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Angels, Richards avoid arbitration …

The Angels avoided arbitration with starting pitcher Garrett Richards on Saturday, agreeing to terms on a $3.2 million contract for the 2015 season.

With Richards done, the Angels’ only remaining arbitration-eligible player – from a list that was eight deep earlier in January – is outfielder Matt Joyce, who’s heading into his final season before free agency.

Richards looked like the Angels’ trickiest arbitration case, because he was in his first of four arbitration years after qualifying as a Super Two, was coming off a breakthrough year in the rotation and ended the 2014 season recovering from knee surgery.

Upon suffering a torn patellar tendon in his left knee while covering first base at Fenway Park on Aug. 20, Richards was 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 26 starts. The 26-year-old right-hander had 4.33 ERA in 216 innings while shuffling between the rotation and bullpen the previous two years, then emerged as an American League Cy Young Award candidate in his first full season in the rotation.

But the Angels were wary of setting a financial precedent with three arbitration years still left, and both sides exchanged figures on Jan. 17. The Angels submitted $2.4 million and Richards’ side, led by agent Fred Wray of Relativity Sports, countered with $3.8 million. Both sides ultimately agreed to a figure $100,000 above the midway point, 11 days before Richards’ scheduled arbitration hearing.

Richards has spent the offseason working out in Arizona. He’s been playing catch since early December, began running in early January and is expected to run at full intensity this coming week, at which point he can begin throwing off a mound.

Richards is currently on track to be ready by Opening Day, but the Angels will take it slow with him in Spring Training.

The Angels previously avoided arbitration with David Freese ($6.425 million), Hector Santiago ($2.29 million), Fernando Salas ($1.37 million), Cesar Ramos ($1.312 million), Collin Cowgill ($995,000) and Drew Butera ($987,500). Vinnie Pestano also avoided arbitration in November for $1.15 million.

Joyce’s camp submitted a figure of $5.2 million and the Angels countered with $4.2 million.

The Angels haven’t gone to arbitration since Jered Weaver in 2011.

Alden 

The Angels and next winter’s free-agent starters …

David PriceBarring a drastic, last-minute change in strategy, the Angels will not pursue James Shields, just like they didn’t pursue Max Scherzer and they didn’t pursue Jon Lester. They bowed out of the free-agent market for starting pitchers this winter — the free-agent market in general, actually — because they already have a top-heavy payroll and they didn’t deem another splurge practical.

What about next winter?

The next free-agent crop of starters is a doozy. David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mat Latos and Doug Fister are all slated to headline one of the deepest groups we’ve ever seen. Will the Angels be a player in that market, with David Freese, Chris Iannetta, Matt Joyce and Huston Street all in line to come off the books? (They’d like to extend Street.)

Maybe — but probably not.

“I wouldn’t say no, and at this point I wouldn’t say yes,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said when asked about going after the top starters in next year’s market. “One of the things we like a lot about the way the team is currently built is the level of depth we have among starting pitchers. While we do have the potential departure of some free agents, we’re looking at a projected payroll number next year that’s similar to the one we’re operating at now.”

It’s true. Despite the potential departures, Mike Trout‘s salary will go from $6.08 million to $16.08 million; Josh Hamilton‘s will go from $25.4 million to $32.4 million; incremental jumps will come for Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver; and natural arbitration hikes will follow.

The Angels’ projected Opening Day payroll is $145 million for 2015, third-highest in team history but $9 million smaller than last year (which means there’s room for in-season upgrades). For 2016, their Competitive Balance Tax payroll (which takes the average annual value of all 40-man-roster contracts, plus benefits and bonuses, and is used by Major League Baseball to determine which teams exceed the $189 million tax threshold) is already almost $120 million for just seven players

More importantly, the Angels will have every current starter back — Weaver, Wilson, Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, Nick Tropeano and Andrew Heaney — plus Tyler Skaggs, who should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.

But Weaver and Wilson will be heading into the final year before free agency. And look at what the Nationals just did. They didn’t need starting pitching, but they signed Scherzer because he was available now and because Zimmermann and Fister will be free agents at season’s end. Now they can comfortably trade Zimmermann or Fister (or perhaps Stephen Strasburg), or hold onto all of them and have the ultimate rotation, 2011 Phillies style.

