The last time Howie Kendrick was heading into his walk year, in the offseason heading into 2012, he and the Angels were able to negotiate a four-year, $33.5 million extension.
This time around, the Angels weren’t all that interested.
Kendrick’s agent, Larry Reynolds, reached out to Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto about another deal that would delay the veteran second baseman’s free agency, “But I think with what they were trying to do right now, it just wasn’t one of their priorities,” Kendrick said.
The Angels wanted to acquire cost-controlled starting pitching and free up some payroll flexibility, which they ultimately did by sending Kendrick (and the $9.5 million he’s owed in 2015) to the Dodgers for young starter Andrew Heaney.
Kendrick, speaking from Dodger Stadium on Friday, had no hard feelings.
“It wasn’t disappointing to me, because I understand,” Kendrick said. “I understand the game. There’s no room to be heartbroken or anything like that. I’m excited to play the game, and that’s what it comes down to. Going into the last year, the contract, if they were open to doing it, they will approach you, too. … It didn’t really affect me either way.”
Kendrick met face-to-face with some Dodgers personnel for the first time on Friday, talking about how exciting he is to be on a Dodgers team that’s trying to win it all and resides so close to the organization he grew up with. No extension talks with the Dodgers have taken place, though.
“I don’t know if that will or won’t happen,” Kendrick said. “My focus is playing the game. That stuff, I’m pretty sure, will work itself out, whether it does or does not happen. But like I said, that hasn’t been my main focus or anything.”
There’s a lot to take in from the Winter Meetings, and though the Angels’ moves weren’t among the most eventful in the just-completed four-day stint in San Diego, they were active nonetheless. Jerry Dipoto acquired a left-handed bat, a backup catcher and a couple of utility infielders, and most notably, he traded the Angels’ longtime second baseman for one of baseball’s best pitching prospects.
Some of you have asked for my take, but I think it’s best to reserve judgment, because more than two months remain until Spring Training and there’s a good chance — though Dipoto has stressed how much he likes his roster as it stands — that the Angels aren’t done.
What will they do next? I don’t know. And Dipoto may not be so sure, either. I don’t think he was actively shopping Howie Kendrick; using Hank Conger to acquire Nick Tropeano in early November negated the need to part ways with a position player to acquire cost-controlled starting pitching. I think he was planning on going into Spring Training with his roster mostly intact (plus a utility infielder or two), then came the opportunity to use Kendrick to acquire Andrew Heaney and he simply couldn’t walk away from it.
Now he has plenty of starting-pitching depth (Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, Heaney, Tropeano, Jose Alvarez, Alex Sanabia, Drew Rucinski project to make up the Major League and Triple-A rotations, with Tyler Skaggs back in 2016) and is roughly $15 million below the luxury-tax threshold. It’s a flexibility Dipoto didn’t foresee having, and now he’s open to where that takes him the rest of the winter.
Maybe he uses that payroll flexibility, or even that pitching depth, to get a middle-of-the-order bat.
Maybe he does nothing.
We don’t know what will happen. All we have to go on is what did happen. Below is a list of 40-man-roster players added and given up by the Angels thus far, listed with their projected cost and the cumulative amount of years they’re controllable for.
Projected cost: $11.6M
Years of control: 16
Projected cost: $6.2M
Years of control: 49
You can make two definitive statements from these moves, takeaways that really came to light with the attention-grabbing moves made late Wednesday night …
1. The Angels are better long-term, and really, that’s the whole point here. When you’re a team with so much money tied to aging players like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Weaver and Wilson, and want to stay below the luxury-tax threshold, it’s crucial to accrue players on the other side of the roster. The Angels had that, with Mike Trout (granted, now also expensive), Kole Calhoun, Mike Morin, Richards, Shoemaker and Santiago producing in the early stages of their prime last year. And now they have a lot of Major League-ready pitching depth, for the rotation and the bullpen.
