When Jerry Dipoto marched into Southern California to be the new general manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2011, he landed the top hitter and one of the top pitchers on the free-agent market. Dipoto inked first baseman Albert Pujols to a healthy 10-year, $240 million deal while signing pitcher C.J. Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million contract.
In 2015, there’s a new man calling the shots from the front office in south beach, Billy Eppler. The University of Connecticut graduate took the reins of the club on October 4, and has made one notable transaction this offseason, dealing shortstop Erick Aybar to the Braves in return for 26-year-old, Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
Outside of shortstop, the Halos need to make some serious moves to compliment All-Star center fielder Mike Trout and stay competitive in a young and talented AL West. Los Angeles is missing that third Angel in the outfield with Trout commanding center and Kole Calhoun playing a solid right field. Left field is a major issue for a team that missed out on the playoffs by one game a season ago.
With Josh Hamilton’s return to Texas, Los Angeles turned to Matt Joyce to become the starting left fielder for the club. After being acquired from Tampa Bay, Joyce struggled at the plate and wound up hitting just .174/.272/.291 with five home runs on the year. At the trade deadline the Angels were desperate for left fielders and ultimately acquired three players to try and fulfill their needs.
Shane Victorino, David DeJesus and David Murphy, who are all 34 years of age or older, were brought to Los Angeles to see if they could stop the bleeding in left field. There was no hope for the Angels as the veteran presence never unfolded as the three of them combined to average a WAR of -0.4 while Joyce posted a WAR of -1.0 in 93 games.
As Jason Heyward signed his eight-year deal in Chicago officially on Tuesday, the Angels missed out on one candidate to become the third member of the Angels outfield, but it also sets the market for who ever is remaining. Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon are all still out on the market as the top three left fielders the Angels should pursue. All of these players posted WARs greater than 4.0 the last full season they were healthy and would help the Angels considerably in the AL West.
Upton and Cespedes are two mashers that a manager can place in the middle of the lineup, with Cespedes hitting 35 bombs and leading the Mets to an NL pennant and Upton putting up 26 home runs respectably a season ago. Both players a little older too, with Upton being 28 and Cespedes entering his age-30 season. Los Angeles won’t have to commit a ton of money or years to these guys like they would have for the 26-year-old Heyward. Cespedes should offer the more manageable investment, likely a six-year deal.
Cespedes is better defensively than Upton, as he’s shown off his arm at Angel Stadium in the past, and picked up an AL Gold Glove award in left field after just half a season with the Detroit Tigers. If Cespedes returns to the AL West he’ll be playing in the same parks that he did at the beginning of his career in Oakland where he posted 66 home runs and a .470 slugging percentage in two-and-a-half years.
Gordon is the best fielder out of the trio, but can also contribute to the plate as well. The four-time Gold Glove award winner saw his streak of awards come to an end when he played in just 104 games this past season due to a groin injury. Gordon was still able to post 13 home runs, the same amount Heyward hit in 154 games a year ago, while returning to the Royals lineup in September as they made their World Series push.
In 2014, Gordon’s last full season, he posted a WAR of 6.6 and 27 defensive runs saved, those numbers are very similar to the 6.5 WAR and 24 defensive runs saved by Heyward last season. Also with Gordon being 31, he falls right into the category of Upton and Cespedes being older and having to pay a lesser price.
Whoever the Angels end up getting will bolster the team’s left field play tremendously. With Dipoto now in Seattle trying to take the Mariners to the top in the West, Eppler needs to prove that he’s the right man for the job in Los Angeles and go out and get a bat that can generate a few more wins and take the Angels to the next level.