By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
With the upcoming Winter Meetings, there's lots of speculation as to what Minasian and the Angels might do, and with it a great deal of uncertainty. For one, Minasian has already plugged significant roster performance leakage with the acquisitions of Tyler Anderson (starting depth), Gio Urshela (bench depth), and Hunter Renfroe (starting outfielder). But holes remain, or at least questions: the bullpen lacks firepower, the starting middle infielders, and the sixth starter.
Those questions have in-house answers: The Angels have David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo, both of whom have strengths and weaknesses. Fletcher is a Gold Glove caliber second baseman and a plus shortstop, but with a weak bat. Rengifo seemed to have a legit breakthrough with the bat last year, but is probably average plus at second base and average minus at shortstop, so doubles with Fletcher as a guy who is best utilized at second base. Gio Urshela is stretched at either position, but could fill in in a pinch, and is more likely to rotate as a super utility player who provides insurance for Rendon and Walsh, and ends up accruing regular playing time at multiple positions (or so Minasian says). Livan Soto and Andrew Velazquez will duke it out for the final bench spot, though one or both will likely end up in AAA to start the season. But the point being, the Angels have adequate coverage of the middle infield, but have room for improvement - especially with a starting shortstop, which would move Rengifo and Fletcher into a 2B/UT platoon.
The Angels have a ton of starting pitchers in the high minors who should become major leaguers of some kind: Chase Silseth, Ky Bush, Davis Daniel, Coleman Crow, Mason Erla, eventually Sam Bachman, etc. Plus they have Griffin Canning and Chris Rodriguez set to return. They also have some relief pitchers in Ben Joyce, Eric Torres, and Luke Murphy who--along with some of the starters--could bolster the bullpen at some point. Meaning, as with the middle infield, they should have adequate coverage of the back-end of the rotation and bullpen, but could still improve - especially the bullpen.
Two other minor questions exist: Who will back-up or platoon with Max Stassi, and who will be the fourth outfielder? Right now the answer to the former is probably Matt Thaiss, but Logan O'Hoppe could also sneak into a platoon role with a strong spring, though the Angels might want to give him regular playing time in Salt Lake until either Stassi flops or gets hurt. As for the latter, right now Mickey Moniak seems the likely option, though the Angels might want to send him to AAA with Jo Adell and sign a veteran outfielder. At the least, we're likely to see some kind of minor league veteran signed as insurance, in case Moniak can't hit and Adell continues to struggle with his various issues.
All that said, what are the possible paths forward? No one seems to have a good handle on whether--or to what degree--the impending sale influences Minasian's offseason plans. He says it doesn't, but...how can that be the case? Presumably he's mostly correct: the Angels have already built up their 2023 payroll to close to 2022's levels. But what is unclear is whether they think improving the teams odds of competing in 2023 by, say, signing one of the big shortstop free agents will hurt or help the Angels organization's sale appeal. Would a new owner rather have a better team that has a payroll above the luxury tax, or a worse team that has a lower payroll? And would such a signing impact their ability to offer Shohei Ohtani a competitive contract?
Anyhow, I see three basic paths forward for the remainder of the offseason, all with two factors in mind: The impending sale (which, again, we don't know how it impacts the offseason except to say, "probably to some degree, but not hugely so") and Minasian's rebuilding of the farm, which implies that he won't empty it out in trades.
- Bolster the roster, but don't break the bank (or trade away the farm). This is pretty much what we've seen so far this offseason. It would mean that there will be no further major moves beyond possible trades, but likely no huge trades due to prospect cost. The modus operandi--as illustrated by his three acquisitions--is: raise the floor of the major league team's performance without either spending a mint or trading away top prospects. Plug the wholes, and trust the talent on the team to be competitive in 2023.
- Go all in on the Ohtani-Rendon-Trout Window. Rendon is signed for four more years, Trout isn't getting younger and hasn't played in 150 games since Trump's first year in office, and Ohtani may be gone after this year. This could mean going after one of the big shortstops or possibly more significant trades (and thus prospect cost), and trying to win in 2023.
- Thread the needle. This is a hybrid of the above two: Don't break the bank or trade top prospects, but bolster with a few more minor to moderate signings and be aggressive on the trade market, with a willingness to spend some prospect value. This may end up looking like #1 above if Perry can't pull off any trades, but with at least the attempt to make something happen. This also might see him try to package one of, say, Rengifo or Jose Suarez with prospects to upgrade the rotation, bullpen, or middle infield.
Which path will Perry take? Well again, signs point towards the first or possibly third - but the Winter Meetings haven't happened yet, so we don't know if Perry won't get "big splashy" (2) or try to be ultra-savvy (3). My guess is that his intention is #3, but wouldn't be totally surprised to see #2, with #1 as the default in case #3 doesn't work out or he doesn't want to (or can't) spend on a big free agent.