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Perry Minasian thinks Angels are close to winning. He’ll get resources to prove it

New Angels general manager Perry Minasian speaks at his introductory news conference.
New Angels general manager Perry Minasian speaks at his introductory news conference Tuesday at Angel Stadium.
(Angels )

Angels owner Arte Moreno wasn’t comfortable declaring during a videoconference introducing new general manager Perry Minasian on Tuesday how much money he intended to spend fielding a team in 2021.

But he was willing to make one promise: The Angels’ payroll will not shrink.

Moreno was on the hook for a franchise-high payroll of $194 million in relation to the luxury tax before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out more than half of the 2020 major league schedule, according to the Baseball Prospectus database. The opening day payroll in July was $71.2 million, the second-highest figure in the American League West Division.

Moreno’s commitment to a hefty budget is good news for the Angels’ new top baseball operations executive, who spent some 30 minutes Tuesday discussing his hopes for the down-on-its-luck franchise he was tasked to lead.

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“One of the reasons that this job is so intriguing [is] this is not a 100-loss team,” Minasian said when asked how close the Angels are to winning. “This is not a five-, seven-, 10-year rebuild. This is going to be a competitive club. I think it’s an outstanding mix of veteran players. Some youth on the horizon, and obviously the manager [Joe Maddon] speaks for himself.

“This whole organization is on the cusp of doing some really, really great things.”

New Angels general manager Perry Minasian with manger Joe Maddon.
New Angels general manager Perry Minasian, left, with manger Joe Maddon at Angel Stadium on Tuesday.
(Angels )

Minasian knows that to get there he will have to reimagine an Angels pitching staff that posted a collective 5.09 earned-run average despite encouraging performances from starters Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning and Andrew Heaney.

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“Pitching is first and foremost, and with pitching comes run prevention,” Minasian said. “And I think we can’t lose sight of that either. We have to play quality defense, we have to catch the ball. Catching [is] beyond important, game calling, game planning, positioning. All the things that entail run prevention, we’re going to attack.”

Minasian, 40, begins the job with what appears on the surface as a daunting to-do list — augment a club that went 26-34 in 2020, owns a six-year playoff drought and needs a boost in the minor leagues.

But the timing of Minasian’s arrival could work to the Angels’ advantage. The 2021 season figures to present the best opportunity in years for a shift in divisional power.

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The Houston Astros had four players become free agents last month, including outfielders Michael Brantley, George Springer and Josh Reddick. The Oakland Athletics had 10 players declare for free agency. Among them were 2019 MVP finalist Marcus Semien; All-Star closer Liam Hendriks; relievers Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit; and starters Mike Fiers and Mike Minor.

Neither the A’s nor the Astros, who spent the last three seasons jockeying for the top spot in the AL West, are known for handing out pricey free-agent contracts.

The Angels have a reputation for splurging, although sometimes to their detriment. They have nearly $118 million committed to the 2021 salaries of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Albert Pujols and Justin Upton. Eleven players could get raises over 2020 earnings through arbitration, including two-way star Shohei Ohtani and starters Bundy and Heaney. Fangraphs estimates the Angels next year will have a payroll of $174 million in relation to the luxury tax with the roster as it stands now. That would leave Minasian about $20 million to reach preseason 2020 spending levels and $36 million before reaching next year’s luxury tax threshold of $210 million.

If he is able to navigate the pitfalls of running a team under an owner who often wields heavy influence, Minasian has a chance to build a team capable of contention beyond a short window of opportunity. Developing that framework will require bolstering the minor league and scouting infrastructures, both of which were minimized as the team grappled with the revenue shortfall caused by the worldwide health crisis.

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Yet Minasian is confident the Angels already have some of the pieces in place to break through.

“It’s the quality of players,” he said. “Obviously, Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, their history speaks for themselves. There’s other talented people on this roster. And it’s the makeup of people on the club. From talking to Joe, from talking to people that are around the club on an everyday basis, this is a competitive group that loves to compete. From a mental standpoint, it’s a mentally strong group. I think those are two components you need to succeed.”

The trial of former Angels employee Eric Kay in connection with pitcher Tyler Skaggs’ overdose death is delayed until next year.

How a team built by Minasian compares to one assembled by former general manager Billy Eppler remains to be seen. Although he was instrumental in the construction of playoff teams in Toronto and Atlanta, Minasian didn’t have the final say on rosters. There is a substantial leap between the No. 1 and No. 2 jobs in a baseball operations department.

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But Moreno is hopeful that Minasian, who over 33 years rose from bat boy to trusted front-office executive before landing a GM job on the first attempt, has the chops to get it right in Anaheim. Moreno believes Minasian proved as much during more than five hours of Zoom interviews and a nearly three-hour in-person meeting.

Previous experience as a general manager didn’t matter as much to the Angels, who fielded about 40 applications and interviewed nearly 20 candidates, as strong communication skills that would form “a good solid bridge” between the general manager and those on the field.

“Just being able to listen to what was happening at the field level, I thought that was a very good quality,” Moreno said. “It’s very hard to find someone that believes they have all the answers. It’s a complicated game. And if you’re not listening, you’re not learning.”


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