Spring is right around the corner and teams are once again meeting in their facilities to prepare for the next MLB season. This is the time of year for fans to get excited, start to believe their team can win it all, and forget the past. That is a difficult task for Angels fans, not just because of the consistent failures of the organization to make the playoffs with two of the best players of all time on the roster, but because of the constant reminders from the national media and other MLB fanbases of those failures. The Angels deserve all the criticism, and as we prepare for another season of baseball with a roster that has tried to address depth but will still rely heavily on the health of a few to buoy the team above .500, it is hard to get excited.
It is much more of a nervous, desperate plea for the Angels to succeed this year as opposed to an optimistic belief. This season has more riding on it than any other season. Sure, if they don’t make the playoffs again it will be more of the same old ridicule, embarrassment, and articles about why Mike Trout should just stay in Philly after the Eagles’ season concludes in January. This year carries a much more devastating blow if the team cannot win. Shohei Ohtani leaving. For the past two seasons, Shohei Ohtani has established himself as THE star of the MLB. He will beat your team at the plate on Friday and Saturday, then he will finish them off with a seven-inning gem on Sunday. He can hit a ball 120 miles per hour and throw a fastball at 101. He deserves to be paid as an ace pitcher and as a prolific hitter, and he certainly deserves to start games in the postseason. If the Angels cannot provide those starts in October for Shohei, he is almost guaranteed to head off to another team that can. So, it is no longer possible for me to just hope this team wins, it HAS to win.
With the consequences weighed, the Angels did a fairly good job of addressing needs this offseason. With their first offseason signing, they struck gold by bringing in Tyler Anderson on a bargain deal at 3 years, $39 million dollars. While it would be foolish to believe he can repeat his 2.57 ERA performance last year while dealing in Dodgers devil magic, he adds a great floor of quality innings for a rotation that has sorely lacked that sort of workhorse for years. His veteran approach will be welcomed among a rather young rotation of Detmers, Sandoval, and Suarez, all of whom are lefties like Anderson. Grade: B+.
General Manager Perry Minasian was aggressive adding talent during the nontender deadline, adding both Gio Urshela and Hunter Renfroe through trade. Hunter Renfroe brings a consistent power bat and strong arm to right field for a team that struggled to get any consistency on the offensive side of the ball and was plugging in anyone with a glove at the position last year down the stretch. While Renfroe is only a 1-year deal who was taken to arbitration, he should help give the team a chance at winning, or at least a better chance than in-house options Jo Adell and Mickey Moniak. Grade: B+.
Gio Urshela was picked up for a good price and brings a consistent veteran bat and glove to the Angels infield. Urshela has played a lot of 3rd base over the past few seasons, but has shown the ability to play 1st, 2nd, and fill in short term at shortstop. The big question for the Angels will be how much 3rd base Gio will have to play if/when Anthony Rendon picks up another injury. It was smart business to find cover for a position that was missing production from its starter for over 100 games a season, and although Urshela is also a 1-year player taken to arbitration, it was an aggressive and depth-minded move. Grade: A-.
Brandon Drury was the #1 player the Angels needed to target this offseason, and they got him on a great deal at 2 years, $17 million dollars. Drury has come out and talked about growing up an Angels fan and also discussed that he was headed to Tempe Diablo Stadium for Spring Training last season before the Reds came in with a major league offer right before camp started. While Drury does not have a long track record to back up his offensive production from last year, he has cleared up a vision problem that plagued him during his career and refined his approach. The results were fantastic, providing 3.0 fWAR and 28 home runs over a season split between Cincinnati and San Diego. I do not expect the same level of offensive production, but I do expect him to be an above average bat with great power vs left-handed pitching. But what I love most about Drury is his defensive versatility. While he may not stand out at any one position, he is fully capable of playing 3rd, 2nd, 1st, and the corner outfield spots at a respectable level. That sort of versatility will be massive for a team that has struggled with staying healthy over the years and gives manager Phil Nevin a plug and play quality veteran bat to work with. Grade: A+.
The Angels came into the offseason with a lot of holes to address, specifically at shortstop. The team used multiple players at the position, with David Fletcher, Andrew Velazquez, and Luis Rengifo switching off at the spot throughout the season. The 3 of them added up to a 68 wRC+, good for 29th in the league by offensive production from short. Rengifo’s 2nd half perhaps gave the front office confidence he could be a cheap answer at the position, despite his low walk numbers (2.4%) and low exit velocity (86.8 avg) pointing towards more luck than development. The fact remains the Angels had multiple opportunities to improve the position with a ripe free agent class at the position, and they missed on all of them. It is hard to ignore that they did not address one of the most important positions on the field despite the opportunity. Grade: F.
