As the 2020 World Series nears its end, we are mere days away from finishing one of the strangest seasons in baseball history.
With the offseason approaching, the Angels will have plenty of questions to answer in the coming months. First and foremost, they’ll need to find themselves a new GM following the firing of Billy Eppler shortly after the season ended. Secondly, they’ll have to navigate their way to rebuilding a roster that failed to get the Angels above .500 for the fifth straight year. This will be increasingly difficult given the raging pandemic and economic depression that is hitting the sport of baseball hard. While Angels owner Arte Moreno has a history of spending in free agency, he’s also been one of baseball’s most aggressive owners in cutting costs and furloughing and laying off workers this season. The Angels have plenty of needs but it’s unclear what the spending strategy will be for the organization this offseason.
For the Angels to get back into the playoffs, however, there are plenty of needs for a roster that is littered with positions that performed poorly in 2020. In the following exercise, you’ll find every single position on the Angels roster, listed from the highest position of need to the lowest position of need. In addition, you’ll find how big of a need there is at each position (high-to-low) as well as the current internal options and external free-agent options for each position. With that said, here is a breakdown of the positions of need for the Angels, ranked from the highest need to lowest need.
Starting Pitching: Extremely High
- Current options: Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney, Griffin Canning, Jaime Barria, Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez, Shohei Ohtani, Dillon Peters, Matt Andriese, Felix Peña
- Free Agent options: Trevor Bauer, James Paxton, Marcus Stroman, Masahiro Tanaka, Kevin Gausman, Jake Arrieta, Corey Kluber (club option), Chris Archer (club option)
Only the Tigers had a worse rotation ERA than the Angels’ 5.52 ERA in 2020. After a historically-bad performance from the rotation in 2019, they didn’t do a whole lot to change the narrative this season. The Dylan Bundy breakout was both legitimate and believable, which gives the Angels a true frontline starter heading into next year. While Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning are fine rotation pieces behind Bundy, there’s a ton of uncertainty beyond those three. Jaime Barria might be a fine #5 starter and there’s always hope for a healthy Shohei Ohtani pitching performance but there’s too much risk in the rotation. With a new GM at the helm this offseason, it’s a safe bet to assume the Angels will be in the market for a big name ala Trevor Bauer (SoCal native) or other quality arms like James Paxton and Marcus Stroman.
Second Base: Extremely High
- Current options: David Fletcher, Franklin Barreto, Luis Rengifo, Jahmai Jones
- Free Agent options: DJ LeMahieu, Cesar Hernandez, Enrique Hernandez, Tommy La Stella, Jonathan Villar, Marwin Gonzalez, Jurickson Profar
The emergence of David Fletcher as a legitimate everyday player who can handle shortstop means there’s a good chance the Angels will plug him in there in 2021. That leaves a gaping hole at second base without an obvious internal replacement. I can’t imagine there is much enthusiasm around some combination of Franklin Barretto, Luis Rengifo, and Jahmai Jones. Luckily, there is a surplus of quality options on the free-agent market that can fill a void in 2021 and likely won’t cost you a whole ton.
- Current options: Max Stassi, Anthony Bemboom, Jose Briceno
- Free Agent options: J.T. Realmuto, James McCann, Yadier Molina, Kurt Suzuki
After an offensive breakout season in 2020, Max Stassi underwent yet another hip surgery following season’s end and may miss the start of the 2021 season. As encouraging as Stassi’s breakout was, he’ll be a 30-year-old catcher on Opening Day ’21 coming off another major surgery. With two surgically repaired hips and an up-and-down track record, the Angels will almost certainly be in the market for another catcher. A play for J.T. Realmuto, arguably the game’s best catcher, has an obvious appeal but it seems unlikely that the club will allocate more resources into yet another expensive position player. Unfortunately, the remaining options in free agency are underwhelming so the club may need to get creative on the trade market.
