Though the Dodgers garner practically all of the press clippings in Los Angeles, there's another ballclub starting to make some noise a few miles down the 5 Freeway.
Without question, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been the big winners throughout the MLB offseason. GM Bill Eppler has been as active as any baseball executive since the conclusion of the World Series in early November.
Eppler's signature move included the persuasion of Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani to sign with the club. Widely regarded as a high-level prospect, the Angels beat out competition from virtually every other team for his services. Ohtani will be afforded the opportunity to not only feature within LA's starting rotation, but also (tentatively) play on an everyday basis.
With a fastball touching 102 miles-per-hour, and gargantuan power from the left side of the plate, Ohtani is a highly intriguing player. LA worked stealthily to get this deal done. Seattle and New York had long been presumed to be favorites in this race for Ohtani's signature. Duly, the Dodgers, Rangers, Giants, and Cubs were all heavily involved. Alas, the Angels came out as the winners in the hotly-contested sweepstakes.
The acquisition of Ohtani was just the beginning for Eppler. Earlier in the period, LA locked up outfielder Justin Upton on a 5-year, $106 million deal. Upton played well during his brief stint with the team post-trade deadline a year ago -- clubbing seven homers in only 115 plate appearances. Upton is a power hitter in the heart of LA's lineup. He's able to provide Mike Trout and an aging Albert Pujols with some protection -- evidenced by his mark of at least 26 home runs in each of the last five seasons. At only 30 years of age, Upton's just approaching his prime.
With the outfield firmly cemented in place, LA pivoted brilliantly to its infield. Veteran Ian Kinsler was picked up from Detroit for two below-average prospects. The 4-time All-Star will add pop, defensive capabilities, and speed at the top of the order.
Speaking of slick-fielding infielders with solid hitting skills, LA also announced the free agent signing of 2017 All-Star Zack Cozart. Formerly of the Cincinnati Reds, Cozart can play all over the infield. He'll function primarily as a third baseman for the Angels. The trio of Kinsler-Cozart-Andrelton Simmons is as good as you'll find in baseball from a defensive standpoint.
Here's a projected look at the Angels' lineup for next season:
DH: Shohei Ohtani/Albert Pujols/C.J. Cron
RF: Kole Calhoun
CF: Mike Trout
LF: Justin Upton
3B: Zack Cozart
SS: Andrelton Simmons
2B: Ian Kinsler
1B: Albert Pujols/C.J. Cron
C: Martin Maldonado
All four of the Angels' infielders have won Gold Gloves at one point or another. The same can be said for Maldonado -- who nabbed the honor this past season. Depth within the lineup should also not be an issue -- as there's a very nice mixture of speed, power, and contact.
From a perception standpoint, this has been a monster offseason for the franchise. Division foe Houston just won a World Series. The Dodgers also featured in the World Series this season, and certainly don't appear as if they'll tail off anytime soon. The Yankees have gotten considerably better with the addition of Giancarlo Stanton (and may soon add Manny Machado into the fold).
The expected gains in production signal a concerted effort to get better collectively across the board. Duly, it also lets Trout know that the franchise is doing anything and everything it can to make him happy. By providing him with ample help, it could increase the likelihood of him staying for as long as he'd like.
It's astounding to think that Trout has played in only three postseason games throughout his already illustrious career. This roster appears like a favorite to -- at the very worst -- snag a wildcard spot.
These moves may not ultimately work out. Kinsler is approaching his 36th birthday. The 32-year-old Cozart is coming off of a career -- and injury-riddled -- last season. Ohtani is far from a certainty, particularly with recent concerns over his elbow.
With that said, credit the front office for putting themselves in a position to be a highly competitive team for years to come.
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