The Angels on Monday took a significant step toward clearing room in their budget for a splashy addition to the roster: They bought out for $1 million the $14-million option on the contract of outfielder Kole Calhoun.
Calhoun, 32, made his major league debut with the Angels in 2012. Once promoted for good, he established himself as one of the top outfielder defenders in the league. His 58 assists tied for the 11th-most among all outfielders since his arrival. He is a multiple Gold Glove finalist, and won the award in 2015.
A string of streaky performances at the plate made retaining Calhoun untenable.
So did owner Arte Moreno’s desire to field a contending team after four straight losing seasons. He brought in a proven winner in manager Joe Maddon and committed to increasing the payroll beyond its typical range of $170 to $175 million. The Angels this winter will attempt to sign a top starting pitcher. Among their likeliest targets is Cy Young Award finalist and Orange County native Gerrit Cole; he is expected to sign a long-term contract worth more than $30 million a year.
Shedding Calhoun’s salary gives Angels general manager Billy Eppler more room to operate and bolster a rotation that finished with the second-worst earned-run average (5.64) in baseball. Their options aren’t limited to those on the open market. The Angels will certainly entertain bartering their own pieces for upgrades, as long as those pitchers have multiple years of control remaining on their contracts.
Of course, there is a slight chance the Angels decide to bring Calhoun back at a lower rate.
But the Angels are well positioned to move on from Calhoun, who was second on the team to Mike Trout with a career-high 33 home runs and sixth with a .792 OPS but batted .232 with a team-high 162 strikeouts. Their top prospect, Jo Adell, is a step away at triple A. Adell, 20, could be ready to join the Angels outfield at some point in 2020, if not right out of spring training. Until Adell is ready, the Angels can rely on Brian Goodwin, who proved himself a reliable starting outfielder during Justin Upton’s injury absence in 2019.
Both are inexpensive options.
Calhoun, an eighth-round pick of the Angels in 2010, seemed prepared for his departure by the end of the season. After a loss in the final game, he stood in front of his Angel Stadium locker and reminisced on his decade with the franchise, calling it “a hell of a ride.”
“Each at-bat, I was thinking, ‘This could be the last one, this could be the last one,’” he said. “You definitely think about it. You are not human if the thought doesn’t cross your mind that this could be it. Even driving here this morning. Walking away from here today could be the last time.