The Angels have arrived at this unfortunate crossroads before. The “he” in the following quote does not refer to Shohei Ohtani.
“There are times I get a sense of panic from our people in baseball operations that if we don’t do it this year, he might not be around next year,” the Angels owner told The Times. “I don’t think that has been beneficial to this organization.”
The year was 1991. The Angels owner was Jackie Autry. The “he” referred to her husband, Gene, the Angels’ founding owner, who was 83. The “might not be around next year” referred to the quest to “Win One for the Cowboy,” to get the Angels into the World Series while Gene was still here to enjoy it.
That did not happen. In 2023, the Angels tried valiantly to win one for Ohtani, to get him and Mike Trout into the playoffs, at least, if not into the World Series.
That is not going to happen. The team’s offseason essentially started late Wednesday night, when the Angels announced Ohtani had torn a critical ligament in his elbow and would not pitch again this year and Trout, who has played one game in the past 52 days, would return to the injured list amid lingering discomfort in his surgically repaired hand.
The Angels played to win this year, and there is no shame in that. But Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. With Ohtani in his final weeks before free agency, it is time to do something different.
It is time for Arte Moreno to heed the counsel of Jackie Autry.
Do the Angels have a single player they can count on for production and durability in 2024?
They have seven players under contract next season. Trout has not played 120 games in a season since 2019. Third baseman Anthony Rendon has not played 60 games in a season since 2019.
Pitcher Tyler Anderson, awarded a $39-million contract after posting a 2.57 earned-run average for the Dodgers last season, has a 5.35 ERA this season and a 4.31 ERA for his career.
Catcher Max Stassi, a career .212 hitter, has missed this season because of family concerns. Closer Carlos Estévez put up a 1.80 ERA in the first half, followed by a 7.31 ERA in the second half. Infielder David Fletcher has been exiled to the minor leagues.
Infielder Brandon Drury is versatile on defense, better than league average on offense for three consecutive years. There’s one.
Among the starting pitchers under team control but not yet under contract, the ERA for Patrick Sandoval rose from 2.92 last season to 4.08 this season, for Reid Detmers from 3.77 to 5.03.
Aside from Ohtani and Estévez, Sandoval is the only Angel to pitch 50 innings this season, at better than league average.
When the Angels played a doubleheader Wednesday, their cleanup batters: a rookie catcher with five career home runs in Game 1; an infielder with a .378 slugging percentage in Game 2.
In 1991, Jackie Autry was just starting to wean the Angels off the annual urgency to win, and of the free-agent frenzy that too often followed. It took the better part of a decade in which the Angels never won or lost more than 92 games and never made a postseason appearance, but Gene’s old buddy, Whitey Herzog, rode into town, pronounced the farm system fit, and advised the Autrys to let the kids play.
Bill Bavasi, the minor league director, and Bob Fontaine Jr., the scouting director, stocked the farm with the likes of Garret Anderson and Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds and Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus and Troy Percival, John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez, Gary DiSarcina and Damion Easley, Jarrod Washburn and Scott Schoeneweis, Bengie Molina and Ramon Ortiz.
In charge of polishing all those prospects: a coach by the name of Joe Maddon.
In Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, the Angels drafted five players in their starting lineup, plus the starting pitcher and the closer.
In Game 1 of Wednesday’s doubleheader, the Angels drafted one player in their starting lineup: outfielder Randal Grichuk, drafted in 2009, traded away in 2013, brought back last month for the playoff push.
The Angels’ farm system is not in good shape. MLB Pipeline last week ranked the Angels’ system 28th among the 30 teams —up from dead last this time last year.
In part, that is because the Angels have promoted their top prospects to the major leagues in a hurry, most prominently shortstop Zach Neto, catcher Logan O’Hoppe, and first baseman Nolan Schanuel. They could form the core of the Angels’ next contender, or not. They deserve a fair chance.
Bavasi and Fontaine got a fair chance too. The Angels got a new manager for the 2019 season, a new manager for the 2020 season, a new general manager for the 2021 season, and a new manager two months into the 2022 season. Phil Nevin’s contract as manager expires this fall; Perry Minasian’s contract as general manager expires next year.
Is Moreno, 77, who takes pride in presenting a competitive team to fans every year, willing to let his team take a couple steps back and retool? The Angels are on pace to finish at least 10 games out of first place for the eighth consecutive season.
His strategy, while well-intended, has not worked. Trout and Ohtani have given the Angels the best years of their careers. It was a year ago Wednesday when Moreno hired an investment broker to solicit bids for a potential sale of the team.
He ultimately decided not to sell. On Wednesday, even before the Angels announced Ohtani’s injury, a fan rushed in front of a stadium camera and held up a sign that was shown on the video board: “Arte sell the team.”
The camera operator cut away. The game went on, because the schedule required it. In a year in which the Angels had pushed all their chips toward October, they will not even play a meaningful game in September.