When it comes to acquisitions this offseason, don’t expect the Los Angeles Angels to act like an organization planning for an episode of Supermarket Sweep.
After a long season riddled with injury, pitching issues, and lack of production from high-priced pieces in Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, we know the team will certainly look to restructure from a 78-84 record.
But a winning formula won’t involve rushing around the offseason market, attempting to fill the proverbial shopping cart with expensive, top-tier players.
It can’t, actually.
From a tax threshold perspective, that’s not the kind of reality afforded to this team—not when they are still on the hook for past moves like Vernon Wells (18 million), present moves like Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton ($71 million total) and questionable tie-ins for next season like Joe Blanton ($8.5 million).
Instead, with $125 million already on the books for next season, the Angels’ offseason shopping list will be more of the money-saving variety, filled with smart moves that may not make a huge splash among the media, but will help the team progress into next season and after that.
Problem is, though, we still aren’t 100-percent sure who will be orchestrating this new cost-controlled method, or overseeing any of the looming arbitration.
The Angels’ season wasn’t even a day past old before we started to see the question of the Angels’ offseason pop up:
Angels fans: Do you want Scioscia gone or Dipoto gone? (Or both?)— Eye on Baseball (@EyeOnBaseball) September 30, 2013
As it stands today, any such drastic and quick-to-the-point actions by Arte Moreno toward either Jerry Dipoto or Mike Scioscia have not happened. And I’m still on board with keeping both of them next season, giving more attention to development and less to moves that will waste time due to acclimation this winter.
However, I don't think my opinion is of the majority out there.
If there were a change, then, oddly enough, the first category on the Angels’ list would have to be names of free agent GMs and managers.
But the list would not be equal parts.
Managers, at least the kind that could handle Moreno, aren’t really in abundance. And Joe Girardi isn’t coming to Anaheim via New York. Simple enough.
So by default, and a lot of cash left on his contract, Scioscia looks to be safe. Or, at least, safer.
Jerry Dipoto? Well...
The real interest should come from the GM position, in my mind, and now ex-Marlins GM Larry Beinfest.
Though nothing has been whipped up yet, the idea of Beinfest replacing Dipoto—the more expendable of the two sacrifice candidates—is a possibility.
Either way, we should expect to see more and more of the dysfunction—the behind-the-scenes drama played out in front of the cameras. And, of course, a verdict from Moreno.
After that, it’s all about the pitching—yep, baseball stuff, I know...very cool.
The Angels’ pitching staff did have the unfortunate obstacle of injury throughout the season. Players who were brought in to help the bullpen—Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson—didn’t have the impact the Angels expected simply because of health, and the rotation suffered setbacks seemingly every month too.
Jered Weaver, the one arm that needed to be healthy for the rotation to have a chance, suffered a broken elbow.
Jason Vargas, a complement to C.J. Wilson as a left-handed option had a blood clot in his armpit, and his fellow first-year Angels pitcher Tommy Hanson had both on-field and off-field circumstances.
It was a mess, no question. And sometimes, when there has been such a string of bad timing, the question then becomes: What if?
What if the rotation stayed healthy?
What if the bullpen stayed healthy?
There is nothing wrong with that feeling, either.
When you look at some of the improvements from Garrett Richards in the rotation, the continued growth of Ernesto Frieri as a closer and the ability of relievers Dane De La Rosa and Michael Kohn, things aren’t as dire as one might expect.
When Jerry Dipoto addressed the media, he sounded like he had confidence in some of the current options on the 2013 Angels’ roster:
There's a championship core there. And now we have to figure out, amongst ourselves, as we collaborate throughout the offseason, what are the moves that we can make that will improve this.
Improving on a tight budget? It can be done (see 2013 playoff-bound teams).
Sure, it would be nice if things could fit into a category like Chevy Chase’s rubber gloves in Fletch (he leased them, with an option to buy). But that isn’t the case for the Angels, unfortunately, so the team will have to be extremely delicate with each decision.
