12/30/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Inbox: Will Angels keep their first-round Draft pick?
Beat reporter Alden Gonzalez answers Angels fans' questions
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
Forty-two days remain until Spring Training, with pitchers and catchers set to report on Feb. 13, and the Angels' offseason work is almost complete.
They've addressed third base, acquiring David Freese along with reliever Fernando Salas in a trade that sent center fielder Peter Bourjos and prospect Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals. They've shored up the bullpen, adding sidearmer Joe Smith on a three-year, $15.75 million contract. They got some cost-controlled starting pitching, sending Mark Trumbo to Arizona in the three-team trade that brought in Tyler Skaggs from the D-backs and Hector Santiago from the White Sox. And they replaced Trumbo via a one-year, $2.75 million incentive-laden contract with Raul Ibanez.
Now, they need one more starting pitcher.
And I need to answer some questions …
Do you think the Angels will resist temptation and keep their first-round pick in the June Draft? Or will they surrender it on one of the remaining free agents?
-- Carl G., Baldwin Park, Calif.
The Angels have basically ignored any free agent tied to Draft pick compensation all offseason, and general manager Jerry Dipoto reiterated their stance just before leaving the Winter Meetings, saying: "We're committed to the idea of preserving our first-round pick. We haven't had one in the last two years and are notably thin in the Minor League system, particularly with upper-level pitching. … That first-round pick is something that's very important to us, just the impact you can get from it."
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But the question is still a relevant one, given the dynamic of the free-agent market for starting pitching. If a deal with Matt Garza can't be worked out, Masahiro Tanaka signs elsewhere, 36-year-old Bronson Arroyo doesn't lower his price demands and A.J. Burnett continues to be against pitching on the West Coast, the Angels will be sifting through a much lower tier, where the likes of Jason Hammel, Paul Maholm and Chris Capuano lurk.
Another option would be to cough up yet another first-round pick -- No. 15 overall -- to sign Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. Even those two, the top of the free-agent crop if you don't include Tanaka, have significant warts. Santana is a year removed from going 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA on the Angels; Jimenez was 19-30 with a 5.03 ERA from 2011-12 before turning it around this season.
In short, the Angels don't deem them worthy of a big contract and a Draft pick.
How big of an impact will the Trumbo trade have on the upcoming season, and will it be positive?
Painful as it was to part ways with Trumbo, I'm among those who like this trade for the Angels. I know a lot of you don't, for a very understandable reason: The Angels gave up a known commodity for two relative unknowns. With Trumbo, you could pencil in 30-some-odd homers and somewhere around 100 RBIs (he's averaged 32 and 94 the last three years). In Skaggs (22 years old) and Santiago (26), the jury is still out.
But you have to understand something: The Angels weren't getting young, cost-controlled starting pitching with upside without giving up Trumbo (they tried with Howie Kendrick and others, but couldn't). And they need that cost-controlled pitching. They have none of it in the upper levels of their system, which has forced them to rely on journeymen, Minor League signings and others in the scrap heap over the last few years.
Now, at least, they have some depth and flexibility. Trumbo is a great clubhouse guy, is a better defender than people give him credit for and provides the right-handed power that's coveted in this game. But he also has a .299 career on-base percentage and isn't viewed as a star-caliber player within the industry. I think the Angels did good in turning him into two controllable starters with upside.
What do you think of the Ibanez signing? Is it good or bad for the Angels because he's 41 years old?
-- Paul S., Orange, Calif.
I like it because of the price and the circumstances. His contract offers only a base salary of $2.75 million, with incentives up to an additional $2.25 million, which leaves the Angels with enough payroll flexibility to fit a guy like Garza or Tanaka in their budget. Yes, he's old, but he had a much higher OPS plus (123) than Trumbo last season (109), and there's reason to believe he could be just as good, if not better, in 2014.
Ibanez is a career .349/.407/.522 hitter in 327 plate appearances at Angel Stadium. He fell off considerably in the second half last year, posting a .203/.295/.345 slash line, but the Mariners played him 832 1/3 innings in the outfield. He'll spend the majority of his time with the Angels at designated hitter and will probably get his days off against opposing lefties, keeping him fresh enough to not wear down toward the end.
How soon will we see C.J. Cron and Kaleb Cowart in Anaheim?
-- Barbara M., Highland, Calif.
Cowart took a big step backward this past season, batting .221/.279/.301 in his first stint in Double-A. The Angels still think highly of him and are prone to believe it was an expected bump in the road for a guy who's still only 21 years old. But the earliest we'll see him now is late in 2015, with new third baseman Freese two years away from free agency.
Cron, currently playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, could arrive as soon as the middle of this coming season. Like Cowart -- though to a lesser extent -- he had his struggles in the big parks of the Texas League, batting .274/.319/.428 in his first season post-shoulder surgery. But he batted .413/.467/.700 in 20 Arizona Fall League games and could eventually be an option at designated hitter for the Angels next season.
It looks like the Angels are looking for another starting pitcher. If they get one, who's the odd man out -- Skaggs, Garrett Richards or Santiago?
All three have options left, but I think that as of now -- and granted, things can change in Spring Training -- it's a matter of whether Skaggs is ready to be a big league starter. You can pretty much pencil Richards into the rotation, after the homegrown 25-year-old posted a 3.72 ERA in 13 starts down the stretch. That's four starters, if you add Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and a free agent to be signed later. If Skaggs proves he's ready, I expect him to be the fifth starter and Santiago to work out of the bullpen. If he doesn't, he'll start the season in Triple-A and Santiago will round out the rotation.