Offseason Outlook: Los Angeles Angels

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In conjunction with this post, Anthony Franco will hold an Angels-centric chat on 10-10-23 at 2:00 pm CDT. Click here to leave a question in advance.

The Angels collapsed in the second half and came up short of the playoffs yet again. Now they enter the offseason they've been dreading. Shohei Ohtani will be a free agent, putting the franchise at a potential inflection point. They'll need to commit to an organizational direction behind their fourth manager in six seasons.

Guaranteed Contracts

Option Decisions

2024 financial commitments: $117.2MM
Total future commitments: $427.4MM

Arbitration-Eligible Players

Non-tender candidates: Phillips, Barria, Wallach, Walsh, Suarez, Quijada

Free Agents

The Angels have had the 2023-24 offseason circled for a while. It has served as a possible endpoint to their window of rostering two of the best players in the world. At least since Shohei Ohtani truly broke through as an MVP talent in 2021, the upcoming winter has been a concern. The organization knew it was running low on time to build a winner during Ohtani's window of control.

For a team that has desperately been in win-now mode for three-plus seasons, the Angels haven't done much winning. They've tried to compensate for a generally thin organizational pipeline by addressing needs through free agency, always a step behind where they needed to be.

In 2021, the starting rotation wasn't good enough. Last year, they gave too many at-bats to replacement level position players. They tried to bolster the overall depth last offseason, signing Brandon DruryTyler Anderson and Carlos Estévez while acquiring Hunter Renfroe and Gio Urshela in trade. Still on the fringe of the playoff race at the deadline, they pushed in for Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López (plus a number of role playing veteran hitters) in hopes of salvaging one playoff run while Ohtani was still guaranteed to be on the roster.

It didn't work. The Halos pivoted a few weeks later, waiving many of their highest-priced players in an effort to dip back below the luxury tax line. Even the organization doesn't yet know if that effort was successful, as their tax number won't be finalized until the end of the year. If they did go over the base threshold, the actual bill would be minuscule, as teams are only taxed on their overages. The more significant aspects are that teams pay escalating penalties for surpassing the line in consecutive seasons and that paying the luxury tax reduces the compensation teams receive for losing a qualified free agent.

That, of course, brings things back to Ohtani. The Angels will make Ohtani the QO. He will decline. If he subsequently signs elsewhere, the compensation the Halos receive would differ depending on whether they actually surpassed the tax threshold. If their CBT number is under $233MM, it'd be a pick between Competitive Balance Round B and the third round (typically around 75th overall). If they're still over the line, the compensatory draft choice falls between Rounds 4 and 5.

Neither is a good outcome. The Angels unsurprisingly maintain they hope to re-sign Ohtani. The presumptive AL MVP hasn't tipped his hand about free agent preferences. There's no doubt the Halos will be involved in the bidding. Would they be willing to offer a contract pushing or exceeding half a billion dollars to retain him?

Owner Arte Moreno hasn't been shy about spending on star talent, from the Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Anthony Rendon free agent pickups to the Mike Trout extension. Yet even those megadeals are likely to land well below Ohtani's ultimate signing price, while this is the first time in two decades that the Halos have shown a willingness to surpass the luxury tax threshold.

Even if Moreno is willing to play at the top of the market financially, the Angels will have to sell Ohtani on their ability to compete over the coming seasons. They're tied with the Tigers for the game's longest active playoff drought at nine years. They don't have a single prospect on Baseball America's most recent Top 100 list.

The MLB team just finished 73-89 for a second consecutive season while Ohtani was playing on a $30MM arbitration salary and pitched 132 innings. At season's end, they declined an option to retain skipper Phil Nevin. They're now searching for their fifth manager since Ohtani's 2018 rookie season. They already have north of $117MM in guaranteed salary on the books, most of it tied up in the Rendon and Trout deals. The arbitration class is likely to tack on around $16MM after non-tenders. That leaves about $79MM before reaching this year's Opening Day payroll figure, though an Ohtani deal could account for more than half of that.

