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.
The Angels added catcher Jett Bandy and right-hander Dan Reynolds to the 40-man roster on Thursday, protecting both from exposure in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. To make room on the roster, which is currently full, the club designated catcher Jackson Williams and lefty Michael Roth for assignment.
That means third baseman Kaleb Cowart, the former No. 1 pick who has seen his stock plummet after back-to-back rough seasons in Double-A, has been left unprotected and can be plucked from the organization in the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 11.
Cowart – taken out of high school with the 18th overall selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft – was considered one of the top prospects in baseball after scorching through both of the Angels’ Class A levels in 2012. Then he batted .221/.279/.301 in Double-A in 2013 and .223/.295/.324 in 2014, scrapping switch-hitting along the way and raising questions about whether he should transition to a pitcher.
The Angels still think highly of Cowart, who’s only 22 years old and has the tools to be a Major League third baseman – but they’re rolling the dice that another team won’t take a chance on him.
“I think the one thing we have to keep cognizant of is that he’s only 22 years old,” Angels assistant general manager Scott Servais, who’s in charge of scouting and player development, said of Cowart earlier this week.
“It’s not to the point where we were hoping it would be. Obviously a couple years ago he was really on a fast track and that slowed down. As much as anything, Kaleb has been frustrated by it. He’s used to being a good, productive player, and it just hasn’t been there for him.”
Bandy, 24, batted .250/.348/.413 in 93 games for Double-A Arkansas this past season, but threw out 40 percent of would-be base stealers and is expected to compete for a job as the backup catcher now that Hank Conger is with the Astros.
Reynolds, 23, went from a failed starter to a successful relief pitcher in 2014, posting a 2.90 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and a strikeout rate of 9.1 in 42 appearances for Class A Advanced, Double-A and Triple-A.
Roth, who has made 22 Major League appearances since being drafted in the ninth round in 2012, has been DFA’d for the second time this year. The first time was in late April, when he slipped through waivers and eventually finished up a solid season in Double-A, posting a 2.62 ERA in 22 starts. But Roth has a 7.79 ERA in 32 1/3 innings in the Majors.
Williams, 28, was selected off waivers from the Rockies on Oct. 22 after appearing in seven Major League games and batting .256/.353/.368 in 72 Triple-A games this past season.
If a player was 18 or younger during the First-Year Player Draft that resulted in him signing his first professional contract and five seasons have passed, or 19 or older the day of the Draft and four seasons have passed, he can be selected in the Rule 5 Draft if not on his team’s 40-man roster.
Teams had until 9 p.m. PT on Thursday to add Rule 5 Draft-eligible players to the roster. Other notable Angels prospects left unprotected include outfielders Matt Long and Drew Heid, right-handers Austin Wood and Daniel Hurtado, and shortstop Erick Salcedo.
Translation: It’s the deadline to protect players from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft.
If a player was 18 or younger during the First-Year Player Draft that resulted in him signing his first professional contract and five seasons have passed, or 19 or older the day of the Draft and four seasons have passed, he can be selected in the Rule 5 Draft — Dec. 11 this year — if not on his team’s 40-man roster.
The Rule 5 Draft is typically uneventful. Teams won’t let a player they have high hopes for be left unprotected and it’s really hard for a player to stick with his new club if he is selected (the player must be returned to his original team if at any point he’s not on the 40-man roster the following season). The Angels haven’t carried a Rule 5 pick on their Major League roster since reliever Derrick Turnbow in 2000, and only four of the nine Rule 5 selections from last year even played in the Majors. (The Angels picked lefty reliever Brian Moran, who spent the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery and was returned to the Mariners in October.)
But there have been some gems to come out of the Rule 5 Draft — namely, Josh Hamilton, Johan Santana, Dan Uggla – and Thursday’s roster decisions are a strong indication for how an organization feels about certain prospects. The Angels’ 40-man roster is currently full, so they’ll have to do some maneuvering to protect some Rule 5-eligible players.
