Rotation might require complete makeover; lineup must add depth
By Austin Laymance
ANAHEIM -- The Angels have an important offseason ahead of them, with the club facing questions about the pitching staff and a need to improve the lineup.
The Angels were unable to reach their goals in 2016, in part because of a pitching staff ravaged by injuries and an offense that was able to set the table but didn't have the depth of contending teams.
That should make for a busy second offseason for Angels general manager Billy Eppler as he seeks to provide manager Mike Scioscia with an improved roster.
"I think that you try to improve in every area that you can, and at times, our lineup has been a little bit shallow," Scioscia said during the final week of the season. "We're not going to focus on one area. There's a lot of things that we're looking at. But, certainly, if you're looking at just the offensive end, I think like any team, you're always looking to get that lineup deeper to where you're strong one through seven or eight, and not maybe one through four or five, where we've been a lot of times this year."
It's shaping up to be an eventful winter for the Angels.
Rotation: The Angels have many questions regarding the rotation. Weaver's future is up in the air as he enters his first offseason as a free agent after 11 seasons with the Angels. Richards has avoided Tommy John surgery after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, and the Angels want him to pitch in the instructional league for piece of mind heading into the winter. Lefty Tyler Skaggs was slowed by a forearm issue in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, and his health will be monitored going forward. Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano are out until 2018 after each underwent Tommy John surgery. Shoemaker was having a great year until he took a line drive off the side of his head in September and had surgery to stop bleeding in his brain. He's resting comfortably at home, but it's unclear how Shoemaker will recover from such a scary incident. Lincecum is not likely to return after struggling in a brief stint. Chacin is a free agent, and Wilson won't be back after not pitching at all this year. Alex Meyer and Daniel Wright are unproven young arms. Ricky Nolasco is the closest thing to a sure thing for next year's rotation. Nate Smith, the club's top pitching prospect, could have a shot to make the team out of Spring Training.
Catcher:Jett Bandy put together a solid rookie season and emerged as a candidate to share time with Carlos Perez moving forward. Soto had an injury-plagued year and is a free agent. Juan Graterol earned a September callup, but he's an 11-year Minor League journeyman. Taylor Ward, the club's No. 3 prospect, spent the season with Class A Advanced Inland Empire and likely needs more experience in the Minors.
Designated hitter:Albert Pujols is now entrenched as the designated hitter, having played his fewest games in the field this season in his historic 16-year career. Pujols can still play first base when needed, but he's dealing with plantar fasciitis in both feet, and it makes sense to keep him off of them as much as possible to keep his power bat in the lineup for an entire season.
First base:C.J. Cron showed he can be a reliable first baseman next season, with a power bat and improved defense. Jefry Marte also has some pop and filled in for Cron when he missed time with a fractured hand. Ji-Man Choi saw time at first, but he struggled offensively in his first season out of Korea. Angels top prospect Matt Thaiss is a few years away from making a big league impact after being picked 16th overall in the 2016 Draft.
Second base: This is a position of need. The Angels want Kaleb Cowart to play second base in winter ball because he has primarily been a third baseman. Cliff Pennington and Gregorio Petit are veteran options to split time at second, but Cowart has the most upside. Johnny Giavotella made 90 starts before being designated for assignment in August.
Shortstop:Andrelton Simmons had a great season after coming over in an offseason deal with the Braves. He's among the best defensive shortstops in the Majors and improved offensively as the year went on, citing a change in approach at the plate where he became more aggressive. Pennington and Petit can also play short.
Third base: Escobar played well in his first season with the Angels, locking down third base and proving to be a productive leadoff hitter. It makes sense for the Angels to bring him back on a reasonable $7 million option. Cowart and Marte have the ability to play third base every day, but the Angels like their versatility and will use them at multiple positions. Petit can also play third.
Outfield:Mike Trout had another MVP-caliber season in center field. Calhoun was once again productive in right field. The Angels are set at those two spots. The real question is left field, where the team used nine players in 2016. The Angels did not spend on high-priced free agents last offseason, but are they willing to break the bank this winter? Potential free agents include: Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Desmond, Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus and the most interesting name of all, former Angels slugger Mark Trumbo.
Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.