NOVEMBER 9, 8:58pm: Minasian reiterated his desire to land an impact starter when speaking with Alden González of ESPN this evening (Twitter link). “Frontline starting pitching is tough to acquire. It’s very difficult,” the GM acknowledged. “That being said, we’d like to significantly improve our rotation. That’s an area where we’ll definitely look for a certain type of quality.”
2:16pm: It’s become something of an offseason tradition to note that the Angels are in the market for rotation help, and that’s again the case as the 2021-22 offseason commences. Second-year general manager Perry Minasian again told reporters at this week’s GM Meetings that pitching help is his top priority — Minasian offered a similar outlook in early October — and perhaps more importantly suggested that the team isn’t operating under any payroll constraints (Twitter links via Jack Harris of the L.A. Times). Asked about the budget, Minasian simply replied he “wouldn’t rule us out of anything.”
It’s hardly a surprise to see the Angels again in the market for pitching help — especially with regard to the rotation. Halos starters ranked 26th in the Majors with just 776 1/3 innings pitched in 2021, and their collective 4.78 ERA ranked 22nd. In terms of fielding-independent metrics like FIP and SIERA, the Angels were a middle-of-the-pack club, and the same was true of their strikeout percentage. No team in baseball saw its starters walk a higher percentage of opponents than the Angels’ nine percent mark, however, and their rotation ranked 15th in hit batters despite tallying the fifth-fewest innings of any team in MLB.
Minasian confirmed to Harris and others that the team was represented at yesterday’s Justin Verlander showcase, and MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweets that the Angels have made some early inquiries with free-agent lefties Robbie Ray and Eduardo Rodriguez. Any big-market club with a need in the rotation figures to check in with the representatives for this trio of pitchers, of course, but it’s notable that all three of Verlander, Ray and Rodriguez have received qualifying offers from their respective clubs.
If the Angels were to sign anyone from that trio, they’d need to forfeit their second-highest draft selection and $500K of their international bonus pool. For some teams, that’s a firm roadblock, but it’s at least somewhat telling that the Angels don’t seem fazed by that reality. Their early interest in this group meshes well with Minasian’s sentiment that they’re not ruling anything out as they look to address a longstanding rotation need.
In the bullpen, the Angels have made a qualifying offer of their own, extending that $18.4MM proposal to closer Raisel Iglesias. Minasian hasn’t received any indication as to whether Iglesias will accept or decline the offer — the latter seems likely — but emphasized (via Harris) that the Angels would like to have Iglesias at the back of their ’pen again in 2022, whether he accepts or declines.
The Angels’ rotation currently projects to be headlined by MVP frontrunner Shohei Ohtani, with younger options such as Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez, Jaime Barria, Reid Detmers, Griffin Canning and Janson Junk among the options to round things out. It’s an inexperienced group, to say the least, so it’s likely the Angels will be in the market for multiple veteran arms to join the group in the offseason. Alex Cobb previously expressed interest in returning to the club but will at least be able to field interest from other clubs now that he’s a free agent.
From a payroll vantage point, the Angels currently owe a combined $108.95MM to five players: Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Justin Upton, David Fletcher and Ohtani. Add in a modest projection of $7.7MM in arbitration salaries — including a combined $2.8MM to non-tender candidates Junior Guerra and Phil Gosselin — as well as a slate of pre-arbitration players, and next year’s projected payroll jumps to somewhere in the $125-130MM range.
For a team that carried a $182MM payroll in 2021 and recently saw Albert Pujols’ decade-long megadeal come off the books, that’s a fair bit of flexibility. And, considering further that Justin Upton’s backloaded contract ($28MM in 2022) is off the books next winter, the outlook is a bit brighter yet. The Angels will still surely want to consider a long-term deal to keep Ohtani beyond the 2023 campaign, currently his final year of club control, but there ought to be room to bring in an arm of some note.
That said, with all of Trout, Rendon and ideally Ohtani on the books for the long haul, it might be difficult for the Angels to sign two high-end pitchers to long-term arrangements. It’s feasible that they could sign someone like Ray or Rodriguez to a long-term deal, ink another impact starter to a shorter-term arrangement — Verlander, Max Scherzer and Carlos Rodon are among the candidates for that type of deal, speculatively speaking — and then look to the trade market for another arm. The Reds, Marlins and Athletics could all look to move some starters this winter, and the Halos of have several promising young outfielders, including Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh and Jordyn Adams. Any of the previously mentioned young rotation options could also be included in a package for a more established arm.
Regardless of how things unfold, the Angels have a good bit of payroll space at their disposal for at least the next few years. The manner in which they address the rotation this winter and the outcome of their inevitable extension talks with Ohtani will dictate how things look in 2023 and beyond.