The Angels overcame season-long questions about their pitching depth to run away with the AL West, but late injuries in their rotation significantly weakened that group, which may have contributed to the team’s ALDS defeat at the hands of the Royals.
- Albert Pujols, 1B: $189MM through 2021
- Mike Trout, OF: $139.5MM through 2020
- Josh Hamilton, OF: $83MM through 2017
- C.J. Wilson, LHP: $38MM through 2016
- Jered Weaver, RHP: $38MM through 2016
- Erick Aybar, SS: $17MM through 2016
- Joe Smith, RHP: $10.5MM through 2016
- Howie Kendrick, 2B: $9.5MM through 2015
- Huston Street, RHP: $7MM through 2015
- Chris Iannetta, C: $5.25MM through 2015
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Gordon Beckham, 2B/3B: (5.123): $5MM projected salary
- David Freese, 3B (5.028): $6.3MM
- Kevin Jepsen, RHP (4.163): $2.6MM
- Fernando Salas, RHP (4.048): $1.4MM
- Vinnie Pestano, RHP (3.053): $1.2MM
- Wade LeBlanc, LHP (3.032): $800K
- Hector Santiago, LHP (3.024): $2.2MM
- Collin Cowgill, OF (2.151): $900K
- Garrett Richards, RHP (2.148): $4MM
- Non-tender candidates: Beckham, LeBlanc
Other Salary Commitments
- Joe Blanton, RHP: $1MM
A year ago, the Angels’ primary goal in the offseason was to acquire controllable, affordable pitching to remain underneath baseball’s $189MM luxury tax threshold. GM Jerry Dipoto addressed that issue by acquiring left-handers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago in the three-team Mark Trumbo trade at the 2013 Winter Meetings. Skaggs, however, will miss the 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. And, just weeks after Skaggs’ injury, the Angels lost breakout star Garrett Richards to a torn patellar tendon that will cost him six to nine months. That injury leaves open the possibility that he could be out for the beginning of the 2015 season as well.
In other words, the Angels again find themselves in need of young and/or inexpensive rotation options, and Dipoto has struck quickly — quickly enough that I had to rewrite a large portion of this outlook! — in acquiring right-hander Nick Tropeano (and catcher Carlos Perez) from the Astros in exchange for Hank Conger. While it may be early to pencil Tropeano into the Opening Day rotation, he did make four starts for the Astros in 2014, and one would think he’s firmly in the mix.
The Halos have three locks for the Opening Day rotation in Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and 2014 Rookie of the Year candidate Matt Shoemaker (whose emergence is nothing short of a godsend for the club in light of these injuries). Santiago and Tropeano could fill the fourth and fifth spots (if Richards needs to open the year on the DL), but options beyond that are thin. Cory Rasmus could be converted to a starter, but the Angels appear in need of more depth. That could come via minor league deals for veterans or further trades to acquire pitching talent that is ready or nearly ready to be tested in the Majors.
Salary-conscious moves such as that may be the norm for the Angels this winter. Dipoto and his staff will not have the limitless flexibility to which we became accustomed as the team went on a spending spree by adding Wilson, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in recent years. Anaheim already has nearly $140MM in luxury tax commitments to the 10 players on the books for next season (Weaver, Wilson, Pujols, Hamilton, Mike Trout, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Huston Street, Joe Smith and Chris Iannetta), and as recently as late August, owner Arte Moreno was reportedly “adamant” about not crossing the luxury tax barrier. MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez recently wrote that they could be just $10MM or so under that threshold with a full roster. As such, don’t expect to see the team springing for Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields.
In fact, any significant free agent addition may be tough to make due to the luxury tax, which is likely a contributing factor behind recent reports that the team is likely to move either Kendrick or David Freese. Kendrick is the more appealing of the two names given his steadier production and the weak class of free agent second basemen compared to third basemen. The Nationals, Blue Jays, Marlins, Orioles and Braves all make varying degrees of sense for Kendrick, who can block trades to the Jays and Marlins. I can see the Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Blue Jays and Nationals expressing interest in Freese, although that of course will depend largely on the landing places for the plentiful third base options presented by the open market (e.g. Pablo Sandoval, Chase Headley and Hanley Ramirez).
Of course, the Angels aren’t likely to move either for the sake of shedding salary. They’ll need to receive something of note in return, particularly for Kendrick. That could come either in the form of prospects to create some infield depth — an area in which the team improved with this week’s record signing of Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin — or through a cheaper rotation arm.
A trade of Kendrick or Freese would likely give the Angels some much-needed breathing room and could allow them to pursue a mid-range option for the rotation, if they see fit. I’d think that players such as Jason Hammel, Edinson Volquez and Justin Masterson are plausible free agent targets if enough salary is shed by moving an infielder, but Tropeano’s acquisition may simply point to the fact that free agent arms requiring significant salaries aren’t going to happen. An alternative such as Kyle Kendrick, who may only net a low salary one-year deal, could make sense as some early depth, though he may prefer a team with a clearer path to a full season’s worth of work in the rotation.
