Angels prioritize offense this offseason

Upton's decision on opt-out clause will shape moves

Angels prioritize offense this offseason

ANAHEIM -- The Angels will have several holes to fill as they look ahead to the 2018 season, though one stands out to manager Mike Scioscia more than others.

"The obvious talking point this winter is going to be our offense," Scioscia said last week.

Despite employing the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, the Angels finished with an American League-worst .713 OPS, which contributed to the club's disappointing 80-82 mark. With a handful of pending free agents, the Angels will have an opportunity to upgrade several positions on their roster this winter and continue to bring in pieces to support Trout and a starting rotation that promises to be healthier in 2018.

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Here's a rundown of the areas general manager Billy Eppler and his staff will be charged with bolstering this offseason.

Biggest needs

1. Second base: This position proved to be a major hole for the Angels, as their second basemen combined to post a Major League-worst .593 OPS in 2017. The Angels thought they had filled the void after acquiring Danny Espinosa from the Nationals in an offseason trade. Though Espinosa provided above-average defense, his struggles at the plate became too much for the Halos to swallow, leading to his release in July. The Angels later called up infielder Kaleb Cowart from Triple-A Salt Lake and gave him an extended look at second, but Cowart fell into a long slump after a hot start and eventually ceded the job to veteran Brandon Phillips, who was acquired from the Braves on Aug. 31 to help boost the Angels' offense down the stretch.

Phillips will be a free agent this winter, leaving the Angels without a clear answer at second. The club's best in-house option is Cowart, though he hasn't hit consistently enough in the Majors to be a safe bet heading into 2018. It seems more likely that the Angels will try to address this need this offseason through a trade or a free-agent addition.

Possible free-agent fits: Phillips, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera

2. Third base: Yunel Escobar has been the Angels' primary third baseman for the last two years, but the veteran infielder's contract expires at the end of this season, depriving the club of one of its more consistent hitters. The Angels have a few internal options who could replace Escobar, including Luis Valbuena, Jefry Marte and Cowart, but all three have offensive question marks. Valbuena, who signed a two-year, $15 million with the Angels over the offseason, struggled in his first year in Anaheim, batting only .197 with a .291 on-base percentage, though he did finish third on the team with 22 home runs, 16 of which came in the second half. Marte and Cowart are also unproven, having spent most of the season at Triple-A Salt Lake.

Possible free-agent fits: Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, Eduardo Nunez

Gray areas

1. Left field: One of the biggest questions of the Angels' offseason will be whether Justin Upton decides to stay or exercise his opt-out clause and become a free agent. Upon, who was acquired from the Tigers in exchange for two pitching prospects on Aug. 31, is owed $88.5 million over the next four years under his current contract, though he could try to beat those figures by re-entering the open market. If Upton returns, the Angels will have stability in left field and a key middle-of-the-order bat for the foreseeable future. If he departs, they'll be on the hunt for both this winter.

2. Starting pitching: Injuries have ravaged the Angels' rotation for the last two seasons, a major reason why the club has now logged two consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1992-93. The outlook for the Angels' rotation looks more promising next year, when Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, JC Ramirez, Nick Tropeano and Parker Bridwell are expected to be healthy, but all those starters, with the exception of Bridwell, missed significant time in 2017. Ricky Nolasco, who led the team with 181 innings pitched this season, has a $13 million team option for 2018, but the Angels seem likely to decline it and allow him to become a free agent. The Halos could use another innings-eater, but they could also be content to stick with their internal depth rather than make any significant free-agent additions.

X-factor

1. Money coming off the books: The Angels have not made many big splashes on the free-agent market over the last couple years due to their stretched payroll, but they'll head into this offseason with more financial flexibility, as Josh Hamilton's contract is finally set to expire and the club has several pending free agents on its roster. That should free up money to fill some holes, though the precise amount will depend on whether or not Upton opts out.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.