SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Do Mariners need to keep close eye on Angels in AL West?

Feb 7, 2023, 9:13 AM

Mariners Shohei Ohtani Mike Trout...

Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout in the dugout during a June 2022 Angels game against the Mariners. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

With MLB spring training set to begin next week, Mariners insider Shannon Drayer is taking a look around the division this week with the help of conversations from Seattle Sports’ Hot Stove with insiders that cover the Mariners rivals in the AL West. First up, it’s the Los Angeles Angels.

Angels

2022 record: 73-89 (third AL West)
Additions: Brandon Drury, Hunter Renfroe, Gio Urshela, Tyler Anderson, Brett Phillips
Subtractions: Kurt Suzuki, Michael Lorenzen, Archie Bradley, Matt Duffy, Elvis Peguero
2023 ZiPS projection excerpt: “Likely to considerably improve on their 2022 record and have a great shot to get above .500 for the first time in quite a while.”

Mariners

2022 record: 90-72 (second AL West, third wild card)
Additions: Teoscar Hernández, Kolten Wong, AJ Pollock, Trevor Gott, Tommy La Stella, Justin Topa, Cooper Hummel
Subtractions: Mitch Haniger, Erik Swanson, Jesse Winker, Abraham Toro, Carlos Santana, Adam Frazier, Kyle Lewis, Luis Torrens, Matthew Boyd, Curt Casali
2023 ZiPS projection excerpt: “The Mariners look like an 85-90 win team, with a tighter range of outcomes than most clubs. That’s fun and makes the M’s a serious contender.”

The Los Angeles Angels will go into the 2023 season with not one, not two, but three players who will pull down annual salaries of $30 million or more, two of which might just so happen to be the two best players on the planet. They are coming out of an offseason where their general manager Perry Minasian was one of the most active in player acquisition. And they are on track to check in with the largest payroll at just north of $200 million in the American League West.

The Angels’ offseason grades by various publications have been generally positive and it appears they have improved their club. If you think this adds up to a happy fan base, well, that is not the case.

All of this looks good on the surface but the Angels are coming off a current MLB-worst seventh straight losing season. Prospects of it turning around quickly may have taken a hit in the opinions of some when owner Arte Moreno last month reversed course on his decision to sell the club, and that includes Sam Blum, who covers the Angels for The Athletic.

“I know why Angels fans are upset,” he said on a recent Mariners Hot Stove on Seattle Sports 710 AM. “Arte Moreno has not put the resources into building a winning franchise. I think his counterpoint would be ‘We spend money on free agents,’ and they certainly have made bad investments a lot of the time. They don’t build around their organization a lot in terms of player development, treating alumni well, their broadcast team well – the things that if you do all of them right you start to see all the benefits of them over the course of a long period of time. They just haven’t done it and as a result they haven’t won and I think that’s why Angels fans were probably pretty upset over (Moreno’s) news last week, but probably pretty shocked too. It certainly seemed like he was ready to sell the team based on his statement from August.”

The announcement was made via written statement, the Angels owner’s prime medium of communication on team issues as he last spoke publicly on a Zoom meeting introducing Minasian just over two years ago.

“I was really shocked,” Blum said. “I know for a fact this team was going to sell probably for a record amount, more probably than the $2.4 billion Steve Cohen bought the Mets for, and you understand why. The Angels are in Southern California, obviously they are the butt of a lot of jokes but there is a lot of potential with a club that is playing in Orange County and has the superstar talent it has. Really if another owner was to come in and invest around the two guys (Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani), there’s a lot that could be done to turn this franchise into a winner really quickly.”

Blum believes that if an outside owner were to ante up the $3-plus billion it would take to purchase the club, it figures they would be willing to invest in the team and possibly be willing to pay the record dollars Ohtani is all but sure to get as a free agent next offseason. That would be step 1 in moving back toward winning. Blum stressed it wasn’t just all about the high-ticket trio of Ohtani, Trout (who is signed through 2030 at $35 million per year) and Anthony Rendon (locked in at $38 million per year through 2026).

“I think it remains to be seen, but if Arte is going to spend like he has and kind of stay below that luxury tax threshold moving forward, it’s really hard to envision keeping Ohtani and still building a competent roster around him,” he said. “Especially considering he’s going to be getting north of 30, Mike Trout, this is his age 31 season, Rendon (33) hasn’t played much. And there’s a lot of injury history so they are going to be paying a lot of money to players who are getting older and not necessarily doing enough to build a young, substantial pipeline of players coming up through their system.”

How does this play into the Angels’ ability to keep Ohtani?

“If you read between the lines, he wants to win and I think he might be a little frustrated that the seasons he has put up has not resulted in a .500 record or even close to it,” said Blum.

As the team has not developed players to reach let alone sustain winning, Blum sees increasing the payroll exponentially as the only answer currently left in turning around the current trend and keeping the Angels an attractive option for Ohtani. It was a curious decision for Moreno to pull the club off the market. Is more spending a part of the plan?

“Maybe he will do it,” Blum mused. “Maybe he wants to put together a real legacy and not have it be one of the worst owners in sports. I’m not saying that’s what he is but he’s certainly not one of the best. I think that’s why people feel the way they do.”

It might not be all gloom and doom for the Angels on the Ohtani front.

“I don’t think he’s miserable with the Angels,” said Blum. “I really don’t. They’ve given him freedom to operate the way he wants. I think there are a lot of reasons he’s comfortable with the team. Obviously he picked them to begin with, he likes Southern California. It’s a quicker plane ride back home for him. There are reasons he would want to stay – close teammates, he’s been there for five years now. It’s not like there’s no chance of the Angels re-signing him. I just think it would have been a much better effort had there been another owner in place who you knew would be willing to put the payroll up into the $300 million it might take to have the two guys they are already paying a ridiculous amount of money on top of what Ohtani will make, which I am sure will be a record AAV.”

As for the forecast for the upcoming season, Blum sees significant improvement on paper.

“I think they have really built their offseason on short-term investments, and I think all of them gave the Angels more depth than they had last year,” he said.

With injuries to Trout and Rendon, the latter of whom has played just 105 games the past two years, the depth was tested in 2022 and mostly failed.

“This team had no depth last year. It was just like patchwork and it was a reason why they lost,” said Blum.

The new additions will ensure that former top prospects Jo Adell and Mickey Moniak, if still with the club, will not be first options in 2023 should a need arise.

“It’s better to not have those guys be everyday starters,” he said. “I think Hunter Renfroe is a really good acquisition and Taylor Ward had a good year last year. Getting guys like Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury, now you have a little more depth for Rendon or Jared Walsh, who is coming off injury.”

Is it enough to end the streak of losing seasons or perhaps earn an extra game or two in October?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they are in the hunt for a wild card,” said Blum, “but is this a team that is really competing for a World Series? I think the Mariners are in better position, I think the Rangers are in a better position and I think the Astros are in a better position.”

The entire conversation from the Mariners Hot Stove be found at this link or in the player below.

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