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January 19, 2017

Transaction Analysis

Extension Party

by Bryan Grosnick, Jared Wyllys and Matthew Trueblood

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed OF-L Kole Calhoun to a three-year, $26 million contract. [1/18]

Calhoun plays the game with flair, from his swing (with its rising two-handed finish and his quick manner of disposing with the bat after contact) to his knack for highlight-reel catches, often on a peculiar brand of flying dive. He pairs that verve with decent speed and a rocket arm, and thus overcomes what tend not to be excellent routes to fly balls. At the plate, he’s what a 1990s color commentator would have called a “pure, professional hitter,” which is to say he’s white, left-handed, and underpowered.

There’s a kernel of truth at the center of that characterization, however, and perhaps especially so in Calhoun’s case. His swing is short and fairly flat, and he controls it well. He doesn’t have particularly consistent lower-half mechanics, which prevents him from turning on and driving the ball at times, but which also allows him to adjust pretty well from pitch to pitch and at-bat to at-bat. He slashed his strikeout rate and set a career-high in walk rate last season, with a combination of more contact on swings (he used to get fooled too often, somewhat diminishing the value of his short stroke) and more aggressiveness early in the count.

Calhoun also lifted the ball more often, a trait vital to the viability of a left-handed hitter in today’s game (especially one confined to an offense-first position). He still doesn’t have tremendous power and in the only season where he did find some (2015, when he hit 26 homers) the cost to the rest of his game outweighed the benefit. Even so, if he’s walking more than half as often as he’s striking out, he’ll hit enough line drives to do the rest and should be a solid hitter. Batting average isn’t a useless statistic. Hits are more fun and more productive than walks, even if only incrementally. Calhoun is a classic .270, gap-power hitter, and that has value. Calhoun is unlikely to hit 30 home runs or run up 6.0 WARP in a season, but he’s a safe bet for 2-3 wins per year.

The Angels aren’t getting a huge discount on him, other than that already provided by their control over his three remaining arbitration-eligible seasons. A Super Two player who made $3.4 million last year and had a good platform season, Calhoun had a chance to make somewhere near $7 million in 2017. Instead he’ll get $6 million, then $8.5 million in 2018 and $10.5 million in 2019. It’s certainly possible to envision Calhoun earn more than that over the next three years, but trading that potential for guarantees makes plenty of sense for Calhoun (an eighth-round 2010 draftee who got just $36,000 to sign).

For the Angels, the cost certainty and the proactive avoidance of larger arbitration raises are reason enough to do the deal. What makes this a clear win for Billy Eppler’s front office, though, is the option for 2020. That’s what this deal is about: trading Calhoun security for one season of team control. Mike Trout is under contract through 2020. Andrelton Simmons and C.J. Cron are, too. Now so is Calhoun, thanks to the fourth-year option on this deal. The Angels have a core, and they have an extraordinarily well-defined four-year window in which to take advantage of it. They’ve spent this winter making myriad small, sometimes expensive upgrades, rather than shopping Trout or otherwise looking to rebuild around him.

Trades for Cameron Maybin, Danny Espinosa, and Martin Maldonado all made the 2017 Angels better. That’s good, because 2017 is one of the four years they have right now, and they couldn’t afford to throw it away. Because the outlook for 2017 is just OK, however, they also needed to improve the 2018-2020 teams. Keeping Calhoun’s salary under control and ensuring that they have the option of keeping him around for 2020 at a below-market cost accomplishes that. We can safely put the idea of a Trout trade to bed. The Angels have the best player in baseball and they have no intention of wasting him or letting him go. On Wednesday, they took a significant step in the right direction. —Matthew Trueblood

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed LHP Danny Duffy to a five-year, $65 million contract. [1/16]

A great way to get rich is to be a left-handed pitcher who throws like a no. 1 or no. 2 starter for a year. While Rich Hill gets all the pub for being the out-of-nowhere southpaw success story du jour, Duffy had his own meteoric rise in 2016. Since staking his claim last year, he’s been the best pitcher in Kansas City and cemented a role at the head of an otherwise sketchy rotation. (Yes, Ian Kennedy’s been good, I know.)

