Every blogger does one of these “if I was a GM” pieces, and I decided to get into the spirit this year. If I would have written this at the beginning of the offseason, I would have kept Ervin Santana and Torii Hunter, let go of Dan Haren, resigned Zack Greinke, and signed Scott Baker. As of this article’s posting, the Angels have literally done zero of that. That being said, if you don’t like the ideas below, be assured that none of them will probably actually happen.
I tried to be creative with my answers, given my last article about how little money the Angels have to spend. I know that you can probably think of a better plan, but who has two thumbs and a blog? THIS GUY. SO READ AND AGREE!
Resign Zack Greinke
-Preeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetty much a no-brainer. For an explanation, see the second half of last season.
Trade for Denard Span
-Span would be a welcomed left handed addition into a completely right handed dominant lineup. Given his lifetime OBP of .357, Span would place ideally in the Angels seemingly vacant 2-hole in between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Having Mike Trout in front of Span would make him even more of a threat, as his presence on the basepaths would provide Span with an even greater opportunity to do damage. As the leadoff hitter in Minnesota, Span primarily hit with a regularly aligned infield. Given Trout’s elite on base skills and combined with the ease it takes him to steal second base, infields are forced to cheat. The first baseman must stay close to the bag to hold Trout on, and the middle infielders are forced to play the double play or steal. This alignment helps any hitter find more holes, but will help Span tremendously because of his propensity to hit ground balls (2.24 GB/FB ratio in 2012). Even if Span hit a groundball right at an infielder, he’s only grounded into 35 double plays in over 2600 plate appearances. Howie Kendrick has grounded into three double plays since the season has ended. With Span’s stable walk rate, and his knack for hitting balls on the ground, it’s safe to project that he would be ultra-productive in the top part of the Angel lineup.
-Where Span would help the Angels the most, is in the outfield. When the Angels traded for Vernon Wells, there were aspirations of a three centerfield outfield between him, Torii Hunter and Peter Bourjos. That didn’t work out as well as it could have (to say the least). Putting Span in either right or left field would put yet another elite defender in an already incredible outfield. Span’s arm isn’t his best tool, so he’s probably more suited for left field and Trout would move to right. As primarily a centerfielder, Span has saved about 12 runs per year when projected to 150 games. For comparison, Torii Hunter has saved about 3 runs per year with his glove since 2010.
-Another plus to slotting Span in the outfield, is that it gets Mark Trumbo out of the outfield. It is no secret that I am not the biggest fan of Trumbo’s overall game, but even his most ardent of supporters would have trouble supporting his defense at any position. As an outfielder last year, Trumbo would have cost the Angels nearly 8 runs just by having his body in the outfield for 150 games. Putting Span in over Trumbo would save the Angels nearly 20 runs on defense, which equals to about an extra two wins over the course of a season. In all fairness to Trumbo, defensive metrics are best when three years or more are grouped together and averaged. Trumbo does not have three years of extensive outfield experience, so his numbers may be skewed. In all fairness to me, however, they may be skewed in Trumbo’s favor already as well.
-Span has a very team friendly contract through the next few years. The problem with good players on team friendly contracts is that they usually cost a bunch. I am not qualified to project trades, but I’d be willing to part with Conger or Cron or (gulp) both if it meant getting Denard Span. They are prospects that only have futures with the Angels as trade chips anyway. No, I’m not smoking anything.
Bring Back Chone Figgins
-Figgins was worth 7 wins the last year he was with the Angels. In the 3 years after signing with Seattle, Figgins has actually cost the Mariners nearly a full win. Basically, the only thing that has kept him from being a completely useless player (which he arguably was anyway) was the Mariners moving him away from second base and his corresponding outstanding defense at third base. Figgins still has two decent skills: his third base defense and his speed. The Angels already have, whether Rachel McAdams likes him or not, an above average third baseman in Alberto Callaspo. Like Figgins, Callaspo is an above average defensive third baseman. Signing Figgins when somebody like Callaspo already mans the hot corner may seem like overkill, but upon closer inspection, it could be a beneficial risk.
-Both Figgins and Callaspo are switch hitters. Callaspo slashed .306/.363/.470 as a right handed batter this year, while slashing .229/.318/.316 as a left hander. It’s always wise to be wary about small sample sizes based on one year of platoon splits, but Callaspo’s career .264/.331/.371 line reinforces this trend.
