In the months after the 2015 season, Major League Baseball teams doled out nine-figure free-agent contracts like they were bats and balls, essential items needed to field a team, rather than time bombs that ticked closer to detonation with each passing day.
The deals only look astounding in retrospect. At the time, they seemed reasonable. Arizona lured Dodgers ace Zack Greinke with a $206.5-million package. Boston topped that by investing $217 million in pitcher David Price. The Cubs landed outfielder Jason Heyward for $184 million. Baltimore paid $161 million to re-sign first baseman Chris Davis. The list of $100-million men included Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto, Tigers outfielder Justin Upton and Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmerman.
The eight-figure spending was just as exorbitant: The pitching quartet of Jeff Samardzija, Wei-Yin Chen, Mike Leake and Ian Kennedy made a combined $320 million. Even the small-market Kansas City Royals completed a franchise-record $72-million deal to retain outfielder Alex Gordon.
Two months ago, on the day after his team wrapped its third straight losing season, Angels general manager Billy Eppler sat on the dais in the Angel Stadium interview room and announced his commitment to bolstering a pitching staff that has combusted often during his tenure.
He has honored that promise, but the pitching moves Eppler has made since October have appeared from a surface level to be lateral. They have not been so transcendent as to require formal ceremonies, like the signing that took place last week in Washington, when the Nationals introduced former Angels farmhand Patrick Corbin as the newest addition to one of baseball’s staunchest rotations.
So as the Angels’ contingent joins the baseball industry at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas for the annual winter meetings beginning Monday, expect Eppler to remain active in the same sector on which he declared his intentions earlier in the offseason. He’ll also continue to look at catchers, as the Angels haven’t solved that conundrum in the wake of releasing Francisco Arcia in November.