The Angels' off-season is here. This much we know and this much we bemoan. What we do not know is what exactly the Halos have planned for the off-season (and whether or not we will bemoan said plans). My goal for this week is to try and figure out what it is that Angels GM Jerry Dipoto has up his sleeves. The problem is that we really only have one off-season of history on Dipoto to judge him by and it was probably an outlier off-season as well since one can only sign the best player of a generation to a quarter of a billion contract once. This won't be easy, but it should be a hell of a lot less depressing than trying to read the tea leaves with Tony Reagins. (Hmm, looks like all signs point to doom again, Tony. Sorry.)
Since this is an involved effort, I'm cutting it up into three parts. Today we tackle part one, the lineup.
Beefing up the Angels' batting order was the focus of Dipoto's off-season machinations last winter and it paid off. The addition of Pujols, the acquisition of Iannetta, the promotion of Trout, the eventual jettisoning of Abreu and the minimization of Vernon Wells led to the Angels boosting their offensive production by exactly 100 runs from 2011 to 2012, good for third in the American League. Mission accomplished, right?
Well, not quite. Jerry has to be pleased, but he still has some shaping to do and some logjams to clear. The first part of that should be relatively easy for him, but not because the Angels are a patient team. In fact, they had the third-worst walk percentage in the AL last season. It is easy because he has so few option available to him to change personnel in the everyday lineup: right field and maybe left field and/or third base. That's not a lot of wiggle room.
This leads directly to the second part of that earlier statement, clearing roster logjams. Dipoto might want to improve the patience and balance of the roster, but he is going to have to move around a lot of parts to make it happen. He's only painted himself into an even tighter corner by his recent statements that strongly suggest that Torii Hunter will return next season. And I do believe that will happen since Jerry has thus far not been one to give misleading statements. He never speaks in absolutes either, so he does have an out, but given his apparent nature as a forthright and honest individual, it would be a major shocker if he didn't find a way to work out a deal for Hunter to return.
That leaves just left field or third base for Dipoto to play with and I do mean "or" not "and." Again, the roster logjam is a problem. The Angels simply have too many bodies to clear to bring in new blood at both positions. To get a new third baseman, the Angels would have to cut loose or bench Alberto Callaspo. That sounds like a great idea, one I suspect Dipoto would be in favor of, if only there actually were an upgrade available that the Angels can afford. This has nothing to do with reading Jerry's mind, there just isn't much talent at third base in the majors and almost none of it is available in free agency or trade. The best possibly available guys, David Wright and Chase Headley may not actually be as available as we hope. Even if they were, Jerry has intimated several times that he does not expect to spend as big this off-season, seemingly reserving his one big purchase for re-signing Zack Greinke. The lineup just isn't a problem, so don't expect anything big at third base.
There is only a slightly large chance of a big move at left field as there is the possibility of trading either Mark Trumbo or Kendrys Morales, with the remaining player locking down the DH slot. Alas, I wouldn't expect either to move. Trumbo, for all his second-half struggles, is wildly popular with the fans and it seems unlikely Moreno would sign off on Trumbo being flipped at a time where the fans aren't exactly pleased with the franchise. As for Morales, the only signal we have with him is all the glowing remarks the team has been making about his recovery. That could be because they really are happy with his progress or because they are trying to puff up his value. I tend to put my faith in the former if only because I see little indication that the Angels want to mess with the good thing that is their lineup.
So, that's it? Re-sign Hunter and then nothing else? Yes, almost. The bench will surely get a make over. This is the part where you all probably want me to predict that Vernon Wells will be cut loose. I'm not going to do that. Dipoto had plenty of opportunity to release him this last season and he never did it. I believe that ship has sailed. In fact, Vernon might actually be kind of necessary as depth and an insurance plan behind Trumbo and Hunter. Granted, it is a cut-rate insurance plan, but Wells did show a tiny bit of life in the last two months of the season.
The guy who will find himself expendable is Peter Bourjos. When Jerry took over, he adamantly defended against the rampant trade rumors swirling around Bourjos. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, those defenses took the form of "we are not actively offering him." That is basically GM speak for "he's available, just give me a call." Bourjos just doesn't have a spot in this outfield. Trout proved to be so great in center that even Bourjos' superlative defense no longer looks that attractive internally. It doesn't help that Dipoto wasn't the GM that drafted and cultivated Peter and thus he has no attachment to him. But more than anything, Bourjos is the biggest non-prospect trade asset that the Halos have, even if his value took a big hit this year. The dude is gone, prepare yourself for it. What he gets dealt for is hard to say, though I'd lean towards starting pitching given Jerry's recent comments on the value of relievers.
