The Angels boosted their minor league depth with a series of smaller moves this offseason, but go into 2015 with a sizable hole at an important position.
With just one week 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 2014. You can find all previously published Winter Report Cards here.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2014 Results: 98-64 (.605), first place in AL West, lost ALDS (Hot Stove Preview)
Coming off a season in which they improved by twenty wins from the season before to post the best record in baseball, the Angels, already burdened by paying four aging players $18 million or more each in the coming season, had a quiet offseason characterized by minor trades. Their most significant move by far was to deal a key player entering his walk year for a top pitching prospect when they flipped second baseman Howie Kendrick, coming off a five-win season but due to make $9.5 million in the final year of his contract, to the cross-town Dodgers for former Marlins lefty Andrew Heaney. Heaney, who will turn 24 in June, was unimpressive in two brief major league opportunities last year, totaling just 29 1/3 innings, but pitched well in the minors between his two major league stints. A top-30 prospect before last season, Heaney is considered a future front-of-the-rotation starter, though not an ace.
For a team with a barren farm system, landing Heaney, who instantly became the Halos' top prospect, was a significant coup. The problem is that the obvious next move, replacing Kendrick at second base, never came. The Angels did make a couple of low-level moves to add depth in the middle infield. They traded rookie righty reliever Jairo Diaz to the Rockies for Josh Rutledge, grabbed 25-year-old Taylor Featherston in the Rule 5 draft (also from the Rockies), picked up Johnny Giavotella from the Royals for 28-year-old righty Brian Broderick and signed 20-year-old Cuban defector Roberto Baldoquin, whom they gave an $8 million signing bonus.
None of those players, however, nor incumbent Grant Green, has an obvious inside track to the starting job. Green, now 27, is a .259/.293/.347 hitter in 256 career major league plate appearances and graded out as a sub-par second baseman in 45 games at the position in 2013 while with the Athletics. Rutledge, 26 in April, is a career .259/.308/.403 hitter in 947 career major league at-bats despite playing in Colorado and also grades out as a sub-par defender in 82 career games at second; he checks in at -1.7 WAR on his career, per Baseball-Reference.com. Giavotella, 27, is a career .238/.277/.334 hitter in 465 major league PAs. Featherston, 25, has never played above Double A, and Baldoquin, who turns 21 in May, is likely to need at least one full season in the minors before contributing.
It's worth noting that while Baldoquin did get a significant signing bonus, he did not merit a major league contract, a fact which should help temper expectations relative to those of his more highly-paid countrymen. In fact, the only free agent the Angels signed to a major league contract this winter was righty reliever Jeremy McBryde, a career minor leaguer who will turn 28 on May 1. McBryde has put up some solid numbers since cracking Double A in 2012 but is on his third organization since then and is still waiting to make his major league debut.
After the Kendrick-Heaney swap, the biggest move the Angels made this offseason was one that seemed small at the time, sending backup catcher Hank Conger to the Astros for righty Nick Tropeano and catcher Carlos Perez. Conger, the team's top pick in 2006, is a fine defensive catcher but is now 27 and a career .224/.294/.353 hitter in 768 major league PAs. Perez is three years younger, comes with three more years of team control, and is also a well-regarded receiver capable of replacing Conger on the roster immediately. That alone may have been a trade up, but Anaheim also got Tropeano in the deal, a 24-year-old who made four starts for Houston last year and has mid-rotation potential. There may not be room for Tropeano in the Angels' rotation this year, but with Jered Weaver's and C.J. Wilson's contracts set to expire after 2016, he could prove to be crucial organizational depth.
The Angels' other notable trade was to send righthanded bullpen stalwart Kevin Jepsen to the Rays for outfielder Matt Joyce, who will likely platoon at designated hitter with C.J. Cron. Given the team's bullpen struggles in recent seasons, however, it seems a bit odd to trade two team-controlled years of Jepsen, a pitcher with a 3.16 career fielding independent pitching figure who is coming off his best season, for one year of Joyce. The lefty hitter is useless against southpaws (.189/.258/.316 in 358 career PAs) and has seen his power go into steady decline, having posted a .129 isolated power in 2014 against a previous career mark of .206.
However, Jepsen was squeezed out of the Halos' bullpen by the emergence of Mike Morin, Cory Rasmus, and Cam Bedrosian, as well as big 2014 additions Huston Street and Joe Smith and cheaper 2014 additions Vinnie Pestano and Fernando Salas. Those seven are all righthanded, so the Angels also made a smaller trade with the Rays to land unimpressive veteran lefty Cesar Ramos for minor league righty Mark Sappington.
Finally, the Angels made one trade that involved no major league players but deserves mention, sending teenage lefty Ricardo Sanchez to the Braves for third-base prospect Kyle Kubitza and righty reliever Nate Hyatt. Sanchez, a small Venezuelan lefty, won't turn 18 until April, but held his own in state-side rookie ball last year at the age of 17. He's a lottery ticket for the rebuilding Braves. Meanwhile, Kubitza, a third-round pick in 2011, hit .295/.405/.470 in his Double A debut at the age of 23 last year and could be the Angels' next third baseman with David Freese entering his walk year.
Unfinished Business: Second base
Did I mention that all of the underwhelming second base options mentioned above are righthanded? They can't even make a viable platoon out of that lot. The only lefty-hitting second baseman the Angels will have in camp this spring will be non-roster invitee Alex Yarbrough, a poor fielder who hit .285/.321/.397 at Double A last year. Start placing your bets as to whom they'll trade for at the non-wavier deadline — top candidates include Daniel Murphy, Ben Zobrist, Chase Utley, Aaron Hill, and Stephen Drew.
Preliminary Grade: C+
Given their barren farm system, the Angels did well to bring in young, talented, team-controlled players on the verge of major league readiness in Heaney, Tropeano, Kubitza, Perez, Featherston, and Baldoquin. Indeed, five of those players comprise half of the organization's top ten prospects as listed by Baseball Prospectus last week; the sixth, Perez, was among the six honorable mentions on BP's list. Three others from the top ten and two more honorable mention were 2014 draft picks, meaning 11 of the 16 prospects mentioned on BP's list weren't in the organization last May.
Still, outside of Heaney, none of the aforementioned profile as potential impact players, and even Heaney is unlikely to be that this year. The acquisitions of Matt Joyce and Cesar Ramos, the second-base candidates, and extra catcher Drew Butera were underwhelming at best (unless they plan to move Butera to the mound). The biggest impact of all of their moves on the 2015 team seems likely to be the hole created by the loss of Kendrick, meaning that while the Angels may have taken a step forward as an organization this winter, they took a step back at the major league level.