Angels bolster infield at Meetings, eye more moves

Focus shifts to left field after club acquires third baseman Escobar

Angels bolster infield at Meetings, eye more moves

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Just before Angels general manager Billy Eppler departed the Winter Meetings, he filled a pressing need in his lineup, acquiring veteran infielder Yunel Escobar from the Nationals in exchange for young reliever Trevor Gott and Minor League pitcher Michael Brady.

But the most pressing need remains. The Angels still need a left fielder, though Jason Heyward reportedly is off the market and heading to the Cubs.

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The Angels also weren't in active talks with the likes of Justin Upton, Alex Gordon or Yoenis Cespedes, but that can change quickly. And that decision seemingly rests with owner Arte Moreno, who would have to give his consent to exceeding the luxury-tax threshold to sign any one of those players.

Winter Meetings highlights
Below were the biggest moves of the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
12/9: D-backs acquire RHP Shelby Miller from Braves for OF Ender Inciarte, RHP Aaron Blair, SS Dansby Swanson.
Mets acquire 2B Neil Walker from Pirates for LHP Jon Niese.
Astros to acquire RHP Ken Giles from Phillies for RHP Vincent Velasquez, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, others. Not official.
White Sox acquire IF Brett Lawrie from A's for two Minor Leaguers.
Mets to sign SS Asdrubal Cabrera to 2-year deal. Not official.
Mariners acquire 1B Adam Lind from Brewers for three Minor Leaguers.
12/8: D-backs sign 6-year deal with Zack Greinke.
Cubs sign 4-year deal with 2B Ben Zobrist.
Yankees acquire 2B Starlin Castro from Cubs for RHP Adam Warren, PTBNL.
Cubs sign 2-year deal with RHP John Lackey.
Cardinals acquire 2B Jedd Gyorko from Padres for OF Jon Jay.
12/7: Dodgers near 3-year deal with RHP Hisashi Iwakuma. Not official.
Mariners acquire LHP Wade Miley, RHP Jonathan Aro from Red Sox for RHP Carson Smith, LHP Roenis Elias.
Royals sign 2-year deal with RHP Chris Young.
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"You walk in the door with a lot of ideas," Eppler said immediately after Thursday's Rule 5 Draft at the Opryland Hotel. "Some of them are more pie in the sky, and some of them present themselves as a little more realistic. Now it's defining what's going to be more realistic."

The Angels now sit somewhere between $10 million and $15 million below the luxury-tax threshold, and Moreno is said to still be reluctant to exceed it. If that continues to be the case, they could clear room by having another team take on a chunk of C.J. Wilson's $20 million for 2016, or by constructing a more cost-effective left-field platoon.

Fellow lefty starter Hector Santiago, with two years of control, was a popular name at the Winter Meetings and can also be used as a trade chip.

"It's so hard to handicap what's close because you're dealing with another party," Eppler said, "but there are definitely things that are options."

Deals done
Escobar was acquired from the Nats for Gott and Brady. Craig Gentry was signed to a one-year contract worth about $1 million, while fellow outfielders Quintin Berry and Nick Buss were added on Minor League deals. Buss, 28, is a left-handed hitter who batted .296/.352/.408 in 92 games with the D-backs' Triple-A affiliate last season.

Rule 5 activity
Switch-hitting Korean first baseman Ji-Man Choi (formerly with the Mariners) and right-handed reliever Deolis Guerra (Pirates) were selected in the Major League phase, while lefty reliever Chris O'Grady was plucked from the Angels' system by the Reds.

Goals accomplished
The Escobar acquisition gave the Angels some flexibility and time. Escobar enters as the third baseman and, with a .350 on-base percentage, can join Kole Calhoun at the top of the lineup to feed Mike Trout more RBI opportunities. If the Angels do nothing else with their infield, Johnny Giavotella can return as the second baseman. Third-base prospects Kaleb Cowart and Kyle Kubitza have each spent a little bit of time there and may even be able to compete with Giavotella in Spring Training.

Escobar's diving play

Eppler has also compiled some outfield depth, his most glaring need when the offseason began. Gentry, a right-handed hitter, can be a solid fourth outfielder or perhaps even a platoon left fielder. Berry and Buss can help round out the Triple-A outfield, along with Todd Cunningham and Rafael Ortega -- also acquired this offseason. Choi will seemingly compete with Efren Navarro -- another first baseman with outfield experience who hits from the left side -- for the last bench spot.

Unfinished business
There may be depth in the outfield, but there's still a gaping hole in left field. The Angels have yet to figure out what to do with a position in which they posted only a .592 OPS last season, the lowest mark in the Majors in 23 years. They'd ideally also find another option at second base. And now that Gott is gone -- not to mention Danny Reynolds, who was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers -- the Angels could use some additional bullpen depth.

GM's bottom line
"One thing I learned along the way is to be pragmatic, be mindful, and communication. We have some irons in the fire. We'll see how hot they get and if they manifest into something." -- Eppler

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.