Despite the continued excellence of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, the Angels had another disappointing season in 2022. With Ohtani one year from free agency and the team for sale, will 2023 be the last hurrah before a huge turning point for the organization?
- Mike Trout, OF: $283M through 2030
- Anthony Rendon, 3B: $152M through 2026
- Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH: $30M through 2023
- David Fletcher, IF: $20M through 2025 (including $1.5M buyout of 2026 club option)
- Max Stassi, C: $14.5M through 2024 (including $500K buyout of 2025 club option)
- Aaron Loup, LHP: $9.5M through 2023 (including $2M buyout of 2024 club option)
- Ryan Tepera, RHP: $7M through 2023
Total 2023 commitments: $130.95M
Total future commitments: $516M
Projected 2023 salaries via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz
There was a period in 2022 when things were looking up for the Angels. The season actually began fairly well, with the club sporting a record of 27-17 through May 24. That was good enough for them to sit just a single game behind the Astros in the AL West, nine games ahead of the Mariners and firmly in the top AL Wild Card spot. Unfortunately, it’s essentially been a steep downward slide since that date. On May 25, the Angels started a losing streak that would eventually stretch to 14 games, with manager Joe Maddon getting fired during that period. Third base coach Phil Nevin took over on an interim basis. The managerial shakeup couldn’t change their trajectory, as they continued sliding and finished with a 73-89 record, missing the postseason for the eighth consecutive season and finishing below .500 seven straight. (Nevin has since been given a one-year deal to manage the team for 2023.)
On their way to that disappointing finish, it was reported in August that owner Arte Moreno was exploring selling the team, which has the potential to cast a pall over the near-term future of the franchise. Perhaps a new owner will emerge and inject some optimism into the club, like we’ve seen with Steve Cohen and the Mets. But it’s also possible that the uncertainty around the team’s future makes it difficult to make deals with players. Juan Soto seemed to be the most untouchable player on the Nationals, even though the club was trading away it’s veterans for prospects for most of 2021 and 2022. But the Nats are also exploring a sale and Soto was reportedly unwilling to consider an extension until the ownership question was settled, which quickly led to Soto being traded to the Padres, something that seemed unthinkable just a few weeks prior.
As this has been going on, many in the baseball world have begun salivating at the prospect of their favorite club acquiring two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, assuming he will follow a similar path to Soto. There are some reasons to think an Ohtani trade could actually come to fruition, given that he’s now only a year away from reaching the open market. Extension talks have apparently not gained much traction and the Angels even toyed with the idea of trading him at this year’s deadline, though Moreno reportedly refused to approve any deal.
Until there’s more clarity with regards to the ownership situation, the rest of the club’s offseason plans figure to be shrouded in mystery as well. Is Ohtani available in trades or not? Will Moreno be aggressive in what could be last chance to put together a winner, or avoid cluttering the books with more lengthy commitments in order to appeal to potential buyers? If a new owner emerges in the coming months, will they be an all-in Steve Cohen-type or decide to tear it all down immediately like when Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter took over the Marlins? General manager Perry Minasian figures to have lots on his to-do list, regardless of who he’s reporting to.
The Angels have often struggled to put together a solid starting rotation, at least in part due to an unwillingness to pay for starters. The last time they signed a free agent starting pitcher to a deal longer than one year was the two-year deal given to Joe Blanton in December of 2012. Despite that, and despite everything that went wrong in 2022, the rotation might have turned a corner. MLBTR’s Steve Adams wrote back in September about the encouraging signs shown by Reid Detmers, Patrick Sandoval and Jose Suarez. Those three, alongside Ohtani, give the Angels a decent front four going into the offseason. The Angels have been using a six-man rotation to accommodate Ohtani in recent years, but have at least considered going with a five-man group next year. There are a few in-house options to take a fifth or a sixth rotation spot, such as Touki Toussaint, Tucker Davidson, Chase Silseth and Janson Junk, though no one in that group has done enough to guarantee a spot at this point. There’s also Griffin Canning, who has shown promise in the past but been limited so much by injuries that it’s hard to rely on him going forward.
