ANAHEIM, Calif. — It wasn’t all that long ago when the Los Angeles Angels took three out of four games against the Texas Rangers in the middle of June. Everything was clicking for the team and they were 9 games over .500 and only a few games out of the AL West Division lead. Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, and Zach Neto were leading the lineup’s production, and though the rotation wasn’t necessarily crisp, Carlos Estevez, Jacob Webb, Matt Moore, and Sam Bachman combined to be one of the most formidable back end of the bullpen’s in all of baseball. Even after a few horrible skids throughout July, the Angels were well within the Wild Card race at the trade deadline, prompting GM Perry Minasian to go all in.
Minasian traded top prospects Edgar Quero and Ky Bush to the Chicago White Sox for Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez (who are both Cleveland Guardians now after being claimed off waivers last month) in what will go down as one of the most lopsided trades of 2023’s deadline. Quero continues to play good defense behind the plate and is hitting better in the White Sox organization, and Bush has a 3-pitch mix that screams a middle of the rotation starter at the MLB level. Meanwhile, Giolito nearly matched his home runs given up through 3 months on the White Sox in just five starts for the Angels and though Lopez was great, it wasn’t enough to put the Angels in positions to win.
Other players acquired at the deadline were Eduardo Escobar, Randal Grichuk, C.J. Cron, and Mike Moustakas. Other than Moustakas, every one of those players substantially got worse during their Angels tenure. I could go into the statistics further, but it would take too much time. All I will say is that every one of those players acquired other than Moustakas had a 20-60 points lower .OPS after joining the Angels. This isn’t new territory for the Halos as there has been a trend of players incrementally decreasing in production once they join the team. A prime example is Anthony Rendon, who signed a 7-year $245 Million deal before the 2020 season following a historic 2019 campaign where he hit .319 with 34 home runs, 126 RBI’s, and an OPS of 1.010 in addition to winning a World Series with the Washington Nationals.
Like a few previous big-time Angels signings (Josh Hamilton, Vernon Wells, C.J. Wilson) the Rendon signing at the time seemed like a home-run deal considering he was one of the five best hitters in baseball in 2019 and the Halos desperately needed an accompanying bat next to Mike Trout in the lineup. However, since signing with the Angels, Rendon has played just 200 games over the past 4 seasons and has had a minimal impact at the plate when healthy. In fact, Rendon hit 44 doubles and had 126 RBI’s in 2019 alone and since joining the Angels has just 40 doubles and 111 RBI’s combined in 4 years. Rendon is still owed $38 Million per year over the next three years, and the Angels could be in the midst of a rebuild, especially if they decide to trade Trout.
No one could have predicted Rendon to have declined to the extent he has at the plate, and the Angels have some of the worst luck in free agency over the last two decades. Josh Hamilton was coming off of an MVP type season before joining the Halos in 2013 and his OPS dipped from .930 the previous year to .739 in his first year on the Angels. It only got worse for Hamilton and his 5-year $125 Million deal he signed with the Halos became one of the worst contracts in baseball. Wilson and Wells’ contracts were no where near the level of Hamilton’s, but they too looked to be great signings at the time before failing to produce at a high level in an Angels uniform. Nonetheless, the Angels seem to be cognizant of their past signings with Perry Minasian not going after a Trea Turner-type of player last offseason.
I highly doubt the Halos will sign a free agent to a mega-deal this offseason either unless it is Shohei Ohtani. In fact, Ohtani and Trout are the first two dominoes to fall as the Angels will likely wait to fill out the rest of the roster until there is more clarity on both of their situations. If Ohtani signs elsewhere which is increasingly likely at this point, it would be hard to convince the Halos fanbase that anything but a rebuild is needed.
Besides Trout being in the prime of his career, the Angels still have a lackluster pitching staff that combined for a 4.68 ERA, ranked 23rd in the MLB in 2023. Reid Detmers and Patrick Sandoval both had amazing 2022 seasons as Detmers finished with a 3.77 ERA and even threw a no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays and Sandoval finished with 2.91 ERA. Despite poised for even more improvement in 2023, both of them regressed as Detmers has an ERA of 4.64 and Sandoval an ERA of 4.19. Both pitchers still have loads of talent and will need to be relied upon to make adjustments in the offseason and herald the top of the rotation in 2024 likely without Ohtani. Some positives for the Angels rotation moving forward are Griffin Canning (who has a 4.39 ERA in 121 innings pitched this season) and Chase Silseth (4.10 ERA in 48 innings pitched this season), who are both young and projected to make jumps in 2024.
The bullpen has also been one of the worst in the league since July, but there are positives to move forward with going into 2024. Though he had ups and down Carlos Estevez has a 3.50 ERA and 31 saves this season, both Sam Bachman and Ben Joyce looked excellent when they were healthy, and Jose Soriano has some of the best stuff of any young reliever in baseball. Moving forward, the pen should not be an issue in 2024 as long as those four guys stay healthy and the Angels sign a few relievers that are low-risk high-reward types of signings, like they did with Matt Moore and Estevez last offseason.
Despite the projected loss of Ohtani and the looming trade rumors surrounding Trout, the Angels actually have a solid core of their lineup to build off of going into 2024. One of the best signings of last offseason was the Halos inking Brandon Drury for 2-years $17 Million as Drury is hitting .258 with 23 home runs, 77 RBI’s and an OPS of .785 this season. Though he tore his bicep and won’t play again this season, Luis Rengifo won AL Player of the Week just a few weeks ago and had a scorching second half to finish with a .264 average, 16 home runs, an an OPS of .783. Rengifo is still just 26 years old, plays multiple positions, and will be back for 2024.
However, the biggest highlight for the Angels lineup going into 2024 is the young guys as Logan O’Hoppe and Zach Neto crushed the baseball when healthy this season and Nolan Schanuel looks like the real deal so far. O’Hoppe has hit 13 home runs in just 167 at-bats, and Neto has played gold glove defense and has 9 home runs and 33 RBI’s in just 273 at-bats. Schanuel made MLB history a few days ago as he reached base in 26 straight games to start his career, the only player 21 years old or under in the modern era to do so. Though it would be a plus if Schanuel could flash more power in 2024 (has just 1 home run this year), his OBP of .407 through 102 at-bats is the real deal. Schanuel has a knack for getting on base, and will bat 1st for the Halos in 2024.
In conclusion, though the Angels 2023 season didn’t go as planned and Ohtani may be on a different team in 2024, the Halos could have better days ahead as early as 2024. Though a rebuild could certainly be on the horizon, the Angels have a solid young core they can build around and will likely have some money to spend on veterans and talent to build the rest of the roster this offseason.