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Angels deal Conger; acquire Ramos from Rays

Catcher Perez, right-hander Tropeano acquired from Astros
MLB.com @Alden_Gonzalez

ANAHEIM -- The offseason is five business days old, and Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto may have already filled his two greatest needs -- a cost-controlled starting pitcher and a veteran lefty reliever.

It happened with two trades, finalized about two hours within one another on Wednesday afternoon. Backup catcher Hank Conger, a beloved local product, was sent to the Astros for young starter Nick Tropeano and Minor League catcher Carlos Perez. Pitching prospect Mark Sappington, a power right-hander who thrived after moving to the bullpen midsummer, was then sent to the Rays in exchange for 30-year-old southpaw Cesar Ramos.

ANAHEIM -- The offseason is five business days old, and Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto may have already filled his two greatest needs -- a cost-controlled starting pitcher and a veteran lefty reliever.

It happened with two trades, finalized about two hours within one another on Wednesday afternoon. Backup catcher Hank Conger, a beloved local product, was sent to the Astros for young starter Nick Tropeano and Minor League catcher Carlos Perez. Pitching prospect Mark Sappington, a power right-hander who thrived after moving to the bullpen midsummer, was then sent to the Rays in exchange for 30-year-old southpaw Cesar Ramos.

The money basically evens out, with Conger and Ramos each slated to make a little more than $1 million in arbitration, and the Angels have more Major League-ready pitching.

"It really builds a lot of depth and quality on our Major League team in addition to building depth outside of our Major League team," Dipoto said on a conference call. "A really positive day for us."

Prospects acquired by Angels
Nick Tropeano, RHP: Ranked No. 13 in a very deep Astros system at the time of the trade, Tropeano made his Major League debut in 2014, making four starts for Houston in September. The Pacific Coast League ERA champion (3.03) in 2014, the 24-year-old pitches off of his low-90s fastball very effectively, mixing in an above-average changeup and a slurvy breaking ball, the last of which can still improve. The 6-foot-4 right-hander doesn't hurt himself with walks (2.7 BB/9 in his career) and misses enough bats (8.7 K/9) to give confidence he can start at the next level. He profiles as a back half of a rotation starter who is ready to contribute.
Carlos Perez, C: Perez returns to the American League after coming to the Astros by way of the 10-player deadline deal between Houston and Toronto back in 2012. Defense is his calling card and he has the catch and throw skills to defend in the big leagues right now. The 24-year-old backstop has a very good arm with a quick release, and he moves very well behind the plate. It's tough to profile him as much more than a backup right now because he hasn't hit well in the past couple of years. He does make consistent contact with a line-drive approach. If his bat can take a leap forward, he could be a defensive-minded regular. If not, he's ready to help out a big league staff right now.
Top 20 Prospects: Angels | Astros
-- Jonathan Mayo

Tropeano, a 24-year-old right-hander, will compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training while providing some insurance in case Garrett Richards doesn't recover from knee surgery in time for Opening Day. More importantly, he's another cost-controlled arm for a system that's slim on starting-pitching talent and no longer has the payroll flexibility to acquire a big-name, free-agent starter.

Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago and Richards are slated for the 2015 rotation, with the promising Tyler Skaggs recovering from Tommy John surgery and several others -- Wade LeBlanc, Drew Rucinski, Jose Alvarez and potentially Cory Rasmus -- ready to contribute in the Majors.

Dipoto no longer feels the urgency to part ways with someone like Howie Kendrick or C.J. Cron in order to bolster the rotation.

"The team that you saw at the end of the season is probably something similar to what you'll see at the start of the next, as far as our everyday players go," Dipoto said. "There could be a subtle change here and there, but we don't anticipate anything dramatic at this point."

Ramos, who has started 10 of his 186 career Major League games, will be used as a "utility bullpen guy," Dipoto said, giving the Angels the ability to pitch multiple innings or match up against lefties. Asked about adding a traditional lefty specialist, Dipoto said, "I don't think it's a critical need by any stretch," pointing to the fact that a lot of his right-handers are good against left-handed batters.

Perez, a 24-year-old well regarded for his defense, will compete for the now-vacant backup job behind Chris Iannetta. Jackson Williams (acquired off waivers from the Rockies in October) and Jett Bandy (now playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic) are also options.

"We have three upper-level, experienced catchers in-house that can compete for the job," Dipoto said. "If there's more that we can add to that to create further competition, great."

Tropeano posted a 3.03 ERA, a 3.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 0.99 WHIP in 124 2/3 innings while serving mostly as a starter for Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2014. Originally a fifth-round pick by the Astros in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Tropeano made four starts for Houston this past season -- allowing 11 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings -- and owns a 3.26 ERA in his four-year Minor League career.

Prospect acquired by Rays
Mark Sappington, RHP: A fifth-round pick of the Angels in the 2012 Draft, Sappington was the No. 11 prospect on the Angels' Top 20 at the time of the trade. The big right-hander had a huge first full season, reaching Double-A in 2013. He struggled to repeat the performance in 2014, though a move to the bullpen seemed to help him get headed back in the right direction. He was adding some innings in the Arizona Fall League when the deal was announced. He has the fastball-slider combination, as well as the aggressive mentality on the mound, to excel in a short-relief role. He's been up to 97 mph in the past, and his hard-tilting breaking ball can miss bats as well. His changeup and his command were his enemies in 2014, which won't be as big of a problem if he's coming out of the bullpen.
Top 20 Prospects: Rays | Angels
-- Jonathan Mayo

"Obviously, it caught me off guard, just being so surprising, my first time," Tropeano said of the trade in a phone conversation. "But I'm absolutely excited for the new opportunity, and I'm just privileged and honored that the Angels would trade for me and give me this opportunity to show my talent."

Ramos -- a teammate of Weaver and Jason Vargas at Long Beach State University -- has posted a 3.90 ERA in six Major League seasons, the first two of which came with the Padres. Ramos made 43 appearances (seven starts) for the Rays this past season, posting a 3.70 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP and a 1.69 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 82 2/3 innings.

Sappington -- a fifth-round pick by the Angels in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft - had a 7.05 ERA in 17 starts to begin the 2014 season and found success after being moved to the bullpen, posting a 3.38 ERA while striking out 13.8 batters per nine innings in 25 relief appearances for Class A Advanced Inland Empire.

Perez, who was originally signed out of Venezuela and has yet to make his Major League debut, was acquired from the Blue Jays amid a 10-player deal in July 2012. He's thrown out a solid 33 percent of would-be basestealers in seven Minor League seasons and batted .259/.323/.385 in Triple-A this year.

Dipoto said Perez has "polished defensive skills, can throw, and he's got a good idea of where the strike zone's at."

Conger, a product of Huntington Beach, Calif., was drafted 26th overall by the Angels in 2006 and established himself as a backup and occasional platoon partner with Iannetta the last two seasons, posting a .235/.301/.364 slash line in 172 games and evolving into one of the best pitch framers in baseball.

Conger said he was "taken aback" by the trade, mostly because it occurred so early in the offseason, and is "excited to try to get a fresh start."

But it'll be tough to leave his hometown team.

"This is my home," Conger said. "I've lived here ever since I was a little kid. To drive 15 minutes from my house and go to work, as everybody would say, was obviously a dream. Coming out of high school, the dream was just to play in the big leagues. To play in the big leagues with the Angels, with that organization, was more than I could ever ask for."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Los Angeles Angels, Hank Conger, Carlos Perez, Cesar Ramos, Nick Tropeano