At 50-48 and 11 games back in the American League West, the Angels don’t have much hope of contending for a division title. They’re one of six AL clubs with a plausible shot at a Wild Card spot, however, currently sitting five and a half games back in the standings. That might not put them in position to be one of the market’s most aggressive buyers, but general manager Billy Eppler tells Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register that he’s “absolutely” looking to add to his roster.
Eppler specifies that the Halos will “lean heavily” toward players controlled beyond the 2019 season, likely due to the fact that they’re chasing a one-game playoff. Clubs are generally reluctant to be too aggressive in selling off significant farm assets for a coinflip Wild Card showdown, making Eppler’s approach a fairly straightforward one.
Looking around the Angels’ roster, the pitching staff stands out as a logical area on which to focus. Neither Matt Harvey nor Trevor Cahill has performed anywhere close to the manner in which the Angels hoped when signing the pair to one-year deals over the winter, and both will be free agents at season’s end. The tragic death of Tyler Skaggs still enshrouds the organization as well, and while it always feels a bit cold to look at such a heartbreaking event through a pure baseball lens, it’s hard to understate just how significant that loss is for the Angels’ rotation moving forward. Shohei Ohtani will return to the mound in 2020, joining Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning, but there’s little clarity beyond that trio.
The summer trade market should feature several options who are controlled/signed through at least the 2020 season. Marcus Stroman is the likeliest such arm to move, but others potentially available options include Matthew Boyd (arb-eligible through 2022), Robbie Ray (arb-eligible through 2020), Trevor Bauer (arb-eligible through 2020) and Mike Minor (signed for $9.5MM in 2020). Minor is admittedly a tough fit even if is ultimately traded, given that the division-rival Rangers are currently a game ahead of the Angels in the standings. Controllable catching options might be a bit tougher to dig up — Wilson Ramos or James McCann could be available, and the Padres have depth at the position — but the Angels have had a bit of a revolving door behind the plate in recent seasons.
Part of the decision to operate as buyers could also be a function of the fact that the Angels don’t have much in the way of short-term assets to sell. All of the club’s short-term, offseason pickups are either injured (Jonathan Lucroy, Tommy La Stella) or playing poorly (Harvey, Cahill and the already released Cody Allen). The team’s core is controlled beyond this season. Eppler calls moving a player with club control remaining a “non-starter” in trade negotiations, as the front office is focused on an “upward angle” for the team.
The Angels have just under $115MM committed to the payroll for the 2020 season and don’t have may significant arbitration raises on the horizon, so they should be in good position to take on salary in a trade if need be. The team’s current payroll, for context, exceeds $177MM.