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Angels GM Billy Eppler prefers not to trade away pitchers

Angels GM Billy Eppler prefers not to trade away pitchers
Seated next to owner Arte Moreno, right, Angels General Manager Billy Eppler answers media questions during an introductory news conference in October. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Angels have a surplus of starting pitching, including several young arms that other teams might covet, but new General Manager Billy Eppler is reluctant to deal from that area of strength.

"I'd prefer not to do that," Eppler said Monday on the first day of baseball's winter meetings. "There's an element of that that is robbing Peter to pay Paul. We're going to need a number of starting pitchers — five, seven, eight, nine — throughout the season. We want to keep that depth."

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If the price tags soar on the free-agent outfielders the Angels are pursuing — Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon appear to top the list — they may have no choice but to part with pitching.

Eppler said he is open to acquiring a player as a shorter-term solution in left field, and among the potential targets are Cincinnati's Jay Bruce, who is signed for one more year at $12.5 million, Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez (two years, $37 million), the New York Yankees' Brett Gardner (three years, $39.5 million) and Toronto's Ben Revere (projected to get $6.7 million in arbitration).

The Angels have no interest in trading ace Garrett Richards, and they would be reluctant to trade left-hander Andrew Heaney, who was 6-4 with a 3.49 earned-run average as a rookie last season. Struggling veteran Jered Weaver ($20 million) has virtually no trade value, but left-handers C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago do.

Wilson is signed for one more year, at $20 million. He has recovered from surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow, and has been one of baseball's most durable and dependable left-handers for years. Even if the Angels absorb a chunk of his contract, they would realize considerable savings, which could be used toward the offense. Santiago, projected to get $5.1 million, was 9-9 with a 3.59 ERA and was an All-Star last season.

Back-of-the-rotation starters Matt Shoemaker, who struggled in 2015 (7-10, 4.46 ERA) after a brilliant 2014 (16-4, 3.04), Nick Tropeano, who spent most of 2015 at triple A, and left-hander Tyler Skaggs, who is returning from elbow ligament-replacement surgery, wouldn't have as much value.

Though young, hard-throwing relievers Trevor Gott and Cam Bedrosian have attracted interest, Eppler said he has been getting more trade hits on starters than relievers.

Eppler might not have to dip into his big league pitching depth if he had the kind of high-end prospects that often facilitate trades for established players, especially those from rebuilding clubs.

The November acquisition of Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons cost the Angels their top two prospects, pitchers Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis, from an already thin farm system, and two of their other top 10 prospects from last off-season, pitchers Ricardo Sanchez and Jairo Diaz, also were traded away.

Of the organization's current top five prospects as rated by MLB Pipeline — pitchers Victor Alcantara, Joe Gatto and Nate Smith, shortstop Roberto Baldoquin and catcher Taylor Ward — only Smith has played above Class A.

Newcomb, a left-hander who has drawn comparisons to Jon Lester, was clearly a top prospect and the team's best trade chip, but they might not have the kind of ammunition to swing a similar deal.

The Angels moved from last to 27th in the organizational rankings of Baseball America and ESPN.com entering 2015, and the subsequent signing of Baldoquin and trade for third baseman Kyle Kubitza further boosted the system.

But Baldoquin struggled at Class-A Inland Empire, batting .235 with 12 errors in 77 games.

Smith, a left-hander who was 8-4 with a 2.48 ERA in 17 starts at double-A Arkansas, is the most polished and advanced of the pitching prospects, but he projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

Alcantara and Gatto are hard-throwing right-handers who have struggled with command, and are probably at least three years away from the big leagues. The Angels are even thinner on position-playing prospects.

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However, Eppler said some clubs "have identified some younger targets here," and that he could pull off another Simmons-like deal because "some of our depth is in [players with less than three years experience], and that has extreme value in this game."

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