In acquiring Huston Street, the Angels also acquired a bunch of awful “Houston, we have a problem” and “Takin it to the Streets” jokes for the next year and a half. They also forfeited many years of being a competitive team. This trade is awful and I’m going to tell you why.
Huston Street is a good pitcher. The criticism of this trade hardly stems from Street’s shortcomings. However, with that said, Street is a very strong candidate for some extreme regression for the rest of the year.
For starters, Street’s nearly unflawed 1.06 ERA is due for some obvious inflation. He’s stranded every runner he’s put on base this year and 99.5% of runners last year. At some point, that’ll change. It will change partly due to just random variation, continuing to sustain a strand rate that far above the mean (usually around 75%) is incredibly unlikely. However, his strand rate will also normalize because of the change in defenses behind him. The Padres ranked 6th in all of baseball at turning ground balls into outs—the Angels rank 19th. The excellent San Diego infield partially explains how Street has turned an increased ground ball percentage into an other-worldly .086 BABIP (league average is .245) on ground balls, yet simple dumb luck also deserves some credit.
His peripherals are good. His xFIP (2.93) and FIP (2.85) are both good—and by good I mean above average. Yet, the difference between his ERA and his peripherals are concerning, as his true talent level this year is almost two runs per nine innings worse. Another disconcerting aspect about his FIP and xFIP is that he always pitched closer to his true talent level—until he got to Petco. Petco is a notoriously spacious and pitcher-friendly atmosphere, and Street, it appears, has benefited from its vast dimensions greatly.
Coming to Anaheim will represent a slightly less pitcher-friendly stadium, a less efficient infield, and a return to facing the designated hitter. These are all things that are pointing to a regression closer towards his true talent level, yet shouldn’t over-correct themselves to an aberration. All signs point to Street not being the Bob Gibson-esque low 1’s ERA guy going forward, yet a mid 2’s ERA is completely feasible and still effective.
An effective reliever is what the Angels sought after and are probably going to get, but, and excuse my upcoming double negative, but it’s not as if Street is taking innings from nobody. This is a point I would like to emphasize clearly--he’s taking innings from an already rostered Angels reliever. This is where the problem arises. Let’s say that Street throws 30ish innings the rest of the year. That already rostered Angels reliever wasn’t going to throw 30 consecutive terrible innings. For the point of demonstration, let’s say that both Street and the hypothetical reliever he is replacing throw no more and no less than one inning at a time. The hypothetical Angels reliever with an ERA of 4.00 would give up about 12 runs over 30 innings the rest of the year—yielding 18 scoreless innings. If we assume Street has an ERA of 2.50 the rest of the year, he would give up about 8 runs from now to the end of the season—yielding 22 scoreless innings. The Angels are (probably) getting an increase of 4 extra scoreless innings the rest of the year. Street has a decently acceptable team option for 2015, so even if we project this out for about 60 more innings, Street would allow an additional 10 fewer runs than the hypothetical reliever he is replacing.
And that’s good! I’m all for as many scoreless innings from a team’s relief pitching as possible. Yet, the Angels gave up an absurd amount of value to get those extra 14 innings.
It’s tough to describe how absurd the cost for Street was when the Angels farm system is as weak as it is. While I don’t think there are any other negative adjectives that have gone unused towards describing the Angels current farm system, I’m going to try to make up one anyway. The Angels farm system is unscrumptralescent. Un-scrump-tra-les-cent. Trading away their top two position player prospects in shortstop Jose Rondon and second baseman Taylor Lindsey surrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre didn’t help things either.
I don’t want overstate the talent level of Rondon and Lindsey. I don’t think you’d be able to find a non-drunk scout who would say that either prospect is “elite.” They’re not. They’re probably just the best smelling piles of poo in the toilet bowl that is the Angels farm system. But, they are definitely better smelling piles of poo than Eric Stamets and Alex Yarborough.
