Los Angeles Angels
2020 Record: 26-34
Fourth place, AL West
Team ERA: 5.09 (26th in MLB)
Team OPS: .763 (12th in MLB)
What Went Right
The offense was about as productive as hoped, finishing ninth in MLB in runs per game. Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon performed at something close to MVP level, and David Fletcher hit .319 while also playing very good defense throughout the infield. Jared Walsh went from being a novelty 1B/P to record-breaking slugger, going nine straight games with an RBI and a run scored during a September stretch in which he hit six homers. Max Stassi showed surprising pop behind the plate to turn into a viable starting catching option for 2021. Albert Pujols’ contract came one year closer to ending. On the pitching side, Dylan Bundy was excellent and Griffin Canning was above average and, more importantly, able to stay healthy.
What Went Wrong
Most of the rest of the pitching staff disappointed. Shohei Ohtani was unable to pitch after giving up seven runs in 1 2/3 innings at the beginning of the year and didn’t hit much, either. Julio Teheran, who was brought in to provide a steady hand, contracted COVID-19 over the summer and had a 10.05 ERA in nine starts and one relief appearance. Closer Hansel Robles ended up with a 10.26 ERA, and his primary replacement, Ty Buttrey, came in at 5.81. On the offensive side, it was disappointing that Jo Adell was so overmatched as a rookie, even if he was just 21 years old. Justin Upton was one of the AL’s worst players for five weeks before rebounding in September.
** It’s not only that Adell hit.161/.212/.266 in 132 plate appearances after getting the call to the majors, but he was also a poor right fielder and he made mistakes on the basepaths. He struck out 42% of the time, which was eight times as often as he walked. It would have been fine if he was merely bad, but he was so much worse; both WARs had him as the least valuable position player in the majors. It was enough to make one question the Angels’ entire player development structure from top to bottom. There’s still plenty of hope here for the future, but he’d certainly seem to need some Triple-A time next year.
** Already having been limited to hitting in 2019 following Tommy John surgery, Ohtani made just two brief starts this year before a forearm strain again prevented him from taking the mound. Ohtani still wants to be a two-way player going forward, and it’s expected that the Angels will cooperate. That he hit just .190/.291/.366 in 175 plate appearances this year didn’t serve to fuel much fervor for turning him into a position player only. Ohtani’s fantasy stock will hit a new low next spring. He’s still one of the most talented pitchers in the world, but even if he does stay healthy, it’s not like the Angels are going to ask him to make 30 starts after two lost seasons. Also, while Ohtani should bounce back offensively, he’s never going to be all that valuable as a hitter while taking frequent breaks to accommodate his mound schedule.
** That Trout wasn’t quite as good in a 60-game season that he usually is in a 162-game season hardly seems worth mentioning, but it was notable that he attempted just two steals in 2020. His stolen base attempts per game have dropped four years running, going from .233 in 2016 to .228 to .186 to .097 to .038. Trout could always decide to do more running again, but if he’s done as a 20-steal guy, then he’ll be something of a reach as the second or third overall pick in mixed drafts.
** Walsh seemed like the real deal in his 32 games. He’s always had power, but what was truly incredible was that he struck out just 14% of the time in 108 plate appearances. He fanned 40% of the time in his 87 plate appearances in 2019 and 26% of the time in parts of two seasons in Triple-A. It’s unreasonable to expect Walsh to repeat that in 2021, but he should be a significant upgrade over Pujols at first base. Let’s just hope the Angels don’t botch that transition.
** Andrelton Simmons is a free agent, and while bringing him back would help a bunch, the Angels do have a couple of young internal options to step in either at shortstop or at second base, if they’d prefer to put Fletcher at short. Luis Rengifo, who was nearly traded to the Dodgers for Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling in the spring, was a big disappointment in his 106 plate appearances this year, hitting just .156/.269/.200, but he showed promise previously and he’s just turning 24 in February. Long-time prospect Franklin Barreto was acquired from the A’s for Tommy La Stella in August, and though he’s been a total bust in limited MLB action, he posted OPSs of .872 and .926 in his last two seasons in Triple-A. Both have enough speed to be of some interest in deeper leagues should the Angels leave the job open.
Team Needs: The Angels fired GM Billy Eppler at season’s end. The move was probably warranted even if Eppler actually did a pretty good job last winter in securing Rendon and stealing Bundy from the Orioles. Sure, the Teheran signing was a disaster, but COVID-19 probably played a role there and it was just a one-year deal. Eppler’s tenure overall was much more interesting than the Angels’ middling records suggest; he made some hugely successful big moves (acquiring Simmons, signing Ohtani, extending Trout) and he was pretty good at working the waiver wire and other seemingly minor transactions (Tommy La Stella, Brian Goodwin, Robles, Felix Pena, Blake Parker), but it seemed like pretty much every mid-tier free agent he signed (Teheran, Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Cody Allen, Ben Revere) flopped in spectacular fashion.
The Angels’ new GM, whoever that might be, will be tasked with the usual assignment of filling out the roster with enough useful pieces to get the team back to the postseason for the first time since 2014. The Angels owe nearly $120 million to Trout, Pujols, Rendon and Upton next season, but apart from that and the $14 million or so that Bundy and Andrew Heaney will combine to earn in their final seasons of arbitration, there’s little else on the books, giving the team some flexibility. Simmons seems quite unlikely to return. The Angels don’t necessarily have to add a shortstop to replace him, but they will want some veteran protection for the middle infield. A right field stopgap looks like a necessity, and a catcher to pair with Stassi will be required. Still, pitching will be the priority; the Angels need to add at least one starter and a couple of late-game relievers. With Pujols coming off the books in a year, they could backload some two- or three-year pacts to help with those pitching additions.