The Angels continue to spiral out of playoff contention. What is next for the organization and Shohei Ohtani?
Another Year, Another Quiet October in Anaheim
I really dislike the “Paingels” mindset. 1 error, 1 earned run allowed, 1 bad at-bat, and Angels fans tend to write the season off then and there on April 12th. But you cannot blame them after 7 consecutive years of missed playoffs with the best baseball player of his generation on the roster. Add now Shohei Ohtani being an MVP-level talent on both sides of the ball for all of 2021 and half of 2022, and they have even less of an excuse to make the playoffs. The organization fails to build even a semi-competent roster around 2 of the best players we have ever seen in our lifetimes, and it looks like it will be an 8th missed playoff race in 2022. At 38-49 as of July 11th, the Angels are 7.0 games back of the 3rd wildcard spot. I do not even want to mention the insane lead the Astros have in the AL West.
The team outdid themselves this year, however, springing out to a 26-14 start only to then go on a 14-game losing streak. They are 11-16 since they snapped that horrid stretch of failure while facing a mix of great, average, and bad teams. A team trying to compete for the playoffs cannot afford those kinds of stretches. So, barring a miracle brought on by a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the season seems out of reach for the Halos.
The reality of the future of this organization now sets in with Shohei’s looming free agency and a really concerning lack of depth at every position on the field. What do you do with Ohtani? Are you sellers at the deadline? Buyers? How do you improve this roster to make it not only a .500 team but a PLAYOFF team? Let’s start with the Ohtani question.
Shohei or Sho-bye?
It is excruciating to have to even discuss this. There is little excuse for this organization to NOT give Shohei exactly what he wants in a contract. How will he age? Can he sustain this production for years to come? Those are the only two logical things stopping someone from handing Ohtani a blank check. While the Angels have very few long-term mega deals on the books in Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, the issues become about ownership. Arte Moreno has proven he is not afraid to hand out big contracts to big players, but he tends to absolutely fail in those signings. Albert Pujols. Josh Hamilton. Anthony Rendon has barely played 50% of games 3 years into his contract. The real issue with Moreno is he does not invest in anything or anyone else. The minor leagues produce very little talent due to a lack of interest in player development and humane living conditions for minor league players. He sets a hard cap at around $190 million for team salary despite Perry Minasian’s comments about having “no limitations”.
So you sign Ohtani to a 10-year, $470 million-ish deal. You now have Trout ($35.5mil), Rendon ($37.6mil), and Ohtani ($47mil), all on the books for the foreseeable future. $120.1 million of your available $190 million is locked in on 2 of the best ever and 1 guy who cannot stay on the field. Arbitration, renewable contracts, and minor league salaries might eat up around another $35-$50 million of that budget, depending on the shrewdness of negotiations. So, you have about $20-$45 million to fill the glaring needs of this team, which are: backup catcher, shortstop, 3 starting pitchers, high-leverage bullpen arm, and depth bats. Figure in Raisel Iglesias ($16mil), Aaron Loup ($7.5mil), and Ryan Tepera ($7.5mil), who have all underperformed despite having multiyear deals agreed to, and things shrink up even tighter.
A major issue seems to be the coaching, which has done absolutely nothing in terms of game planning, preparing players, and adapting league adaptations to their game plans. Maybe you clean out the coaching staff and you can get more out of what you have in the org, which saves you money and a headache.
The reality with Shohei is you cannot trade him. Even the best package a team could afford to offer is not fair for Shohei. It would have to be a farm-emptying offer with a major league talent coming back to make it close to even. Then, the team would need the bankroll to extend him. These factors limit your options greatly.
Shohei has also been outspoken about wanting to be on a winning team. So far, not a great look in Anaheim! Ask Mike Trout how patience has worked as an approach with this organization. The way I see it, you have to either pay Shohei so much money he forgets about wanting to win, or you have to watch him walk in free agency. Have fun, Perry Minasian.
Buyers or Sellers?
Perry Minasian’s view of the trade deadline is one well-suited for the Angels’ predicament. He has said he does not believe in “buying” or “selling”, but being opportunistic. Minasian almost swung a deal with Miami at the 2021 deadline that would have sent Brandon Marsh to the Marlins for Max Meyer, but it fell apart. He offloaded Andrew Heaney and Tony Watson for some intriguing depth arms for the organization. However, he did not do much buying.
The approach this deadline should be a mixture of both buy and sell. The Angels cannot afford to rebuild. They also would be smart to move some expiring contract players like Noah Syndergaard or Michael Lorenzen if there is interest. What they SHOULD do is trade “Thor and Loki” for depth bats to raise the floor of the offense, while buying a controllable starter for their rotation. While the pickings will be slim and contenders being capable of outbidding the Angels, they need to add a good starter for next year and beyond. Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, and even keep knocking on the German Marquez door. Someone who can provide quality innings and raise the floor of the pitching staff.
The Angels’ pipeline does not inspire much hope for a big bat to come up from the minors and replace a middle infield with limited hitting ability, or even 3rd base where Anthony Rendon leaves a giant hole to fill 2 months into every season. There are some young guys performing well in Double-A Rocket City (Jeremiah Jackson and Zach Humphreys) and Low-A Inland Empire (Werner Blakely and Edgar Quero), but they are years off from impacting the major league roster.
What separates good teams from bad teams is the quality of depth, which the Angels are constantly proving to not possess. If Perry can find some controllable, sturdy bats for the infield depth and corner outfield, he will help this team improve going into next year more than a huge free agent signing will.
There is Always the Next One
As mentioned earlier, I do not like the “Paingels” view of determining a season. Any reaction in April, May, or even June is rushed and likely based on your bias. But come July 1st, you start to get a better idea of where a team stands in the league. The Angels are 11-30 since May 25th. The teams around them are playing better baseball and seem to be improving while the Angels continue to trend down. It is fair to say in their next 13 games, they need to go 11-2 and be at .500 before their July 28th series against the Rangers to be back in contention. They face Baltimore 2 more times, then Houston for 3, the Dodgers for 2, Atlanta for 3, and Kansas City for 3. Rough stretch to try and be heroes.
I tend to live by the words my high school coach told me. “The best part about baseball is you always have the next pitch, the next at-bat, the next game”. Of course, he was trying to help me out of my head after once again failing to get a hit, a recurring theme in my experience on a baseball field. But that is how I look at life now, and even this team. Does it suck constantly wasting generational talents? Absolutely. But you have no choice but to look forward to the next opportunity to improve and not waste it. You look to the next game, the next series, the next week, the next year. You owe it to Trout and Ohtani to continue to improve.
The Angels cannot tear it all down. They declared that was not an option by signing Ohtani and extending Mike Trout. What they desperately need is good pitching, better depth, and health. Here is to the Angels drafting well, trading well, and signing well. The entire league should be rooting for it to see Mike and Shohei in the postseason.