In a shocking turn of events, the starting pitching for the Angels was not the problem (we are not addressing the bullpen here so shh)! The starting rotation finished 6th in the majors in ERA at 3.67, 10th in FIP at 3.72, and 6th in overall fWAR at 15.3. Breakouts from Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez, and a resurgent 2nd half Reid Detmers provide much hope for the future of the rotation. However, despite the addition of Tyler Anderson to go along with Shohei and the above-mentioned players, the Angels did not reel in a 6th for their rotation. While the team has clarified they want to use that 6th spot as more of a swing to get more starts for Shohei, it is hard to ignore the history of Angels starters who have gone down injured. the 6-man rotation seemed to benefit all the pitchers, both statistically and physically, which makes the move worrisome for me. Why move away from something that finally led to some success on that side of the ball? We will have to see how the gamble pays off. Grade: C.
Perhaps the worst event to occur to the Angels organization and its fans had nothing to do with signings and trades. After putting the team up for sale in August, owner Arte Moreno took the team off the market in January just as final bids were coming in. Moreno claims to be “reinvigorated” after the offseason Perry Minasian put together, which may be the worst addition to this team since his last ego signing of Anthony Rendon. Moreno’s tenure of owner has been a beautiful disaster to say the least, as he purchased the team after they had recently won their first World Series in their history, and proceeded to spend big in the early 2000s to create a powerhouse that came close many times but ultimately failed to make it back to the World Series. However, the game started to evolve, and Arte refused to adapt, being left in consistent disaster with his own major contracts he personally negotiated (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Anthony Rendon, and the trade for Vernon Wells). The Angels farm system was left to rot and depleted to the 2nd worst in MLB history in 2015, and despite the clear need for a tear down and retool, Moreno stated he would never allow a team he owns to “tank”. While that sentiment is admirable, he also refused to spend more to compensate for the lack of talent in the system. Moreno has refused to go over the luxury tax even as year after year the Angels fell out of the playoff race because of bad supporting cast players to Mike Trout. New ownership was the last light at the end of the tunnel, a small hope of a new, invested owner who was determined to win like John Middleton in Philadelphia. That hope was snuffed out by Moreno, and once again the team missed out on golden opportunities to add at shortstop and starting pitcher to prove to Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout that the team will do everything it can to win. Grade: F quadruple minus.
The worst part about being an Angels fan is they always should be good enough to make the playoffs. They are not dethroning the Astros for the division, but a wildcard spot should be very attainable for this roster. PECOTA has the Angels projected at around 86 wins and in the 3rd wildcard spot, which is about what I believe this team (with a healthy Shohei and Trout) is capable of. Now, if 85 wins is good enough for the 3rd wildcard spot is yet to be seen. Projections can only do so much, and it is hard to trust them as an Angels fan who was told the 73-89 2022 Angels were a projected 88-win team. However, the extreme amount of injuries and puzzling hitting problems for the team were hard to predict no matter how good your software is. If this Angels team as currently constructed can just stay reasonably healthy at their star positions, and the depth players can raise the floor better than their predecessors, they will make the wildcard. Boy, do I sound ridiculous.
Team Predictions: The Angels go 86-75, snapping their playoff drought and reaching the wildcard series. From that point on the 2002 Angels are all I will say about it. Anything can happen in October baby.
Team MVP: Shohei Ohtani, of course. He will once again dominate on both sides of the ball and will rightfully win another league MVP after Aaron Judge got his payday.
Team Cy Young: Patrick Sandoval. Yes, obviously Shohei will probably be the best pitcher on this team, but if I just gave him every award he deserves I would not get to talk about other good players on the team. Sandoval is coming off a big year, setting a new career high in innings pitched at 148.2, a 2.91 ERA, and 3.09 FIP that supports his production. I think he will repeat his success in 2023 and help guide the Angels to the playoffs.
Team Rookie of the Year: Logan O’Hoppe. O’Hoppe seems to be on track to be on the Opening Day roster, and his overall performance since arriving to the Angels organization provides good reason. He walks more than he strikes out, hits for power, has a good arm behind the plate, and seemed to hold his own in the short sample size he received in September. I would prefer he starts in the minors and the team bring in a veteran catcher like Gary Sanchez to start the year, as the depth behind O’Hoppe is hard to look at. But, if he starts in the pros and proves me wrong, I will be extremely happy about it.
I have become less interested in the Angels since Moreno took the team off the market. There was a small hope that the team I love, the team I grew up 15 minutes from and watched so many heroes play for as a child, would finally have an owner willing to spend in the right places and make the team competitive with the best teams in the league. Still, I love this game more than anything and it is impossible to cut that bond entirely. It’s a piece of fabric with some color and letters on it, but it represents my home and the players I idolized growing up like Garret Anderson, Mo Vaughn, David Eckstein, and Mike Trout. Criticism of the team and its players does not mean I hate them, it means I expect more. More from an organization that has failed the 2 best players I have ever seen play in my lifetime. So here is to hoping that GM PM has put together a roster that can do it, and here is to hoping Shohei Ohtani is an Angel for life after hoisting the World Series trophy. Go Halos!