The best case scenario is that the Halos manage to retain Ohtani, who won't pitch next season following elbow surgery, on a free agent contract that pays far more than he made this year– likely above Aaron Judge's $40MM record salary for a position player. They wouldn't have much room to address anything else on the roster before getting back to franchise-record payroll levels. Barring a huge jump in spending, it's hard to see how the Angels look better entering 2024 than they did going into '23.

That all makes the Halos feel like a relative long shot to keep their franchise player. Were he to sign elsewhere, this would look like a clear rebuilding roster. They were 16th in runs this past season despite Ohtani's .304/.412/.654 showing. Playing the second half without Trout, who suffered a hamate fracture on July 4, obviously played a role in that. Yet Trout has played in less than half the team's games over the last three seasons. Now that he's into his 30s, the three-time MVP might not be capable of shouldering a 150+ game workload as he did at his peak.

The rest of the lineup has some bright spots but is middling overall. Logan O'Hoppe is a promising young catcher. He lost most of this year to a labrum tear but is the clear long-term starter. Veteran Max Stassi was out all season between a hip injury and a family medical concern. Hopefully, he'll be able to return next season as the backup.

Los Angeles cycled through a number of infielders. David Fletcher was on and off the roster and no longer looks like a regular. He'll remain in the organization because he's under contract for two more seasons and doesn't have the requisite service time to decline a minor league assignment without forfeiting the $14MM remaining on his deal. He could be waived again this offseason, though.

The Halos brought in Mike Moustakas, C.J. Cron and Eduardo Escobar as midseason stopgaps. They're all headed to free agency — the Angels will buy out Escobar for $500K rather than exercise a $9MM option — and seem unlikely to be retained. Urshela is also headed to the open market and could find a two-year deal elsewhere. Former All-Star Jared Walsh is likely to be non-tendered after a second straight down year that temporarily cost him his spot on the 40-man roster.

Despite those players departing, the Angels have a handful of infielders. Zach Neto had a solid rookie season and should be the long-term shortstop. 21-year-old Kyren Paris saw late-season action there but didn't hit in his first 15 MLB games and should start next year back in the minors.

At first base, the Halos hurried Nolan Schanuel to the majors within a few weeks of drafting him 11th overall out of Florida Atlantic. While the last-ditch effort to compete didn't work, the 21-year-old handled himself remarkably well given the circumstances. Schanuel walked more than he struck out, hit .275, and reached base at a huge .402 clip in his debut. He only had four extra-base hits and slugged just .330. There's room for debate about whether the Angels should send Schanuel back to the minors to try to develop his power. His strong on-base skills at least put him in the running for the starting first base job on Opening Day, though.

Drury and Luis Rengifo will be in the everyday lineup if they're still on the roster. They were two of the Halos' better offensive performers, with Rengifo having a particularly impressive second half. A fluke biceps rupture sustained while taking swings in the on-deck circle ended his season two weeks early. He underwent surgery and is expected to be ready for Spring Training.

Each of Drury and Rengifo should draw trade attention this offseason. Rengifo's injury could make it difficult to find an appropriate return before he gets back on the field. Drury would be an obvious trade candidate if the Halos lose Ohtani and decide to use 2024 as a retooling season. The veteran popped 26 homers with a .262/.306/.497 slash in his first year in Orange County. Playing on an affordable $8.5MM salary, he'd be an appealing target for infield-needy teams in a winter without many free agent options.

That's not the case for Rendon. The veteran third baseman has played in fewer than 60 games in all three full seasons since signing a $245MM free agent deal. He has played at a league average level in that time, nowhere close to the production the Angels envisioned. Rendon didn't play after July 4 with a left leg injury that the Halos announced as a shin contusion. Rendon told reporters last month it was a tibia fracture. Both the organization and the player had been bizarrely reluctant to provide meaningful updates throughout the season.

There's no indication that Rendon will not be ready for the start of 2024. He'll surely remain on the roster, as his $38MM annual salaries through '26 makes a trade essentially impossible. If he's healthy, he'll presumably be the starting third baseman. Few free agent deals go south as quickly as the Rendon investment has, leaving the Angels without many options but to hope for better entering year five.

