Spring Training is underway, meaning it’s time for offseason recaps on the Seattle Mariners’ division rivals. We’ve already discussed the Texas Rangers; let’s turn our attention to the Los Angeles Angels.
As we move forward, please remember there’s still time for clubs to shakeup their rosters. Especially with so many free agents still on the market and with each team having players with no minor league options remaining.
Los Angeles is the second AL West team with a new manager. Long-time skipper Mike Scioscia stepped down after guiding the Halos to seven postseason appearances since 2000 – including the franchise’s only World Series title. Taking the helm, former Tigers manager Brad Ausmus.
Despite Scioscia’s early success, it’s been a different story lately. Last year was the Angels’ fourth consecutive losing season and the club hasn’t reached the postseason since 2014. A quick glance at a stat sheet suggests a team that’s not awful, but not competitive either.
|Angels Team Stats|
Offensively, the team was middle-of-the-pack, but the lineup wasn’t long. Only four players with 250-plate appearances bettered the league-average mark for wRC+ (100) – Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Justin Upton, and Andrelton Simmons.
Another subpar season from Albert Pujols certainly didn’t help run production either. The future Hall of Famer hit fewer than 20 home runs for just the second time in his 18-year career, plus his .289 OBP was 93 points below his career norm. Adding to the 39-year-old’s woes, season-ending knee and elbow surgeries.
Realistically, the Halos’ offense would’ve been a bottom-feeder without Trout. Subtract his production from the club’s offensive totals and their slugging percentage plummets 20 points to a meager .383 – well below the .409 league-average mark.
On the mound, pitcher health continued to be a challenge. Last season, the team lost Ohtani, Garrett Richards, Keynan Middleton, Blake Wood, John Lamb, and J.C. Ramirez to Tommy John surgeries. Meanwhile, Nick Tropeano had shoulder issues after returning from T.J.
The Angels didn’t make splashy moves with their most significant acquisitions being veterans with short-term commitments. Every player listed below will be over-30 by Opening Day.
|Trevor Cahill (SP)||Justin Bour (1B)
||Matt Harvey (SP)|
|Jonathan Lucroy (C)||Cody Allen (CL)||Tommy La Stella (IF)|
While Ohtani won’t pitch in 2019, the team expects him to be their designated hitter shortly after the season begins. With the reigning AL Rookie of the Year and Pujols on the mend, Justin Bour serves as insurance at first base and designated hitter.
Bour’s presence is particularly critical considering Pujols’ age and the fact he played 70 games at first base last year – double his combined time at the position in 2016-17. The 30-year-old hit 20 home runs with the Marlins and Phillies last year; his combined 107 wRC+ would’ve ranked fifth on the Angels.
With Trevor Cahill, the Angels add another starter with availability issues – he hasn’t made over 20 starts since 2013 due to injuries.
Cahill was effective with the A’s last season with a 53.7% ground ball rate – fifth best among starters with 100-plus innings. However, he logged just 110 frames due to an elbow impingement, a strained Achilles, and back stiffness.
Matt Harvey fell on hard times when injuries and ineffectiveness knocked a once-promising career off-track. The Mets traded the righty to Cincinnati last May where his effectiveness improved significantly.
To fill the void at catcher, the Angels signed veteran Jonathan Lucroy. Once considered a top-notch offensive and defensive backstop, Lucroy posted career lows in AVG/OBP/SLG last year. Meanwhile, advanced metrics suggest his glove work is regressing. Still, the 32-year-old has been durable averaging 132 games annually since 2013.
Cody Allen joins the Angels to be the closer. He’s been a steadfast performer averaging 72 innings/year since 2013, although the right-hander’s 2018 strikeout and walk rates and xwOBA all trended in the wrong direction. Essentially, he’s coming off the worst campaign of his seven-year career.
To address infield depth and roster flexibility, the team acquired Tommy La Stella from the Cubs. He doesn’t possess a power bat, but has a superb .345 OBP during his five-year career. The 30-year-old has experience at both second and third base and even pitched 1.1 innings of relief in a game. He may see time at first base too.
While positional flexibility at the other infield positions may help, Bour, Pujols, and Ohtani on the roster simultaneously doesn’t seem feasible for a club intent on contending. Ohtani is solely a designated hitter, while Pujols and Bour are first base/DH types.
