Angels weigh options in deep position-player pool
Free-agent market quiet after Day 1 of Winter Meetings
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Angels general manager Billy Eppler insisted he wasn't waiting around, even though his quintessential market remained dormant. While starting pitchers continued to fly off the board as the 2015 Winter Meetings got underway, the position-player side of the free-agent pool remained at a standstill as of late Monday, the premiere bats engaged in something resembling an intense, expensive staring competition.
"I don't have a theory," Eppler said when asked about the inactivity for free-agent position players. "Usually one domino falls, and teams tend to gravitate and run toward that specific position. That's what I would attribute it to."
That domino is perceived to be Ben Zobrist, who can start at second base and both outfield corners and may be close to choosing his next team.
The Angels haven't been linked to Zobrist -- FOXSports.com identified the Mets, Nats and Giants as suitors -- but would be interested in the others affected by his market. That includes the likes of Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, Chris Davis and Yoenis Cespedes, who's believed to be the Angels' ideal choice.
"I'm not waiting on one particular thing, one particular position," Eppler stressed from his room from the Opryland Hotel. "Just looking at baseball moves that can make us better, regardless of the position."
Heyward, Gordon, Upton, Davis and Cespedes are all expected to garner contracts with average annual values of at least $20 million, which is roughly how far the Angels sit below the $189 luxury-tax threshold. To sign one of those players and also upgrade at second and third base, one of two things seemingly have to happen: owner Arte Moreno consents to exceeding the tax, or another team takes on a chunk of C.J. Wilson's contract.
The latter could be opening up as a possibility.
With David Price, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija and Hisashi Iwakuma off the board, several clubs are exploring the trade route for their starting-pitching needs. Teams seeking a rental with a proven track record, one who could yield a first-round Draft pick by rejecting a qualifying offer at season's end, could be swayed to take on a significant amount of the $20 million owed to Wilson in 2016.
The Yankees need help in the rotation, and the Pirates would like a rental (though the money may be a deterrent with Pittsburgh). The Orioles and D-backs could also be fits. And the Padres would love a left-handed starter.
One ideal match could be the Cardinals, who have a void in the rotation with Lance Lynn spending the 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. After missing out on Price, the Cardinals don't seem interested in giving a free-agent pitcher a long-term deal. They prefer the kind of short-term answer Wilson may provide.
Eppler reiterated that he'd "prefer to not" trade from his starting-pitching depth, adding that "there's some element of that where you're robbing Peter to pay Paul." But Wilson could be an exception, because the savings on his contract -- and perhaps the player he could bring in return, if the Angels absorb a significant amount of his 2016 salary -- could be crucial.
Then there's Trevor Gott, the young, hard-throwing reliever who could help plug one of the Angels' holes.
The A's are expected to trade Brett Lawrie, a right-handed power hitter who can play second or third base, and would like some pitching in return, be it for the rotation or the bullpen. The Phillies could part with left-handed hitter Cody Asche, who plays left field and third base, for a reliever. The Nats would like to trade Yunel Escobar, a versatile infielder coming off a strong offensive season, and also seek bullpen help.
And there's still the possibility -- albeit a slim one -- that the Twins part with right-handed-hitting third baseman Trevor Plouffe to help fill a void in the back end of their bullpen.
Eppler said he has also considered trades for short-term solutions in the outfield, which could include Jay Bruce of the Reds ($12.5 million in 2016, with a club option for 2017) and Josh Reddick of the A's (a year away from free agency). But he'll probably have to be willing to part with young pitching.
"Pitching is the deepest, whether it's starting or relieving," Eppler said, assessing his own organization. "If you're talking about a trade, it's most likely going to involve something from the deepest part of your organizations."