Los Angeles Angels 2021 and Beyond, Part 3: Improvements

Los Angeles Angels

The Los Angeles Angels roster needs major improvements if they hope to contend in the competitive AL West. What might new GM Perry Minasian do to begin his tenure? Ask 30 baseball executives and you’ll get 30 answers. In Part I, we looked at how Arte Moreno’s hands-on approach has stalled the Angels in years past. Part II was a deep dive into the current players on the Angels roster, and how they fit into the front office’s plan for 2021. In the final chapter of the Angels 2021 and Beyond trilogy, we will focus on the Angels improvements that will produce a playoff contender.

Angels Improvements #1: Starting Pitching

This offseason isn’t geared toward the simple rotation fixes of 2020, like a Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. Yes, there might be talk of Trevor Bauer but the options are limited for game-changing starters. Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman took qualifying offers. Many of the other pitchers available have lengthy injury histories or declining production. Maybe they sign a veteran and get lucky. Or, the improvements come from a trade like last year.

Free Agents Available

Although there are quite a few grizzled veterans available, such as Adam Wainwright, Jon Lester, and Cole Hamels they seem unlikely for a multitude of reasons. With a new GM, however, it can be hard to predict.

Top of the Rotation

Trevor Bauer: A game-changer. Thus, he’ll be expensive. But what’s he truly worth? While he has two excellent seasons he also has five that fall closer to league average. And, he’s outspoken. Remember what he said about Mike Trout? In the last few days he has professed his admiration for the New York Mets new owner, Steve Cohen. And, owner Arte Moreno was hesitant to meet Gerrit Cole‘s asking price so it seems unlikely that he’ll pay a similar annual number to a lesser pitcher.

Middle of the Rotation

Masahiro Tanaka: Might be the number two pitcher available. The New York Yankees seem the team to beat. If the Angels can get the 32-year old on a two or three-year deal, it would shore up their rotation depth real quick. Even if Tanaka doesn’t guarantee you 180 innings anymore.

James Paxton: Another Yankee, Paxton would appear to be a buy-low candidate in most years. Yet, the lack of available talent should help him. The Angels have had more than enough issues with pitching injuries so they should steer clear.

Jake Odorizzi: After a career year in 2019, Odorizzi struggled over four starts in 2020. While he would surely be an upgrade for the Angels, his cost to value ratio doesn’t seem to be a fit for 2021. He will only be 31 in March, however, so the Angels might hope Mickey Callaway can work his magic with Odorizzi.

Taijuan Walker: PRO- since the start of the 2017 seasons, Walker has a 3.28 ERA. CON- He’s only started 43 games and pitched 224 innings. At 28, Walker is a young free agent, yet his injury history is pronounced. The Angels could use him, but at what price?

Mike Minor: He struggled in 2020 and has missed two years because of injury, yet Minor might be the best buy-low option available. If he looks for a one-year deal, the Angels should jump at the opportunity.

J.A. Happ: There are rumblings that Minasian might go after a familiar face; they were both in the Toronto Blue Jays organization from 2012-2014 and 2016-2018. A one-year deal with the 38-year old Happ makes sense but others are interested.

Bottom of the Rotation

Jose Quintana: Since the start of the 2017 season, Quintana has thrown 544 innings; his ERA+ during that time was 100. League average. The Angels might take a chance on a one-year flier, even if he has Julio Teheran 2020″ written all over him.

Chris Archer: A buy-low candidate even if he hasn’t been league average since 2017. The stuff still says he can be a 4th or 5th starter. Buy waaaay low.

Injury Gambles

Brett Anderson: He always finds a way to miss games. But, he started ten times in 2020 and has a career 4.06 ERA. If the Angels gamble on a pitcher with an injury history, he wouldn’t be a bad option.

Corey Kluber: The injuries keep coming. The small shoulder tear that ended his 2020 season should be cause for concern, but Kluber, like others on this list, could go the one-year direction and hope for a bigger payday after next season.

Alex Wood: Stop me if you’ve heard this before; a talented pitcher who has thrown less than 50 innings over the last two seasons. Wood seems destined to leave LA in the hopes of pitching every fifth day.

Garrett Richards or Matt Shoemaker: For old times sake?

There are many other pitchers available in free agency, and the Angels should look at every single one of them. Yet, those not mentioned have severe question marks regarding their ability to pitch effectively. Tyler Chatwood? Career 1.514 WHIP. Martin Perez? 5.12 ERA since the start of 2017.

Trade Options

Blake Snell: Apparently, he’s on the block. He won a Cy Young in 2018, has a career 3.24 ERA, and is signed to a shockingly good contract. Whichever team (if any) ends up trading for Snell will be giving up a king’s ransom. Will it be the Angels? Do they even have the pieces? If they do, it will completely empty the prospect cupboard. Jo Adell or Brandon Marsh, probably Reid Detmers as well, Jeremiah Jackson or Kyren Paris, along with one or two lower minor gambles would seem like the baseline. Snell makes $10.5 million, $12.5 million, and $16 million over the next three seasons. Eppler’s first move was acquiring Andrelton Simmons you’re up, Mr. Minasian. Not a short term fix, this power move would set the Angels rotation up for the next three years.

Lance Lynn: He’ll be 34 in May, is a top-10 pitcher over the last three seasons and has an $8 million base salary in 2021. For one season, he’d be amazing. Yet, the Angels shouldn’t part with the few trade pieces they have for a one-year rental. They are more than one pitcher away from relevance.

