Tuesday, July 23, 2024
AL WestAmerican LeagueAnalysisLos Angeles AngelsMLB

Win Now?: a 2020 Losing Season Postmortem, the Angels’ 2021 Offseason, and the Jo Adell Question

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There are a lot of questions that the Los Angeles Angels’ organization is going to have to answer this offseason. Despite the fact that the greatest player of this generation is headlining their batting order and that an ample amount of talent has been brought in to support Mike Trout over the last several seasons with big names like the pure-hitting slugger Anthony Rendon and the two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, the Angels still find themselves coming off of a fifth consecutive losing season. The narrative remains the same as it has been for years: are the Angels wasting Mike Trout’s prime by continually underachieving with an all-time great committed to your franchise?

It is clear that some real change has to take place in order to get the team out of this rut, so owner Arte Moreno hired new General Manager Perry Minasian to man the front office going forward. The first time GM and former assistant GM of the Braves has additionally brought over three executives from the Braves organization to support him in the front office: Alex Tamin, Dominic Chiti, and Rick Williams. Adding new personnel to the front office was a solid first step for the offseason, and new assistant GM Alex Tamin is known for his analytic inclinations, which seems to be a breath of fresh air in the Angels organization. But despite all of this, the question still remains “What will the Angels do this offseason to put a winning team on the field?”

It is difficult to evaluate some of the great outlier performances that some of the Angels players put forth this season. David Fletcher had a career year at the plate and impressed with his elite defense at several positions, but it now must be discussed if this increase in production was a result of Fletcher’s natural upward trajectory as a young rising talent or if this spike was a result of the small sample size of the 60 game season. This same question must also be applied to a breakout rookie performance by Jared Walsh, whose 158 OPS+ and 9 home runs in 32 games took the Angels’ fan base by surprise. Both Fletcher and Walsh found themselves consistently batting in the first and second spot of the batting order in front of Mike Trout by season’s end, and trying to account for how some of these impressive offensive performances will develop into 2021 will prove to be an important task for the Angels front office as they try to put a contender together in Trout’s prime.

Just about any casual supporter of the Angels could tell you that the number one issue that is road-blocking the franchise is pitching. In both the starting rotation and in the bullpen, there are some bright spots, but the overarching trend is that the team’s pitching is simply not good enough to be a real contender in its current state. Breakout performances by unfamiliar faces include Dylan Bundy’s ninth place Cy Young finish, as well as the August AL Reliever of the Month award-winning Mike Mayers’ very impressive .340 OPS allowed in his 14 games pitched in August and September. Similar to breakout hitters like Fletcher and Walsh, it is now up to the new front office to take a look at these growing pitchers and figure out if what they did in 2020 was sustainable or if a rough regression to the mean is imminent. Along with these breakout players, other Angels pitchers seem due for a big step in their own development, like the young promising starting pitcher Griffin Canning and the inconsistent reliever Ty Buttrey, who shows flashes of brilliance. But even if these guys end up performing up to their best-case scenario, it is clear that front office moves will have to be made for pitching.

There are many clear-cut candidates available on the free agent or trade market to add depth to both the Angels’ rotation and bullpen. The reigning NL Cy Young winner and free agent Trevor Bauer would without a doubt get a lot of Angel fans excited about having a dominant ace for the first time in several years, especially after the unsuccessful attempt to sign Gerrit Cole last offseason. Even if Bauer does not end up signing with the Angels, there are still several moves that could be made to enhance the Angels’ rotation. One of the most interesting options to accomplish this that has caused some buzz in the last week or so would be to make a trade for Rays’ 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell. Snell exhibited a bounce back 2020 season after struggling a bit in 2019, and his stock is high right now after coming off of a dominant 2020 postseason. It also is an especially enticing option to pursue because any team that trades for Snell would have three years of control over his contract for relatively cheap before he is likely due a substantial raise on the free agent market.

The only qualm the Angels should have about trading for Snell is simple: what would he cost them on the trade market? When it comes to trade pieces, the Angels have quite a bit to offer, but these pieces are quite difficult to value. The aforementioned breakout stars would all be coveted assets by other teams that are willing to trade away pitching, but will parting ways with multiple of these breakout stars take too big of a hit on the Angels’ depth? In many ways, the production from the breakout players of 2020 for the Angels like Fletcher, Walsh, Bundy, Mayers, and Max Stassi was one of the only things that went the Angels’ way in 2020, along with the expected consistent greatness from Trout and Rendon. How many of those guys that made a name for themselves in 2020 can you part ways with for pitching and still come out as a net positive? After all, Angel fans have a shaky recent history when it comes to welcoming in new starting pitchers, as seen in the cursed 2019 starting rotation that featured several underperforming new faces like Trevor Cahill, Matt Harvey, and Chris Stratton, and more famously the 2012 acquisition of C.J. Wilson, who took a substantial step back in performance when he came to Anaheim.

