- Angels fourth-rounder Werner Blakely is expected to sign with the club for $900K, as first reported by Mason McRae of Prospects 365 (via Twitter) and confirmed by Robert Murray (Twitter link). Blakely, a prep shortstop from Michigan, ranked as the #297 prospect in the class on Baseball America’s pre-draft top 500. BA lauds his projectable 6’3″ frame, athleticism and power potential, but cautions that he’s exceptionally raw on both sides of the ball, perhaps not unexpected for a cold weather high schooler. Blakely’s draft position, #111 overall, comes with a slot value of just over $522K, so the Angels will go well over slot to woo the 18-year-old away from his commitment to Auburn.
- The Angels have also inked third-round choice David Calabrese, according to McRae. He’ll earn a signing bonus of $744K, the slot value of the #82 selection with which he was chosen. Calabrese is an outfielder from the Canadian high school ranks, and was regarded as the top Canadian prospect in this year’s draft class. An Arkansas commit, he’s just 17 and is therefore one of the youngest players in his class thanks to his reclassification for this year. He’s a small outfielder who provides high-class speed on the bases, though he doesn’t offer much in the way of power. Most scouts think his speed and instincts will allow him to play center field in the long-term.
Let’s catch up on any draft signing news we didn’t cover already …
- The Nationals have agreed to terms with fifth-rounder Mitchell Parker, per Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post (via Twitter). The bonus agreement isn’t known; his choice came with a slot value of $346,800. Parker was the last of four college hurlers plucked by the Nats in this summer’s truncated draft. This is the third time Parker has been drafted; it sounds as if he’s definitely planning on going the professional route this time around.
- Angels fifth-rounder Adam Seminaris has agreed to terms, Robert Murray reports on Twitter. He was nabbed with the 141st overall pick, which featured a $390,400 bonus allocation, though Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com tweets he’ll fall well short of that with a sum of $140K. Seminaris, a Long Beach State product, produced big strikeout numbers in college without overwhelming arm speed.
This post is about Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons. But really, it’s about how teams value and conceive of defense in the game of baseball … and what his upcoming free agency could tell us about it.
On the one hand, it’s rather straightforward: preventing runs is as good as creating them. It’s an oversimplification, but for the most part the name of the game is simply to turn would-be baserunners into outs.
Things get quite a bit more complicated when you wade into an attempt at valuing a given player’s impact on a team’s ability to make outs and prevent runs. Avoiding miscues is obviously a big part of the picture, but that hardly provides the full picture of a defender. (Past a diving Jeter, anyone?) Range — the ability to get to more balls — is obviously of critical importance. And there are a host of subtle skills to consider … catcher framing, perhaps, being the most susceptible of statistical precision. But how do you value a tagging maestro, for example? And how do we account for contemporary baseball’s ceaseless shifting, particularly given that much of it is engineered by analysts rather than players’ gut instincts on positioning?
While it’s pretty easy to get a sense of a hitter’s profile and productivity from a glance at a stat sheet, it’s obvious that truly understanding defensive value requires more. Even the most sophisticated analytical systems have struggled to reach anything like the kind of precision that we’d need to make fine distinctions. Ultimate Zone Rating, Defensive Runs Saved, and the more recent Statcast-based Outs Above Average all have their merits and aid in the understanding of a ballplayer. But it’d be a stretch to say that you could look at the numbers they produce and use them to determine that player A is superior to player B at fielding his position.
All that said … shouldn’t we listen when all the stats, and all the scouts, and all that we see with our own eyes tell us that one particular player is in his own particular category when it comes to defensive play? On a rate basis, no infielder comes particularly close to Simmons in UZR. To understand how that translates to value when estimating runs saved and tabulating wins above replacement … well, just look how many more innings it took guys like J.J. Hardy and Jimmy Rollins to accrue similar total value above replacement at the shortstop position. And it’s not just UZR. Far from it. By measure of DRS, Simmons has been outlandishly superior to the rest of the shortstop field. Statcast, at least, shows some competition over the past three seasons from Nick Ahmed, but it too agrees that Simmons is an exceptional performer. (It’s also less than clear that Statcast is as useful for infielders as it is for outfielders.)
