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Sunday, January 11, 2004

Coup-Coup Ca-Choo

The signing of Vlad Guerrero caps off a huge offseason’s magical mystery tour for the Anaheim Angels.

Coup-Coup Ca-choo

 

There?s nothing like waking up on a Sunday morning and finding that your favorite team has just added Vlad Guerrero to the team. O what a beautiful morning, indeed! New Anaheim Angels owner Artie Moreno, a last-second entry into the bidding war, offered Guerrero what the Mets and Orioles wouldn?t: a contract that guaranteed every penny of a 5 year, $70 million contract.

Since buying the Angels in the middle of last year, Moreno has given GM Bill Stoneman easy access to his considerable bank account and Stoneman immediately went shopping uptown. The additions of Bartolo Colon (4 years, $51M), Kelvim Escobar (3 years, $18.75M), Jose Guillen (2 years, $6M), and extension to Adam Kennedy (3 years, $9M), along with Guerrero, have cost the Angels ? lemme see ? $145.75M in long-term contracts. Assuming Guerrero passes his physical this week, it also immediately makes the Angels a playoff contender.

However, it?s not just the big money acquisitions that have improved the team. The Angels should be given credit for cutting bait with Kevin Appier, realizing that paying cash for releasing him was better that paying the same amount of cash to have him pitch for them every five days. The refusal to resign fan favorite Scott Spiezio was not a popular move, but there was no question that the Angels needed to improve their offense, and Spiezio wasn?t going to be any better than he already is.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It?s been a hectic winter for Bill Stoneman, even before the Guerrero signing. The acquisition of Escobar in late November was an early indication of how aggressive Stoneman was prepared to be, and adding Colon two weeks later showed how aggressive Moreno was prepared to be as well. While the Red Sox, Yankees and Texas were futilely wrangling with the Alex Rodriguez/Manny Ramirez/Nomar Garciaparra deal, the Angels quietly slipped into the mix by preparing to deal for Garciaparra. Jarrod Washburn, Ramon Ortiz, David Eckstein, Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus and Troy Percival all found themselves mentioned in trade talks of one sort or another.

Stoneman?s aggressiveness is a sharp departure from last winter?s do-nothing philosophy, which predictably doomed the 2003 season even before it began. This new aggressiveness may pay off very quickly for the Angels. While no realistic fan would have predicted a return to the World Series last season, the real disappointment of 2003 was rooted in season-ending injuries to Glaus, Erstad, Brad Fullmer, and the inability of the pitching staff to repeat their 2002 success.

2003 Actual Performances:

Age

ERA

G

INN

H

BB

K

Kevin Appier

35

5.40

23

111.7

120

43

55

Aaron Sele

33

5.77

25

121.7

137

58

53

 

2004 ZIPS Projections:

Age

ERA

G

INN

H

BB

K

Bartolo Colon

31

3.99

34

230.0

219

72

169

Kelvim Escobar

28

3.72

52

150.0

128

61

141

 

Replacing the likes of Appier and Aaron Sele with Colon and Escobar is an unquestionable and substantial upgrade. Of course, this new aggressiveness could also backfire in an ugly way. Colon?s breakdown has been predicted more often that the Big Quake of Southern California, and like the Big One, if it happens it would be devastating, given the size of his contract. At age 31, though, he?s past the stage where every high-pitch outing should trigger outrage from statheads. Moreover, the Angels? excellent bullpen should contribute to keeping a durable horse like Colon healthy. Of course, yaneverknow.

Of far greater concern is Vlad Guerrero?s back injury?a herniated disk?which was enough of an issue that the Mets wouldn’t risk guaranteeing more than three years and $30M. There?s a pretty good chance that this injury will lead to chronic back problems for Guerrero. On the other hand, Guerrero?s injury did not require surgery, and he did return to play in 62 of the last 64 games of the season for the Expos, posting a .353/.436/.661 line in 218 at-bats. Other players of note, such as Barry Bonds and Randy Johnson, have certainly had some measure of success while regularly treating their own chronic back issues.

