Three questions facing Angels as team enters crucial winter after another disheartening season

Tue, Sep 20, 2022
MLB News (AP)

Three questions facing Angels as team enters crucial winter after another disheartening season

The Los Angeles Angels were eliminated from playoff contention on Monday, ensuring they'll sit out the postseason for an eighth consecutive fall. The last five of those whiffs have coincided with the Angels employing Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, or the most productive player and the most talented player of their generation. Trout and Ohtani are the only active Most Valuable Player Award recipients to never win a playoff game. The Angels have changed supporting casts and coaches, managers and general managers, and yet no combination heretofore has unlocked the October door.

The winds of change will again whip through Anaheim this offseason. At minimum, the Angels will choose a new skipper, their fourth on a full-time basis since the start of the 2018 season. At maximum, the Angels will select that new manager as part of a larger makeover. It's conceivable that the Angels could be sold this winter, and that they could entertain trades for Ohtani and Trout. Even if the Angels keep both, they're certain to recast their support staff, perhaps with players of the homegrown variety.

For more on those possibilities, let's turn to a handy-dandy subhead format.

1. Will Moreno find a buyer?

The lone constant throughout all the Angels' organizational upheaval and restructuring has been owner Arte Moreno. That too may change soon. Moreno, who purchased the franchise in 2003, announced earlier this summer he was in the process of exploring all of his potential options, including a possible sale this offseason.

What, precisely, Moreno's departure would mean is to be determined at a later date, when the identity of a new owner is revealed. It's fair to write that he has his share of detractors and critics within the industry, those who question his rumored vision for the game and scoff at his perceived mercurial nature. Moreno did himself no favors when he took the Angels scouting department to the slaughterhouse in summer 2020, a move that cost him more in reputation than it ever could have saved him in dollars.

Moreno, for his faults, has enabled the Angels to trot out a top-10 payroll consistently. The Angels haven't ranked lower than eighth in that respect since 2015, and that was a one-year aberration that saw them rank ninth, according to Cot's Contracts. Moreno has greenlighted massive free-agent contracts to Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Anthony Rendon, among others, during that time. Those deals seldom worked out, but each was understandable and defensible when signed.

Will the next Angels owner be as generous in that respect? Will they be more generous in other respects? Again, it's anyone's guess at this stage of the process.

2. Farewell, Ohtani and/or Trout?

While there's a great deal of uncertainty surrounding Moreno's possible departure and the ramifications from it, it stands to reason that his exit would increase the likelihood of an Ohtani trade this offseason.'

The Angels had conversations with other teams concerning Ohtani ahead of the trade deadline, but rival front offices were skeptical that Moreno would sign off on a deal. One source speculated that Moreno could view Ohtani and general manager Perry Minasian as a package deal: if Ohtani leaves, either through free agency or in a trade this winter or next deadline, then Minasian is out, too. There's no reason to believe that's the case, but it speaks to the conception others have of Moreno.'

Trading Ohtani would be painful, but the case is straightforward. He'll qualify for free agency after next season, and he's publicly expressed his desire to win. The Angels can offer him a ton of money, yet they won't be the only ones doing so; what they may not be able to offer him, what they haven't been able to offer him yet, is a real chance at securing a World Series ring. Perhaps Minasian can improve the roster enough this offseason to give the Angels a shot at glory next fall. The risk is that Ohtani will lose trade value the moment he plays a game with Los Angeles next season, as an acquiring team would no longer be able to recoup draft-pick compensation at year's end.

One of the most persuasive arguments for trading Ohtani is that the prospect haul would help the Angels maximize what remains of Trout's prime. The catch is that Trout is already 31 years old, and that he's been hampered by injuries the past two seasons. Trout remains a game-changing talent, no doubt, but players don't tend to stay healthier as they age. It's plausible that he has fewer elite-level seasons remaining than anyone realizes. As such, perhaps the Angels should take this offseason to ask themselves, should they do the unthinkable and trade Trout?

Even if the Angels do think about moving Trout, it's hard to see a deal coming to fruition. It's nearly impossible to get fair value on a player of his caliber, and that's without introducing his contract (he's owed more than $296 million through the 2030 season) into the equation. Weird stuff happens in baseball all the time, but an Ohtani deal would seem far, far likelier than any trade involving Trout.

Besides, there is reason to believe that Minasian is already laser-focused on making the most of the great years Trout has left.

3. Help on the way?

If you want evidence that Minasian hears the clock ticking away, then look no further than how he's managed his two draft classes. The Angels took 11 consecutive college arms to open the 2021 draft: eight of those, including all of the top five, have already reached Double-A. Chase Silseth, the club's 11th-round pick, made his big-league debut in May, or less than a year after he was plucked from Arizona. Sam Bachmann, the Angels' first-round selection, likely would have joined him were it not for injury.

Minasian has placed several of his top picks from the 2022 draft on the fast track, too. First-round shortstop Zach Neto, third-round reliever Ben Joyce, and fifth-round first baseman Sonny DiChiara have either already advanced to or debuted in Double-A. That kind of hastened timeline is often reserved for the best of the best youngsters, those selected within the top few picks of the draft. Minasian seems willing to eschew the traditional low-and-slow approach to player development. The question is, is it because he believes it's unnecessary in this day and age, or is it because he believes his team -- and, ahem, his employment status -- needs the cavalry to arrive, pronto?

Minasian's motivation does and doesn't matter, in a sense. His self interests mostly dovetail with what's best for the Angels (namely, winning games). The risk is that by rushing his draft picks along to The Show, Minasian could inadvertently and irreparably harm their long-term development. In turn, that would see the Angels waste a lot of talented player's careers, as well as oodles of draft capital and swaths of time.'

Oh, time, that deceptive booger. Because it feels as though the Angels have been trying to get this right forever, that lends credence to the demonstrably false sense that they're destined to an eternity of trying and failing to build a winner around Trout and Ohtani. A modern Sisyphus. But the inverse is the reality of the situation. These Angels have already spent their allotment of time. These Angels are already a tragedy.'

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