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The Lineup: Offseason plans and 2023 Outlook


Chuck

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By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

2022: A Tale of Limp Bats

Strangely enough, the lineup ended up being the biggest problem area for the Angels this year, as they're currently 24th in the majors in wRC+ (91) and 25th in runs scored (493). Compare this to them being 12th in ERA (3.83) and 11th in pitcher WAR (13.2). It's a bit harder to quantify their defense, but they're 17th in Def Runs with -3.1, so basically close to average.

So Perry Minasian goes into the offseason realizing that while he probably needs to bolster the pitching staff with at least one bonafide starter, his main task will be getting the team to score more runs. 

The problem this year has been multi-faceted, and all mostly injury related. Losing Rendon was a huge blow and correlated with the beginning of their losing streak; Trout has been both streaky and missed a lot of time - assuming health from here on out, by season's end he'll have missed about 45 games. Former top prospects Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell have both continued to disappoint, and Marsh was shipped off to Philadelphia. After a torrid start and an injury, Taylor Ward has been terrible. Max Stassi and Jared Walsh both bottomed out, and David Fletcher continued last year's atrocious hitting and then missed a lot of time.

But a couple questions have seemingly been answered in the affirmative: David Fletcher is back, healthy, and hitting like 2018-19, meaning adequate enough to be a starting infielder and not a hole in the lineup, and an overall valuable player. Luis Rengifo has finally put it together; From June 18 on, he's hit .294/.316/.484 with a 125 wRC+ in 256 PA. Meaning, with Fletcher and Rengifo, they Angels have two major parts of their middle infield locked in for next year.

Perhaps the biggest question marks for next year, in terms of the success of the lineup, has to do with the health of two players, Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon. Trout's projected 115-120 games this year will be the most he's played since 2019, but is still about 70% of a full season. The Angels really need 130+ games from their aging superstar. Anthony Rendon has been even worse; over the last two seasons he's managed only 93 games, or about 29% of team games. One way or the other, the Angels really need at least about 250 games from these two players. 

The third member of the projected "Big Three," Shohei Ohtani, started slow but is hitting close to last year's level, his 144 wRC+ not far behind last year's 150. He's been extraordinarily healthy the last two seasons and there is no reason he shouldn't continue to be healthy, but it is easy to take him for granted; any Angels success next year is contingent on Ohtani not only staying healthy, but staying period. With an impending ownership change, we don't know the ultimate fate of Ohtani.

A secondary question relates to the trio of Ward, Walsh, and Stassi - the complementary offensive players, all guys capable of above average offensive performance. After coming back from injury on June 14, Ward has hit .218/.293/.333 with a 79 wRC+ in 279 PA. Stassi's wRC+ fell from 105 last year to 67 this year, and Walsh's fell from 126 to 78. So the question is: Who are the "real" Ward, Walsh and Stassi?

The Angels continue to have an Adell-sized hole in the outfield, which is made even larger by the terrible hitting of Ward. The outfield around Trout was supposed to be a strength, but has instead turned out to be a huge liability. Neither Adell nor Moniak look like surefire answers, and both could end up starting next year in AAA. Maybe one or both breakout, but neither can be counted on at this point.

As I see it, there are only a few questions that will be answered over the last 32 games:

  • Is Adell (or Moniak) ready to be a solid major league contributor? So far the answer is "no" and "maybe, but probably not." Adell shows flashes, but never with any consistency - and consistency is what its all about.
  • Are Fletcher and Rengifo for real? So far it seems "Yes." Fletcher is back to a level similar to 2018-19, which is about all we should have hoped for - and good enough to play a major role in 2023, whether as a regular player or a platoon or hybrid. Rengifo has been consistently good, with a 120ish wRC+, for about half a season's worth. He may not be a .290/.320/.480 hitter, but he certainly seems like a .270/.310/.450 hitter, which with average defense makes him a starter.
  • Are any of the AA/AAA pitchers close to ready? This doesn't relate to the thread topic, but thought I'd throw it out there.
  • Is Thaiss good enough defensively to catch 40-60 games next year? He's being auditioned for the back-up/platoon role, at least until O'Hoppe is ready. Which brings me to...
  • How close is Logan O'Hoppe? Hard to say. If the Angels call him up in a few weeks for a look, they might be considering him for a roster spot on Opening Day. More likely they'll put him in AAA and wait for an injury.

