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OC Register: Angels hope to overcome loss of Shohei Ohtani with internal improvements

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TEMPE, Ariz. — After years of disappointment with the failure to meet high expectations that came from having two generational players on their roster, the Angels no longer have that “burden.”

Two-way megastar Shohei Ohtani is gone, having left for the Dodgers, and the Angels did nothing to replace him, either in the starting rotation or in the lineup. Center fielder Mike Trout is coming off his third straight injury-interrupted season.

It’s safe to say that no one who doesn’t draw a salary from the Angels has any high expectations for this team heading into Wednesday’s first workout of spring training.

Baseball Prospectus projects the Angels for 74 victories, with a 2.6% chance to make the playoffs. The major Las Vegas sports books set their over-under at 71.5. The fewest games they’ve won in any full season this century is 72, in 2019.

The Angels are a comfortable pick for fourth place in the American League West, well behind the defending world champion Texas Rangers, the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners, and ahead of the rebuilding Oakland A’s.

The Angels haven’t had a winning season since 2015, and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2014. The latter is tied with the Detroit Tigers for the longest active drought in the majors.

Cynical fans would say the Angels willingly put themselves into this position by doing little this winter besides retooling the bullpen.

General Manager Perry Minasian, who is in the final year of his four-year contract, made only one noteworthy trade, and it was a financial transaction. They unloaded $14 million worth of unnecessary 2024 salary – to infielder David Fletcher and catcher Max Stassi – for $7 million to first baseman Evan White, who was removed from the 40-man roster.

Minasian signed major league free agents to deals totaling $52.3 million, including just $30.3 million worth of 2024 obligations.

According to FanGraphs, the Angels are opening the season with a payroll, for purposes of the luxury tax, at around $188 million, which is down from the $233 million they spent in 2023.

The lack of significant additions following the loss of Ohtani from a team that was 73-89 last season adds up to low expectations.

Minasian, however, seems to be banking on the idea that the Angels can move forward by virtue of the players they already had being better. They’ll be working under the leadership of new manager Ron Washington, who is known for his ability to teach and instill optimism.

“I think there’s some excitement, internally, when you talk to the players,” Minasian said in December. “They know that we’re talented. I know we won 73 games. I get it. You look at the record books, it’s going to say 73. It’s not going to change. I don’t believe this is a 73-win team from a talent standpoint. I think there’s more talent.”

The idea isn’t merely blind faith.

The Angels’ pitching staff is filled with players who were better, in some cases significantly better, as recently as 2022.

As they came to camp last year, starting pitchers Patrick Sandoval (2.91 ERA in 2022), Reid Detmers (3.77) and Tyler Anderson (2.57) were all coming off above-average seasons. All three declined in 2023.

Among the newcomers to the bullpen, Luis Garcia (3.39 in 2022), Adam Cimber (2.80) and José Cisnero (1.08) all had consecutive productive seasons before slipping last year.

The biggest bullpen addition was right-hander Robert Stephenson, who signed a three-year, $33 million deal. He was one of baseball’s best relievers in 2023 after he altered his repertoire following a June trade to the Tampa Bay Rays.

What the Rays did with Stephenson is a blueprint for the Angels, who hope that the right guidance can help the pitchers get more out of their talent than they did in 2023. That’s why the Angels revamped their pitching support system over the winter.

“When you end the season, you go through a full review and reflect and you look at things you see where you are in different areas and our pitching program was something we wanted to change,” Minasian said early in the winter.

At that point he was speaking about the minor league pitching changes, but the staffing since then demonstrated that the remake includes the majors.

They hired a new pitching coach (Barry Enright) and a new bullpen coach (Steve Karsay).

“They believe in the little things so they’re going to help our young pitching staff with the little things that they have to bring to the ballpark every single day,” Washington said of Enright and Karsay. “And it’ll lead to the big things. That’s the thing that interests me the most about them, their energy and their wisdom and their attention to taking care of detail. You have to take care of detail in the game of baseball.”

The Angels brought back well-regarded former bullpen coach Dom Chiti to work in the minor leagues. They will also have several newcomers working on the analytical side, helping the pitchers with game-planning.

Offensively, the Angels have essentially the same roster as last year, minus Ohtani. Perhaps having the DH spot open to be shared by multiple players will allow more rest opportunities to keep their best hitters in the lineup more often.

Obviously, Trout and third baseman Anthony Rendon are the focal points. Each missed at least half of the season last year. If they don’t play more this year, the Angels will have little hope of surprising the experts by contending.

Even beyond those two, though, the Angels were ravaged by injuries throughout the lineup. They played significant stretches without outfielder Taylor Ward, catcher Logan O’Hoppe, shortstop Zach Neto and second baseman Brandon Drury.

The Angels are not only banking on those players being on the field more, but they would also like to see young players like outfielders Mickey Moniak and Jo Adell, first baseman Nolan Schanuel, O’Hoppe and Neto take steps forward in their performance.

To that end, Washington might prove to be the most significant addition of the winter.

Washington is revered throughout baseball for the way he works with players, young and old, teaching them and holding them accountable. Former Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels recalled earlier this winter that he hired Washington to lead a team that “wasn’t very good” in 2006. But Washington “passed on the belief to the players that we can compete with anybody.”

Washington helped turn the Rangers from an AL West doormat into a two-time pennant winner, in the process knocking the Angels from their perch atop the division.

Now, he’s set his sights on reversing that.

“Let’s not talk about the last five or six years when the Los Angeles Angels were struggling,” Washington said. “Let’s talk past that, when they were the team that everybody was trying to run down. That’s what I want to think about. Because we do have the personnel to go out and compete every night. We just have to learn how to sustain. We just have to learn how to be consistent, which is the game of baseball. And when we learn how to be consistent and we start sustaining, we will be past those years when they weren’t doing well.”

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Angels hope to overcome loss of Shohei Ohtani with internal improvements

…When pressed on what “internal improvements” have been made since the departure of the team’s two way star, Los Angeles Angels Owner “Arte Moreno” responded with, “I’ve been working out more. I’ve lost about 20 lbs but… but have increased my muscle mass by creating ketosis through diet and exercise…mostly Pilates and avoiding carbs and sugars. Oh…wait…you’re talking about the team construction…when does the season start???” Mr. Moreno then looked around tersely and shouted something in Spanish to an assistant mentioning Perry Minasian, ‘agentes libre de beisbol’ and some instructions on shift scheduling at the Del Taco on Katella…

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