The Angels’ offseason of flashy acquisitions, thrifty rotation additions and overall improvement ended with a thud Sunday when a proposed trade with the Dodgers for outfielder Joc Pederson and right-handed pitcher Ross Stripling collapsed. Despite the move being of clear benefit to their roster, the Angels were the team that pulled out of the agreement, according to people with knowledge of the situation and news reports.
As pitchers and catchers report Tuesday to spring training, general manager Billy Eppler and the Angels must now reckon with the aftermath of letting a 30-homer leadoff hitter and a reliable starting pitcher slip from their grasp. They must spend the next six weeks assembling the best possible team to break their five -year playoff drought.
Must they trade for another starter?
Unsuccessful attempts to lure top free-agent pitchers Gerrit Cole, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel and Zack Wheeler to Anaheim forced the Angels to turn to right-handers Dylan Bundy and Julio Teherán. They hope the pair will shore up a rotation that has had only one starter throw more than 130 innings in the last two seasons.
However, they are clearly missing a front-line starter. Eppler had that need addressed last week. Perhaps enough groundwork is in place for another move.
Perhaps they stand pat with the group they had already assembled. It is not full of stars, but there is room for optimism.
Two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who recently completed rehabilitating from his October 2018 Tommy John surgery, should provide an instant boost when he is cleared to pitch in major league games. Before his elbow injury ended his debut season on the mound, Ohtani had pitched 51 2/3 innings over 10 starts, gone 4-2 with a 3.31 earned-run average and collected 63 strikeouts. He had wielded a high-octane repertoire that featured a triple-digit fastball and a splitter batters hit at a paltry .026 clip.
Left-hander Andrew Heaney is returning from an injury-riddled season eager to resemble the starter he was when he made 30 starts and threw 180 innings in 2018. Talent is not the issue. Heaney does not shy away from throwing strikes. His tenacity yielded a strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate of 11.14, the 12th-highest among starters who threw at least 90 innings in 2019.
Right-hander Griffin Canning has nearly one year of major league experience under his belt, so he is primed to improve on a roughly league-average performance. Canning, who played at UCLA and Santa Margarita High, was the Angels’ top pitching prospect when he debuted in late April. Although he went through rough patches, he lived up to the hype and posted a 4.58 earned-run average in 90 1/3 innings over 18 outings.
Can new manager Joe Maddon push the Angels into the playoffs?
The Angels fired manager Brad Ausmus and brought in World Series champion Joe Maddon because of one thing: Maddon’s ability to turn a struggling team into a postseason contender. He did it in Tampa Bay with the Rays and in Chicago with the Cubs, who won the 2016 World Series after two years under his guidance.
The talent at Maddon’s disposal, of course, had a lot to do with his success. His pitching staff leaves something to be desired.
But the Angels offense could be one of the most potent in the American League. Missing out on Pederson does not change that.
Maddon will have at the heart of his lineup three-time most valuable player Mike Trout and MVP finalist Anthony Rendon. They combined for 79 home runs last year. When not pitching, Ohtani should provide pop from the left side.
The Angels have long struggled to protect Trout in the lineup. The presence of Rendon, who hit .310 with 88 doubles, 58 homers and 218 RBIs the last two seasons, should change that dynamic.
Maddon’s personality could also play a part. The vibrant 66-year-old is known for gimmicks — inviting a medicine man and setting up a zoo, among a long list of stunts — that help bring his players back to earth. Former Angels players recalled less elaborate but equally motivating stunts during Maddon’s stint as a coach in the Angels organization from 1980 to 2005.
“He was the kind of guy that came on and said, ‘Hold on a second. There’s more to life than this,’” Angels Hall of Famer Tim Salmon said after Maddon was hired in October. “He just had a way of drawing us back to that course, finding a way to tap back into the core of every player. ‘Why’d you play? Because it was fun.’
“That’s part of his genius. He’s always out there looking for a new way to put the game in perspective.”
Does top prospect Jo Adell have a shot at opening day?
With Pederson out of the picture, outfielder Jo Adell could force the Angels’ hand with an astonishing spring.
Adell, 20, hit .289 with 27 doubles and 10 home runs in 76 minor league games last season. Despite limited actions, he was the Angels’ third-most productive minor leaguer in terms of weighted runs created plus, an advanced metric that measures a player’s ability to create offense in a formula that can be used to compare all hitters in all environments, among players with at least 300 plate appearances. He excelled in the Arizona Fall League and stayed hot while playing on the U.S. Olympic qualifying team in November.
But it is unlikely the Angels will rush their top prospect to the major leagues, not after he missed the first 10 weeks of the 2019 season recovering from a freak hamstring and ankle injury. He only played in 27 triple-A games after a late-season promotion, and extra time to catch up to higher-level pitching could do him some good.
The Angels can rely on Brian Goodwin to provide solid defense in right field and pop at the plate until Adell, the Angels’ top pick of the 2017 draft, is ready.