2. The Angels are worse short-term, though Dipoto may argue that. Shrewd as it was to flip one year of control with Kendrick for six years of control with Heaney, there’s no discounting how difficult it will be for the Angels to make up for Kendrick’s contributions offensively and defensively. Heaney, the 18th-best prospect in baseball, has a bright future, but he hasn’t proven anything yet, and it remains to be seen if either he or Tropeano will be any better than Santiago in 2015 (the three will compete for the last spot of the rotation).
This is the Dipoto quote that summed up Wednesday’s trade best …
The goal is to figure out how to get younger, better, more cost-effective, put yourself in a situation where you can sustain winning. It’s not to get a bunch of guys that everybody has heard of all the time and run them out there and let it flame out. We’re trying to find a way to turn a veteran roster into a veteran roster that can compete now with the elements that are young and can continue to sustain moving forward. The heaviest criticism of the Angels over the last 10 years are that we’re getting older, or that we’re in a short window to win. I think we’re more sustainable than that.
But it’s all about winning the World Series. And while it’s volatile to continually spend in the free-agent market and disregard the importance of controllable, optionable assets, winning the World Series is all that matters to Arte Moreno.
What makes Dipoto so great is that he’s a visionary, is always a few steps ahead and perpetually keeps a keen eye towards the future.
But can he have the best of both worlds?
Can he have a team that’s set up to remain competitive for a long stretch of time without at least somewhat mortgaging immediate championship hopes, particularly with an Angels team that’s coming off a 98-win season and may currently look just a tad worse on the Major League side?
That’s what I’m wondering.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, taking his turn in a Winter Meetings press conference on Wednesday, said he’s looking into the possibility of Mike Trout batting third next season, doesn’t expect to have Garrett Richards ready by Opening Day and is comfortable with Gordon Beckham‘s ability to play shortstop. Those were some of the takeaways.
Below is a partial transcript.
On the front office basically being status quo this offseason …
I don’t know if you ever stay status quo. I think off seasons bring different things you’re looking for and different things you can do. And a lot of the players that Jerry has already acquired are going to be in our depth chart and helping us out. I don’t think you’re ever sitting there status quo. And I think when we come out of this we’ll be a better team than when we came into it.
On how he sees the DH spot …
I think there’s a lot of guys that are going to be fighting for at‑bats. And I think our depth will be there. And whether it’s a guy like C.J. Cron or a guy that’s maybe rotated out of the field to get some at‑bats. It will be important to us. We’ll just see how that goes.
On Richards’ timetable …
Well, I don’t think we’re going to see Garrett Opening Day, but I think the prognosis of having him back somewhere in the first month to maybe the first six weeks of the season look very good. And we’ll see. Nothing we can rush or are going to rush. But you have to be ready to absorb some guys that maybe aren’t coming back quite along a framework you might think and go from there. So we’ll be OK. But we’ll get him back in the first month.
On what Josh Hamilton needs to do heading into Spring Training …
There’s no particular message for Josh. Josh, he gets it. He understands it. He wants to achieve. I don’t think there’s anybody that was more disappointed. With his performance last year, a lot of it was because he missed so much time with the thumb injury. He wants to contribute. He understands how important he is to us. And he’ll be ready to go in Spring Training. He’ll be better.
On whether Trout, Albert Pujols and Hamilton will be his 2-3-4 again …
That’s something we’re talking about right now, it depends on maybe how our roster totally rounds out, if there are any other significant changes or pieces added. I think right now if we open the season tomorrow you would see ‑‑ you would see that lineup that you’re talking about with Mike Trout hitting second. Depending on what happens, you might see Mike hitting third. I think the one thing that I think has played itself out is the fact that Mike, as a leadoff hitter, is not quite as productive as Mike hitting second or third. And I think that’s where his future will be.
