Welcome to this year’s series. The Angels face a tough challenge in a pretty stacked AL West. The bad news is the payroll is still very top heavy and the farm is pretty thin. The good news is there are young pieces to build around and if I play my cards right I might have a decent team in 2024 with room to grow into something really special.
The stretch from where we are to an AL West title is steep. I need to get younger, build a team that can take advantage of the new rules by putting the ball in play and running, finally put an ace atop my rotation and give Trout plenty of days off his feet. Here’s my plan
Sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto 7 years $175 million
Every team needs an ace, especially a young one that is looking to create another competitive window. At age 25 Yamamoto is far younger than the average free agent. His stuff is absolutely filthy, he’s done it at the World Baseball Classic and the NBP Championship Series. I have no doubt this kid will be a stud at the MLB level and we get him during his prime years.
Sign Jung Hoo Lee 5 Years $50 million
I mentioned I want the team to get younger and here’s another 25 year old who has torn up an Asian league and is ready to jump to MLB. Lee’s contact skills with the bat are impeccable. High contact, low strikeout, ready to cover center or right field and let Mike Trout get off his feet and DH several times per week. He could very well be the Angels leadoff hitter by the All Star break but ideally I’d hit him behind on base machine Mike Trout, setting up hit and run opportunities with the bat whiz lefty at the plate.
Get to know the kid:
Trade Taylor Ward to Guardians for Sam Hentges
In this trade I pick up 4 years of a very good reliever in exchange for 3 years of one of my favorite Angels. Cleveland grows pitchers like the Emerald Triangle grows trees but needs bats so this is a good fit. I also exchange Ward’s $4.5 million for Hentges $1.1 million and give myself a little more financial flexibility.
Hentges is best with runners on and features a great fastball to go with a really nice curveball. At only 27 years old, Hentges is both experienced and in his prime; the perfect combination for a pretty young bullpen anchored by Carlos Esteves.
Sign Lourdes Gurriel Jr. 3 years $36 million
I opened a hole in left field now I fill it. The bottom line offensive numbers between Ward and Gurriel are very similar but Gurriel strikes out less often and has an absolute canon for an arm in left field. He’s also a better fielder and this pitching staff needs all the help it can get.
Sign Jeimer Candelerio 3 years $36 million
The current corner infielders for the Angels are Anthony Rendon and Nolan Schanuel. One is constantly hurt and the other is unproven. Candelerio has put up wRC+’s of 117 or higher in 3 of the last 4 years while primarily playing third base and occasionally sliding across the diamond to first. Most likely he’s my third baseman for the next three years while Rendon cycles through injuries. If not, he gives Rendon a couple of DH/rest days per week and lets Schanuel sit against lefties. Real teams have depth and this is how you get it.
Sign Whit Merrifield 2 years $18 million
The roster is thin. Having a guy capable of playing on the dirt or the grass, pinch hit, and steal bases is massive if we hope to compete at all this year. Anthony Rendon can’t be counted on to stay healthy and I want Mike Trout to get plenty of days at DH to keep him healthy. And at age 35, Whit could use plenty of off days himself. I’m not sure exactly where he plays but he’ll get into several games per week in some capacity. He might not be young, but he’s another high contact guy. I considered bring back Gio Urshela, but Merrifield can do so many more things than Gio.
At this point using straight math I’ve used up all but $300,000 of my dough. I need one more addition so I’ll backload the first four deals ever so slightly and move $2 million from everyone other than Merrifield from the first to last year.
Sign Nick Martinez 2 years $18 million.
Is Nick Martinez a starter, long reliever, or one inning reliever? Yes. And he’s very effective when on the mound. Last year he put up 110 innings across 63 appearances. Martinez gets a ton of ground balls (53.8% last year) while really limiting walks. There isn’t a ton of depth in the rotation or in the bullpen. Martinez single handedly makes up for a lot of that. He’ll be in the bullpen when the rotation is healthy and in the rotation when it needs help. But he’ll put up 100+ innings of well above average pitching throughout the year.
This team has a lot of youth, upside, versatility, and question marks. It gives manager Ron Washington a lot of flexibility to play match ups and situational baseball. It keeps the farm intact and does not cost a draft pick. It also opens up the DH spot to keep guys fresh. My focus on contact rate and speed also allows Washington to play a more aggressive style of baseball, harkening back to the game he played and taking advantage of the current rules.
The rotation goes Yamamoto, Detmers, Sandoval, Canning, Anderson with Chase Silseth, Sam Bachman and AFL standout Davis Daniel in AAA as depth.
Esteves anchors a bullpen with a bridge of Hentges, Jose Soriano, and Joyce for high leverage situations, Nick Martinez as a jack of all trades and Andrew Wantz for the middle innings. I kept Jose Suarez and Jimmy Herget so they get mop up duty. I’d love to add more here but at some point guys like Luke Murphy, Kelvin Caceres, Eric Torres and others need to step up; after all I drafted them to get here quickly and help. Sam Bachman is also expected to be full strength by Spring Training and could again be bullpen depth.
How to construct this lineup?
Against a righty Schanuel, Trout, Drury, Gurriel, Lee, Rendon/Candelerio, Moniak, O’hoppe/Thaiss, Neto would probably be the way to go. This leaves the third baseman and catcher who didn’t get the nod on the bench along with Luis Rengifo and Whit Merrifield.
Switch to a southpaw and we put Trout in the outfield instead of Moniak, put Candelerio at first for Schanuel, and have Rendon DH. In that case Washington is working with a bench of Schanuel, Neto, Merrifield, and a catcher.
Does this team chase down the West? I don’t know. And that’s the fun.
The team is younger, faster, more contact oriented, capable of stealing more bases and has a nice mix of veteran leadership to go along with a very young core. There’s a legitimate ace atop the rotation, a nice late innings mix in the bullpen, better overall defense, and versatility that allows the coaching staff to make multiple adjustments per game.
I’ll take my chances at a Wild Card with this team, which is the best one can hope for given the circumstances.