The Los Angeles Angels have many offseason questions which they need to answer before next season. Two of the most pressing questions is whether or not to try to resign free-agent third baseman David Freese and also whether not to pick-up the $7 million dollar club option on left fielder David Murphy. Freese was a key part of the September surge as he hit .337 with 3 home runs and 13 RBI’s after coming off the disabled list. For the year Freese hit .257 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI’s in 121 games. With the failures of rookies Caleb Cowart and Kyle Kubitza, who both batted under .200 in short stints during Freese’s injury, the Angels really need to re-sign Freese. Besides his hitting, Freese is still an above-average fielder although he may have a lost a step, not to mention his leadership in the clubhouse. The only problem is that Freese is most likely the top third baseman in the free-agent market which may drive his asking price out of the Angels price range. Murphy is an interesting situation as the Angels have the ability to bring him back for a reasonable price and not have to our bid other teams for his services. Murphy batted .265 with 5 home runs and 23 RBI’s in 48 games after he was acquired from Cleveland in late July. While those numbers may not look very impressive, Murphy’s career average is .274 and he has averaged 15 home runs and 70 RBI’s in 10 major league seasons. With both Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout providing plenty of offensive firepower the Angels don’t necessarily need a huge power bat in left field.
David Murphy gets doused after his third walk-off hit for the Angels. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Other players that the Angels could bring back to fill the left-field gap are Matt Joyce and Shane Victorino as they are both free agents, but it would be surprising if the Angels offered either of them anything but a minor-league contract with a chance to make the team in Spring Training. Another player that has a club option of $5 million dollars is left fielder David Dejesus. However, Dejesus batted only .125 with seven hits in 56 at-bats with no home runs and only four RBI’s so most likely the Angels will choose the $1 million dollar buyout option over picking up the club option.
So with this being said I believe that new Angels GM Billy Eppler needs to bring back Murphy for sure, especially since the cost is minimal. Even though the Angels do have Colin Cowgill and Daniel Robertson who have shown sparks of brilliance, I still think brining back Murphy is a no-brainer. Robertson batted .280 in 37 games this season, and Cowgill batted .250 with 5 home runs and 21 RBI’s in 2014. On the same token with the Angels lack of viable options at third base as well as a thin free-agent market for third base, it is just as important to re-sign Freese as well. The Angels were 41-15 since late June with Freese in the line-up and 10-22 without him in the line-up. So his importance to the Angels is evident plus the aforementioned leadership qualities. Hopefully, Eppler will realize this in his evaluation of this year’s team and bring Murphy and Freese back in 2016.
With that said the Angels do have a number of smaller personnel decisions that they need to make. There are a number of arbitration eligible players who are still under club control as they are not eligible for free agency due to lack of MLB service (under five years). Relievers Cesar Ramos, Cory Rasmus, Trevor Gott, Jose Alvarez, Mike Morin, Cam Bedrosian, and Fernando Salas. Ramos, Salas, and Bedrosian are the most likely ones to not be brought back although Ramos had a strong season posting a 2.75 ERA in 52.1 innings. Salas was up and down all season posting a 4.24 ERA in 63.2 innings. Bedrosian never really pitched well all season ending with a 5.40 ERA in 33.1 innings. Andrew Heaney, Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, Nick Tropeano, and Matt Shoemaker are also arbitration eligible, with Shoemaker being the only question mark on whether or not the Angels will re-sign him. Mat Latos, who the Angels signed for the last week of the season, is the only pitcher eligible for free agency. With a plethora of starting pitchers under club control most likely means the Angels will not try to resign Latos.
Offensively, the Los Angeles Angels have a number of players that they will have to make decisions about besides Freese and Murphy. First of all do they bring back Chris Ianetta who had his worst season hitting of his career finishing with a .188 batting average with 10 home runs and 34 RBI’s. Ianettta is a free agent and the Angels could offer him a minor-league contract if no one else wants his services, but it is likely that Ianetta may have played his last game in Angels Red. Carlos Perez the Angels rookie catcher with .377 in September and hit .260 with 4 home runs and 21 RBI’s in 86 games this season. Other young players that will almost assuredly be back next season are Daniel Robertson, Taylor Featherston, C.J. Cron, and Efren Navarro who are all arbitration eligible. Only Colin Cowgill may be let go after an injury-plagued season where he batted .188 in 69 at-bats. Kubitza and Cowart may make the opening day roster even if Freese is re-signed as a potential back-up infielders as could Ryan Jackson. Featherston and Navarro could both start the season in the minors, especially Featherston as he only batted .162 with 2 home runs and nine RBI’s in 154 at-bats. Featherston was a Rule 5 draftee which meant the Angels had to keep him on the major league roster all season or risk losing him. Before 2015 Featherston had never played any higher than Double-A ball in the minors so starting off in Triple-A would probably benefit him. Navarro has been up and down the last couple of seasons and has been pretty effective when he has been called up, but with Navarro it is a sheer numbers game that may keep him off the 2016 opening day roster or may result in him being traded or released in the off-season.
Whatever Eppler and the Angels decide to do during the off-season it will definitely be an interesting off-season, especially with the Angels still having to decide on a new hitting and pitching coach. The only thing that is for sure is that Mike Trout is still the best player in baseball and has the best first four season numbers of any player in Angels history.
Mike Trout showing the fire and competitiveness that has made him the best player in baseball. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports