Angels think they have enough to make a run. Does Perry Minasian agree?
Joe Maddon has repeatedly called this year’s Angels team one of his favorite groups. Andrew Heaney thinks it has some of the best veteran leadership he’s seen. Max Stassi can sense the tight bonds during their fog-machine clubhouse celebrations after wins, or in the way new players have been immediately welcomed into the clubhouse.
Since the start of the season, Angels players and coaches have maintained this same message, confident the roster has enough talent and togetherness to make a serious push for the playoffs.
Come Friday’s trade deadline, they’ll find out if the club’s front office has the same level of faith.
Approaching his first deadline as the Angels’ general manager, Perry Minasian will have some big decisions to make this week.
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Entering Tuesday, the Angels are five games out in the wild-card race with five teams to leapfrog — a lot of ground to make up with two months to go. (Fangraphs gives the Angels a 10.3% chance of making the playoffs.)
They have a couple of potentially valuable trade pieces on the roster, notably closer Raisel Iglesias and starter Alex Cobb, who could walk away for nothing as free agents this offseason if they aren’t traded now.
But the team also has shown signs that its best may be yet to come. They haven’t had Mike Trout (right calf strain) since May 17, yet have gone 32-27 since then. They’re getting historic contributions from Shohei Ohtani and have seen improvements from the rest of a new-look starting rotation that this month has the fifth-best ERA in the majors (3.13).
And they know that, even if they don’t acquire anyone at the deadline, they’ll be getting impact additions for the stretch run when Trout and Antony Rendon (left hamstring strain) return to health.
As a result, the odds that they contend this fall are long — but they don’t seem impossible.
“I believe our best baseball is upcoming here,” Stassi said Monday. “With this group, I think we can do something special.”
To realistically accomplish that, they’ll likely need the core of their roster to remain intact past Friday. Any moves that are — or aren’t — made between now and then could dictate the fate of their season.
“It’s up to [Minasian] and the guys upstairs to really evaluate it with their eyes,” Maddon said. “Regardless of how often he asks me for input — which he does a lot, I appreciate it, and I enjoy it — that’s the plan that I think front-office structures have to come up with.”
Over the last month, Minasian hasn’t publicly revealed much about which direction the team might go. He’s declined to say whether the Angels will buy or sell at the deadline, and has left open the possibility the team could do a little of both. He’s apparently operated the same way behind the scenes, with other clubs around the majors reportedly unsure of what to expect from the team as well.
If the Angels trade Iglesias — who, with 21 saves and a 3.35 ERA, could be one of the most lucrative relievers on the market but also has been the only consistently reliable arm at the back end of their bullpen — it would probably be viewed like the waving of a white flag.
There would be more internal replacement options if Cobb or fellow soon-to-be-free-agent starter Heaney were traded, but their departures would no doubt strike a blow to the club’s chances.
The Angels could stand pat, giving their current group a chance to play out the rest of the season while at the same time protecting their future assets.
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Or, if they really want to go for it, they could attempt to bolster the roster — particularly a bullpen that has only one other pitcher (minimum 10 relief appearances) with a sub-4.00 ERA (Steve Cishek).
“The group on the field, I’m not displeased with at all,” Maddon said. “If you’re going to do anything ... the part you’re always looking to do better is pitching, especially in the bullpen.”
Maddon said he had talked with Minasian often in recent weeks — “I’ve never been around somebody in his position who is so transparent in his thoughts,” Maddon said — but hadn’t lobbied him to be aggressive, or at least to avoid trading away players, ahead of the deadline.
“He knows what we’re like,” Maddon said. “He’s down here with us all the time. He knows what the pulse feels like. He’ll make the right decisions I’m sure, and I promise you he’ll consult with us before he does.”
There’s still time for the team to make a final case on the field too. To inch their way a little closer to contention this week. To win a few more games that might influence whether they’ll all still be together for the season’s closing run.
“What we do this week will be very vital to where [Minasian] wants to go,” Maddon said. “I don’t blame him. That’s how this whole thing works. I like so much of what’s going on, but we have to finish games off. … We’re running out of hall passes.”
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