It's the most wonderful time of the year. Time for me to keep with the time honored annual tradition of me donning the Angels general manager cap and detailing what I would do if I had the privilege of being the Angels real general manager for a day in the off-season. Normally, I just do this for my own edification, but given that the GM position actual is vacant at the moment, I think this is my big chance to impress good ol' Uncle Arte!
Or I will just make some really smart (or not) suggestions that will be completely ignored, like usual.
But before I unveil my master plan, let me just lay down the ground rules. This isn't entirely a fantasy so I will be spending and dealing within the bounds of reality, meaning that the Angels budget is my budget. That means I am going to have at most $25 million to spend this off-season. And since this isn't a video game where I can force the other team to accept a trade or a player to accept a contract, the deals I propose will be realistic and fair, at least to the best of my estimation. The other caveat I am going to work under is that Kendrys Morales is 50/50 to play a significant amount this season. I don't have access to his medical reports, obviously, so I can't just assume that Morales is going to be his old self by Opening Day or the All-Star break or ever again.
There, all done with that. So without further adieu, on to the grand plan to turn the Angels back into real contenders!
First things first. As the new GM, I want to send a message that the status quo will no longer be accepted, and that applies to everyone in the organization. To accomplish that, my first official act as GM is to non-tender Jeff Mathis (which is partly what allows me to have $25 million to work with). Plain and simple, Mathis is symbolic of all that has been wrong with the Angels the last few years and he cannot stay, no matter how much Scioscia might dislike it.
However, I am still a benevolent executive and will not deprive Scioscia of the catcher defense he loves so much. As a compromise, Mathis will be replaced on the roster by our old friend Jose Molina, who might just be the best defensive catcher in baseball. He made $1.2 million last year, so I don't think he'll need much more than $1.25 million to come back to the Halos. Surely some will worry that Molina will just be the new Mathis, but that is the beauty of the move. Jose is now 36 years old and probably can't be effective if he starts more than 60 games, meaning he HAS to be a back-up. Plus Jose actually has hit a little bit throughout most of his career, at least compared to Mathis. But the real motivation here is that Molina is a respected veteran, as opposed to a maligned one like Mathis, so he actually can be the defensive mentor that Hank Conger really needs.
But enough of this catcher nonsense. Let's get to the big fat juicy moves!
Speaking of big and fat, let's talk about Prince Fielder. I've gone back and forth on whether the Angels should pursue him or not and after a long deliberation I've decided that... I want him. I want him real bad. I want him more than I wanted Carl Crawford last off-season.
Yes, I know he is a terrible defender. Yes, I know that his size makes him a risky bet to keep performing at high levels for the duration of whatever contract I give him. I also know that there is some concern that his stats are somewhat inflated by his home park.
But you know what else I know? The Angels desperately need to sign Fielder for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, this team hasn't had a big threat in the middle of the order since Morales snapped his ankle. Fielder is a virtual lock to give the Angels that for the next several years. As much as Scioscia likes to play small ball and manufacture runs, that doesn't always work (he said in the understatement of the year). They need someone who can consistently give them one-swing offense to offset all the times when the small ball attack goes in the tank. And I emphasized "consistently" for a reason. Hunter, Kendrick, Trumbo and others can get hot for periods, but none of them are constant threats to change the game with one swing of the bat.
The other marjor reason for adding him is proving that the Angels aren't going to make fools of themselves in talks with big name free agents like they did last season. The Halo front office has become a joke the last few off-season and that needs to be rectified. Signing a Scott Boras client (for real, not like when Weaver ordered Boras to work out an extension) wouldn't hurt my GM street cred either. So, to land Fielder, I'm offering him $160 million over seven years, which is about $23 million per year. That is a year shorter than Mark Teixeira's contract (the target Boras is reportedly setting for Fielder), but it is also worth a little bit more annually. More importantly, it is much more than Carl Crawford's contract ($142 million over seven years) which is the current standard for huge free agency contracts. If that doesn't get him signed, then so be it. At least I made a good show of it.
So, let's assume that I now have Fielder locked up. That's great, but I am now out of money and have a number of holes to fill still. That's not so great. It also isn't so great that Fielder only adds to the logjam at 1B/DH. Fortunately, I can solve both of those problems in one fell swoop.
This won't be popular, but as far as I am concerned, Fielder makes Mark Trumbo expendable. I could keep him as a 1B/DH partner with Fielder, but frankly, I don't like Trumbo's lack of plate discipline and think it will curtail his career before long. So, before we find out for sure if my hunch is right, I want to take advantage of Trumbo's value being at a possible all-time high and trade him. But he isn't going to be moving on alone. I'll put the word out that Trumbo can be had by any team willing to take on Bobby Abreu's entire contract as well. The return I demand will be a decent starting pitcher. The ideal trade for me in this scenario is sending Trumbo and Abreu to Houston for Wandy Rodriguez. I don't know how well Wandy will do in the AL, but he only needs to be a #4 starter now and, frankly, I like the idea of the Angels having a southpaw in their rotation. I think Houston will accept this deal since Trumbo is a somewhat proven young talent, something the Astros have so little of. I'd probably have to throw in a mid-level prospect like Daniel Tillman or the wayward Trevor Reckling to get the Astros to let Wandy go AND eat the $1.5 million difference in salaries between him and Abreu (I kind of feel like I am overpaying, but I just want to make sure this is realistic). If they don't eat it, that's OK, I will just send them less of a prospect. Heck, they don't have much at catcher either, maybe I can buy them off with Bobby Wilson.
That's two big checks off my shopping list, now I need some bullpen help and I still have no money. That mean's I'm going to have to get risky. But if I am going to take a risk, I want a big reward, so my plan is to offer a one-year, incentive-laden deal to Jonathan Broxton. He has had some health issues, but if he is even 85% of his top form, he'd still make for a nice right-handed power arm to set up for Jordan Walden. My guess is that if I offer him a deal starting at $2 million and capping out at $7 million, he'll take it.
Now I just need to clear some budget space so that Broxton's deal fits in. This won't be popular either, especially with Scioscia, but it is time for Maicer Izturis to go. But I'm not just giving him away, I am going to use him to both clear salary but also add another bullpen arm to hedge my bet on Broxton. The trade I have in mind here is sending him to the Kansas City Royals who have a bevvy young relief arms available and almost nothing up the middle of their infield. My preference would be righty Aaron Crow, but I'd settle for lefty Tim Collins. Either way, I get a cheap young reliever with an electric arm that just needs some fine tuning. I also save almost $4 million bucks. That just so happens to put me exactly on budget for the season, maybe even a million or two under depending on how many incentives Broxton reaches. I hate losing Izturis, but the Angels have guys like Alexi Amarista and Andrew Romine available to help fill his void a little bit. I'd rather trade Callaspo, but I don't think his value is the same since he can't play shortstop. I still also likely have enough cash leftover to add someone like John McDonald or Jack Wilson who I at least know are reliable defensively. Or maybe I get some insurance at the corners with Kevin Kouzmanoff.
That's it, I'm done and now my roster looks like this:
SP: Weaver, Haren, Santana, Rodriguez, Williams/Chatwood/Richards
RH RP: Walden, Broxton, Crow, Cassevah
LH RP: Downs, Takahashi
BENCH: Amarista, Moore, Kouzmanoff
This is all a very risk-heavy strategy, but I find it hard to believe that this new roster I've constructed isn't significantly better than the 2011 team that just won 86 games. Or maybe I just totally hosed the Angel payroll for years to come just so they can now win 88 games instead. The beauty of this is that we will never know since the Angels probably aren't bold enough to make this many crazy moves.