-Because he’s been altogether awful recently, discerning whether or not Figgins has a platoon split is a confusing and frustrating process. The last two seasons he’s been so bad at the plate, that he slashed .250/.300/.350 against the grandmothers of the pitchers he was facing. That stat is not made up. If we are to judge based upon his last full (and decently effective) season in 2010, Figgins has a Callaspo-like platoon split where he fared better as a right hander (.286/.364/.344) than as a lefty (.247/.329/.288). That year seemed to go against the grain however. Against lefties, Figgins never hit worse than he did in 2010, and that year was 30 batting average points worse than his next lowest year. Based on his track record, Figgins is a much more successful left handed batter than he is a right hander, which would platoon perfectly with Callaspo. Utilizing this platoon, the Angels would have a career .306/.349/.418 hitter in Callaspo against left handers, while having a career .286/.357/.376 hitter against right handers. This won’t satisfy those old school baseball fans pining for more homeruns and RBI’s from the third base position, but it will result in a more overall balanced attack regardless of the pitcher.
-This is all optimistically assuming that Figgins can somehow resemble his pre-Seattle catalyst self. The odds of Figgins regaining that form completely are about 1 in 139872972340874798347. I actually erased seven digits off of that number too. But why has Figgins been such a girly man in Seattle? Does he not like the rain? Did he break under the pressure of a brand new contract? Did the initial position switch distract him in the batter’s box? Did Ichiro put a spell on him?
-None of these can be proved, so I will leave them to the Jon’s (Morosi and Heyman) to divulge those vital pieces of information. What can be proven is pretty simple: when Figgins got to Seattle, for whatever reason, he stopped taking pitches he normally took in Anaheim. His walk rate dropped from 14% to 11% in 2010, before plummeting down below 7% in 2011. He started venturing outside the zone more and more. In his full seasons with the Angels, Figgins swung at an average of 15.8% of pitches outside the strike zone. In his first year in Seattle, Figgins swung at 20.8%. In his second year, he swung at 25.2% of balls outside the zone.
-He actually enjoyed a fair amount of success free swinging as well. His contact rate on balls out of the zone actually improved to a near career high in 2010, and then spiked to nearly 84% in 2011. He was hitting the ball with less authority, of course, as his line drive rate spiraled from 24% in 2009, down to 21% in 2010, and then further downward to an abysmal 18% in 2011. Nevertheless, he was able to expand the zone and still make contact, which probably resulted in some bad habits.
-Last year, albeit in limited playing time, Figgins began to show signs that he was reversing some of these bad habits. His walk rate rose back up near his career norm of 10%, while his line drive rate climbed back up near 22%. He stopped swinging at everything, and his outside the zone swing percentage dramatically fell down to a much more Figgins-esque 16%. Oddly enough, as he stopped swinging at bad pitches, he struck out a career high 25% of the time. Still, if he can keep up his plate discipline, while regaining some form of two strike contact, he may be able to salvage some value—and his career.
Sign Jason Grilli and Pedro Feliciano
-I’m one of the few believers in the Angels current bullpen pieces. Between Ernesto Frieri, Jordan Walden, Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen, and Jerome Williams, the Angels have the pieces and tools to have a shutdown back end as well as a serviceable swing man. Frieri isn’t as good as he showed during his scoreless inning streak, but his season ending numbers seem to be pretty projectable for him. Kevin Jepsen’s apparent escape from Zombieland patched together the bullpen when he was recalled. Scott Downs has continued being Scott Downs ever since he’s been in Anaheim. Jerome Williams is a borderline 5th starter/swing man combo that will be relied upon to give the Angels solid innings when called upon. The wildcard is Jordan Walden. I strongly believe in a Jordan Walden bounceback year, and this is the part where you call me crazy. Maybe I am, but I am going to take a chance on a 100mph fastball and game-over slider on the arm of an early twenties reliever every day of the week. He still misses bats at an elite level (11.08 K/9 in 2012), and that’s one of the most important things I look for in a reliever.
