Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Angels

After another season of underwhelming results on the mound, the Angels poured a significant portion of their resources into the pitching staff. This year arms have more upside than most of the Anaheim staffs of years past, but there’s still some uncertainty at the back end and a couple notable question marks on the position player side.

Major League Signings

2022 spending: $ 59.25MM
Total spending: $ 123.75MM

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • Signed C Max Stassi to a three-year, $ 17.5MM extension (deal also includes 2025 club option and potentially buys out three free agent seasons)

Notable Minor League Signees

Notable Losses

  • Dylan Bundy, Steve Cishek, Alex Cobb, Dexter Fowler, Phil Gosselin, Junior Guerra, Juan Lagares, Packy Naughton, AJ Ramos (retired), Scott Schebler, Sam Selman, Justin Upton

At the outset of the offseason, general manager Perry Minasian said the front office was hoping to “significantly improve” the starting rotation. Angels fans may have had hopes for a splash on a top-of-the-market arm like Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman or Robbie Raybut it quickly became apparent the team remained averse to making a long-term commitment to a free agent starter.

Fortunately for the Angels, this offseason presented a few opportunities to add firepower to the starting staff while avoiding a lengthy investment. A trio of starters – Noah Syndergaard, Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodón – hit free agency with top-of-the-rotation production not far in the rearview mirror but serious enough health- and / or age-related red flags to keep them from cashing in at the top of the market. Los Angeles checked in on Verlander’s health early in the winter, but they struck quickly to lure Syndergaard away from the Mets as their big rotation add.

Syndergaard had only pitched two innings in the past two seasons on account of a March 2020 Tommy John surgery. He posted an ERA of 3.24 or lower in three of his four full seasons in Queens, though, giving skipper Joe Maddon a possible top-of-the-rotation arm. In terms of 2022 spending, Syndergaard proved the biggest addition to the roster, and the Angels forfeited a draft choice to roll the dice on a bounceback. If he returns to his pre-surgery form, he’ll be well worth the investment, and the front office / ownership can reevaluate next winter whether to make an exception to their aversion to long-term deals.

Alongside Syndergaard, Los Angeles took a lower-risk flier on another volatile arm: Michael Lorenzen. The right-hander has worked almost exclusively in relief since his 2015 rookie season with the Reds, but he hit the open market in search of a rotation opportunity. The Angels obliged, reasoning that Lorenzen’s combination of athleticism and five-pitch mix could allow him to be effective in a heavier role. The Anaheim native is coming off a rough season, in which he pitched through some shoulder trouble, but he’s been an effective reliever in years past.

Those two new hurlers step into a six-man starting staff also comprising two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, José Suarez, Patrick Sandoval and Reid Detmers. The Angels reportedly inquired on the availability of Reds All-Star Luis Castillo before the lockout, but there’s no indication talks got far and Cincinnati ultimately held Castillo into the season. One could argue the Angels should’ve added another arm to the group, particularly with top depth option Griffin Canning facing another extended injury absence. All six of the Angels’ starters have question marks (most related to durability / workload concerns), but it’s also a talented staff with more ceiling than the groups the team has rolled out in recent seasons.

In addition to their rotation pickups, they kicked off a series of notable bullpen moves in the days leading up to the lockout. Closer Raisel Iglesias was the top reliever on this year free agent market. He rejected the possible qualifying offer, but they struck to bring him back on a four-year deal. Iglesias has posted a sub-3.00 ERA in four of five seasons since moving to the bullpen full-time. The Angels bought low to acquire him in a trade with Cincinnati the prior offseason, but they issued the fourth-largest contract ever given to a reliever to keep him from departing on the open market.

Retaining Iglesias was a critical move to keep the late-inning group intact, but Minasian and his staff set out for more. Even with an excellent year from Iglesias, the Angels bullpen posted a 4.59 ERA last season. That’s not good enough for any hopeful contender, and the rotation’s durability concerns make the middle innings group all the more important.

Even before re-upping Iglesias, Minasian and company brought in southpaw Aaron Loup on a two-year deal. The veteran is coming off an incredible season for the Mets and wound up receiving the loftiest guarantee of any free agent lefty bullpen arm this winter. Following the lockout, righties Archie Bradley and Ryan Tepera followed Loup to Orange County, lessening the need to rely on pitchers like Mike Mayers and Austin Warren in high-leverage spots.

