The Angels have just two years to get the most out of Mike Trout before he becomes a free agent after the 2020 season. With Trout likely to break all sorts of contract records with his next payday, and a ton of players on their roster hitting free agency around the same time, the Angels have a very difficult path forward. The Mariners have set their sights on 2021 for the team to challenge their AL West rivals. Let’s gaze into our crystal balls to see what the Angels might look like during that window.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, USA 2021
|3B||David Fletcher||26||Arbitration Year 1|
|SP/DH||Shohei Ohtani||26||Arbitration Year 1|
|SP||Andrew Heaney||30||Arbitration Year 4|
|SP||Jaime Barría||24||Arbitration Year 1|
|RP||Ty Buttrey||28||Arbitration Year 1|
|RP||Cam Bedrosian||29||Arbitration Year 4|
|RP||Keynan Middleton||27||Arbitration Year 2|
|RP||Justin Anderson||28||Arbitration Year 1|
We’ve projected the roster without Mike Trout, which might be partially wishful thinking on our part, but hear us out: Trout has spent his prime in a Sisyphean task to single-handedly lift the Angels to the playoffs, a task at which he, being apparently mortal?, has failed at more often than not. Of all of Trout’s accomplishments, the fact that he’s never won a playoff game despite producing the most WAR of any player since 2012 is the most dubious. And while Trout is incapable of saying anything inflammatory, when asked about a contract extension at the beginning of Spring Training, his tone didn’t exactly scream company man: “I don’t want to comment on that,” Trout said. “Like I said, I enjoy playing here. I’m having fun. Obviously, losing is not fun, but I enjoy playing this game. I leave it out on the field every night, every day and I go from there.” While Angels beat reporter Jeff Fletcher thinks it’s likely Trout will sign an extension (or exten$$$$$$ion) before he becomes a free agent, others, like Jon Heyman, feel an extension is unlikely, and even more so now that Bryce Harper is in Philly, Trout’s hometown team, where the conversation about Trout to Philly is already heating up while the Angels do their best to tamp down the flames, giving us at the site some real Offset-jumping-onstage-with-Cardi vibes. (Fine. Giving Kate and Matthew those vibes.)
Without Mike Trout on the roster, the Angels look a lot less dangerous. They have two players under contract in 2021, a 41-year-old Albert Pujols and a 33-year-old Justin Upton. Thankfully, Pujols will be in the last year of his contract and the Angels could conceivably defer a portion of a potential Trout contract to hit after Pujols’s $30M comes off the books. Upton is also under contract in 2022 and his annual salary escalates up to $28M in the last year of his contract.
Mike Trout is the most conspicuous absence from the Angels roster, but there are a bunch of big names that will reach free agency after 2020 too. Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart, and Tyler Skaggs are all set to hit the open market with Trout, and Kole Calhoun, who has a $14M club option in 2020, may join them. The Angels can’t retain all of these free agents so they’re going to have to make some difficult decisions. Luckily, they’ll have only a few players entering the later stages of arbitration. Andrew Heaney will be in his fourth year of arbitration in 2021 and likely isn’t a candidate for a long-term extension due to his advanced age and inability to stay healthy.
With the looming exodus of talent from their major league roster, the Angels have focused on building through their farm system. They’ve loaded up on raw, toolsy players who exude athleticism and they’re pushing them up through the organization very aggressively. The prime example is their top prospect Jo Adell. He started last year in Single-A but was eventually promoted all the way to Double-A as a 19-year-old. He was incredibly young for the level and held his own, but it was clear he wasn’t ready for the challenge, with a K-rate of over 30%. Still, he represents the Angels’ best hope of replicating a fraction of Trout’s talent should the Millville Meteor choose to leave, and prospect evaluators are in love with Adell’s power/speed combo. The Angels also have another good outfield prospect in Brandon Marsh, a former two-way prep athlete who was slowed by an injury early on but in 2018 was on the same fast-moving conveyor belt as Adell, spending most of the year at High-A Inland Empire, where he was unable to unlock the power scouts see in his bat. If Trout and Calhoun should leave, both Adell and Marsh give them great-to-solid options to replace them in the outfield. Jordyn Adams is another athletic upside play in the outfield, with scouts putting an 80 grade on the former two-sport athlete’s speed, and with the Angels promoting aggressively, the 2018 prep pick could find himself an Angel sooner rather than later.
The infield is a problem, however. The Angels’ best/closest to the majors infield prospect is 1B Matt Thaiss, a swing-changer who saw his home run total almost double last season after incorporating more loft in his swing. He’s a candidate to unseat Albert Pujols in the final year of his contract. Jahmai Jones is one of the few good infield/not-first-base prospects close to the majors. He recently moved to the keystone from the outfield, where his contact-oriented bat plays better, but he’s still a project at second base, and while scouts are still bullish on his outlook, he lost a step offensively last season while struggling with the transition. With Simmons’s contract expiring alongside Trout’s, the Angels don’t really have a replacement in their system that could step in at shortstop. We have former-Mariner Luis Rengifo slotted in above but he’ll need to prove that his breakout season last year is for real; thanks to world-class plate discipline, his floor is probably utility infielder. With Jones taking over at second base, David Fletcher could move over to the hot corner, as there’s no real third base prospect close to the majors either. The Angels have shown they’re willing to be aggressive to the point of being reckless with promotions, and 2018 second-rounder Jeremiah Jackson is another plus athlete scouts love, although his bat is ahead of his defense at short, and he struggled this year in the Pioneer League.
Like every other club we’ve written up so far, the Angels catching position is a big question mark. Jack Kruger, the only catcher on their top prospects list at FanGraphs, is an MLB-adjacent backup catcher who walked 2.2% of the time at Double-A last year. The Angels will need to splash some cash to come up with a regular behind the dish in 2021.
This pitching staff looks slightly less gnarly than other Angels pitching staffs we’ve seen, especially once you sub in Ohtani for any of the listed Angels starters. We’re assuming he will still be plying his trade two ways come 2021, although without a recent historical precedent for Ohtani, it’s hard to predict. Outside of Ohtani, the Angels pitching staff doesn’t possess knockout stuff as a group, but there’s ideally plenty of depth here to arrange into whatever configuration gets results, and while the position players are marked by high-risk/high-reward players, the pitching prospects seem to be a much steadier high-floor crew.
This whole prediction hinges on whether or not the Angels are able to lock Trout back down for foreseeably the rest of his career. If they do, any of their top outfield prospects become tradable assets that the Angels can use to address weaknesses behind the dish, in the infield, or to attempt to acquire a blue-chip pitching prospect. The Angels are minding their spending now, which should set them up to be able to offer Trout a blockbuster deal in two years. However, the Angels might prove to be pennywise but pound foolish, as their current lack of financial investment might condemn a generational talent to two more years of toiling in irrelevancy, spurring his flight from Anaheim and leaving the Angels with nothing more than dreams and a tarnished halo.