AL WestOpinions

The Brandon Marsh Dilemma

With top prospect Brandon Marsh’s MLB debut turning heads, the Angels are faced with a major decision regarding his future this offseason.

It is not often that the Los Angeles Angels have a top prospect called up that has terrific upside and flashes that ability in their first go-round in the show. In fact, outside of Mike Trout in 2011, Andrew Heaney in 2014, Shohei Ohtani (if you want to count him as a top prospect) in 2017, and Jo Adell in 2020, the Angels have had no other top prospects hang around the MLB for very long. It has been a long, tumultuous road for Angels fans since being swept out of the 2014 playoffs by the Royals, one that did not feature much homegrown talent making it in the MLB and being forced to watch Albert Pujols limp around. There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel for the farm system.

Players like Reid Detmers, Sam Bachman, Kyren Paris, and Jordyn Adams have given Angels fans hope for a brighter tomorrow, as well as the massive contracts doled out to Josh Hamilton (LOL) and Albert Pujols coming off the payroll. Above all other prospects sits Brandon Marsh, a 2016 2nd round pick that started the season in the top 50 of Fangraphs’ Top 100 Prospects list and has the tools required to be a top-of-the-order center fielder.

Brandon Marsh has been considered the high floor to Jo Adell’s massive ceiling in the outfield. Marsh’s left-handed swing is one that has lead to consistent hard contact (92.2 EV) in his first 147 at bats at the MLB level. That’s a small sample size without a doubt, but a top-30 exit velocity from a rookie is still a promising sign. While his discipline (9.5 BB%, 38.1 K%) is leaving much to be desired, he has shown signs of better discipline throughout the minors with a 10% walk rate or higher in A, A+, AA, and AAA. His skills at the plate only aid his ability to play center field in the future along with 91st percentile speed. A player like Marsh has rare tools, and it does not hurt that he is only 23 years old.

But even with the Angels’ dearth of quality players coming through the system, GM Perry Minasian was engaged in talks with the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline to potentially swap Brandon Marsh for top pitching prospect Max Meyer. The rumor, which ended up having substance to it and was even confirmed that the Angels backed out at the last minute, started to spin some wheels about potentially moving Marsh for starting pitching.

With a crucial offseason approaching that doesn’t feature much in the way of young, frontline starters but is full of young, superstar shortstops, the Angels might have to move Marsh for a controllable arm via trade. For the rest of the article I will lay out the benefits of keeping Marsh and what an offseason would need to look like in order to hold onto him and improve enough to make the playoffs. I will also examine potential fits in the trade market, and how trading him for a talented, controllable arm can impact the free agent spending for the team.

Marsh-mania in Anaheim

With Marsh’s current success at the MLB level, most fans will want to hold onto him tighter than ever before. He provides a potential changing of the guard in center for the Angels after 10 terrific seasons of Mike Trout patrolling the position. Keeping Marsh means Trout can move to a corner outfield spot, potentially decreasing strain on his body and especially his calf, which appears to be the worst calf injury since Achilles took an arrow from Paris of Troy. Trout could then ease tension on his body and continue to produce at the plate, while center field is left in reliable hands with Marsh. The outfield of Trout/Marsh/Adell has the potential to be one of the deadliest offensive outfields in baseball if Adell taps into his clear power and Marsh can draw more walks.

The Angels could then stroll out a lineup featuring Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Brandon Marsh, and Jo Adell who all have the ability to be well above average hitters. Keeping a potential 5-tool center fielder with a left-handed swing built for hard contact is not exactly the worst scenario a team can be in. But the lineup has never been the issue in Anaheim. Pitching, pitching, and then more pitching is what the Angels need to acquire and develop if they are ever going to seriously become a contender. And an extremely talented prospect like Marsh would be enticing to many teams.

The Angels offseason where they hold onto Marsh would probably look similar to the 2020 offseason. With $70 million to spend for Perry Minasian and only Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Justin Upton and Shohei Ohtani under contract, there is many decisions to be made. I’d expect a large contract to be handed out to one of the shortstop free agents, whether that be Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, or Joe Maddon’s favorite player Javier Baez. With Jose Iglesias’ horrific defensive season (-21 DRS as of 8/31), a top shortstop who can field and hit at an above average ability would be a necessary addition to the organization.

But with that being about $25-35 million of your budget used up, and still needing a backup catcher, potentially 4 starters, and probably 2-3 relievers, which would include a hefty extension dealt to star closer Raisel Iglesias, you are looking to the discount bin yet again for pitching. Perhaps Perry will trust what he has in house (Jaime Barria, Jose Suarez, Reid Detmers, Cooper Criswell, Griffin Canning) to fit into the rotation with Shohei Ohtani and Patrick Sandoval. Maybe he will use prospects not named Brandon Marsh to acquire a starter or two that fits his mold of pitching and thinks he can get the most out of. But at the end of the day, the starting pitching will be built on question marks and hope. Outside of a complete overhaul into how the Angels approach pitching analytically, the organization is not suited to play the upside game like the San Francisco Giants were able to do with Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani. It will be another year where the Angels make a huge splash in the market for a superstar, but leave their biggest need up to chance.