Can the Angels do something similar?

I wouldn’t rule it out, but I also wouldn’t count on it.

“While I won’t say we have expectation that most or any of [the Angels’ starters] are going to be the quality of David Price, understanding that we need to continue to grow the foundation, at some point you have to provide those guys with the innings to grow,” Dipoto said. “Next year, we’re looking at the same group of starting pitchers; we won’t lose control of anyone. We like our group and like their upside.”

Alden

No Spring Training for Baldoquin, etc. …

Angels fans who want to get an up-close look at Roberto Baldoquin this spring will probably have to walk over to the Minor League side of the Tempe Diablo Stadium complex.

The Angels have opted against inviting the 20-year-old Cuban middle infielder to Major League Spring Training, mostly because they’ll have a lot of infielders competing for jobs but also because they want to give Baldoquin a chance to develop on his own time, without added pressure.

Since signing Baldoquin to an $8 million signing bonus – a commitment that added up to about $15 million because of the overage tax – the Angels have added Josh Rutledge, Johnny Giavotella and Taylor Featherston, all of whom will compete for the starting second base and utility infield job, along with Grant Green. Baldoquin will likely start the season at Class A Inland Empire, exclusively playing shortstop, and hasn’t really played in organized games since he left Cuba nearly a year ago.

“There’s only so much space to go around, or time that you can provide,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said Tuesday. “Roberto being 20 years old, being over a year removed from competitive baseball outside of whatever he’s doing at our facility in the Dominican Republic, we felt like this was probably in his best interest and in the best interest of developing him.”

Baldoquin agreed to terms in early November, signed his first professional contract a few days before Christmas and has spent the month working out at the Angels’ academy in the Dominican, where Dipoto said he’s getting “glowing reviews for his leadership and work ethic.”

Baldoquin will spend the mornings working out on the Major League side during Spring Training and could take part in some Cactus League games as an extra player, but will mostly spend the spring working with fellow Minor Leaguers.

The Angels aren’t expecting him in the big leagues until the start of 2017, the first year shortstop Erick Aybar won’t be in the books.

“In Roberto’s case, the smartest thing we can do is slow the wheels down a little bit,” Dipoto said. “No rush. We need to make sure we’re exercising good judgment.”

Below are some additional Angels-related notes, with 23 days left until pitchers and catchers report for their physicals …

  • The Angels plan to start negotiating an extension with closer Huston Street during Spring Training and have already broached the subject with Street himself, a source said. The Angels exercised their $7 million club option on Street early in the offseason and would like to lock the 31-year-old right-hander up before he hits free agency next winter. They’d also be open to negotiating an extension with catcher Chris Iannetta, also a pending free agent, and Garrett Richards, who’s in the first of four arbitration years. But those talks probably wouldn’t begin until after Opening Day.
  • Before starting extension talks with Richards, they need to agree on his 2015 salary. Richards’ arbitration hearing is set for Feb. 11 and both sides have only made slow progress thus far. Richards is one of three arbitration-eligible players remaining for the Angels, along with pending free agents David Freese and Matt Joyce.
  • Richards, who has spent his offseason training in Arizona, is running on 75 percent of his body weight and is expected to progress to 100 percent next week. He should be throwing off a mound around the time workouts begin.
  • Dipoto wouldn’t comment on extension talks or arbitration negotiations, but did express confidence that he’d avoid an arbitration hearing with all three players. “Right now,” he said, “there’s no expectation that we won’t avoid a hearing, but no fear of going to a hearing if that’s what it comes to. Right now, the conversations have been seamless. Normal rhetoric, and I feel we’re in a good position with all three.”
  • The Angels recently signed veteran right-handers Frank Herrmann and Zach Stewart to Minor League contracts. Herrmann, a 30-year-old reliever who posted a 4.26 ERA in 95 appearances with the Indians from 2010-12, will be invited to Spring Training. Stewart, a 28-year-old swing man who had a 6.82 ERA in 103 innings from 2011-12, will not. The Angels would still like to acquire a Triple-A shortstop on a Minor League deal, and that may be the final move they make this winter.