While the starting pitching took a step back, the principal reason last year?s Angels fell off as far as they did from 2002 was a lack of offense. Much of that could be attributed to gravity; half the offense hit near their peak seasons in 2002. Glaus, Erstad and Fullmer were lost for a majority of the season, and Eckstein stumbled badly due to injuries. The return of Glaus, Erstad and Eckstein, and the addition of Guerrero should turn that slide around.

* * * * * * * * * * *

There are already noises being made about Darin Erstad playing first base, and the Angels having to use Jose Guillen in the lineup, or trading Garret Anderson while the getting?s good.

I?m not one of those noisemakers. That the Angels are going to keep Erstad is a lock, so if moving him to first base keeps him healthier and makes him somewhat more productive, so be it. There are two important points to be made on this issue, though, and everybody knows what they are:

     

  1. Nobody the Angels replace Erstad with in centerfield will come close to saving as many runs as Erstad himself would. By most statistical measures, Erstad is the Babe Ruth of defensive centerfielders. Mitchel Litchman?s UZR (Ultimate Zone Ratings) show that from 2000 ? 2003, Erstad was worth 48 runs per 162 games, almost doubling up Mike Cameron, who finished second at 25 per 162.
  2. No matter how healthy Erstad is, he?s not going to hit like a first baseman should. Remember 2000? That was a fluke, and people need to get over it. He may, however, hit like J.T. Snow. Sadly, for Erstad that would be a huge step up.

 

That being said, these points only detract from what?s really important: Erstad was going to be in the lineup because the Angels believe in him ? they certainly weren?t going to “Appier” him. Regardless of how poorly Erstad might hit at first base, does anyone doubt that a healthier Erstad is going to hit better than he did last season? Perhaps just as important, a healthy outfield means less Jeff DaVanon, who had a 1.128 OPS in 63 at-bats last June, but otherwise hit like a fourth outfielder. And there?s nothing to stop the Angels from moving Erstad back into centerfield if Jose Guillen is absolutely stinking up the joint (a distinct possibility).

As part of the “Make Room for Vlad” extravaganza, Tim Salmon is being shifted to the DH slot, which should keep him healthier and away from the myriad of nagging injuries Salmon has had to deal with as he?s gotten older. Anderson, in the recent past, had been more than capable of manning centerfield, and while he?s not Erstad, he shouldn?t have a problem doing it again. A lineup that boasts Guerrero, Anderson, Glaus, and Salmon in the middle is plenty formidable.

Forget about Erstad playing first. Forget about Guillen everyday, or Anderson?s low walk totals. There?s only one thing to focus on today: Vladimir Guerrero is going to play for the Anaheim Angels, and that means Angels are going to be a force to be reckon with.

 

Los Angeles El Hombre de Anaheim Posted: January 11, 2004 at 06:00 AM | 11 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Walt Davis Posted: January 12, 2004 at 04:04 AM (#614417)
Regardless of how poorly Erstad might hit at first base, does anyone doubt that a healthier Erstad is going to hit better than he did last season?

Count me among the doubters. Ignoring his 2000, here are Erstad's recent OPS+'s

1999: 74
2001: 78
2002: 88
2003: 75

He didn't hit any worse in 2003 than he did in 1999 and 2001. Now maybe he wasn't healthy in those years either, but all that means is that he's not healthy very often, so we shouldn't expect him to be. Marcel puts Erstad around 79-80 OPS+ in 2004.

As others have noted, moving Erstad to 1B strikes me as a bad idea. I'd rather train Salmon or Anderson to play 1B. (OK, I'd rather pick up a 1B and sit Guillen, but that's clearly not what the Angels are thinking about) First, I want Erstad's defense in CF and, second, I want that DH slot available for Vlad when I need it.

So my ideal Angels lineup would probably have Salmon at 1B and Anderson, Vlad, and Guillen shuffling through the two corner OF slots and DH ... with Erstad occasionally sitting against lefties. If Salmon can't handle 1B, then Anderson at 1B and Salmon at DH about 80-90% of the time.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: January 12, 2004 at 04:04 AM (#614418)
Since Erstad would be replacing Scott "1b?" Spezio, one of the most mind boggling of first base choices in recent memory, I don't see how this hurts the Angels.

