Angels owner Arte Moreno spoke to Jeff Fletcher of The Orange County Register this week, touching on various topics. Notably, he said that he has no plans to sell the team and that the club’s payroll is going to be lower in 2024.
Moreno announced in August of 2022 that he was planning to explore a sale of the club, but another announcement in January of 2023 indicated he was no longer pursuing that path. While some fans may have hoped he would reconsider, it doesn’t seem that is in his plans.
“I am here long term,” Moreno said to Fletcher this week. “There are some people that came back and some people that knew I had it on the market (in 2022). I basically said it’s not on the market.”
Moreno did leave the door open to being blown away by a crazy offer, suggesting if an interested party offers something “really stupid” he’d have to consider. Outside that scenario, it doesn’t seem like a sale is on the table.
That leaves questions about the long-term plan of certain elements, such as the club’s home ballpark of Angel Stadium. Moreno was hoping to purchase the venue with an eye on developing the area around it into a sort of ballpark village with residential and commercial spaces. That plan seemingly died in May of 2022 when Anaheim City Council voted against it. The process was marred by controversy, with Anaheim mayor Harry Sidhu resigning amid an FBI investigation alleging that he shared insider information with the club in the hope of soliciting campaign contributions. It was just a few months later that Moreno announced he was considering selling the club.
It doesn’t seem like there’s any momentum to revisiting plans for that development project, with Moreno suggesting city officials don’t have “an appetite” for the plan. Anaheim’s current mayor, Ashleigh Aitken, also provided a statement to Fletcher:
“We’re open to looking at the future of baseball and welcome a fresh start in crafting a proposal that is good for Anaheim and our residents. I’m all ears. We know what works, and we’ve seen what didn’t. We welcome a fair proposal. As a city, we’re committed to building on decades of baseball in Anaheim for generations to come.”
With Moreno seemingly not looking to purchase the stadium at the moment, the Angels continue to lease it. That deal runs through 2029 but with three-year options that go through 2038. Moreno demurred when asked how that would play out. “Do you know where you’re going to be in 2038? Do you know how old I am? This year I’ll be 78. That’s a long time.”
Turning to the near future, Moreno addressed the 2024 club and admitted that the club’s plan is to “set the budget lower,” but without providing specifics.
The Angels were willing to spend near the competitive balance tax last year and were even over the line for a time. But as they fell out of contention, they put various veteran players on waivers in order to shed their salaries. They also put Max Stassi on the restricted list as he was away from the club due to a personal matter, which was later revealed by his wife to be the premature birth of their son, which led to various health complications for the child.
In the end, the club successfully ducked under the tax line. Some observers wondered if the club would enter a rebuild with Shohei Ohtani hitting free agency, but general manager Perry Minasian quickly shot down those ideas in November when he plainly stated that they would not rebuild and would actually be aggressive this winter.
The club has indeed been active, though whether they’ve been “aggressive” is up for debate. The Halos have mostly been focused on the bullpen, signing Robert Stephenson, Matt Moore, Luis García, Adam Cimber and José Cisnero. Despite those signings, their payroll is at $173MM and their CBT number at $188MM, per Roster Resource. That puts them almost $50MM below the tax and almost $40MM below last year’s Opening Day payroll of $212MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
If they were willing to get back to those levels again this year, they would be a viable player for a late-winter splash on one of the top remaining free agents, with Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman still available. But perhaps that’s less likely if the budget is going to decrease, though it’s not clear how far they intend to drop payroll. Circling back to Ohtani, Moreno confirmed a December report that the Halos were not willing to match the heavily-deferred $700MM deal that Ohtani signed with the Dodgers.
With Ohtani gone, the club is no longer obligated to run a six-man rotation, something they did to limit Ohtani’s workload while serving as a two-way player. Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that the club is planning to use a traditional five-man rotation this year, with Sam Bachman and José Suarez to be stretched out.
Those two figure to be in competition for a spot at the back of the rotation. If everyone is healthy, the front four should be Reid Detmers, Griffin Canning, Patrick Sandoval and Tyler Anderson. That leaves one spot for someone like Bachman, Suarez, Chase Silseth or Zach Plesac.
Suarez, 26, seemed to be breaking out as a viable starter over 2021 and 2022. He pitched around 100 innings in each of those campaigns with his earned run average finishing just a bit below 4.00 both times. But last year was challenging, as he missed significant time due to a left shoulder strain and only tossed 33 2/3 innings with an 8.29 ERA. He’ll look to get back on track with better health this year. He’s out of options and will need to be in the bullpen if he doesn’t win a rotation job, or else be removed from the 40-man roster entirely.
Bachman, 24, was selected ninth overall in 2021 and made his MLB debut last year. He made 11 appearances out of the bullpen in the big leagues, with a 3.18 ERA in those. He landed on the injured list due to shoulder inflammation in July and wasn’t able to make it back after that.
He was a starter on his way up the minor league ladder but has yet to build up a huge workload. He pitched 75 2/3 innings in college in 2019, but then was limited to just 23 2/3 in the 2020 season. In 2021, he tossed 59 2/3 in college and then another 14 1/3 in High-A after his draft selection, getting to 74 on the year. In 2022, he was in Double-A but only logged 43 2/3 innings as back spasms and biceps inflammation slowed him down. Last year, he threw 26 1/3 frames at Double-A before adding another 17 in the minors, combining for 43 1/3.
All told, he’s yet to reach 80 innings in a season and didn’t even get to 45 in either of the past two years. It’s understandable that the club still wants to develop their first-rounder as a starter going forward, given his youth, upside and full slate of options. But it’s likely going to be a long-term project since he’ll have to take gradual steps forward in terms of increasing that workload.