The Angels, soon to be under new leadership, will look to add a minimum of one starting pitcher, improve their offense and tinker with their bullpen.
- Vernon Wells, OF: $73.9MM through 2014
- Torii Hunter, OF: $18.5MM through 2012
- Dan Haren, SP: $16.25MM through 2012
- Bobby Abreu, DH: $9MM through 2012
- Ervin Santana, SP: $12.2MM through 2012
- Jered Weaver, SP: $85MM through 2016
- Scott Downs, RP: $10MM through 2013
- Hisanori Takahashi, RP: $4.2MM through 2012
- Maicer Izturis, UT IF: $3.967MM through 2012
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Jerome Williams, SP: $700K
- Jeff Mathis, C: $1.8MM (non-tender candidate)
- Kendrys Morales, 1B: $2.975MM
- Alberto Callaspo, 3B: $3MM
- Erick Aybar, SS: $4.5MM
- Howie Kendrick, 2B: $5.1MM
The Angels' new general manager will face challenges, as every GM does, but no organizational overhaul is required in Anaheim. Even after missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season, the Angels have many above-average players and the payroll to keep them in place. The Los Angeles front office can build on 2011's 86-win team by pursuing starting pitching, considering bullpen upgrades and finding a way to improve the offense.
The Angels have already committed over $100MM to next year's payroll and if they bring back their arbitration eligible players, payroll will rise to $120MM before accounting for those earning the minimum salary. This would give Tony Reagins' replacement a little more than $20MM to work with, assuming owner Arte Moreno is willing to match last year's $142MM payroll.
In other words, the Angels could conceivably bid on an elite free agent like Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder. But in an offseason that features above-average free agents at shortstop and first base, the Angels are set at both positions (Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales). In theory, the Angels could trade Aybar — he'd have many suitors — and sign Reyes or Jimmy Rollins. There has even been some talk of moving Trumbo from first base to third. Don't count on a major free agent signing.
The team may get a power-hitting first baseman from within. Morales has been sidelined with a left ankle injury since an ill-fated walk-off celebration a year and a half ago and the Angels can no longer count on him to be a force in their lineup. If he does return, they'll have seven players (Morales, Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Mike Trout) for five spots.
The Angels could option Trout, Baseball America's 2011 minor league player of the year, to the minors at the beginning of next season. The benefit, aside from clearing space in the Major Leagues, would be delaying Trout's arrival on the free agent market by a year. If the Angels are happy to let Trout develop in the minors until mid-June, they could control his rights for an extra season seven years from now.
Howie Kendrick, a free agent after 2012, is an extension candidate this offseason. He posted a .285/.338/.464 line and appeared in 140 games, including 20 or more at three different positions (first, second and left). Bourjos, meanwhile, probably needs more time to prove himself if he’s going to land a long-term deal, even after a tremendous first full season.
Kendrick, Trumbo, Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo give the Angels a quartet of solid everyday infielders and Maicer Izturis is a capable reserve. While Callaspo offers less power than most third basemen, his .366 on-base percentage could be enough to prevent the Angels' next GM from bidding heavily on Aramis Ramirez. However, if the Angels want to add power, Ramirez is a fit. He's easily the best free agent option at his position and the Angels have more established players than Callaspo at the other traditional power positions.
The Angels face a dilemma behind the plate. Jeff Mathis posted a .174/.225/.259 line while sharing catching duties with Hank Conger and Bobby Wilson. Only the Twins and Astros, baseball's two worst teams, had their catchers combine for a lower OPS than the Angels' .555. But manager Mike Scioscia admires Mathis’ glovework and the skipper's endorsement resonates, since he spent 1,395 Major League games behind the plate himself. Mathis is a non-tender candidate given his projected $1.8MM salary and the team's cheaper, more offensively capable alternatives. If the Angels don’t expect Conger to hit as well as he did in the minors, they could go outside of the organization for catching depth. It’s one of the primary weaknesses of an offense that the Angels should look to improve over the winter.
Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana will occupy the top three spots in the rotation for the next two years, giving the Angels one of the top rotations in the game. Like every MLB team, they have internal candidates for the back of the rotation. But the Angels' chances of unseating the American League champion Rangers would be better if they had more at the back of their rotation than Jerome Williams, Trevor Bell, Tyler Chatwood and Garrett Richards. It appears Joel Pineiro will sign elsewhere as a free agent and the Angels may attempt to sign a replacement. California native C.C. Sabathia would give the Angels one of the best rotations in baseball, though he seems to favor the Bronx.
Last offseason the Angels spent on the bullpen, signing free agent lefties Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs to multiyear deals. It's unlikely the Angels will make a similar splash this offseason, even though rookie closer Jordan Walden blew a league-leading ten saves in an otherwise strong season. Rich Thompson, Walden, Downs and Takahashi provide Scioscia with four solid late-inning options and the club's new GM will likely mix in new pieces for depth and competition.
The Rangers have established themselves as the team to beat in the AL West. But the Angels can compete with Texas in 2012 if their new GM improves the rotation and finds a way to infuse offense into a lineup that will remain mostly intact from last year.