The Angels’ last-gasp push for a postseason bid with Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout on the same roster fizzled late in 2023. After an aggressive deadline highlighted by the acquisitions of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Randal Grichuk and C.J. Cron, the Halos embarked on the equivalent of an August fire sale, placing nearly a quarter of their roster on outright waivers late in the month, in hopes of shedding some payroll and perhaps dipping under the luxury tax threshold. While Giolito, Lopez, Hunter Renfroe, Matt Moore and Dominic Leone were all claimed by other clubs and changed hands, the Halos still remained a bit north of the tax line.
Now faced with the possibility — if not the likelihood — of Ohtani signing elsewhere in free agency, there have been ample questions about the team’s direction. However, general manager Perry Minasian made clear at newly hired manager Ron Washington’s introductory press conference that he has no plans to take a step back, let alone embark on a full-scale rebuild (link via ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez).
“We’re going to be aggressive this offseason, and we’re going to make this team better,” Minasian said.
With Ohtani’s potential departure and the aforementioned slate of waiver departures late in the season, there’s no shortage of holes for the Angels to fill. That said, Minasian and his staff also have plenty of financial leeway to augment the club. Roster Resource projects a $152MM Opening Day payroll in Anaheim — roughly $60MM shy of the team’s franchise-record mark. Whether owner Arte Moreno will green-light a return to those heights remains unclear, but the Angels haven’t had an Opening Day payroll shy of $182MM since 2019. (Their prorated payroll in the shortened 2020 season was just over $71MM — the equivalent of about $192MM over a full schedule.)
Perhaps the most glaring area of need for the Halos, as has often been the case even during Ohtani’s stay with the club, lies in the rotation. The Angels’ starting staff ranked 19th in the Majors with a 4.47 ERA — and that included Ohtani’s 3.14 mark in 132 innings. The staff at present is slated to include Reid Detmers, Tyler Anderson, Patrick Sandoval, Griffin Canning and Chase Silseth, with younger arms like Sam Bachman and Davis Daniel among the depth options to already accrue some MLB service.
It’s a deep crop of free-agent pitchers this offseason, headlined of course by Ohtani — who won’t pitch next year due to elbow surgery but figures to return to the mound in 2025 — and a slate of intriguing arms. Blake Snell hits the market fresh off his second career Cy Young Award, while NPB ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto will be posted for big league clubs and likely sign the largest contract of any player ever making the jump from Japan to North American ball. Others on the market include Aaron Nola, Jordan Montgomery, Sonny Gray, Eduardo Rodriguez and a second highly touted NPB arm: lefty Shota Imanaga.
For all of the Angels’ struggles, their lineup is set in many places. Trout has increasingly battled injuries in recent seasons but remains one of MLB’s premier hitters when healthy. Taylor Ward didn’t fully replicate his 2022 breakout but had a solid season nonetheless, while former No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak had a breakout of his own. That pair will presumably flank Trout in the outfield.
On the infield dirt, 2022 first-round pick Zach Neto had an excellent debut at shortstop but saw his production take a nosedive after a trip to the injured list. Neto graded as a quality defender at the position and batted .259/.338/.431 through his first 200 plate appearances prior to landing on the IL. If he can get back to that form, he looks every bit the part of an everyday MLB shortstop. Switch-hitting Luis Rengifo had a breakout year at the plate and figures to handle second base duties. Young catcher Logan O’Hoppe, who swatted 14 homers in just 199 plate appearances but missed most of the year with a labrum tear, is in line for a full healthy season in ’24.
The Angels even got an encouraging debut from their top pick in this past summer’s draft, as first baseman Nolan Schanuel sprinted to the big leagues and batted .275/.402/.330 in his first 132 plate appearances. If either Rengifo or Schanuel falters, veteran infielder Brandon Drury is on hand to take up a larger share of plate appearances. If not, he can split time with former star Anthony Rendon at the hot corner and/or log some time at designated hitter.
Rendon’s decline at the plate and frequent injury issues since signing a seven-year, $245MM contract are perhaps the single largest detriment to the Angels’ efforts to improve for the upcoming campaign. He’s owed $38MM annually in each of the next three seasons, making the contract all but immovable and leaving the Angels will little recourse but to hope for a rebound — if not to his former MVP-caliber output then at least to something resembling a solid regular at the position. Rendon did post a hearty .361 OBP and walk nearly as often as he struck out (13.7% against 14.8%) in last year’s 183 trips to the plate, but his power has largely eroded and he’s played in just 36.6% of the Angels’ games since signing his megadeal.
The Angels, then, are set to face a host of familiar problems. As has been the case for more than a decade, they’re saddled with at least one immovable megadeal gone wrong, while the farm system is once again regarded among the thinnest in the league. Minasian has the funds to make some aggressive splashes in free agency, but ending a playoff drought that dates back to 2014 is a daunting task — particularly when the Angels have been unable to do so even while rostering two of the generation’s premier talents in Trout and Ohtani.
Washington, for his part, voiced confidence and seemed unfazed by the challenges that lay ahead.
“If you remember now — I was in Texas, and guess what we did? We ran the Angels down,” Washington said in reference to his former stint as Rangers’ manager, during which he oversaw consecutive World Series appearances (and losses). Washington pointed to the irony that the script has now been flipped as he’s tasked with helping the Angels run down the Rangers before voicing confidence and declaring the Angels’ “whole focus” to be on returning to the top of the American League West.
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Title: GM: Angels Not Rebuilding, Plan To Be “Aggressive” In Offseason
Author: Steve Adams