In the first of our five-part AL West trade primer series, we reviewed potential options the rebuilding Oakland Athletics may have to improve their organization prior to the MLB non-waiver trading deadline approaches.
Now, it’s time to turn our attention to the Los Angeles Angels — a club in desperate need of an overhaul for several years, although they seem unwilling to get the ball rolling.
At last year’s deadline, the Angels moved starter Hector Santiago and minor leaguer Alan Busenitz to the Minnesota Twins for pitchers Alex Meyer and Ricky Nolasco and cash. Los Angeles also shipped reliever Joe Smith to the Chicago Cubs for another minor leaguer — Jesus Castillo.
From the Angels’ perspective, Meyer was the key acquisition. Unfortunately, the hard-throwing right-hander has been disappointing due to poor control — a problem he displayed in Minnesota’s minor league system.
Twins leadership opted to convert the 6-foot-9 hurler into a reliever before they traded him. The Halos may eventually consider the same approach.
While Nolasco pitched relatively well for the Angels last summer, he’s been ineffective this year. The club holds a $13 million option on the righty, but it’s likely they’ll choose to pay the $1 million buyout and part ways with the 34-year-old after the season.
Slowed by injuries, Smith was having a down season when dealt to the Cubs. Consequently, the Angels received little in return. Castillo is playing for Class-A Burlington and doesn’t rank among the organization’s top-30 prospects, according to MLB.com.
That brings us to this year’s club and potential trade chips available to general manager Billy Eppler.
The Angels roster has notable names — Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Andrelton Simmons, Kole Calhoun, Martin Maldonado, Luis Valbuena, Matt Shoemaker, C.J. Cron, and Cam Bedrosian. All are under team control through at least 2018, although Trout, Simmons, and Calhoun are the only players with above average value in recent years.
Eppler also has starting pitchers Andrew Heaney, Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, and Nick Tropeano in his stable. The quartet is 29-or-younger, but on the DL due to significant elbow-related injuries.
Despite the dour outlook, the Angels do have pending free agents who could help kick start a rebuild. Third baseman Yunel Escobar, outfielder Cameron Maybin, and relievers Bud Norris, Yusmeiro Petit, and David Hernandez should receive varying degrees of interest over the next six weeks.
Escobar is slashing .276/.332/.409 and could be a short-term answer for a club needing third base help. The Boston Red Sox are a contender that immediately comes to mind.
With patience seemingly exhausted with Pablo Sandoval and the organization’s number-one prospect — third baseman Rafael Devers — at least a season away, Escobar could serve as a bridge through the rest of 2017 in Boston.
Moving Escobar would give the Angels a potential opportunity to see what minor leaguer Kaleb Cowart has to offer over an extended period.
The switch-hitter hasn’t performed well in limited big league action — just 139 big league plate appearances since 2015. But, he’s slashing .306/.383/.416 for Class-AAA Sat Lake City.
Regardless of whether Cowart is or isn’t in the Angels’ long-term plans, flipping Escobar for much needed talent is paramount.
The same holds true for Maybin. The right-handed hitter’s .377 OBP ranks in the top-20 among AL outfielders and his 20 stolen bases lead the league. Although Maybin profiles best in left field, the 30-year-old has been patrolling center field with Trout mending on the DL.
A contender looking for a left fielder capable of playing anywhere in the outfield on a limited basis may find Maybin attractive.
Perhaps, the crosstown rival Dodgers would be interested in his services. Their outfield hasn’t been particularly productive and they’re mired in a heated division race with the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks.
An issue certain to come up in any trade negotiations for Maybin is his $9 million salary this year. Covering most of the 11-year veteran’s remaining 2017 pay would lead to a bigger haul for the Angels.
In the bullpen, Norris, Petit, Hernandez, and Blake Parker have been superb at missing bats and preventing base runners during the injury stints of Bedrosian and Street. Despite their success, selling high makes sense for an organization in dire need of new blood.
Both Norris and Parker are converted starters thriving in their new roles as relievers. The former stepped took over as closer when Bedrosian hit the DL in April. Parker primarily pitches in middle relief.
With Bedrosian expected back by the weekend and Street not far behind, the Angels have an opportunity to improve organizational depth by peddling their crop of relievers.
Virtually every organization with postseason aspirations will need bullpen help. One division leader — the Washington Nationals — has one of the worst bullpens in baseball and would potentially be a great trade partner for the Halos.
The two clubs have consummated three deals within the last two years. Conceivably, a fourth would prove beneficial to both parties.
Nevertheless, the Angels need significant help and can’t waste any chance to restock their roster.
The remaining free agents have limited value due to below average performances.
Both Danny Espinosa and Cliff Pennington have struggled offensively. But, each has experience playing every infield position. Their versatility may generate some interest, but the Angels will receive little in return. Starting pitcher Jesse Chavez and outfielder Ben Revere are similar cases.
An intriguing name to monitor will be pitcher Doug Fister. The right-hander recently signed a free agent deal with the Angels and is currently working in the minors to shake off rust and improve his stamina.
Fister’s contract is relatively cheap — $1.75 million with incentives based on starts and/or relief appearances. If the 33-year-old pitches well, he could draw interest at the deadline.
The Angels organization is currently on a bridge to nowhere. They’ve surrounded the best player on the planet — Trout — with one of the oldest rosters in the majors and 11 pending free agents. To compound matters, their minor league system continues to rank as one of the worst in baseball.
If the Angels aren’t on the right track before Trout becomes a free agent after the 2020 season, trading the 25-year-old may be their last best option to rejuvenate the organization.
For now, the Halos should be active sellers whenever there’s a chance to improve their long-term outlook.
Doing otherwise only delays an inevitable rebuild and may eventually lead to losing Mike Trout. That would be disappointing.