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Joe Maddon offers frank assessment of Angels: ‘We need to do some work’

Angels manager Joe Maddon in the dugout before a game against the San Francisco Giants
Angels manager Joe Maddon in the dugout before a game against the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 19.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

As teams around baseball leveraged prospect surpluses to swing meaningful trades Monday, Angels manager Joe Maddon sat in front of a Zoom-equipped iPad in the basement of Angel Stadium for the first of his videoconferences and answered questions on the daily minutiae of his basement-dwelling team.

He likely hadn’t imagined spending this year’s trade deadline confronting such tedium. Maddon was ushered into his first year as manager of the Angels with an expensive lineup featuring newcomer Anthony Rendon and three-time most valuable player Mike Trout. He expected to win.

So when Maddon was eventually asked how close he believed the Angels are to contending for the playoffs on a regular basis, he didn’t bother hiding his feelings. He delivered an indictment.

“We need to do some work,” he said.

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Hours later, the Angels fell to an American League-worst 12-24 with a narrow loss to the rebuilding Seattle Mariners, furthering the sting of Maddon’s evaluation. In a normal 162-game season, the Angels would be on pace to go a horrific 54-108.

Packy Naughton was one of the Cincinnati Reds’ top pitching prospects, and the Angels landed him for Brian Goodwin in the last hour before the trade deadline.

Maddon knew last offseason the Angels needed to make roster improvements. But after 10 months at the helm, and after staging two training camps, he has a better understanding of the team’s coffers. Not only does he know to what extent owner Arte Moreno is willing to spend, but he also knows what kind of talent the Angels have in their farm system.

Maddon declined to elaborate on his evaluation out of respect to general manager Billy Eppler and Moreno, with whom he has yet to broach the topic privately.

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But it has been clear for years how little major league-ready talent the Angels have at starting pitcher, catcher and first base. Baseball America’s most recent evaluation of the Angels’ middling farm system counts no catchers, one first baseman (Jared Walsh, who has played in 41 MLB games dating to last season) and two starting pitchers who have reached double-A among the team’s top 30 prospects. Patrick Sandoval, one of the pitchers, has a 5.66 ERA in 15 MLB outings since late 2019.

The trade of Brian Goodwin for left-handed starter Packy Naughton, who was one of the Cincinnati Reds’ top pitching prospects, does little to address the need on the mound. Naughton’s road to the majors might be short but he hasn’t played above double-A. He still has pitches to refine.

Angels slugger Mike Trout reacts after striking out against the Seattle Mariners.
Angels slugger Mike Trout reacts after striking out against the Seattle Mariners on Monday.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

The deadline trade market didn’t allow Eppler to mine for a frontline pitcher. The expanded playoff format meant he was fighting numerous teams seeking to add depth for the stretch run.

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More than one team asked Eppler to part with Angels starters Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney, who figure to form part of the 2021 rotation.

“If you’re going to acquire starting pitching via the trade market, it’s going to hurt,” Eppler said, referring to the number of prospects teams typically ask for in return. “You know you’re going to probably end up giving up a little bit more than you want to.”
The trades of catcher Jason Castro and infielder Tommy La Stella didn’t turn up a catcher or first baseman. The Angels received reliever Gerardo Reyes and middle infielder Franklin Barreto.

So Eppler — or whoever replaces him, should he and the Angels part ways at the end of his contract this month — will have to try again to fix the Angels’ deficiencies in the offseason.

Just as he did last year. And the year before that.

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The Angels have had a losing record in each of the five-plus seasons under Billy Eppler, who has been unable to improve the pitching staff.

When the Angels hired Maddon last October, he stood on a dais set up on the diamond at Angel Stadium and weaved a tale full of references to the nearly three decades he spent as a coach in the Angels organization for the benefit of current and former players, team employees and sponsors and a national television audience.

As he laid out his plan for returning Angels baseball to its former glory, he took a moment to address his disdain for missing the postseason.

“I don’t like watching this crap on TV,” he said. “I don’t like it. It’s much more fun to be involved. Much more fun to be under the scrutiny, much more fun to be second-guessed, than to not.”

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Now a team managed by him will be idle for a second consecutive October — the Chicago Cubs missed the playoffs in 2019 for the only time in Maddon’s five-year tenure. The Angels’ overall drought will be much longer; they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2014.

“Some work,” indeed.


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