General manager Billy Eppler has pieced together an impressive offseason as the Angels aim to make good on their massive commitment to Mike Trout.
UPDATE: The Angels’ trade for Joc Pederson has reportedly fallen apart while the Dodgers were trying to get their deal for Mookie Betts done.
The Angels needed an impactful winter heading into the 2020 season.
Last season the Angels were plagued with injuries, particularly in their rotation where Los Angeles needed a combined 32 starts from rookies Griffin Canning and Jose Suarez. Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani were both shut down late last season due to injury, while the Angels were nowhere close to competing for the postseason.
The Angels severely lacked top-end talent and what made things even worse was that they lacked depth behind that middling talent surrounding Trout. That’s been the script for the Angels throughout Trout’s tenure in Los Angeles, as the team has consistently failed to surround the game’s best player with even slightly above-average players.
Convincing two-way Japanese phenom Ohtani to sign two seasons ago was the first step in building a competitive club, but this winter Eppler put his plan into overdrive by signing top free-agent hitter Anthony Rendon. And while their main target was likely starter Gerrit Cole, who grew up just a few minutes away from Angel Stadium, the rotation has added some more depth with arms like Julio Tehran and Dylan Bundy in the fold.
Of course, Eppler also landed the best manager on the market in Joe Maddon. Maddon was fresh off a five-year run in Chicago that saw him end the longest championship drought in sports history while taking the Cubs to the playoffs four of those five seasons.
Maddon is infamous for allowing players to be themselves, and while that attitude is likely what ended his tenure in Chicago, the Angels need an identity that goes beyond “Mike Trout plays here” and Maddon may be the best person for the job.
But even with all these moves, while still much improved, the Angels still seemed to fit into a tier below the top teams in the American League West like the Astros and Athletics.
That was until reports that the Angels are in the process of acquiring outfielder Joc Pederson and starter Ross Stripling from the Dodgers.
And it was reported Friday morning that Pederson’s arbitration hearing will have no impact on the deal, assuming the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Twins three-team deal doesn’t fall apart. But for the Angels adding a power bat in Pederson and a reliable swing-man in Stripling makes them a realistic Wild Card contender this season.
Of course, Pederson is an immediate replacement for departed outfielder Kole Calhoun after mashing a career-high 36 home runs for the Dodgers last season. The 27-year-old former Dodger is under team control for another year before becoming a free agent, so the Angels will have a year with Pederson, allowing them to take their time with top prospect Jo Adell.
Stripling, who has had a hard time sticking in the Dodgers rotation, should have no problem finding starts with the Angels. Los Angeles’ rotation still isn’t fantastic, with a lot riding on young players like Canning and Ohtani while also hoping a veteran like Tehran can find consistency in his 10th season in the MLB. So adding Stripling to the slew of arms adds depth but also gives the Angels an arm that can miss bats and throws strikes, walking just 20 batters in 15 starts last season.
Neither player pushes the Angels to clear title contenders, but with all the additions Eppler has made this offseason it’s starting to look like Los Angeles is serious about building a winning club around Trout. And during a time when major-market teams are balking at the price tags of the games’ top talent, it’s refreshing to see a club go all-in on their improvements — even if the parts don’t quite add up to a World Series roster, yet.