If the season started today (Jan. 28), and Albert Pujols were healthy, this is how I would have the Angels’ Major League depth chart shaking out. These are all basically guesses, just to give you some idea of where they stand. Those on the active roster with asterisks by their name can not be optioned to the Minor Leagues without either giving their consent, going through waivers or being offered back to their prior teams. If every starting pitcher remains healthy, I’d still bet they trade one of them before Opening Day. For now, it’s crowded (though that is never a bad thing). One thing you may notice is that there seems to be a relative lack of roster flexibility right now. Lots of guys in the projected bullpen and bench can’t be optioned, which can be difficult with all the inevitable roster turnover throughout a season.
Some notes: I left Alburquerque and Morin out of the initial bullpen mainly because they can both be optioned and it would be the Angels’ best way of preserving depth; Santiago moved to the bullpen because it’s hard to imagine three very capable starting pitchers beginning the year in Triple-A; I have Skaggs starting the year in the Minors simply because he’s coming off Tommy John surgery, but I expect him to make a big impact this season; under this scenario, the Angels would probably lose Cunningham off waivers, since he, too, can not be optioned. …
Choi*, LHH 1B
Gentry*, RHH OF
SP: Skaggs, Tropeano
RP: Alburquerque, Morin, Rasmussen, Bedrosian, Achter, Leutge
3B/1B: Cowart, Kubitza, Marte
2B/SS: Featherston, Torreyes, Navarro, Petit
OF: Ortega, Berry, Buss
Losing on waivers: OF Cunningham (out of options)
May clear waivers: 2B Torreyes (DFA’d 1/27), RP LaFromboise (DFA’d 1/25)
NASHVILLE — C.J. Wilson has, predictably, come up in trade discussions at the Winter Meetings, especially now that the once-robust free-agent market for starting pitchers has significantly dried out.
Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Scott Kazmir remain on the board, but teams — most notably the Mariners, who acquired Wade Miley as a fallback after Hisashi Iwakuma agreed to terms with the Dodgers — are starting to explore trade options.
Wilson is appealing, because he’s only signed for one more year, is already fully recovered from early August surgery to remove loose bodies from his pitching elbow and has a track record of durability. A team that acquires him via trade would not only get a short-term fix for their rotation; but a potential first-round pick by giving Wilson a qualifying offer at season’s end.
Wilson is owed $20 million in 2016 and can block trades to eight teams. How much of his salary the Angels are willing to take on remains to be seen, but they’ll probably have to at least absorb some of it.
The savings could expand the payroll and make it easier for the Angels, roughly $20 million below the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, to sign a premier outfielder.
Several teams still need starting pitching. The Yankees need help in the rotation, and the Pirates would like a rental (though the money may be a deterrent with Pittsburgh). The Orioles could be a fit, as can the D-backs. And the Padres would love a left-handed starter.
One ideal match could be the Cardinals, who have a void in the rotation with Lance Lynn spending the 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. After missing out on David Price, the Cardinals don’t seem interesting in giving a free-agent pitcher a long-term deal. They prefer the kind of short-term answer Wilson may provide.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler said teams have called about his pitchers, in the rotation and in the bullpen.
“Probably a tick more on the starters,” Eppler said, “but getting called on both.”
Wilson is one of eight starters that can conceivably be in the Angels’ rotation next season, now that Tyler Skaggs is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Eppler reiterated that he’s hesitant to part with that depth, saying that “there’s some element of that where you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
But Wilson could be an exception, because the savings on his contract — and perhaps the player he can bring in return, if the Angels absorb a significant amount of his 2016 salary — could be crucial.
NASHVILLE — Trevor Gott is drawing some interest from the Winter Meetings, with FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal first reporting that teams have inquired on the 23-year-old reliever.
The Angels could use him to plug a hole in their lineup, outlined here.
The A’s are expected to trade Brett Lawrie, a right-handed power hitter who can play second or third base, and would like some pitching in return, be it for the rotation or the bullpen. The Phillies could part with left-handed hitter Cody Asche, who plays left field and third base, for a reliever.
