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Jerome Williams an intriguing dilemma …

UPDATE, 4:53 P.M. PT: Williams has been non-tendered.

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As of 3 p.m. PT — six hours before the deadline — Jerome Williams’ agent hadn’t heard from the Angels on whether or not they’ll tender his client a contract. It’s possible that they haven’t told him anything because it’s a no-brainer that they will, but far more likely that they simply hadn’t made up their minds just yet.

Williams represents a very interesting dilemma for the Angels.

On one hand, they need to allocate as much money as possible to address their rotation, where at least two starting pitchers are needed, and can’t afford the luxury of paying about $4 million — what Williams would get in his final season of arbitration — for a sixth starter/long reliever.

On the other, $4 million for Williams may be a bargain if he were a free agent in this year’s class, especially after seeing Scott Kazmir get two years and $22 million from the A’s. If nothing else, the Angels may be able to keep him on the roster and then trade him for something else.

Williams’ agent Larry O’Brien said he’d be “very, very surprised” if Williams were non-tendered, but he isn’t sure.

“If he isn’t worth four to five million bucks, the guys that are getting paid multi-year, guaranteed deals out there – really? Tender him and trade him,” said O’Brien, part of Full Circle Sports Management. “It kind of baffles me, but they can do whatever they want to do. I think the guy can start for a number of teams and be a fourth or fifth starter and get 32 starts and let the chips fall where they may.”

Williams seems like the only big question for the Angels prior to the 8:59 p.m. PT non-tender deadline.

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said Monday that Kevin Jepsen will be tendered a contract, saying he “never thought it would be an assumption he wouldn’t be.” Mark Trumbo, Ernesto Frieri, David Freese and Fernando Salas are also expected to be tendered. Tommy Hanson and Chris Nelson, meanwhile, seem like locks to be non-tendered.

If Williams isn’t tendered, O’Brien sees it as an opportunity for his client to potentially get a job as a full-time starting pitcher.

“Jerome loves the Angels,” O’Brien said. “He has a house in Mission Viejo, he’d love to pitch for them. I know deep down he’d love to start. And I don’t get it. I don’t know why everybody writes that the Angels need two more starters and blah-blah-blah, and they don’t talk about Jerome Williams. Why don’t you go out and give the guy the ball for 32 starts and see how he does? I just don’t quite get why they don’t have that confidence. But it is what it is. All I can tell you is that it’s not a big concern of mine either way. I’d be very, very surprised if they don’t tender him, but that’s their call.

“We’ll just see what happens. If they tender him, great. He’ll compete for the job, and if they want to use him as a swing man or do whatever they want to do, then that’s their right. And if they don’t, then we move on. I wish him the best, I’m sure they’d wish him the best, and it’d be a blessing in disguise.”

Alden Gonzalez

Angels reportedly sign Joe Smith …

The Angels have signed free-agent reliever Joe Smith to a three-year contract worth about $15 million, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported on Saturday night.

Smith has posted a 2.42 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and a 2.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio with the Indians over the last three years. On the Angels, the 29-year-old right-hander will provide a major boost to the back end of the bullpen, joining closer Ernesto Frieri, lefty Sean Burnett and power right-handers Michael Kohn, Dane De La Rosa and Kevin Jepsen.

On Friday, the Angels also acquired 28-year-old righty Fernando Salas along with third baseman David Freese, as part of the four-player trade that sent outfielders Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals.

The Angels still need to add at least two starting pitchers, but were targeting a veteran setup man like Smith – as well as Edward Mujica – to round out the bullpen.

Alden Gonzalez

Angels, Cards swap Freese, Bourjos …

UPDATE, 11:50 A.M. PT: The trade has been finalized. The Angels also get right-handed reliever Fernando Salas and the Cardinals get outfield prospect Randal Grichuk.

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The Angels traded center fielder Peter Bourjos to the Cardinals in exchange for third baseman David Freese, a source told MLB.com on Friday.

The deal, still awaiting finalization and likely involving prospects, fills a need for both clubs.

Freese, under club control for two more years, batted .262/.340/.381 in 138 games for the Cardinals last season. Prior to acquiring Freese, the Angels had uncertainty at third base, with Chris Nelson, Luis Jimenez, Andrew Romine and Grant Green among the internal options.

Bourjos, heading into his first year of arbitration, is a premium defensive center fielder who battled injury last season and has combined for only 391 plate appearances the last two seasons. In 2011, though, the 26-year-old batted .271 with 12 homers, 11 triples and 22 stolen bases.

In St. Louis, Bourjos figures to form somewhat of a platoon with the left-handed-hitting Jon Jay.

With Bourjos moved, the Angels project a 2014 outfield of Josh Hamilton in left, Mike Trout in center and Kole Calhoun in right, with Mark Trumbo at designated hitter.

Alden Gonzalez

Angels lose Jason Vargas to Royals …

The Angels’ hopes of resigning free-agent starting pitcher Jason Vargas were squashed on Thursday, when the Royals announced they have signed the veteran left-hander to a four-year contract.

The average annual value of Vargas’ new deal, a reported $32 million, is $8 million. The Angels were willing to give him that much, but they weren’t willing to go four years (it would’ve been hard for them to even give him a third year).

