When Mike Trout tore a ligament in his left thumb sliding into 2nd base on May 28th, many people around the baseball industry saw it as a devastating blow that would wipe the Angels out of contention in a hurry. With Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs already on the disabled list, the Angels lost 3 huge pieces of the 2017 team and with a 26-27 record, this seemed to be the dagger that would end the Angels season. Fast forward a few months and the club sits at 43-44, miraculously hovering around .500 without the presence of the best player in baseball and two of the top starting pitchers.
In this time period since Trout was hurt, the Angels have seen the club totally pick up the slack to make up for the absence of 2016 American League Most Valuable player. The offense has been headlined by Cameron Maybin and Andrelton Simmons, who have churned in borderline all star seasons. Add in solid performances from complimentary players in Martin Maldonado, Yunel Escobar and the totally surprising Eric Young Jr and you get an offense that has kept the team in ball games. Finishing those ball games off has been the extremely impressive Angels bullpen, which ranks in the upper tier in run prevention, missing bats, control and quality of contact against. Surprises Blake Parker, Bud Norris and Yusmeiro Petit have headlined a surprisingly dominant bullpen that has contributed in a big way to the Angels success. The rotation hasn’t done particularly well but Alex Meyer, J.C. Ramirez and Parker Bridwell have been other surprises who have given the club some useful production.
Winning is great and it’s always in the best interest of the club to win the current games in front of you. It’s also important to be conscious about the future, which can be a tough relationship to balance. In the Angels case, they employ the best baseball player of this generation but also own a farm system that is suffering, even if it’s improved quite a bit in the last calendar year. The dilemma the Angels face coming up is deciding whether they want to cash some chips in for a bigger current reward, hold onto those chips hoping for a better hand or finding that fine balance. If the Angels fade in the next month, they’ll have an easier decision. If they stay near .500 or play well above it, they’ll be presented with the question: How much do they buy at the deadline, if at all?
Scenario #1: Angels falter; Sell at deadline
This is likely the scenario the Angels don’t want to see occur but that’s just a guess. If it happens, the Angels will have to move some soon to be free agents such as Yunel Escobar, Cameron Maybin, Blake Parker, Bud Norris and Ricky Nolasco. The issue here is if the Angels do find themselves in a selling mode in a few weeks, it’s likely due to some of these aforementioned players slumping, meaning the value the Angels receive back will be minimal. The team also puts themselves in a hole if they sell some of these players given they all fill holes on this MLB club, ones that likely won’t be able to be filled internally for a little while.
Scenario #2: Angels stay in Wild Card race; Buy long term pieces
The Angels haven’t been aggressive buyers at the trade deadline since 2014, when the club acquired Huston Street, Jason Grilli and Joe Thatcher. In 2017, the Angels could be aggressive buyers again as they try to remain in the playoff picture. The usual names continue to float around in trade talks and it’s unlikely the Angels participate in these talks for players such as Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray or Andrew McCutchen. If the Angels do try to acquire a higher caliber player, it’ll likely be for a cost controlled player such as Brandon Belt, who was brought up as a trade candidate by J.P. Morosi. Joe Panik, another Giants player, also fits the mold along with other players such as Jake Odorizzi or Yangervis Solarte. These players would obviously cost more in a trade than a short term piece with similar production but it’d also give the Angels a long term option to fill at a weak position.
Scenario #3: Angels stay competitive; Buy a few short term pieces
If the Angels stay in the race but maybe fall back just a bit in the standings, they’ll likely try to do enough to remain close in the race but they won’t crush their future by making short sighted moves. This means the Angels probably add a short term piece or 2, such as Jed Lowrie and Clayton Richard, who will fill particular holes but won’t cost too much as pending free agents. This might be the best route for the Angels as far as preserving the farm and the club may feel strongly about holding onto pieces for now. But if the team is close enough, they’ll likely have to make some incremental moves to fix a few holes and keeping the team close.
Scenario #4: Angels fall back a bit; Make no moves at deadline
This is becoming an increasingly possible scenario given the situation the Angels are in. While it might seem counterproductive to stand pat at the deadline, there’s a benefit to doing so. The Angels trade chips likely won’t fetch a huge return anyways so holding onto them and trying to win more current games might be smart. At the same time, not giving up key prospects to get a short term gain for a fringe contending team might not be the best use of resources. If the Angels are 3-4 games back of a Wild Card spot in late July, it’s feasible that the club decides it’s better off rolling with the current team and just hoping they get some good luck to possibly sneak into the playoffs.
The Angels find themselves in a weird position as they try to balance the current team and long term health of the organization. Luckily, the Angels have a few weeks to see how things shake up to help determine which route the team could go. With numerous pending free agents, the option to sell has been talked about since the beginning of the season. With the team still staying in it, however, it potentially changes the course of action for Billy Eppler and company. Whatever ends up happening the next few weeks, it looks like it’ll be a rather entertaining trade deadline for the Angels.