The Angels lost 88 times this year and have committed only about $15 million to new acquisitions this off-season, but they do not have many traditional holes to fill in the two months that remain until spring training begins.
They have starting pitchers they favor for next season's starting rotation; those men just have to remain healthy, which they could not last season. They possess three pitchers who could conceivably compose the back end of their bullpen; those men also have to remain healthy, which they could not last season. Eight of their nine lineup spots seem set; those men just have to remain healthy, which they could not totally do last season.
So, Angels executives will arrive in Washington, D.C., on Sunday hoping mostly to tweak the roster further during baseball's annual winter meetings. As competing executives consider the circumstances and wonder why the team does not opt to either rebuild or go big, the club continues to operate in the traditionally avoided terrain known as the middle ground.
When General Manager Billy Eppler exited last month's general manager meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., he said he was happy to have improved the team while there. The club made just two transactions during those meetings, guaranteeing $1 million to Andrew Bailey and signing another journeyman reliever, Justin Miller, to a minor league deal. Earlier this off-season, they traded for left fielder Cameron Maybin.
Because the contracts of Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson expired, the Angels can commit roughly $30 million to next season's payroll before the adjusted luxury tax would apply, at $195 million, and they'd be subject to penalties under the sport's new collective bargaining agreement. They'll have room to safely spend more once Josh Hamilton's money is off their ledger in one year.
More than a dozen free agents figured to command $50-million-plus contracts from the 30 major league teams this off-season. Two already have: Yoenis Cespedes, returning to the New York Mets, and ex-Dodger Josh Reddick, who signed with Houston. But, if recent history is to be heeded, it's likely that none of the subsequent signings will become Angels.
They have only one obvious gap to fill — at second base — and probably will require more reinforcements to contend next year. If they deem the price to be right, they will add another established catcher to join their 26-year-old duo, a couple of pitchers, a fourth or fifth outfielder. But the only certainty is that they will acquire a second baseman, whether via trade or free agency.
In the latter market, the options are obvious and meager: Chase Utley, Stephen Drew, Chris Coghlan, Kelly Johnson. All four happen to bat left-handed, a feature the Angels will value highly because of their right-handed-dominant lineup.
Via trade, there are more possibilities, many already discussed within the organization. Philadelphia's Cesar Hernandez and Miami's Derek Dietrich are two.
Catchers Matt Wieters and Wilson Ramos are available, too, if the Angels seek to add experience there. A host of starting pitchers could be available on one-year deals, Colby Lewis, Doug Fister, Jorge De La Rosa, Rubby De La Rosa and Brett Anderson among them.
One-year contracts make sense because two Angels starters should return for the 2018 season after ligament replacement surgery. They offer less risk but also less certainty.
"Short-term is attractive because it continues to offer flexibility," Eppler said earlier this off-season. "But mid-term or longer-term is good if the overall average annual value is attractive. That still has value."
Albert Pujols' surprise surgery Friday will leave his status for opening day in doubt for at least the next three months. But Eppler said that will not change the club's off-season plans.
In recent days, the Angels signed outfielder Ryan LaMarre to a major league contract, for depth, and made a number of similar acquisitions, a trade for right-hander Brooks Pounders among them.
Eppler said it is like "buying cover." He always wants to add depth. He and the team's other executives do not want to rule out bigger acquisitions, and they'll certainly never say so publicly. But it seems fair to peg the team in insurance-acquisition mode.