Alden

Moncada reportedly works out for Dodgers

Highly-sought-after Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada worked out for the Dodgers on Monday morning, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported on Twitter, adding that the Dodgers “remain a significant threat because of deep pockets.”

This is just the latest in a slew of showcases held for Moncado, who previously worked out for the Brewers, Rangers, Giants, Yankees, Red Sox and Padres in Florida, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez wrote. The Rays, Cubs and Phillies are also showing strong interest for the 19-year-old, according to Sanchez.

Moncada could garner a signing bonus of up to $40 million, which would become nearly an $80 million commitment due to the dollar-for-dollar overage tax on teams exceeding their spending pools. Before signing, though, Moncada must be cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

– Alden Gonzalez

Weaver gets bigger to pitch deeper …

At one point last season, Jered Weaver stepped on the scale, saw “199” and committed himself to getting bigger.

On Sunday night, 25 days before reporting for Spring Training, the Angels’ ace weighed in at a career-high 224.

“I’ve never been higher than 218,” Weaver said. “I don’t know if my metabolism is slowing down from getting older or what, but I feel good.”

For Weaver, heading into his age-32 season, it’s all about having the strength to pitch deeper in games.

While going 18-9 with a 3.59 ERA last year, the 6-foot-7 right-hander averaged about 6 1/3 innings per start, which basically coincides with his career rate. But he has his sights set on something similar to his 2011 mark, when he averaged 7.13 innings while finishing second in American League Cy Young Award voting.

“Numbers-wise it was all right,” Weaver said of 2014, “but from a personal standpoint, me being me and ultra competitive, I want to get deeper in games. The bullpen helped me a lot last year. I just want to gain some strength. I went to different lifting last year. It’s been paying off. I’m going to stick with it.”

Weaver was one of several current and former Angels – along with Josh Hamilton, Adam Kennedy and Troy Percival – attending a charitable bowling event at Bowlmor Lanes to benefit The Eddie Guardado Foundation, which helps children with autism.

While trying to ease the tension of a balky biceps tendon the last handful of years, Weaver pretty much chose resistance training over free weights. In mid-April, though, he scrapped that program, incorporated more heavy lifting and immediately noticed the results.

This offseason was simply the continuation of that, with more snacks in between.

“It’s easier to maintain it now,” said Weaver, who threw his first bullpen session on Sunday. “Once you get on the field and put the cleats on, start running around, that will be the true test, especially when it heats up in Arizona. I’m going to try to maintain it and see what happens.”

Weaver doesn’t know if it’ll help with his fastball velocity – “I don’t care about velocity,” he said, as usually – but is curious to see how much stronger it makes him throughout the season.

“I just want to be stronger for the whole nine innings,” he said. “If velocity comes along, so be it. I think I’ve shown I can pitch from 83 to 93 [mph].”

Weaver tries not to pay much attention to offseason moves, but he couldn’t ignore the Howie Kendrick trade of Dec. 11, a move that sent the veteran second baseman to the Dodgers for young starter Andrew Heaney. Weaver and Kendrick had been together since their Class A days, and Weaver admitted it was “a little tough to swallow.”

“Offensively it will be tough to make up those numbers, but the organization is going to try to fill in the pieces,” Weaver said. “We’re going to have a pretty good squad.”

Alden

Hamilton’s 2015 goal: ‘300, 30 and 100′ …

Josh Hamilton’s personal goals haven’t changed, even though expectations from the outside have plunged.

“I’m gonna say .300, 30 and 100,” Hamilton said Sunday night, referencing his batting average, home run and RBI total when asked about his own expectations for 2015. “Keep it simple. Those are very obtainable.”

Hamilton – speaking from a charitable bowling event at Bowlmor Lanes to benefit The Eddie Guardado Foundation, which helps children with autism – had the same target heading into the 2014 season. Then he missed nearly two months recovering from thumb surgery, spent most of September rehabbing injuries to his right side and went 0-for-13 in a short-lived playoff stint.

