Friday, December 28, 2007

7 Bold Moves GM Tony Reagins Should Pursue (Part III)

Moving right into suggestion number three, the decision has been made to trade/release Gary Matthews Jr., as well as signed Barry Bonds to a one-year deal.

To reiterate, the Matthews move would help alleviate the logjam in the outfield, as well as give a higher upside player like Juan Rivera or a better lead-off man like Reggie Willits a chance to play. The Bonds signing would immediately infuse world-class offense production into the lineup from the DH slot, without sacrificing the flexibility at DH (with Matthews gone and Bonds able to play occasional left field, Mike Scioscia would keep his important OF rotation intact).

Here we go:

3) Trade for St. Louis Cardinals for 3B Scott Rolen, preferably sending Gary Matthews Jr. in return.

Why this could happen...

*The Cardinals traded their center fielder Jim Edmonds, and they could be looking to plug in a veteran player that can hit a bit and play solid defense. They don't have any great options for center field, although reclamation project Rick Ankiel should get a good look, despite his shortcomings (namely a lack of plate discipline, high strikeout rate, so-so walk rate).

*Scott Rolen and his manager Tony La Russa do not get along, and he has already asked the team for a trade after the 2007 season. He has been an All-Star performer in the past, but his performance has slipped badly due to injuries the past 2 seasons.

*The Angels need a power hitting third baseman that can field his position. It's pretty simple.

*Scott Rolen has put up a career .283/.372/.507 line, and that figures to be a reasonable expectation if he can finally shake off the injuries of the past 3 years. That's more typical third base production than what can be expected of the possible Chone Figgins/Maicer Izturis platoon at third, and it will help them compete with the Miguel Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, and Mike Lowell trio the Angels are sure to face in October.

*Rolen is a professional hitter, displaying obvious skill with a keen eye (above average walk rate) and improving bat control .

*Gary Matthews Jr., 33, is owed a little over $43 million over the next 4 seasons. *Scott Rolen, 32, is owed $36 million over the next 3 seasons.

*The potential needs fit, and the salaries and ages are similar enough to be a wash. The players are either clearly not happy or potentially walking into an unhappy situation (Matthews Jr. lost his center field job to new signing Torii Hunter).

Why it might not happen...

*La Russa has already said, "Nobody has more often said that I don't think Scott should be traded than me. I think he should be with our club. I think we need him. We need him to reassert himself as an impact player. I don't care what anybody wants in a trade. We need him and we expect him to be productive."

*The Cardinals are a smart organization, and they know that 4 years and $43+ million isn't a great investment to make in a 33-year-old center fielder with one truly stellar season under his belt.

*The Angels are usually unable to acquire their trade targets, for whatever reason. They apparently were close for Miguel Tejada and Miguel Cabrera, and in the past were interested in Mark Teixeira, Johan Santana, Garrett Atkins, Jason Giambi, Manny Ramirez, Todd Helton, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Jon Garland, and many others. They acquired exactly one of those players, and with all due respect to Jon Garland, they got the one with the least upside.

The Angels have just had a hard time parting with their own players, which is admirable but not necessarily in the best interests of their on-the-field performance.

Monday, December 17, 2007

7 Bold Moves GM Tony Reagins Should Pursue (Part II)

I believe there are 7 avenues Tony Reagins can pursue that can help alleviate these pesky problems the Angels have, namely, a lack of power/plate discipline and bullpen arms.

Here we go, bold suggestion number 1:

1) Trade, release, or make Gary Matthews Jr. a bench option behind Reggie Willits.

This is, of course, much easier said than done, but I believe this is a crucial and necessary move. I don't know if Matthews has much trade value, but I know there are teams that are in need of a center fielder (Phillies, White Sox, Twins). Where there is a need, there should be a way.

