Welcome to the offseason of Billy Eppler.The Angels' third-year general manager added Zack Cozart as his third baseman on Friday, capping a frenetic eight-day period that includes the Angels winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes and a trade for second baseman Ian Kinsler, who filled the team's biggest hole.
Welcome to the offseason of Billy Eppler.
The Angels' third-year general manager added Zack Cozart as his third baseman on Friday, capping a frenetic eight-day period that includes the Angels winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes and a trade for second baseman Ian Kinsler, who filled the team's biggest hole.
All of this followed Eppler throwing an extra season at Justin Upton so that Upton wouldn't exercise the opt-out clause in his contract. The deal set the recent events into motion, demonstrating that owner Arte Moreno's franchise is acting with a sense of urgency in trying to surround Michael Trout, the game's best player, with a team that can get him back into the postseason.
There's still some work to be done for sure, mostly on the pitching staff. But the lineup that the Angels have put together should be one of the best two-way collections in the game.
Cozart, who has agreed to a three-year contract, is a perfect fit. He's played shortstop exclusively in his first seven seasons and is coming off his best showing. He ranked fourth among Major League shortstops with a 5.0 fWAR, just ahead of new teammate Andrelton Simmons (4.9).
Simmons long ago established himself as maybe the game's top defensive shortstop and had a breakthrough season at the plate in 2017, hitting .278 with 14 homers. Heading into his age-32 season, Cozart is a solid shortstop (+2 Defensive Runs Saved this season, down from +8 in 2016 and +19 in 2014) who projects to be strong defensively at third.
It's a bit of an unknown, but a solid defensive shortstop should be able to make the transition just fine. The White Sox Yolmer Sanchez was +8 DRS last season, the Reds' Eugenio Suarez (with the Tigers) was +5 DRS and the Mets' Asdrubal Cabrera was +1 DRS. The Astros won the World Series with a converted shortstop (Alex Bregman) at third base.
The combination of Simmons and Cozart gives manager Mike Scioscia one of the strongest left sides in the game, which fits right in with the theme. Kinsler didn't have a great year at the plate last season (a career-low .725 OPS even though he hit 22 home runs) but was one of the game's best defensive second basemen, using his hands and his experience to make highlight-reel plays on a regular basis.
With catcher Martin Maldonado, Simmons, Kinsler and Trout, the Angels are about as strong as you can be up the middle. Cozart makes this an excellent infield (although that could be tested if the Ohtani signing pushes Jose Pujols onto the field for more than the six games he played at first last season).
Cozart was a tease throughout his stay in Cincinnati, and he leaves there in a way that's unproductive for the Reds. Because few teams were looking to upgrade at shortstop last summer, general manager Dick Williams held onto Cozart even though he was using a three-for-two time share between second base and shortstop with Cozart, Scooter Gennett and Jose Peraza.
While Cozart had a breakout season at the plate (.297/.385/.548 with 24 home runs), the Reds didn't make him a qualifying offer. Mike Moustakas might have created more of a buzz, but Cozart fills the need nicely and leaves more resources to pursue pitching upgrades.
A couple weeks ago, Angels assistant general manager Steve Martone told MLB Network Radio that the Angels weren't prioritizing the addition of a third baseman because they expected a bounce-back season from Luis Valbuena. He struggled in the first season of a two-year deal, hitting .199 with 22 homers and a .727 OPS.
Valbuena could be a big part of the Angels' success next season. He drove the ball better in the second half of the season than just about any time of his career, and his left-handed bat and versatility will play a huge role given that Kole Calhoun is the only left-handed-hitting regular.
With Ohtani, Trout and Simmons on the same roster, the Angels were going to be a blast to watch. The addition of Cozart and Kinsler just might give fans a chance to watch them in October.
They're not one of the super teams yet. But thanks to everything Eppler has had his hands in, they're one of the super interesting teams, for sure.