On if that will be predicated on Hamilton being able to bat cleanup …
It definitely will. Not looking at just Josh. You’re looking at the whole lineup. How David Freese is swinging the bat? Is our lineup going to stay deep with Howie and Erick? Last year you saw Erick Aybar hitting fourth for us one game. That was just flat‑out crazy, wasn’t it? So, you know, I think there’s a lot of ‑‑ I think there’s a lot of things that are going to be affected where Mike hits in the lineup or where Albert hits as far as the depth. If we get a couple of guys that step up like Kole Calhoun did and somebody else, you might see those guys slotted with one and two with Mike hitting third. But we haven’t made any decisions yet.
On Beckham’s ability to play shortstop …
I think Gordon is terrific in three positions: Second, third and short. Probably second is his most natural position. But he absolutely ‑‑ I mean, that was one of the things when Gordon came over and particularly when you have John McDonald playing short and third for us and being able to fill in, to be able to evaluate Gordon, to be able to evaluate him at shortstop. And there’s no doubt that he can play shortstop and play at the Major League level and has the skill set for it. I think Gordon is a terrific player and hopefully we’re still going to get an opportunity to get him back.
On how he perceived getting swept in the playoffs …
We should have played better. But ‑‑ and certainly Kansas City played very well. And you have to ‑‑ they won two extra inning games in our park, they made great plays to do it. I know on a personal level I was extremely disappointed. Our players were very disappointed. But I think there’s also that understanding that Kansas City just made it happen. They made it happen the first two games and Game 3 at their park we just didn’t pitch and those guys beat us up pretty good. I don’t know what lessons specifically from a staff you’re going to learn from that. But I think as a player goes through it and some of the guys that went through it, I think hopefully will prepare them better for the next opportunity and maybe we’ll do more things on the field we need to do to win. But I think after having such an incredible regular season, 98 wins is not easy. Our guys played hard. They played long. A lot of guys got banged up. A lot of guys filled in. And they got us to a level that’s, like I said, it’s not easy to reach, especially when you look at a lot of guys that were banged up. To have the three games in the playoffs, it’s tough.
The Angels acquired veteran catcher Drew Butera for a player to be named later or cash considerations on Tuesday, addressing their need for depth behind the plate in the second day of the Winter Meetings.
Butera, 31, will compete with Carlos Perez, Jackson Williams and Jett Bandy for the backup job behind Chris Iannetta, but unlike the other three players, Butera can’t be optioned to the Minor Leagues.
“Some combination of Drew Butera and that group of three guys are going to make up the games in the big leagues that Chris does not catch for us,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said, “and we feel comfortable with that.”
Butera has posted a .183/.239/.268 slash line while appearing in 251 games in the Majors from 2010-14, a span that saw the Orlando product mostly serve as a backup for the Twins and Dodgers. During that time, Butera – designated for assignment when the Dodgers claimed Ryan Lavarnway off waivers – has thrown out 33 percent of would-be base stealers.
“His defensive skill set is awesome,” Dipoto said. “He can really catch, can really throw, calls a good game, has the experience of being with good teams, catching good pitching staffs. He has a tremendous defensive reputation that certainly outdistances his offensive reputation, but we feel like he’s a nice fit for us.”
With Butera acquired, and the left-handed-hitting Marc Krauss claimed off waivers from the Astros on Monday, Dipoto’s only glaring need is a backup infielder. The Angels’ GM remains interested in resigning Gordon Beckham and has had dialogue with several teams about acquiring an optionable middle infielder, perhaps in exchange for one of his right-handed relievers.
Signing Beckham and trading for an infielder “don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Dipoto said, given the Angels’ need for organizational infield depth.
“We’re on the lookout,” Dipoto added. “We’re still actively discussing possibilities that line up for us in the Rule 5 Draft and we’ve talked to a variety of teams regarding trades for that type of player. In the meantime, we’ll just keep our ears to the street.”
C.J. Wilson was a late entry into the starting-pitching market, but general manager Jerry Dipoto said the Angels aren’t shopping the veteran left-hander, or have even received calls on him.
“We haven’t discussed C.J. Wilson at all,” Dipoto said from his suite at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego on Monday, Day 1 of the Winter Meetings.
