At this point of the season, the focus for many teams has largely shifted to the upcoming offseason. While ten American League clubs are still within shouting distance of postseason position, only six teams are clear contenders for the five N.L. berths (with the Marlins, Pirates, and Rockies all hanging on by a thread with losing records).
After the season concludes, we’ll be looking at every team in the league in depth with MLBTR’s annual Offseason Outlook series. For the time being, though, we’re taking preliminary big-picture looks at what some of the non-contending clubs will need to focus on in order to reverse their current standing.
We’ll start with a disappointing Angels club:
1. Increase the flow of the talent pipeline.
If you check in on the Angels’ top prospect list on MLB.com, you’ll find that the first four players listed were all taken in the first two rounds of the 2015 and 2016 drafts. That’s representative of the state of the Halos’ farm, which is in the beginning stages of a much-needed farm restocking. A top-ten pick in next year’s draft will help — plus, it’ll be protected if the club signs a qualifying offer-bound free agent — but GM Billy Eppler will need to find ways to ramp up the talent intake beyond waiting for the team’s turn to draft. Unfortunately, the Angels are still disqualified from handing out $300K+ bonuses in the current international signing period owing to the seemingly ill-fated signing of Roberto Baldoquin. As Ben Badler of Baseball America explains, the team has been trading its slots for speculative minor leaguers rather than spending all its available funds on even younger international talent. Whether that particular strategy will pay off remains to be seen, but it seems incumbent upon the Angels to turn over all the stones they can find to load up the pipeline with future big league assets — both to get cheap players onto the roster and to generate trade pieces. Taking on cash in trades to pick up prospects may be tough given that the organization already has $100MM on its books for 2017 and about $75MM for each of the three seasons that follow, but that’s something of the approach that they took in acquiring Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer from the Twins. If some kind of partial reboot can’t be pulled off while still trying to contend, the nuclear option — trading Mike Trout — will be increasingly plausible.
2. Build up rotation depth.
Matt Shoemaker was having a nice season before his unfortunate injury, but he is the sole member of the Angels’ rotation who has been worth even a single win above replacement in 2016. Health obviously played a major role, but that’s not exactly a surprise given the attrition rate of major league pitchers. The cross-town Dodgers also lost a host of starters, but managed to stay afloat; the A.L. entrant from Los Angeles simply wasn’t able to reach into the reserves that its neighboring N.L. competitors were. The Angels ended up making mid-season acquisitions (Tim Lincecum, Jhoulys Chacin) in a desperate bid to find useful innings, and it just didn’t work out. Whether Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs can turn in full seasons will obviously be critical to the 2017 campaign, but the organization needs to find a way not only to plug in quality rotation pieces, but also to fill in when the arm problems all-but-inevitably arise. There’s going to be plenty of competition for the few appealing free agent pitchers available, and the Angels already dealt away their two best pitching prospects last winter to get Andrelton Simmons. Eppler and co. will need to do a better job of identifying the right under-valued hurlers to cobble together a serviceable staff. Plus, the team will need to find a way to complete the development of upper-level pitching prospects such as Meyer, Nate Smith, and Victor Alcantara.
3. Improve on the bases.
The Angels’ position players have combined this year to produce the league’s ninth-best results at the plate (by measure of wRC+) and were collectively slightly above-average on defense, but the club as a whole ranks dead last in Fangraphs’ total baserunning metric (BsR). That hasn’t been the case in recent years, but many of the team’s roster changes have brought in poorly-rated baserunners (Yunel Escobar, especially). Clearly, the Halos need to consider much more than wheels in filling in their numerous areas of need, which (still) include second base, left field, and catcher as well as the bench. But perhaps infusing some speed — and contemplating ways that the organization can improve its general approach — would be a somewhat subtle way to find value with a limited supply of talent available on the upcoming free agent market.