Most Angel fans remember the day well, if not the exact date. Well, the exact date was July 19, 2014 and thanks to Joe Smith stabilizing the back end of the bullpen, the Angels had begun to play good ball and put together a record of 58-38, which was good enough to draw to within 1.5 games of the division leading Oakland A’s at that point. The Angels knew however that there was still something missing in that bullpen, and felt they needed one more piece if they were to make a serious push to overtake Oakland and win their first division title since 2009. Knowing this, General Manager Jerry Dipoto decided to pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade that day.
The trade was with the San Diego Padres. In the trade, the Angels would acquire pitching prospect Trevor Gott along with 2-time All-Star closer Huston Street – the obvious centerpiece of the deal for the Angels – in exchange for a handful of prospects: Taylor Lindsey, Elliot Morris, Jose Rondon, and RJ Alvarez.
While the true value of the trade from San Diego’s perspective won’t really be known for a number of years, the general consensus around the game is that the Angels paid a fair price for an All-Star closer with a solid track record and a year-and-a-half of contractual control remaining. Street came to the Angels in the midst of the 2nd year of a 2-year, $14 million contract he had signed with San Diego prior to the 2013 season, and that contract included a club option for the 2015 season at another $7 million.
The Angels certainly got what they were looking for with Street down the stretch in 2014, as Street gave the Angels 26 1/3 innings of 1.71 ERA ball, converting 17 of 19 save opportunities, and allowing the rest of the bullpen to fall into familiar & comfortable roles thereby turning the Angel bullpen from what had been a weakness into a strength. The Angels did of course eventually overtake Oakland to secure their first AL West Championship since 2009, and Street was a huge part of it. Exercising Street’s $7 million option for the 2015 season was all but a formality.
Fast-forward to today. As we stand here on May 11, 2015 Street is now about a month into that $7 million club option and will be a free agent at season’s end if the Angels do not sign him to a contract extension by that time. Back on March 2 of this year, we first learned – as reported by Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register – that Huston Street & Jerry Dipoto had begun the process of discussing a contract extension. At the time, Street had chosen to represent himself in negotiations, and was said to be seeking a contract somewhere between the 4-year, $36 million deal signed by Andrew Miller & the Yankees, and the 4-year, $46 million deal signed by David Robertson & the White Sox. Street was said to be interested in having the new contract replace his $7 million option for 2015 and have the contract run through the 2018 season.
Obviously now that the 2015 regular season has begun and Street’s $7 million salary has become guaranteed, any contract extension he would sign would not take effect until the 2016 season. How that might have changed the negotiations is unknown, but what is known is that once the season started Street decided to hire his former agent – Alan Hendricks – to handle the negotiations on his behalf because he wanted to focus on pitching and not his contract. Both Street & Dipoto have said that the start of the regular season was not a barrier to negotiations, and both sides still hope to work something out. So with that in mind, let’s explore some of the pros & cons for extending Street’s contract from the Angels’ perspective….
Why the Angels SHOULD extend Street:
Huston Street represents what is becoming a rare commodity in the game. He is one of very few closers who has been able to put together a long track record of success over multiple seasons throughout his career. For those unfamiliar with his history, he came out of the pitching factory that is the Oakland A’s farm system after having been drafted by them in the 1st round of the 2004 June Amateur Draft. He quickly rose through the A’s system to make his MLB debut on April 6, 2005 and quickly established himself as one of the best young closers in the game. Over the next 4 years for Oakland, he would pitch to a 2.88 ERA, saving 94 games along the way. Then on November 10, 2008 – as the A’s often do when their young stars get too expensive through arbitration – the A’s sent Street to the Colorado Rockies in a blockbuster offseason trade. In the deal, Street was sent to Colorado along with Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith in exchange for Matt Holliday. Things went well for Street in Colorado at first, but as often happens to pitchers at Coors Field, Street began to struggle up there and was eventually placed on waivers and traded to San Diego on December 7, 2011 for a player to be named later (Nick Schmidt). Once in the pitcher-friendly environment of Petco Park however, Street was able to re-establish himself as one of the best closers in the game, posting a 2.03 ERA and 80 saves over 2 1/2 seasons leading up to the trade with the Angels.
Overall, Street has posted a 2.83 ERA and 285 saves in 10+ seasons. As the Angels painfully found out over the last few years, it is difficult to find a pitcher who can find consistent success in the closer role for more than a few months. The Brian Fuentes experiment lasted about a year and a half. Fernando Rodney was disappointing in his one season with the Angels, and Jordan Walden & Ernesto Frieri turned into disasters after hot half-seasons. In Street, the Angels have found the stabilizing force at the back end of the bullpen they seem to have been searching for ever since K-Rod left via free agency after the 2008 season.
Why the Angels SHOULD NOT extend Street:
The first and most obvious red flag that comes to mind when talking about extending Street’s contract is the price tag he is reportedly seeking. As stated, Street is reportedly seeking a 4-year deal somewhere between $36 and $46 million. For you non-math majors out there, that means he’s seeking an average annual value (AAV) of somewhere between $9 and $11.5 million. This is a rather hefty price for a guy who pitches 1 inning at a time and 70-80 innings per year tops, regardless of the aforementioned value of having a stable force at the back of the bullpen. Also, the Angel payroll continues to teeter near the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold of $189 million even after the savings from the Josh Hamilton trade. The Angel payroll in relation to the CBT is a topic for another discussion, but the bottom line is the Angels must be careful with the contracts they dole out these days because their wiggle room is minimal seeing as how owner Arte Moreno has repeatedly said he has no interest in paying the CBT.
Outside of payroll considerations, Huston Street will turn 32 years-old on August 2 of this year. Seeing as how any contract extension now won’t take effect until the 2016 season, a 4-year contract would cover his age 32-35 seasons. The overall track record for relievers not named Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman pitching into their mid-to-late 30’s is not good. Investing heavily into a relief pitcher is always a risker-than-normal proposition. Even with a reliever with as solid of a track record as Street’s, the potential is always there for their performance to suddenly and drastically decline quickly, and so far this year in what is admittedly a small relative sample size, Street has struggled when used on 2 or more consecutive days. Prior to finishing G-Rich’s gem with a 1-2-3 ninth inning yesterday, Street had blown 2 consecutive save opportunities for the first time since 2008.
The first of those two blown saves came after having thrown more than 20 pitches the night before, and he struggled to get outs giving up a walk and a hit before finally allowing the game-tying hit. Fortunately he was able to get out of the inning with the game still tied, and Erick Aybar & Johnny Giavotella bailed him out in the bottom of the 9th, but he still threw over 20 pitches for a 2nd consecutive night. Then the very next night he struggled even more, giving up a walk & 4 hits en route to blowing a 2-0 lead and taking the blown save & loss. More alarmingly, this was not the first time he had struggled after pitching consecutive days this season. On the previous road trip in a game in Oakland after having thrown 20+ pitches on consecutive days the two days prior , he gave up a walk, 3 hits & a run before a miraculous catch by Mike Trout with 2 out and the bases loaded saved what would have been a walk-off double.
These struggles when pitching consecutive days could just be an aberration, or they could be a sign that Father Time is starting to creep up on Mr. Street. Time will tell as we get deeper into the 2015 season, but the Angels’ brass certainly has to be taking notice and it is something that needs to be seriously considered before committing tens of millions of guaranteed dollars over several years.
You Be the Judge….
Hopefully this article has been able to provide unbiased perspectives on both sides of the argument of whether to pull the trigger on a contract extension for Huston Street and the Angels. Go ahead and provide your take in the comments.