Hamilton finished 2014 with a .263 batting average, 10 homers and 44 RBIs, after finishing 2013 at .250, 21 and 79. His last .300-30-100 season came in 2010, as the American League’s Most Valuable Player, and he hasn’t come close since signing a five-year, $125 million contract with the Angels.

The third season of that deal – one that will pay him a team-high $25.4 million – is a big one.

“Every year things need to click,” Hamilton said. “Obviously this year, I want it to. I’m not gonna not work my butt off. I’ll have the same mentality and try to get better.”

Hamilton caught some flak a couple days after the Angels were swept by the Royals in the AL Division Series, when he told the Orange County Register it was “comical” to hear fans booing him for a poor postseason and added: “We don’t necessarily play for the people in the stands. We play for each other.”

“Obviously, we love fans coming out, love the support,” Hamilton said when asked about those comments on Sunday. “They pay our salaries. If it was taken the wrong way, I don’t want it to be, because we do benefit and are blessed tremendously by their support, how they come out and kind of do it with us. I want to do good for them.”

Hamilton, who turns 34 in May, spent most of the offseason in Southern California and has recently been hitting at Angel Stadium. He took “a little bit of extra time to just chill” and heal this offseason, picking up a bat three weeks later than normal, and plans to report to Spring Training when pitchers and catchers arrive on Feb. 19.

Hamilton still feels an occasional jab from his rib injury, but doesn’t expect that to limit him this spring.

After a year of constant tinkering, Hamilton wants to keep the toe-tap in his load throughout the season because “it feels comfortable, feels natural.” And he’s looking forward to working with his lifelong friend and former accountability partner, Johnny Narron, who was hired to be the Angels’ Triple-A hitting coach in November.

Hamilton gave the Angels “my highest recommendation” when they called to ask about Narron, who left Hamilton’s side to be the Brewers’ hitting coach in 2012. He feels he’ll benefit from Narron’s presence, even if it’s only for the six weeks leading up to the season.

“He’s going to be around in Spring Training,” Hamilton said, “which is an important time to have guys around you that know you and are comfortable with your past.”

When the 2014 season reached its abrupt end in Kansas City on Oct. 5, Angels manager Mike Scioscia joked with Hamilton about how much more comfortable he looked in his last couple of at-bats.

“And I felt that way,” Hamilton said. “Too bad we couldn’t move on.”

Hamilton went into the postseason having played in just one of the Angels’ last 23 games, thrown into baseball’s toughest stage without any real feel for live pitching. Had his team advanced, he feels it could’ve gone a lot like 2010, when Hamilton missed most of September with two broken ribs, struggled in the first round and was then named MVP of the AL Championship Series.

Instead, the Angels’ 98-win season evaporated and Hamilton went into the offseason on a sour note, having drawn the ire of Angels fans and eventually seeing his name get tossed around the rumor mill.

“The last couple years have not been me at all,” said Hamilton, who was never asked to waive his full no-trade clause. “I’m always looking to improve, looking to do more than I’ve done. I can’t focus on the last two years. You have to be positive.”

Alden

The tougher AL West …

canotroutThe American League West was tough last year — by a very reliable measure, it was the toughest by a wide margin — and it should be even more difficult for the Angels to capture a division title in 2015.

In a nutshell, three of their competitors should be better and one of them could be just as good.

The Mariners added Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith to a club with an outstanding rotation and a bullpen that had the fourth-lowest WHIP in baseball last year. The Astros have added Colby Rasmus, Evan Gattis, Hank Conger, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek to an emerging young core. The Rangers added Carlos Corporan and Yovani Gallardo to a star-studded roster that will be healthier. (I mean, they can’t get any more injured, right?) The A’s have shuffled the deck, and while they parted ways with Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, Brandon Moss and Derek Norris in prospect-laden deals, they also added Billy Butler, Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard, and now — amazingly — figure to be just as much of a threat in 2015.

The Angels’ offseason could best be described by some imagery general manager Jerry Dipoto recently used, while talking about the industry in general: “The beautiful thing about baseball is that it’s kind of like the ocean. It looks the same, but it changes every millisecond.”

