Los Angeles Angels: How to build a winner around Shohei Ohtani

Jul 22, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani (17) reacts after giving up a run against the Atlanta Braves in the seventh inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 22, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani (17) reacts after giving up a run against the Atlanta Braves in the seventh inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /
facebooktwitterreddit

Sam Blum of The Athletic dropped the news on us that Perry Minasian, Los Angeles Angels general manager, will not be trading Shohei Ohtani this offseason. With Ohtani heading into free agency after 2023, it was widely expected that the Angels may move him and start a full-blown rebuild.

Since Ohtani has joined the Angels, they have failed to finish above .500 every season, and Ohtani appears to be getting increasingly frustrated with that lack of success. The idea of him signing a long-term extension without the Angels showing they can win is very far-fetched.

Can the Los Angeles Angels build a team around Shohei Ohtani?

With the Angels appearing to keep Ohtani in 2023, their attention must turn towards building a winning team around him. Although an impending sale is forthcoming, the Angels will need to add some pieces to their roster in order to win now.

Per Spotrac, between Justin Upton, Noah Syndergaard, and Raisel Iglesias, the Angels will clear roughly $43 million off of their payroll. Unfortunately for them, Ohtani will make $20 million more this year than last, so half of that is gone. The Angels will have to spend wisely in order to find their winning form.

Right-Handed hitting 1st Baseman

After making the All-Star game in 2021, Jared Walsh had an abysmal 2022 campaign. Per Fangraphs, Walsh had a -0.6 WAR, and a 78 wRC+. He has proven that he probably deserves a platoon partner at first base.

Jose Abreu, Yuli Gurriel, and Trey Mancini are all entering free agency, and two of them just won a ring. None of them would be cheap, but the Angels badly need hitting after ranking 21st in wRC+ last year. I think Mancini is the best fit, because he can play outfield too which will also be a need, but he also projects to be one of the more expensive due to his age.

1st base was one of the biggest holes for the Halos last year, and definitely needs to be addressed in free agency or the trade market.

Multi Position Infielder

With an impressive second half of the season, Luis Rengifo figures to be part of the Angels future plans. David Fletcher and Anthony Rendon both missed the vast majority of last year due to injury. In fact, Rendon can hardly be relied upon to stay on the field for half a season, let alone all of a season. That is why it is important to get a multi-position infielder to add depth.

Brandon Drury would be the big prize. He experienced a breakout season between the Padres and Reds with a 123 wRC+ and a 3.0 WAR. He would slot Rengifo into a utility role, which would be ideal. However, the chances of the Angels being able to afford Drury are not likely.

Josh Harrison would be a cost-effective option. Although he is getting up in age, he was right at league average with wRC+ last year and can play 2nd and 3rd base. He can also still run effectively.

One of their young outfielders to step up

Unless a trade is made, the Angels figure to enter the season with Mike Trout, Taylor Ward, Jo Adell, and Mickey Moniak as their 4 outfielders.

Moniak is a former 1st overall draft pick, and Adell is a former top 5 prospect. Neither of them have panned out thus far in the big leagues. Moniak was acquired from the Phillies for Syndergaard, and should get a chance to make the Angels roster in 2023.

Since being called up, Adell has not lived up to the top 5 prospect billing. He owns a negative WAR, a 68 wRC+, and has looked like a liability in the outfield. The talent is there though, and it shows in flashes.

If Adell or Moniak can put it together, it will provide the Angels an upgrade from last year at no cost.

5 man rotation

Per the OC Register, the Angels may consider implementing a 5 man rotation in 2023. Since Ohtani has joined the rotation they have implemented a 6 man rotation to lighten the load on him. It is tough enough to find 5 solid pitchers to throw in your rotation, let alone 6.

On top of that, instead of seeing Ohtani every 6 days, he would appear every 5. You obviously risk the possibility of injury, but they have slowly but surely been loosening the reigns on Ohtani since he joined them.

With a 5 man rotation, the Angels also wouldn’t really need to acquire more than one starter. This would give them a starting 4 of (2022 stats):

Ohtani:  2.33 ERA, 2.40 FIP, 5.6 WAR

Patrick Sandoval: 2.91 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 3.8 WAR

Reid Detmers: 3.77 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 2.3 WAR

Jose Suarez: 3.96 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 1.6 WAR

It also allows Sandoval to pitch more frequently, and he is a budding star in this league.  Reid Detmers was recently a top prospect and has a legitimate chance to become a star in this league also. The Angels could benefit greatly from a 5 man rotation.

Bullpen help

Per Fangraphs, the Angels had the 25th best bullpen in baseball, and it is a huge area of need. The good news for them, is that they do have some pieces to build around.

Jimmy Herget: 2.45 ERA, 2.87 FIP

Jose Quijada: 3.98 ERA, 3.85 FIP

Aaron Loup: 3.84 ERA, 3.76 FIP

Ryan Tepera: 3.61 ERA, 4.21 FIP

Jaime Barria: 2.53 ERA, 4.21 FIP

It is extremely reasonable to think that Loup and Tepera will improve on their 2022 stats, as they have been better the rest of their career in large part. Chris Rodriguez also figures to provide a boost after coming back from injury this year. However, they will still need to add to this group after trading away Raisel Iglesias last year.

Michael Fulmer, Rafael Montero, Corey Knebel, Brad Boxberger, and Nick Anderson are all affordable pieces that the Angels can look. I don’t expect them to be in on the marquee names, and that may be preferable. Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Craig Kimbrel all present significant risk.

Health

Every year on paper the Angels look really good. Unfortunately every year, their key players get hurt and miss significant time. Trout is beginning to establish a scary injury history. Rendon is always hurt. Ward spent some time hurt, and was bothered by a shoulder injury while playing as well. Fletcher missed most of last year.

It is foolish to assume that all of your players are going to remain healthy all year, and that is why I outlined depth at every position above. However, they could benefit greatly from better fortune in the injury department.

Next. 3 landing spots for Dansby Swanson. dark

In conclusion…

It sounds like a lot, but honestly, a lot of these options are affordable and make the Los Angeles Angels a competitive team. They have an extremely solid core of players with Ohtani, Trout, Ward, Sandoval, Fletcher, Rendon, and Rengifo. They have the ability to put together a winning team with Ohtani and potentially convince him to sign long term. In order to do so, they don’t have much wiggle room.