“We had one club within the week of the end of the World Series ask if we would consider moving C.J. and that was the only discussion. That discussion lasted all of 10 minutes. We moved on; never revisited it.”
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported on Sunday that the Angels are shopping Wilson and industry sources told MLB.com on Monday that a few teams checked in on Wilson, but were only interested if the Angels ate some of the money still owed to him.
Wilson is coming off his worst season as a starting pitcher, is owed $38 million over the last two years of his contract and can block a trade to eight different teams this offseason. Those factors, not to mention what’s still a robust starting-pitching market, make it very difficult to move him.
For the Angels, it would only make sense to move Wilson if it freed up enough payroll space so they can then sign a top-tier free-agent starter. Considering they’re less than $10 million below the luxury-tax threshold, which continues to act as their spending limit, that would probably require a team to take on all of Wilson’s remaining salary.
Nobody’s lining up to do that, and Dipoto stressed he has a lot of confidence in a bounceback year.
“He had a bad second half,” Dipoto said. “Wasn’t a great one. He’ll come back, and he’ll find a way to refocus himself. He wasn’t great in the second half of 2012. In 2013, he couldn’t have been better post to post. He was outstanding.”
Some other notes from today’s session with Dipoto …
- Dipoto is still looking to find a backup infielder, but the only free agent he’s interested in is Gordon Beckham. Dipoto said Beckham’s interest in a return is “fair,” but he’ll probably want to test the market to see if he can get an everyday job somewhere. If not Beckham, Dipoto would seek a trade, and would likely use his excess of right-handed relief pitching — Kevin Jepsen, Fernando Salas, Vinnie Pestano, etc. — to acquire it.
- The Angels could have some news on Cuban middle infielder Roberto Baldoquin on Tuesday. They’ve been waiting for the 22-year-old to obtain his visa from the Dominican Republic so he can take his physical and sign the deal.
- Dipoto would also like to add some depth at backup catcher, and will look to free agency in hopes of acquiring someone on a Minor League deal.
- As far as Major League free agents? “Right now, we’re not engaged with any free agents, and we haven’t been engaged with any free agents. And right now, as we sit here today, our intention is to avoid that. We have a shorter list of needs. We’re open to any kind of creative suggestions in terms of trades, but we’re not openly shopping players. We’re not engaged with any team on a specific discussion regarding any of our primary players, including those who I’ve heard have been heavy on the Twitter wire.”
- The Angels are waiting to finalize a Minor League deal with a lefty reliever.
- This is a normal offseason for Josh Hamilton, who spent last winter trying to regain weight while working with a functional-movement coach. “Nothing special or significant,” Dipoto said. “He’s a pro. He’ll come in, he’ll work, he’ll be ready to play. Josh, I know he left on a sour note, but I have no doubt that Josh went home and he’s getting himself prepared to play baseball. It’s what he does.”
- Dipoto also made it sound like he isn’t all that interested in trading any of his infielders.
- Is the DH spot resolved? “Yes. Our game plan going in was to use the DH position to rotate position players through. … The primary bulk of DH at-bats will go to Cron, but this [the acquisition of Marc Krauss] gives us another alternative, someone who can compete for at-bats, gives us another in-season alternative.”
The Angels claimed Marc Krauss off waivers from the Astros on Monday, potentially shoring up their need for a left-handed power hitter off their bench.
Krauss, 27, plays first base and both outfield corners. He’s “pedestrian” defensively, a scout said, but he has “a good combo of power and on-base skills.” Listed at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, Krauss posted a .200/.274/.341 slash line in 119 games in the big leagues from 2013-14. At the Triple-A level, he batted .289/.375/.459 in 42 games in 2014 and .281/.401/.478 in 78 games in 2013.
Krauss was originally drafted by Dipoto in the second round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, when Dipoto served as director of scouting and player personnel in Arizona. On the Angels, Krauss will compete for a spot on the team, where he can come off the bench or platoon with the right-handed-hitting C.J. Cron at designated hitter.