On the outside, the Angels’ Major League roster essentially looks the same, minus Howie Kendrick and Kevin Jepsen but with Matt Joyce and Cesar Ramos. Their biggest change came in their farm system, as Dipoto continued to build layers of depth to make the Angels more sustainable moving forward. In other words, they’re definitely better for the future, but they may not be better — and may even be worse — for 2015.

The AL West ranked second in combined win-loss records last year …

AL East: +12
AL West: +10
NL Central: +8
AL Central: +4
NL East: -2
NL West: -32

But was easily No. 1 in run-differential …

AL West: +140
AL East: +29
NL East: +21
AL Central: -62
NL Central: -63
NL West: -65

That was with the Rangers ranking dead last at minus-136 and the Astros 27th at minus-94. It’s a pretty safe bet that both Texas teams will be better than that; probably way better than that.

It’s impossible to predict what will happen in 2015, of course, but we can sure try. I used Steamer’s Wins Above Replacement projections for each AL West team’s starting lineup, top four starters and best three relievers. Below is the projected fWAR for each team’s 16 most important players (for the Angels I included Garrett Richards; for the Rangers I included Jurickson Profar; for the A’s I included A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker) …

Mariners: 33.4
Angels: 32.6
A’s: 29.2
Rangers: 27.7
Astros: 23.4

Steamer can’t account for any freak injuries that may occur, or in-season additions that can be made, or all sorts of other randomness that occurs throughout every baseball season. But I think it’s a pretty good general overview of where teams stand.

It’ll be interesting.

If you’re curious, here’s what Steamer projected for each Angels player, ordered by highest fWAR: Trout (8.7), Aybar (3.1), Calhoun (3.1), Pujols (3), Iannetta (2.7), Richards (2.3), Freese (1.8), Hamilton (1.7), Wilson (1.4), Shoemaker (1.3), Joyce (1.2), Rutledge (1.1), Weaver (0.8), Smith (0.3), Morin (0.1), Street (0).

Alden

Salas, Cowgill done; numbers exchanged …

The Angels avoided arbitration with right-hander Fernando Salas and outfielder Collin Cowgill on Friday. Salas received $1.37 million in his second of three arbitration years and Cowgill, a Super II, got $995,000.

With Salas and Cowgill signed, and three others agreeing to terms on Thursday, the Angels have their three most expensive arbitration-eligible players remaining: third baseman David Freese, outfielder Matt Joyce and starter Garrett Richards.

Freese, heading into his last year before free agency, filed for $7.6 million and the Angels countered at $5.25 million. Joyce, also in his last arbitration year, filed for $5.2 million and the Angels countered with $4.2 million. Richards, a Super II in his first of four arbitration years, filed for $3.8 million and the Angels filed for $2.4 million.

Earlier this offseason, MLBTradeRumors projected $6.3 million for Freese, $4.9 million for Joyce and $4 million for Richards.

Arbitration hearings are scheduled for February, if necessary, but teams can negotiate all the way up to their scheduled hearings. The Angels, who haven’t gone to arbitration since Jered Weaver in 2011, intend to do so.

Salas, 29, established himself as a reliable middle reliever in his first year with the Angels, posting a 3.38 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP while striking out 9.4 batters per nine innings in 57 appearances. Cowgill, 28, batted .250/.330/.354 in 293 plate appearances last year and has established himself as a valuable fourth outfielder.

Alden

Santiago, Ramos, Butera avoid arbitration …

The Angels avoided arbitration with left-handers Hector Santiago and Cesar Ramos on Thursday.

Santiago will receive $2.29 million in 2015 while Ramos will get $1,312,500.

Santiago posted a 3.75 ERA in 127 1/3 innings in his first year with the Angels last season, adding a 1.36 WHIP and a 2.04 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This was the first of three arbitration years for the 27-year-old, who will compete for the fifth spot of the rotation in Spring Training.

Ramos, acquired from the Rays for pitching prospect Mark Sappington, has posted a 3.90 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP and a 1.95 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 150 innings the last two years. The 30-year-old was in his second year of arbitration, received a jump from $749,750 last year, and currently projects as the only lefty in the Angels bullpen.