Matthews Jr. wasn't a great signing, as evidenced by how little interest there has been in him in spite of so many teams needing CF help. His signing was mostly based upon one career year at his age 31 season, and previously he'd been a bench player for the lowly Rangers. (He now becomes excess to requirements with Torii Hunter, and a more talented young player like Juan Rivera should not lose playing time to Matthews, big contract and all. It's the right move from a baseball standpoint, even if it hurts the Angels front office.)

The important thing is he shouldn't take at-bats away from Rivera or even Reggie Willits for that matter, simply because he is not as good as those mentioned players. He's not a bad player at all, he's just not a better hitter than Rivera now or for the next 4 years, or a better table setter than Willits. He doesn't have the on-base ability of Willits or the natural gifts of Rivera, even though Matthews looks like a dynamic hitter up at the plate. The numbers tell the story.

In 2007, he posted a .252 average, hitting 18 HR (admittedly valuable home runs and second on the team), driving in 72 runs while scoring 79 runs. More importantly, Matthews Jr. posted a so-so .323 OBP (a full 68 points lower than Reggie Willits), and his slugging percentage was nothing special at .419, adding up to a so-so OPS of .742. On-base percentage is the most important offensive stat for a potential leadoff man, and in case you were wondering, that OBP ranked 15th out of 20 listed major league centerfielders.

The Angels would be wise to move on, and let Matthews Jr. pursue his career elsewhere. They need impact bats in the lineup if they ever want to compete with the Sox, Yankees, Indians, and Tigers. Matthews, though a nice player, just isn't that, and he's not a better option than what the Angels already had before signing him.

Preferably, someone would take him in a trade, but I would not consider a release an extreme move, given the Angels logjam of current and potentially future OF options (Terry Evans).

2) Offer Barry Bonds a heavily incentive-laden contract for the 2008 season.

Before people start calling for my head on a platter, consider the following...

In 2007, a season in which Barry had to play left-field and take a lot of time off, Barry posted a VORP of 55.2, good for 19th best in baseball, and only 7 runs behind Vladimir Guerrero. Once you consider his VORP was kept artificially low due to a lower number of plate appearances than other players, you can see that Barry is still at or near the top of all major league hitters.

His plate discipline is second to none, and that's something the Angels strongly lack. The team could learn a thing or two from watching Barry's approach to hitting on a nightly basis, because despite his shenanigans, Barry is the best hitter of our time. His combination of pitch selection, patience, power, high contact rate, low strikeout rate, and insane walk rate make him a sabermetrician's dream.

I have to say it, and you can disagree with me if you want, but I'm concerned with what the Angels' ballplayers get done on the field, and specifically, at the plate. The fact that Barry has been linked to the steroid controversy means little to me, because even before he allegedly started taking performance enhancing drugs, Barry was a first ballot Hall-of-Fame talent. No one can argue with that fact, and Barry is an incredible bat more because of his plate discipline and approach to hitting than potential steroids usage. (If you don't believe me, give a professional wrestler a bat and 600 plate appearances, and let me know how he does.)

The Angels need an impact bat to make up for the Miguel Cabrera debacle and make up ground on the heavy hitting AL teams, and Barry Bonds certainly qualifies as an impact bat and a game changer.

On top of all this, the Angels need to make more $$$ to pay the insane contracts they've been handing out, so the extra revenue generated by having Bonds playing can help offset any bad press the teams gets. People will come just to see the circus, and it has to be said, the Angels have won nothing significant without Barry, so they can't be worse with him. They would, in fact, be a far better lineup with him in it.

Besides, there's no such thing as bad publicity. The Angels need the 1.000+ OPS Barry will bring, not to mention the 30+ homers he could hit on accident if he was to DH 145 teams a year. I'm not going to bother going into the specifics of how his .475 OBP and .575 slugging will dramatically improve the Angels' chances of winning a playoff series, because that's obvious. He would immediately become their best and most dangerous hitter (even though Vladimir is fantastic, Barry is more valuable as a hitter, just look at OBP, slugging, or any stat you want really, minus average).