-The departures of Jason Isringhausen and LaTroy Hawkins leave two openings in the bullpen. DiPoto and I think alike in the fact that we think paying a gerjillion dollars for a stupid reliever is an idiotic idea. It really is awful. Unfortunately, that takes out most of the consistent, high priced relievers on the market. This is why Jason Grilli would be a good addition to the bullpen. Grilli is a strictly two pitch reliever that sits consistently in the 93-94 range with his fastball with a low 80’s wipeout slider. He strikes out a ton of guys, as evidenced by his inconceivable 13.81 K/9 mark last year. Pitching in relative anonymity in Pittsburgh, his price tag probably wouldn’t be as absurd as most relievers of his skill level would be. I still wouldn’t sign any reliever for more than 1-2 years, and Grilli is no exception.
-Pedro Feliciano would be a nice addition to the bullpen as well. Yes, Feliciano is still a real, breathing being. You probably forgot about him considering he hasn’t pitched due to injury since 2010, but he is now a free agent again and rehabbing. Considering he hasn’t thrown a pitch since they signed him, the Yankees probably won’t pick up his 4.5 million dollar option for 2013. This leaves him to be super cheap and on the market. The Angels wouldn’t need him as much more than a LOOGY type of pitcher, which keeps the risk extremely low. Feliciano has had success in that role, and given his 10.07 K/9 and .210/.282/.297 line against lefties in his career , if he can regain any semblance of his old self, it’ll be a worthwhile signing by DiPoto. If the experiment doesn’t work, replacing the 12th pitcher on your staff is something easily done by bringing up Kohn/Sisk/Geltz/Carpenter or any live human.
Sign Ryan Dempster
-At the onset of the offseason, I was calling for the Angels signing Scott Baker who would’ve been a nice risk/reward cost effective option. However, since Theo Epstein is a dirty little thief who reads my tweets, Baker is now in Chicago.
-I’ve been drooling over Ryan Dempster for too long, and now that the Angels have the opportunity to sign him (and Baker is off the market), I’m all in. Dempster appeared to have a rough transition as a first timer in the American League, as shown by his ERA north of 5. Upon further inspection though, Dempster was actually pretty decent. He had a higher strikeout rate after he was traded to Texas , and fangraphs.com did an awesome article that may have explained his increase in walk rate and thus ERA. I doubt two months of starts in one of the worst pitching environments has lowered his value a noticeable amount, but if it has, the Angels should pounce on Dempster. His fluky home rate will lower in a pitcher’s park, and the groundball tendencies he picked up in Arlington combined with his strikeout rate and it would seem he’d be a welcome addition to any roster. After all, even if he struggles a bit, (assuming we re-sign Greinke) he’d only need to be a good fourth starter.
The Mark Trumbo Situation
-I have been one of Trumbo’s biggest critics since his rookie season. As a big proponent of a strong all-around game, I feel like Trumbo’s one elite skill is often overrated because it is the sexiest of the skills. He can hit the ball a long way, and that cannot be denied. However, his lack of plate discipline and overall inadequacies at every defensive position kind of overshadow his enormous power.
-All this being said, after his first half last year, he has earned the right to be an everyday, 500 plate appearance player. If he can somehow turn 20 strikeouts in 20 walks next year, he could be a .280/.345/.480 monster. He looked primed to turn the corner in the first few months last year, but his disastrous second half undid every positive report on his plate discipline he had rightfully earned.
-He’s not an outfielder on any other team besides the Angels. His presence in right field makes Peter Bourjos’ presence in centerfield necessary, as Trumbo has about as much range as William Hung. He’s not a third baseman, as we all saw last year. He’s not a first baseman because of a little guy named Albert Pujols. He’s not a full time DH because of both the resurgence and the left handedness of Kendrys Morales. Trumbo has no discernable platoon split to match with Morales’ obviously left handed strength, so a straight platoon cannot be utilized either. A .266/.301/.506 Mark Trumbo against left handers is better than a .229/.289/.471 right handed Kendrys Morales versus left handers.
-Given the groundball tendencies of CJ Wilson and Zack Greinke, in order to get Trumbo more playing time, the Angels could throw him in right field when Bourjos or Trout need a day off against right handed pitching. Furthermore, given the extreme flyball pitcher that Jered Weaver is, it could be plausible to see Trumbo start a handful of games at third base as well. If you mix in the regular off days and injuries and even with my hypothetical addition of Denard Span, there is room for Mark Trumbo to surpass 500 plate appearances and be a valuable regular.
So that leaves my hypothetical Angels roster like this, and feel free to call me dumb:
Bench: Vernon Wells OF, John Hester C