By Chad Stewart
I recently began reading Jonah Keri’s novel detailing the rise and eventual fall of the Montreal Expos, Up, Up, and Away. The section about the 1968 expansion draft got me thinking.
What if there were an expansion draft today?
The rules for which players the existing franchises are allowed to protect have changed throughout the many drafts, so we’ll use the rules from the most recent one, 1997. Each team was allowed to protect 15 players in their organization. However, not every player was eligible to drafted. Players not allowed to be drafted included those with no major league experience that, if signed or drafted at 19 or older, had less than three years of experience in the minor leagues, and, if signed or drafted at 18 or younger, had less than four years of experience. Players with no-trade clauses in their contract were also ineligible and had to be protected unless they agreed not to be.
There were three rounds in the draft, and after the first and second, each team was allowed to protect three more players each. I’ll start off with the 15 I would protect first, and then I’ll get to the ones I would protect later if not selected.
Pujols would most likely be taken by a team pretty early in the draft simply because most expansion teams like to select veterans to try to make their team immediately relevant. Obviously, this would be a huge relief for the Angels, as it would create much more financial flexibility. However, he has a full no-trade clause, so the Angels are stuck with that huge contract.
He’s a once-in-a-generation defender. He’s signed for just $53 million over the next five years. You just traded your top two pitching prospects for him. Safe to say, he would be protected.
Heaney was successful in his first bit of extended action in the majors last year (6-4, 3.49 ERA). At 24 years old, and with five more years of control remaining, it would be an easy decision to protect Andrew Heaney.
I had a tough time deciding on this one. Bedrosian has struggled in his short time in the big leagues over parts of the last two seasons, but he is still young and has plenty of time to grow and develop into a successful major league relief pitcher. The one positive that has stayed consistent with Bedrosian is his high strikeout rate. With his biggest strength comes his biggest weakness, his high walk rate. If he can fix that, he can be a dominating force in the back-end of the Angels bullpen. While he has made appearances in both 2014 and 2015, he has yet to accumulate a year of service time, meaning he is still under control of the Angels for six more seasons. Therefore, I would protect Cam Bedrosian.
Perez came over to the Angels along with Nick Tropeano prior to the 2015 season in a trade that sent Hank Conger to Houston. After Chris Iannetta began his dreadful offensive season last year, Perez began receiving the bulk of the playing time behind the plate, and did a fine job both offensively and defensively. Perez has a chance to be a productive catcher in Anaheim for the foreseeable future, and that’s why I would protect him.
Cron struggled mightily in the first half last year, but turned it around in the second half. If Cron can put together a full, productive season, which I think he can if he receives more consistent playing time, he can become the everyday first baseman if, and when, Pujols has to continue playing DH the majority of the tim.
Sure, he wasn’t as good in 2015 as he was in 2014, but I don’t think it was realistic to expect that from him coming off of an injury like he experienced. Richards should return to something close to his 2014 form in 2016, and will regain his status as ace of the team.
Santiago was outstanding in the first half of 2015, as he earned his first All-Star selection. However, he was not great in the second half. He only has two years of control remaining, but if he can put together a more consistent season, he will be a very important piece in the rotation.
Huston Street has been one of the most consistent closers in the league throughout his career, and he has obviously been one of the most important players on the team since his arrival in July, 2014. After signing an extension last year, Huston Street would be protected.
Joe Smith is set to be a free agent following the 2016 season, but I would not be surprised if the Angels try to sign him to an extension before he gets to the open market. He and Huston Street have been a great tandem at the back end of the bullpen, and it is worth it to protect him even if they do not extend him.
Kole Calhoun has emerged as one of the better right fielders in the league over the last couple years, both offensively and defensively. This one is easy.
Following a breakout rookie season, Morin struggled to find that 2014 form last year. He did provide some reason to believe he could repeat 2014 however, including his increased strikeout rate and decreased walk rate. Morin should be a key piece to the Angels bullpen going forward.
Yeah, not much to say here.
Skaggs was effective in his first injury-shortened season with the Angels (5-5, 4.30 ERA), and has legitimate star-potential. At 24 years old, Tyler Skaggs will be a big contributor to the rotation going forward.
He is the starting third baseman as of right now, and he’s a veteran, making him attractive to expansion teams. It does seem a little weird to put him on this list, but I don’t necessarily know that Kyle Kubitza or Kaleb Cowart are ready to start just yet. Because of those three reasons, I would protect Yunel Escobar.
Other players I would consider protecting after the first and second rounds of the draft if they are not selected are Cory Rasmus, Jett Bandy, Kaleb Cowart, Kyle Kubitza, Johnny Giavotella, Jose Alvarez, Matt Shoemaker, and Nick Tropeano.
Two of the most notable names I did not include are Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. I don’t think either is two surprising considering their age and the fact that they will both be free agents after 2016.
Commissioner Rob Manfred recently hinted at the idea of the MLB expanding sooner rather than later, so maybe this will turn from a fun exercise into something that every MLB team will actually have to do in a few years.