Vargas, the one and only free-agent option, is second on the list behind a manager or GM—if applicable.
The left-hander showed decent stuff this season, with a curveball that actually improved the life (the look of it, at least) of his fastball.
He wasn’t completely strong following the blood clot that sidelined him this summer—he went 3-4 with a 4.60 ERA in his final 10 starts, ending at 9-8 with a 4.02 mark—but lefties are always a commodity when it comes to offseason moves, making Vargas an intriguing free agent.
It also makes him expensive—too expensive for the Angels?
I imagine the team will attempt to negotiate with Vargas, though it’s doubtful they will have the flexibility to offer the $14 million before Vargas hits the market.
That leaves only the unknown—something manager Mike Scioscia knows is difficult:
Free agency gets complicated. There's no doubt that he's given our rotation a boost as he's come back into it from being injured. You'd love to see him in an Angel uniform, but we've been through this before. You just never know how free agency works out.
If Vargas does fall through it’s not the end of the world. The Angels have other options to acquire cost-controlled arms through trades and even the international market.
The latter of the two sheds light on an interesting story: The Angels, a team that has not exactly been an international presence in the past, reportedly will bid for the service of 24-year-old Masahiro Tanaka of Japan.
Though his posting fee, as LA Times' Mike Giovanna explains, would be around $25 million, none of that cash would go toward the luxury tax threshold ($189 million).
Tanaka, then, could be the best game-ready, cost-controlled arm—assuming the Angels would be enticing enough to win the bidding war. That, like everything else in the offseason, is still an unknown.
If that doesn’t play out in favor of the Angels, the option would be to trade a player or package a deal of players for pitching.
This scenario will sting a bit.
As I had previously written, Mark Trumbo stands as the best chip for the Angels. His bat and youth are certainly worth a quality, young arm.
The Pirates had reportedly shown interest in him around the trade deadline, but nothing came of it. (In light of their current playoff position, I am not sure the Pirates would be willing to part with an arm like prospect Jameson Taillon now like they would have then.)
The option will need to be explored by the Angels, though. Whether favorable or not, the spending ceiling the Angels have only allows for so much wiggle room.
Trumbo will help alleviate some of that pressure. And, because of the progress of Kole Calhoun and the hope of Albert Pujols returning to form next season, Trumbo is actually an expendable player.
Not happy about that? I get it.
The next option would be to throw Howie Kendrick into the discussion.
The veteran second baseman was on his way to a really solid season before the leg injury that caused him to miss most of the final month.
Out of that situation, however, came Grant Green—who has the ability to take over the second base role next season.
That leaves Kendrick, like Trumbo, in sort of an expendable position. If he can’t be moved in a one-for-one type trade, then perhaps a package deal—with the likes of Peter Bourjos, J.B. Shuck, Kole Calhoun, Kevin Jepsen, etc.—could get done.
Again, there isn’t a real certainty there. The Blue Jays reportedly had interest in Kendrick at the trade deadline (and after), but the Angels were not willing to negotiate.
With the Blue Jays current debacle, I wouldn’t think their biggest priority would be landing Howie Kendrick. Like the Angels, I would imagine it's more about pitching, pitching, and more pitching.
Isn’t that true for every team, though? Pitching is key.
Mike Scioscia explained that (per Mike DiGiovanna):
If you look at any team that wins, they're pretty good at controlling the game on the defensive end. And that begins with your rotation.
Sounds like 2012 going into 2013, doesn't it?
It's like a bad joke: Pete and Repeat walk into a room. Pete leaves. Who’s left? Repeat.
The Angels need pitching...again.
They need rotation help...again.
Taking another crack at solidifying the bullpen won't hurt either...again.
And when you really dissect the entire offseason maneuvering, the Angels shopping list is actually less of a list and more like one post-it note.
P.S: "Don't forget to pick up some pitching while you are out."
Note: All stats provided were courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Follow Rick Suter on Twitter@rick_suter