Reversal of Fortune
Setting aside for now the debate in my December 21 post about the wisdom of the Mark Teixeira trade, I want to look ahead to the consequences of the Angels’ failure to retain Teixeira via free agency.
The Angels have several directions they can go. One would be to simply bank the savings and go with the farm system in 2009. They can turn over first base to Kendry Morales, find a way to get Brandon Wood into the lineup on a full-time basis, expect more production from Howie Kendrick and Juan Rivera, and hope for the best.
That’s the scenario with the most risk, but might make sense in the long run. Neither Morales or Wood are rookies — they have too many at-bats to qualify — but they’ve never been given the opportunity to play full-time. Tampa Bay showed this year you can field a championship ball club with some young players in the lineup.
If Brandon plays shortstop or third base, that clouds the future for Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins. Izturis, Aybar and Kendrick have suffered frequent injuries in recent years, so infield depth remains important. Figgins used to be the free-floating-agent-of-chaos, playing almost any position on the field, so manager Mike Scioscia can certainly move him around.
The Angels are unlikely to face any significant challenge within their division in 2009, so they can afford to go through some growing pains with Wood and Morales. It might be worth it if, come post-season, they’ve both passed the test and demonstrated they’re legit big leaguers.
But owner Arte Moreno may feel he needs to satisfy his customer base with a “name” player — the main reason for the Teixeira trade — so they’ll likely look at other free agent options and/or pursue a trade.
The so-called “big bats” out there on the free agent market include Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn and Pat Burrell.
Many on the fan boards have been clamoring for Manny because he’s a “name” but the Angels rightly have been reluctant. Whether or not he’s a clubhouse cancer isn’t the issue. The issue is he turns 37 in May, hasn’t been in the best of health the last two years, and wants a nice fat contract. Oh, and let’s not forget his agent is Scott Boras. Even on his best days, Manny is terrible in left field and really should be a DH — except the Angels anticipate easing Vlad Guerrero into the DH role.
It’s not my money, but I’d have no problem signing Manny to a two-year contract for $30 million. Manny won’t sign for that. And as we saw with Teixeira, if the Angels wait on Scott Boras then they’re going to miss other opportunities.
Dunn and Burrell are second-tier players in comparison to Teixeira/Ramirez. One nice thing is that both have first base experience, Burrell in particular, mostly in the minors. But the “big bat” market isn’t going to settle down until Teixeira signs and defines “big bat” value this winter. He’ll be the top of the scale, and the price for Dunn/Burrell will adjust accordingly.
Either might take playing time away from Rivera or Morales, although Scioscia can juggle the lineup by rotating them through the DH slot. Rivera can also play right field and Morales has a little exposure to the outfield corners, although he’s best suited for first base (and don’t have any delusions that he’ll be much better than Ramirez in the outfield).
If the Angels go the trade route, it will probably mean losing some of their top prospects. Let’s not forget they still need a fifth starting pitcher. Trading for a starter and a bat will pretty much deplete the upper tier of young talent in the system.
Rumors — and let’s be clear, rumors are not facts, they’re just somebody’s speculation or wet dream — have suggested the Angels remain interested in Paul Konerko, inquired about Adrian Gonzalez as part of a Jake Peavy package, and might want Reds’ first baseman Joey Votto. I can’t see Cincinnati giving up a talented and affordable young first baseman in a small market, but you never know.
Losing Teixeira forced the Angels into considering these less palatable scenarios, but that was the risk they took last July.
Some have pointed out that the Angels will reap draft picks galore for having lost Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez and Jon Garland to free agency.
I’m all for draft picks — this is, after all, FutureAngels.com — but let’s not think that five or six draft picks in the first two rounds are going to make any difference in the foreseeable future.
A 2003 study by Baseball America of the 1990-97 drafts attempted to measure the success of draft picks, both by round and by education level. The picks were subjectively ranked as flops (never made it to the majors), coffee (made at least one appearance), fringe, regular, good and star.
For first round draft picks, the results were:
|First Round||Players||Flops||Coffee||Fringe||Regular||Good||Star||Regular or Better|
This validates what I’ve posted before, that about one-third (34.9%) of first-round draft picks don’t even make it to the major leagues (flops). And only about one-fourth (26.6%) will have a substantive major league career (regular or better).
As you might suspect, the numbers are worse in latter rounds. In Round #2, 52.9% are flops and only 9.4% are regulars or better. In Round #3, 68.2% are flops and only 6.2% are regulars and better.
Under former Scouting Director Donny Rowland and current Scouting Director Eddie Bane and their staffs, the Angels have done a great job of using latter-round picks to find prospects such as Jordan Walden, Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Will Smith and Ryan Chaffee. Their track record with first-round picks is pretty good too — Joe Saunders in 2002, Brandon Wood in 2003, Jered Weaver in 2004 — but even so it still takes a good three to five years at least to get a handle on whether a draft pick will make good on his promise. By then, circumstances at the major league level may have changed entirely.
Trading Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek for Teixeira created a nexus. If they lost Teixeira, it created alternate timelines for the Angels, none of which seem particularly palatable at this point in time. A year from now, the Angels might be world champions, Kendry Morales is the A.L. MVP, Brandon Wood has hit 40 homers and Nick Adenhart is firmly entrenched in the Angels’ rotation. Who knows. But the impression I have right now is that the Angels will be left scrambling to make up for a short-term decision with long-term consequences.
UPDATE December 23, 2008 11:30 AM PST — Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have closed the door to both of Boras’ clients, Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez. “We’re going to give our kids an opportunity to play,” GM Tony Reagins said.