Turning to the bullpen, there doesn’t appear to be an urgent need for the Angels. Street will reprise his role as closer after posting dominant numbers all season. Smith excelled in his first year on the job, thriving as both a setup man and a part-time closer. Kevin Jepsen turned in a career year, and rookie Mike Morin emphatically announced his arrival to the Anaheim bullpen with a 2.90 ERA and 3.08 FIP. Even with some regression in his homer-to-flyball rate, he has the promise of being a solid bullpen piece. Fernando Salas, too, did his part after coming over from the Cardinals, registering a 3.38 ERA with even better FIP/xFIP marks and averaging more than a strikeout per inning. Vinnie Pestano pitched well after being acquired in August and may have earned a look in 2015.
All of those names, of course, are right-handed relievers. Lefty relief was another area of need for the Halos heading into the offseason, but Dipoto again struck quickly in acquiring Cesar Ramos from the Rays in exchange for prospect Mark Sappington. There could be room for another lefty even after that acquisition, but the need is definitely dampened. A run at Andrew Miller might be feasible if the team is able to drop Kendrick’s salary in a trade that also improves the minor league system, but the club could look at more affordable arms. Re-signing Joe Thatcher or making a run at Neal Cotts or Zach Duke would certainly be more financially feasible. The team is plenty familiar with Cotts after his work in the Rangers’ bullpen from 2013-14, and Duke had a quietly brilliant season out of the Milwaukee bullpen, posting a 2.45 ERA (2.14 FIP, 2.09 xFIP) with 11.4 K/9 against just 2.6 BB/9 in 58 2/3 innings.
While the pitching staff may have some new names in 2015, the lineup will look largely similar. Getting out from underneath the $83MM remaining on Hamilton’s contract would be a welcome reprieve, but that’s not likely, so the team will be left hoping that that the left fielder can rediscover some of the form he showed in his Rangers prime. Center field and right field will be occupied by the game’s best all-around player (Trout) and one of the game’s most underrated outfielders (Calhoun), respectively. Trout was worth nearly eight wins above replacement, and Calhoun was worth roughly four (depending on your preference between Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference), giving manager Mike Scioscia a highly productive duo.
In the infield, Aybar figures to man short, and one or both of Freese or Kendrick will return to the mix as well. In the event of a trade, the team could plug Grant Green in at either spot. While he’s yet to produce at the big league level, the former first-round pick drew strong praise from Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak when he was a guest on MLBTR’s Podcast recently. As an alternative, a run at Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang could give the team an option to push Green. Though Kang flirted with 40 homers in KBO last year, Major League scouts are split on how well that power will translate to the Majors. Uncertainty figures to prevent his price tag from being exorbitant.
Meanwhile, Pujols will share first base and DH duties with the young C.J. Cron, who hit .256/.289/.450 with 11 homers in 253 PA as a rookie. Despite his age, it’s likely that Pujols will spend more time in the field, as defensive metrics were unkind, to say the least, in Cron’s small sample at first base. Even when Baseball America ranked him second among Halos prospects entering the 2014 season, their scouting report noted that he would have to hit, because he’s already a below-average defender at first base.
That defensive limitation is one reason that I do think Cron’s name could also surface in trade talks with other AL clubs. As Pujols ages, the Angels will need to free up more and more DH time for the slugger, and they may not like the idea of committing to a 25-year-old who already appears to be headed for primarily DH duties. Of course, Pujols still logged more than 1,000 innings at first in 2014 (and graded out well, as usual), so the desire to clear DH time likely isn’t urgent yet.
Dipoto recently commented that most of his offseason additions would be tweaks to the team’s bench and bullpen. Green will occupy a spot if Kendrick and Freese are retained, and Collin Cowgill’s strong work in 2014 seems likely to have earned him a job as a fourth outfielder next season. Perez, acquired with Tropeano, could become the backup catcher, or the team could pursue a veteran backstop on the free agent market, which bears plenty of options. John Buck, David Ross and Gerald Laird are all available this winter.
The team could have two more spots, and adding some power, particularly from the left side of the dish (should Cron require platooning), would seem prudent. The free agent market offers little, though a low-risk reunion with Kendrys Morales that would push Cron to the bench is somewhat intriguing. Dipoto could again work the trade market, and a couple of names I can envision as bench fits would be the Marlins’ Garrett Jones and the Blue Jays’ Juan Francisco.
The Angels will return the vast majority of a roster that won 98 games in 2014, so stating that there’s a need for any large change seems inaccurate. The team could move an infielder and add some bench pieces, but the early trades struck by Dipoto lessen the need to add more arms. Overall, the look and feel of the 2015 Angels figures to be similar to that of the 2014 Angels, which should position them for another strong season.