I'd like to extend a big thank you hug to the Minnesota Twins for delivering a death blow to the last remnants of hope that the Angels would go on a big run to get back into playoff contention. Now we can get down to the business of evaluating what the Angels can and should do at the trade deadline in an effort to avoid 2014 being this same nightmare for the fourth straight year. Their options are aplenty, but that doesn't mean they are appealing, so let's rip this band-aid off, shall we?
There is nothing less exciting than this option which is why I secretly dread that this is what they actually do. And I use the word "do" loosely since it would mean that Dipoto would opt to "do" nothing. The logic behind that being that the Angels are still just barely close enough to the Wild Card that they continue to pretend that they can make the playoffs. They'll trade nobody and Arte Moreno will consider it some sort of weird proclamation that his teams don't ever throw in the towel... or something like that. He probably just doesn't want to be selling while the Dodgers are buying.
Trim the fat
This one isn't much sexier, but is probably just as likely. It is essentially what would happen if Arte Moreno's hubris doesn't stand in the way. While the Angels would be raising the white flag on the season, they also wouldn't be going into anything resembling a full rebuild. All they'd be doing is cashing in on assets they are going to lose for nothing after the season anyway. That would boil down to the Halos trading Scott Downs for one solid prospect and Jason Vargas for two quality prospects. A more debatable version of this would also include Dipoto trading away Tommy Hanson, though that could and probably should wait until after the season. The sticking point with this strategy is that Jason Vargas may not be ready to pitch until well into August, at which point his value might be so reduced that the Angels are better off keeping him and slapping a qualifying offer on him.
Make a splash
A bigger version of the option above. Dipoto would still cut the dead weight, but he'd go a long way towards restocking the prospect pipeline by moving one of his more desirable assets. Be it Kendrick, Aybar, Bourjos or Trumbo, the Angels would fetch one big prospect package by dealing a productive hitter under team control for several years. The package would be composed of a top 100 prospect another big league ready prospect and maybe one more lesser prospect, thus setting up the Angels to contend again in 2014. Examples of such deals could be shipping Aybar to St. Louis for a Carlos Martinez-based package (an idea I'm growing increasingly fond of), Kendrick to the Royals for a Kyle Zimmer package, Trumbo to the Rays for Chris Archer and so on.
This is a tempting strategy, but it requires some long-term planning as the Angels would have to plan to replace whichever bat they deal in the 2014 Opening Day lineup. That would be hardest with Aybar, a little less difficult with Kendrick since Lindsay isn't ready just yet and considerably easier with Trumbo and Bourjos thanks to the presence of Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron. Alas, it is Kendrick and Aybar who are the easiest to move right now, making this quite the tough call for Angel management.
Pull a Red Sox
Let me just kill this idea right now because it isn't going to happen. While Angel fans might like to see Hamilton's terrible contract get packaged with either Kendrick or Aybar as well as maybe Blanton, Hanson and/or Iannetta to create financial flexibility, it just isn't going to happen. When the Red Sox and Marlins pulled off this kind of deal, they had legit stars (Gonzalez and Reyes, respectively) to headline the package and the Halos don't have anyone of that ilk to trade. There is also no team in their right mind that would take on all or most of Hamilton's contract which is kind of the point. Again, Boston and Miami included albatrosses like Crawford and Buehrle in their deals, but their production floor was never as low as Hamilton's is right now. Besides, there doesn't appear to be any team out there capable of taking on such package right now. The only conceivable destination I can figure is maybe the Phillies because they seem somewhat desperate. I'm not sure that even Ruben Amaro is that dumb though. Besides, the second part of the Red Sox strategy is replenishing the roster via savvy free agent signings which hasn't exactly been a strong point of the Dipoto regime thus far.
The Tony Reagins Special
Going off the board here, it is possible that Dipoto could follow in the steps of his predecessor. Yes, I mean that as a positive thing. One of the underrated strategies Reagins employed was his ability to make trades at the deadline that were really for the next few seasons. He acquired Alberto Callaspo when the Halos were no longer really contenders and made a similar move with Dan Haren, two moves I still like very much despite the unexpected blossoming of Patrick Corbin. JeDi could try and jump the market on a player who isn't thought to be prominently available, which is exactly what happened in the Haren trade and why it was believed at the time that the Angels got him for a pretty good price.
The problem, of course, is figuring out who such a target could be. Cliff Lee and Jeff Samardzija both come to mind, but so do their undoubtedly astronomic price tags. Last time I checked, the Angels didn't have anything close to the kind of prospects to swing such a deal. So, yeah, this isn't happening unless Dipoto goes for the combo meal and pulls off a big deal for Lee only to replenish the farm system by moving out one of the aforementioned four "big splash" players in a separate trade. But would that really be progress?
Burn this mother down
It is probably too late at this point for this one to be implemented since there are so many moving parts, but an all-out fire sale can't be completely ruled out. Aybar, Bourjos, Trumbo, Kendrick, Callaspo, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton, Downs, Frieri. Trade as many as you can, forfeit the 2014 season as you break in all the prospects at the big league level. Then go all in on the 2015 free agent market which is much more attractive than the 2014 class and hope that the Halos can make World Series run before Trout hits free agency so that they can convince him to re-sign.
Yeah, that's not going to happen either. Rebuilding? Arte don't play that. He still fancies himself to be battling the Dodgers for SoCal supremacy and he'd be dealing that Sisyphus-like battle a huge blow by letting the team bottom out for a year and a half. It would also probably take more than a year to overhaul the roster since the farm system is so fallow. By then, who knows what kind of state Pujols and Hamilton would really be in.