Spiezio's bat is replaced by Guillen's bat. If Guillen hits like he did last year (141 OPS+) that will be a big upgrade (Spiezio 110). However if Guillen hits like his career average, it's not -- Guillen 91 OPS+; Spiezio 98 OPS+.

Meanwhile, Erstad's glove is replaced by Guillen or Anderson which will be a huge downgrade even though both are good corner OFs who can probably be about average in CF. (Spiezio was a good fielding 1B)

So in all likelihood, moving Erstad to 1B will cost the Angels quite a bit -- 30+ runs (about 3 wins) is not out of the question. And even if Guillen significantly outhits Spiezio, an option which would keep Erstad in CF and Guillen's bat in the lineup would be highly preferable to moving Erstad to 1B.
   3. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: January 12, 2004 at 04:05 AM (#614433)
I still find it hard to believe that Darin Erstad's glove in CF has been worth as much over a season as Alex Rodriguez's bat, but the evidence is overwhelming that Erstad takes away more than enough opposing hits with his glove in the outfield to compensate for his limp stick. With the amount of money they're paying him, putting him at 1B turns him into a replacement player. What the Angels need to do now that they've signed Guillen is parlay Garret Anderson, who's got one or two peak years left, is yet to break a .350 OBP for a season, and has a reputation as a premier player, along with highly regarded DIPS disaster Ramon Ortiz (4.65 K/9, 3.15 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9) for a legit frontline starter to team up with Colon. Maybe they could pry Johan Santana from the Twins for those 2, or Odalis Perez (who pitched better than his 4.52 ERA) from their crosstown rivals, or Ben Sheets from Milwaukee, or Zambrano or Clement from the Cubs, or anything like that. THEN I think they could win the West.
   4. Marc Posted: January 12, 2004 at 04:05 AM (#614435)
Sean, surely you meant "scrappy"!?

As for the Halos, counting your pennants before they hatch is a dangerous business. Just seeing Colon's name reminds me that the White Sox were gonna run off with the Central Division. Yeah, right.

Between Erstad and Vlad and Timmy, this team will look and play older than the program.
   5. Walt Davis Posted: January 12, 2004 at 04:05 AM (#614438)
Maybe they could pry Johan Santana from the Twins for those 2, or Odalis Perez (who pitched better than his 4.52 ERA) from their crosstown rivals, or Ben Sheets from Milwaukee, or Zambrano or Clement from the Cubs, or anything like that. THEN I think they could win the West.

Now, now, let's not get carried away. The last thing the Twins need are more OFs and the last thing they want is more payroll. Milwaukee won't want that payroll (they'd still like to move Jenkins I think). Even if they were dumb enough to give up Zambrano (Clement, in the last pre-FA year, maybe), where would Anderson play on the Cubs -- unless you want to take Alou's contract in return. :-)

Odalis Perez I could see. Or those two for Konerko and a prospect or two.

You can move Anderson and get good return, but if you're expecting a team to take Ortiz (who I think gets about $5 M this year) too, you're either going to get nothing of immediate (or probably future) use in return or you're going to have to eat a bad contract.

For Anderson, other than the Dodgers, see anything you like on the Mets? Maybe the Marlins for Choi and young pitching?

Although Anderson is a fine player, I'm not seeing many teams out there who (1) think they're close enough to contention to want him; (2) need an OF; (3) have a ML-ready 1B and a prospect or two worth having; (4) have payroll room, if necessary. I mean, I'm sure you could have Konerko and maybe a little cash for him or any other trade in which you get an unfair return in either talent or money. But really good fits seem few and far between to me.
   6. reno dakota Posted: January 12, 2004 at 04:05 AM (#614441)
If I'm Angels management, I try to trade Guillen and Ortiz to the Mets for Jason Phillips. The Angels probably make some runs and save some cash in the exchange.