And, of course, there’s still the possibility that the Twins part with right-handed-hitting third baseman Trevor Plouffe, even though general manager Terry Ryan previously intimated that he’d like to keep him. Minnesota is also in need of bullpen help, and the Angels can afford to part with some of that, similar to what they did last year.
Gott could be dealt in much of the same way Kevin Jepsen was for Matt Joyce last December (though, of course, they’d hope to do better on their return). Mike Morin (6.37 ERA, but a 1.27 WHIP with a solid 10.4 strikeout rate and 2.3 walk rate in 2015) could be a candidate to take over the seventh-inning role ahead of Joe Smith and Huston Street, as can someone like Fernando Salas or an affordable free-agent acquisition.
Gott — with a lively, high-90’s fastball but below-average secondary pitches — posted a 3.02 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP, with 5.1 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings in 48 appearances as a rookie last season.
The Angels announced Tuesday that they have hired Bud Black as a special assistant to new general manager Billy Eppler, as was initially reported by MLB.com last week.
Black was the Angels’ pitching coach from 2000-06, then left to serve as manager of the Padres, a post he was dismissed from this past June.
The Angels previously announced former third-base coach and bench coach Ron Roenicke as the third-base coach for the 2016 season, moving Gary DiSarcina to first base among several other coaching moves.
Black was reportedly one of three finalists for the Dodgers’ managerial vacancy recently, a job that ultimately went to his ex-bench coach, Dave Roberts. Earlier, Black seemed to be in line to be the Nats manager until he and ownership disagreed on the terms of his contract, prompting the hiring of Dusty Baker.
Other front-office positions announced by the Angels include: Mike Gallego as director of baseball development, Justin Hollander as director of player personnel, Mike LaCassa as director of Minor League operations, Steve Martone and Jonathan Strangio as assistant GM, and Bobby Scales as special assistant to the GM.
Gallego, whose hiring was also reported last week, was previously the A’s third-base coach. Scales was most recently the Angels’ director of player development.
The Angels signed free-agent catcher Geovany Soto to a one-year, $2.8 million deal on Tuesday, giving them a veteran complement to the young Carlos Perez behind the plate.
Soto batted .219/.301/.406 in 210 plate appearances for the White Sox last season and is a career .246/.331/.434 hitter in 11 seasons in the big leagues, with the first eight years spent with the Cubs.
The 32-year-old right-handed hitter has thrown out 27 percent of would-be base stealers since 2006 – basically the Major League average during that time – and ranked 60th in the Majors in terms of getting additional strikes with his pitch framing last year, right behind Perez, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Soto’s deal puts the Angels roughly $20 million below the luxury-tax threshold.
Ron Roenicke has returned to the Angels as their new third-base coach, the club announced on Wednesday.
Roenicke was the Angels’ third-base coach from 2000-05, then was promoted to be their bench coach in 2006, taking over for Joe Maddon. He was named the Brewers’ manager in November 2010 and was dismissed in May 2015.
A source also told MLB.com on Wednesday that Bud Black, the Angels’ pitching coach from 2000-06, was also going to eventually join the organization in a front-office role, probably as a special assistant.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler, however, responded in a text message by saying: “We have not hired Bud Black. We are still in the process of assembling our coaching staff, scouting staff, player-development staff and front-office staff.”
The addition of Black, reportedly eliminated from consideration for the Dodgers’ managerial vacancy, could come later this offseason.
Roenicke spent the last two months of the 2015 season as the Dodgers’ third-base coach, then reportedly interviewed for the role. To bring in Roenicke, Gary DiSarcina was moved from third-base coach to first-base coach.
Roenicke’s hiring is only the latest in a series of moves for the Major League coaching staff and throughout the Minor League system.
Bullpen coach Steve Soliz will transition to the catching and information coach, a role that will largely have him helping to put together scouting reports heading into each series. The role was filled by Keith Johnson down the stretch last season, but Johnson will return as the Triple-A Salt Lake manager.
The Angels previously hired Charles Nagy to replace Mike Butcher as pitching coach and promoted Dave Hansen to replace Don Baylor as hitting coach, with Paul Sorrento promoted as Hansen’s assistant. Dino Ebel is expected to stay on as bench coach.
