Inbox: What do the Angels see in Baldoquin?
Beat reporter Alden Gonzalez answers fans' questions
The Angels were busy early in the offseason, acquiring a starting pitcher from the Astros (Nick Tropeano), a relief pitcher from the Rays (Cesar Ramos) and a middle infielder from Cuba (Roberto Baldoquin) all within seven days of the World Series. A lot will still happen this winter, but conventional wisdom suggests that a lot of it won't involve the Angels. I tackled that subject, and several others, in this latest Inbox.
What's the word on the kid they just gave the big signing bonus to? What's his ETA at the bigs and position?
That would be Baldoquin, the aforementioned 20-year-old Cuban middle infielder who has agreed to an $8 million signing bonus. Both sides are simply waiting on the Dominican government, which needs to grant Baldoquin his visa so he can fly to the U.S., take his physical and sign on the dotted line. There's no telling when that will happen, but it's expected to get done eventually. The Angels have yet to comment on the deal publicly.
I was as shocked as anyone that they signed Baldoquin. It's just not something the Angels have done, especially when you consider that they'll end up paying about $14 million because of the 100 percent tax for going over their allotted international spending pool. But it's an encouraging sign to see them get active again in Latin America, and there were three key reasons they felt this signing made sense:
1. They simply don't have that player in their organization. With second baseman Howie Kendrick and third baseman David Freese slated for free agency after the 2015 season, and Erick Aybar off the books a year after that, the Angels don't have a sure-thing, next-in-line guy for their infield. Baldoquin essentially replaces Jean Segura, who was sent to the Brewers in exchange for Zack Greinke in July 2012.
2. Perhaps most important of all, they like the talent. Baldoquin may not be ready until 2016 at the earliest, but they love his defense at shortstop, think he has the bat for third base and see him as a potential second baseman, as well. If it weren't for his age and the fact that he hasn't played in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons, Baldoquin would've been a normal free agent -- like Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes -- and would've likely cost a lot more.
3. The addition of Baldoquin means the Angels can't sign an international player for more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods, but they don't feel that hurts them very much. They hardly ever go over that to begin with. The only other exceptions under the new guidelines were lefty Ricardo Sanchez and shortstop Julio Garcia.
Do we have any more insight from Arte Moreno regarding the luxury tax? In the past, they have stated they would like to stay under, but given how well they played last season, the closing window for vets on the team and the lack of Minor League talent, I'm hoping they will be a tax payer to add an arm like Jon Lester, Ervin Santana or James Shields.
-- Shani Q., Oakland
All indications are that the luxury-tax threshold -- set at $189 million again next year -- continues to be the Angels' spending limit, which is why they haven't been linked to prominent free agents.
In terms of the Competitive Balance Tax payroll -- the average annual value of all 40-man-roster contracts, plus benefits and bonuses, which is used by Major League Baseball to determine which teams are taxed -- the Angels have less than $5 million of wiggle room if they tender everyone a contract. (A breakdown of how I calculated that is here.)
You might say getting taxed 17.5 percent on the overage -- the penalty for first-time offenders -- is peanuts to a billionaire like Moreno, but it's 30 percent the second year. And the Angels are currently set up to be just below the tax next year, too.
Five players (Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson) will make up $105.5 million toward the CBT in 2016 and three key guys (closer Huston Street, catcher Chris Iannetta and Kendrick) are slated for free agency, potentially leaving some important holes to fill.
After the 2016 season, Weaver, Wilson and Aybar come off the books and a new Collective Bargaining Agreement comes into play, which would probably raise the tax threshold again. At that point, the Angels' budget can go up. Before then, I don't expect it to.
Will Kendrick be an Angel when the season starts?
I can go either way on this. Right now, I'd side toward him staying, but ask me again next week. The Angels tried to move Kendrick in July 2013, then again the following offseason and are dangling him once again now. Nothing personal; he just so happens to play a position the Angels are actually very deep at and has the skillset a lot of teams covet.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has said frequently that he won't move Kendrick unless it's an irresistible offer, and I don't think it's GM speak. Even though Kendrick is a free agent at season's end -- and the Angels aren't all that interested in negotiating another extension -- he's a very important piece to a team that wants to win now.
