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Should the Los Angeles Angels Go All-In This Offseason?

Last week, the Angels received a small but rare bit of good news: their star center fielder, Mike Trout, had won
his second career MVP award. He has also finished as the award runner-up three other times, despite his
reputation as the hands-down best player in the league. Regardless of whether Trout’s victory signaled a
changing attitude among award voters, or merely was a product of a favorable 30 person sample of the
electorate, it was nice to see the game’s most dominant player get his due.

Yet Trout’s triumph is but small solace for his team. As Trout has racked up individual accolades, the
organization for whom he plays has continuously struggled to field a quality team around him. Having an
underpaid, nearly surefire 10 win player on the roster is an enormous advantage, one that the Angels have
managed to parlay into one measly playoff appearance in the past five years.

Trout is under contract for four more seasons, due to reach the free agency in 2020 at the age of 29. He is
owed an average of about $30 million annually, a sum which is both tremendous and well short of what Trout is
truly worth to his employer. The Angels essentially have four seasons to make a run with the most talented
player of this generation. With Trout’s time in LA potentially more than halfway done, the humiliating prospect
of failing to win a playoff series with modern day Mickey Mantle looms.

Which leads us to the question: if and when should the Angels push all-in while they still have Trout? Should
they sell off some pieces and try a rebuild, to improve their longer-term outlook in 2019 and 2020? Should they
flex their considerable financial might, as they have done in recent years in bringing in Albert Pujols and Josh
Hamilton?

You may recall that the Hamilton and Pujols contracts haven’t worked out brilliantly for the Angels, but
nonetheless, now might just be the time for the Angels to be aggressive yet again. Looking at the Angels’
payroll, the Halos have a ton of financial flexibility to make moves to brighten their short-term outlook. Most
notably, lucrative contracts given to pitchers Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson have just expired. Both were paid
$20 million in 2016, freeing up considerable room for the Angels to invest on the free agent market.

In fact, there’s evidence that the Angels are more primed to make moves than any team in the league. Over at
FanGraphs, Craig Edwards looked at each team’s ledger and projected how much every team ought to have
available to spend. The Angels ranked 3rd in the league, behind only the rebuilding Phillies and the Dodgers,
who reportedly might be looking to trim payroll in the face of debt.

So, the Angels are a big market team with huge contracts coming off the books. They have gobs of money to
spend, but that in itself isn’t enough to justify anything resembling a spending spree. A decent core around
which to build is generally required to make an all-in push look worthwhile.

Essentially, the Angels, or any team looking to make a leap during the offseason, wants to avoid replicating last
season’s Diamondbacks. After 2015, Arizona made a massive financial commitment to Zack Greinke, and a
similarly large prospect investment in Shelby Miller. The primary issue was that the Diamondbacks weren’t a
team that was a couple players from contention, and they stumbled to 4th place in the NL West in 2016.

At first glance, it appears Los Angeles is in a similar position. The Angels have missed the postseason in each
of the last two years, and are coming off a 74-win 2016 campaign. Just looking at recent results, the Angels
don’t leap off the page as a team that is a few acquisitions from true playoff contention.

But are the Angels closer than most think? For starters, having the best player in baseball makes putting
together a good roster considerably easier. The Angels could surround Trout with merely average players and
have a near-division favorite.

That isn’t a high bar, but it is one that might already be within reach. According to FanGraphs’ (extremely early)
2017 projections, the Angels look much better on paper than the casual observer might think. They rank 4th in
the AL in projected WAR, thanks to a well-rated position player group (led by the incomparable Trout). There
are enough complementary position players, like Andrelton Simmons, Yunel Escobar, Cameron Maybin, Kole
Calhoun, and Pujols, around Trout that the Angels can field a strong lineup.

The pitching staff is where the questions arise. The Angels’ rosy projections rely partly on solid forecasts for
injury prone starters like Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, and Garrett Richards. All three have real potential, but
they all also missed time last season due to injury.

FanGraphs currently pegs that trio for a combined 524 innings and nearly 9 fWAR. Given that Richards is
rehabbing an injured UCL, Skaggs is a Tommy John survivor, and Shoemaker is coming off a skull fracture
resulting from a terrifying line drive to the head, the Angels would be awfully pleased if they combined for that
level of production.

But even with their volatile pitching, that the Angels project so well does highlight that they are closer to
contention than last season’s poor results would indicate. Looking at the free agent market, the Angels could
double down on their high risk pitching staff to try and maximize their team’s upside. Rich Hill could flame out,
but if he can replicate last season’s performance, he could help put a team like the Angels over the top. They
could also look at a closer like Greg Holland, someone who is recovering from injury but has elite performance
in his recent past.

The Angels also have a clear hole that if addressed could seriously improve their bottom line. After receiving
dreadful play at second base in 2016, the Angels still look likely to receive replacement level production if they
stick the likes of Johnny Giavotella and Cliff Pennington. Even if they target a middling player such as Chase
Utley, bringing in someone that can play even a respectable second base could be worth multiple wins.

As things stand, the Angels simply have a roster with more potential than they receive credit for. With tons of
money coming off the payroll, they are poised to strike even in a weak free agent market. The Angels are
starting to run out of time with Trout, whose potential free agency is now somewhat within sight. But in 2017,
they might have a better chance at delivering a postseason appearance during the Trout era than many
expected.

Main Photo:

Jake Devin fell in love with the game of baseball as a child, watching the Yankees of the late nineties and early aughts dominate the league. The Yankees don't dominate anymore, but Jake's passion for the game is as strong as ever, with exciting new ways to view and analyze the game popping up seemingly all the time. Jake recently graduated from Binghamton University where he completed a degree in mathematics and economics, as well as a four-year track and field career.

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