The Angels are finding themselves in a tough spot to start the season as they throttle through 2023 on the cusp of being a truly competitive team, yet not quite there with the organization being just one or two pieces short. Unfortunately for Angels fans, this story is as old as time itself. Despite doing quite a bit this past offseason, they have once again come short by leaving the bottom end of the six-man rotation exposed, a hole that has haunted the Angels since the season’s start. Schrodinger’s organization if you will, the Angels exist in a space where they somehow compete while also being uncompetitive.
History moves in cycles, as they say.
Aside from trading Shohei Ohtani, there is very little pathway toward a trade that can keep this team competing in the now and in the later. You don’t want to trade away too much depth and cripple your ability to compete down the line, but you also don’t want to give away too critical a piece and handicap yourself in the present. Trading Ohtani would be the biggest white flag in the history of white flags and regardless of how illustrious a return package might look, it’s certain Angels owner Arte Moreno will do what he can to keep up the appearance of being a contender. Where does that leave the Angels? Trading peanuts for peanuts? Fortunately, there does seem to be one position brimming with enough potential talent to mitigate the risks of trading a Major League piece.
Cue Taylor Ward.
The Angels’ near-All-Star left fielder Taylor Ward was a miracle for the 2022 club with a season that saw him slug 23 home runs in what appeared to be a career-saving breakthrough year. The hype on Ward entering 2023 was relentless with Ward himself expressing desires to “be up there with Ohtani and Trout” in terms of production. While he did start off incredibly hot with ten hits in his first five games alongside six walks in his first ten games, the wheels fell off fast. Ward finished the month of April slugging a meager .311 as his OBP sat at an unfortunate .319 clip. This is not meant to smear Ward’s ability in any way, but the point needs to be made that the minor league depth of Trey Cabbage (992. OPS), Jo Adell (15 homers in 40 games), and Mickey Moniak (six hits in five MLB games) may potentially offer the Angels opportunity to replace the production Ward is bringing, and given career averages, will likely continue to contribute in the future.
Perhaps the Angels would find it more fitting for future plans to move right fielder Hunter Renfroe at the trade deadline. While that deal does seem to make more sense regarding potential return/team control considerations I’m not totally sure if Arte Moreno would ship off a premiere power bat so quickly. We all know Moreno won’t make any moves that would have the appearance of waving the white flag, especially after his historic fit of waffling this offseason which saw him put the team up for sale before walking it back due to “unfinished business.” He is far too invested in public opinion to operate purely for organizational needs so it’s doubtful he would do anything to open himself up to further criticism. Trading Taylor Ward for some mid-to-lower-end starting pitching arm(s) is a lot easier to explain away than it would be trading not only one of your best power bats in Renfroe but arguably one of the best right fielders baseball.
I wouldn’t mention the Angels possibly needing to trade an MLB piece unless it was absolutely necessary, but as it is the painfully limited talent on the pitching side of the roster is starting to expose the issues with this team. The only question here is whether the Angels would get more value trading Ward or a mixture of near-ready prospects for a suitable Major League return. My gripe with trading a bulk of prospects is that the Angels are so close to being fully competitive on the strength of their own minor league talent and it would be a major disservice to the future of this ballclub to ship off near-ready prospects for a Major League piece who may or may not contribute in a vain attempt to retain Ohtani. Then again, maybe I’m just getting cold feet after seeing the Angels spend years trading away prospects like Jean Segura (for Zack Greinke) or Mike Clevenger (for Vinnie Pestano) or Kyle Bradish (for Dylan Bundy), all for short-term plug-ins at the Major League level.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether one believes Ward should or should not be traded, but I believe the conversation is worth being had. Given what Angels GM Perry Minasian pulled for Brandon Marsh, I’m sure he could pull in enough pitching talent to make the juice worth the squeeze. Again, the Angels don’t need to secure a star-studded return they only need to plug the gaping hole at the bottom end of the rotation. If they can get a rubber arm for their bullpen as well that only makes things better. The Angels do have a good crop of guys coming up in Double-A right now, but you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you rely on them completely to shore up the team come post-All-Star Break. The Angels would be better off in a position where they don’t immediately need Ben Joyce and Sam Bachman rather than let themselves be in a position where they do need them.
Success rarely comes to those who refuse to risk it. With Mickey Moniak starting to come together and Jo Adell playing the best baseball he ever has, it might not be a risk to trade Taylor Ward at all. In fact, this may possibly be the safest play the Angels could ever make. Then again, we all know how often that sentence has preceded disaster for Angels fans.
Statistics and info up to date as of end of play on May 20