Here's one trade scenario that does make sense, though: The Nationals need a second baseman and, as MLB.com colleague Bill Ladson has reported, are dangling starting pitchers Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann, both of whom are headed into their last year of free agency. Fister is projected to make close to $12 million in arbitration and Zimmermann is owed $16.5 million in the final year of his deal.
The latter may be too much of a salary difference -- though it can easily be made up for by trades or non-tenders -- but I have to think the Angels would pounce on a one-for-one deal involving Kendrick and Fister.
It makes so much sense that it probably won't happen. That's usually just the way it goes.
Will C.J. Cron be the full-time designated hitter next season, or do the Angels sign a free agent to fill the role?
I think Mike Scioscia's decision to have Cron be his DH in the short-lived American League Division Series was a strong indication of how they feel about him. OK, maybe there weren't any other great options. And Cron did only go 1-for-9, after putting up a .256/.289/.450 slash line in 79 regular-season games. But the 24-year-old showed some encouraging signs in his rookie season, hitting 11 homers and posting an .892 OPS with runners in scoring position.
I still think Cron can be made available in the right deal, but teams haven't asked about him much in the past, so it may not materialize. I think ideally the Angels would have a revolving door at DH next year, with Cron and a left-handed-hitting outfielder (maybe Efren Navarro, maybe someone outside the organization) splitting time as that ninth bat. That would allow Pujols and Hamilton to get off their feet when needed.
If the Angels are unable to land a veteran free agent or trade for cost-controlled, young pitching, what pitching do the Halos have that might emerge in the rotation next year? Any gems like Matt Shoemaker out there?
-- Andy O., San Clemente
Here's what the Angels currently have as potential, Major League starting-pitching depth behind the projected five-man rotation of Weaver, Wilson, Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago, in no particular order: Tropeano, Wade LeBlanc, Alex Sanabia, Drew Rucinski, Jose Alvarez, Cory Rasmus and Brooks Raley. This assumes Rasmus is tried out as a starting pitcher (a no-brainer if you ask me) and LeBlanc is tendered a contract (I can see it both ways).
Rucinski is well-thought-of in the organization and Tropeano was a nice get from the Astros. One guy to watch for is Alvarez, who was acquired from the Tigers for utility infielder Andrew Romine in Spring Training. Alvarez, a 25-year-old left-hander, missed four months after removing loose bodies from his pitching elbow, but he is healthy now and pitching in winter ball. He isn't physically imposing and doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he knows how to get guys out. "Think Jason Vargas," one scout said.
What's the timeline for Sean Newcomb?
-- Jason O., Fullerton
He still has a ways to go, even though he was selected as a 21-year-old. Newcomb only threw 14 2/3 professional innings after being selected 15th overall in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft and the Angels will take their time with him. They believe, like most teams, in being patient with prospects early and aggressive with them late. Late 2016 could be a best-case scenario.
Here's what assistant general manager Scott Servais said when asked about Newcomb's timetable earlier this week: "He needs to pitch innings. He needs more Minor League innings. We knew that when we drafted him. We really like the player. He signed late, so he didn't really have much of a season last year, and in instructional league, you're pretty guarded with how much you pitch those guys late in the year. He'll come into Spring Training with no real rush or timetable."
One offseason target to keep an eye on that the Angels could jump on and why?
I don't like restrictions. I'll give you a few, with the following discretion: I would not be all that surprised if the Angels didn't sign any free agent for more than $1 million this offseason. Three free-agent types I think they will look at, on the cheap, are backup catchers, lefty relievers and utility infielders. The Angels currently have Gordon Beckham for the latter, but he's expected to make about $5 million in arbitration, so I expect him to get non-tendered unless Kendrick or Freese is moved.
Below are three potential Major League free-agent options for each position, a couple of whom might have a familiar ring to them:
Catcher: John Buck, Wil Nieves, Geovany Soto
LH reliever: Joe Beimel, Josh Outman, Joe Thatcher
Utility infielder: Emilio Bonifacio, Ramon Santiago, Clint Barmes