I will also say that a 3-4-5 of Bonds, Guerrero, and Hunter looks pretty good (though a 3-4-5 of Bonds, Guerrero, and Miguel Cabrera would have looked better), even if it's an aging group that won't be together for long. The Angels are clearly concerned with winning now, given the long-term deals they are handing out to ensure they will get their targets. Bonds will give the Angels a much better chance of winning now, and he can also play a little left-field when Guerrero needs a day off to DH.

I don't think this will happen, but I would pursue this is I were the Angels GM. It makes the team better now, and it would be a one-year experiment at worst. It would work well, and the Angels' legal team should be able to draw up a contract that could protect the Angels if Barry was to experience legal dilemmas.

Once again, if there's a will, there's a way.

More to come in Part III...

7 Bold Moves GM Tony Reagins Should Pursue (Part I)

I've been quite disappointed, from every standpoint, at the way the Angels off-season has gone.

The shambolic nature of the Miguel Cabrera debacle, coupled with the perplexing Torii Hunter signing, has left me reaching for the Mylanta bottle time and time again this off-season.

Let's review what's happened so far: two moves (Torii Hunter signing and Jon Garland trade), one non-move (Miguel Cabrera), and the release of Dallas McPherson.

Once again, the goals of the off-season should have been to: 1) acquire a young, power hitting 3rd baseman, 2) provide depth to the bullpen, which, for all the hype, ranked a palty 8th in the AL at 4.24, 3) maybe add an emergency arm, in case someone goes down.

The results: 1) no 3rd baseman, 2) no bullpen help (unless you count the slotting of an excess starter into the pen), 3) Jon Garland, a decent pitcher, but not much more than that.

The next logical question is, what can the Angels do now? Have they so far screwed themselves that we can expect a 90 win, AL West Title and first-round exit at the hands of a team that can hit?

The answer is: Ask Tony Reagins, because he has the power to somewhat fix this.

I believe there are 7 avenues Tony Reagins can pursue that can help alleviate these pesky problems the Angels have, namely, a lack of power/plate discipline and bullpen arms.

To be continued...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Mistakes of the Past Come Full Circle

The Angels non-tendered their power-hitting third baseman of the future (or past) Dallas McPherson.

Angels' fans will forever remember McPherson as being the reason the organization gave up on Troy Glaus and allowed his guaranteed 35 HR/100 RBI/.360 OBP/.520 slugging production to walk to free agency.

Hindsight is 20/20, but it was a huge mistake given up on proven production for unproven minor league talent. Obviously, McPherson has never panned out, battling injuries in 2005 and 2006, culminating in a completely lost 2007 season due to injuries.

In a limited number of at-bats (360 at-bats), McPherson showed his power potential, hitting 18 home runs despite the injuries. He also showed a propensity for the strikeout (121 in less than 400 plate appearances), and a lack of plate discipline (only 23 walks).

I simply can't believe that the Angels non-tendered him now, considering they refused to acquire Miguel Cabrera and have no legitimate third base option right now. At the very least, they could have invited McPherson to spring training to see if he had anything left. He said last week that he is fully healed and ready to go, so it seems the perfect chance to give him at least a spring training invitation.

Now, the Angels seemed primed to give Chone Figgins the 3rd base job. I'm still under the impression that Figgins best position is super-sub, but with the new found outfield depth the Angels have, Figgins has no place to play out there. He is now relegated to infield options and DH.

I think it's time the Angels hand Morgan Ensberg a contract and invite him to spring training. He's not a great option, but he's a patient, powerful hitter that may catch lightning. If he doesn't work out, the Angels can cut him and be no worse off for it.

If Ensberg is able to recapture his form, he is at worst a .270/.370 OBP/.480 slugging line waiting to happen, with an upside that is much greater than that. He has slugged 36 HR in a season before, and even though he'd be moving away from the hitter friendly Minute Maid Park, he could definitely hit 25 HR with nice peripheral stats.