It’s an impressive amount of depth compared to recent years, but there should still be room for at least one outside addition. However, if the Angels stick to their one-year limit on starting pitching, it will make things challenging. They’d likely be looking at options like Drew Smyly, Wade Miley or re-signing Michael Lorenzen. If they are willing to make a deeper dive, they could be in play for names like Chris Bassitt, Kodai Senga or Mike Clevinger, though it seems unlikely the Angels would jump to the top of the market and try for Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander or Carlos Rodon.
The club’s bullpen was middle of the pack in 2022, with their 3.97 ERA coming in 18th among the 30 MLB teams. Most of that group can be retained, with only Archie Bradley heading for free agency. Injuries limited him to 18 2/3 innings and kept him from being a key contributor in 2022. They also dealt closer Raisel Iglesias at the deadline, but they may have found an in-house replacement. Jimmy Herget, known as “The Human Glitch” because of his funky mechanics, threw 69 innings this year with a 2.48 ERA, 23.7% strikeout rate, 5.6% walk rate and 40.1% ground ball rate. He shimmied his way up the depth chart and eventually earned nine saves and seven holds, most of those coming after the Iglesias trade. Whether the Angels believe in Herget is their next closer or not, there’s plenty of room for improvement in the bullpen and they should be looking to make outside additions.
Behind the plate, the club faces an interesting question. Max Stassi had a pair of solid seasons in 2020 and 2021, but 2022 was a step backwards. He hit .180/.267/.303 for a wRC+ of 63 this year, a big drop from his .250/.333/.452 batting line over the previous two campaigns, which led to a wRC+ of 113. He still has a couple years left on his extension and will likely get some time to readjust, but the club might want to have a backup plan. It’s possible that they already have one in place, as they acquired Logan O’Hoppe from the Phillies at the deadline in the Brandon Marsh trade. He was mashing in Double-A and the club gave him an MLB audition down the stretch. It would be risky to go into the season relying on a catcher with five MLB games under his belt, though he did hit .283/.416/.544 in the minors this year for a wRC+ of 159. Perhaps the Angels will let him and Stassi battle for playing time and hope that at least one of them works out. If they want a bit of insurance, they could sign a respected veteran like Roberto Perez, Austin Hedges or Tucker Barnhart.
Similar to Stassi, Jared Walsh disappointed at first base on the heels of a couple of strong seasons. He hit 38 home runs over 2020 and 2021, slashing .280/.338/.531 for a wRC+ of 130. In 2022, his batting line was .215/.269/.374 for a wRC+ of just 78. It’s possible that health was the culprit here, as Walsh underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in September. He’ll likely get a chance to show that 2022 was just a fluke due to injury, but he’ll be a great unknown going into next season. If it emerges during the offseason that Walsh won’t be ready for Spring and they look for a stopgap, someone like Donovan Solano could make sense, as he could slide to another position once Walsh returns.
At third base, the Angels will be looking for a bounce back from Anthony Rendon. Given the years and dollars remaining on his contract, he’s not going anywhere. It doesn’t really make sense to give up on him, anyway. He’s had two straight injury-marred seasons, but was excellent for four straight campaigns prior to that. From 2017-20, he hit .307/.399/.550 for a wRC+ of 146 and also provided above-average defense, leading to a tally of 21.1 fWAR over that period. He’s going into his age-33 campaign and perhaps shouldn’t be expected to be as good as his peak, though the Angels can do little but hope for him to stay healthy and get back into good form.
The middle infield is perhaps the area of the club in greatest need of an overhaul. In 2022, the Angels used a rotating hodgepodge of role players and utility types, which included Matt Duffy, Andrew Velazquez, Tyler Wade and many others. If one were to try to project their lineup for next year with only in-house options, it would probably result in David Fletcher at shortstop and Luis Rengifo at second base. Fletcher missed most of 2022 with injuries, only getting into 61 games and not hitting very well in that time. His .255/.288/.333 batting line resulted in a 75 wRC+. Outside of a tremendous showing in the shortened 2020 season, Fletcher’s time in the big leagues has resulted in four below-average offensive seasons. He does post strong defensive numbers wherever he plays, but he is perhaps better suited to a utility role than an everyday shortstop job.
