Do the Angels Think they Can Contend this Season?

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Updated: December 9, 2016

The Winter Meetings are generally where the waves are made in MLB’s offseason; get that many baseball executives and front offices in one place and things are bound to happen. This year has been no different, as some serious pieces have changed addresses so far. Chris Sale, Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis, Adam Eaton, Ian Desmond and a slew of prospects have gone from one team to another so far these Winter Meetings, either by trade or by signing, with many more sure to come based upon foundations laid during the meetings.

Conversely, the Angels have continued to remain quiet so far this offseason, making a few minor moves and mostly being active in the Rule 5 draft. For a team with so many holes and questions coming off the type of season the Angels just had, and considering the cap space the Angels have now that C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver aren’t dragging down the budget, the lack of moves seems questionable at best. Arte Moreno, Billy Eppler, and Mike Scioscia have all been straight-forward and vocal about the fact that the Angels will have designs to contend every single year – no tanking or rebuilding for this team.

Without getting into the pros and cons of that stance, there isn’t going to be a full-blown rebuild. So players like Garrett Richards, Kole Calhoun, and C.J. Cron are staying put, and don’t even think about Mike Trout (if the haul the White Sox received for Eaton is any indication of the market, then there is no way any one team in baseball is going to have anything even remotely close to fair value for Trout, anyway, even if the Angels made him available.)

So instead of stripping down the roster, the Angels are going to go for it, which means the Angels will attempt to add to their roster every year and attempt to contend. If that’s truly the goal, then this offseason makes little sense. Marginal, cheap, one year ‘upgrades’ like Cameron Maybin and Jesse Chavez certainly don’t scream contender status, especially when compared to the strides the Houston Astros continue to make to add to their young core.

Think about this offseason in a different context, though, and it starts to make sense. The Angels have basically ignored the free agent market in Eppler’s short time on the job, instead shopping the bargain bin and picking up other teams’ castoffs. The Angels are essentially operating like a small market team, refusing to be tied up for too long or too much to any one player. Maybe they’re learning from past mistakes? Teams generally get into trouble when attempting to build the core of their team through free agency, as Angels’ fans well know (cough, cough Albert Pujols, cough, cough, Josh Hamilton, cough cough…); smart teams strike in free agency when the time is right, to supplement a strong core already in place, i.e. the Chicago Cubs signing Ben Zobrist and John Lackey last offseason.

If the Angels believed they were only missing a left fielder, or a second baseman, or a pitcher or two, to put them over the top and push them to World Series contenders, then there’s no reason the Angels wouldn’t have struck to add someone like Desmond, Yoenis Cespedes, or Dexter Fowler. The fact that the Angels still refuse to pay for any impact players makes it obvious how close Angels’ brass believes it is to contending. While it’s probably true that the Angels will not undertake a full rebuild, they obviously are attempting to retool on the fly.

I also think it’s probably true that the Angels want to try to contend every year; every team does. The mistake does not occur from wanting to contend, the mistake comes from misreading the state and quality of your roster and how close you are to contending. I believe that the Angels are accurately assessing the state of their roster, and the organization as a whole. This team is not one left fielder or second baseman away from contending. This team has many holes and question marks all over, no sure thing on the roster at any position outside of Trout and maybe Calhoun, and almost no depth at any level of the minors.

The Angels are refusing to sacrifice any draft picks, which is the right move, and they’re refusing to lock themselves into any type of long term contract that could damage their chances of adding to their team in later years when more impact players hit the market and the Angels are presumably closer to contending.

The worst thing the Angels could do would be to misjudge their roster and sacrifice the one thing they need the most in an attempt to add to a roster that just isn’t that close to contending. This team needs organizational depth more than anything else; good, young players at all levels of the minors.

You need draft picks to bring those types of players in, and signing big-name free agents means sacrificing those draft picks. It may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but after years of mistakes and hemorrhaging good, young assets, the Angels are now in retool mode. This is how teams become consistently good again, and the Angels are on the right track back to prominence so far under Eppler.

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