Although the trade for Andrelton Simmons locked up shortstop for the next half-decade, it did not fill any of the club’s major holes for the 2016 season. After the 2015 season, the following players became free agents:
C – Chris Iannetta
3B – David Freese
OF – Matt Joyce
OF – David Murphy
OF – Shane Victorino
OF – David DeJesus
At the very least, this takes away half of the team’s catching duo, their full-time third baseman, and their assortment of underwhelming options for left field and and designated hitter. Along with these holes, Albert Pujols is likely going to miss the early part of the year following surgery, meaning C.J. Cron will need to play first base full-time until he returns. Johnny Giavotella, who performed about as well as you could hope for for a guy who was not even brought in as the favorite to win the starting job last year, leaves much to be desired at second base, especially on the defensive side of the ball. On the pitching side, the team’s the bullpen still has quite a bit of uncertainty outside of closer Huston Street and set-up man Joe Smith (who is a free agent after 2016).
Currently, I estimate the team has ~$20M left until it hits the luxury tax, which is generally their guide for spending limits year-to-year, though Moreno says they can go over for the right player/situation. The deal for Simmons comes out to roughly a wash after this year in terms of his contract vs Erick Aybar‘s by AAV. After the 2016 season, the team is projected to shed about $42M in luxury tax salary from free agents (Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Joe Smith, Cesar Ramos, Fernando Salas) as well as $4M in payments (Aybar, Murphy, DeJesus). If you factor in about $10-14M in rising costs of arbitration eligible players, the club is looking at about $32-36M in freed money. This is also assuming a luxury tax of $189M. It will likely move closer to $200M. For the sake of this piece I’ll keep it conservative, and say $195M for the tax threshold, giving the team $38M-44M.
This year’s free agency class is insane, especially for pitching and outfielders. If the Angels were to stick to their usual shtick and stay under the tax, they might be able to get one of the good free agents, maybe two if they go after only 2nd and 3rd tier FA. This would likely leave the Angels with holes they need to fill via trade or internal promotion. As it stands now, the catching duties would mostly rest on Carlos Perez, with Jett Bandy as his backup. At third, it looks like a spring training battle between ok-but-not-good prospects Kaleb Cowart and Kyle Kubitza is imminent. In left field, well, don’t look if you are squeamish. In the pen, the team is depending on the development of Trevor Gott and Cam Bedrosian, the health of Mike Morin, and the non-collapse of Cesar Ramos, Fernando Salas, and Jose Alvarez. Post-Simmons trade, the team is lacking pieces it can deal (that wouldn’t equally hurt the big league roster), and need to field a competitive team around superstar Mike Trout.
What I propose the Angels do this offseason, is spend (relatively efficiently).
If the Angels stick to their usual plan, they may get their big piece or smaller two pieces, and they would leave themselves with the money I noted above to spend on next year’s free agent class. The problem? Next year’s class is far more thin, with many of the notable players being in their mid-30s. Because that class is more thin, the bidding will likely be more intense, creating a rise in costs for teams. Even with an increased budget, rising costs is never fun, especially if you held off on spending the previous year to make a run at the next class. In this current free agent class, the team could make a run at 3-4 needs if they want, rather than 1-2.
If we say the club has $20M remaining this year, and that $40M becomes available to them after the 2016 season, I believe the club should be willing to spend up to ~$60M in AAV this offseason. If they did so, they would be over the tax by $40M, and with the 17.5% tax rate, they would need to pay $10.5M in luxury taxes. However, the tax rate would reset after the season after the teams pending free agents leave. Also, because most deals in free agency are back-loaded, the team would not be spending an additional $70M ($AAV + tax) in 2016.
So what could we do with $60M? Using the predicted contracts from MLB Trade Rumors, this is what we could do:
Jason Heyward – 10/$200M
Ben Zobrist – 3/$51M
David Freese – 3/$30M
Tony Sipp – 3/$12M
That right there is $51M of AAV, and fills a hole in left (Kole Calhoun would move there for Heyward), second base (Zobrist), third base (Freese), and the pen (Sipp). Now, are we married to these names? Of course not! This is merely an example. If you want to flip in Alex Gordon instead of Heyward, that works too. At 2B, Kendrick and Murphy could be options (though they would also cost a second draft pick w/ the one from the outfielder choice). At third, if you want to just roll with Cowart and Kubitza and save some cash or spend it on another reliever (Mark Lowe?). The main idea of this is to take advantage of a deeper free agent class, I’m not advocating for specific targets, though I think the club should try and only give-up one draft pick if they do give one up.
Of course, a drawback of this plan is that if you maximize the theoretical budget, you now limit yourself financially the following offseason, putting stress on the fact you need to really hit on the moves to cover your weaknesses. That is why, in the example I did above, I did not go all of the way to $60M. What I did do though, is show that the moves we can make if spending is allowed to go past the luxury tax for this upcoming year, can definitely fill at least some of the holes via free agency. If the team wishes to trade an extra pitcher for one of the holes on the position player side, that is clearly available as well. The “financial choke hold” they would be under if they did max out their theoretical budget would be relieved in a year as well, as the Josh Hamilton payments along with others would be coming off of the books.
Is this type of plan entirely possible? Probably not. However, trying to think of creative ways in order to maximize the roster talent when you have Trout in his prime is incredibly important. With no reinforcements coming soon from the farm system, spending this offseason (with a trade or two wrinkled in) is likely the team’s best choice.