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In order to figure out what the Angels can do to put a winning team on the field, perhaps the biggest question of all is how aggressive are the Angels as an organization willing to be. Mike Trout is 29 years old, he is the best player in the world, and he has essentially committed the rest of his career to the Angels organization. What are the Angels willing to do in return to give Mike Trout a chance to compete for a championship? The first consideration that naturally must be addressed is what do you do with Jo Adell. Adell is one of the highest-ranked prospects in all of baseball, and his arrival to the big leagues was long-awaited by Angel fans. This wait finally ended about a third of the way through this shortened 2020 season, and it is pretty clear that it was not a performance to remember. Some of the jarring statistics worth highlighting from Adell’s 38 games played in 2020 are his .161/.212/.266 slash line, his 31 OPS+, his -1.5 bWAR, his 41.7% strikeout rate, and his 5.3% walk rate. These numbers are disappointing, to say the least, and they are also paired with gaffes in the outfield and on the base paths.

But how much criticism does Adell really deserve for his 2020? After all, minor league play was suspended, and he was thrown into a rushed and shortened big league season unlike any other. It is more than fair to conclude that Adell deserves much more time to further develop and prove himself, and there is no question that Angel fans collectively believe that the sky is the limit in terms of Adell’s ceiling in the big leagues. But again, what are the Angels willing to do to give Mike Trout a chance to compete for a championship? It goes without saying that Adell is a highly sought after prospect that many teams would be willing to trade for, and it does not seem like Adell’s and Trout’s primes will be aligned very much if at all. Would it just be better for the Angels to go all-in on the next three to four seasons while Trout and Rendon are still in their primes by trading Adell for a Blake Snell type pitcher that would clearly aid in the get-Mike-Trout-to-the-postseason efforts?

Along with Adell, Brandon Marsh is another promising prospect that Angel fans are highly anticipating to arrive in the big leagues very soon, but is it logical to try to develop these young talents while simultaneously considering yourself a couple of trades away from being a contender in your current state? Is it fair to Adell and Marsh to deal them away after not getting a chance to prove themselves to the team that drafted them? Is it fair to Mike Trout for the team that he signed with to take half measures on the trade market by not doing everything possible to be a competitive contender right now? How hungry will the Angels front office be for success after seeing the Dodgers create a mini-dynasty just 30 miles up the 5 freeway? These are the types of questions that GM Perry Minasian will be facing in his first offseason in Anaheim, and being responsible for making these decisions is not a position worth envying. Compounded on top of these difficult decisions is the heavy involvement of owner Arte Moreno in the front office decision making process, which has historically made it difficult for an Angels GM to distinguish himself with any sort of sense of independence or personal legitimacy as the ultimate decision maker. Minasian has a lot on his plate in this first offseason in this new position, with many questions being asked about the Angels immediate future that he will have to answer. It is clear, however, that the Angels can be not only relevant but a real championship threat if Minasian answers these questions correctly.

Image: Twitter

Going into 2021 with no major acquisitions or trades made thus far in the offseason, it is clear that Angels are still multiple key moves away from being a fearsome competitor, but it is also clear that they have the bones of a potentially great team with their elite offense, promising breakout talent, A-list superstars, and very addressable holes in their roster. After covering all of these possibilities and decisions, it is also worth stating that there are many other matters that Minasian will have to see to.

Fan-favorite Shohei Ohtani’s severe slump at the plate and injury woes on the mound will make for some unfortunate conversations if things do not begin to turn around for him in the near future. Albert Pujols’ overpriced contract will expire after the 2021 season, and the 2022 free agency class is full of a remarkable amount of talent, especially at the shortstop position, which will be on the shortlist of needs for the Angels considering the free agency of Andrelton Simmons and the recent trade for Jose Iglesias, who has one year left on his contract. Ultimately though, the thing that is more crucial than the individual decisions that Minasian will have to make is the overall shift in culture that might have to occur in order to make a real run at a championship. Will this new front office be the one to finally get aggressive and go all-in, for Mike Trout if for nothing else? Only time will tell.

All statistics gathered from Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.