Angels make acquisitions with eyes on the future

The Angels are younger, deeper, cheaper and more athletic than they were at the end of the 2014 season

Jerry Dipoto has heard the criticism of the Angels, that they're getting old, that they're suffocating under the weight of their massive, long-term contracts, that they better win a championship soon, or else.

"That's been the public commentary, the general vibe, that we're a very good team with the ability to compete for a World Series, but our window is not long," the Angels general manager said as he left the winter meetings Thursday. "That is not lost on us. We're trying to figure out how to extend our window for winning."

The Angels have done just that with their late-night trade of veteran second baseman Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers for highly touted young pitcher Andrew Heaney.

The Angels are younger, deeper, cheaper and more athletic than they were at the end of the 2014 season, when they went 98-64 and were swept by Kansas City in the first round of the playoffs.

And Dipoto has assembled enough young starting pitchers that should enable the Angels to remain competitive and retain financial flexibility through the end of the decade.

"The goal is to get younger, better, more cost-effective, to put yourself in a position to sustain winning," Dipoto said. "It's not to get a bunch of guys that everybody has heard of all the time and run them out there and let it flame out.

"Our main focus is to win as many games as we can next year, but our duty, as custodians of the organization, is to make sure it lasts."

To do that, the Angels need to acquire and develop strong young players whose low salaries offset those of first baseman Albert Pujols, who has seven years and $189 million remaining on his contract, left fielder Josh Hamilton (three years, $83 million), center fielder Mike Trout (six years, $144.5 million) and pitchers Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson (two years, $38 million each).

Remember that 2013 rotation of Weaver (age 30), Wilson (32), Jason Vargas (30) and the fading Joe Blanton (32) and Tommy Hanson (26)? The Angels spent $46 million on that group, with journeyman Jerome Williams (31) and then-unproven rookie Garrett Richards (25) in reserve.

Weaver and Wilson will each make $18 million in 2015, but the rotation will feature breakout stars Richards, who is projected to make $4 million in his first year of arbitration, and Matt Shoemaker, 28, who will make about $700,000 and is three years from arbitration.

Heaney, the 23-year-old left-hander who was Miami's top prospect, is expected to win the fifth spot and make the major league minimum of $500,000.

The Angels will have left-hander Hector Santiago, 27, and right-hander Nick Tropeano, 24, who they acquired from Houston for catcher Hank Conger in November, in reserve.

The rotation could get younger in 2016 when Tyler Skaggs, 23, returns from elbow surgery and Sean Newcomb, 21, a 2014 first-round pick who has been compared to Jon Lester, challenges for a spot.

With a strong stable of young pitchers, the Angels could let Weaver and Wilson go after 2016 and have a competitive rotation for about $25 million in 2017.

Two core offensive players, outfielders Trout (23) and Kole Calhoun (27), are young, as are the players who will compete for the second-base job, Grant Green (27) and Josh Rutledge (25), who was acquired from Colorado on Wednesday night.

The biggest holes in the lineup are the cleanup spot and second base. The Angels trimmed $9 million by trading Kendrick, and they're now about $15 million below the $189-million luxury tax threshold. But Kendrick, a .293 hitter over nine seasons, is also a durable line-drive machine who will be missed.

Bounce-back seasons from Hamilton and third baseman David Freese would help. The Angels want to re-sign free agent Gordon Beckham, who would compete for the second-base job, and they picked up utility infielder Taylor Featherston in Thursday's Rule 5 draft.

The Angels led the American League in runs last season, but with a solid rotation and a deep bullpen, they could be more of a run-prevention than a run-production team in 2015.

The savings from the Kendrick trade will fuel speculation that the Angels will pursue a high-priced ace such as Max Scherzer or James Shields, but that wouldn't fit into Dipoto's current plan.

"We're not in a rush to spend in the free-agent market — we're trying to build a quality product for a long period of time, and this is how you do it," Dipoto said. "If we've made our last move of the off-season, we'll be perfectly fine with that."

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