While the Angels are still in the mix to retain franchise face Shohei Ohtani, that hasn’t stopped the club from looking to improve other areas of its roster in the meantime. Fabian Ardaya and Sam Blum The Athletic reported this evening that the Angels have aggressive in the search for starting pitching upgrades on the trade market, engaging with rival clubs on multiple different fronts. That includes top-of-the-market rental arms such as Shane Bieber of the Guardians, Corbin Burnes of the Brewers, and Tyler Glasnow of the Rays, each of whom has frequently seen their name appear in the rumor mill this offseason.
Of the three, Glasnow has been the most frequently discussed as a trade candidate this offseason thanks to the Rays’ payroll situation and his hefty $25MM salary for the 2024 campaign. Such an addition would almost certainly push the Angels to the point of paying into the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history in the event they were able to reunite with Ohtani, who could command an annual salary in the range of $50MM or more. Bieber and Burnes, by contrast, would be somewhat more palatable additions from a financial perspective. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects the pair of right-handers to earn $12.2MM and $15.1MM in their respective final trips through arbitration this winter.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ardaya and Blum also report the Angels engaged with the Blue Jays regarding right-hander Alek Manoah, though those discussions did not ultimately gain traction. Even so, the club’s interest in adding Manoah to their rotation mix is noteworthy nonetheless. As opposed to the aforementioned trio of rental aces, Manoah won’t turn 26 until next month and would come with four seasons of team control. On the other hand, the right-hander’s production fell off a cliff in 2023 on the heels of his Cy Young finalist campaign in 2022. Manoah entered 2023 with a career ERA of 2.60 and FIP of 3.51, but saw those strong numbers collapse across 19 disastrous starts for Toronto this past season during which he posted a 5.87 ERA and 6.01 FIP in 87 1/3 innings of work. Manoah saw his strikeout rate fall to just 19% in 2023 as his walk rate more than doubled, making him more of a long-term change of scenery candidate than a surefire, short-term improvement to the rotation mix in Anaheim.
Despite the wide variety of arms the Angels are reportedly checking in on, Ardaya and Blum suggest that the club’s willingness to engage on the markets of these rotation arms, particularly those with only one year of team control remaining, could tip the club’s hand regarding their plans for the offseason regardless of whether they manage to secure Ohtani. If the club were to surrender young talent in a deal for an arm such as Burnes, Glasnow, or Bieber, that would be perhaps the clearest indicator yet that GM Perry Minasian and his front office have no intention of initiating a rebuild this offseason, regardless of Ohtani’s ultimately destination.
With or without Ohtani, the club is certainly justified in looking for improvements to its starting rotation for next season if they intend to compete in 2024. Of the five players to make at least 20 starts for the Angels in 2023, only Ohtani posted an ERA below 4.00, leaving the collective rotation staff with a 4.47 ERA and 4.52 FIP, both of which were below the league average last season. That would leave the club in line to benefit from an impact addition to the rotation even if the club could rely on Ohtani to start every sixth day next season. That need is even further exacerbated by the fact that Ohtani won’t take the mound at all in 2024 after undergoing elbow surgery back in September. Even if the club manages to retain their superstar slugger, it seems unlikely they’d be able to substantially improve on their 73-89 finish last season without giving their starting five a significant facelift.
The report doesn’t name specific pieces discussed as part of a potential return package of any of the players the Angels are pursuing. That being said, Ardaya and Blum note that rival clubs have been “intrigued” by the Angels’ group of fast-rising youngsters like Logan O’Hoppe, Zach Neto and Nolan Schanuel. It would be something of a surprise to see the club move any of those potentially core young pieces, particularly in a deal for a rental player. That being said, the Angels have been aggressive in trades for rental pieces in the past, including as recently as this past summer when they shipped out multiple top prospects to land Lucas Giolito from the White Sox.