A new year and a different situation, but it’s shaping up to be the same result for the Los Angeles Angels this winter.
With limited resources — both financially and within their farm system for any potential trades — general manager Billy Eppler and his front office had a very productive offseason leading up to the 2017 campaign. They didn’t make the playoffs and finished with a losing record for the second consecutive year, but they surprised a lot of people.
Manager Mike Scioscia watched his club post an 80-82 record, which was six games better than 2016. That’s moderately impressive, but it becomes much more impressive when remembering that outfielder Mike Trout missed 48 games. This injury should’ve torpedoed L.A.’s season, but they survived and were actually in the American League wild card hunt for a period of time before fading into the background.
Based off what they’ve accomplished at this point in the offseason, though, expectations will be much higher in 2018.
More High-Profile Names
Last winter, the Angels had to get creative with their acquisitions, leading to names like Martin Maldonado, Luis Valbuena, Cameron Maybin, and Danny Espinosa (among others) being the headliners. With a little more financial flexibility this year, that’s changed quite a bit.
Obviously, being the lucky team to win the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes received plenty of attention, but he’s just one of a number of well-known players that will be suiting up for the Halos next year.
We can’t forget that outfielder Justin Upton kicked things off immediately after the World Series with his decision to stay with the organization. Instead of heading back into free agency by exercising his opt-out, he agreed to stick around for another five years and $106 million.
After those two deals, the Angels filled a hole at second base by agreeing to another trade with the Tigers, this time for Ian Kinsler at the Winter Meetings. And after everyone got home and settled in with hopes of relaxing for a couple days, Eppler was still putting in work, signing Zack Cozart — who is fresh off a career year — to a three-year, $38 million deal to man third base.
This winter has been awfully slow on the transaction side of things, but the Angels appear to have the heavy lifting done with regard to their offseason wish list before Christmas. Meanwhile, other teams are still trying to get their first couple major moves done.
A Recurring Theme…With a Twist
There’s no doubt that this current offseason is much different than last winter, but the general theme is still the same, which is run prevention. Eppler and his front office found ways to bolster their team defense despite not having a ton of money to do so last year, helping Los Angeles finish second in defensive rating.
What about the weak spots, though? Second and third base proved to be areas of the diamond where the team needed to make some improvements, and that was accomplished by acquiring Kinsler and Cozart.
Kinsler won a Gold Glove for Detroit in 2016, and although he had a down year offensively in 2017, only DJ LeMahieu had more Defensive Runs Saved (8) than Kinsler (6) among qualified second basemen.
Cozart doesn’t have a Gold Glove on his mantle, but he also brings a sterling defensive reputation with him to the west coast. Among shortstops with at least 1,000 innings played at the position since 2011 (Cozart’s rookie season), only Andrelton Simmons (his new teammate) and Brandon Crawford have recorded more Defensive Runs Saved than Cozart’s 56.
So, we can see how the theme is repeating itself, but the twist is that these guys can also hit.
Kinsler disappointed with a 91 wRC+ and 2.4 fWAR last year, but the previous three seasons were fantastic — he posted at least a 4.0 fWAR in each campaign with a cumulative 112 wRC+ off the strength of a .287/.332/.444 triple slash. As for Cozart, the opposite was true — he never enjoyed a full season with a wRC+ higher than 100 until that number settled in at 141 in 2017 en route to a 5.0-fWAR performance.
Still Some Questions
Whether this roster is a finished product or not (or at least close to it), it’s certainly not perfect. The everyday lineup is projected to be very right-handed, with Kole Calhoun being the only regular lefty taking up a spot in the order. However, the biggest wild card will be the health of L.A.’s starting rotation, which has been decimated with injuries over the past two seasons.
Garrett Richards has been limited to just 62.1 innings since the start of 2016, so his presence at the top of this rotation will be crucial as part of a one-two punch with Ohtani, who has his own injury concerns (but it shouldn’t prevent him from playing at the moment). Having a great defense is a terrific benefit for any pitching staff, but the Angels still need some semblance of health if they want a legit shot at reaching the postseason.
No matter how good any roster is, there will almost always be at least one or two weak spots. What we can be sure of, though, is that Los Angeles has completely transformed themselves into a perceived contender over the span of a couple years. Let’s hope it’ll lead to us seeing Trout playing some baseball in October, because everyone deserves to see that happen again during his prime.