First Big Signing in the Reagins Era...Torii Hunter?

New GM Tony Reagins made a splash by signing 32 year-old center fielder Torii Hunter to a stunning 5-year, $90 million deal. Hunter is coming off a fine season which saw him hit .287 with 28 HR and 107 RBIs, while playing his typical highlight reel defense.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get real.

Torii Hunter is a fine ballplayer, a fine player who's team wasn't willing to offer him anything more than a 3-year, $45 million contract. Other teams were willing to go 5 years, and those were usually teams that had a tangible need for a center fielder.

The Angels, before that historic Thanksgiving Day signing, had one overpaid, aging center fielder in 33 year-old Gary Matthews Jr. They had another center fielder, this one an under-appreciated, inexpensive on-base machine in 26-year old Reggie Willits. An on-base machine (.391 in 07') that is blessed with that blazing speed that the Angels crave and that also allows a center fielder to cover all kinds of ground and enjoy quality range.

So, in an off-season where the Angels desperately needed to address a gaping hole at 3rd base, preferably helping them with their league average OBP and below average slugging, they signed yet another aging center fielder.

They actually got themselves a center fielder with league average OBP and good but not great power. At least Hunter has a track record of performance, and a rather consistent one at that. Torii Hunter has, for his past 5 full seasons, hit between 23 and 31 HR with between 81 and 107 RBIs.

Those are nice numbers, but the reality is they are closer to the side of empty numbers as compared to solid numbers. What does that mean? I'll explain.

Let's take Hunter's 2007 campaign, and compare it to Travis Hafner's 2004 campaign. Hunter hit .287 with 28 HR and 107 RBIs. Hafner hit .311 with 28 HR and 109 RBIs. Comparable solid seasons right? Well, not so much.

Hunter's .334 OBP, coupled with his .505 slugging, leads to a runs created estimate of 5.5 runs per game, or 891 runs in a season, given 9 Torii Hunter's in a lineup. That's a great statistic, and obviously Hunter adds value to any lineup.

Hafner's .410 OBP, coupled with his .583 slugging, leads to a runs created estimate of 9.1 runs per game, or 1,474 runs per game, given 9 Travis Hafner's in a lineup. That's all-world production.

All told, even with nearly identical HR and RBI totals, Torii Hunter (in 2007) contributed about 60% of Travis Hafner's (2004) offensive value.

Is Torii Hunter worth $18 million per season, given that he has about 60% of the offensive value of a truly elite player? Some will point to his defense, and I will point to his 2007 Zone Rating which paints him as the 6th best center fielder in the American League. I know that statistic is not all encompassing, but it points to the fact that he is not catching everything as some would think.

He's 32, and I can't blame Hunter for being a step slower than before. I think he's a pretty poor bet to be more than an average center fielder by the 3rd year of this contract. He and Gary Matthews both in fact may be below average defenders by the end of their lengthy contracts.

In case you were wondering, 9 Reggie Willits' would create 5.3 runs/game, or 858 runs in a season. Once, again, this is a simplistic look at offense, but it's hard to argue against the fact that Reggie Willits would give the Angels about 96% of Torii Hunter's offensive value, for about 2% of the salary ($382,500 versus Hunter's annual average of $18,000,000).

Overall, Reagins set out to get a big time bat, and Torii Hunter is simply not it. Hunter is a nice player, he'd be a great player to have for the right price, but the Angels have blown out their budget for a good bat. He's nothing more than that. He's also nothing more than a good glove. Is that what $18 million a year gets you these days?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Disaster in Nashville

The Winter Meetings are over, and the long-coveted 3rd baseman Miguel Cabrera has been traded. The only problem: he went to the wrong team, and now he will be crushing pitches in Detroit and not in Los Angeles of Anaheim.

Let me get this out of the way now, I am furious. I am beyond furious.