Zach Plesac: The trade rumors were rampant after he broke quarantine. Fellow culprit, Mike Clevinger, was traded within the month. Yet, despite the outside noise, Plesac was amazing in 2020. And, he’s not a free agent until 2026. Is he even available? Hard to say. Assuming he is, should the Angels trade Adell or Marsh for him? Absolutely. Cleveland needs outfielders- their outfield was the second-worst in baseball. Is Adell or Marsh enough to get him? No. But they could anchor a package to get a 26-year old pitcher who would completely revitalize the Angels rotation. Adell or Marsh, an upper pitching prospect like Patrick Sandoval, and a couple of high ceiling prospects like Kyren Paris and D’Shawn Knowles should at least get Cleveland Indians GM Chris Antonetti to the phone.

Angels Improvements #2: Bullpen Help

As lackluster as the starting rotation pitched, the Angels bullpen was worse in 2020. Every other game seemed as though the Angels blew a save- they led baseball with 14. While Mike Mayers was excellent and Felix Pena was better than his numbers, no one else really shined. Let’s narrow the extensive list of relief pitchers in free agency to five great fits for the Angels.

Liam Hendriks: Over the last three seasons only three pitchers have a combined 5-WAR using FanGraphs: Josh Hader, Kirby Yates, and Hendriks. If we limit it to 2019-2020, no relief pitcher is within 2-WAR of Hendriks. While Yates is also available, he only pitched 4.1 innings in 2020 after having surgery for bone chips in his elbow. The Angels should stay in the two or three year range.

Brad Hand: It appears no team is willing to pay him $10 million a year. Otherwise, they would have claimed him on waivers. His diminished fastball velocity did nothing to hurt his numbers in 2020, where he went 16/16 on saves with a 2.05 ERA. The Angels would be smart to see where the market settles on Hand.

Trevor Rosenthal: He looked good with the Kansas City Royals but he looked amazing once he was traded to the San Diego Padres. If the Angels expect something near the average, the 1.90 ERA he ended up with, then Rosenthal should be on their short list of relievers.

Greg Holland: Now 35, Holland’s talent is still obvious as shown by his 1.91 ERA in 2020. If the reliever market isn’t as lucrative as usual, which is expected, the Angels would be smart to try and grab Holland.

Jake McGee: As good as he pitched in 2020, his peripheral numbers were even better. His 1.67 FIP was fifth in baseball for relievers; his 2.10 xFIP was third. McGee is owed $2 million by the Colorado Rockies for the 2021 season so hopefully the Angels wouldn’t have to overspend to acquire him.

Angels Improvements #3: Get a shortstop

The Angels need to sign a shortstop, NOT a middle infielder. David Fletcher is an amazing second baseman. He is not, for all his efforts, an amazing shortstop. He’s a solid one. Let him be amazing at second. While the vaunted class of shortstops available after the 2021 season might give teams pause this offseason, the Angels seem unlikely to sign another position player to a megadeal. So, this is the time to buy low.

Free Agents

Marcus Semien: He’s in a difficult spot. While he would love to reset his value with a one-year deal, the 2021 shortstop class is not something he wants to join. Being free of a qualifying offer was a huge get for Semien, and while many teams would be much improved with his excellent defense at shortstop, his offensive struggles in 2020 will likely leave him well short of what his 2019 season would have earned him.

Didi Gregorius: With ten home runs in 2020, Gregorius proved he still has pop. In playing every game he proved he was healthy. The question is what are teams willing to pay a 31-year old shortstop who is league average defensively and struggles to get on base? MLBtraderumors predicts a 3-yr/$39 million deal. Gregorius is definitely worth something in that range.

Andrelton Simmons: Would he come back? If healthy, no one compares to Simba defensively but that question mark might scare the Angels off. As might his end to 2020.

Ha-Seong Kim: This is who the Angels should covet. Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) numbers aren’t easy to translate to the MLB due to most KBO players coming over in their thirties. Kim is only 25. Plus, he’s athletic and can definitely stay at shortstop. He walks more than he strikes out. Sure, the power numbers could dip as might his offense as a whole. But, his speed and defensive versatility will make up for it. Kim checks all of the boxes.

Trade Options

Francisco Lindor: Should the Los Angeles Angels empty the cupboard for a player they’ll have to re-sign for $300+ million at the end of the season? No. What about Javier Baez? He will also be a free agent after 2021. So, no.

In Closing

While much has been written about the Los Angeles Angels need for a catcher, the Max Stassi/Anthony Bemboom combo is more than capable of holding down the position. Would J.T. Realmuto be a nice upgrade? Definitely. Is it a necessity? Absolutely not. In fact, it would be a huge mistake. The team should sign a low-cost veteran to provide depth, however, given the news that Stassi might start the year on the IL.

The biggest thing the Los Angeles Angels need to do is relax. Baseball is coming off an unprecedented season and the free-agent crop isn’t that impressive. The front office knows there are many different avenues to make the Angels better in 2021. While Arte Moreno said the Angels will not be reducing payroll in 2021, that doesn’t mean they should force anything. Next year’s team isn’t the only one for GM Perry Minasian to worry about. The Angels improvements need to set the franchise up for 2021 and beyond.

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