And so, the Angels still have at least two holes to fill in their rotation.

Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards are returning, Tommy Hanson is likely to get non-tendered in December and Joe Blanton — if not released this offseason — will not go into the season as a guaranteed member of the rotation. General manager Jerry Dipoto did not tender the $14.1 million qualifying offer to Vargas because he was almost certain Vargas would accept it, and by accepting it the Angels would already be dangerously close to the luxury tax threshold of $189 million.

Vargas was acquired in a one-for-one deal with the Mariners that sent Kendrys Morales to Seattle last December. In his first year in Southern California, where he grew up and briefly attended Long Beach State University, Vargas went 9-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 150 innings in a season that saw him miss two months with a blood clot.

The Angels are expected to use the trade market to bolster a rotation that ranked 11th in the American League in ERA last season, but they may also turn to other free agents to fill Vargas’ void. And while they aren’t expected to go after the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Ricky Nolasco or Ervin Santana, names like Phil Hughes, Dan Haren, Bronson Arroyo, etc., etc., could be enticing.

Alden Gonzalez

Angels, Cards discussing Freese trade …

UPDATE, FRIDAY A.M.: The Angels and Cardinals were deep in talks on a deal that would send David Freese to the Angels as of late Thursday night. Peter Bourjos would be the one expected to go to the Cardinals in exchange, but other players, and perhaps money, could also be involved. Talks are ongoing.

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The Angels and Cardinals have discussed a trade that would involve third baseman David Freese going to Anaheim to fill a void at the hot corner, FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Thursday morning. In return, Rosenthal added, the Cardinals would seek outfield depth.

The Angels can easily part ways with outfielders without really affecting their everyday lineup, with the trio of Peter Bourjos, Kole Calhoun and J.B. Shuck all being expendable. The Cardinals need a shortstop, but Rosenthal said Erick Aybar is not on the table, which makes sense, since the Angels likely wouldn’t move Aybar — who plays a premium position they would have to fill externally — without getting some pitching in return.

The Angels are expected to use the trade market to acquire cost-controlled starting pitching, but also have a desperate need at third base, with several questionable internal candidates — including Luis Jimenez, Chris Nelson, Andrew Romine and Grant Green — and a weak free-agent market to supplement it. They could kill two birds with one stone if they can also snatch some cost-controlled starting pitching from the Cardinals.

St. Louis has become a hub for cost-controlled pitching, with eight pre-arbitration pitchers — Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist — making big contributions in a pennant-winning season.

Alden Gonzalez

Arroyo: Angels among interested teams …

Former Reds starter Bronson Arroyo went on MLB Network Radio on Monday and mentioned the Angels among the teams that have expressed interest in the early portion of his free agency.

In addition to the Angels, Arroyo, entering his age-37 season, said the Phillies, Dodgers, Giants, Twins and (maybe) Orioles have reached out to his agent, but no teams have tendered any offers just yet. The Twins and Giants, who just signed Tim Hudson to a two-year, $23 million deal but need more starting pitching, have been in touch more than once, Arroyo said.

Arroyo, who did not get a $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Reds, seeks a three-year deal, though that may be very difficult to come by — even for someone like Arroyo, who has a great health record.

Over the last two years, while pitching mainly at the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, Arroyo has put up almost identical seasons, compiling a 3.76 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP and a 3.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 404 innings. The veteran right-hander has averaged 207 innings over the last 10 years, doing so with a 4.10 ERA.

The Angels could turn to Arroyo as a fallback option if they can’t resign Jason Vargas, but Arroyo will probably be more expensive — at least with regards to average annual value.

“I feel like I’ve proven myself in the game, I feel like I’ve given any team that I’ve ever played for their money’s worth,” Arroyo told MLB Network Radio. “And so I really would like somebody to come further than two years and give me a three-year deal. I feel like I’ve got plenty left in the tank for that.

“I feel as good now as I did when I was 25, other than a few days in the weight room when your knees hurt a little bit squatting. My repertoire of pitching is without question better than it’s ever been, my mind is better than it’s ever been. That just comes with experience and learning your body and knowing how to get hitters out with what you have. So I don’t feel like I’m going downhill at all.”

Alden Gonzalez

Dipoto: ‘Fair amount’ of interest in his hitters

The Angels front office is in Orlando, Fla., at the General Managers’ Meetings, and their main focus is to gauge the interest level of other teams in their pursuit of starting pitching.

Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Peter Bourjos and Kole Calhoun — maybe others — will be dangled by GM Jerry Dipoto, who’s trying to bolster the starting rotation with a depleted farm system and few available funds. Speaking to reporters (including our own Ken Gurnick), Dipoto said there has been “a fair amount” of interest in his hitters so far.

“We’ve got a talented group,” Dipoto said. “Our offensive players are fairly accomplished, some at a very young age. There have been a lot of inquiries on a lot of them. We’ve not predetermined to move any of them. We are open to solve our needs that are more on the pitching side than the offensive side.”

More here.

Alden Gonzalez

Angels sign Volstad to Minor League deal …

The Angels have signed starting pitcher Chris Volstad to a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite.

