The Offseason Dissection of the Angels

The Los Angeles Angels are spoiling the primes of the best pure talent baseball has seen since Ken Griffey Jr. and the most enigmatic spectacle in the game since Babe Ruth. As a fan of the game and these players, I am genuinely appalled that I haven’t seen Mike Trout in a playoff game since 2014, and I’m frustrated that Shohei Ohtani has been grossly misused by the franchise since he joined them in 2018.

Rebuilding is not an option for the Angels after inking Trout to an extension in the winter of 2018 that’ll run for another nine seasons to the tune of roughly $38-million per year. So this team has to contend, and has to do so sooner rather than later. If nothing else, 2021 should serve as a reminder that as miraculous as his statistics have been throughout his career, Mike Trout is still human and isn’t getting any younger.

The AL LA-team needs to piece a contender out of what they’ve already got at their disposal, and 2022 looks like the perfect time to take advantage of a weakening AL West. Despite their current playoff escapades, the Astros are in decline, the Mariners and A’s remain fringe contenders at best, and it appears as though the Rangers strategy of building a new ballpark wasn’t enough to help them be a better team.

The Halos have everything they need either already under contract for next season or simply fingertips away. This isn’t a terribly difficult franchise to navigate towards contention, so that is exactly what I’m trying to do here, in a little series I’m calling “The Offseason Dissection”. In an effort to examine what the Angels have now, and where they need to be come opening day of 2022, I’ve broken this team down position by position. I’ll talk who needs to stay and who needs to go. So with out further a do, let’s begin with the man who’s job that actually is:

FRONT OFFICE

What Billy Eppler did to the Los Angeles Angels is almost criminal. He overpaid all of the wrong free agents, gutted the farm system with mindless trades for aging stars and justified it by calling it a win-now approach. Angels owner Arte Moreno and his staff are still dealing with the fallout of the Eppler era, most recently parting ways with their longtime director of scouting whose resume includes piecing together a farm system that has ranked in the bottom third of the league for nearly a decade.

Last year’s hire of Perry Minasian was a stroke of genius and an overdue promotion for a baseball lifer who helped to mastermind the dominant Blue Jays rosters of the mid-2010s and the recent run of success by the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. Minasian is a GM who understands that winning takes precedence and knows how to make it happen at all costs.

Most importantly, as evidenced by the two teams that he’s worked for previously, the Angels have a GM who realizes winning at the Major League level and nurturing a stable Minor League foundation don’t have to be mutually exclusive ideas.

COACHING STAFF

Joe Maddon has been hailed as baseball’s premier managerial mind since his days leading the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series back in 2008. Maddon, the figurehead of the Cubs’ drought-ending World Series win in 2016, is never the wrong choice for a team looking to contend.

Around the old school skipper, is a healthy balance of new school approaches to both hitting (with Jeremy Reed) and pitching (with Matt Wise). The coaching staff has hardly been the problem with the Angels, even prior to Maddon’s hiring, but now with the right front office in place they’ll have a chance to really put on a display of force out west.

STARTING ROTATION

Okay…yikes…

Remember the whole “misuse of Ohtani” thing? It starts right here. Albeit a Cy Young caliber starter when he’s on the mound, the issue is that because he plays the field as well on most days, he doesn’t take the mound enough. What I’m essentially trying to get at here is that a franchise cannot allow Shohei Ohtani to be your best pitcher because he does not pitch enough.

The Angels need a legitimate ace, and with a depleted farm system that I don’t want to further emaciate, this is where LA needs to spend money in the offseason. I know it’s easier said than done considering they’ve been trying to do this for years, but pulling in a Max Scherzer or Kevin Gausman is an absolute must. Heck, if you can do that and also get a Carlos Rodon or Noah Syndergaard, I’ll crown you kings of the AL West tomorrow!

Beyond adding a 1a option to Ohtani’s 1b (and possibly a 1c too) the Angels do have some legitimate pitching talent for what feels like the first time in years. I’m a big fan of Griffin Canning and Patrick Sandoval as mid-rotation guys. Plus there are a few more young arms already on the roster, Jose Suarez and Reid Detmers, who I find particularly intriguing as best-case scenario 5th & 6th starters.

BULLPEN

Think the Angels’ pitching problems end with their starters? Guess again. The team had one of baseball’s five worst bullpens in nearly every statistical category imaginable. The only real highlight of their ‘pen being impending free agent, Raisel Iglesias. Retaining him is a must for the Angels, but there’s much more work to be done by this team after that:

  • Scouring the free agent market for as many premium relievers as you can (Matt Barnes, Jake Diekman, Ken Giles, Craig Kimbrel)
  • Checking up on forgotten names with bounce back potential (Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Andrew Miller)
  • Hoping some young arms in need of a scene change get non-tendered (Nick Nelson, Stephen Gonzalves, Bryan Mata)
  • Bargain hunting in the Rule-5 Draft for players with upside who are being held at the minor league level because of their team’s current roster makeup (Ryan Rollison, Brody Kroener, Nivaldo Perez)
  • Analyzing trade targets who won’t require a heavy prospect return (Zach Britton, Tommy Kahnle, David Bednar, Jake McGee)

There’s no stone that should go unturned for the Halos’ brass this winter in the reliever market. But in the interim look for development of guys like Jose Quijada, Austin Warren and Kyle Tyler. I also would like to see the Angels turn flailing prospect Oliver Ortega loose in the bullpen as he appears unfit to start games. His two-pitch mastery might not be rotation material, but could thrive in short-relief outings.