Who is Tony Reagins to come in, take the GM job, and do exactly what I was praying he wouldn't: overvalue unproven talent and refuse to pull the trigger for Hall-of-Fame talent.

I can't claim to know all the details, only the Angels and Marlins officials do, but I know this much: Reagins had a chance to plug the Angels biggest weakness with a 24-year old sure-fire Hall-of-Fame bat, and he balked because of reluctance to include both Ervin Santana and Nick Adenhart.

Question: Who is Ervin Santana and who is Nick Adenhart?

Answer: Two highly talented young pitchers, who both share something in common: they are not power-hitting third baseman.

They are in fact talented pitchers, something the Angels are well-stocked in. No one knows what they will produce, or if they will blow out their arms and future at some point, like many young talented pitchers do.

We do know that Miguel Cabrera, even when out of shape and unmotivated, puts up insane numbers in a terrible hitter's park. Let's review.

2007: .966 OPS, comprised of a much needed .401 OBP and a .565 slugging. That would look mighty nice either in front of or behind Vladimir.

2006: .998 OPS, boiled down to a .430 OBP and a .568 slugging.

2005: .946 OPS, with a .385 OBP and a .561 slugging.

The guy is improving, and he did his damage in a terrible environment on a bad, granted talented, young team.

So for Tony Reagins, you seem like a great organization guy with a good demeanor and a tender smile. You, unfortunately, are no GM. At least not a good one, not yet.

I will have more analysis on Miguel Cabrera to come, as well as a full analysis of the also disastrous Torii Hunter signing.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Trade Analysis: Orlando Cabrera for Jon Garland

New GM Tony Reagins began his reign with a bold trade with the Chicago White Sox to bolster his already deep rotation, acquiring SP Jon Garland in exchange for shortstop Orlando Cabrera.

Cabrera, coming off his second finest season as a major leaguer, will depart and create an opportunity for the Angels to go with youth in their infield. Cabrera, 33, is a year away from free agency, and I can't help but think that this is the right moment to trade him and not let him walk away with nothing in return. Cabrera, while a solid defender, is not a superior bat. He was a quality bat last season, his .345 OBP driven by a career high .301 average.

He was a good 2nd hitter, but he would have been better served hitting 7th, given his unspectacular OBP. At 33, Cabrera is performing at his peak, and the decline is coming soon. With, say, Maicer Izturis as the Angels starting SS, the Angels upgrade their OBP, as Izturis is a patient hitter, and get 5 years younger. If they chose to go with Eric Aybar (a mistake, his bat isn't ready), they get even younger and put a plus defender in there at short.

Simply put, this deal made a lot of sense, and I give GM Reagins an B+ for this move. I haven't even mentioned Garland, because in this crazy market, getting any decent pitcher (which is what Garland is) deserves a positive mark.

Garland gives the Angels the flexibility to trade a young arm to get a needed power hitting 3rd baseman (Editor's note: Since this posting, Miguel Cabrera has been lost to the Tigers). Garland isn't my definition of an ideal pitcher, but his durability is unquestioned, and he has flashed brilliance before.

His low career strikeout rate, a career 4.79 K/9 innings, and his so-so strike zone dominance, 1.61 K/BB, signal Garland's reliance on pitching to contact. He does not induce as many groundballs as I'd like to see considering how often hitters make contact against him, 1.27 GB/FB, but going to Anaheim will help. Angels Stadium is a far better pitchers park than Chicago's U.S. Cellular, so his HR rate should shrink.

In the end, Garland is about league average, and Angels' fans should be wise to realize this and remember he's a #5 starter, nothing more. With that in mind, a 4.40 ERA over 210 innings is perfectly acceptable from a bottom of the rotation. This is a solid acquisition, keeping in mind what it cost to get Garland. As long as the Angels don't re-sign Garland (free agent after 2008) to a 5+ year deal worth big money, this move is a fine one.