to go.
Trading Bourjos won't be easy though. While he was coveted a few years ago, the number of teams desperate for a center fielder of his ilk has dwindled rapidly. Fortunately, the Mets still exist. So long as they don't sign Jacoby Ellsbury, they should be overjoyed to get Bourjos. A package involving Vic Black and maybe Zach Lutz as part of the throw poop against the wall to see what sticks strategy of filling the third base hole.
Sign a bench bat
We're close to done, but not quite there. I have one active roster spot left to fill and no, it isn't third base. I am gravely concerned about Albert Pujols being able to stay healthy, Josh Hamilton sucking again, Trumbo staying in his second half slump and Kole Calhoun getting overexposed to lefties. What I want is a right-handed bat with some pop off the bench. Unless Mike Morse is willing to sign a cheap one-year deal, that likely means trolling the non-tender market. Nolan Reimold, Gaby Sanchez, Mark Reynolds and so on. None of them have much upside, but at least they are depth which this team needs because of their lousy farm system. If Casey McGehee is willing to come back from Japan at a reasonable price, he might be worth a gamble since could also help at third base.
Oh, right, third base, huh?
So, yeah, I pretty much am going to punt on third base. For now, anyway. Internally, I've got Willie Bloomquist as the ultimate fallback option, but I'm willing to give the first shot to Luis Jimenez. He may not hit, but he can field the position well and given how bad the Halo defense was last season, I have to prioritize fielding somewhere. I'm not about to hand him the position though. I'll be casting a wide net after the non-tenders come in. Justin Turner, Luis Valbuena and Emilio Bonifacio are all guys who could hit the market and I'll be ready to pounce.
None of these guys are any better than holdovers though. Hopefully that will be good enough to make it to the trade deadline. If the Angels are in contention at that point, there are a number of impending free agent third baseman that they could trade for: Jed Lowrie, Aramis Ramirez, Chase Headley, Pablo Sandoval and so on.
Filling out the bullpen
As big of a problem as the bullpen has been, I'm not too worried about it. The Angels will be getting Sean Burnett back (or at least they should be) and I've acquired a big arm in Vic Black. That leaves two spots to fill out. I'm more than fine doing that from within. Mike Morin and R.J. Alvarez are guys who could be ready come Opening Day and both could have big impacts. They can compete with Michael Kohn and WIthrow or whoever else the Angels acquire in trade. Withrow should win that spot in a walk if that is the deal actually happens. The other spot, I'll open up to all the lefties in the organization. Hopefully Nick Maronde steps up and wins it, but maybe the Halos have to let Michael Roth or Buddy Boshers hold down the fort for a bit. It really doesn't matter, that final bullpen spot is likely to turnover quite a bit anyway.
There you have it, a roster that isn't exactly getting a huge makeover, but it is younger, has better pitching, is only marginally more expensive and primed to return to contention if there big money veterans can rebound. That has always been the case for the 2014 Angels. There is no big, giant move they can make that will transform the franchise any more than Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton regaining at least a large percentage of their old forms. If they don't at least this roster has some more youth to build around going forward.
C – Iannetta
1B – Pujols
2B – Green
3B – Jimenez
SS – Aybar
LF – Hamilton
CF – Trout
RF – Calhoun
DH – Trumbo
Bench C – Conger
Bench IF – Bloomquist
Bench OF – Shuck
Bench UT – G. Sanchez
SP – Weaver
SP – WIlson
SP – Tanaka
SP – Richards
SP – Lee (or whoever they get for Kendrick)
CL – Frieri
RHP – De La Rosa
RHP – Black
LHP – Burnett
LHP – Maronde/Roth/Sisk/Taylor/Boshers
RHP – Withrow/Kohn/Alvarez/Morin/etc.
LONG – Blanton