With Santiago and Ramos done, six arbitration-eligibles remain for the Angels – Garrett Richards, Matt Joyce, David Freese, Fernando Salas, Collin Cowgill and Drew Butera. Figures are exchanged on Friday.

More on the Angels’ arbitration eligibles can be found here.

UPDATE, 5:33 P.M. PT: Butera avoided arbitration with a $987,500 agreement.

Butera was in his second arbitration year and got a raise from $700,000 last year. The 31-year-old was acquired by the Dodgers for a player to be named later (eventually Minor League outfielder Matt Long) on Dec. 9 and will compete for the job of backup catcher this spring.

The 31-year-old has batted only .183/.239/.268 in 251 games the last five years, but he’s thrown out 33 percent of would-be basestealers in that span (the Major League average is 27.2 percent) and is deemed to have a good rapport with pitchers.

Alden

Triple-A on the rise? …

beesMinor League win-loss records don’t necessarily correlate with a farm system’s overall crop of players. Look no further than the Angels, who went into the 2013 season with the worst-ranked farm system in the industry by Baseball America — the first of back-to-back years finishing 30th — and then saw their Triple-A, Double-A and Class A Advanced levels advance to the playoffs, with Class A Inland Empire winning the California League title.

Fielding a talented Triple-A roster, however, is crucial, because a lot of those players will wind up having an impact on the Major League club during the season.

The Angels used 54 players in 2014, 49 in 2013 and 44 in 2012. Active rosters, as you know, can’t exceed more than 25 players (until you get into September), and the vast majority of the players who matriculate come from Triple-A. The Angels’ Triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake Bees, won the Pacific North division in 2013, going 78-66 with a roster made up mostly of journeyman Minor Leaguers obtained from other organizations or even independent ball. Last year, they went just 60-84.

This year, the Salt Lake Bees should field its most talented team in a while. Low-level prospects have matriculated to Triple-A and the Angels have taken steps toward building organizational depth the last couple years.

The Triple-A roster should finally start reflecting that.

This spring, the Angels will seemingly have competition for second base, three bench spots (catcher, utility infielder, additional bat), the fifth spot in the rotation (assuming Garret Richards is ready to go) and two bullpen roles. Let’s say, merely for the purposes of this exercise, that Josh Rutledge, Drew Butera, Taylor Featherston, C.J. Cron, Hector Santiago, Cory Rasmus and Vinnie Pestano win those seven spots, respectively.

Here are the players who would be left for Triple-A …

Starters: Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, Drew Rucinski, Nate Smith, Jose Alvarez, Alex Sanabia, Adam Wilk, Brooks Raley
Relievers: Cam Bedrosian, Trevor Gott, Jeremy McBryde, Danny Reynolds, Yoslan Herrera, Scott Snodgress, Ryan Mattheus (signed today), Atahualpa Severino, Edgar Ibarra
Catchers: Carlos Perez, Jett Bandy, Jackson Williams
Infielders: Efren Navarro (1B/LF/RF), Marc Krauss (1B/LF/RF), Alex Yarbrough (2B), Eric Stamets (SS), Kyle Kubitza (3B), Ryan Wheeler (3B/1B), Grant Green (2B/SS/LF), Johnny Giavotella (2B/3B/LF), Chris Curley (3B/SS/2B), Brian Hernandez (1B/3B),
Outfielders: Daniel Robertson (LF/CF/RF), Roger Kieschnick (LF/RF), Alfredo Marte (LF/CF/RF), D’Arby Myers (LF/CF/RF), Kentrail Davis (LF/CF/RF)

There’s excess here, of course, because it’s impossible to predict a Triple-A roster at this point. But the only one in that group who can’t be optioned to the Minor Leagues without first clearing waivers is Giavotella. Eight of these players (Heaney, Tropeano, Kubitza, Bedrosian, Yarbrough, Perez, Stamets and Snodgress) make up the Angels’ top 20 prospects. It may not mean much given how much more work still needs to be done to improve the farm system, but that alone is a big step forward from having to scrape the bottom of the free-agent barrel just to fill out a Triple-A roster, as has been the case the last few years.

Alden

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