Even if the Angels were to focus on free agent starting pitching and played the upside game at shortstop, the free agent starting pitching class has a lot of question marks. If you told me in 2014 that the Angels would have $70 million to spend and a free agent class of Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and Justin Verlander was coming up, I would be giddy. However, its not 2014. Its 2021. Scherzer is still dominating, but he’s going to be 37. Zack Greinke is still a national icon, but he is going to be 39. Clayton Kershaw has missed the past 2 months with a forearm injury and will be 35. Justin Verlander is recovering from Tommy John at 38 years old. When it comes to spending 20-30 million U.S. dollars on a player, I would much prefer to put that money into a 27 or 28 year old shortstop than one of those aging arms.

Outside of the veteran aces, we have Carlos Rodon, Robbie Ray, Noah Syndergaard, and Kevin Gausman as frontline options. Realistically, I do not think any of these players make it to the market. Rodon and Ray will probably be extended by their teams as they have become top pitchers in the league and both organizations they play for are in a full commitment to make it to a World Series. Syndergaard has had his Tommy John rehab interrupted twice, once due to tightness in his forearm and the second time due to Covid-19. And Kevin Gausman likely returns to the Giants, where he has finally reached his potential and is leading an unexpected playoff push for a well-run organization with cash to spend.

The Angels could potentially bring back Alex Cobb, who has been a pleasant surprise this season. However, between his time on the injury list this season and his turning 35 years old in the next season adds to concerns of his durability. The tier of pitching the Angels might be able to afford and land a few golden eggs would be Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Matz, Marcus Stroman, Jon Gray, and Anthony DeSclafani, but as I mentioned before, this is not the best place for the Angels to be. They have had horrible success with trying to get the most out of upside plays, and while I like the names in this list I would be concerned if the Angels came away with just this tier of pitcher.

So, with all that said, I am not opposed to keeping Brandon Marsh. I actually would love if he stayed. But with the organization in a weird spot going into this free agent market and a desperate need for a controllable frontline arm, Brandon Marsh might have to be the necessary sacrifice to deliver this team, and Mike Trout, to a real chance at the playoffs. However, there are not an extremely high amount of fits for the Angels to deal a player of Marsh’s quality. Here are a few trade ideas I have had for Brandon Marsh that helps the Angels and their trade partner.

Forgetting Brandon Marsh…all

I tried with the heading, I really did. Might be a “hand up, my bad” on that. Anyways, There are 3 teams I believe are perfect fits for the Angels and Brandon Marsh. The criteria I have for trading a talent such as Marsh is simple. Needs to be a frontline arm, needs to be controllable, needs to be on the cheap side. The Angels are trading a potential 5-tool outfielder who is already showing signs of sticking at the big league level in his first cup of coffee. A team looking for a controllable, high ceiling, and relatively high floor player of this caliber should be ready to offer up quality in return. Let’s get started.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are currently hanging around the playoff picture, despite their owner cutting funds for GM Nick Krall due to the loss of revenue from the Covid-19 pandemic. They traded off an elite closer in Raisel Iglesias (thank you by the way) to the Angels for Noe Ramirez, who was cut before Opening Day, and prospect Leo Rivas. They will have Nick Castellanos potentially opting out of his remaining contract with the team in 2022, and have top pitching prospects Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene knocking on the door in Triple A. While they may not be interested in moving any pieces, it would be hard for them to deny bringing in a player like Marsh.

With Shogo Akiyama (47 wRC+), Aristides Aquino (79 wRC+), and Nick Senzel (injured), all struggling in the outfield this season, it would seem like Marsh would be a great fit in center. Castellanos will reportedly activate his opt-out clause and become a free agent at season’s end, and they will be left with Jesse Winker and Tyler Naquin as their main outfielders. Naquin has had a good season for the Reds (116 wRC+), but it still will have to be seen if he sustains that type of success into the future. Insert 24 year old Brandon Marsh into center field, and the Reds might be able to sustain success in that lineup for a few more years. If the Reds do decide to listen to offers, I would hope they consider Luis Castillo for Brandon Marsh.

Castillo has regressed this season, starting his season unable to generate strikeouts, walking too many batters, and giving up home runs. He has since turned it around, lowering his ERA to 4.30 and his peripherals (3.90 FIP, 4.11 SIERA) suggest he has suffered some bad luck as well. However, he has not been the same pitcher as the two seasons prior who struck out 28.9-30% of batters faced (23.5% in 2021). While this could be a big warning sign to the Angels, I would bet on the pure talent and fastball/changeup combo of Castillo to return to 2019 levels of success.

Castillo will be arbitration eligible for the 2022 and 2023 seasons, and at the moment he is making $4.2 million in 2021. It is reasonable to think the Angels can reach agreements with Castillo under $10 million for the remainder of his deal if they do end up acquiring him, allowing for more free spending on a star shortstop. The package going back to Cincinnati will probably have to be sweetened with other Angels prospects, but I believe a fit is there with the Angels and Reds for Castillo and Marsh.

