Published May 03, 2016
Although the Los Angeles Angels didn't land any of baseball's most coveted free agents at the winter meetings, new general manager Billy Eppler isn't finished shopping.
The Angels are still in talks with prominent free-agent outfielders to fill the club's conspicuous void in left field, Eppler said Friday after returning to Orange County. The club's biggest acquisition in Nashville was well-traveled third baseman Yunel Escobar via trade from Washington.
''Our focus is very much toward sharpening the outfield,'' Eppler said.
Los Angeles coveted Jason Heyward and stayed in contact until the night before he reportedly agreed to an eight-year, $184 million deal with the Cubs. While Eppler declined to say whether he has the budget to land Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes or Alex Gordon, he confirmed that the wealthy Angels could improve in left field, where they struggled mightily last season.
''I see us with options with (Todd) Cunningham, with (Craig) Gentry, with (Rafael) Ortega'' in left field, Eppler said. ''My responsibility is to see if we can get better than that, and if we can at least add another piece to compete with that, we owe it to our organization. We owe that to our fans.''
The Angels are thought to be about $10 million away from the luxury tax threshold, which has often functioned as their budget under owner Arte Moreno. While Moreno will exceed the limit for the right players, the top outfielders could cost roughly $20 million per year.
If the prices are too rich, Eppler could be satisfied with a solid platoon in left.
''We don't have to chase after multiple, 20-plus home run guys,'' Eppler said. ''They are fun, and when they are out there, there is an attraction toward them. You can have an above-average offense and not have guys that sit and spin and lift the ball out of the ballpark.''
Eppler confirmed he expects Escobar to be the Angels' third baseman next season, likely replacing free agent David Freese. The Angels traded valuable young reliever Trevor Gott to Washington for the 33-year-old Escobar.
''These deals, they hurt,'' Eppler said. ''Figuratively, you bleed in these types of transactions, and (trading) a guy who is going to play next year at 23 with a huge fastball, going right into his prime, it definitely has an effect on us and our bullpen. It's going to challenge other young players that are here such as (relievers) Cam Bedrosian, Mike Morin ... to grab some relevant innings for us. We ultimately felt this was necessary for us to be able to plug something into our everyday lineup.''
After the Angels struggled to score for long stretches last season and ultimately missed the playoffs by one game, Eppler felt their inconsistent lineup couldn't afford to lose Freese without replacing him with a decent bat. Escobar should fit nicely alongside new shortstop Andrelton Simmons in the infield and next to Kole Calhoun atop the lineup in front of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
The Angels already know they will face offensive challenges early in the season during the careful return of Pujols, who had surgery on his right foot last month.
''Everything seems to be feeling good, so everything is going in the progression that we thought,'' Eppler said after speaking to Pujols on Thursday. ''I think if he rounds out through the holiday and we turn into early 2016 that we will have even a better idea of where he's at.''