Winter Report Card: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
With little less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we're checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there's still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2013.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2013 results: 78-84 (.481), 3rd place in AL West (Hot Stove Preview)
In 2013, the parts of the Angels' starting rotation not comprised of C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver went 30-42 with a 4.90 ERA; only the Astros and Mariners had a higher bullpen ERA in the American League; and the late-season trade of Alberto Callaspo left the Halos without a third baseman. Los Angeles' needs heading into the offseason were obvious, and with two trades and a pair of free agent signings that committed less than $20 million combined, the team addressed all of them.
First the Angels flipped superfluous centerfielder Peter Bourjos and minor outfield prospect Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals for arbitration-eligible third baseman David Freese and righthanded reliever Fernando Salas. Then they signed side-arming righthander Joe Smith, a groundballing reliever who posted a 2.42 ERA (160 ERA+) while averaging 71 games a season with Cleveland over the last three years, to a three-year, $15.75 million contract. Then, after non-tendering 2013 starters Tommy Hanson and Jerome Williams, they traded slugging first baseman Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks in a three-team swap that netted 22-year-old lefthanded rotation prospect Tyler Skaggs, a former Angels draft pick, and 26-year-old White Sox starter Hector Santiago, a lefthanded screwballer who has a 3.30 ERA in 27 career major league starts despite pitching his home games in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. Finally, they signed 41-year-old Raul Ibañez for a one-year guarantee of just $2.75 million to replace Trumbo at designated hitter.
Ibañez could do a better job of replacing Trumbo in the coming season that you might think. Over the course of his three full big league seasons, Trumbo has hit .251/.300/.473 (115 OPS+) and averaged 35 home runs per 162 games. Over that same span, Ibañez has hit .243/.300/.451 (105 OPS+) and averaged 28 home runs per 162 games. Ibañez is also a career .349/.407/.522 hitter at Angel Stadium. L.A. smartly sold high on Trumbo, whose struggles to get on base limit his value, landing talented, young, team-controlled, lefthanded pitching (Santiago won't be arbitration-eligible until next winter and Skaggs has all six team-controlled seasons remaining), and expertly replaced him on the cheap.
That's a particularly effective string of transactions, even if there are concerns about nearly all of the players they acquired. Freese, for example, saw both his power and his fielding collapse in 2013, rendering him a replacement-level player at the age of 30. Santiago and Skaggs have combined for just 40 career major league starts, with Skaggs posting a 5.43 ERA in his 13 outings. Salas has posted a 4.36 ERA (87 ERA+) over the last two seasons. Smith has made 213 appearances over the last three years, the ninth-most in the majors over that span, and Ibañez is 41 years old.
Unfinished business: Veteran starting pitcher
As encouraging as it might be for the Angels to have landed Santiago and Skaggs, the only men on their 40-man roster to have started 30 games in a single major league season remain Weaver, Wilson and Joe Blanton. The team could use one more sure thing in the rotation to replace the departed Jason Vargas and make releasing Blanton (who has posted a 5.09 ERA and 77 ERA+ over the last four seasons) an easier risk to take.
Heading into the offseason, Los Angeles had some concerns about staying under the competitive balance tax threshold, but by my rough calculations, even if Freese and reliever Kevin Jepsen win their arbitration hearings, the Halos will have roughly $30 million worth of payroll space remaining before they hit the $189 million threshold. That's more than enough to land one of the top remaining free agent starting pitchers. Ironically, the man who is arguably the best investment after Masahiro Tanaka is Ervin Santana, whom L.A. dumped on the Royals a year ago because it didn't want to pay him $13 million for the 2013 season.
Among the remaining starters on the market, the Angels might be most interested in Matt Garza, in part because he won't be as expensive as Tanaka and also because he won't require the draft pick compensation Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez will. Bronson Arroyo, who also meets those criteria, could be their backup plan.
Preliminary Grade: B+ The Angels did exactly what they needed to do this offseason, but the concerns about their acquisitions expressed above keep them from achieving an A, for now. They'll get that grade if they finish up by adding a veteran starter at a reasonable price.