McGuinness: Angels latest offseason exploits hurt themselves again — and baseball overall
Andrew McGuinness | Wednesday, December 1, 2021
Few sports franchises are blessed with the gift of generational talent. When a team is lucky enough to find one, they must go all in to not just keep their heartbeat happy, but maximize on their higher than normal odds of winning a championship. On the rare moment when a team has two of these players at the same time, those efforts are obviously amplified. At that point, winning isn’t just an expectation; it’s a mandate at that point. Imagine what people would say about the Golden State Warriors if they’d never won a championship. How they would have laughed if the Penguins failed to win a Cup with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The mocking of the Patriots if Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady left New England ringless. What about with the Los Angeles Angels?
While finding these talents is definitely the hardest point of building a championship team (or even a year-in, year-out Postseason club), they are far from the only box to check; especially in baseball, where depth is vital across the diamond and throughout a lineup. A couple of generational players are merely a part of the puzzle; incredibly large ones, yes, but still just parts, not the whole.
For the last decade, so much of the Angels puzzle was made up by one player: Mike Trout. The Millville, New Jersey native burst onto the scene in 2012 with a historic season, winning Rookie of the Year and nearly MVP as well. Since then, he’s been an All-Star every season, won eight Silver Sluggers, 3 MVPs … and zero Postseason wins.
The same goes for his partner in crime, the truly once-in-a-lifetime talent Shohei Ohtani. In three of his four seasons in the Majors since arriving from Japan in 2018, Ohtani has been a tremendous hitter. Injuries prevented him from achieving his full pitching prowess, but that changed in 2021. Ohtani blasted 46 home runs, stole 26 bases and recorded a 3.18 ERA in 537 at-bats and 130.1 innings pitched. Truly Babe Ruth-type numbers.
If Trout wasn’t injured for most of 2021, the Angels may have made their second Postseason appearance since 2009. But the problem for the Angels has never been Trout or Ohtani. It’s the players around them. There are a couple of solid members in the supporting cast; solid players like David Fletcher and Jared Walsh are proof that Trout and Ohtani aren’t the only Angels worthy of wearing Halos.
Yet seemingly every winter since Trout’s emergence, the Angels seem focused on adding last generation’s generational talents than supporting theirs. It started with the massive 10-year, $240 million contract they gave to then 31-year old Albert Pujols after the 2012 season. In the same offseason, they also handed Rangers lefty, C.J. Wilson, a hefty 5-year, $77 million deal. Business Insider called Josh Hamilton’s 5-year, $125 million contract “a disaster.” Justin Upton’s declining production has turned the 34-year old’s 5-year, $106 million contract signed four years ago into another albatross. Anthony Rendon’s 7-years at $245 million started well, but his 2021 was plagued with injuries. Now, at 32, his best days are likely behind him.
The Angels need substance, not just big splashes, to break out of a decade plagued by mediocrity (or spend $50 million over the luxury tax like their fellow Los Angeles baseball team). These massive contracts have often led to the Halos throwing out below-average rotations and lineups full of holes. Over the last 3 years, the Angels have ranked 22nd, 25th and 25th in team ERA. In 2021, Walsh became the only Angel other than Ohtani to play at least 90 games and record an OPS+ over 100 (which is considered league average).
Yet the Angels appear to have once again not learned from their mistakes. They made another flashy move by signing Noah Syndergaard. Inking a pitcher to a $21 million contract (albeit just for one year) who has pitched in just two games since mid-2019 and hasn’t been truly dominant since 2018 feels like yet another misguided move considering the Angels’ rotation woes are far beyond what one pitcher can fix. This may be the least egregious of the moves, the Angels have made over the last ten years, I’m not convinced that makes it a good one. Aaron Loup should help the bullpen, but the Angels still need to re-sign or replace excellent closer Raisel Iglesias.
Not only are the Angels hurting themselves with these moves, but they’re also damaging the sport itself. Look at stars in other sports. Patrick Mahomes has been to two Super Bowls and won one. Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers have also dealt with depth issues, but it looks like they’ve turned the corner. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks did just that last season. Baseball’s popularity has been on the decline for years now, and to reverse or at least slow that trend, marketing its superstars is paramount. Trout and Ohtani have been in the spotlight countless times for commercials or All-Star games. But the Angels have done everyone a disservice by not giving their stars the support to reach baseball’s biggest stages. They’ve held Trout, and more recently Ohtani, back for so long. And they have no one to blame but themselves.