The 2015 season was a disappointing one for the Angels. Pundits everywhere thought the Angels would be a near lock for 90 wins in what seemed like would be a subpar AL West. As we all know by now, the Angels fell short, winning 85 games and missing out on a playoff spot by 1 game, as they were officially eliminated in Game 162. On the surface, 85 wins hardly seems like a disappointment but when you dig deeper, you see the Angels were very fortunate to win that many games, especially considering their expected 79 win total.
2015 is in the past now and the Angels have an interesting and perhaps very telling offseason. Former assistant general manager of the Yankees, Billy Eppler, is in charge of things in Anaheim now as the new GM. With limited payroll flexibility, a weak farm system and a MLB roster with several holes, Eppler has the option of rebuilding, retooling or continuing to push their win now mode. With all of this in mind, here are my predictions for what the Angels will do this offseason.
1. Sign 2B/LF Ben Zobrist to a 4 year 65 million dollar deal
Ben Zobrist is and has been baseball’s saber metric darling. Zobrist is your classic underrated player because he isn’t a star in one category but rather a good one in literally every area of the game. Since 2009, Zobrist has been baseball’s 5th most valuable position player with his 37.2 WAR accumulated. Had Zobrist been a free agent 2 or 3 years ago, he would’ve easily received a 100+ million dollar contract. However, Zobrist is 34 and therein lies the problem with his future performance.
Zobrist tuned in an awesome offensive 2015 season with a .276/.359/.450 line along with 123 wRC+. However, Zobrist was a very poor defender for the 1st time in his career, posting -7 DRS(Defensive Runs Saved) at 2B and -5 DRS in the outfield in 2015. This is a sign of a guy possibly hitting his wall physically wise and could be a sign of a future performance drop off. Even if the defense has fallen to this level, Zobrist is still a valuable player with the bat and it’s reasonable to think he may improve slightly defensively with some regression to the mean. A 2.5-3 WAR player who fills a need at either 2B, 3B or LF is a huge addition for the Angels.
2. Sign Nori Aoki to a 2 year 25 million dollar deal
Maybe this isn’t the sexy, big splash signing Angels fans want but Nori Aoki fills a huge need for the Angels: A left handed hitting lead off option who can play in left field. Aoki has quietly put up a .287/.353/.386 line in 4 big league seasons and has been an above average defender. It’s quite surprising that the guy hasn’t landed a longer deal but he turns 34 in January so a shorter deal may be at play here. Aoki gives the Angels solid, league average production at a huge position of need and the Angels don’t have to break the bank or give up a pick in the process.
3. Sign RHP Mat Latos to a 1 year 12 million dollar deal
Contrary to what many people think, the Angels actually have rotation issues heading into 2016. Mat Latos is coming off a poor run prevention 2015 season but his peripherals actually weren’t all that far off from his career norms. Latos had a 4.95 ERA but his 3.72 FIP and 3.69 xFIP were respectable and show that he can be a quality starter next season.
The Angels could use a mid rotation type starter for the 2016 season as Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis and company continue to develop in the minors. Latos is probably looking for a pillow contract to boost his value for the following offseason and the Angels could be a good landing spot. The 28 year old’s late season stint with the Angels as a deliver could potentially help him work out a deal in Anaheim.
Why not just re-sign David Freese and keep the prospects, some may ask? Freese will probably get a 3 year deal and may possibly make more than 30 million dollars. Nate Smith is the ideal Twins pitcher as they love guys with good command but lesser stuff. Smith has future potential as a back end starter, a piece the Twins would like to have. Cam Bedrosian has a legit power package but hasn’t found his command in the big leagues. Jake Jewell has a good arsenal who profiles as a middle reliever down the road.
Trevor Plouffe is an ideal trade target and OCR writer Jeff Fletcher speculated yesterday that the Angels may have interest and the Twins are interested in the Angels power arms. Plouffe is a steady, everyday 3B who was worth 6.1 WAR between 2014-2015. Plouffe is essentially a younger, better version of David Freese, providing slightly better offense but a better glove as well.