Alfredo Griffin, part of manager Mike Scioscia‘s staff since he arrived in 2000, has moved from first-base coach to infield coach.
A plethora of moves have been made throughout the farm system, though the Angels will wait until they’re all complete before announcing them. Sources said Denny Hocking has moved from manager of Class A Advanced Inland Empire to roving infield instructor. Chad Tracy, a Pepperdine University product who managed at Class A Burlington last year, will replace Hocking in managing the Inland Empire 66ers.
Former field coordinator Mike Micucci joined the Mariners, and former Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, to fill the same role. The Angels also hired Mike Gallego — a long-time third-base coach, most recently with the A’s — as their director of baseball development.
Steve Martone, who spent the last two years as the Yankees’ manager of professional scouting, is joining the Angels as an assistant general manager to new GM Billy Eppler, a source confirmed to MLB.com on Tuesday.
Martone, 35, was an assistant of baseball operations until getting promoted in March 2014. Martone took the spot previously held by Will Kuntz, who departed to become a director of player relations for Major League Soccer, and was most recently responsible for identifying outside players to acquire.
Martone is the second former Yankees executive hired by Eppler, who recently brought in Eric Chavez as his special assistant.
The Angels’ two prior assistant GMs departed for better jobs early in the offseason. Matt Klentak, who dealt mostly with Major League transactions, is the Phillies’ GM. Scott Servais, who ran scouting and player development, is the Mariners’ manager.
Martone will handle baseball-operations initiatives with the Angels, but Eppler isn’t expected to have a set right-hand man. Director of pro scouting Hal Morris and director of baseball operations Justin Hollander will also have a voice on who to acquire via free agency or trade, with other hires expected.
Coaching changes: Gary DiSarcina is expected will transition from third-base coach to first-base coach in 2016, a source said.
Alfredo Griffin, who has spent the last 17 years as the Angels’ first-base and infield coach, will remain on the Major League staff, but his role has yet to be determined. Dino Ebel is currently Mike Scioscia’s bench coach and isn’t expected to return as third-base coach, a role he excelled at until getting promoted before the 2014 season.
Under DiSarcina, the Angels were tied for the sixth-most outs at home in 2015 (22) and the third-most outs in 2014 (21). The Angels previously named Charles Nagy their new pitching coach and promoted Dave Hansen to be their hitting coach.
New lefty: The Angels signed lefty reliever Lucas Luetge to a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to Spring Training. Luetge, 28, posted a 4.40 ERA in 98 appearances for Seattle from 2012-13 but spent most of the last two seasons with the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate.
Luetge, who throws in the low 90s while mixing in a cutter and curveball, has held opposing left-handed hitters to a .567 OPS in his Major League career and struck out 10.1 batters per nine innings in Triple-A in 2014. Last year, though, he posted a 5.33 ERA in 29 appearances for the Tacoma Rainiers.
Buster Olney of ESPN reported Thursday that the Angels are among the teams in pursuit of Simmons, a 26-year-old who is controllable for five more seasons and is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game. Erick Aybar, 32 in January, is heading into his final year before free agency and 21-year-old Roberto Baldoquin, given an $8 million signing bonus last December, is seemingly a long way from being Major League ready.
The question, as usual, is whether the Angels can come up with the prospect package to get it done.
Simmons is one of few remaining players that can bring the Braves a significant return for their farm system. First baseman Freddie Freeman and starting pitcher Julio Teheran are the others, but the Braves haven’t given any indication that they want to trade Freeman and would be selling low on Teheran.
The Braves desperately need bats, something the Angels sorely lack in their Minor League system. But general manager John Coppolella reiterated Thursday that he’s always seeking arms, and the Angels have compiled some intriguing pitching prospects over the last couple of years.
Their top prospect, by a wide margin, is burly left-hander Sean Newcomb, who ranks 19th overall, according to MLB.com’s rankings, and could start next season in Triple-A. The Angels have been unwilling to include Newcomb in prior deals, and it remains to be seen whether he’d be an option to acquire Simmons.
