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The Angels were almost the definition of a perfectly average team (80-82 record, 710 runs scored to 709 runs allowed) in 2017, and they stuck around the AL Wild Card race for most of the season. Much of the Angels’ offseason business will hinge on Justin Upton’s situation, though the team will have some money to spend in addressing several holes on the roster.
- Albert Pujols, 1B/DH: $114MM through 2021
- Mike Trout, OF: $99.75MM through 2020
- Andrelton Simmons, SS: $39MM through 2020
- Kole Calhoun, OF: $19MM through 2019 ($14MM club option for 2020, $1MM buyout)
- Luis Valbuena, 1B/3B: $8MM through 2018 ($8.5MM mutual option for 2019, $500K buyout)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Eric Young Jr. (5.163) – $1.1MM
- Martin Maldonado (5.156) – $2.8MM
- Garrett Richards (5.148) – $7.0MM
- Blake Wood (5.131) – $2.2MM
- Shane Robinson (5.002) – $600K
- Matt Shoemaker (3.166) – $4.4MM
- Tyler Skaggs (3.135) – $1.9MM
- Blake Parker (3.036) – $1.7MM
- Jose Alvarez (3.035) – $1.1MM
- C.J. Cron (3.010) – $2.8MM
- Cam Bedrosian (2.153) – $1.2MM
- Andrew Heaney (2.150) – $800K
- J.C. Ramirez (2.139) – $2.6MM
- Non-tender candidates: Young, Wood, Robinson
- Justin Upton, OF: $88.5MM through 2021 (Upton can exercise player option and become a free agent)
- Ricky Nolasco, SP: $13MM club option for 2018 ($1MM buyout)
- Huston Street, RP: $10MM club option for 2018 ($1MM buyout)
- Yunel Escobar, Brandon Phillips, Yusmeiro Petit, Bud Norris, Jesse Chavez, Ben Revere, Cliff Pennington, Andrew Bailey
Upton has been in talks with the club about his opt-out clause, which would allow him to test free agency and walk away from the four years and $88.5MM remaining on his contract. Upton just turned 30 last August, and coming off his big season, should be able to find a somewhat larger and longer-term deal on the open market. That said, the Angels could be floating the idea of extending his current contract by an extra year or two in order to keep the outfielder in Anaheim. Despite generally strong performance, Upton has played for five different franchises since the start of the 2012 season, so he could welcome the chance at simply staying put. For what it’s worth, Upton would be playing close to his offseason home in Arizona and he reportedly had an interest in the Angels two winters ago.
If Upton stays in the fold, that checks one major bit of business off GM Billy Eppler’s to-do list. Upton enjoyed one of the best seasons of his 11-year career, hitting .273/.361/.540 with 35 homers over 635 PA with the Angels and Tigers. He would both fill a big hole in left field and give the Halos a big bat to pair with the incomparable Mike Trout in the lineup.
If Upton opted out of his deal and left town, it would be a disappointment for the club, but the Angels accepted that risk when they surprisingly acquired Upton on the last day of August. The silver lining of Upton’s departure would be another big salary off the books, giving the Angels even more of what they haven’t had in several winters — financial flexibility.
Counting Upton’s deal and a projected $30.2MM in arbitration costs, the Angels have just over $142MM committed to 19 players next year. (Josh Hamilton’s contract is finally off the team’s books.) While the club has traditionally stopped short of the luxury tax threshold during Arte Moreno’s ownership, that still gives Eppler plenty of room to address the Halos’ many needs. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Angels will return to their old ways of splurging on big-ticket free agent deals, however, especially given how often those contracts failed to work out for the team. Still, there is room for one big salary to be added, and maybe two if Upton were to depart.
Looking around the diamond, Los Angeles is set in center field (Trout), right field (Kole Calhoun), shortstop (Andrelton Simmons), catcher (Martin Maldonado) and DH (Albert Pujols). “Set” is not really the right word in Pujols’ case, as the veteran’s -2.0 fWAR was the lowest of any qualified player in baseball last year, though the Halos have no choice but to ride out the final four seasons of Pujols’ contract and hope for a late career renaissance. Catcher could technically also be an area of need, though the Angels love Maldonado’s defense and they think his bat will improve now that he is more used to the rigors of regular catching duty. First base could also potentially use an upgrade, though the likeliest scenario is a platoon between C.J. Cron and Luis Valbuena.
Yunel Escobar and late-season trade acquisition Brandon Phillips are both free agents, leaving the Angels with holes to fill at third and second base. The latter position has been a long-standing problem area for the Halos, and I’d expect the team to try and finally make a solid fix by pursuing Neil Walker in free agency. Walker is the top second baseman on the market this winter, and L.A. has tried to land Walker in the past, falling short in trade talks with the Pirates two offseasons ago.