Hector Santiago has been wildly inconsistent in his 2 years with the Angels pitching a majority of his games as a starter but the guy has posted a 3.65 ERA in 308 innings. His peripherals do not line up with his ERA due to his crazy low ground ball rate and high walk rate but he generates enough strikeouts to be a worthwhile back end starter. While the Angels lack quality in their starters, they don’t lack quantity so Santiago looks like an expendable piece.
Why do the Angels make this trade? Harold Ramirez easily becomes the best position player prospect in the Angels system. Ramirez hits for average, runs the bases well and holds his own in center field but will most likely make a move to LF or RF. At 20 years old, he’s still a few years away but he gives the Angels a future above average regular. Barrett Barnes doesn’t excel in any area but he posts near average tools across the board and profiles as a solid 4th outfielder. With this trade, the Angels trade from a strength(high quantity of back end starters) and address their horrible position player depth in the minors.
Why do the Pirates make this trade? The Pirates aren’t a big market team and therefore don’t have the resources to buy many players in free agency. Santiago isn’t a sexy option but he’s a cost controlled back end starter who would be moving to a pitcher friendly league and home ballpark. Not to mention that the Buccos lost A.J. Burnett and potentially J.A. Happ this offseason. Giving up Ramirez isn’t ideal but the Pirates currently have a great team that needs to find a way to win in an ultra tough NL Central division. Guys like Hector Santiago are valuable for a lower budget team like the Pirates. This is a sound trade for both sides.
6. Sign Antonio Bastardo to a 2 year 8 million dollar deal
Signing a lefty reliever with control problems to a multi year deal isn’t ideal but the Angels are in a position of need for a lefty reliever with swing and miss stuff. Tony Sipp is another option for the Angels but his sub 2 ERA season in 2015 may take him out of the Angels range. Bastardo has had a sub 3 ERA in 3 of the last 5 seasons and has big time swing and miss ability(career 29.2 K%). His low-mid 90’s fastball and hard slider would be a nice addition to the Angels pen that doesn’t feature enough swing and miss guys.
7. Sign Tim Lincecum to a minor league deal
Why not? Tim Lincecum is probably done as a quality major league pitcher but there’s always been the hope that he can pitch effectively out of the bullpen. Lincecum continued to see his fastball velocity and strikeout rate crater and his walk rate rose in 2015 but somehow managed a 4.13 ERA in 76.1 innings. If Lincecum doesn’t develop much of a market in free agency, which is possible, the Angels could snag him on a minor league deal and stash him as depth for the 2016 season.
What to make of these moves?
The Angels have many holes to fill this offseason and many of these moves help the Angels in that regard. While some think the Angels will have a quiet offseason with little moves to retool, I believe the Angels will be highly active ala the 2011 offseason. The Angels have wasted 4 years of the best player in baseball by winning exactly zero playoff games and I don’t believe for a second that Arte Moreno wants the team to make minimal moves. The thing about these moves is none of them look like massive overpays that have the potential to be albatross deals.
Other things to consider are the absolutely putrid 2016 free agent class, the Angels’ expiring contracts after 2016 and the near MLB ready starters the Angels have. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the 2016 free agent class, check it out. The Angels need to take advantage and fill a few holes this offseason. The Angels also see the Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Erick Aybar contracts expire after next year, opening up around 50 million dollars. Many fans are screaming for a frontline starter but the Angels may have one in Sean Newcomb and they may be better off waiting until mid-late 2016 to call up Newcomb and let him showcase himself.
With these moves, the Angels don’t spend too much money, improve the major league team, keep the draft picks and arguably bolster the farm system. Here’s what the 2016 MLB team would look like:
- LF Nori Aoki
- 2B Ben Zobrist
- CF Mike Trout
- 1B Albert Pujols
- RF Kole Calhoun
- DH C.J. Cron
- 3B Trevor Plouffe
- C Carlos Perez
- SS Erick Aybar
- CL Huston Street
- SU Joe Smith
- SU Michael Morin
- MR Trevor Gott
- MR Antonio Bastardo
- MR Cory Rasmus
- LR Matt Shoemaker/Jered Weaver