It doesn’t seem wild to presume, for purposes of this post at least, that Simmons is a historically amazing defensive performer. Teams no doubt have their own ways of translating fielding performance to value, but it’s generally reasonable to believe they’ll put a high price on run prevention. Even if you’d rather market a slugger than a glove-first shortstop, there’s no general reason to prefer the former to the latter from a competitive standpoint.
Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that a truly elite defender is all the more valuable to a team — especially in this day and age. Positioning defenders to account not only for hitters, but defenders, has long been a part of the sport. But it’s now done with much greater sophistication and frequency. The Reds just signed Mike Moustakas to play second base after watching the Brewers try him there despite a career spent at third. For creative ballclubs looking for ways to shoehorn every advantage into a lineup, the ability to deploy a human vacuum/cannon on the left side of the infield could convey even greater value than that player’s directly attributable individual contribution.
It’s truly fascinating to imagine what teams might envision doing with Simmons … and wondering how much they’ll be willing to pay. (Setting aside the likely market-skewing impact of the coronavirus-shortened season, anyway.) The Diamondbacks just made a fairly significant outlay to Ahmed, despite the fact he has never really come close to league-average offensive productivity over a full season and was still a year from free agency. Even if you believe Ahmed has approached Simmons in defensive capabilities, he hasn’t done it as long. And Simmons has a far superior overall track record at the plate, with a lifetime batting output that’s about the same as Ahmed’s single-season peak. Supposing Simmons is in typical form in 2020 — unparalleled glovework and league-average-ish offense — he ought to fetch a fair sight more on the open market … particularly if big-market teams get involved with big ideas about how to squeeze value from such a unique player.
2020 salary terms still need to be hammered out. But what about what’s owed to players beyond that point? The near-term economic picture remains questionable at best. That’ll make teams all the more cautious with guaranteed future salaries.
Every organization has some amount of future cash committed to players, all of it done before the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe. There are several different ways to look at salaries; for instance, for purposes of calculating the luxury tax, the average annual value is the touchstone, with up-front bonuses spread over the life of the deal. For this exercise, we’ll focus on actual cash outlays that still have yet to be paid.
We’ll run through every team, with a big assist from the Cot’s Baseball Contracts database. Next up is the Angels:
With the MLB draft scheduled for next week, let’s take a look at each American League team’s most successful draft class in recent memory. Using Baseball Reference’s draft tracker, we can sum the combined career bWAR of each player selected by each team in a given year. It’s a simple shorthand, not a perfect measure, but it’ll give some insight into which teams have really hit in certain years.
First, a quick note on the methodology. For simplicity, we’re limiting this search to the 2006-2015 classes. A player’s value is only included if he signed with the club, although he needn’t have actually played for his drafting team in the majors. (So, the 2008 Yankees don’t get credit for drafting but failing to sign Gerrit Cole, while the 2007 Red Sox do get credit for drafting and signing Anthony Rizzo, even though he was traded before ever playing an MLB game for Boston). Of course, a player drafted in 2006 has had more time to rack up value than one drafted in 2015, so we’ll note in each team’s capsule if a more recent class is on the verge of taking over from an older class. On to the results…
- Angels: 2009 (109.3 bWAR) – Go figure. Picking one of the greatest players of all time is a heck of a way to kick off a draft class. But this 2009 class wasn’t just about Mike Trout, even if he’s accounted for about two-thirds of its cumulative value. That year, the Angels also selected Patrick Corbin, Randal Grichuk, Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs. Former MLBTR contributor Chuck Wassterstrom took a behind-the-scenes look at this class a few years ago.
- Astros: 2009 (53.2 bWAR) – Not a single one of the Astros’ top five rounders in 2009 reached the majors. The late rounds, though, were a smashing success with J.D. Martinez (20th), Dallas Keuchel (7th) and Kiké Hernández (6th) accounting for the class’ value. Of course, Martinez did his damage elsewhere after the Astros released him.
- A’s: 2012 (37.7 bWAR) – The A’s 2012 class produced seven big leaguers, most notably Matt Olson. He leads a group that also included Addison Russell and Max Muncy, who have played most or all of their MLB careers elsewhere.