Those additions should solidify the middle to late innings, but the emphasis on the pitching staff came at a cost. The Halos devoted virtually all of their financial resources in upgrading on the mound, seemingly leaving little left over for a position player group that’s not without weaknesses of its own.

The only external pickups on the position player side were infielders Matt Duffy, Tyler Wade and Andrew Velazquez – each of whom came at little cost. The Halos re-upped backup catcher Kurt Suzuki on a small one-year deal as well. That course of action was a vote of confidence in the position player core, or at least a declaration that Angels brass viewed the pitching staff as a much greater concern.

Obviously, the Angels can go toe-to-toe with any team in baseball in terms of star talent. Ohtani is fresh off an MVP-winning campaign the likes of which we have not seen in decades. Mike Trout missed much of last season with a calf injury that did not heal as quickly as anyone hoped or expected, but he’s back in the lineup and might still be the best player in MLB. Anthony Rendon is coming off an injury-plagued season of his own, but he’s only a year removed from being among the game’s top handful of third basemen.

Beyond that trio, Jared Walsh broke out as an All-Star first baseman and middle-of-the-order presence. Max Stassi has more quietly emerged as a productive catcher on both sides of the ball. He’s endeared himself to the front office in the process, as they signed him to a three-year extension this spring to keep him from hitting the open market next winter. That’s five lineup spots accounted for with above-average or better players, but the depth behind that group is shakier.

The middle infield, in particular, looks like one of the weaker spots for any hopeful contender. David Fletcher signed a long-term extension last winter, but he’s coming off a miserable offensive season. Fletcher’s a good defender who has been serviceable at the plate on the strength of his bat-to-ball skills in the past. He was always going to get a shot to rebound, but the Angels curiously did very little to add any insurance.

Duffy is coming off a decent season with the Cubs and could outhit Fletcher at the keystone. Even in that event, the Angels might need Fletcher playing regularly at shortstop. Last offseason’s flier on José Iglesias did not work, and the club took even less initiative at the position this time around. Wade and Velazquez were both acquired after being designedated for assignment by the Yankees, a team that itself spent much of the winter chasing shortstop help. Despite a star-studded free agent class, the Angels seemingly sat that market out and were content with those depth pickups supplementing in-house options Jack Mayfield and Luis Rengifo.

It seems that’s largely a payroll concern. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported last month that Los Angeles had looked into the possibility of adding a right-handed bat but ultimately proved reluctant to keep spending after signing Bradley and Tepera. The Halos entered the season with a franchise-record payroll in the $ 182MM range. They might simply be nearing owner Arte Moreno’s financial limits, and rebooting the pitching staff took priority over the bottom of the order.

That’s also a concern in the outfield, where the group around Trout is unsettled. Brandon Marsh is opening the year as the everyday left fielder. That’s a perfectly defensible course of action given his recent top prospect status, but he’s not a lock to hold his own at the dish. Marsh should be an asset defensively, but he struck out in an untenable 35% of his plate appearances as a rookie.

Right field, meanwhile, is even more of a question mark. Jo Adell is another still-young former top prospect who has thus far yet to show he can hit big league pitching. It’s certainly not out of the question he finds another gear, but that’s not an inevitability. In fact, it’s not even clear Adell will play regularly once Taylor Ward returns from the injured list. Maddon told reporters last week he viewed Ward as the primary right fielder (link via Sam Blum of the Athletic). Ward is coming off a capable season but has a below-average career track record of his own.

The Angels will need steps forward from a young player or two, lest the lineup again become a bit too top-heavy. While there may not be everyday run available for Adell out of the gate, he figures to eventually get a chance to play his way back into the mix if he makes strides from a bat-to-ball perspective. The Angels released veteran corner outfielder Justin Upton at the end of the spring, placing even more pressure on the likes of Marsh, Adell and Ward to perform capably.

After missing the playoffs in seven straight years, the Angels are gearing up for another shot at hopeful contention. There’s no alternative with a core as talented as theirs, and they open the year with a higher-ceiling rotation than the ones which have so frequently let them down. Yet it still remains in question whether there’s enough depth to withstand some inevitable pitching injuries and bottom-of-the-lineup struggles to post their first winning season since 2015.

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