Below are three to keep an eye on …
3B Kaleb Cowart: He was once the jewel of their system, but he’s struggled mightily in Double-A and could be converted to a pitcher if he doesn’t turn it around. Cowart (pictured) hit .221/.279/.301 in 2013, then .221/.279/.301 in 2014, going from switch-hitting to only hitting from the left side midsummer, and struggled once again in the Arizona Fall League. Still, he’s only 22. And he has a lot of talent. I can see a team taking a chance on him if eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.
C Jett Bandy: Bandy hit only .250/.348/.413 in Double-A, but had an above-average caught-stealing percentage (40 percent) and Jerry Dipoto mentioned him as a potential Major League backup after trading Hank Conger. The Angels already have three catchers on their 40-man roster — Chris Iannetta, Carlos Perez and Jackson Williams — so they may have to just hope the 6-foot-4 Bandy doesn’t get picked up.
RH Dan Reynolds: The 23-year-old moved from the rotation to the bullpen in 2014 and might have turned his career around. Reynolds carried a 5.39 ERA in 26 starts for Class A Inland Empire in 2013, then posted a 2.90 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and a 9.1 strikeout rate in 42 appearances for Class A Advanced, Double-A and Triple-A in 2014. But the Angels have a lot of right-handed-relief depth, so they can afford to keep Reynolds off the 40-man.
I felt good. The strikeouts were obviously up there, but I had a career high in RBIs, I got to drive in a lot more runs, the power was up. Just happy that I got to get to the playoffs. That’s a big thing, just to get a taste of it, and it’s definitely going to help me out throughout my career.
On his favorite moment from 2014 …
It’s always cool making a diving play or a game-saving catch, but I think the walk-off home run I hit off the Rays, my first career walk-off, was a pretty cool feeling, just knowing that you won the game for your team. It means a lot.
On how he has evolved the last three years …
I think it’s just the experience you get, playing every day and being out there, just learning new things and seeing pitches day in and day out, it definitely helps you.
On the power numbers and strikeout totals being up …
I think it’s just a combination. When I had my chances to run, I wanted to run. But the power is definitely up. It’s just the hard work you put into the offseason, just getting a little older and getting a little stronger definitely helps.
On whether different numbers are a function of what the team needed …
I think moving to the 2 spot gave me a lot more opportunities to drive in runs. At leadoff, you’re kind of like a guinea pig, trying to get on base, trying to get to second base. The RBIs up because my teammates got on base for me and I had more opportunities to drive them in.
On adjusting to seeing so many high pitches …
Sometimes you get a little anxious, and when you get anxious out there, you try to do too much and you swing at those pitches. I’d say the majority of them were balls, just trying to do so much with the baseball. It just looks so big and you get so big, and you just swing through it. Just calming yourself down and controlling your emotions a little bit better, you definitely can learn from it, for sure.
On the build-up to the MVP announcement …
It was definitely a special night. You have family and friends all over, and just anxious throughout the day. The last two years, I was in the same situation and I just kind of knew with the experience I had the last two years, it helped me out a little bit. When the announcement came out, it means a lot. You always want to win, so when you do that, you get emotional a little bit.
On what he took away from the postseason …
It’s tough to do. You have all these high expectations and you want to do so good. If you just go out there and play your game, you do a lot better. If you go out there and try to do too much — especially me as a player, I try to hit the ball so far and try to do so much I get in trouble. You have to trust yourself, stay within your game and do what you have done; what’s got you there. That’s key.
On who helped him out the most …
Your teammates. It starts from the top. The Angels organization for letting me go out and play every day. My teammates; if you’re putting up the numbers, you have to have guys get on base for you, winning ballgames, making the playoffs. I didn’t be here if I didn’t have those guys. It’s always good to have great teammates, have a great coaching staff. It’s a great organization.
On what it means to his hometown of Millville, N.J. …
It’s always fun coming back in the offseason and spending time in the hometown where you grew up. Coming back to Millville, it means a lot. It’s where you came from. Very special people, have family members that live there, and I’ve got friends that live here, too. It’s definitely special for them, too.