2019 marks the first time that the Angels will begin a season without Mike Scioscia as their manager since the twentieth century. Narratively, it’s tempting to think that the Angels are beginning a new era.
For the past few years, the Angels have been spinning their tires despite employing the greatest player of this—and possibly any—generation. A change in leadership might have been just what they needed to pull themselves out of their rut. In the dugout, the Angels might look radically difficult without Scioscia leaning over the railing, but on the field, they’ll be mostly the same.
FanGraphs has the Angels projected for 82 wins, and PECOTA figures they’ll repeat 2018 and wind up with 80 wins. That won’t be enough to contend with the Astros for a divisional title, but in a top-heavy American League, that could put them within range of a Wild Card spot.
Aside from the expected division winners (Yankees, Cleveland, and the Astros), PECOTA only expects the Twins, Red Sox, and Rays to finish with better records than the Angels. The A’s aren’t far behind, but even with them in the mix that’s only three other teams the Angels figure to contend with for the second Wild Card.
The Angels could be a dark horse candidate for the second Wild Card, but they were a dark horse candidate last year, too. The failed to perform much better than their projection, and that was with Shohei Ohtani as one of the better hitters in the league.
The largest additions to the pitching staff include Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, and Cody Allen. The Angels apparently wanted to acquire low-cost pitchers with upside. Harvey, Cahill, and Allen have all been great in the past, but each carry their risks.
Among the three, Cahill has the most recent success, but over the last four seasons, he only surpassed 100 innings once. The good news is that he did this in his most recent season. The bad news is that he still dealt with injuries to his throwing elbow and his Achilles tendon.
Allen was one of the more dominant relievers for years until he fell off a cliff in 2018. His sudden ineffectiveness is hardly unique for a bullpen arm. The Angels are hoping that last season was a blip and not the beginning of a new trend.
As for Harvey, his days as an ace are long behind him, but his stint with the Reds showed that he can still earn a place in the rotation. Harvey has lost fastball velocity and spin, so his upside isn’t so much a return to form but that he manages to repeat what he did in Cincinnati.
On the offensive side, the Angels added Justin Bour, Tommy La Stella, and Jonathan Lucroy. Like their pitchers, these players all make the team deeper, but don’t figure to add that much impact. Bour’s presence might mean that Albert Pujols receives fewer plate appearances, which sad to say, is an improvement on its own. La Stella gives the Angels a serviceable utility infielder. Lucroy won’t be an All-Star anymore, but he might still have something left.
With as much talent as the Angels have at the top of their lineup in Trout, Ohtani, Justin Upton, and Andrelton Simmons, one can’t help but second guess the Angels not adding a bat this offseason. Manny Machado or Bryce Harper alone could have made them a favorite for the second Wild Card spot. Even a combination of Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas, and/or Marwin Gonzalez might have been enough.
Even opting for Lucroy over Martin Maldonado is a bit of a head-scratcher. Sure, Maldonado isn’t going to be an average hitter, even for his position. However, by wRC+, Maldonado outhit Lucroy in 2018. Not to mention that Lucroy is a severe liability behind the plate while Maldonado is one of the best defensive catchers.
Maldonado remains a free agent, so the Angels could still pick up him up, just as they could still sign Dallas Keuchel, but their offseason appears to be finished. The only move they’ve been rumored to be interested in is low-balling Mike Trout.
Last year, the Angels landed arguably the greatest prize in Ohtani, but this year, they haven’t quite made the same waves. Instead, they’ve aimed for .500 hoping they get lucky. It might work out for them, but they might have just wasted another year of Mike Trout.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.