Any fan that is somewhat invested in the game of baseball understands the importance of putting both a good team on the field at the MLB level while also sustaining an adequate farm system. The Angels have done neither.
This is a hard thing to do when the best player in baseball plays for you, but Arte Moreno and the Angels have managed to do that. Let’s take a look at how they ended up in this dire situation.
One thing the Angels do have (sorta) is a good core of players. They have Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, Andrelton Simmons and Garrett Richards. Trout and Simmons play at premium positions, Calhoun is a good two-way player and Richards has ace potential (given his arm doesn’t snap). They even have quality players in Yunel Escobar and C.J. Cron who are quietly productive. With the exception of Escobar, each of those players are controllable for the next several years. The team isn’t devoid of talent behind Mike Trout like some believe. They also have a few starting pitchers who have either shown success or are promising in Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, and Andrew Heaney. The only problem is that Heaney is done for next year already and Skaggs may be too if his stem-cell therapy doesn’t work.
The holes in the team are at second base, left field, starting pitching spots that aren’t guaranteed and the bullpen. Especially the bullpen. The only true bright spot of their bullpen is Cam Bedrosian while everyone else is expendable at best (unless Huston Street can return to form).
Now that we’ve looked at their roster heading into next season, how can they fix it?
Moreno has to let Billy Eppler spend some money this offseason. He isn’t paying Jered Weaver or C.J. Wilson anymore. That leaves them with roughly $30 million to spend before hitting the luxury tax, which Moreno has made clear he won’t go over. One thing this offseason is sure to provide is offense.
Obvious fixes would be to sign Yoenis Cespedes and one of Justin Turner — which would move either him or Escobar to second — or Neil Walker. The Angels can’t go another year with below-replacement-level players at those positions if they truly want to win. The smart route for them would be to avoid what are likely to be excessive bidding wars for Cespedes and Turner. Walker is a great fit at second for them. He offers good offense from the left side to couple with their righty-heavy lineup as well as average defense to a team that has seen paltry turnouts at the position.
As for left field, their are plenty of corner outfielders on the market. However, instead of paying too much for a reunion with Mark Trumbo, the Angels should look at Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gomez. Desmond and Fowler failed to garner much interest last offseason, so an offense-heavy free-agent class should keep their price tags down. As for Gomez, he was DFA’d by the Astros before playing somewhat better with the Rangers. Gomez is the higher risk/reward player while Fowler is the closest to a sure bet to perform consistently. Desmond is a wild card since he just converted to the outfield and profiled as below average in center. Shifting him to left with Trout in center could improve his defense, so he is also a viable option. The Angels took huge risks in the past that didn’t turn out well, so Fowler is probably their best option. Plus he adds another lefty bat against righties.
If the Angels can manage to add both Walker and Fowler, their offense would actually fill the basic requirements for a successful team. They would have a leadoff hitter in Fowler, and a number two in Calhoun, with Trout in the three slot. Either Cron or Pujols will bat fourth and fifth with Walker behind them. Then some mix of Escobar, Simmons and their catcher in the 7-9 spots.
As for fixing the rotation, that will be much harder, and they might just have to wait out the storm or go over the luxury tax. Overpaying for Jeremy Hellickson or Ivan Nova would be a bad move and Rich Hill isn’t a good fit for a fairly old roster that already has its risks. Henderson Alvarez could be a good bounce-back candidate after missing 2016 following a shoulder surgery. Andrew Cashner could be an option in a pitcher-friendly park in Anaheim, though the one in San Diego didn’t do him much good. Going into the season with Richards, Shoemaker, Skaggs, Nolasco and one of Alex Meyer, Nate Smith or Daniel Wright isn’t the end of the world. It just has its risks.
What about the farm?
According to RosterResource.com, the Angels have 11 home-grown players on their 40-man roster. That’s definitely on the lighter side compared to most teams, but it isn’t quite as extreme as the Padres’ six. They also only have six free-agent signings, which isn’t too large of an amount. The part of their roster that stands out is their eight waiver claims. The fact is that the Angels didn’t have the depth to fill their own roster with players already within their organization.
Going back to the team’s free-agent signings, six isn’t a large amount as I stated before. However, some of their more recent signings have been very costly (both in terms of monetary and baseball value). In the offseason prior to the 2012 and 2013 regular seasons, they signed Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton. Each of these players cost north of $15 million per season. Each also cost the team draft picks. They lost two first-round picks and a second-round pick.
The teams’ most recent top picks most likely aren’t going to make an impact with the MLB team. For one, Sean Newcomb definitely won’t since he’s on the Braves now. Taylor Ward and Matt Thaiss were both very weak first-round picks. Ward won’t hit and Thaiss is basically limited to first base.
This isn’t to say the Angels have nothing in the minors. Jahmai Jones is promising but very young and a few of their other 2016 picks could develop into good MLB players, including Brandon Marsh and Nonie Williams. Their farm isn’t deep enough to trade for any key pieces though, and they shouldn’t do that even if they did have the pieces. Eppler has a chance to use a top-10 pick this year as well as future picks to try and build the strong farm that the Angels have lacked for so long, so he can’t waste that opportunity on a middling team.
I feel that I’ve laid out the best-case scenario for the Angels next year with potential signings of Walker and Fowler, who would fit in very nicely with their current lineup. Any team with Mike Trout has a chance to be successful after all. They will need to sign those two players first, and then the rotation needs to have luck on its side with the injury situations. The bullpen is a clear gap in the roster, so safe signings over the offseason could complement Bedrosian and possibly Street. Their farm system is also a clear work in progress, but it isn’t empty in terms of talent. That talent is just a little ways off at the moment. Overall the future of the Angels seems dreadful, but if things break right they can be a contender next year. Their overall run differential was only 18 apart from the first-place Rangers, so they at least played in close games. Now all that needs to be done is execution by the players and by the front office to bring a winner back to Anaheim.
USD undergraduate student. Student of the game.