A trio of free-agent sluggers, any one of whom could transform the Angels' lineup from decent to potentially potent, remain available just five weeks before the start of spring training, a surprising development considering the caliber of those players — Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Chris Davis.
But the Angels, who have a pressing need for an upgrade in left field, don’t appear any closer to acquiring any of the three than they were the day after the World Series ended in early November.
Owner Arte Moreno, his 2016 payroll pushing up against the $189-million luxury tax threshold, said on Dec. 16 that the Angels “are probably going to be out” on the group of high-priced players that at the time included Alex Gordon, who subsequently signed a four-year, $72-million deal with Kansas City.
A month later, there is no indication Moreno has changed his mind.
“We talk about players who are still available in free agency or who might be available in trades,” General Manager Billy Eppler said of his communication with Moreno. “We have our conversations, and that’s it. We’re discussing all of our options all of the time.”
Asked whether the Angels are in the mix for Cespedes, Upton or Davis, a first baseman who has outfield experience, Eppler said, “I’m not going to say.”
Davis, who hit .262 with an American League-leading 47 homers and 117 runs batted in for Baltimore last season, reportedly turned down a seven-year, $154-million offer from the Orioles but is still being pursued by them.
Upton, who has a career .352 on-base percentage and has averaged 26 homers and 81 RBIs for five seasons, and Cespedes, who hit .287 with 17 homers and 44 RBIs in 59 games for the New York Mets after being traded from Detroit last July, are both seeking multiyear deals of at least $20 million a year.
It would stand to reason that the closer the players get to spring training, the more likely their prices would drop, but not enough to fall into the Angels’ lap. The team is about $5 million within the luxury tax threshold, and Moreno has not shown a willingness to exceed it.
Colorado’s signing of Gerardo Parra to a three-year, $27.5-million deal on Tuesday created a glut of left-handed-hitting outfielders for the Rockies, who also have slugger Carlos Gonzalez, who has two years and $37 million left on his contract, and Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson, who could fit into the Angels’ budget.
But the Angels, according to a person familiar with their thinking, have not had substantive trade conversations with the Rockies about their outfielders.
The Angels, who were eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the season in October, produced a major league-worst .592 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, nine homers and 51 RBIs from the left-field position last season.
If the season started today, they would have a left-field platoon of Craig Gentry, a career reserve, and Daniel Nava, who spent more time in triple-A than the big leagues last season.
But they also have the game’s best all-around player in center fielder Mike Trout, who hit .299 with 41 homers and 90 RBIs last season, a slugging first baseman in Albert Pujols (40 homers, 95 RBIs) and a right-field force in Kole Calhoun (26 homers, 83 RBIs).
Their new shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, acquired from Atlanta in November, might be the best all-around defensive player in baseball. Their new third baseman, Yunel Escobar, acquired from Washington in December, has a career .350 OBP that should be a nice fit at the top of the order.
Eppler has said throughout the winter that he will always look to improve the club, but if this is the team the Angels take to spring training, would he be satisfied with it?
“Of course,” he said. “There are a lot of pieces on this team that were there last year until Game 162 scratching, clawing and fighting to keep themselves in it and were on the doorstep of a playoff appearance. Bringing a large part of that population back … yeah, of course I feel comfortable with that group.”