The 2020 campaign was another disappointment for the Angels, who finished under .500 for the fifth straight year and expanded their playoff drought to six seasons. General manager Billy Eppler lost his job as a result, and the Angels are now searching for his replacement. Despite the Angels’ recent struggles, the next GM will inherit a high-payroll club with some blue-chip talent on its roster.
- Mike Trout, CF: $354.5MM through 2030
- Anthony Rendon, 3B: $215.5MM through 2026
- Justin Upton, OF: $51MM through 2022
- Albert Pujols, 1B: $30MM through 2021
Note on arb-eligible players: this year’s arbitration projections are more volatile than ever, given the unprecedented revenue losses felt by clubs and the shortened 2020 schedule. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who developed our arbitration projection model, used three different methods to calculate different projection numbers. You can see the full projections and an explanation of each if you click here, but for the purposes of our Outlook series, we’ll be using Matt’s 37-percent method — extrapolating what degree of raise a player’s 2020 rate of play would have earned him in a full 162-game slate and then awarding him 37 percent of that raise.
- Justin Anderson – $700K
- Matt Andriese – $1.9MM
- Dylan Bundy – $6.8MM
- Andrew Heaney – $5.7MM
- Mike Mayers – $800K
- Keynan Middleton – $900K
- Shohei Ohtani – $2.1MM (using hitter model)
- Felix Pena – $800K
- Noe Ramirez – $1.0MM
- Hansel Robles – $3.9MM
- Max Stassi – $1.4MM
- Non-tender candidates: Anderson, Andriese, Middleton, Robles
Led by the foremost position player tandem in baseball — center fielder Mike Trout and third baseman Anthony Rendon — the Angels fielded an above-average offense in 2020, ranking ninth in runs and 11th in wRC+. The problem is that the Angels couldn’t keep runs off the board, which has been the case far too often during their years-long skid. Their pitching staff tied for the fifth-worst ERA in baseball, and while it did fare better with the game’s 17th-ranked FIP, that’s probably not of much comfort to the Angels or their long-suffering fans.
As this offseason gets underway, the Angels are once again going to have search for starting help. That said, their rotation does appear to have at least a few quality pieces in place. Former Oriole Dylan Bundy broke out in 2020, his first season as an Angel; Andrew Heaney turned in a solid and healthy season; Griffin Canning performed well in his second year; and Jaime Barria rebounded over a small sample of starts. However, the Angels didn’t get much else from their rotation, in part because Shohei Ohtani was barely a factor for the second straight season. Opposing offenses clobbered Ohtani over two appearances, and he didn’t pitch after Aug. 2 because of a flexor strain in his right arm.
Ohtani has thrown just 53 1/3 innings since he debuted in 2018 and a grand total of 1 2/3 frames dating back to 2019. It’s going to be hard to count on him going forward, though the Angels figure to at least give the gifted Ohtani another opportunity in 2021. That could even come as part of a six-man rotation, which he’s accustomed to from his days in Japan.
If the Angels do experiment with a six-man rotation, it could up their chances of signing the offseason’s No. 1 free agent, Trevor Bauer. Coming off a potential NL Cy Young-winning season with the Reds, Bauer has expressed interest in pitching every fourth day. The Southern California native may be open to doing so for the Angels, but that’s assuming they’re going to pursue him and add yet another big contract to their books. It’s also unclear whether Bauer would even want to pitch for the struggling Angels, considering the 29-year-old has made it clear he’d like to play for a winner on an annual basis. It’s also worth noting that Bauer has had differences in the past with Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who held the same position when the two were in Cleveland.
As Ben Reiter wrote for Sports Illustrated in 2019: “A few years ago, Bauer says, Mickey Callaway—then the Tribe’s pitching coach, now the Mets’ manager—berated him during batting practice for nearly an hour for refusing to throw more fastballs. Callaway had a point: Bauer’s career ERA was around 4.50. Bauer had a point too. “My process has been the same the entire time,” he says. “I’m going to try to find every single way to do better, and I’ve probably researched it more than you have. Don’t tell me what I do and don’t know without some good f—ing data behind it.”
