By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
First of all, in the aggregate, Billy Eppler and the front office have done a really good job in navigating this offseason and acquiring players that have an opportunity to help the team win in 2017 and beyond.
Eppler clearly stated when he first came on the job as general manager that he wanted to be defensively sound at every position around the diamond and, minus, perhaps, Escobar, he has executed on that goal. This is perhaps the finest defensive team the Angels have put on the field in a long while and it will probably wind up being a Top 3 defensive team in 2017.
Additionally Billy has addressed our greatest weakness from last year in acquiring pitchers for the rotation. Names like Meyer, Chavez, Pounders, Banuelos, Lamb, Campos, Ramirez, and Wright have been brought on board to compete for rotation spots and provide depth for the Major League team. If even one or two of these guys pan out the Angels will be in good shape moving forward.
Any of those names above that fail to make the rotation could easily find themselves competing for a reliever spot in Eppler’s new-look bullpen as well. The Angels have accumulated other names, here, including Bailey, Parker, and Yates through free agency and waiver wire claims as well as adding names like Middleton and Paredes from our Minor League farm system to the 40-man roster. The mid and late innings of games should not frighten the fans nearly as much in 2017.
Also Billy has incrementally improved the offense by adding a quality left fielder and upgrading 2B and our catching tandem against left-handed pitching. The upgrade in left field is significantly better than what we had the last two seasons and so the Angels offense, which ranked 10th in the League in 2016, should be a Top 10 offense again in 2017 barring injury or severe under-performance.
In the middle of this flurry of activity Eppler has upgraded our bench options by acquiring MIF Nolan Fontana off of waivers as well as signing utility outfielders Ben Revere and Ryan LaMarre. These three players will compete with utility players Cliff Pennington and Kaleb Cowart and corner infielder Jefry Marte for open bench spots throughout the season. This gives Mike Scioscia quality, versatile options for defensive replacements, good pinch hit at-bats, and excellent pinch runner opportunities.
The 2017 season will be a dog fight in the American League West but the Angels have the capability to navigate their way to the postseason. Upgrading team defense will not only shut down the opposing team’s offense, it will reduce our starters pitch counts, keeping their arms fresh, and allow them to stay in the game longer. Greater pitching depth will allow the Angels to absorb injuries and have enough quality starters and relievers to run out on a day-to-day basis. Improved offense, particularly at the top and middle of the order, will provide enough ammunition to score runs on a regular basis no matter what team we face.
Give Eppler credit this off-season for working within the financial confines leftover from his predecessor and the owner. He has built a team without sacrificing draft picks or trading away players of significance to the team’s future.
Finally if the Angels find themselves five games or more back approaching the trade deadline, Billy has positioned the team to sell-off through the acquisition and signing of players who only have one year of control remaining on their contracts.
If, instead, the Angels are in the thick of the race in late July Eppler may have to make some tough decisions regarding the small amount of trade-able assets the Angels have in order to make a deadline upgrade if the Angels need it (and most teams do).
It is this last scenario, a weak farm system, combined with some outstanding rotation and bullpen concerns that ultimately winds up with me giving Billy a B+ grade for the off-season. In many respects the grade really belongs to the organization because Eppler inherited some of this mess (Josh Hamilton’s contract and the depleted farm system for instance) so individually I would slide him an A-.
Either way Billy and the front office did a pretty damn good job so congratulations to them!
This team gives me a lot more confidence about our chances to win heading into the 2017 season particularly because I believe that Mike Trout is about to have the best season of his career in 2017 if Maybin and Escobar execute on offense like they did in 2016. It could potentially be a 10+ WAR season again for Trout.
The 2017 Angels will almost certainly harken back to a decade ago where we were known as a team that would go 1st to 3rd as often as possible and put pressure on the opponent’s defense. This squad, as it is currently constructed, exudes some of the same qualities those 2004-2009 teams had in droves.
I hope that those of you who read through this Primer Series journey enjoyed it, I had a lot of fun researching it and bringing it to you. Thanks again to the Angelswin.com board, especially Chuck Richter, for their support, it is appreciated. Go Angels I’m excited for the first game start happening…. right…. about…. now!