Krauss can also be optioned to the Minor Leagues.
The Angels have signed left-handed pitchers Adam Wilk and Egar Ibarra to Minor League contracts with invitations to Spring Training.
Wilk, 26, made eight appearances for the Tigers from 2011-12 and spent the 2014 season mostly starting for the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate, posting a 4.72 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP and a 2.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 146 2/3 innings. Wilk was born in Anaheim, attended Long Beach State, spent the 2013 season pitching in Korea and was originally an 11th-round Draft pick by the Tigers in 2009.
Ibarra was signed by the Twins out of Venezuela in ’06 and was converted into a full-time reliever in 2012. The 25-year-old excelled in Double-A and Triple-A in 2013, posting a 1.93 ERA in 47 appearances, but he had a down year at those levels this past season, compiling a 4.22 ERA, a 1.48 WHIP and a 2.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 40 appearances.
Wilk and Ibarra will serve as Minor League depth on an Angels team that has been seeking starting pitchers and left-handed relievers for the upper levels of their farm system.
The Angels aren’t expected to swim in the top or even the middle of the free-agent pool (wait, that doesn’t even make sense), but they still have needs to address, and they will surely consider the free market for them. Below I’ve identified four types of Major League free agents the Angels will seek.
You’ll notice I didn’t include starting pitchers. That’s because (1) Jerry Dipoto has made it clear that he doesn’t think it makes sense to sign a starter to a Major League contract if he isn’t a clear upgrade over the group he currently has, (2) the Angels can’t afford that clear upgrade without blowing past the luxury tax and (3) they’ll basically take any established starter they can get on a Minor League contract.
Also, the Angels may look to fill a lot of these needs via Minor League contracts, and players typically don’t settle for Minor League contracts until later in the offseason. Nonetheless, here are some Major League free agents who could be a fit …
The Angels really like Carlos Perez and think he can stick as the backup, so I don’t expect them to give a catcher a Major League contract (although, one must keep in mind that Chris Iannetta is a free agent at season’s end). They’ll probably look for depth options at Triple-A and guys who can compete for the backup job in camp. There aren’t many cheap options out there right now.
Dipoto expressed his desire to bring back Gordon Beckham after he non-tendered him on Tuesday, but he’ll look to the free-agent market for other options, and I have to think that ideally he’d find someone with more experience at shortstop. This is the Angels’ most glaring need right now, and it could be the area they allocate the most dollars to on free agents.
A power bat from the left side of the plate would be a nice fit off the bench, as a guy who can platoon with C.J. Cron at DH, or spell David Freese against a tough right-hander, or serve as a fifth outfielder who can pinch-hit, or all of the above. But this is another area they’ll probably look to shore up on the cheap (if at all), so you must look at the bottom of the bin here.
Here’s the thing about the Angels’ bullpen: There isn’t much room for anybody else. Six of the seven spots are basically solidified, with Huston Street, Joe Smith, Kevin Jepsen, Fernando Salas, Mike Morin and the lone lefty, Cesar Ramos. Then there’s a host of others — Vinnie Pestano, Jeremy McBryde, Cam Bedrosian, Yoslan Herrera, Cory Rasmus, if he isn’t converted to a starter — vying for spots. So it doesn’t make much sense for the Angels to give someone a Major League contract here.
Lastly, here’s a list of the Minor League free agents the Angels have signed so far (this in addition to McBryde, who signed for the Major League minimum, and Herrera, who was brought back shortly after being non-tendered) …
C/3B Raywilly Gomez
C/LF/1B Charles Cutler
LF/CF/RF D’Arby Myers
RHSP Alex Sanabia
RHSP Albert Suarez
LHRP Atahualpa Severino
RHRP Brian Broderick
The Angels aren’t expected to tender contracts to infielder Gordon Beckham or starter Wade LeBlanc by Tuesday’s 9 p.m. PT deadline, a source told MLB.com on Monday. Third baseman David Freese, however, will be tendered a deal for his final season before free agency.