CATCHER

Max Stassi isn’t going to turn heads ever with a bat in his hands, but for right now he’s your best option behind the plate. He frames pitches well, isn’t a total slouch with the stick, and most importantly for this Angels team…doesn’t cost much to keep around.

As a backup to the backstop, Matt Thaiss is serviceable and fills out nicely in the corner infield as well in a pinch, adding to his versatility. The Angels don’t have much in the way of high-upside Catchers in their prospect-pipeline, so any vast improvements would have to come in free agency.

For that reason, I could see the Angels potentially making a strong push for likely non-tender candidate, Yermin Mercedes of the Chicago White Sox. He’s butted heads with Tony LaRussa already and drawn the ire of that fan base for retiring and then un-retiring in a matter of hours after being demoted to Triple-A for poor performance. He’s a project for sure, but he’s definitely got more long-term promise than anything else you’re working with at the moment.

FIRST BASE

How fun is Jared Walsh to watch in a batters box?!

He’s made for the new era of baseball we’re in with his 40+ home run potential and is the perfect cleanup threat to force you to pitch to Ohtani and Trout in front of him.

His reactions at First Base are somewhat concerning, but given that his first home is in the Outfield, I can excuse his hesitancy with balls hit on the ground his way. Plus he’s proven to have natural mobility and ball-tracking skills while glued to the bag on throws that’d pull lesser athletes away from it.

Clearly I like him for this role as the seemingly never-ending Pujols era has at-last come to a close. It’s Walsh’s job to lose in 2022, here’s hoping he doesn’t.

SECOND BASE

If you thought I loved Jared Walsh…it’s nothing compared to my feelings for David Fletcher…

Fletcher has been the Angels’ second best offensive player in essentially every season since his rookie campaign in 2018. He trailed only Mike Trout through 2020, and last year was only bested by Shohei Ohtani. Throw in the fact that the guy can literally play every position on the diamond at a near-Gold Glove level, and I don’t know how anyone could not be more excited about him.

He’s your guy at Second Base (primarily) for the foreseeable future in Anaheim. He’ll only be displaced in a few years when the Angels promote the double-play combination of Kyren Paris & Jeremiah Jackson to the big leagues circa 2023 (currently the #4 & #5 prospects respectively). And even then, he’ll just be getting moved somewhere else on the field defensively.

THIRD BASE

When the Angels beat out the Nationals and Rangers to secure the services of Anthony Rendon two winters ago, they imagined him playing second-fiddle to Trout for the remainder of his big league career. A pandemic-shortened 2020 and injury-shortened 2021 have yielded very little opportunities for the pair to see the field together, but I have to imagine the front office hasn’t exactly given up on the idea just yet.

Rendon will be the Angels’ Third Baseman in 2022, and with any luck, he’ll return to form to help the team to its first playoff appearance in eight long years.

SHORTSTOP

A glaring position of need for the Halos in the coming offseason will see them tempted to spend big on yet another top-of-market talent in free agency. Admittedly, seeing this lineup now also feature the likes of Corey Seager or Trevor Story would be something to behold; but I feel like the spoil of offensive riches approach has been a frequent and recent disaster for this franchise.

Retaining the slick-fielding Jose Iglesias in free agency would be ideal, but could prove costly given the number of other franchises I’ve already named as being in the market for his services.

Instead, I think this is a great opportunity to reunite with a familiar face. Andrelton Simmons saw his stock take a meteoric rise while manning Short for the Halos from 2016-2020. He took a one year deal with the Twins for 2021 that yielded mixed results at best and certainly won’t lead to the long term payout I believe he was angling for.

A return to LA on a two year pact could be perfect though, as he’ll patchwork a position of need for the Halos at cost, and eventually act as mentor to the young middle-infield tandem that I mentioned as they advance to the big league level.

OUTFIELD

Once upon a time, the Angels resigning Justin Upton to a massive extension looked like a great idea. At that time his brother, BJ Upton, was playing All-Star caliber Centerfield. Fast-forward six years and the man formerly known as BJ (now Melvin) is out of baseball altogether and a one-year $28-million final season under contract is all that separates his brother Justin from joining him. The Angels could just opt to buyout the contract, a la what they did with Pujols last Summer, but I say you milk him for whatever he’s got left to give you. In the meantime, you bring Jo Addell along slowly in that role, allowing him the necessary time to adjust to the big league pitching he’s so far struggled to catch up to.

If Mike Trout is alive…he is your Centerfielder…no further discussion needed here…

Right Field in Angel Stadium will henceforth belong to Brandon Marsh. There’s a lot of talk made about switching he and Addell positionally, but Marsh’s arm is for real and I as an avid lover of the outfield assist deserve to watch him throw a ball 300 feet on the fly to nail a runner at third base. He’s also potentially a really good power hitter, but on a team full of those that seems kind of redundant to talk about at length.

DESIGNATED HITTER

For the love of God…please stop putting Shohei Ohtani in Right Field.

I get it, he’s good at it, but you need to preserve the man’s arm at all cost otherwise your MVP-winning side-show routine is caput. When he does not pitch…he DHs…that is all he should be doing. This is a less is more kind of deal, because anytime I see him chase a ball into the corner or come up firing on a sac fly, I cringe in anticipation that he’s about to be out for the season. I’m a Yankees fan who has to watch his team grossly underachieve every year…no other franchise should be making me cringe like this!

When Ohtani pitches, use that as a rest day for one of your progressively injury-prone big bats. This is honestly not rocket science…stop prioritizing showmanship over winning baseball.

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