Posted on November 11, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Los Angeles Angels have a long way to go to catch up in a division that includes the world champion Houston Astros. The Angels could stand to improve in a number of areas, but after finishing in the bottom third of the American League in runs last season, GM Billy Eppler says that offense will be the team’s top priority this winter.
Outside of Mike Trout, nearly everyone in the Los Angeles lineup had a disappointing season offensively in 2017. The Angels hope they have addressed that problem by signing Justin Upton to an extension earlier this month. But while that will likely take care of the no. 3 and 4 spots in the Los Angeles lineup, in the words of Eppler, “We’d still like to address more offense.”
Part of the problem the Angels have is that Albert Pujols is locked into the DH spot. Pujols is 37 and has only started 34 games at first base over the past two seasons. That doesn’t leave the Angels a lot of flexibility to bring in a big bat who can serve as DH at least part of the time. On top of that, Pujols no longer appears to be the hitter he once was. Despite hitting 23 home runs in 2017, Pujols batted just .241 and posted a disappointing OPS of .672, by far the lowest of his career.
The one area where the Angels appear to have some flexibility is on the corner infield. Los Angeles has a few players who the ability to play either first base or third base, most notably Luis Valbuena. While he hit a measly .199 last season, Valbuena supplies great power. The Angels can play him at either first base or third base and look to the free-agent market to address the other spot.
At first base, options like Eric Hosmer or Carlos Santana are available if the Angels want to break the bank. Meanwhile, Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda, and Logan Morrison represent some more affordable options. At third base, Mike Moustakas is the top player available, while Todd Frazier and Eduardo Nunez are also considerations.
Of course, while the Angels would love to add a player like Hosmer, Santana, or Moustakas to give the middle of their lineup a third top-flight hitter, they have to be careful with how they spend. The Angels also have to address second base, which was a black hole of productivity last season. Having a little money available to add a little bit of pitching depth may not be a bad idea either. With the Angels having one of the weaker farm systems in baseball, trading for offensive help may not be an option, so they have to spend wisely.
Such limitations leave Eppler with a tricky job this offseason. He needs to sign at least two infielders who can make a meaningful impact offensively but still have enough money to perhaps make a surprise bid for one of the top pitchers available. Eppler has not given up on making a splash in both areas.
“You can get good deals on a Mercedes. It’s possible,” Eppler said of adding frontline pitchers this winter. “You just understand what you’re willing to allocate toward a certain player, and if your expectation and their expectation intersect, you try to get something done.”
Despite their offensive deficiency and Trout missing a significant chunk of the season, the Angels weren’t all that bad in 2017. But they have several pressing questions to answer this winter and Eppler definitely has his work cut out for him.