As for Rengifo, he had a nice season at the plate, despite walking in only 3.3% of his plate appearances. He hit 17 home runs in 127 games, leading to a batting line of .264/.294/.429, 103 wRC+. The Angels probably would like to give Rengifo a chance to see if he can carry that production into his age-26 season, though he’s capable of playing many positions and doesn’t necessarily need to be guarantee a specific spot. As a switch-hitter, it would be theoretically possible for he and the right-handed-hitting Fletcher to form a platoon, though both have hit better against lefties in their careers, making it an imperfect fit.
From a baseball perspective, the Angels make sense as a landing spot for one of the big four shortstops this winter. Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson are free agents, with Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts widely expected to join them by opting out of their respective contracts. Any of those four would give some more pop to the Angel lineup and also help out a defense that was lacking in 2022. The Angels collectively posted a Defensive Runs Saved of eight, which placed them 17th in the majors. Outs Above Average gave them a 1 for 18th place while Ultimate Zone Rating had them in 20th place at -8.0.
From a business perspective, the fit might not be so smooth. As mentioned earlier, it’s unknown if the Angels want to make significant commitments to the long-term payroll. Each of those four shortstops are likely to command deals of seven years or longer. Even if the Angels were willing to add another contract like that to the books, would the player want to come to a team with so much uncertainty hovering over it?
In the short-term, the Angels should have some money to spend, assuming they’re willing to at least match recent payroll levels. Cot’s Baseball Contracts lists their Opening Day payroll for 2022 as $189M, a slight bump over 2021. Their outlay for 2023 is currently at $133M, in the estimation of Roster Resource. Arbitration-eligible players will add about $12M or so that, bringing the total to the vicinity of $145M. If they’re willing to spend at a similar level to the past couple of seasons, they will have around $40M to play with. If they can’t convince one of the top shortstops to make a deal, they would make sense for other middle infielders like Elvis Andrus, Jose Iglesias or Jean Segura.
Turning to the outfield, two spots should be spoken for already, with Trout obviously entrenched in center. Taylor Ward got his first real stretch of MLB playing time, despite some minor injuries, and responded by hitting 23 home runs and slashing .281/.360/.473 for a wRC+ of 137. He should have the right field job.
The big question is left field, with Brandon Marsh having been traded to the Phillies at the deadline. Mickey Moniak came over from the Phils in a separate deal, the Noah Syndergaard one. Despite being a former first overall selection, he hasn’t been able to do much to establish himself at the big league level. In 167 plate appearances over three seasons, he’s hit just .157/.218/.268, wRC+ of 32. There’s also Jo Adell, who got 285 plate appearances this year but hit just .224/.264/.373 for a wRC+ of 77. He also struck out in an untenable 37.5% of those appearances. Neither should be relied upon as an Opening Day outfielder for the club, meaning they should look to outside acquisitions. A run at Aaron Judge seems unlikely given all the question marks around the team, though there are plenty other serviceable options. Mitch Haniger is risky given his health, but that also means he might have to settle for a one-year deal. Perhaps the Angels are the team to offer Michael Conforto the everyday spot for him to showcase his health. However it’s done, this is an area that should be addressed.
The Angels are going into the offseason in a position that is in some ways very familiar but also fraught with uncertainty. Each recent season has finished with disappointment, but still with enough talent on the roster to keep the hope flowing down the road. This year is similar in that regard. They were below .500 in 2022 but they still have Trout, Ohtani, Rendon, Ward, a rotation that looks to be in okay shape, and some other nice pieces. However, they also have obvious holes and will face significant challenges in trying to fill them. How willing is Moreno to spend on a team he’s trying to sell? If a new owner steps up, do they want to spend or save? Which players are willing to join a franchise with such a murky future? The answers to those questions will shape not just this offseason, but the future of the franchise.