Pitching, catching may be priorities at Meetings
Angels general manager Billy Eppler and his staff will soon head to Las Vegas for the 2018 Winter Meetings, which will run through Thursday at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. Hot Stove activity tends to intensify once the baseball community converges for this annual event, making it a ripe opportunity for the Angels to address their roster needs.
So far, the Angels' offseason acquisitions have been relatively minor. They claimed right-hander Austin Brice and catcher Kevan Smith off waivers, traded for left-hander Dillon Peters and infielder Thomas La Stella and signed outfielder Peter Bourjos and catcher Dustin Garneau to Minor League deals.
The Angels' more notable transactions have revolved around players they decided not to retain, including right-handers Matthew Shoemaker and Richard Parker, who were not tendered contracts last week.
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But splashier moves could be on the horizon for the Angels, who will be looking to retool their roster after missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Eppler was certainly active at last year's Winter Meetings in Orlando, acquiring Ian Kinsler from the Tigers and laying the groundwork for Zack Cozart's three-year, $38 million contract.
New manager Brad Ausmus is also expected to hold court with reporters and address questions about the club's outlook for the 2019 season.
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Here's a rundown of where the Angels stand as they head into the Winter Meetings.
Club needs: The Angels' most pressing need is pitching, so they'll be in the market for both starters and relievers this winter. Durability will be a trait the Angels will prioritize, as they've been burned by too many pitching injuries the past few years. They also could pursue an upgrade at catcher, a position where the club currently does not have a lot of experienced options.
Whom might they trade? The Angels have reportedly made right fielder Kole Calhoun available, so he could potentially be moved if the club is looking to clear payroll for other needs. With top prospect Jo Adell waiting in the wings, the Angels could afford to part with Calhoun, though they might be selling low given his extreme 2018 campaign. After batting only .145 with a .374 OPS and one home run over his first 50 games of the year, Calhoun altered his batting stance and enjoyed a remarkable turnaround after returning from the disabled list in June, hitting .242 with an .800 OPS and 18 home runs over his final 87 games.
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Calhoun is owed $10.5 million in 2019 and also has a $1 million buyout on his $14 million team option for 2020.
Prospects to know: The Angels have worked hard to rebuild their farm system under Eppler, so they'll likely be unwilling to trade any of their top prospects, including Adell, Griffin Canning and Brandon Marsh. They might be more willing to deal No. 5 prospect Matt Thaiss, with the Angels expecting to have Jose Pujols, La Stella and Jared Walsh as options at first base next year.
Rule 5 Draft: The Angels' 40-man roster currently stands at 38, so they have room to add a player during the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, which will be held on Thursday. Last year, the Angels selected Luke Bard from the Twins, though he made only eight appearances for them before being returned to Minnesota. Jose Suarez, Luis Rengifo and Luis Madero were the only Angels prospects to be added to the 40-man roster last month, making them ineligible for the Rule 5 Draft.
Of the prospects who were left unprotected, Luis Pena could be the most at risk of being taken by another team during the Rule 5 Draft. Pena, a 23-year-old right-hander who is ranked the club's No. 18 prospect, logged a 4.85 ERA over 105 2/3 innings in 23 starts between Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Salt Lake in 2018.
Payroll summary: The Angels have $116.25 million committed to six players who have guaranteed contracts for 2019: Michael Trout ($34.083 million), Pujols ($28 million), Justin Upton ($18 million), Andrelton Simmons ($13 million), Cozart ($12.667 million), and Calhoun ($10.5 million). Their eight arbitration-eligible players -- Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, JC Ramirez, Luis Garcia, Cam Bedrosian, Nick Tropeano, Hansel Robles and La Stella -- are projected to make a combined $15.9 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors, bringing their total commitments to $132.15 million.
The club's Opening Day payroll has hovered around $165 million in each of the past three seasons, so the Angels will have somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million to spend if they want to maintain that level in 2019.