The Angels remained in Wild Card contention until the final day of the season but ultimately fell short to the Astros for that spot. With a playoff miss in the books, the 2015 campaign may now be remembered more for the disintegration of the front office than the on-field product. A new regime will look to return the Halos to postseason baseball next year.
- Albert Pujols, 1B/DH: $165MM through 2021
- Mike Trout, OF: $134.25MM through 2020
- Andrelton Simmons, SS: $53MM through 2020
- C.J. Wilson, LHP: $20MM through 2016
- Jered Weaver, RHP: $20MM through 2016
- Huston Street, RHP: $18MM through 2017 (includes buyout of 2018 option)
- Joe Smith, RHP: $5.25MM through 2016
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLBTR)
- Fernando Salas (5.048) – $2.2MM
- Cesar Ramos (5.003) – $1.7MM
- Hector Santiago (4.016) – $5.1MM
- Collin Cowgill (3.151) – $1.0MM
- Garrett Richards (3.148) – $6.8MM
- Kole Calhoun (2.130) – $3.6MM
- Non-tender candidate: Cowgill
- David Murphy, OF: $7MM club option with a $500K buyout — Declined
- David DeJesus, OF: $5MM club option with a $1MM buyout — Declined
Other Financial Commitments
The series of events that will perhaps have the largest impact on the Angels’ offseason began over the summer, when then-GM Jerry Dipoto abruptly resigned over differences with manager Mike Scioscia and his coaching staff. Reports at the time indicated that Dipoto was frustrated by the field staff’s resistance to implementing information from the club’s analytics department. (Now-former pitching coach Mike Butcher has since been reported to have been heavily resistant as well.) Owner Arte Moreno, it would seem, endorsed his manager over his GM, prompting Dipoto’s exit. Former GM Bill Stoneman assumed the vacated post for the remainder of the year, and Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler was tabbed as the new GM shortly after their season ended.
Dipoto’s exit isn’t the only change, however, as assistant GMs Scott Servais and Matt Klentak have both departed. Servais will serve as manager of the Mariners, where Dipoto was hired as general manager, and Klentak was the hand-picked choice of Phillies president Andy MacPhail to succeed Ruben Amaro Jr. as GM. Special assistant Tim Bogar joined Servais in the Seattle dugout as the club’s bench coach. Suffice it to say, there will be a different brain trust making the calls in Anaheim this offseason.
And that new brain trust hasn’t taken any time to make an impact on the organization. A confession: this post was written and ready to go a few days ago, but it didn’t get onto the site with all of the activity going on at the GM Meetings. No big deal, right? It’s not like the Angels would do something to drastically re-structure the fabric of their organization in the few days between– Oh. Rewrite it is, then!
Eppler’s first move as GM might technically have been to claim Todd Cunningham off waivers last month, but everyone will remember that less than two months into his tenure, the Angels swung a blockbuster deal that sent Erick Aybar, left-hander Sean Newcomb and right-hander Chris Ellis to the Braves in exchange for Andrelton Simmons and minor leaguer Jose Briceno. With this trade, the Angels have dramatically altered the long-term configuration of their infield, proactively acquiring the game’s premier defensive player (sorry, Jason Heyward) in advance of a 2016-17 shortstop market that looks barren and will most likely be headlined by the very guy over whom the Halos would’ve been looking to upgrade (Aybar). Acquiring Simmons technically knocks $2.5MM off the 2016 payroll, but they’re covering that difference by sending the cash to the Braves, anyhow. The takeaway from the trade is that shortstop won’t be an issue for the Angels for the next half-decade.
What it means for the rest of the offseason is harder to figure, because the Halos didn’t really address an immediate need and burned some significant trade pieces in the process. There are still plenty of holes to address, and free agency now looks like the primary way to do it. That could mean that the team will need to be willing to forfeit draft picks to sign significant free agents.