If the Mets don't go for Phillips, then ask for Jae Seo, or Scott Strickland and a PTBNL, or David Wright, or Matt Peterson and low-level chaff. Then go off and offer the Twinkies someone like Joe Torres for Mientkiewicz, who know that Randall Simon is available to keep Morneau's seat warm for a year at probably one-fourth of what Minky's likely to get in arb.

One thing's for sure: the Angels can't be done dealing. There's too much underutilized value (Shields in the 'pen, Erstad at first), and too much payroll for the season to start with this group.
   7. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: January 12, 2004 at 04:05 AM (#614448)
Does everyone in baseball know that Ramon Ortiz sucks? I thought scouts liked him for some reason, and after all, he did win like 16 games with a 3.77 ERA 2 years ago and win two playoff games (9.00 ERA notwithstanding :)). I would imagine some traditionalist team would spring for him.
   8. Stately, Plump Buck Mulligan Posted: January 13, 2004 at 04:05 AM (#614453)
"If I'm Angels management, I try to trade Guillen and Ortiz to the Mets for Jason Phillips."

The Angels can't trade Guillen, can they? I think this (Article XX, B(6)(a) of the CBA) would prevent them from doing so:

"Any Club signing a contract after the expiration of the election
period with a Player under this Section B may not assign his
contract until after the next June 15. However, notwithstanding the
foregoing, such contract may be assigned for other Player contracts
and/or cash consideration of $50,000 or less prior to the next June
16 if the Player gives written consent to such transaction."

As a White Sox fan, I'm sure they'd do Konerko for Washburn, but I don't know why the Angels would do that deal. I think the Angels need Washburn, the salaries are too different, and it doesn't alleviate the OF/DH logjam. On the other hand, I don't think the White Sox would be willing to take Erstad -- $24 million remaining is a lot, especially if you believe some of the recent UZR data on Aaron Rowand, who looks to be a VERY good defensive center fielder.
   9. tangotiger Posted: January 13, 2004 at 04:05 AM (#614454)
I still find it hard to believe that Darin Erstad's glove in CF has been worth as much over a season as Alex Rodriguez's bat, but the evidence is overwhelming that Erstad takes away more than enough opposing hits with his glove in the outfield to compensate for his limp stick

You should find it hard to believe.

Erstad's true talent level at fielding is around +32 runs per 600 BIP. The problem here is one of interpretation of the UZR data. You can go to Primate Studies, and check out the thread on "True Talent Fielding".

Erstad's fielding is as good as you can possibly ever get. 32 runs per 600 BIP is just about the limit, as detailed in other threads at Primate Studies. You'd have to have the fielding equivalent of Barry Bonds to be any better.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: January 13, 2004 at 04:05 AM (#614462)
I think Ortiz does have value and there are teams who would like to have him on their team. The problem with Ortiz is that he's due something like $4.5-5 M this year (the bluemanc site doesn't have a yearly breakdown, but that seems to be what's left after subtracting his salaries from b-r).

So are there teams out there that see him as a decent pitcher? Yes I think there are. Are there teams out there that see him as a $5 M pitcher (with more money due next year if they want to keep him)? That I'm not so sure.

So Ortiz by himself doesn't get you much in return. Ortiz plus some cash might get you something decent in return. But if the Angels end up paying most/all of his salary, they'd probably be just as good off keeping him.

On the other hand, Anderson is a bargain, even in today's market. Any team with enough payroll left and a need for an OF should be willing to give the Angels good return on him.

I'm not going to boldly claim that there's NO market for Ortiz. Both Detroit and Baltimore are desparate for starters and seem to have cash they're willing to spend. There are probably other teams that could afford a $5 M hit to their payroll or have something the Angels might want (a backup C?) that makes $2 M or so.
   11. Shredder Posted: February 07, 2004 at 04:08 AM (#614607)
Boy, I wonder how I can become a 'Real' Angels fan. Maybe Mr. Anonymous can fill me in on the credentials that I lack.

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