The three-day General Managers Meetings have kicked off in Orlando, Fla. And while this may only be a warmup to the grander, more-eventful Winter Meetings that are still a month away, it's nonetheless an important avenue for face-to-face dialogue among teams and, naturally, an environment that tends to foster some juicy Hot Stove gossip.
Jerry Dipoto and crew enter the GM Meetings hopeful of re-signing Jason Vargas, determined to acquire cost-controlled starting pitching, mindful of potential buy-low options -- they've already signed Chris Volstad and agreed to a deal with Wade LeBlanc -- and cognizant of holes in their bullpen and third base.
This seems like a good time to answer some questions …
Why are the Angels interested in trading Mark Trumbo when he is the first baseman of the future? Can we realistically expect Albert Pujols to be at first base for the next eight years?
-- Paul T., Saskatchewan, Canada
It's a legitimate concern, but you don't even know if Trumbo will be here in three years (he's eligible for free agency by then). Losing Trumbo would really, really hurt, first and foremost because of his run production in the middle of the lineup, but also because his presence frees up designated hitter for Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
But, as they say, you have to give up something to get something.
The Angels need starting pitching, their best bet to acquire it is via trade, they can't offer much in the way of prospects and the player who can bring back the best pitching -- minus Mike Trout, of course -- is Trumbo. I don't expect the Angels to trade Trumbo unless it means packaging him in a deal that can bring back a cost-controlled, top-of-the-rotation-caliber starter.
If that's the case -- and perhaps only if that's the case -- it'd be foolish to say no. In Pujols and Hamilton, the Angels have more money tied up to what Trumbo does -- provide power from first base or a corner-outfield spot -- than in any other department. If Trumbo does go, Pujols and Hamilton will have to bounce back and produce. And they're getting paid handsomely to do it.
MLB Network thinks David Price will get traded to the Angels next year. Do you agree, and what are the chances that actually happens?
Normally I would say the Angels are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to trading for starting pitching because of the state of their farm system. But this is a unique circumstance, one where each team's primary goal is to compete for a championship next season. In that respect, I think the Angels can potentially be a match for Price (more on that here).
Will it happen? Maybe not, since it's so hard to pull off trades this big. But the Angels have something the Rays desperately want, and something that can separate them from most other teams interested in acquiring Price's final two years before free agency -- offense that can help Tampa Bay in 2014 and beyond, with the likes of Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Peter Bourjos and Kole Calhoun potentially available. Will it be enough? We'll see. But I wouldn't be surprised to see it get explored (if it hasn't been already).
What scenarios, if any, would the Angels be willing to go over the luxury-tax threshold?
Based on my understanding, this is not flexible. But teams have an entire season to get under the luxury-tax threshold, so as long as they're confident they can do that, the Angels probably won't shy away from a player just because he puts their Collective Balance Tax payroll slightly over $189 million (the threshold at which first-time offenders will be taxed 17.5 percent in 2014).
As a refresher, a team's CBT payroll is calculated as the average annual value of all 40-man-roster contracts, plus benefits. My (very rough) projection for the Angels' current CBT payroll -- accounting for salaries in the books, arbitration projections and minimum contracts -- is approximately $175 million, which would give them about an extra $14 million of wiggle room. More money can be freed up via trades and non-tenders, of course.
But, barring a change in ideology, owner Arte Moreno will not go over the tax threshold. It isn't really about paying the tax; it's actually a source of pride with a lot of owners to never exceed what's essentially Major League Baseball's soft spending limit.
What are the odds the Angels lock up Trout with an extension?
I can't tell you what the chances are that he accepts, but I can guarantee you they'll try. I don't expect it to be this offseason, simply because Trout agreeing to a mega-extension would mean the Angels are at or close to the luxury-tax threshold and can't really improve their team for 2014 (I explained that in detail here). I think next calendar year is when they can really begin that process, mainly because Vernon Wells' contract will finally be off the books after the 2014 season (the Angels owe the Yankees $18.6 million for Wells next year).
Given the not-so-great free-agent options at third base, what are the odds the Angels go with something like an Eric Chavez /Luis Jimenez platoon next year?
I'm not so sure about that pairing, but I think it's very likely that we go into Spring Training not knowing who the Angels' everyday third baseman is, and I do think it's possible that this position becomes somewhat of a time share. The Angels need to allocate the vast majority of their resources to pitching, and they feel they can sacrifice offensive production at third base (they essentially did that with Alberto Callaspo ).
In-house, they'll have Jimenez (not playing winter ball because of a sore shoulder), Andrew Romine, Grant Green (who still has a long way to go defensively) and Chris Nelson (who will probably get tendered a contract). Pickings are slim in terms of free-agent third basemen. Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta are perfectly capable of handling third base, but they'll be too expensive. Ditto for Juan Uribe. I like Chavez because I think he can be a very good fit as a part-time player. Other free-agent options include Kevin Youkilis, Wilson Betemit, Placido Polanco, Luis Cruz, Miguel Tejada, Chad Tracy and Michael Young. It isn't pretty.
What prospects are most likely to make a 2014 impact on the Major League club?
Don't be surprised if Mike Morin, who had a very good 2013 season, gets his chance out of the Angels' bullpen next year. He's expected to be invited to Spring Training for the first time and is lined up to start 2014 at Triple-A Salt Lake. In his first full season, the 22-year-old right-hander posted a 1.93 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP and a 7.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Class A Advanced Inland Empire and Double-A Arkansas, and he's been similarly dominant in the Arizona Fall League.
Minus perhaps R.J. Alvarez, who still hasn't pitched past Class A ball, Morin is the best reliever in the Angels' system. And of even more relevance to your question: He offers a different look. The Angels' bullpen is filled with power arms, but Morin's best asset is his command of a changeup. And that can potentially offer the Angels an important dynamic down the stretch.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.