The sting of sacrificing draft selections might have been lessened if the Angels had made a qualifying offer to David Freese on his way out the door. But there was a risk he’d have accepted, and the team ultimately elected to let him hit free agency unencumbered by draft pick compensation. Los Angeles still has interest in re-signing Freese at an annual rate less than the QO, though Freese currently leads a thin crop of free-agent third basemen, so he should have interest elsewhere also.
The Halos currently have about $145MM committed to next year’s payroll between guaranteed contracts, arbitration eligible players (minus non-tender candidate Collin Cowgill) and the $24MM they owe the Rangers for Josh Hamilton’s salary. The luxury tax ledger is calculated a bit differently — it’s based on average annual value of their contracts — but should come in just a few million north of that sum as it stands.
That outlook clears up significantly after 2016, when C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and Joe Smith are all free agents, although some of those departures highlight a clear need for the Angels this winter; starting pitching help that is controlled beyond 2016 will be a goal. When he was GM, Dipoto’s long-stated mission was to acquire cost-controlled arms, and he did well to acquire Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago and Nick Tropeano via trades. However, Tropeano hasn’t proven himself in the Majors, and Skaggs is coming off Tommy John surgery from August of 2014. It’s nice to have options, but a team with the Angels’ financial firepower figures to spend on some stability as well, especially having dealt away a potential front-end starter in Newcomb.
Looking at what the Angels have in-house, Garrett Richards looks every bit the part of a budding ace, and Heaney has undoubtedly earned himself a long look in 2016 with a terrific rookie season. There’s little certainty beyond that duo, though, as even the names that comprised the 2015 rotation come with question marks. Matt Shoemaker was a brilliant rookie in 2014 but a wildly inconsistent sophomore whose end-of-year numbers from 2015 look like back-of-the-rotation production, at best. Weaver’s fastball velocity dipped to the low 80s, and he was hit hard and hit often in 2015. Wilson underwent season-ending elbow surgery in August. Santiago was excellent, but he hasn’t shown consistency in the Majors, as evidenced by losing his rotation spot with Anaheim as recently as 2014.
With that in mind, the Angels seem like logical players for free-agent help on the pitching market. Mid-level arms that could be had without significantly escalating the risk of crossing the luxury tax barrier include Wei-Yin Chen, Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo and Ian Kennedy, to name a few. As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes pointed out to me recently, Eppler has somewhat of a connection to Kennedy, having been in the Yankees front office while Kennedy was drafted and rose through the farm system.
A run at high-profile names — David Price, Zack Greinke, etc. — probably shouldn’t be entirely written off, although another $20MM+ AAV contract would bring the Halos significantly closer to the luxury tax threshold. It’s possible that the club could free up some room by moving Wilson, who apparently caused some frustration among his teammates when he opted to undergo his season-ending procedure. Moving Wilson’s $15.5MM annual salary wouldn’t offset a $30MM-per-year price tag on Price or the similarly lofty AAVs that other top-tier free agents will command, but it makes the blow easier for the Angels to absorb while leaving room to pursue other needs.
Turning to the ’pen, the Angels are in pretty good shape. Huston Street will return as the club’s closer after inking a two-year extension earlier this year. Joe Smith has been excellent in the first two seasons of a three-year deal, and he’ll be joined in the setup crew by righties Trevor Gott and Fernando Salas. Mike Morin figures to earn another chance as well. Though he slumped badly after a strong rookie showing in 2014, Morin’s strand rate (44.4%) was far and away the lowest in baseball of any pitcher with 30+ innings. That number screams “fluke,” and as such isn’t likely to be repeated. Morin’s 10.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 21.2 percent K%-BB% indicate better days ahead. Left-handed options include Cesar Ramos and Jose Alvarez, each of whom had strong seasons. Depth additions seem more likely than major adds, especially considering the fact that righty Cam Bedrosian, who dominated Triple-A but struggled in the Majors, figures to earn another shot at some point in 2016.
