Once again, we wrap up our coverage of a divisional opponent by getting the lowdown from someone close to the team. This time, we’re talking to Rahul Setty, Angels fan and writer at Halos Heaven. You can find his Angels analysis and prospect writing at Halos Heaven or follow him on Twitter at @RahulSettyHH.
KP: Let's start with the good and go from there. What's it like to have potentially the greatest player of our generation—nah, screw that; my generation, your generation, your generation's grandchildren, our eventual sentient firespirit dustpeople overlords—wearing the jersey of your favorite team?
RS: [insert Chris Traeger voice here] It is, literally, the greatest feeling ever.
Seriously though, in spite of the Angels losing 88 games last season, I still feel spoiled watching Trouty on a consistent basis, and I don't know if Angels fans realize that they are witnessing history being made every time Trout is at-bat, on the bases, or in the field...he's everywhere.
He shows tremendous grace, humility, poise, respect, generosity, character, and humor in all situations. Heck, in my five years of watching all things Angels, I've yet to hear Trout once throw any player, coach, GM, or reporter under the bus: and given what's occurred, he would be justified in doing so but that's just not who he is. I am truly privileged and honored and lucky to be able to watch this guy show up, put on an Angels uniform, and go to work.
KP: Follow-up question: Could the Angels ever trade Trout, or should they?
RS: The reason Billy Eppler hangs up the phone laughing when offered a Mike Trout trade is that no organization in baseball can afford to trade what it takes to get someone of his caliber. Realistically, someone would have to surrender cheap, proven, cost-controlled, two-way talents with tremendous upside (think Kris Bryant, Corey Seager types) along with the top 10 (or more) prospects in a top-5 farm system. Given the rate at which prospects fizzle out or don't live up to the hype, one would have to surrender so many prospects that it would decimate their org's long-term future. And how many teams can afford to pay the equivalent of 45+ WAR given the lower value of prospects nowadays?
It only strengthens the keep Trout case, as the Angels can get the same haul for Trout in two years as they can now since GM's aren't willing or able to pay the going price. On top of all this, there's little to no positive precedent for trading a franchise-altering guy like this - the Red Sox got cash for Ruth, the Marlins got robbed for Miggy, and the A's got who for Donaldson?
The only scenario in which a Trout trade is plausible is, if in his last year of the deal (2020), the team is not competitive and he has been unwilling to sign a contract extension.
KP: On to the second-most-handsome man from the Angels organization: your former GM, Jerry Dipoto, now prancing around Seattle in North Face. Give us the insider perspective on how that breakup went down. Who did the fans side with? Brad or Jen? (Note: Jerry is both Brad AND Jen in this analogy.)
RS: Brad and Jen then? Fans (and those in baseball, it seemed) sided instantaneously with Dipoto as Sosh was viewed as a power-hungry manager meddling too much in front office affairs, and this meddling had much to do with the franchise's downturn, dating as early back as the Vernon Wells trade (sigh). Sosh's 10-year contract extension, combined with his past success as manager, gave him staying power and clout within the organization—it was clear that Dipoto resigned because he felt he was unable to implement his vision.
KP: The main source of tension between those two, reportedly, was Scioscia's supposed allergy to sabermetrics. Has that gotten any better in the ensuing years?
RS: Oh, I think he's *trying* to adapt. For years, Sosh's bread and butter has been utilizing contact and speed personnel that can execute the first-to-third, hit and run, squeeze, bunt, stolen base, etc. When Dipoto came in, he chose personnel that didn't cater to Sosh's strengths (surely Hamilton and Pujols didn't help in this regard). In the meeting before Dipoto resigned, however, he was frustrated that the Angels staff wouldn't "convey scouting and statistical information provided by the front office to the players". This past season, there have been visibly more shifts and he's been more flexible than in the past few years, but there are still legitimate gripes with the way he manages. He's trying to learn, but I'm not convinced that he will implement analytics in in-game situations to the extent he should.
KP: How is the current GM stacking up and is the ride more smooth sailing than it was with Dipoto-Scioscia?
RS: Yep, the Eppler-Scioscia relationship has been better so far and if there's anything it hasn't been leaked to any media outlets.
As for Eppler, 2016 offseason's acquisitions of Simmons and Escobar as well as this season’s of Maybin, Jesse Chavez, Bailey, Espinosa, Revere, and Maldonado makes it clear that Eppler values not only run prevention but also contact, speed, and smart baserunning. And despite all the injuries in 2016, the team’s run differential was actually better than last year's (-14 in 2015 vs -10 in 2016). He's shown an ability to take what the market gives him, but an underrated part of these acquisitions is that Sosh actually knows how to utilize them.
Eppler's also got an eye for talent, and he's been making crazy good trades, raising the talent floor of the entire roster, making a boatload of waiver claims and minor league free agent signings to strengthen both depth and the minor league system. Guys like Jefry Marte (acquired for Kody Eaves) and Alex Meyer/Ricky Nolasco (acquired for Hector Santiago) provide big boosts during this window of contention and were acquired for relatively little.
