Continuing a trade deadline series in which CtPG editors imagine the unimaginable, and cast the deckchairs of this Titanic into the roiling sea!
Fan attachment is a ruthless force. It binds us to names and personalities, inuring us to their flaws and vulnerabilities, while occasionally blinding us to fleeting opportunities to improve. It only takes small precious in-game moments of winning to make a player a golden calf on a sentimental shelf, with fans at the ready to guard him against theft. Meanwhile, scouting evaluations and ranked lists bubble up to the media surface, and young unfinished talent from the minor leagues become legendary keys to fan wish fulfillment and self-realization. Favorite players are like nightlights in the troubling dark, and we hover around them even as menace crackles outside the bedroom door. No one wants things to change much, and the world burns around us.
In light of this, contrarian impulses may not always be appreciated. Imagination can be a useful counterfactual, but when fans contemplate alternatives to the status quo and float trade concepts, they are often met with charges of wanting to “blow up the team”, or worse – disloyalty or abandonment. Of team management…or team destiny!
But y’know, kiddos, the Halos team destiny does feel a bit small-bore of late. Our present approach is, without question, not working. Five sequential losing seasons represents the worst stretch in franchise history. As I write this, our .312 win percentage after 32 games is the worst mark in franchise history. The Angels currently battle Pittsburgh and Boston for the worst record in baseball – and we’ve officially hit Rock(er) Bottom at least twice in recent days.
It barely needs to be said, but most of this comes down to insufficient, inconsistent and generally inferior starting pitching. A chronic problem for a half-decade. The team is still investing less than 10% of its (sizable) payroll in the rotation, and the outcomes fit the investment.
But the farm is not coming to rescue. Fangraphs currently ranks the Angels minor league system at #20. With 66 more ABs, Jo Adell loses his prospect status, and the farm will fall to #25, per current value assessments. This is not a deep, varied, or a balanced system – and it’s certainly not an inevitable one. Fully 64% of the value of the farm is tied up in the top three guys, all outfielders. Yet solid corner outfielders – as guys like Brian Goodwin, Kole Calhoun and Michael Brantley have shown – are one of the most straightforward types of players to acquire in a cost-efficient way in free agency, if an organization is smart about it.
Dealing from this area of strength does not mean the vessel can’t be replenished. Trades can rebalance a farm to better distribute talent across pitching and offense, and better ladder up reinforcements across minor league levels. The Angels status quo is not the only way to roll.
So let’s shake up the face cards in our playing deck. Instead, let’s contemplate what it might mean to trade our best replaceable assets away. By this, I don’t mean four-week rentals like La Stella (c-ya Tommy!), Simmons and Castro. If Eppler can get some reliever candidates or deep-cut A-ball pitching for any of those guys, great! Do it! I also don’t mean trading away lifetime contracts like those of Rendon and Trout, or even a player like Fletcher, who fills the shortstop-sized hole Simmons leaves when he hits free agency.
I’m looking instead at the top four assets the Angels have at the moment that are either not contributing significant value on-field in the present, or have limited contract windows that constrain their future value. For me that’s Jo Adell, Shohei Ohtani, Brandon Marsh and Dylan Bundy.
Now no MLB team would trade all four guys like this away, not least the ever-retentive Los Angeles Angels. I don’t pretend this could happen – but let’s try to imagine what the team might look like if it did. Can we build a playoff-caliber rotation with cost-controlled pitching for multiple seasons, while maintaining a farm system of equivalent value, but instead deep in pitching instead of outfield position players?
Trade OF Jo Adell to the Detroit Tigers for RHSP Casey Mize OR RHSP Matt Manning
Here we begin with a simplified version of Jeff Joiner’s trade earlier this week. Detroit needs controllable impact outfielders (and infield help as well), and they have one of the deepest prospect pitching pipelines in baseball. Here I give them the choice of trading either of their top prospect arms in Manning or Mize for the Angels’ top prospect in Jo Adell. Losing one of them wouldn’t hurt so much, as they have a lot of young pitching in reserve, and Adell’s development schedule fits their timeline for contention, even better than Mize or Manning do. In 2022, at age 23, Adell will likely be an everyday, middle-of-the-order bat, right as Spencer Torkelson arrives to thump alongside him.
As you can see above, Baseball Trade Values finds this a roughly value-equivalent trade regardless of which path is chosen. I have a wee preference for Matt Manning in this scenario, given FB velocity and upside, but Mize has already arrived, so he would be rotation-ready in 2021, which has its merits. Detroit, it’s in your court – you decide!
Trade DH/SP Shohei Ohtani and LHSP Patrick Sandoval to the Seattle Mariners for RHSP Marco Gonzales and LHSP Justus Sheffield
The first part of this trade is straightforward. The Angels exchange a somewhat high-variance DH and extremely high-variance pitcher in Shohei Ohtani for Seattle’s most durable and cost-controlled rotation asset, Marco Gonzales. Ohtani has the higher ceiling in most every respect to Gonzales, but his range of outcomes is also the most volatile, and potentially frustrating over the length of his contract. The Mariners have a much improved development corps, however, and have been experimenting with two-way players themselves, so I think Shohei could really thrive in this system.