Freese is slated to make more than $6 million through the arbitration process in 2015 while Beckham, also in his final year of arbitration, lines up to make about $5 million. LeBlanc would make less than $1 million, but every little bit helps for a team that wants to stay below the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million.
By non-tendering Beckham and LeBlanc, the Angels would have roughly $9 million of wiggle room below the threshold.
Beckham never quite lived up to the expectations of his rookie season in 2009, when he batted .270/.347/.460 with the White Sox. The 28-year-old batted .241/.300/.361 over the next five years and was dealt to the Angels for a player to be named later or cash considerations on Aug. 21, appearing in 26 games as a backup infielder down the stretch.
Beckham is a strong defender at second and third base and the Angels feel comfortable with him at shortstop. They’d like to bring Beckham back as a utility infielder for a lesser contract, perhaps tacking on more years to compensate for a lower average annual value, a source said.
“Obviously, I hope I’m here going forward,” Beckham said as he cleaned out his locker in October. “Hopefully, it’s here. If not, it’ll be somewhere else.”
Freese – Most Valuable Player for the National League Championship Series and World Series in 2011 – came over alongside Fernando Salas in the November 2013 trade that sent Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals. The 31-year-old batted .260/.321/.383 in his first year with the Angels, almost mirroring the .262/.340/.381 slash line he posted in what was considered a down 2013 season.
Freese was taken out late in games for defense and had only a .656 OPS against opposing right-handers, but he posted a .929 OPS in September and the Angels, who love Freese’s makeup, don’t have a clear replacement at third base for 2015.
LeBlanc was with the Angels twice in 2014, coming over on a Minor League contract last offseason, then getting claimed off waivers by the Yankees in June, electing free agency after being designated for assignment two weeks later and resigning with the Angels shortly thereafter. The 30-year-old left-hander posted a 3.94 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and a 3.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29 2/3 innings in the big leagues.
The Angels went into the offseason with 10 arbitration-eligible players slated to make roughly $25 million combined. Reliever Vinnie Pestano agreed to a $1.15 million contract three weeks ago, and six others – starters Garrett Richards and Hector Santiago, relievers Kevin Jepsen, Fernando Salas and Cesar Ramos, and outfielder Collin Cowgill – are locks to be tendered contracts on Tuesday.
Below is a look at what the Angels currently have towards the Competitive Balance Tax payroll for 2015, when the tax threshold will once again be $189 million and first-time offenders will be charged a 17.5-percent tax on the overage. We’ll start with the guaranteed contracts (keep in mind that it’s the average annual value that goes into play here) …
Josh Hamilton: $25M
Mike Trout: $24.08M
Albert Pujols: $24M
Jered Weaver: $17M
C.J. Wilson: $15.5M
Erick Aybar: $8.75M
Howie Kendrick: $8.375M
Huston Street: $7M
Joe Smith: $5.25M
Chris Iannetta: $5.18M
Vinnie Pestano: $1.15M
Now we’ll go to the arbitration-eligible players*, with salaries projected by MLBTradeRumors.com …
David Freese: $6.3M
Gordon Beckham: $5M
Garrett Richards: $4M
Kevin Jepsen: $2.6M
Hector Santiago: $2.2M
Fernando Salas: $1.4M
Cesar Ramos: $1.3M
Collin Cowgill: $900K
Wade LeBlanc: $800K
That puts them at just below $166 million. But we’re not done. We still have to calculate the zero-to-three guys that make up the rest of the 40-man roster, plus allot for benefits and bonuses. There’s no way of getting the exact figure at this time of year (the CBT isn’t calculated until the end of the season). I’ve been told the best way to do it is to just add $20 million to the budget.
And that currently puts the Angels at $186 million.
* The arbitration system is also where teams end up saving money by simply non-tendering players. And from that list, the most likely non-tender is Beckham, which would save about $5 million.