- Blue Jays: 2009 (39.2 bWAR) – They won’t get credit for selecting James Paxton in supplemental round one here, but Yan Gomes was a nice find in the tenth round, though he would play only briefly in Toronto before being dealt to Cleveland. Outside of Gomes, the Blue Jays found a few nice role players, including Jake Marisnick, Aaron Loup, Ryan Goins, and others.
- Indians: 2011 (38.7 bWAR) – Selecting Francisco Lindor eighth overall in 2011 was a key to Cleveland’s 2016 AL pennant. So too was then-closer Cody Allen, whom they grabbed in the 23rd round. With Lindor mid-prime, the class’ value should just continue to grow.
- Mariners: 2006 (40.2 bWAR) – Doug Fister and Chris Tillman went on to become mid-rotation starters for a time (Fister arguably even a bit more than that), albeit with other clubs. Fifth overall pick Brandon Morrow disappointed as a starter but had a late-career renaissance as a quality reliever before various injuries derailed him.
- Orioles: 2007 (43.2 bWAR) – Although only four players from this class would wind up making the Majors, the combination of Jake Arrieta and Matt Wieters makes the 2007 draft a pretty solid one for the O’s. While Wieters, the fifth overall pick, maybe didn’t turn out to be the franchise cornerstone he was hailed to be, he has nonetheless had a nice career. Arrieta had a slow start in Baltimore, but would of course earn a Cy Young with the Cubs. It’s worth noting that this spot will be taken by the 2010 class before too long, almost entirely on the back of Manny Machado.
- Rangers: 2008 (33.3 bWAR) – Despite garnering only a 25th-round selection, Tanner Roark has turned out to be the most productive player in this class. First-round choice Justin Smoak deserves a mention too, though his career didn’t really take off until he’d been traded out of Texas. The 2011 class, headed by Kyle Hendricks, is not far behind and could claim this title in the near future.
- Rays: 2006 (81.5 bWAR) – Franchise legend Evan Longoria does a lot of the heavy lifting for this class, having amassed 56 total WAR by age 34. Even so, there are some other quality players here: Desmond Jennings and Alex Cobb are the other notables, with Jennings carving out a solid MLB career as a tenth-round pick.
- Red Sox: 2011 (70.2 bWAR) – This is far and away the best Sox draft class in recent memory, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone. Mookie Betts, one of the finest players in baseball, established himself as Boston’s franchise player after he was selected in the fifth round. Even outside of Betts, this class yielded a few key members of the Red Sox 2018 World Series team, with Jackie Bradley Jr. and relief ace Matt Barnes also coming out of that draft.
- Royals: 2007 (47.1 bWAR) – Speaking of drafting World Series contributors, the Royals in 2007 added both Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland, both of whom turned out to be central in the Royals’ playoff runs in 2014 and 2015. And that’s before mentioning third-rounder Danny Duffy, who’s still with Kansas City and inked a nice extension prior to 2017.
- Tigers: 2007 (20.6 bWAR) – With just 20.6 WAR, the Tigers’ best draft in recent memory doesn’t compare favorably to the rest of the AL, and that partly illuminates the franchise’s current standing in baseball. The notable player from the 2007 class is Rick Porcello, who had some nice years to begin his career with the Tigers and would later win a Cy Young. Maybe they get bonus points for discovering high-schooler D.J. LeMahieu, who wouldn’t sign with the team, in round 41?
- Twins: 2009 (32.4 bWAR) – Between Kyle Gibson and Brian Dozier, the Twins drafted a pair of staples on the Minnesota teams of the mid-2010s. But with both playing elsewhere now, keep an eye on the 2012 draft class, which features a trio of young centerpieces for a new era of Twins baseball: Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Taylor Rogers are up-and-comers who could rack up a lot of value as they enter their primes.
- White Sox: 2010 (55.3 bWAR) – Chris Sale carries the 2010 class for the South Siders, by far the best draftee in an otherwise mediocre string of years for Chicago. That said, 2010 yielded a couple of other role players for the White Sox, with Addison Reed, Jake Petricka, and Tyler Saladino all making nice MLB contributions.
- Yankees: 2006 (69.4 bWAR) – Whereas many teams’ success in a given year is determined by one standout player, the Yankees’ installment on this list displays a surprising breadth of quality players, without a single superstar. Evidently, the 2006 Yankees cornered the market on MLB relievers: Ian Kennedy, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Mark Melancon, and Joba Chamberlain are the five most productive players from the Bombers’ draft that year (granted, Kennedy didn’t transition to the bullpen until last year).
The Angels will continue to pay their minor league players through the end of June, The Los Angeles Times’ Maria Torres reports. No determination has been made beyond June 30, though for now, the Angels’ minor leaguers can count on receiving the $400 weekly stipend for at least the next few weeks.
The news means that all 30 Major League clubs have now committed to paying minor league players through at least June, with the Angels and Athletics being the last two teams on board. The Athletics had planned to halt the $400 stipend at the end of May, but in the face of widespread public criticism, owner John Fisher said yesterday that the organization would be pay their farm system’s players through the end of what would have been the 2020 minor league season. “We clearly got this decision wrong,” Fisher said of his team’s initial decision.
Given all of the bad press Oakland received, it isn’t surprising that the Angels also made the call (albeit a late one) to continue the minor league stipend through June. The question could be why it took the Halos so long to make this choice, especially as several other organizations announced weeks ago that their minor leaguers would be paid through the end of either August or through early September. The Angels have been more aggressive than most other clubs in cutting costs with the season on hold, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported in May that Los Angeles was making “sweeping reductions in every division of the franchise’s operation except the Major League coaching staff” by furloughing many employees, though these staffers are still receiving benefits through the end of the year and are eligible for grants through a team-sponsored employee assistance fund.
Now 23 years old, the Brazil-born Gohara was once a premium prospect as a member of the Braves, who acquired him from the Mariners in a January 2017 trade that saw outfielder Mallex Smith go to Seattle (though the M’s quickly flipped Smith to Tampa Bay). Gohara mowed down minor league hitters that year, combining for a 2.62 ERA with 10.7 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 123 2/3 innings, and ended up making his major league debut. That was the first of two straight seasons in which Gohara appeared in the majors, and though has only amassed 49 frames of 5.33 ERA pitching at the game’s highest level so far, he has managed nine strikeouts per nine against 2.94 walks.
It’s now anyone’s guess whether Gohara will make it back to the bigs. Shoulder problems prevented Gohara from pitching professionally last season, when the Braves released him in early August. Gohara caught on with the Angels a few weeks later, but his Halos tenure is now over before he ever threw a meaningful pitch as part of their organization.
Angels right-handers Shohei Ohtani and Griffin Canning have been steadily progressing in their rehab from elbow injuries: 2018 Tommy John surgery for Ohtani and “chronic changes” to the UCL as well as acute joint irritation for Canning. Updates on both players throughout MLB’s shutdown have been generally positive, and Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic continues that trend, tweeting that both righties have thrown a trio of live batting practice sessions at this point. Each has built up his arm to a workload of roughly 55 pitches. They’ll remain at that level for the time being, although if the 30 owners and the Players Association can come to an agreement on a deal to resume play in 2020, it stands to reason that each would further build up over the course of a rebooted “spring” training session in mid-to-late June. Spring Training 2.0 will reportedly be about three weeks in length. The Angels figure to be cautious with both right-handers, so it seems unlikely they’ll come out of the gate firing 100-plus pitches with regularity anyhow.
A bit more on the Halos…
- The Angels are allowing workouts at Angel Stadium and at Tempe Diablo Stadium, their Arizona-based Spring Training facility, Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times reports. Players are permitted to work out in group of four, although they’re limited two players, plus an instructor, per area (e.g. batting cage, weight room). David Fletcher, Tommy La Stella, Albert Pujols, Ohtani and Canning are among the names who’ve been working out at Angel Stadium to date. GM Billy Eppler explains to DiGiovanna that the team is providing staggered 90-minute blocks for workouts with 30 minutes between them to allow sanitizing and cleaning of the equipment.
