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Espinosa sees health, depth as Angels' keys

Special to MLB.com

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Even watching from afar, second baseman Danny Espinosa knew the Angels were better than the 74 wins they compiled last season.

The issue, he said, wasn't with the players the Angels could put on the field. Too often, it was the ones they couldn't.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Even watching from afar, second baseman Danny Espinosa knew the Angels were better than the 74 wins they compiled last season.

The issue, he said, wasn't with the players the Angels could put on the field. Too often, it was the ones they couldn't.

"I don't think that it's been a lack of talent here," said Espinosa, who was acquired this offseason from Washington. "It's just been injury."

The Angels, despite having established stars such as Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Kole Calhoun, lacked depth to make up for a wave of injuries.

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The Angels' Opening Day payroll ranked seventh-highest in the Majors last season, largely due to money owed to Pujols, former outfielder Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson, who didn't pitch at all in 2016. However, the Angels' farm system was considered the worst in baseball by a consensus of scouting sites, including MLB Pipeline.

So general manager Billy Eppler got to work at last season's Trade Deadline, when he dealt left-handed starter Hector Santiago to the Twins, absorbing the salary of right-hander Ricky Nolasco and acquiring pitching prospect Alex Meyer. And Eppler has continued to add depth and bolster the farm system without breaking the budget.

Meyer, injured at the time of last season's trade, was caught off-guard.

"Since I was on the disabled list, I didn't even know I could be traded, to be honest with you," Meyer said. "When I got a call, especially so close to the Deadline, I was surprised. This is a fresh start, somewhere new."

Video: Top Prospects: Alex Meyer, RHP, Angels

Even with right-hander Garrett Richards returning from injury this season, Meyer should have an opportunity to crack the rotation. Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano are each expected to miss the season as they recover from Tommy John surgery. Jered Weaver signed with the Padres.

That cracks the door for Meyer, Nolasco, Manny Banuelos, Daniel Wright and offseason additions such as Bud Norris, John Lamb and Yusmeiro Petit. Suddenly, there is depth that was missing last season.

"There's a lot of experienced people in here battling for a spot, and that's a good thing," Meyer said. "The general manager set up the team to where there's a lot of options to choose from."

Eppler's biggest splashes came this offseason, landing Espinosa and outfielder Cameron Maybin in a pair of trades that cost the Angels just a trio of pitching prospects. They also added some vital depth in Luis Valbuena and Ben Revere on short-term deals.

It also provided a homecoming for Espinosa, a native of Santa Ana, Calif., who will form one of baseball's top double-play combos with Andrelton Simmons.

"It was perfect," Espinosa said. "To get out of Washington and go back to where I grew up and come to a team that's going to contend? You couldn't ask for anything more."

There appears to be real value in some of Eppler's acquisitions in his short time as general manager. The additions of Espinosa, Maybin, Revere, Valbuena, Nolasco, Meyer and Martin Maldonado combined to post 7.3 Wins Above Replacement last season, according to Baseball Reference.

Those who departed -- Santiago, Joe Smith, Daniel Nava, Fernando Salas, Geovany Soto, Wilson, Tim Lincecum, Jhoulys Chacin, Weaver and Jett Bandy -- combined for 0.6 WAR.

With new talent and fresh depth, Espinosa is confident the Angels will make a run at the postseason.

"The talent here is awesome, and some of the acquisitions this team has made for pitching and offense, defense will help this team," he said. "If we stay healthy, we have a real opportunity to win our division."

Fabian Ardaya is a senior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Los Angeles Angels, Danny Espinosa