To put it mildly, the 2019 season was not a good one for the Angels.
Not only did the club finish with their worst record of this century (72-90) but they also dealt with the tragic loss of starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs. While the Angels’ no-hitter following the death of Skaggs and Mike Trout’s MVP campaign were certainly bright spots, the club failed to make the playoffs yet again. On top of missing the playoffs in each of the past five seasons, the club has failed to even reach .500 since general manager Billy Eppler took over in 2016. The transactions, whether it took place via the coaching staff, the front office or player personnel, signaled a clear desire to get the club closer to making the playoffs again.
The Angels kicked their offseason off by firing Brad Ausmus, who had just completed year one of a three-year deal. While Ausmus handled the Skaggs’ situation admirably, the results on the field were too hard to ignore and the Angels decided to move in another direction. Along with firing Ausmus, the club also moved on from bench coach Josh Paul and pitching coach Doug White, the latter who failed to gel with many of the pitchers on the staff.
Unsurprisingly and uncoincidentally, the coaching staff fires came shortly after the Chicago Cubs moved on from Joe Maddon. To no surprise, the Angels hired the longtime Angels coach to become their new manager in the middle of October. Maddon, who spent 31 years in the Angels organization to begin his career, makes his return after establishing himself as one of baseball’s best managers in stints with the Tampa Bay Rays and Cubs.
The Angels quickly hired another veteran coach with a strong pedigree a mere 10 days later, hiring Mickey Callaway to become their new pitching coach. While Callaway’s stint as the New York Mets manager was filled with catastrophic moments, he brings a strong resume of pitching pedigree. On top of managing the Mets during both of Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young Award years, Callaway was the Cleveland Indians pitching coach during their rise to success and helped put together one of baseball’s best rotations during that time.
While the Angels didn’t have much activity within the front office (other than Tony La Russa being hired as a special assistant), there was a clear message sent to Billy Eppler. Entering the final year of his contract, the Angels did not offer an extension, a pretty clear signal that the MLB team needs to start seeing results on the field asap or his time with the Angels may be done.
While the coaching staff hires were certainly exciting, what has more fans (and baseball media members) excited pertains to the players the Angels brought on board. Entering the offseason, the club’s very clear priority was to fix a pitching staff that finished last season near the bottom of the league in ERA (5.12) and fWAR (5.8), among many other stats. The club also failed to have any starter pitch 20 games and just one pitcher (Angels legend Trevor Cahill) reach 100 innings. Truth be told, it was a shitshow and the club needed a major overhaul.
Rather than sign one of the top arms via free agency (Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg), the Angels went in a different direction. After losing out on the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes, they quickly pivoted to signing star third baseman Anthony Rendon to a seven-year $245 million deal. Rendon, whose career season in 2019 which was capped by a legendary playoff performance for the World Series champion Washington Nationals, has established himself as one of baseball’s best position players.
In addition to signing Rendon, the club also traded for starting pitcher Dylan Bundy, signed former Braves pitcher Julio Teheran and brought in veteran catcher Jason Castro. Bundy and Teheran were obvious fits given their innings outputs, with both pitchers reaching at least 161 2/3 innings in each of the last three years. Both pitchers have produced at roughly a league-average rate, meaning the club may have acquired a pair of innings-eating #4 starters. Castro, meanwhile, brings potential league-average value to a position that desperately needed an MLB-caliber starting catcher.
All of these moves absolutely made the Angels stronger and they are in a much better position to contend this year but there is a common belief that they’re still a bit short on talent. This idea becomes more frustrating in the aftermath of the trade that fell through with the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this month, a move that would’ve brought Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling to the Angels. The offseason was still a very strong one that included bringing in one of baseball’s best position players, strong coaching hires and players at a position of needs but the roster still feels incomplete in some ways.
As they currently stand, the Angels are poised to compete this year and put themselves in the playoff picture for the first time since 2015. Multiple outlets project the club to finish above .500, including PECOTA’s 87-win projection and Fangraphs’ less optimistic 83-win projection. Personally, I think these projections are fair and I’d make a confident prediction that they’ll settle in the 82-88-win range. The 2020 Angels season will likely hinge on the rotation’s ability to stay healthy and productive, Shohei Ohtani’s value as a pitcher and a potential boost from top prospect Jo Adell.
Overall, the offseason was a strong one that put the Angels in a much better competitive position. However, I still think they’re a bit light on the talent and depth needed (mainly on the pitching side of things) to be a bonafide playoff contender. 2020 will be a lot more enjoyable (for many reasons), but it remains to be seen if the offseason’s moves were enough to get the club back to the playoffs.