Another season of struggle is in the books. Despite the fanfare brought by free-agent superstar Anthony Rendon the Halos failed again. Despite the breakout performance of trade acquisition Dylan Bundy the Halos failed again. Despite the out of nowhere contributions of waiver signing Mike Mayers the Halos failed again. This was a common theme under the 5-year era of Billy Eppler. Each season had it’s success stories, it’s glimmers of hope, it’s reasons for optimism that this year would be different, that this the year would be the year! But alas they were always half-baked, never quite enough to get over the hump and ultimately, after half a decade of futility, it was time for a change. A new day dawns on Perry Minasian and with it comes the chance to return a once great franchise to a forgotten glory. If I were there man in charge here’s how I’d accomplish that deed…
Off-season Needs (in order)
- Starting Pitching:
It’s no secret that starting pitching is atop the LAA agenda and with good reason. ERA, FIP, xFIP, WAR the Angels starters ranked bottom third in all of them last year. Choose your metric and I bet it tells a similarly dismal story, one we’ve come to expect as the unfortunate norm under Billy Eppler’s tenure. With multiple needs and limited resources a top shelf addition is difficult to manage. At the same time another trip to the bargain bin will be tough to justify to a fanbase with Harvey/Cahill/Teheran scarred into their memories. A delicate balance must be struck and for me it comes in the form of Tomoyuki Sugano. The control specialist has dominated NPB opponents for years, and his dazzling 2020 produced 132 IP, a 2.04 ERA, and a sub 1.00 WHIP. He’ll be subject to a posting fee but the fact that he’s an unproven commodity at a sub-optimal age (31 years old) lead me to believe that he’ll be in our price range. I’ve got to assume he’ll earn less than the 3yr/$39m projected to the similarly aged but more established Masahiro Tanaka.
Addition: Sign Tomoyuki Sugano to a 3yr/$30m contract (+$5.875m posting fee)
2. Relief Pitching:
If part two of this list seems eerily similar don’t waste the effort pinching yourself. There’s no hope of waking from the living nightmare better known as Angels pitching in 2020. The struggle wasn’t limited to the starting staff but also leaked over to our relief corps. Angels relievers were number 1 in blown saves (that’s bad) and bottom third in IP, LOB%, and Barrels allowed. There’s some evidence suggesting they weren’t as bad as the starters and it’s reasonable to believe that their heavy workload and general reliever volatility contributed to the suck. Still, the bullpen is an area in grave need. Fortifying this unit will in turn strengthening the rotation, especially important when you’re planning a 6 member starting staff. Instead of paying for older free agent relievers (a tactic that rarely pays dividends) my approach would target younger cost controlled options. Our return on this delicate 3 team trade is my preferred path to addressing the bullpen woes.
Josh Hader is a known relief ace but his ever increasing price tag will put pressure on his mid-market parent club. The longer Milwaukee waits the more their potential return dwindles and, for a team still aiming to contend, now might be the right time to cash in. In my proposal they diversify their return and get a much needed corner infield bat who’s cost controlled and MLB ready (important for mid-market team) along with a top 100 type outfield prospect for the near future.
Luke Weaver’s career as a starter has been filled with equal parts promise and struggle. Flashes of brilliance make it easy to dream on the ceiling but the typical results paint a picture less rosy. Issues with the long ball and a jump in BB/9 bring his outlook as a starter into doubt. My solution is a move to the pen where Weaver’s stuff can shine. Weaver’s batted ball and K% are significantly better in his 1st time through an order and I think he’d take well to the change in mentality. Arizona, who’s rumored to be cutting payroll, gets $20m+ of salary relief and two key players who are cheap and can plug directly into their lineup.
Addition: LAA aquires Josh Hader from MIL & Luke Weaver from AZ
3. Middle Infield:
David Fletcher is the gift that keeps on giving. What would typically be a massive issue for a contending club becomes more manageable due in no small part to his emergence and versatility. The options range from superstar to gold glove veteran with many in between but the ability to browse at either the SS shop or the 2B store only strengthens our position on the market. My solution here sets us up nicely moving forward, allowing us the choice to play the star-studded 2021 free agent lottery while also giving us a stopgap for one of our blue chip SS prospects. Nick Ahmed, a top 10 SS by virtually any metric, is under contract through 2023 at an affordable $25m total. Formerly known as a liability with the bat Ahmed has steadily improved to league average. When added to his exceptional glove work and consistently positive marks on the bases and we have an under the radar asset. Make no mistake the current financial landscape essentially makes this a salary dump but in this circumstance we land a reasonably useful piece.
Addition: LAA aquires Nick Ahmed from AZ
Similar to Fletch’s influence on our middle infield Max Stassi’s breakout 2020 lessens the need to significantly address the man in the squat moving forward. Off-season hip surgery adds a wrinkle of uncertainty but it’s familiar ground for Max and he’s expected to recover fully and be ready to go as the main man when the season starts. With that said catcher is always a timeshare position and a capable back-up is a clear need for the 2021 Halos. My choice here is Tony Wolters, a probable non-tender candidate from the Colorado Rockies. Wolters has never hit (career 57 wRC+) but, at a position where offense is notoriously absent, I’m choosing to focus on defense. Wolters is a consistent plus defender at a key position and his arb estimate checks in at an affordable $2m. I’m also anticipating an opportunity to bolster C depth through the Rule 5 draft, as multiple players have yet to be protected by their home organization.
Addition: Sign Tony Wolters to a 1yr/$2m contract
Often cited as a club weakness the Angel outfield is, in my opinion, the least of our worries. Mike Trout is well Mike Trout. Justin Upton rebounded from an abysmal year and a half to finish hotter than a blue flame. After September 1st only 10 hit the ball harder (94mph EV) and he was a top 25 bat based on wRC+. Affordable in-house options exist for the remaining spot with small sample hero Taylor Ward’s plus defense and league average offense leading the way. Our top two prospects are near ready outfielders so a significant commitment here can be seen as money squandered. Enter Albert Almora Jr., a young glove ace who’s never quite lived up to his lofty draft pedigree. Almora is another non-tender candidate but one who’s defense is strong enough to capably spell Trout in CF. The bat is light (a common theme among my position player additions) but premium defense pays for itself, especially on a club who ranked amongst the best in many offensive catagories (ExitVelo, wRC+, Runs).
Addition: Sign Albert Almora Jr. to a 1yr/$1.5m contract
After reading this step-by-step approach my philosophy should be clear. Target high upside pitching in trades and sign plus defenders at premium defensive positions. Our offense is good enough to compete as is and there’s reasonable expectation for improvement from key players (Upton & Ohtani). A focus on pitching and defense may get us back to meaningful October baseball.