The Los Angeles Angels got the offseason started with a blockbuster deal in acquiring Andrelton Simmons from the Braves, and have been linked to involvement in a number of free agents on the market as well. The Angels have never been shy about making big money commitments, but have made deals in the past several years that have bankrupted their farm system and led to some scratching their heads. Where is this big market franchise headed, and how will the new general manager Billy Eppler guide them back to their goal of making the postseason?
The Angels were regular participants in the postseason during the first decade of the 2000’s, but have only made one appearance in the last six years; a sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals in 2014. They have what many consider as the top player in the game in Mike Trout, and a big money, power hitting first baseman in Albert Pujols. The remaining players have not been able to get the Angels over the top and back to their previous success. With no big league ready prospects currently in the system, the team has needs to fill and limited options in which to fill them.
Eppler got his reign as Angels GM off to a splashy start by acquiring shortstop Andrelton Simmons from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for top pitching prospects Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis, and veteran shortstop Erick Aybar. Combine this with the midseason trade of Ricardo Sanchez to the Braves for Kyle Kubitza, and three of the top five prospects in the Angels system at the beginning of 2015 are now a part of the rebuilding organization that John Hart is putting together in Atlanta. Simmons will be a middle infield stalwart in Anaheim for years to come and Kubitza may be a league average third baseman, but all of this may be at the expense of the higher level of the minor league system.
The Angels are still in win-now mode. They have five more years before Trout becomes a free agent, and a short window in which Pujols will still be an impact player. The Josh Hamilton fiasco of 2015 still hurts, as they are paying him $63 million to play for division rival Texas. The contracts of C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver, and David Freese have not paid off to the team’s liking either. Freese was allowed to become a free agent and Weaver will become a free agent after he makes $20 million in 2016. The Angels are currently shopping Wilson in trade talks at the Winter Meetings, as he is also set to make $20 million in the upcoming season. With a lack of polished prospects at the ready, paying part or most of a salary will almost certainly have to be part of any deal.
The free agent marketplace seems to be the most likely place for the Angels to upgrade. They have definite need in the outfield and have been linked to every big name on the market. Any one of Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, or Jason Heyward could be headed to Southern California. The lineup needs another power bat to go along with Trout and Pujols. Heyward and Gordon would fit nicely as a left-handed complementary bat as well as make a solid outfield with Trout and Kole Calhoun.
Once the outfield situation is settled, the only real spots in the field that need filling out will be second and third base. The in-house options at second consist of Johnny Giavotella and Taylor Featherston, which has prompted speculation that a deal for someone such as Neil Walker of the Pittsburgh Pirates might be in the works. If the Angels are not comfortable going in 2016 with Kubitza as the third baseman and using Kaleb Cowart as his defense-first backup, the team could revisit bringing Freese back on a team friendly deal.
The Angels have some solid pieces in place, but are limited in their resources that they have available to bring more talent in. Eppler has a background in player development during his tenure with the New York Yankees and will make that a priority at some point. He has a long way to go to build up the Angels farm system as the majority of their talent is below Double-A. Being in a win-now mode can come at a price, and the Angels may already be on their second mortgage.