By Mike DiGiovanna/Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Angels left the winter meetings Thursday without a slugging left fielder, but they did add a hard-hitting infielder in Yunel Escobar, who was acquired from the Washington Nationals for reliever Trevor Gott and minor league pitcher Michael Brady. The Angels also received about $1.5 million in cash.
Escobar, 33, is coming off his best offensive season, when he hit .314 with a .375 on-base percentage, .415 slugging percentage, nine home runs and 56 runs batted in. He has a career slash line of .281/.350/.385 with 78 homers and 449 RBIs in nine seasons. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Escobar has made 986 of his 1,159 career starts at shortstop but probably will play third base for the Angels, who did not make a qualifying offer to veteran free agent David Freese.
Escobar, who has been traded six times and will be playing for his fifth organization, has one year remaining on a contract that will pay him $7 million next season and includes a team option for $7 million in 2017.
Gott, 23, was called up by the Angels last July and went 4-2 with a 3.02 earned-run average in 48 games, striking out 27 and walking 16 in 47 2/3 innings. Armed with a fastball that touches 98 mph and a developing slider, he worked his way up to a seventh-inning role.
Brady, a 28-year-old right-hander, went 7-7 with a 3.77 ERA at double-A Arkansas.
Escobar’s salary will bring the Angels’ 2016 payroll to within $9 million to $14 million of the $189 million luxury tax threshold, and it is unclear how it will affect the team’s pursuit of a left-field bat. General Manager Billy Eppler left the winter meetings’ hotel before the trade was announced.
Eppler said Thursday he is “still having conversations” with representatives for the top free-agent outfielders _ Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon _ and talking with teams on numerous trade fronts. There was a growing sense this week that owner Arte Moreno might be reluctant to push the team’s payroll past $189 million, potentially putting a crimp in the team’s pursuit of a big bat.
The four top outfielders figure to get long-term deals worth more than $20 million a year, so signing one would push the Angels over the soft cap.
The Angels could spend big on such a player now and shed salary — most likely that of $20 million pitcher C.J. Wilson or $5 million pitcher Hector Santiago — during the season. Luxury tax is based on end-of-the-year payrolls. There is also a chance the price of one of the sluggers could drop into a range Moreno is comfortable with as the winter progresses.
Moreno is impulsive, as his pursuit of Josh Hamilton, who signed a five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels before the 2013 season, showed. If he is waffling on paying premium dollars for a big bat this week, he could change his mind if the right deal presents itself next week. Moreno loves to lie low before making a big splash, as evidenced by his surprise signing of Albert Pujols to a $10-year, $240 million deal at the winter meetings before the 2012 season.
So it was not really surprising that Fox Sports reported Wednesday afternoon the Angels are “a finalist” for Heyward, who could command a deal in the 10-year, $200 million range, along with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs.
The Angels selected two players in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft, reliever Deolis Guerra from Pittsburgh and Korean first baseman Ji-Man Choi from Baltimore. Asked whether he thought both could make the team next spring, Mike LaCassa, the team’s director of minor league operations, said, “Yeah ... how often do you see a team, especially one with the expectations we have, take two guys in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft?”
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