A word of advice for Angels fans hysterical about the state of the roster: Check your calendars. The New Year was three days old as of this posting. Nearly two full months remain in the offseason, with many of the top free agents still on the board and, yes, some additional trade chips at the Angels' disposal.
The problem, of course, is the budget.
Angels owner Arte Moreno recently told reporters he's "probably going to be out" on the big-name free agents, because his club is only about $4 million below the $189 million luxury-tax threshold and because Moreno has long been hesitant to exceed it. These days, in this industry, $4 million doesn't get you much.
So, now what?
I tried to provide some clarity on that below, in the latest version of the Inbox.
If the Angels aren't financially committed to winning, why don't they rebuild? It seems like they are in limbo.
Moreno has stated in the past, and told me as recently as Spring Training, that he would never rebuild. And really, as a fan, you have to love that. Moreno has been a lightning rod for criticism over the years, most notably for his handling of the Josh Hamilton ordeal, but one thing you can't knock him for is not spending money. The Angels' Opening Day payroll is currently projected to be at about $165 million, which would be their highest ever and nearly $20 million greater than the start of 2015. (That number differs from the Competitive Balance Tax payroll, which uses average annual values to determine which teams pay the luxury tax.)
Of course, nearly all of the $25 million owed to Hamilton next season is included in that. That's the sad reality of the Angels' situation. They have a hole in left field, and they're paying so much money for a big-name left fielder to play elsewhere that they can't properly address the issue for themselves. I expect the budget to open up heading into the 2017 season, even though another year of Hamilton's contract will remain. Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Joe Smith and Fernando Salas -- making upwards of $48 million combined next season -- will all be free agents, and the luxury-tax threshold should go up with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
But next year's free-agent class is nowhere close to as talented as this year's, which is especially deep at the position the Angels most urgently need to upgrade. This is the time to strike, though Moreno is seemingly reluctant to do so because he isn't certain he can prevent exceeding the threshold again in 2017 (the percentage jumps from 17.5 to 30 for repeat offenders). Even if he doesn't, though, I wouldn't consider the Angels a team "in limbo." With the second Wild Card, 86 to 88 wins can get you in the playoffs. You don't have to rebuild, and the Angels shouldn't. They've always done their best to rebuild on the fly, and they'll keep doing so.
Do you think (outside of Minor League signings, waivers, etc.) that this is the roster we are going into Spring Training with?
I would cautiously lean toward more moves, even if nothing changes with the budget. The Angels have chased a few second basemen this offseason -- Neil Walker, Chase Utley and, to a lesser extent, Ben Zobrist -- and could seek others. They have starting-pitching depth to trade from, can save some money if a team is willing to take on a sizeable amount of Wilson's 2016 salary, and they could still try to upgrade left field.
The switch-hitting Daniel Nava has fared much better against righties throughout his career and the right-handed-hitting Craig Gentry has been more productive against lefties. Both are out of options, and both look primed to make up a left-field platoon. But they signed non-guaranteed contracts, which means the Angels are on the hook for at most a quarter of their salaries if they part ways with them before Opening Day.
In your opinion, what other options do the Angels have in order to obtain an everyday left fielder?
-- Jake M., Honolulu
In free agency, I see only two: They either exceed the luxury tax, or they save some money on Wilson's contract. There are some appealing, affordable options remaining in the market, including Gerardo Parra, Will Venable and Denard Span. But they'd probably each cause the Angels to exceed the threshold. The same can be said for right-handed power hitter Steve Pearce, who is appealing to the Angels and could factor into a platoon.
What pitchers do you see most likely to be traded, and who would you hypothesize fills out the Angels' starting rotation on Opening Day?
-- Miles B., San Dimas
If the season started today, they'd basically have five locks for the starting rotation. They are, in alphabetical order: Andrew Heaney, Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, Weaver and Wilson. That would mean Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs and Nick Tropeano all start the season in Triple-A. I don't see that happening. Not with other holes to fill in the lineup. I still think at least one starting pitcher will get traded, either to fill a hole in left field or second base.
Wilson's name has come up the most frequently, but at the Winter Meetings, teams weren't willing to take on more than a quarter of the $20 million owed to him next season. Unless that changes, there's plenty of motivation to keep Wilson. He's far enough removed from early August elbow surgery that he should recover just fine. The Angels could be selling low on a potential All-Star next season and shouldn't deal him unless the savings is significant.
I don't see Weaver, Richards or Heaney getting dealt.
Everyone else is probably still fair game.
Do you believe the Angels need to bolster their bullpen? 2014 was the strongest the bullpen had been in a long time, and that's when the Angels led the league in wins.
-- Christopher P., Corona
If the Angels do keep their eight-man rotation intact, I'd be curious to see if they consider moving Santiago to the bullpen, to serve as something of a seventh-inning reliever. His high walk rate (4.0 for his career) doesn't necessarily translate well in that role, but he's a left-hander with good stuff and prior experience in the bullpen.
I think they'll only make small moves here, if any.
Will Johnny Giavotella remain the starting second baseman?
-- Daniel T., Tucson, Ariz.
The Angels would probably be fine with Giavotella ending up as the starting second baseman again next season. He's cheap, he's a spark, and he gives them adequate offensive production at the bottom of the lineup. In Cliff Pennington, the Angels at least have someone who can sub in for defense when the Angels lead late in a game. But I expect the Angels to keep looking here. And if they don't get anyone else, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of Yunel Escobar eventually becoming the second baseman if Kaleb Cowart or Kyle Kubitza really impress. Not a likely scenario, but possible.
What is your favorite ballpark (besides Angel Stadium)?
-- Douglas A., San Jose
I can speak to this because I've been at all but two, PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Marlins Park in Miami (strangely enough, the city where I've spent the vast majority of my life). I judge them based on aesthetics, food, surrounding area, fan experience and, well, the press box. Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are unmatched in history and charm, but they come up short in most of the other departments. So, here are my top five …
1. AT&T Park, San Francisco
2. Safeco Field, Seattle
3. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore
4. Petco Park, San Diego
5. Target Field, Minneapolis