If Walker again can’t be acquired, the Angels could pursue a reunion with Phillips, or check in on other free agent options like Eduardo Nunez, Asdrubal Cabrera (if the Mets don’t pick up his club option), or Jose Reyes. On the trade front, the Angels had some interest in the Marlins’ Dee Gordon before the July deadline, plus the likes of Ian Kinsler, Josh Harrison, Cesar Hernandez, Scooter Gennett, Yangervis Solarte or Jed Lowrie could also be available in deals. The Angels’ much-maligned farm system still doesn’t have much in the way of prospects that would facilitate trades, though the team’s extra payroll space could help them in this regard.
A multi-positional player like Harrison or Nunez could also help out at third base. As per Pedro Moura of the L.A. Times, Escobar isn’t expected to be re-signed, leaving the Angels thin at the hot corner. The team could turn to Valbuena at third base in lieu of an external addition, as while Valbuena’s first season in Anaheim was underwhelming overall, he did hit quite well after the All-Star break. The big-ticket add, of course, would be signing Los Angeles native Mike Moustakas for a grand homecoming. Moustakas would fill a particular need for the Angels in adding a big left-handed bat to a heavily right-handed lineup — one would think that if the Halos do make a big acquisition for third, second or left field, that player would swing from the left side.
If left field does become a need with Upton gone, the Angels could aim for a splash like trading for Andrew McCutchen, signing J.D. Martinez or (again with a left-handed bat in mind) signing Jay Bruce. Alternatively, shorter-term options like Curtis Granderson, Jon Jay or Howie Kendrick could be explored. Teams like the Marlins and Cardinals have outfielders available in trades this offseason, so expect to see the Angels check in on those options if Upton is no longer in the picture. The club could also look for a backup outfielder, if the Angels aren’t satisfied with Eric Young Jr. and/or Shane Robinson.
Injuries have crushed the Angels’ pitching staff over the last two years, though the team finally appears to have things back on track, health-wise. Garrett Richards will headline the 2018 rotation, with Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, JC Ramirez, Andrew Heaney, Parker Bridwell and Nick Tropeano all on hand as starting or depth options.
This is still a pretty unproven rotation even if everyone is healthy, so Anaheim is likely to explore adding at least one more arm. This is another area where Eppler could again splurge on a free agent, as a Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta would go a long way towards stabilizing a staff with a lot of question marks. Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are less expensive options, though either hurler would still come at a significant price. It could be that the Angels are okay with their current options and simply want a veteran to purely eat innings, which opens their search to any number of free agent arms available on short-term contracts. To this end, the team could look for a reunion with Jesse Chavez or Ricky Nolasco, though in Nolasco’s case, the Angels would decline their $13MM club option on his services and pursue a lesser deal.
Shohei Otani, of course, could be had at a league-minimum salary and for what’s left of the Angels’ $4.75MM international bonus pool, though the Halos will be competing with every other team in MLB for Otani’s services. While little is known about Otani’s decision-making process as he prepares to jump to North American baseball, the Angels (a big-market west coast team with Mike Trout on the roster) certainly have some selling points. On the other hand, Otani wants the opportunity to hit, and the Angels can’t offer regular DH at-bats thanks to Pujols’ presence. As much as the Angels or any other club may want Otani in the fold, it seems unlikely that a prized starter would be allowed to regularly play the outfield or at first base in between starts.
Turning to the bullpen, the Halos won’t be exercising their club option on Huston Street, thus ending the former closer’s injury-riddled stint in Anaheim. Even with Street out for virtually all of 2017, however, the Angels’ bullpen was quietly one of the game’s more effective relief corps. Yusmeiro Petit’s outstanding season was a big factor in the pen’s success, and with the Angels putting importance on the value of multi-inning relievers, it stands to reason that the team will look to re-sign the veteran righty. Other teams will surely also be interested, and Petit will have one of the more interesting free agent cases of any reliever on the market this winter, given such factors as his age (33 in November) and his value in this era of teams prioritizing bullpen depth.
Blake Parker is the current favorite to be the Angels’ closer next season, as his breakout year earned him save chances down the stretch in 2017. Parker’s potential makes it less likely that Los Angeles would go after one of the big-name experienced closers on the market (i.e. Greg Holland, Wade Davis) but I can see the team adding a veteran reliever to supplement the young bullpen corps of Parker, Keynan Middleton and Cam Bedrosian. One option might be old friend David Hernandez, who posted excellent numbers for the Angels before being dealt to the Diamondbacks at the July trade deadline.
The Angels will be a fascinating team to watch this offseason, as they have a lot of question marks to address but also several proven or intriguing building blocks. Eppler has been much more active in the trade market than in free agency in his first two offseasons as general manager, so more deals could be in the offing, or this could be the winter where Moreno again opens the checkbook for another big signing.