Pitching questions aside, the bigger needs for the Angels are on offense, where the club faces holes at catcher, second base, third base, in left field and possibly at DH. Chris Iannetta and David Freese are free agents, while left field was a revolving door in 2015. David Murphy, Matt Joyce, David DeJesus and Shane Victorino all saw time there but are all free agents now. Johnny Giavotella manned second base for much of the 2015 campaign after mainstay Howie Kendrick was traded for Heaney. Giavotella was slightly below the league average with the bat but also played questionable defense and lacks significant upside.
C.J. Cron appears set to open the season at first base in the wake of Albert Pujols’ foot surgery, and he should eventually split time with Pujols at first and DH. While neither is a great defensive option and Cron does have his flaws (namely, a lack of plate discipline), Cron has the power to join Pujols as a source of 30 home runs. While the former first-round pick struggled greatly for the first two months of the season and was demoted to Triple-A, he hit .285/.325/.507 with 15 homers over his final 290 plate appearances upon being recalled. Pujols should be ready to go in early May, but his absence could lead the Halos to seek a bit of power that could begin the season at DH and shift to the bench when Pujols is activated.
A versatile piece such as Daniel Murphy makes some sense for the Angels, who were said in July to be eyeing left-handed bats to fill out their roster. Murphy could serve as an upgrade over Giavotella at second base or see more regular time at the hot corner if Freese isn’t re-signed. Internal options such as Caleb Kowart and Kyle Kubitza have seen their stock tumble, as neither player’s power has developed as hoped. The trade market has options at either position, with names like Yunel Escobar, Trevor Plouffe, Luis Valbuena, Jed Lowrie, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro and Jedd Gyorko among the offseason’s potential trade candidates. The Angels are said, in particular, to be intrigued by Plouffe, who could be made available if and when Minnesota reaches an agreement with Korean slugger Byung-ho Park. Bedrosian is said to be one name that intrigues the Twins, who have their eyes on hard-throwing relief help.
Catcher is a similar situation, and the open market is rather devoid of talent now that both Matt Wieters and A.J. Pierzynski came off the board early. With Carlos Perez and Jett Bandy currently serving as the only MLB-ready options on the roster, there’s a need for some type of move. Potential trade candidates could include Jonathan Lucroy, Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos, though Lucroy finished the season with concussion issues while Suzuki and Ramos each struggled greatly. If a longer-term add is the goal, then perhaps the Braves’ Christian Bethancourt or the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez are plausible options. Eppler is, after all, quite familiar with Sanchez from his time in New York.
One area in which the Angels could aim higher is in the outfield. While the team was said to prefer lefty bats this summer, it eventually warmed to right-handed hitters and was linked to Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton. Either of those players could reasonably fit into the club’s long-term plans, with only Mike Trout, Pujols, and now Simmons under control beyond the 2017 season. The AAV of the contract might present some problems, though the previously mentioned theoretical savings from a Wilson trade could be applied here as well. A run at Jason Heyward makes sense, too, especially if he can be had at a lower annual value over a longer term, as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently hypothesized in his free-agent profile. If the Simmons trade taught us one thing, it’s that prime-aged, elite defense holds great value to the restructured front office.
The Angels’ mega-signings of Pujols and Hamilton, plus significant second-tier expenditures have clogged their long-term outlook for years, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel after the 2016 campaign. While the team shouldn’t necessarily look to repeat past mistakes and over-commit to aging sluggers, the current market features a number of more youthful options that could fit into the team’s long-term outlook or be locked up on shorter deals (e.g. a three- or four-year pact for a mid-tier starter).
The Angels have the financial means to spend on nearly any free agent, and with the team’s luxury tax fears likely to dissipate next winter, long-term commitments aren’t necessarily as problematic as they once were. Of course, some future cash could also go to extensions with players such as Calhoun and Richards, both of whom look like fairly appealing targets for long-term deals.
We can’t know for sure what to expect out of a rookie general manager — A.J. Preller taught us that much last winter — but Eppler made his presence felt with the Simmons trade, and in doing so, filled an impending but glaring need a year before it needed to be addressed. With a number of holes to fill and increasing spending capacity, I’d expect the Simmons swap to be just the first move of what should be a highly active offseason.