The Angels' front-office contingent will arrive at this week's general managers meetings in Orlando, Fla., with one clear and present need: a second baseman. There are more additions they would prefer to make, but in the 90 days before spring training starts, the closest thing to a certainty is that they will acquire someone to play second base.
The position has been a problem for the club since December 2014, when former general manager Jerry Dipoto dealt mainstay Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers. The subsequent spring, three undistinguished men competed for the starting job. The organization has patched it together ever since, including in September, when veteran Brandon Phillips filled it sub-optimally.
He's a free agent now. On the organization's current depth chart, the top second baseman is one-time top prospect Kaleb Cowart, who has played 94 professional games there. The next man is David Fletcher, a 2015 draftee who has played 87 professional games there.
As always, GM Billy Eppler will explore every available route to a fix. Only one sturdy second baseman is available on the free-agent market: 32-year-old Neil Walker, who offers patience at the plate and power but below-average defense. Kendrick is a free agent, but hardly played the position in 2016 and 2017. Chase Utley is a free agent, but he will turn 39 next month.
A trade is possible. The Angels have filled infield vacancies in each of the last two seasons via deals with Washington, and they extensively examined Philadelphia's Cesar Hernandez this season. One report also pegged them as interested in Miami's Dee Gordon, the ex-Dodger.
The Angels will have someone new starting at second base March 29, 2018. They just don't yet know who.
Unlike at second base, the free-agent market is relatively deep in starting pitching. Eppler has said offense is his priority, but the Angels could pounce on a veteran pitcher if they deem him undervalued by the league's other 29 teams. Perhaps left-handers CC Sabathia or Jaime Garcia, who each ended the season with the New York Yankees, will be among those. The Angels need dependability, as they'll enter next season with plenty of starting candidates, but not one with a proven track record.
Also on the ideal list is further bullpen help and a third or first baseman. Luis Valbuena's presence provides Angels flexibility, but they hope to add additional cover at one of the infield positions. If they find a full-time third baseman, Valbuena can platoon at first base with C.J. Cron. If they find a full-time first baseman, they can trade Cron and piece together their third base coverage around Valbuena.
In Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, the Kansas City Royals have supplied the market's most prominent free agents at both of those positions. Both are represented by Scott Boras, the sport's preeminent agent. Expect the Angels to be connected to each.
Signing one is a possibility. Given the Angels' likely $165-million budget and their current outlay around $130 million, signing two is not.