ANAHEIM -- It's less than a month before Angels pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, as the club announced the official report date at Tempe Diablo Stadium is Feb. 12.But with yet another slow-moving free-agent market, the Angels could still improve their roster before heading into camp, as relief
ANAHEIM -- It's less than a month before Angels pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, as the club announced the official report date at Tempe Diablo Stadium is Feb. 12.
But with yet another slow-moving free-agent market, the Angels could still improve their roster before heading into camp, as relief help remains a priority, even after trading for Twins reliever John Curtiss, who is now the club's No. 27 prospect per MLB Pipeline. There have been rumors circulating about Manny Machado and Bryce Harper getting closer to signing over the last week, so let's start there with this week's Angels Inbox.
At this point, it would be very shocking if the Angels were a "mystery team" for Harper or Machado. The Angels are much more likely to try to use their resources to sign Trout to a mega-extension before his current contract is up after the 2020 season. It would be hard to imagine the Angels being able to sign Harper or Machado and then also having the payroll flexibility to retain Trout. And while Harper and Machado are elite players, neither come close to matching Trout's production, as he's been by far the best player in the Majors since his rookie season. (Trout has produced 64 Wins Above Replacement since '12 and the second-highest total in that span among position players is Josh Donaldson with 36.8.)
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Angels general manager Billy Eppler, however, has been mum on the status of possibly extending Trout, as he declined to comment when asked about it during the Winter Meetings. But it's clear it remains the top priority for the franchise to keep Trout.
It's certainly within the realm of possibility, but the key with Skaggs, as always, is his health. He set career highs last year in starts (24) and innings (125 1/3), but if he wants to be considered a top-of-the-rotation starter, he needs to get closer to 30-34 starts and roughly 200 innings. The stuff and command is there, as he struck out 129 and walked 40 batters last year en route to a 4.02 ERA.
He was also much better when healthy in the first half of last season, as he had a 2.57 ERA in 17 outings with 105 strikeouts, 28 walks and eight homers allowed in 98 innings. Those are ace-like numbers, so the now the key is being durable enough to do it for a full season. He made just seven starts in the second half with a 9.22 ERA and six homers served up in 27 1/3 frames. He also has more success when he keeps the ball on the ground, as he had a 47.9 percent groundball rate in the first half, but only a 33.7 percent rate in the second half.
The Angels are obviously hoping for better results from Jose Pujols after he underwent season-ending surgery on his left knee in August. The hope is that with better health, he'll improve his production, but over the past two seasons, he's combined to slash .243/.287/.397 with 42 homers and 165 RBIs in 266 games.
Manager Brad Ausmus said at the Winter Meetings that production will be the key to keeping Pujols in the lineup, so he still has something to prove. The Angels also signed first baseman Justin Bour to a one-year deal and Shohei Ohtani is expected to be the club's regular designated hitter once he returns from Tommy John surgery early in the season. Pujols, who turned 39 on Wednesday, could be used as a platoon partner for the left-handed hitting Bour but it's hard to see him playing every day with the way the roster is currently constructed.
Ausmus will have some options with his leadoff hitter, as he stated that he plans to hit Trout second in the lineup. Zack Cozart seems like the most likely option, as he opened last year in that spot before suffering his season-ending labrum tear to his left shoulder. Andrelton Simmons only led off once last year, so it doesn't seem likely, while David Fletcher hit first 16 times. Kole Calhoun could also be considered after leading the club with 64 leadoff appearances last year, but he has to prove that he can carry over his production from the second half of last year after his slow start.
Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.