Two outfield spots should be locked down. Trout is likely to be back in center field. Opposing fanbases have long speculated about the possibility of prying the 11-time All-Star away in trade. The Angels probably wouldn't be able to shed the entire seven years and $248.15MM on his deal, but a high-payroll team like the Yankees or Phillies would presumably be willing to assume the majority of the money. Yet there are likely too many roadblocks to a trade.

Clearly, the Angels wouldn't contemplate moving Trout while they're still making an effort to bring back Ohtani. Re-signing Ohtani would take that firmly off the table. If the two-way star walks, Moreno would need to be willing to part with both faces of the franchise in the same offseason. For an owner who intervened to kill trade discussions regarding Ohtani when the Halos were firmly out of contention at the 2022 deadline, that seems unlikely. Even if the Angels were willing to move Trout, he'd have control over his destination thanks to full no-trade rights. Trout doesn't seem urgent to force his way out of Anaheim, telling reporters last month that his offseason focus is on “clearing my mind and getting ready for spring and wearing an Angels uniform in spring.”

Assuming Trout is back in center field, he'd likely be flanked by Taylor Ward. The left fielder's season was cut short when he was hit in the face with a pitch in late July. He should be back by Spring Training. Ward is a solid regular who still has three seasons of arbitration control. As with Rengifo, there'd be interest if the Halos wanted to shop him. They're in no urgency to do so, though, and the season-ending injury makes it tough to get adequate value before Ward demonstrates that he has gotten past that frightening situation mentally.

Even if they retool, the Angels could look for a veteran corner outfielder opposite Ward. Former top prospect Jo Adell has never taken the anticipated step forward. He'll be out of minor league options and looks like a candidate for a change-of-scenery trade, albeit for a minimal return. Mickey Moniak faded after a strong start in Trout's stead and is probably best suited for fourth outfield work. Randal Grichuk is a free agent, while Brett Phillips will likely be non-tendered.

Adam DuvallBrian AndersonJoey Gallo and Jason Heyward are among the free agent corner outfielders who'll sign for one or two years. Alex Verdugo and Mike Yastrzemski are potential trade candidates. The Angels only make sense as a suitor for a trade possibility if they're again trying to patch things together with short-term veterans.

They'll also have to add on the pitching staff. The Angels have run with a six-man rotation in recent seasons to manage Ohtani's workload. General manager Perry Minasian recently acknowledged they could move to a five-man staff next season (link via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register). That's true regardless of whether they retain Ohtani since he can't pitch next year.

Patrick Sandoval, Reid Detmers and Griffin Canning have three spots reasonably well secured. The Halos would surely like to offload the two years and $26MM remaining on Anderson's contract after he struggled to a 5.43 ERA in the first season. They unsuccessfully tried to offload the money via waivers in August. They'd presumably have to kick in cash to facilitate some kind of trade this offseason.

Whether Anderson returns, there's room for another starter. Reuniting with Michael Lorenzen or taking a rebound flier on Frankie Montas, Luis Severino or Lance Lynn could be viable. That'd leave Anderson (if not traded) competing with the likes of Chase Silseth and potentially José Suarez for a rotation spot.

The Halos also have opportunity to add a couple relief fliers. They're likely to opt for a $2MM buyout on Aaron Loup. They waived impending free agent Matt Moore and cut Chris Devenski in August. Hard-throwing Ben Joyce and José Soriano and right-hander Andrew Wantz presently project as the top setup options to Estévez, who's headed into the second season of a two-year free agent deal. The hard-throwing closer would surely draw interest if the Halos were to make him available this winter. Bringing in at least one left-hander seems inevitable. Andrew ChafinWandy Peralta and Scott Alexander are among the possibilities.

It's shaping up to be a difficult offseason. Minasian heads into his fourth year at the helm facing the long-feared potential Ohtani departure. If it happens, an already middling team will have lost its best player. If he stays, they'll have a more uphill battle than ever in putting a viable roster around him.

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