ANAHEIM, Calif. — It is never a good thing to lose the best player in baseball to a team that plays an hour away from you. There is no sugarcoating it. The entire Angels organization, the fanbase, and especially owner Arte Moreno have to be devastated by the departure of Superstar Shohei Ohtani and rightfully so. However, not all hope for immediate contention should all of a sudden be thrown out the window. First off, the Angels were never able to contend with Ohtani and Mike Trout to begin with, and if they paid Ohtani $700 million, it would have been increasingly more difficult to build a team around him with so many highly paid players on the roster (though the newly reported deferred payments on Ohtani’s contract would have changed a lot for the near future). Now the Angels open up 60+ million in cap space and have a solid core of young players that they can build around (which I will get into in a bit). There are also some obvious free agents the Halos can target if they so choose with all the cap room they have now.
It will be a long path to recover the excitement the fanbase displayed over the last few years when Ohtani picked up two AL MVP awards, but engaging the fanbase over the next few years is not out of question. The Angels already made a home-run hire with Ron Washington, who at the very least will work with Angels players on how to make the right baseball plays (especially defensively) and teach them moxie and doing whatever it takes to win. That whole identity alone was something the Angels were missing over the last decade and could turn around the team immediately.
Just look at Dan Campbell and the Lions, a similar turnaround can happen with the Angels in baseball if the players buy in to the culture change that will occur. People underestimate the impact that a motivating respected manager such as Washington can bring. Just look at his opening presser where he told reporters “Our whole focus is going to be to run the West down. You can take that to the bank and deposit it”. Now obviously that task will be far more difficult without Ohtani, and not to mention the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros will only get better next season. It also has to be taken into consideration that Moreno and the Angels front office have been reluctant to go into a rebuilding process and that probably won’t change as long as Trout remains on the roster.
Regardless, like I mentioned in the introductory paragraph, there are some positives going into next season to build off of. First off, lets look at the young guys starting with shortstop Zach Neto, who had a scorching June and July before dealing with an Oblique Strain the rest of the season. I won’t even mention his full season stats because they are misleading considering they were severely effected by his injury in August and September. However, before the injury Neto had an OPS upwards of .715 and showed off tremendous power hitting an abundance of homers in June and July, not to mention he can become one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. Neto is still just 24 years old and was a home-run selection in the 1st round of the 2022 MLB Draft.
Next up is franchise Catcher Logan O’Hoppe, who hit 14 home-runs and registered an OPS of .796 in just 182 at-bats last season coming off of a serious injury. O’Hoppe could hit 30+ home runs as soon as next year but he has clean-up hitter potential with above average defense behind the plate. The last few World Series Champion catchers have had to play good defense and at least hit when it matters and O’Hoppe should have no trouble being the Angels backstop for 10+ years.
Nolan Schanuel, the Angels first round pick from 2023, is another guy that took the league by storm becoming just the fourth player in MLB history to reach base in 26 straight games to start their career. Schanuel famously became promoted to the MLB just over a month after being drafted, becoming the second-fastest player to reach the MLB following the draft since 1979. Schanuel didn’t disappoint in his shortened MLB season hitting .275 with an unreal OBP of .402 in just 109 total at-bats. His eye at the plate is already paralleled by very few and Schanuel didn’t even hit for power last season. If the 15-20+ home-run’s per year type of power that scouts envision for him comes to fruition, the Angels could have one of the best first-baseman in all of baseball in the near future.
Reid Detmers is another guy the Angels believe can be a superstar and their hiring of newly minted pitching coach Barry Enright reinforced that belief. Enright has said on multiple occasions that Detmers has special stuff and will work with him and find what works so he can become the ace of the rotation. Two seasons ago, Angels fans saw a glimpse of what Detmers could do as he threw a no-hitter vs. the Rays and boasted an ERA of 3.77 in 129 innings pitched. However, last year Detmers regressed a lot only boasting an ERA of 4.48 in 148.2 innings pitched. The sheer talent is there, and it will take Enright to unlock it fully for Detmers to become what the organization envisions for him.
A few other young players the Angels will build around in 2023 are 2021 first-rounder Sam Bachman, 2017 first-rounder Jo Adell, relievers Jose Soriano and Ben Joyce, starting pitchers Griffin Canning and Patrick Sandoval, and middle-infielder Luis Rengifo.
I have a feeling that the Angels offseason has just begun and that Ohtani signing with the Dodgers simply got the ball rolling on what to do next (considering most teams held off on signing free agents due to Ohtani’s expected unprecedented contract). A few of the top remaining free agents that I think the Angels will be in conversations with is reigning NL Cy Young award winner Blake Snell, former Dodgers OF Cody Bellinger, Padres CP Josh Hader, Jays 3B Matt Chapman, Cubs SP Marcus Stroman, former Dodgers DH J.D. Martinez, and Marlins DH Jorge Soler.
In the past, owner Arte Moreno has yearned for a massive free agent signing whenever the opportunity presented itself and right now, not much conversation is happening on Snell. That is the first guy, even with all of the young starting pitchers the Halos have, will likely reach out to and offer a lot of money. Snell would also be an Ohtani replacement at the top of their rotation. The next likely conversation will probably happen between Martinez and the Angels. It just makes sense. Martinez had a resurgence with the Dodgers hitting 33 home-runs and boasting an OPS of .893 last season. With Ohtani slotting in at DH for the Dodgers, Martinez can swap with him and become the DH for the Angels and I know the Halos will pay what is needed for him.
If the Angels fail to sign Martinez, Soler becomes the backup plan. You know what you are getting with Jorge Soler: A sub .250 hitter who can mash 40 home runs a year out of the 4 spot in the lineup. How much will he demand considering he is still just 31 years old? That remains to be seen. I think Bellinger is more of a longshot with the Angels plethora of young outfielders, so improving the bullpen and getting a high end closer may be the next order of business. Josh Hader still is one of the most dominant pitches in all of baseball and the Angels lost a lot of close games last season because of the backend of their bullpen. Moreno will likely tell Angels GM Perry Minasian to do whatever it takes to sign a closer as coveted as Hader, and that will also alleviate some pressure off of Joyce, Bachman, and Soriano to step up into high leverage roles right away.
If the Angels miss out on Snell, they can always try to sign Marcus Stroman as a backup plan. Stroman had a decent 2023 season boasting a 3.95 ERA in 136.2 innings pitched. I highly doubt the Halos seriously consider Matt Chapman since they owe so much money to Anthony Rendon and they will have to try to make it work with him. Other than those big free agents I named, if they don’t land any of them (which I highly doubt) the Angels will rely on the development of a bunch of young promising players heading into 2024 which isn’t the end of the world.
Although it is unfortunate that the Ohtani situation didn’t work out, the Angels now have a ton of cap space and a bunch of solid young players to build around for next season. Will that amount to a playoff appearance? Probably not with Houston, Texas, and even Seattle having undoubtedly better teams going into the new year. In the past with Ohtani and Trout, Angel teams were expected to at least get into the playoffs with those two superstars, but now without Ohtani the perspective has shifted. There isn’t as much pressure on this 2024 Angels team to do much, which makes them underdogs and that is the best thing that could ever happen to them. As an underdog team not expected to do anything and without much pressure they can surprise a lot of people and perhaps garner their first playoff appearance in a decade.