Bour does have a remaining minor league option. However, if the club opts to take that route simply to retain Pujols, how serious could they possibly be about winning in 2019?
Veteran Zack Cozart appears destined for third base, although he can play second base too. Cozart appeared in just 58 games before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last June. When he was available, his bat didn’t deliver results.
Before his DL stint, Cozart hit five home runs and slashed .219/.296/.362. Moreover, his 84 wRC+ ranked 264th of 355 MLB hitters with +200 plate appearances. It’s worth noting the former Ole Miss Rebel has a career 89 wRC+ and has been above league-average just three times since 2012.
Depending on where Cozart plays – second or third base – David Fletcher currently projects to play the other position. After making his MLB debut last June, Fletcher proved valuable delivering plus-defense at second base and a league-average .316 OBP.
Also vying for opportunities – Luis Rengifo and former first round pick Taylor Ward. The 21-year-old Rengifo is a middle infielder and a plus-defender, who could challenge Fletcher at second base. Ward transitioned from catcher to third base last year and may see time at the hot corner with the Halos sometime this year.
Naturally, La Stella helps fill gaps across the infield. His presence is insurance against continued injury issues with Cozart, a sophomore slump from Fletcher, or difficulties adapting to the majors by Rengifo and/or Ward.
The lone sure thing in the infield is Simmons at shortstop. He’s one of the best defenders in MLB as evidenced by his second consecutive Gold Glove in 2018. Moreover, his bat has incrementally improved over the past four seasons with his .292/.337/.417 slash in 2018 setting personal bests in each category.
In the outfield, the same crew returns from last year with Trout in center field and Upton and Kole Calhoun covering the corners. Calhoun, a notorious Mariners killer, enjoyed a strong second half in 2018 after a terrible start to his season.
Veteran backstop Kevan Smith or youngster José Briceño are the front-runners to back up Lucroy. Smith underwent an offseason ankle procedure, but now appears healthy. Briceño made his rookie debut last season appearing in 46 games.
Smith’s .281/.318/.376 slash in 497 career plate appearances since 2016 may make him more appealing. Additionally, the 30-year-old is out of minor league options.
On that note, here are the current Angels with no minor league options remaining.
|No Minor League Options
|Hansel Robles||Noé Ramírez||Luis Garcia|
|Cam Bedrosian||J.C. Ramirez||Kevan Smith|
With the rotation, it’s more of the same from the Angels. The team enters Spring Training with a talented cast, but everyone has struggled with injuries. Some as recently as last season.
The leading candidates for the Opening Day starting staff are Harvey, Cahill, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Jaime Barria. Among these pitchers, only Skaggs and Heaney have ever made 30 starts in a season.
In the bullpen, Allen’s projected supporting cast includes Ty Buttrey, Justin Anderson, Hansel Robles, Cam Bedrosian, Noé Ramírez, and Luis García. Taylor Cole, Williams Jerez, and John Curtiss look to be in the mix too. Middleton and J.C. Ramírez may contribute sometime this season.
Thus far, the Angels have added players around the edges without landing an impact arm or bat. For this reason, it’s tough envisioning the offense or pitching staff being significantly better than last year.
Adding a proven veteran like former Mariners outfielder Denard Span could help. Former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel would be a great add too, but he’s probably too costly for a franchise paying Pujols and Trout a combined $62.1 million this year.
Here are pending free agents, who may appeal to buyers, assuming the players are performing.
|Pending Free Agents|
|Kole Calhoun*||Trevor Cahill||Matt Harvey|
|Jonathan Lucroy||Cody Allen||Peter Bourjos|
|* Team holds option for 2020|
As with any club selling at the deadline, just about any reliever will be available for the right price.
Perhaps the best way to characterize general manager Billy Eppler’s offseason moves would be rolls of the dice on veterans nearing or in decline. The totality of these deals don’t significantly affect the budget and probably won’t improve the Angels’ postseason chances in the AL.
While every fan base wants their team to right now, there’s a heightened sense of urgency with the Halos. Trout is under contract for two more seasons. It’s been suggested putting a winner team on the field might convince the best player in baseball to forego free agency and stick with the Angels.
If that’s the case and building a serious contender before Trout reaches free agency is the team’s mission, Eppler and ownership are falling down on the job.