Asked whether the Angels were looking to add an ace-caliber pitcher to their rotation, Billy Eppler responded with a question.
“What’s an ace?” the rookie general manager said.
Someone like Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez or David Price.
“How many are there?” Eppler said.
Pointing to Garrett Richards, Eppler said, “I think we have one of those 15.”
The 27-year-old Richards was 15-12 with a 3.65 earned-run average this year in a career-high 32 starts. Last year, he was 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA.
“He’s been able to shut down lineups,” Eppler said at the general managers meetings. “As he grows more, he will probably be able to do that more regularly. There is no doubt that ability exists.”
Free-agent starting pitchers such as Price and Zack Greinke are expected to sign contracts with average annual salaries of $25 million to $30 million. That’s about how much the Angels are below the luxury-tax threshold, which owner Arte Moreno has been reluctant to exceed in recent years.
If the Angels decide they will count on Richards to anchor their rotation, they will be able to allocate resources to other needs.
The team remains in search of a left fielder and third baseman. They may also be looking to upgrade at catcher and second base.
What the Angels have is starting pitching that could go as far as eight deep with Richards, C.J. Wilson, Andrew Heaney, Hector Santiago, Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, Nick Tropeano and Tyler Skaggs.
Eppler said his preference would be to not trade from that group to fill one of the lineup holes.
“Ideally, I’m not robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said. “Ideally,” he added for emphasis.
Eppler said he has spoken to third baseman David Freese’s agent.
The Angels didn’t extend a qualifying offer to Freese, a free agent who batted .257 with 14 home runs and 56 runs batted in for them this year. The qualifying offer was the equivalent of a one-year contract for $15.8 million.
“We’re just having good dialogue,” Eppler said. “That’s all I can really offer right now.”
Eppler acknowledged he would like to add an offensive threat, perhaps in left field.
But what if he can find an accomplished hitter in center field? Would he move Mike Trout?
“He’s our center fielder,” Eppler said of Trout.
Asked whether he is specifically looking for an offensive reinforcement who bats left-handed, Eppler replied, “That’s going to be such a secondary consideration, the handedness.”
Johnny Giavotella was the team’s primary second baseman this year, starting 124 games. He batted .272 with four home runs and 49 runs batted in.
“He has the potential to be an everyday second baseman,” Eppler said.
Nonetheless, Eppler said he would like to add middle infielders to the roster.
“We’re definitely looking to improve the middle-infield, premium-position area,” he said. “A very loose theory is the more guys we can find in the middle of the diamond, if they play their way off of that, it’s fine. But we’re gravitating towards that level of athleticism and the defensive ability that usually comes with that.”