The Los Angeles Angels had a lot of questions going into this offseason and this week’s MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee may answer many of the questions for the Halos.
The Angels have already seen a major shake-up in their roster that ended the 2015 season. Ten players have already been sent packing either through trade, free agency or by not being tendered a contract. Gone are David Murphy, Colin Cowgill, Matt Joyce, Daniel Robertson, David DeJesus, Shane Victorino, Cesar Ramos, Erick Aybar, Chris Ianetta and David Freese (though he may be re-signed). With this being said, the Angels have a lot of holes to be filled.
So far, shortstop has been filled by Andrelton Simmons, who the Angels acquired in a trade that saw the team give up 10-year veteran Erick Aybar, as well as top prospect pitcher Sean Newcomb and pitcher Chris Ellis. The Angels also signed Geovany Soto to compete for the starting catching spot and utility infielder Cliff Pennington.
However, the most pressing needs, third base and left field, have yet to be addressed. The Angels have made it known that veteran pitcher C.J. Wilson is on the trading block, which would help free up some money to spend on free agents and relieve some of the overcrowded starting rotation as well as ridding the club of at least some of his $18 million dollar contract for 2016.
A player that many teams have inquired about is hard-throwing reliever Trevor Gott. Thus far, the Angels have been reluctant to trade Gott. But that could change since the Angels traded top prospect Sean Newcomb, which makes Gott the most valuable trading chip if the Angels decide to make a deal.
The other more likely route is free agency, which has a plethora of talent that the Angels are interested in. So let’s explore the free agent options to fill the needs going into the 2016 season.
The most prominent outfielders that are available in the free agent market are Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Ben Zobrist, all of which would be an upgrade from last year’s left field debacle. Zobrist has since signed with the Chicago Cubs and could be the first of many dominoes to fall.
The most intriguing candidate in my opinion is Cespedes, he is a five-tool talent who turned the New York Mets’ season around in 2015 once he was acquired at the trade deadline and helped lead them to the World Series. Cespedes’ price tag is probably the highest of the group because of his game-changing ability. The Angels are said to be in the mix, but there is no apparent front-runner at the moment for Cespedes’ services.
After having a career year hitting .291 with 35 homers and 105 RBIs, he should command between $25 and $30 million a year, especially since he does not require that the team who signs him give up a draft pick.
Heyward is another five-tool player who had a very strong year in 2015. His numbers are nowhere near Cespedes’ as Heyward only hit 13 home runs with 60 RBIs while batting .293. However, the major upside is that Heyward is only 26 years old, which means he still hasn’t hit his prime yet. Heyward will probably command around $22 to $25 million per year.
The Angels have said to have strong interest in Heyward as he is a left-handed bat, which the Angels have needed so desperately. The only drawbacks to signing Heyward would be the Angels having to give a draft pick to the Cardinals, and they would also have to move Kole Calhoun to left field as Heyward is actually a right fielder. However, Calhoun has said publicly that he would accept such move if needed.
Justin Upton is another intriguing option for the Los Angeles Angels, and the team has said they would be interested in the Padres left fielder. Upton is a career .271 hitter who has averaged 26 home runs and 84 RBIs per season over his eight seasons in the majors. Last season, Upton hit .251 with 26 home runs and 81 RBIs and he also stole 19 bases.
Again, the Angels would have to give up a draft pick to the Padres if they were to sign Upton. The upside is that Upton will only be 28 years old when the 2016 season starts, so he should be pretty productive throughout the length of a five or six-year contract. Upton’s asking price would probably be around $22 million per year.
The final option via free agency would be Alex Gordon of the Royals. Gordon was a key cog in the Royals’ World Series runs the last two seasons. In his nine major league seasons, Gordon has hit for a .269 average with 15 homers per year and 75 RBIs per season.
He is also an excellent defender who has won four Gold Gloves in the past five seasons. The down side for Gordon is that he will be 32 when the season opens and the team who signs him will owe Kansas City a first-round compensatory pick. Gordon’s asking price is said to be close to $20 million per season.
Other options the Los Angeles Angels could explore to fill their left field void are available through a trade, which might be tough with the Angels not having many quality prospects. One such option which the Angels were said to have explored at the trade deadline is Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies. Gonzalez had a tremendous bounce-back season in 2015, batting .271 with 40 homers and 97 RBIs.
Gonzalez has two years left on his current contract that will pay him $17 million and $20 million over the next two seasons, which is not a bad contract. They would probably try to extend his contract if they were to acquire him, but the question would be how much would the Angels have to give up to get Gonzalez, who will be 30 years old next season.
Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies would be a great option for the Angels if the price is right. Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Another trade option the Angels could explore is for Reds outfielder Jay Bruce. The Angels looked at Bruce last season at the trade deadline, but the Reds were said to want too much. Bruce has a career .248 batting average and has averaged 26 homers and 80 RBIs per season.
Bruce also has two years left under contract at a reasonable $12.5 and $13 million price tag over the next two seasons, with 2017 being a club option with a $1 million buyout. Again, the issue in acquiring Bruce is can the Angels put together a package of young talent that the Reds would want for Bruce.
As for third base, there are only limited options in the free agent market.
David Freese is most likely the best option for the Angels. Freese has been solid over the past two seasons for the club and has also been a good presence in the clubhouse. The Angels are said to be in negotiations to bring Freese back, but no deal has been struck yet.
Freese hit .257 with 14 homers and 56 RBIs last year, but what’s even more important was the Angels’ record when Freese was in the lineup compared to when he is not in the lineup. The Angels were 73-48 with Freese in the lineup, compared to 12-29 when he was not in the lineup due to injuries.
Freese would probably command somewhere around $15 million per year, which may be a little high, but with no viable options on the roster, the move would make sense. Age could also be a factor as Freese is already 32, so the Angels would probably not want to give Freese more than maybe four years.
David Freese after one of his many clutch hits for the Los Angeles Angels. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The other option that was discussed for third base would be a trade with Tampa Bay for local product Evan Longoria. However, the Rays would expect a lot in return, which the Angels may not be able to meet. Longoria has a career .271 average and has hit an average of 25 homers and 91 RBIs per season. He will be 30 years old next season, so he is still relatively young and inserting him in the middle of an order that already features Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Kole Calhoun could be deadly. With more protection in the lineup, Longoria could flourish.
With all these options out there, the Angels can weigh their choices. Many moves could help bolster the 2016 lineup for the Los Angeles Angels. Within the next week, many of these questions could be answered, but don’t be surprised if it takes until close to Christmas for the team to firm up its 2016 roster.