KP: Cheap defensive upgrades? This sounds like you've been copying us. Are you copying us QUIT COPYING OUR GM YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE WITH HIM.
RS: But I thought the Maybin deal was the move that kicked off the entire MLB offseason? ;)
KP: Which of the Angels' off-season moves have you been happiest with? What remaining move do you think the organization must make in order to keep pace in the increasingly-competitive AL West?
RS: I don't know if there was *one* specific move that was the best one, but the string of moves Eppler has made this winter has been genius. The key additions (Maybin, Revere, Chavez, Espinosa) fill black vortexes on the roster and are key to the Angels 'contending' -- being average there is an upgrade over the historically hysterical suckage of production we had before. For a remaining move: Bullpen help. Greg Holland is a wish, but other options are out there. Anyone with a proven track record, really.
KP: What prospects are you really high on, and how close are they to debuting with the club?
RS: Matt Thaiss and Jahmai Jones, definitely. Thaiss is a fast-moving bat out of college and raked while learning a new position (1B); he might make an impact as soon as 2018. He'll come quick, profiling as a doubles hitter with 15-20 HR potential. Jahmai is a toolsy outfielder that profiles as a prototypical leadoff man (contact/speed profile); this year, he held his own in both rookie ball and A-ball as an 18 year old. He's got a ways to go, but 2020 is a realistic ETA as the Angels don't want to rush him.
Keynan Middleton's now a reliever that throws gas (he's touched 102 mph); he controls it better now, and he might just make the bullpen out of spring training.
KP: What is the state of the Angels farm system? We have heard bad things. But people also say bad things about the M's farm system and I know firsthand it's not all horror and despair down there (although most of it is).
RS: After we traded Newcomb/Ellis in the Simmons deal...that was rock bottom. It's definitely gotten better since then with the latest draft. You can definitely see the writing on the wall of strategic shift, from Dipoto's failed high-floor strategy to Eppler's high-upside in 2016, with 4 out of the 10 being high-schoolers: two young, projectable arms (Cole Duensing, Chris Rodriguez), a multi-sport athlete (Brandon Marsh), and a developing switch hitter (Nonie Williams). Overall, the system is moving in the right direction and, with a new scouting director and new player development personnel, don't be surprised to see the Angels system improve quickly.
KP: What one thing, more than anything else, sunk the Angels in 2016?
RS: Torn ulnars, broken hearts, and broken dreams. Injuries, for sure. The dreaded UCL tears to Garrett Richards (our #1), Andrew Heaney (our #2), and Nick Tropeano (our #5/6) knocked them out for the year. Matt Shoemaker (our #3/4) took that baseball to the head, obviously. Cam 'Bedrock' Bedrosian had a blood clot, Huston Street had lingering oblique/knee issues, Joe Smith missed major time. C.J. Cron had a fractured wrist (HBP) right as he was heating up, Kole Calhoun played through muscle core issues, Simmons had a torn thumb ligament. Skaggs (our #3/4) missed all but August/September in his return from TJ, and CJ Wilson never pitched an inning.
With little to no depth to speak of, we had nothing to fall back on, but injuries to this degree can only be chalked up to poor luck. It hurts badly that all these major injuries all happened to cost-controlled, effective pitching. You can see how it's a small miracle the Angels didn't turn into a tire fire.
KP: Thank goodness for the A’s, then. What are your hopes for the Angels in 2017, and what are your realistic expectations?
RS: Cautiously optimistic is a perfect description. After all the TJs, 2017 was supposed to be the transition year, but the AL WC race is looking like anyone's game and Eppler has pulled off a fantastic offseason without sacrificing much value. I'm ready for a borderline great defense, oohing and aahing every other inning. Simmons, Trout, Espinosa, Calhoun, and Maldonado? It's going to be an exciting team to watch, at the very least.
Much like how Steamer underprojects Segura, Cano, and Cruz for the Mariners, Steamer definitely underprojects Trout, Calhoun, Espinosa, Maybin, and Cron. If Richards and Skaggs each pitch 150+ innings, the Angels will go toe-to-toe with the Astros for the division crown. With realistic injury risk for this pitching staff, though, I'm going to go with 86 wins and a wild card spot.
KP: Rahul, I said realistic expectations. Seriously, though, strong defense punctuated by occasional offensive fireworks and questionable pitching? I think the Mariners and Angels are more similar than we care to think. If it all goes wrong and LAA finds themselves sellers at the trade deadline, who might fetch a nice return without bankrupting the club's future?
RS: There's no clear-cut answer but pitchers seem to get the midseason bump in value at the deadline, so I'll go with Nolasco, Jesse Chavez, or Andrew Bailey.
Thanks again to Rahul for being willing to answer all these questions at length and also helping me tell the difference, for once and for all, between Yunel Escobar and Yonder Alonso.