Few teams have improved more than Los Angeles Angels during the current offseason.
The LA-based franchise has a generational talent in Mike Trout, but they haven’t been able to surround him with adequate talent in recent years. Albert Pujols is not the player he once was, and the rest of the lineup in recent years has been average at best. But things are about to change in 2018.
First of all, the Angels acquired Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani is expected to play a big role in the team in 2018 and will feature both as a DH and starting pitcher. He is one of those rare talents that will boost the organization on both pitching and hitting. But there’s more. Not happy with Ohtani’s arrival, the Angels also traded for Ian Kinsler and signed Zack Cozart as a free agent. Out of nowhere, that’s three positions improved in a few days.
Many believe the Angels are ready to contend for a Wild Card spot. Trout alone was enough to make them a team to watch. But the additions of Kinsler, Cozart, and Ohtani should bolster the offense considerably. The team already has Pujols – who can still mash despite what advanced metrics say – and other useful players such as Kole Calhoun and Justin Upton.
An offense isn’t everything, however, and the Angels also have some nice pieces defensively. Trout is a Gold Glove-caliber player in the outfield, and Andrelton Simmons is one of the best shortstops in the game. Luis Valbuena can play several positions, and Martin Maldonado recently won the Gold Glove at catcher last season over Salvador Perez. That’s pretty good, and we haven’t even mentioned the rotation. Unfortunately, that’s an area where Los Angeles could use a few improvements here and there.
Ohtani is likely to lead the rotation, while Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker are decent – yet unspectacular – arms. Othani needs to prove he can be the ace the team needs, but another quality starter or two certainly wouldn’t hurt the Angels. The same goes for the bullpen, as they lack a lockdown closer who can finish games with confidence.
Are the upgrades enough to make the Angels a contender?
So yes, the Angels have improved considerably during the offseason. But have they done enough to emerge as contenders in the American League? Sadly, no.
Let’s start analyzing their division. The Angels are in one of the most balanced divisions in the Majors, as they have to battle with the Texas Rangers, the Seattle Mariners, and the reigning champions, the Houston Astros. Houston alone is a tough team to beat, but Texas and Seattle are Wild Card contenders, too. So getting out of the AL West already looks like a tough challenge.
The AL also has the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees, and the Cleveland Indians, just to name a few. So as it is, we can see the Angels are on a pack of teams that could battle for a Wild Card spot, but that appears to be their ceiling right now. Unless they can find an upgrade in the rotation – someone like Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta, for instance – they won’t be any better than a potential Wild Card contender.
That’s an upgrade compared to last season. But they still have a long way to go if they want to become a true contender in the American League.