Instead of letting Duffy walk as a free agent following the 2017 season—a year in which the Royals are poised to lose most of their lineup—Kansas City signed him to a contract that’s eerily similar to the one they gave Kennedy last offseason. Now, at the very least, the team will have two solid starters for the next four seasons. Barring injury, that is.

You can certainly see why the Royals would make such an investment in Duffy despite the fact that his track record isn’t exactly littered with gold. He was a very good prospect before injury issues and indifferent overall performances. The present is what interests the Royals, and that plus a bright future is what they’re paying for. You can draw a direct line from his improved results to the increased velocity on his slider, and therefore his reliever-good strikeout rate. He also reduced his walks considerably for the first time in his career.

Despite being an extreme fly-ball pitcher he’s good on two of the Three True Outcomes, and that’s certainly good enough. On top of that, he doesn’t have the same mileage on his arm as many other age-28 starters due to to his injury history. Of course, that injury history is a Sword of Damocles hanging over his future, but in some ways it could be a blessing in disguise; there’s no other way that the Royals would be able to get this extension if it weren’t for that.

This extension is big for a pitcher with only one good year, but these are the kind of bets that the Royals need to make in order to dance the fine line between rebuilding and reloading. After a few years of real success, it’s not a particularly heartening thought to slip back into the 60-win doldrums of the greater part of this millennium. So instead of watching Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Alcides Escobar walk via free agency and try to snatch back Low-A arms and leftover hitting prospects, perhaps they’ll try to retool.

Sure, there could still be a few of those moves—they’ll have to do something rather than lose all these talents for free or sign them all to extensions—but by committing to the high upside of Duffy it seems to hint at a team that’s not looking to embark on a full teardown.

If there’s another big arm injury, or if Duffy starts bleeding velocity or control, this could look like an ugly extension a few years down the line. But at this price, just a couple of years of top-tier performance could make the deal worthwhile. It’s a bold move by the Royals, who seem to prefer committing to their homegrown players over swanky new additions. It just remains to be seen whether the Duffman was the right one to choose. —Bryan Grosnick

SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 1B/OF-R Wil Myers to a six-year, $83 million contract. [1/16]

Myers is now the face of the Padres. A gig that isn’t a glamorous one for now, but offers the glimmer of being a part of the first Padres playoff team since 2006. Along with that, for the next six years he’ll not only carry the collective weight of the San Diego baseball faithful, but now that the Chargers have bolted up the coast to Los Angeles, Myers holds all of the professional sporting world south of Irvine in his hands. That’s a heavy weight.

The deal is heavily backloaded and carries an option for a seventh year, so Myers is presumably there to shoulder the team while A.J. Preller attempts to piece together something competitive in a division that is likely to be dominated by the Dodgers and Giants for the next several seasons. San Diego’s payroll is the lowest in the league and this is the largest contract they have ever given out, so there’s room to spend if ownership chooses to go that route. Otherwise, Myers will end up being a wasted investment.

Before coming to San Diego, wrist injuries curtailed his rise after an exciting rookie campaign with the Rays in 2013. Myers dropped below replacement level in 2014, largely because a broken wrist in May kept him out of the lineup and sapped some of the power he had flashed the previous season. That winter Tampa Bay sent him to San Diego, where he shifted almost exclusively to first base after spending his first two seasons predominantly in right field.

The move was meant to keep Myers healthy and it seems to have worked. For 2016 at least, he played a full season for the first time since joining the Rays in 2013. His 3.5 WARP was encouragement enough that he might be able to sustain the power numbers that have always been lurking beneath the surface. Myers’ ability to pile up extra-base hits in bunches (28 homers, 29 doubles, four triples in 2016) means that he can effectively anchor a Padres lineup that, for the near future, will have little else to offer.

As a first baseman instead of an outfielder he'll have to continue to not only stay healthy but also carry his weight with the bat in order to fulfill his value. He slashed .293/.354/.478 with a .303 TAv in his rookie year, and last year’s .259/.336/.461 with a .290 TAv was a trend upward from the previous two seasons, so wishing for him to hit like a top-tier first baseman isn’t out of the question. —Jared Wyllys

Bryan Grosnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here
Matthew Trueblood is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

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