That doesn’t necessarily rule the Angels out for Bauer, though it’s at least worth keeping in mind. In the event the Angels don’t get Bauer, there will be at least a few other capable starters available (albeit less exciting ones). Beginning with a trade possibility, the Rangers’ Lance Lynn would give the Angels some much-needed stability near the top of their rotation. Of course, reeling in Lynn would require the Angels to pry him from a division rival.
Free agency features plenty of other well-known names after Bauer, but most come with their share of questions. Marcus Stroman, Kevin Gausman, Masahiro Tanaka and Jake Odorizzi could each pull in fairly lucrative deals for multiple years, while there are a slew of one- or two-year possibilities including Jose Quintana, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, ex-Angel Garrett Richards, Corey Kluber, Mike Minor, Adam Wainwright, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester. Some members of that group happen to have past connections to the Angels’ coaching staff. Quintana, Hamels and Lester were in the Cubs’ rotation when Joe Maddon was their manager, while Kluber was a two-time Cy Young winner in Cleveland when Callaway was the Indians’ pitching coach.
Just as the Angels figure to address their rotation this winter, their bullpen is also likely to be a focus. Their top reliever, Mike Mayers, is returning, but help is needed otherwise — especially from the left side. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them pursue free agents such as Brad Hand and Jake McGee (who played under Maddon in Tampa Bay). The right side has an even larger selection, including Liam Hendriks, Trevor May, Trevor Rosenthal, Alex Colome (he was also with Maddon as a Ray), Mark Melancon and Shane Greene. The very fact that Mayers, a Nov. 2019 waiver claim who came to the organization with a career 7.03 ERA, emerged as their most reliable reliever in 2020 speaks to the need to supplement this group.
Turning to the offensive side, most of the Angels’ regulars for 2020 looks to be in place. Trout and Rendon will continue to man their positions, while David Fletcher will have a starting spot somewhere. The Angels are stuck with first baseman Albert Pujols and left fielder Justin Upton because of their contracts, so they’ll continue to get regular playing time (Jared Walsh will rejoin Pujols at first). Ohtani should continue as their option at DH. At catcher, the Angels are unlikely to pursue a new starter to replace Max Stassi, per Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic. Stassi did undergo hip surgery in October, which could call his Opening Day availability into question. If it does, the Angels might at least make a depth move there and pair that player with Anthony Bemboom as they await Stassi’s return.
The Angels at least seem likely to address their middle infield from the outside, as they’re losing starting shortstop Andrelton Simmons to free agency. The club does appear to have several viable outside options, though, considering Fletcher is versatile enough to hold down second base or short. If he plays second, they can peruse the trade market (e.g. Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story) or free agency (e.g. Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien, Ha-Seong Kim) for a shortstop. If he handles short, the Angels could look to DJ LeMahieu, Kolten Wong, old friend Tommy La Stella or Cesar Hernandez to take over at the keystone. They’ve already expressed interest in Wong — who, as MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk noted, resembles the second base version of Simmons. Gregorius is said to be of interest to them as well.
The Angels may have to make a move in their outfield, where they received little to no production from anyone but Trout in 2020. As mentioned earlier, Upton will get a chance to rebound by virtue of the $51MM he’s owed through 2022 and his full no-trade clause. Right field doesn’t look as certain, however. The Angels do have Jo Adell and Taylor Ward there, but Adell had a brutal debut and Ward didn’t hit a home run in 102 plate appearances. Adell has long rated as one of the game’s elite prospects, but he barely got his feet wet in Triple-A in 2019 and obviously didn’t have the benefit of a minor league season in 2020. He could require some additional development time.
It may at least make sense to bring in a left-handed bat to platoon with all of their right-handed corner outfielders and slightly balance out the lineup. Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson, Brett Gardner, Jurickson Profar and Robbie Grossman lead the way among this winter’s class of lefty-capable hitters who can play the outfield. Admittedly, Brantley seems like a better fit for a club that can offer him some time at DH to help keep him fresh. The Angels did have a trade in place for Pederson last winter, but their deal with the Dodgers fell through for unknown reasons. It’s anyone’s guess whether a new front office regime would pursue him.
Year 1 of the Trout-Rendon era didn’t produce nearly enough team success — through no fault of that duo, of course — but it’s a massive advantage for the next GM to have those two in place. If the Angels are finally going to get back to contention in 2021, that executive will at least have to make meaningful additions to the Halos’ pitching staff and figure out the middle infield.