However, I think an important point is being missed. Howie Kendrick is a free agent after 2015, and Erick Aybar is a free agent after 2016. The Angels will need an entire new double play combo in two years. Jose Rondon and Taylor Lindsey, while being sufficiently unspectacular in terms of talent, represented value to the system by providing the Angels with an answer to this problem. Both prospects projected to be ready by the time their respective positions were available, and both projected to be above replacement level at their position. They aren’t stars, they aren’t All-Stars, but they are big leaguers. Their value to the Angels level exceeded their talent level as Rondon and Lindsey were set to be cheap and adequate major league caliber stopgaps.
Compounding the problem, when Aybar and Kendrick are gone, the Angels won’t have all that much money to spend. The Angels will already have $78 million dollars tied up to Hamilton, Pujols, and Trout during the 2017 season, the first season when both Kendrick and Aybar are gone. Furthermore, Wilson and Weaver will also be free agents after the 2016. Oh yeah, the Angels traded a potential mid-to-back-end rotation piece and future closer too, in Elliot Morris and RJ Alvarez. ARRRRRGGHGHGHGH.
(P.S. I’m not going to even discuss the fact that RJ Alvarez could have been as good as Huston Street as soon as next year. For my sake, I’m just going to leave that one alone. DOUBLE ARRRRRGGGHGHGHG)
The Angels payroll in 2014 is a little over 163 million dollars. Assuming for incremental inflation, we’ll say the 2017 payroll will be about 180 million dollars. The Angels will have to buy a left fielder, a right fielder, a catcher, a second baseman, a third baseman, a shortstop, AND AN ENTIRE PITCHING STAFF for about $100 million dollars. That equates to about $5 million per remaining roster spot, which equals a player of the talent level of less than one win above replacement, which equals a poop team. Poop poop poop. Having Rondon and Lindsey playing two positions for about a fifth of the price would have come in very handy.
I know, the Angels have a few intriguing, low-level talents and two or three drafts to address these issues, but drafting a major leaguer is really, really hard—especially when you have a good team and are drafting late in rounds. Plus, having a dead system and impending free agents will force their hand to draft based on need, and not having the luxury to draft the best player available.
And they’re going to need a hell of a lot of cheap talent in the upcoming years. With Pujols and Hamilton using about $60 million dollars to combine for probably at most 3 WAR in 2016-2017, the Angels aren’t looking at a bright future. Arte and DiPoto are banking on Trout not declining from prime Mickey Mantle production, but even if he doesn’t, the Angels will be spending $78 million dollars on about 13 wins above replacement—which only amounts to a mediocre value. Having a 10 WAR guy on your team making 30 million a year should result in your team being able to attain more than a mediocre return of investments.
What follows does not solely apply to Rondon, Alvarez, Lindsey, and Morris, but it speaks more to the type of short-sightedness of the Angels front office in recent years. Shipping off a bunch of cheap, controllable talents and first round draft picks for rentals, relievers, and aging former superstars isn’t a way to build a franchise with sustainable success. It’s a way to build the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies. Shipping off a bunch of these talents is going to force the Angels to pair Mike Trout’s prime years in Anaheim playing with a Luis Jimenez, Eric Stamets, Alex Yarborough, and CJ Cron infield of misfit toys. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the last two or three years before Trout hits free agency would be the most important years to field a contending team in order to convince him not to LeBron us for the Phillies.
I completely understand that I just committed about eight logical fallacies by connecting the departure of Elliot Morris to Mike Trout calling Citizens Bank his home, but these are moves that set franchises back a few years. With the Angels future financial outlook and current minor league system, the Angels don’t have a few years to spare.
As outwardly against this trade as I have been on social media, I’ve received a decent amount of pushback saying that “it’s all worth it if we win the World Series.” While winning the World Series and being a competitive title-chasing team every year between now and 2016 would create an amazingly euphoric atmosphere, if it comes with the price of boring Mike Trout with bad teams for consecutive years while the organization catches up, you’ve got to ask yourself, is the juice really worth the squeeze? Is the Trout really worth the Street?