So call this premature if you wish…but my article on Giancarlo Stanton is raking in the social media attention. And by social media attention I mean I’m up to four likes and 1 comment on Facebook. But that’s just in about a day, so my per-48 hour stats are looking mighty strong. So I’ve opted to franchise this idea:
Continuing on with my apparent series of articles in which I look into big MLB offseason splashes and dissect what else a team needs to do to win…let’s examine what has been one of the biggest stories in baseball for a number of weeks: the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, and eventual signing with the Angels.
Now in a bit of a different vibe than the Yanks and their Stanton addition, the Angels adding Ohtani doesn’t necessarily make them immediate World Series contenders. The Halos have been a team for some time now who spend big but constantly find themselves hanging on to the edge of playoff contention. In 2017 they found themselves on the outside looking in come October, so to expect any single signing to lead you to a World Series appearance or a ring is a bit much. I can empathize with the excitement of beating out every other team in baseball for a coveted Free Agent signing better than most, after all I’m a Yankee fan. But from experience I can tell you that a single signing, regardless of how talented the man is, will not yield as big of a prize as you might think. Ohtani appears to be a once in a generation caliber talent with skills on both sides of the ball that many would envy. But to expect him to turn around the Angels misfortunes alone would be reaching a bit. The LA media can be just as fickle as that of New York at times but with a young kid from another country there is going to be some time needed to adjust and get into the swing of things.
Ohtani Can’t Pitch Every Game
All of the excitement and hype surrounding the arrival of the “Japanese Babe Ruth”, centers around the fact that he will be involved in some facet of the game on a nightly basis. What we have to realize however is that Ohtani will still only be pitching once every 5, or more likely every 6 games. This is a Los Angeles Angels rotation that has some promise but still lacks the tangible success. The fact of the matter is Ohtani in his 23 year old, rookie season will almost surely be the Halos’ ace. Sure it’ll breed some exciting match-ups when he goes toe to toe with some of the games top hurlers in nationally televised spots, but it’ll also breed some frustration when the next 4-5 games are pitched at a far less phenomenal level. There’s always the opportunity for the Angels to continue to be players in Free Agency, and in my predictions piece I had them spending big money on a pair of superstar talents. One of those talents: Jake Arrieta. That would be a big boost for a franchise who needs to turn in at least a few good pitching outings a week to navigate the traditionally stop-start offense in Anaheim. Additionally there’s always a chance we see the emergence of some of the Angels’ other young arms as legitimate front of the rotation caliber talents. Guys like Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney will need to come into their own to take some of the load off of Ohtani and any other potential acquisitions.
The 7, 8, 9 Dilemma
Let’s get really hypothetical shall we. Let’s say it’s mid-September, the Angels are in a tight race for the Wild Card with the Mariners, Red Sox, Twins, and Blue Jays. Shohei Ohtani has done his thing all year for you pitching to a healthy 3.20 ERA on a 12-5 record, and has been a solid DH on rest days batting .270 with 15 homers. Around him all year, the Halos have been consistently solid, and while you’re not necessarily catching the Astros for the Division, it seems you’re playoff bound at the very least. With a 5-3 lead in the 7th against the Mariners, Ohtani hands the ball off to the pen and retires to the dugout excited about a would be 13th victory. But then Keynan Middleton gives up a long ball to Kyle Seager to make it 5-4. In the 8th, Cam Bedrosian and Jim Johnson combine to load the bases and the Ms tie it up on a Ben Gamel sac fly. Now with the ball game tied in the 9th Blake Parker is expected to shut down Dee Gordon, Robinson Cano, and nelson Cruz…good luck! The Angels have a stacked lineup, they’re a move away from being a solid rotation but outside of the closer spot (which is still far from elite) they lack reliable arms in the bullpen. The scenario above is an all too real possibility that the Angels will experience far too many times in 2018 if the front office can’t find a fix. In recent years we’ve learned that the key to success down the stretch run and into the postseason is dominant performances from the relievers. Hell the Yankees almost made it to the World Series exclusively off of the game’s best bullpen. I’m not saying that in order for the Halos to make it to October they have to stockpile arms in the pen this winter, but if they want to be legitimate contenders in 2018 they have to at least make sure they’re not wasting quality outings by their starters and strong days at the plate by their lineup.
Winning The West
Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t think any one in the AL West has a shot in hell at catching the surging Houston Astros. The ‘Stros will undoubtedly lock up their second consecutive division title en route to more October baseball. But if you look at the on paper contenders for the pair of Wild Card spots it goes as follows: Yankees/Red Sox (whoever doesn’t win the division), the Blue Jays (ever notice they’re always somehow in it), the Twins (if they can repeat this year’s success), and legitimately all of the non-Houston AL West Teams. The Mariners are making moves to improve in a hurry. The Rangers will find a way to spend the dough to get back into the picture. In 22 years of life I’ve learned that the A’s are best when I legit can’t name a single member of their roster without peaking at MLB.com. That’s a lot of heavy competition for the playoffs, primarily stemming from your own division. If the Angels are to even dream of October, winning as many of the 72 divisional contests they’ll play in 2018 is a must. If the Angels can secure an above .500 record within their division, particularly against Seattle and Texas, it’ll go a very long way in pushing them up in the Wild Card Standings.