As a landing place for Ohtani, Seattle really is one of the only places that make sense. Direct flights to Japan, a storied history with Japanese players, and a rebuild timeline to contend in 2022 – just enough time for Ohtani to rebuild value as both hitter and pitcher, and help Seattle to the postseason in the final two years of his contract (Shohei is a free agent in 2024).
Meanwhile, Marco Gonzales is just the type of pitcher Anaheim needs. Former St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year – a nice pedigree given St. Louis has arguably the best development crew when it comes to minor league arms – Gonzales has delivered three straight seasons of above-average pitching out of Seattle’s rotation, and has four years left on his contract. He delivered 200+ innings of 108 ERA+ ball last season, and is currently holding a superior 116 ERA+ across six starts this season.
Baseball Trade Values continues to really like Shohei Ohtani, though, and feels Gonzales isn’t enough of a return to merit this very special player profile. So in this scenario, we bring back another arm with mid-rotation upside, and upgrade (intriguing but replaceable) Patrick Sandoval for Justus Sheffield, another left-handed starter who steps in as Heaney prepares to step out after next season. Former first round pick from Cleveland (who know their arms), Sheffield pairs a plus slider with a sinking fastball to achieve impressive groundball rates. He’s yet to surrender a homerun this year.
If Seattle feels Sheffield is too key to their long-term rebuild, their #3 prospect Logan Gilbert is a fine substitute. BTV feels the Gonzalez/Sheffield package is an Angels overpay, but likes Gilbert as an alternative. In any case, Ohtani demands a solid return, and two high-probability arms is what we should expect.
Trade OF Brandon Marsh to the Cleveland Indians for RHSP Mike Clevinger
I do love me some Brandon Marsh. Going back a couple seasons, I’ve thought him the ideal fit for the Angels outfield, perhaps more-so than Adell himself. Marsh has a strong, unimpeachable glove at all three OF positions, and his footspeed and high-OBP lefty bat situates quite nicely behind Fletcher in the #2 spot in the Angels lineup. I would hate to lose him from the system, but this expansive trade thought-bubble isn’t about my nurturing personal fuzzies, it’s about building the best rotation the team can within the short window of Trout’s and Rendon’s prime.
Therefore the most maligned trade-away of the Dipoto-era comes back home to Anaheim in this scenario, to settle in as the ace of the Angels rebuilt rotation for two years. We all know the COVID-party backstory of why Clevinger has fallen out of favor in Cleveland. And for that reason, he might not be the type of player Arte ‘Mr. Clean’ Moreno might want to pull into harbor. But let’s imagine that winning-with-reservations might be a bit more rewarding to Arturo for once than losing through self-denial – and in our evolving narrative, we ride Clevinger with his mid-90s fastball and 10 K/9 rate straight into the postseason for the first time since 2014.
Now, there’s word that Cleveland’s asking price for Clevinger is currently “ridiculous”. That may be! Perhaps it comes down to an exchange in the offseason (a mere few weeks away from the trade deadline). But here, Baseball Trade Values feels six years of Marsh is value-equivalent to two years of Mike, so we’ll accept the enigmatic and oracular shine of our greenshade betters, and let the BTV calculator have its way.
Trade RHSP Dylan Bundy to the Toronto Blue Jays for RHSP Alek Manoah and LHSP Anthony Kay
Now, I’m not even sure this is necessary. I would certainly be pleased if the Angels sat the amazing and reinvigorated Mr. Bundy down and talked him into a three-year extension with the team. Going into next season with a lead rotation trio of Clevinger, Gonzales and Bundy seems like a solid reinvention of the Angels starter corps to me. But there’s no doubt that Bundy’s value is in ascendance right now, and there might be some merit in capturing it at its peak.
The only reason to trade Dylan Bundy at this point is if the Angels receive quantity and controllable years in return. So in this trade, we go Canadian and offer 1+ seasons of our newest ace (though he’s probably a #2 on many clubs in this specific form) for one of Toronto’s #4 types (here Anthony Kay… or Thomas Hatch should the Jays prefer) – each already having made their MLB debuts in the past season – plus their third-best pitching prospect (and current #6 overall) in Alek Manoah. Manoah is a hulking righty with a mid-90s heater, slider, change combo who has a mid-rotation profile at ceiling, and a high-leverage relief profile at floor.
This doesn’t ask for the moon, and gives Toronto two postseason opportunities with Bundy’s current contract. BTV thinks it’s fair – so do I.
In this newly constructed rotation, the Angels are six deep with arms that include a couple frontline weapons, and four others that each have mid-rotation upside. Instead of “gutting” the farm, two outfield athletes are replaced by two promising starters with top 100 value, including a potential ace. Five of the pitchers acquired have no fewer than four to six years of organizational control. Clevinger is the only piece that is a use-before-expiration arm, and he’s a true #1.
Clevinger, Gonzalez, Sheffield, Canning, Kay, Heaney
AAA/AA Farm pitching pipeline:
Manning, Detmers, Manoah, Rodriguez, Soriano
When you look at the free agent list for 2021, there are a number of potential outfield bargains there, should the team want to upgrade from Trout-Goodwin-Upton, but one could also imagine a world where David Fletcher sees more time in LF. In any event, upgrading the outfield is bound to be less costly than upgrading the rotation, so “trade ‘em all” may not be as looney as it looks at first blush.