The offseason is starting to pick up as we approach Spring Training, which will begin next month (subject to change due to the ongoing pandemic).
After the monstrous moves that sent Yu Darvish and Blake Snell to the Padres and Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the Mets, we have seen a flurry of moves since then. While the Angels have not been super involved in those moves, we did see them pick up their catching option to pair with Max Stassi for the 2021 season. 37-year-old Kurt Suzuki, the Cal State Fullerton alum, joined the Angels on a one-year pact worth $1.5 million.
What Suzuki brings to the Angels
Suzuki is a rather boring addition to the club but he’ll fill a position of need. With Max Stassi’s uncertainty coming off of his second hip surgery, there were questions about the depth beyond him. Suzuki himself has been an above-average hitter for the past four seasons, ranking fifth in Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) during that time (111 wRC+). Fitting the trend of recent Angels teams, Suzuki is a premier bat-to-ball hitter who posted a whiff rate in the 90th percentile in 2020. He has sneaky pop (50 HR since 2017) and hits for a high average (.272 since 2017) to offset his poor defensive skills. In that same timeframe, Suzuki leads all catchers with a 151 wRC+ versus left-handed pitching, an area that the Angels have struggled in recent years.
This move also continues a trend of one-year deals that new Angels general manager Perry Minasian has pursued. After acquiring Raisel Iglesias and Jose Iglesias, both free agents after 2021, Minasian has signed two players to one-year MLB contracts (Suzuki and Alex Claudio). It’s definitely an interesting trend and one wonders if this strategy is part of Minasian’s agenda to wait out the starting pitching market or if he has a hard budget from Angels owner Arte Moreno. Time will tell in the coming weeks.
Arbitration updates for six Angels
Five of the six arbitration-eligible players were not surprising, with those five all coming within the projected figures from MLB Trade Rumors.
Bundy and Heaney, both in their final years of arbitration before they hit free agency, are the top-two projected starters for the Angels and were paid accordingly. The bigger surprise, however, came from the lack of a deal with Shohei Ohtani, who will go to an arbitration hearing with the Angels. The two sides are $800 thousand apart on a deal, with Ohtani asking for $3.3 million and the Angels offering $2.5 million. Ohtani is one of 13 arbitration-eligible players who did reach deals with their respective clubs.
The reaction to the Ohtani news was a complicated one, with many fans clamoring for honoring Ohtani’s commitment to choosing the Angels when coming over from Japan. The argument that I’ve seen is that Ohtani sacrificed millions of dollars to come to America before the age of 25 (he would’ve made significantly more had he waited) and therefore, the Angels shouldn’t nitpick over a relatively small difference. While I understand and kind of agree with that sentiment, I also don’t think this will be detrimental to the long-term relationship between the two sides. As you can see above, there are plenty of other talented players who did not agree to deals with their respective clubs. This will be a non-issue if the Angels decide to extend Ohtani to a long-term deal in the next few years.
The current payroll situation
According to Roster Resource, the Angels current luxury tax payroll sits just above $179 million, giving them roughly $31 million to spend before hitting the first tax level. Arte Moreno hasn’t given any indication that he’ll reach that luxury mark, nor has he ever come all that close to it. This website has the club about $11 million short of the luxury tax mark they hit in the 2020 season (prior to the pandemic-shortened season). That doesn’t leave the club with much room to add significant talent via free agency, unless Moreno decides to spend a bit more than usual.
As far as what’s next for the club, it’s easy to envision the club making a trade for one significant starting pitcher. Whether it’s Joe Musgrove, who is an obvious and more attainable starter, or Luis Castillo, whose price will likely be bananas, I’d imagine that this will be an avenue the Angels explore. If they can acquire one strong, cheaper starting pitcher through trade, they’d still have enough resources to possibly add one more starting pitcher, beef up the bullpen, and find a stopgap outfield option via free agency. Given the frantic activity of the past week or so, perhaps the Angels make their first significant splash of the offseason in the near future.