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Smith: Angels squander another season of Trout’s prime

| Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Armed with the best player in baseball for the past ten years, the Los Angeles Angels still haven’t figured out how to become playoff contenders. Mike Trout has won three American League (AL) MVP awards to go along with four runner-up finishes during his time in the big leagues, yet the Angels have only appeared in the playoffs once during that span, getting swept by the Kansas City Royals in the American League Division Series (ALDS) in 2014. However, their moves this past offseason suggested the team was trending in the right direction.

Following a failed experiment with Brad Ausmus at the helm last year, the Angels decided to bring Joe Maddon in as manager. A proven winner, Maddon spent 31 years in the Angels organization earlier in his career before leading the Tampa Bay Rays to an AL pennant in 2008 and the Chicago Cubs to a World Series title in 2016. Thus, bringing Maddon back into the organization seemed like a smart first step in establishing a winning culture. 

To go along with Maddon, the Angels signed star free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon to a seven-year, $245 million contract, adding a proven bat to the lineup to pair with Trout in the middle of the order. The Angels also added to their starting pitching depth by trading for Dylan Bundy and signing veteran Julio Teheran to a one-year, $9 million deal. All of these moves signaled that the Angels were ready to start winning now and contend for a playoff spot, especially in a shortened season where the postseason is expanded from the typical ten teams to sixteen.

Despite their offseason activity, the Angels are sitting at 12-24, giving them the second-worst record in baseball. Mike Trout has continued to be his otherworldly self, batting .277/.369/.622 to go along with 12 homers and 32 runs batted in (RBI). Rendon has been impressive for the Angels as well, proving himself worthy of his contract with a .299/.440/.514 slash line and 19 RBI. Overall, the Angels’ offense has scored the seventh-most runs in the league, which should at least put the team in contention for a wild card spot. However, the rotation has ruined their playoff aspirations.

The Angels have given up the third-most runs in the majors to go along with the seventh-worst team earned run average (ERA) at 5.09. Their rotation also ranks in the bottom ten in the league in walks, WHIP and opposing batting average. The team’s trade for Bundy has proven largely successful, yet Teheran has been a mess with an 0-2 record and 9.17 ERA. Shohei Ohtani, their star two-way player from Japan, has also been a disappointment on the mound with a 37.80 ERA in two starts. 

With the Angels out of the playoff race, the team has turned its focus to next season by trading away second baseman Tommy La Stella, catcher Jason Castro and outfielder Brian Goodwin before the trade deadline Monday. So, do the Angels have any real shot at turning their fortunes around in 2021? 

With a farm system that MLB.com ranked No. 26 in the league, the Angels don’t have much hope of a savior coming up through the minors to bolster the rotation. Thus, the Angels’ top priority should be to lure a high-end starting pitcher such as Trevor Bauer or Marcus Stroman to Anaheim through free agency. Bauer has been phenomenal up to this point with a 3-2 record and 2.13 ERA for the Reds, so he should be the main target. The team could also look to acquire a reliever such as Blake Treinen to strengthen its bullpen. Whatever route the Angels choose, they will need to spend big money if they want to seriously compete in the AL. 

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly changed the outlook of the season, and the shortened prep time likely didn’t allow the players to gel as they would’ve hoped. Additionally, Maddon might just need more time to build his winning culture from within. Whatever the case may be, the Angels need to figure out their organizational direction soon, otherwise they risk wasting Trout’s prime and depriving the baseball world of watching its biggest star under the bright lights of October.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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