So there you have it. The best guess here is that Dipoto will more or less stand pat on the position player side of the roster. Hunter will return. Bourjos will get dealt. Mix in a little bit of churning on the bench and the Hank Conger trade we've all seen coming for months and Jerry will be done.
But fret not, there will plenty of other moves afoot. Come back tomorrow for a prognostication of Dipoto's possible schemes for rebuilding the Angels' rotation.
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The solution is very simple: "Begin with the end in mind," as Stephen Covey says. The bullpen blew 22 saves. Cutting that to half alone would have probably won a playoff birth for the Angels. In the midst of the Pujols and Wilson signing, I kept asking myself: "Game 7 of the ALDS playoffs and who closes the game? Walden? Then midseason they signed Frieri. Frieri?" The first thing the Angels should have done was to get a closer that HAS gotten it done, where they want it done -- THE WORLD SERIES. Papelbon with his experience with the Sox would have been perfect. Right now the closest available closer with consistent performance and experience in the playoffs would be Valverde. Get him and all of a sudden your bullpen becomes powerful with Jepsen/Walden in the 7th, Downs as the situational lefty, Frieri in the 8th, and Valverde in the 9th. Case closed. As for the offense, there are two main weaknesses: there are more hackers than a hacking convention in Vegas, and it's too right-handed. If you look at the Championship teams the past 5 years, balance has been predominant: Yankees with Teixera and A-Rod, Phillies with Howard, Werth, Utley, and Cards with Pujols and that switch hitter, etc. To fix the lineup, I would "make an offer they can't refuse" and trade Wells (yes Wells -- the deadest of dead weight), Trumbo and Ianetta to Minnesota for Mauer and their next-most expensive player. Then re-sign Hunter. Your lineup would be: Trout, Aybar, Mauer, Pujols, Morales, Hunter, Kendrick, Callaspo and Bourjous: Speed up top and at the bottom, switch-hitting power in the middle. As for the rotation, Greinke should definitely be re-signed for a rotation of: Weavy, Greinke, Wilson, Richards, and the ubiquitous "Player to be named later." That'll be your Angels Championship lineup for years to come. Peace out.
@RyanGutierrez Your closer argument is deeply flawed. Yes, they had 22 blown saves, but only three were by Frieri. The problem is getting to the closer. Spending big money on a closer guarantees nothing. You referred to Papelbon. Look how much he helped Philadelphia which is not at all. Their bullpen ERA was almost the exact same as the Angels and they "only" blew 19 saves.
You make a good point about the lack of left-handed hitters but I don't think Mauer is the right route to take, nor do I think that Mauer can be acquired unless they are clearing all of his salary, so there is no way in hell they take Wells. Nobody will ever take Wells and his contract, ever.
I agree that they will most likely bring back Hunter and use Bourjos as trade bait. Forgot who suggested this (maybe it was you?) but a deal with Tampa Bay involving Bourjos for pitching help would make sense. No way the Rays bring back BJ Upton, so Bourjos would be a great fit for them in CF, especially given their emphasis on defense. Don't think they can get a SP for Bourjos, though. Maybe Jake McGee? Had a great year in relief and still has some SP upside. Wade Davis is likely too expensive for a reliever.
@scioscialite I agree with what you agree with but i don't like it. Leaning on Hunter feels too short-sighted for my taste. Leaning on him as a backup seems more befitting his age. Everybody benefits his playing 3-4 days a week.
Great insight, but I'll say this, with Jerry Dipoto, you never what's going to happen. For all we know, the Angels could come away with David Wright, or maybe even Josh Hamilton. Dude is a true ninja.
I like puffing. Puffing is good, according to my lower division Merchandising prof, teacher, whatever. What I'm sad about is the loss of several years of Pete for, what? A good half year? Year, maybe, of Hunter. And one year of Morales, max, at one of the few positions Mark Trumbo has available to him. But the rest is pretty straightforward. Nobody to trade, really, and even less chance of finding a trade partner for what they need. I'm going to go be depressed now.