The Angels on Tuesday traded veteran infielder Zack Cozart and 2019 first-round draft pick Will Wilson to the San Francisco Giants for cash or a player to be named, clearing space on the payroll and roster as their negotiations heat up at baseball’s winter meetings.
Cozart, who dealt with left shoulder subluxation and inflammation and neck strain during his tenure in Anaheim, is owed about $12.6 million in the final year of his three-year, $38-million contract. The Giants will pay that balance.
The deal gives the Angels room to pursue top-flight players — they missed on starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, who agreed to a historic contract with the New York Yankees Tuesday night — who can vault the team toward contention.
“We are exploring a lot of things in the trade market as well as the free agent market,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “When you wanna entertain a lot of different [roster] permutations, having more resources available is a little bit more fun.”
What could those permutations be? The Angels have expressed interest in former Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, said a person close to the negotiations who is not authorized to publicly comment and requested anonymity. They had already met with Cole, who agreed to nine years, $324 million. Additionally, the Angels sat down Tuesday with agent Scott Boras, who represents Rendon and free agent starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The plethora of options on the trading block and in free agency inspired the Angels to cut bait with Cozart. The 34-year-old signed with the Angels as a free agent prior to the 2018 campaign but appeared in only 96 games in two seasons because of injuries. He hit .190 with five home runs and 25 RBIs.
Wilson, 21, was a vehicle for the Angels to unload Cozart’s contract. Wilson was drafted 15th overall out of North Carolina State and signed for $3.4 million. He appeared in 46 games with Class-A Orem in the Pioneer League, and batted .275 with 10 doubles, three triples, five home runs and 18 RBIs while splitting time between shortstop and second base. During the spring, he batted .335 with 16 home runs in 258 plate appearances for North Carolina State.
Eppler said it was difficult to part ways with Wilson because the Angels didn’t have enough time with him to project his impact. But Eppler thinks the Angels, who have promising talent at the lower levels of the minor leagues, can absorb the loss.
Cozart was expendable because the Angels have three players who are more affordable that can play second and third base. David Fletcher, a Gold Glove nominee at third base, and Luis Rengifo made league-minimum salaries last year. La Stella, a first-time all-star, earned $1.35 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility.
Eppler created enough payroll flexibility to potentially add multiple contracts worth more than $20 million in average annual value. He did not specify how far he could go.
Eppler has never operated with such freedom in Anaheim because he was tasked with rebuilding the farm system, an objective made difficult by owner Arte Moreno’s refusal to allow the team to tank.
Heading into the final year of Eppler’s contract, Moreno green-lighted an overhaul. Eppler can get creative to shore up the Angels’ deficiencies in the rotation and at the plate.
“I think now it’s probably fair to say the balance is gonna shift a little bit more towards, ‘What else can we do for this major league club?’” Eppler said.
Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger were named to the first All-MLB team chosen by fans and a panel of experts. Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu made the second team.