Volstad, 27, was the 16th overall pick by the Marlins in 2005. The 6-foot-8 righty had a solid rookie season in ’08, posting a 2.88 ERA in 15 games (14 starts), but was never able to duplicate that.

Over the next four years, the last of which was spent with the Cubs, Volstad compiled a 5.14 ERA and averaged 153 innings per season. Last year, he spent the vast majority of the season — minus six relief appearances — pitching for the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, posting a 4.58 ERA, a 1.57 WHIP and a 1.30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 127 2/3 innings.

– Alden Gonzalez 

Can the Angels be a fit for David Price? …

In August 2009, the Angels acquired Scott Kazmir from the Rays in a four-player trade.

In July 2012, Peter Bourjos was so close to being dealt to the Rays — presumably for James Shields, but that part is unconfirmed — that they basically had his uniform ready in St. Petersburg.

This offseason, perhaps the two can come together again — this time for ace pitcher David Price.

The two haven’t been linked heavily in trade talks — yet — but it’s a pairing that would seem to make sense for both sides. The Rays are believed throughout the industry to be shopping Price this winter. It’s the kind of thing they’d do. The starting-pitching market is thin, which would maximize Price’s value; the 28-year-old left-hander is projected to make about $13 million in his second year of arbitration; and Tampa Bay has a gluttony of young, cost-controlled starting pitching, which could free the front office up to trade Price for the offense that may finally balance out their roster.

Meet the Angels. They’ll spend all offseason looking for pitching via the trade market and are more than willing to dangle offensive pieces to get it. Price only comes with two years of control, which doesn’t exactly meet the profile of cost-controlled arms that Jerry Dipoto specifically targets. But here’s the thing: The Angels don’t just have to improve the rotation. They have to get a lot better. Their staff ranked 11th in the American League in ERA last year, Jered Weaver basically loses a tick or two off his fastball every season, C.J. Wilson can drive you nuts every five days, Garrett Richards is still developing and Jason Vargas (if resigned) is 64th in ERA over the last four years.

This rotation looks a whole lot better if you slide Price at the top and move everyone down a spot.

Heck, it may rival some of the best in the league.

Will it happen? Maybe; most likely not, given how difficult it is to pull off trades this big. But it’s an interesting one to think about at this point. (Even a little fun, no?) Who would the Angels have to give up to get Price, you ask? One guy the Rays may really want — perhaps even demand — is Richards, and I can see that being the difference between real dialogue taking place or this being nothing more than a pipe dream. Besides Richards, Mark Trumbo — who you’d hate to lose, but would probably be willing to give up if it means getting someone this good — is probably a guy who would go to Tampa Bay, since he’d be a perfect fit in the middle of their lineup and first baseman James Loney is now a free agent. Maybe Bourjos gets thrown in there again, perhaps second baseman Howie Kendrick — born and raised in nearby Jacksonville — gets added to the mix, maybe some prospects, maybe all of them.

Two things are certain …

  1. The Angels would face a whole lot of competition, especially if Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka isn’t posted. And the Rays will seek a significant return since they don’t really have to trade Price this offseason.
  2. The Angels may have to take on money, since a big reason the Rays would do it in the first place is to free up some payroll flexibility. (I estimate that the Angels have something in the neighborhood of $15 million of wiggle room for 2014. Parting ways with Trumbo saves about $6 million for next season, while Kendrick saves about $9 million and Bourjos saves about $1.5 million.)

More on the Angels’ offseason search for pitching here.

– Alden Gonzalez 

Angels remain interested in Vargas …

Jason Vargas is officially a free agent, with no ties to Draft-pick compensation, and the Angels will face some stiff competition.

They’ve made it clear to Vargas for quite some time that they’d like to bring him back, but the remaining holes on their roster and the lack of wiggle-room on their payroll give them little desire to overpay.

And Vargas – as most free agents tend to do – opted to wait out the five-day, exclusive negotiating window to delve into a thin free-agent class of starters, all of whom were free to talk with other teams as of 9:01 p.m. PT on Monday.

“We obviously have interest in having Jason back,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said when reached by phone Monday night, though he opted not to go into further details. “This is the process, and it’s playing itself out, and we’ll honor that. Obviously Jason earned the right to see what was out there in free agency. We’ll maintain a rhetoric with him and do have interest in him returning. I think it’s a mutual interest.”

In the end, it may come down to one element: The third year.

MLBTradeRumors.com predicted a three-year, $28.5 million contract for Vargas. But the Angels are hesitant to go a third year and at this point don’t seem willing to approach an average annual value of $10 million with the 30-year-old left-hander, considering he projects as a fourth starter in their rotation.

Vargas will no doubt hold out for something better. But keep in mind that just last season, only five starting pitchers – Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse and Jeremy Guthrie – garnered extensions longer that two years. And while Vargas has been a steady, mid-rotation starter over the last four season, he isn’t considered among the top handful of available arms despite a thin free-agent class.

The Angels didn’t tender Vargas the one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer because there was little doubt in their mind that he would accept it, and they’d be too close to the luxury-tax threshold if he did.

More info here.

Alden Gonzalez

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