During the 2011 and 2012 off-seasons, the Angels committed nearly $500 million to major league free agents. In the three subsequent off-seasons, they guaranteed less than $30 million to free agents.
The winter of 2016 may prove to include more of the same relative frugality. The franchise's owner, Arte Moreno, has declined to answer questions from The Times throughout the year; his last comments in December 2015 said his decision to not sign a premier free agent "really gets down to economics."
Since the Angels' season ended in disappointment five weeks ago, General Manager Billy Eppler has taken every precaution to avoid revealing how much Moreno is willing to spend this off-season.
"If we had a set budget," he said last month, "I would not disclose that we had a set budget."
The Angels did agree to give $9 million to Cameron Maybin to play left field next year. They intend to contend, and their offense could be above-average even without further expenditures.
But hints continue to emerge that they will have to pursue the playoffs under significant budgetary constraints. On Wednesday, one surfaced when Eppler revealed the team plans to try out journeyman reliever J.C. Ramirez as a starter in spring training.
They need another starting pitcher or two or three, and they are willing to explore unconventional avenues to unearth those. The select few available as free agents will cost more than normal because there are so few.
In three months as an Angel, Ramirez appeared in 43 games and recorded a 2.91 earned-run average. He throws hard, and Eppler said the organization came to appreciate his control of the strike zone.
"We'll see," Eppler said. "He's durable, there's not a huge depth of starting pitchers accessible, and I'm curious to see what it looks like."
Ramirez expressed immediate interest when Eppler broached the subject; he has already started training in preparation in his native Nicaragua. The 28-year-old right-hander told a newspaper there this week the team told him his move is connected to the free-agent market.
"They explained to me that the Angels do not plan to do big contracts for the upcoming season, especially to fill the final two starting spots," Ramirez said in Spanish to Hoy. "In any case, they told me that the position in the bullpen is there for me, but their intention is to see me as a starter."
If what the pitcher described is true, the Angels will be forced to seek improvement via the trade market. Their inventory of minor league talent to trade is severely limited, which does not bode well for their 2017 chances.
Eppler said he had no comment on Ramirez's claim.
The Angels re-signed right-hander Andrew Bailey to a one-year, $1-million contract Wednesday, with additional incentives available to the 32-year-old former rookie of the year who will compete to fill the club's closer role.
Bailey appeared in 12 games for the Angels in September, logging six saves while recording a 2.38 ERA. His hometown Philadelphia Phillies had released him Aug. 6, and Eppler reached out to him a week later. They knew each other from shared time with the New York Yankees.
Bailey developed a desirable reputation within the industry for his resilience when he recovered from a full shoulder reconstruction.
"He's a guy that can pitch in a number of roles and obviously garnered some saves for us," Eppler said. "He attacks the strike zone, with no fear in him. He's resilient, a big-time fighter, with big-time character."
After agreeing to a minor league contract, Bailey pitched his way up from triple A, then was entrusted with the closer's role. At the time, Huston Street and Cam Bedrosian were injured. Bailey, Street and Bedrosian are the current contenders to close in 2017.
"Options are a good thing," Eppler said.
To make room for Bailey on the 40-man roster, the Angels designated for assignment outfielder Shane Robinson. Robinson, 32, hit .173 in 98 at-bats last season. … Jered Weaver's agent, Scott Boras, said he expects a robust market for his 34-year-old client. "He's had a great deal of success," he said. "I think in the starting pitcher market, he will have a value and a place for a number of teams." … Mike Trout lost to Jose Altuve for most outstanding player in the American League, an MLB Players' Assn. award voted on by the players.