That's about it. I don't think any of those things really effect offseason moves, as far as the lineup goes. I mean, maybe Adell is Dave Winfield for the last few weeks and the Angels feel more confident in him, or maybe Moniak comes back and is good enough to give him a job. So that might impact offseason moves. And if the Angels want to start the year with five guys who can perform at a 2+ WAR level at 3B/SS/2B, they already have three of them (Rendon, Fletcher, Rengifo), so either way will need two legit middle infielders.

I don't see them doing much at catcher beyond maybe signing a minor league journeyman, or perhaps a very cheap back-up type if they don't like what they see from Thaiss.

Other questions won't be answered at all, until next year: Can Rendon and Trout stay healthy? Will Ward, Walsh, and Stassi bounce-back? Will any AA/AAA prospects breakout and enter consideration? Etc.

Meaning, I think we have about 95% of the info we need to speculate about what lineup moves need to be made.

The last area of concern is the bench. The reason the offense collapsed as badly as it did is that with injuries and declined performances from key players, they only had scrubs to fill in the gaps. The emergence of Rengifo and revival of Fletcher ameliorates this issue somewhat, but not enough to feel comfortable  - they need better bench players.

2023 Outlook and Offseason Plan

The problem going into the offseason is that the Angels have all the pieces of a good lineup - if all of the questions above can be answered affirmatively. But they can't count on that, so really need to bolster the lineup as much as possible.

Their biggest target this offseason might be the biggest bat they can afford, either one of the many top shortstops on the free agent market, or an outfielder, or possibly even a first baseman, though I suspect they'll give Walsh a shot to redeem himself, if only due to the fact that he's cheap. The top free agent hitters include Aaron Judge (OF), a quartet of elite shortstops in Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Dansby Swanson; Wilson Contreras (C); and a handful of second tier first basemen in Josh Bell, Anthony Rizzo, and the 36-year old Jose Abreu.

With Rengifo and Fletcher, they're not as desperate for a middle infield upgrade, but if they did go after one of the many top free agent shortstops, either one--or both--could be a starter/utility hybrid and fill in at 3B as necessary. Or they could go a budget route and focus on depth, signing a couple higher caliber platoon/bench middle infielders that can fill in as needed.

As far as the outfield is concerned, as of this writing, the Angels probably need to think in terms of signing an every day player who can hit. Maybe Ward bounces back to at least a 120 wRC+ level and/or one of Moniak or Adell takes a couple steps forward, but all of that is questionable; adding in the dubious health of Trout, and the Angels could use an outfielder who can hit. There's a big drop-off after Judge, but some decent options: Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Haniger, and Trey Mancini, who could double as an insurance policy for Walsh. They could also take a one-year flyer on Michael Conforto, who struggled in 2021 and missed all of 2022, and will be itching to prove himself.

The Angels are currently auditioning Matt Thaiss, presumably to platoon with Stassi until Logan O'Hoppe is ready, probably sometime in the first half of next year. So chances are catcher next year will be some combination Stassi, Thaiss, and O'Hoppe, and possibly some veteran back-up type. Meaning, don't expect any major changes (e.g. Wilson Contreras) from what they already have; O'Hoppe was the big catcher acquisition and will be in the mix shortly.

Conclusion

So in summary, I think Minasian's offseason lineup targets will be:

  • A quality bat or two - probably either OF, MI, or maybe 1B
  • A starting outfielder
  • Either a starting middle infielder or a quality platoon player
  • Bench depth

Again, with an impending ownership change, all of this comes with a big dose of uncertainty - that's just what makes sense given the roster. It could be that due to extended negotiations, Minasian's told not to spend any money, and the Angels go into 2023 with essentially the same roster they have right now, plus maybe a few spare parts. We have to be ready for that significant possibility. But Arte Moreno, not wanting to decrease the value of the team, might simply tell Perry to treat this offseason as business as usual, although even then he might be told not to sign any major free agents (e.g. Judge or one of the big shortstops).

Either way, it should be an interesting offseason, with a lot riding on it: the fate of Ohtani and the outlook of the Angels over the next few years, not to mention Minasian's legacy and a possible new manager.

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