Chris Ellis (ranked second in the Angels’ system), Victor Alcantara (third), Joe Gatto (fourth) and Nate Smith (fifth) could possibly be made available in the deal. Perhaps so can young relievers like Trevor Gott, Mike Morin or Cam Bedrosian.
If the Braves seek volume, as opposed to star power, the Angels may have a shot.
Any deal for Simmons is expected to include Aybar, an important part of the Angels’ fabric for the better part of a decade. The Braves want to clear money for the 2017 season and Aybar, making $8.5 million next year, will be off the books by then. At that point, Braves top prospect Ohzaino Albies may be ready to take over at shortstop.
Simmons, who was named the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year on Wednesday, has batted a subpar .252/.301/.357 since the start of the 2013 season. During that time, though, he also has a Major League-best 94 Defensive Runs Saved.
The Braves, coming off a 95-loss season, are open to anything.
“We need to be open to considering anything that makes us better,” Coppolella told MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. “For us, we aren’t looking to trade any of our players. But I think when you look at some of the teams that were in the playoffs and World Series, you will see the benefits they gained from making tough trades a few years ago.”
I wrote earlier today about first-year GM Billy Eppler keeping his options open and why he’ll probably rely heavily on a loaded free-agent class.
The Angels enter the offseason with up to six needs for their Major League club: catcher, second base, third base, utility infield, left field and a back-end reliever, ideally a lefty. They could also opt to sign a front-line starter, but that’s more of a luxury than an actual need. They have starting pitching depth. But signing an attractive free-agent starter (David Price, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, etc.) could free Eppler up to trade from that starting-pitching depth and fill other needs.
Below is a look at some of the more attractive free-agent and (potential) trade options at each of the Angels’ positions of need. You’ll probably notice right away that I didn’t include Matt Wieters among catchers. I just don’t expect them to bid so high for him.
(* indicates they were given a qualifying offer)
Free agents: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Brayan Pena, Dioner Navarro, Alex Avila, Geovany Soto
Trades: Stephen Vogt (OAK), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL), Wilson Ramos (WAS), Gary Sanchez (NYY)
Free agents: Howie Kendrick*, Daniel Murphy*, Ben Zobrist, Chase Utley
Trades: Neil Walker (PIT), Brandon Phillips (CIN), Aaron Hill (ARI), Hanser Alberto (TEX)
Free agents: David Freese, Juan Uribe, Mark Reynolds,Casey McGehee
Trades: Trevor Plouffe (MIN), Yunel Escobar (WAS), Todd Frazier (CIN), Martin Prado (MIA)
Free agents: Sean Rodriguez, Mike Aviles, Asdrubal Cabrera, Cliff Pennington, Kelly Johnson, Stephen Drew
Trades: Jed Lowrie (HOU)
Free agents: Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton*, Jason Heyward*, Alex Gordon*, Gerardo Parra, Colby Rasmus*, Nori Aoki
Trades: Preston Tucker (HOU), Brett Gardner (NYY), Josh Reddick (OAK), Jay Bruce (CIN), Yasiel Puig (LAD), Carl Crawford (LAD), Andre Ethier (LAD), David Peralta (ARI)
Free agents: Tony Sipp, Antonio Bastardo, Matt Thornton, Oliver Perez, Neal Cotts, Rich Hill
Trades: Mike Dunn (MIA)
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols recently underwent surgery on his troublesome right toe and may not be ready by Opening Day.
The surgery, to repair a planter plate in Pujols’ right foot, took place last week in Charlotte, N.C., and was performed by Dr. Robert Anderson. In announcing the procedure on Monday, Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Pujols would resume baseball activities in four-and-a-half months.
That would put Pujols back around late March, a timeline that probably has him set up to start the 2016 season on the disabled list.
In a statement, Eppler said the surgery “went very well” and that Pujols will continue rehabbing in the Kansas City area throughout the winter. The 35-year-old is heading into the fifth season of a 10-year, $240 million contract and spent the last 28 games of 2015 at designated hitter due to excruciating pain in that right foot.