The Angels are not aiming to make a big splash in the pitching market this offseason, general manager Billy Eppler tells Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. While the team will be “keeping an eye open” on available starters and relievers, Eppler’s focus is on upgrading an offense that finished 22nd in the majors in runs last season.
The Angels will “look for value, similar to what we did last year,” with regard to pitchers, Eppler said. The Eppler-led Halos only handed out two guaranteed contracts to pitchers last winter – $5.75MM to swingman Jesse Chavez and $1MM to reliever Andrew Bailey – neither of which worked out as hoped. On the other hand, Los Angeles struck gold when it claimed reliever Blake Parker off waivers and signed fellow relievers Yusmeiro Petit and Bud Norris to minor league contracts. Only one of those three, Parker, remains under club control heading into next season. Eppler isn’t sure whether the Angels will bring either Petit or Norris back, per Fletcher, who notes that they already have most of their 2018 bullpen in place with Parker, Cam Bedrosian, Jose Alvarez, Keynan Middleton, Noe Ramirez and Blake Wood on hand.
The Angels also have a variety of in-house rotation possibilities in Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, Nick Tropeano, Parker Bridwell and J.C. Ramirez, leading to Eppler’s confidence that a big-money addition isn’t necessary (notably, Eppler wasn’t willing to discuss a potential Shohei Ohtani pursuit, as he’s technically not a free agent yet). Although injuries marred the seasons of Richards, Heaney, Skaggs, Shoemaker, Ramirez and Tropeano (who didn’t pitch at all while recovering from 2016 Tommy John surgery), Fletcher relays that the only member of that group who hasn’t yet gotten medical clearance going into next year is Ramirez – whose 2017 ended in August on account of elbow soreness. The 29-year-old right-hander, who led all Angels holdovers in innings last season (142 1/3), will undergo an ultrasound on his elbow late this month, according to Fletcher.
While the Angels seem largely content with their pitchers, they could add at least one notable outsider to their group of position players, even after they managed to prevent left fielder Justin Upton from leaving in free agency. Along with Upton, center fielder Mike Trout, right fielder Kole Calhoun, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, designated hitter Albert Pujols and catcher Martin Maldonado figure to reprise their starting roles in 2018. That leaves the corner infield (either first or third, depending on where Luis Valbuena slots in) and second base ripe for upgrades.
The keystone looks like an especially big need, Fletcher observes, after Angels second basemen limped to a ghastly .207/.274/.318 batting line and a major league-worst 60 wRC+ last season. With Eppler looking for players who are adept at getting on base, previous trade target and current free agent Neil Walker (.362 OBP in 2017, .341 career) looks like someone who may pique the Angels’ interest, as MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk previously suggested when previewing their offseason in late October. And there are several possibilities LA could acquire via trade, including the Marlins’ Dee Gordon, whom it was interested in over the summer.
As for the corner infield, Eric Hosmer, Carlos Santana Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda are at the top of the free agent class at first base (MLBTR projects the Angels to land Alonso). Alternatively, tthe Halos could hand the reins to Valbuena and C.J. Cron at first and and go for a third baseman, whether it’s Los Angeles native Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, Eduardo Nunez or Zack Cozart (if he’s willing to move off shortstop) in free agency or another player via trade.