- Angels owner Arte Moreno has asked the city of Anaheim for an additional 30 days to sufficiently detail his plans for the development project at the site surrounding Angel Stadium, per the L.A. Times’ Bill Shaikin. A plan was expected to be delivered by May 30, but the process has been slowed as consulting firms that play key roles have transitioned to work-from-home settings and virtual correspondence amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreno still has until Sept. 30 to make a final decision on the development plan. Back in December, Moreno and the city of Anaheim reached an agreement that would keep the Halos in Anaheim for another 30 years — a deal that included the $325MM purchase of the land surrounding Angel Stadium.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people over the age of 65 and cancer survivors are among those who are at the highest risk of contracting the coronavirus. With that in mind, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times wonders if it will be safe for the Angels’ Joe Maddon (66) or the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts (Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor) to manage during a pandemic-shortened season. Maddon, who has lost 15 pounds via diet and exercise, explained to DiGiovanna he’s “on a mission” to get healthier. Roberts, meanwhile, received the go-ahead from one of the Dodgers’ team physicians, Dr. John Plosay, to continue in his current position. “I asked [the doctor] if I were to go back, does that put me in any different [risk] category, and he said absolutely not,” Roberts told DiGiovanna. “He didn’t really give me any details, and I didn’t really ask.”
It’s make-or-break time for MLB and the MLBPA on forging a path to baseball in 2020. With some significant negotiations looming this week, ESPN’s Jeff Passan runs through some of the biggest questions facing the league. The battle between players and owners is rife with potential roadblocks, and it’s not just the conditions of 2020 that are at stake. With the CBA renegotiation still in the (what-now-feels-like distant) future, both sides are aware of the impact any concession can make to the bigger picture. The way this week’s negotiations are handled could reveal the potential the two sides have of forging an effective working relationship moving forward. One would think now would be an ideal time for opposing sides to come together, and yet it’s just not as simple as that when billions of dollars are at stake. There are countless people and opinions to take into account on both sides of the aisle. While we await a loaded week of negotiations, let’s check in on how teams are handling their non-player-and-coach employees…
- Teams are taking a variety of approaches when it comes to their employees in the wake of COVID-19, but the Angels have come under fire for taking a more drastic approach than most, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The Angels will be furloughing employees from nearly every department, including, in the words of Rosenthal, “weakening its amateur scouting department heading into the draft.” The optics aren’t great here for the large-market Angels, especially when clubs like the Brewers, Giants, and Phillies have made commitments to retaining their staff at least through October. The Blue Jays also recently made the decision to keep employees’ on their full-time salaries through October 1, tweets John Lott, a frequent contributor to The Athletic. The Brewers have been the most aggressively pro-employee, per Rosenthal, committing to keeping their staff on through the entirety of the baseball season. The pro-employee approach is laudable, though not necessarily all that shocking coming out of Milwaukee. The Brewers have increasingly stepped into the spotlight in recent years as a progressive organization, from the supportive atmosphere provided players to making special efforts to get Milwaukee residents in to see games to their very team-building approach. The Angels, meanwhile, might find tough sledding ahead when it comes to signing undrafted amateur players. Without their typical scouting infrastructure in place, those relationships will be harder to build in an open market, and it’s possible the decisions being made by ownership today will have far-reaching consequences for the organization’s future.
- The Rays, meanwhile, are readying to return to the field. Camp will re-open on Monday for a small collection of 15 to 20 players, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Those players involved will still be keeping a separation of six feet from other players, and workouts will be limited. Still, it’s a positive sign to see players start to congregate again around a playing field. It’s also, no doubt, a risky proposition, but so long as safety precautions are followed and we don’t see a breakout of cases among these players, these workouts could be a harbinger of more baseball to come.
- Baseball is back already in some places of the world, of course. The KBO is about 17 games into their 2020 season, and they’re about to get a lot more popular. A new deal was announced for ESPN to become the English-language home of KBO games set to broadcast around the world, per ESPN’s Santa Brito. Play-by-play announcers will continue to provide commentary while social distancing. ESPN will soon be broadcasting KBO games “throughout Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean (including the Dominican Republic), Europe, Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia.”