Relief Pitching: High
- Current options: Mike Mayers, Ty Buttrey, Cam Bedrosian, Noé Ramirez, Matt Andriese, Felix Peña, Keynan Middleton, Justin Anderson, Luke Bard
- Free Agent options: Liam Hendriks, Blake Treinen, Kirby Yates, Alex Colome, Shane Greene, Sean Doolittle, Pedro Baez, Ken Giles, Trevor Rosenthal, Joakim Soria, Jake McGee, Tony Watson
The Angels underwhelming bullpen performance in 2020 can be tied to the declines from major relievers such as Hansel Robles, Ty Buttrey, and Keynan Middleton. With little certainty around any current reliever heading into 2021 and a GM change, it’ll be fascinating to see the next Angels GM’s approach to bullpen construction. Former GM Billy Eppler had some major bargain finds (Robles, Buttrey, Mayers, Ramirez, Peña, Blake Parker, Yusmeiro Petit) but he was also incredibly risk-averse in this department. His largest free-agent signing was a one-year $8.5 million deal for Cody Allen. I’d expect the next Angels GM to be a little more aggressive adding relievers this offseason, especially in a market with some big names (Hendriks, Treinen).
Right Field: Fairly High
- Current options: Jo Adell, Taylor Ward, Brandon Marsh
- Free Agent Options: Joc Pederson, Nick Markakis, Robbie Grossman, Jay Bruce
In my opinion, the corner outfield positions are the hardest ones to project for this club entering the offseason. The right and left field positions combined for exactly zero Wins Above Replacement in 2020. In his first taste of the majors, Jo Adell was an unmitigated disaster, recording the lowest WAR (-1.3) of any player in baseball. As a 21-year-old who absolutely needed more seasoning in the minors, it was fair to expect some struggles. But given how bad he was, it’s fair to wonder if the club needs another safety valve option in the event that Adell struggles in 2021, whether that be internally (Marsh or Ward) or externally (Pederson, Markakis, Grossman).
Left Field: Fairly High
- Current options: Justin Upton, Taylor Ward, Matt Thaiss, Brandon Marsh
- Free Agent options: Marcell Ozuna, Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson, Robbie Grossman
Justin Upton’s strong resurgence at the end of the season was encouraging but the fact remains that Upton has been worth negative 0.2 WAR over the past two seasons. Upton turned 33 this season, his speed and defense have cratered, and his once-prodigious power has fallen to a slugging percentage in the low .400’s. With the uncertainty around both Adell and Upton, in addition to the late-season trade of Brian Goodwin, the Angels will almost certainly be in the market for a strong short-term outfield option for 2021.
First Base: Medium
- Current options: Jared Walsh, Albert Pujols, Matt Thaiss
- Free Agent Options: C.J. Cron, Justin Smoak, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman
I’m buying Jared Walsh as a legitimate everyday option at first base in 2021. There is an obvious risk in reading too much into a 32-game sample but Walsh showed strong contact skills, power, and an ability to handle first base this past season. Seeing what he can do in a full season of at-bats is probably the direction the club should go. With Pujols entering his final year under contract, he’ll likely share duties at both first base and designated hitter.
Designated Hitter: Low
- Current options: Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols, Jared Walsh
- Free Agent Options: Nelson Cruz, Marcell Ozuna, Matt Adams
Ohtani’s drastic drop-off at the plate and injuries on the mound make him a much riskier option heading into 2021. It’s hard to tell how much we should read into his 2020 performance at the plate, where Ohtani’s average exit velocity dropped by 3.7 mph and his contact rate dipped below 70 percent. He was so good from 2018-2019 that there’s reason to be optimistic but there are more questions about Ohtani entering 2021 than there were entering 2020. Beyond him, Pujols and Walsh are likely the next guys in line.
- Current options: David Fletcher
- Free Agent options: Marcus Semien, Didi Gregorious, Andrelton Simmons
The only question about the shortstop position is what the Angels decide to do with David Fletcher. If they decide he’s their guy at shortstop for the next half-decade, then they’re fine. If they want to keep Fletcher at second base and explore the shortstop market, they have a handful of strong options in Semien, Gregorious, and Simmons.
Third Base: Non-Existent
- Current options: Anthony Rendon, David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo
Rendon was dominant in his first year with the Angels, finishing as a top-5 position player by fWAR (2.7). It’s hard to find a player who has been as good and durable over the last half-decade. The Angels can pencil Rendon in for 5+ wins in a (potential) full season in 2021, making this position the biggest strength sans-center field.
Center Field: Non-Existent
- Current options: Some guy named Mike Trout
There’s no real need to explore the possible free-agent options for the Angels. Trout is the game’s best player and will enter his age-29 season next year. With that being said, Trout is about to enter his 30’s and his defense fell off in a big way in 2020. This isn’t to say that Trout is about to start declining in a big way; he is, however, likely to move off of center field in the next few years, creating a need for their center fielder of the future (Brandon Marsh or Jordyn Adams).