Miami Marlins

Back to the main culprit in the Brandon Marsh trade rumor cycle. While Max Meyer certainly would be an intriguing piece to bring into the system, he is very similar to the Angels’ 2021 first round draft selection Sam Bachman. Both feature an upper-90s fastball, an elite slider (some grade them both as a 70), and a developing changeup. While I love the potential of having two of those arms in the system, the Angels need a starter ready to go on Opening Day.

Pablo Lopez has quickly turned into a rising star in the pitching landscape. Following a 2020 breakout season, Lopez proved it was no fluke or short sample, increasing his strikeouts (24.6% up to 27.1%), decreasing his walks (7.5% to 6.1%), and limiting hard contact (79th percentile up to 89th percentile). He does a great job of using his changeup/fastball combo and balancing their use (32.6% CH, 31.2% FB) and adds a cutter, sinker, and curveball to the mix. Lopez would step in and lead the Angels’ rotation for the next 3 seasons through 2025, giving the Angels a controllable arm to pair with Reid Detmers, Patrick Sandoval, and potentially Sam Bachman for a solid pitching core. He also would decrease the price of a top free agent arm, freeing up money for a star shortstop or even another quality arm in free agency.

The Marlins clearly have interest in Brandon Marsh, and with Sixto Sanchez, Trevor Rogers, Max Meyer, Sandy Alcantara, and Edward Cabrera all options for their rotation, they could make this deal and come out big winners. The Angels get a very necessary arm, and the Marlins get a potential superstar center fielder and clear a rotation spot for one of their many impressive arms.

Colorado Rockies

I will NEVER give up the dream. While the impressively inept Rockies organization continues to state that Márquez is not for sale, I will never give up.

Germán Márquez has been the dream of many Angels fans for a few years now. Márquez burst onto the scene with a 4.1 fWAR 2018 season, pitching to a 3.77 ERA as a Coors Field starter with the peripherals to suggest he was even better (3.40 FIP, 3.31 SIERA). While he has had up and down seasons, mostly at the hands of Coors Field, he remains a frontline starter at the age of 26 on an extremely team friendly deal.

Márquez’ 2021 season is a mixed bag. He has about an average strikeout rate (24.3%) and has struggled with walks this season (8.4%) compared to years past (7% in 2018, 4.9% in 2019), but has also increased his groundball rate (49% in 2019, 50% in 2020, 52% in 2021), and has performed better than his 4.10 ERA suggests (3.76 FIP, 3.95 SIERA). He also has gotten better at avoiding barrels (89th percentile, up from 31st in 2019), which will play in any stadium. He will be owed $11.3 million in 2022, $15.3 million in 2023, and a team option for $16 million in 2024. Márquez would be the heaviest payroll hit out of these options, but given his talent level (15.4 fWAR since 2017), durability (38 days missed since 2017), and years of control, he is well worth the cost. That still leaves a good chunk of money available for other acquisitions in free agency.

While the Rockies remain firm that Márquez will stay with the organization for the duration of his contract, the reality of their situation is that the Dodgers and Padres will be competing for 1st in the NL West for the foreseeable future. The Giants will be joining that fight and are, in fact, winning said fight in 2021. And the Diamondbacks have already started their rebuild and seem to be positioned to emerge from theirs earlier than the Rockies will. The Rockies did not trade Trevor Story at the 2021 deadline, and will certainly offer a Qualifying Offer to Story in order to recoup a draft pick for the talented shortstop when he goes elsewhere in free agency.

Brandon Marsh, who will have 6 seasons of control, would be a potentially great fit for the Rockies organization. With shades of Charlie Blackmon in his game and appearance, the Rockies would find themselves a future center fielder to build around and support with talent like Zac Veen and Benny Montgomery. While I do not expect the Rockies to ever reconsider a decision they make, it might be possible that an offer headlined by Brandon Marsh could change their mind on holding onto Germán Márquez.

In Conclusion

So, there we have it. The Angels are at a peculiar impasse, one they have not been in for quite some time. They could hold onto their homegrown talent who could potentially shake things up in Anaheim and contribute defensively as well as offensively, and create future payroll space for the team. While I think this is probably the route the Angels go, there should be some consideration into the idea of trading Marsh for a controllable, frontline arm. Angels fans have obviously talked about this for years, but it seems like it is more of a realistic possibility, one that I believe Angels fans would not like now that they have seen Marsh’s talents on display in Anaheim. But unfortunately, in baseball and in life, in order to receive good product you must exchange something of value. We can no longer suggest Rengifo, Suarez, Thaiss, and any other damaged good we no longer want to play with for quality pitching. It is important to understand that the Angels have Mike Trout AND Shohei Ohtani on the roster. Sacrifices need to be made in order to get both of these talents to the postseason. Thank you for reading, I appreciate you all, and let me know your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments.

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