After a consistent run of success that began with their World Series victory in 2002, the Los Angeles Angels had their worst season in a long time in 2016. They finished 74-88, the worst record of Mike Scioscia‘s tenure, and finished fourth in the American League West. The team dealt with a number of injuries that decimated their rotation: C.J. Wilson didn’t throw a single pitch in 2016, ace Garrett Richards and number-two Andrew Heaney missed the vast majority of the season with elbow injuries, and Nick Tropeano underwent Tommy John surgery as well. The team was forced to sign below-replacement-level stopgaps like Tim Lincecum and Jhoulys Chacin and ultimately finished 13th in the AL in ERA+, ahead of only the Minnesota Twins and Oakland A’s.
Offensively, the team was above average but received negligible contributions from its rotating cast of left fielders (.204/.271/.313), catchers (.230/.271/.377), and second basemen (.235/.275/.345). Defensively, they were also pretty good. Their +31 Defensive Runs Saved was fourth in the AL, with Andrelton Simmons responsible for more than half of those runs by himself (18).
It might surprise you to learn that the Angels weren’t as bad as they seemed: based on their Pythagorean winning percentage, they should have gone 80-82, a difference of six wins. With that slight optimism in mind, here are the three most important needs the Angels should have on their wish lists this offseason.
1. Second base
The Angels have had a rotating cast of characters at second base since they traded Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers before the 2015 season. Johnny Giavotella was never able to replicate his minor league batting success in the majors and was a sieve defensively, and Cliff Pennington and Gregorio Petit didn’t fare much better. The Angels addressed this need in December by sending two pitching prospects to the Washington Nationals for Danny Espinosa. Espinosa is not a big name and his slash line isn’t great, but he’ll provide some much-needed pop from both sides of the plate (career-high 24 home runs last season) and is a plus defender. He was worth 1.7 Wins Above Replacement last season, which isn’t a lot, but it’s an improvement over Giavotella (0.5) and Pennington (0.4). Sometimes replacing bad players with average ones is just as important as replacing average players with good ones, and the Angels didn’t send any important prospects back to Washington, so this is a smart pickup by general manager Billy Eppler.
2. Left field
Angels left fielders hit .204/.271/.313 in 2016 after hitting .216/.275/.317 the year before. The Angels addressed this need as well, trading for Cameron Maybin in November. Maybin played in 94 games for the Detroit Tigers last season, hitting .315/.383/.418 and stealing 15 bases. Defensive metrics weren’t kind to him in center field, but his numbers will improve with the move to left. Maybin is injury-prone, as he’s played more than 100 games in a season just three times in his 10-year career, and he has never been able to live up to the expectations placed on him when he was drafted 10th overall in 2005. He’s still better than the replacement-level players that have manned the position over the past two seasons, and if he stays healthy, he could be a real asset and could help form a dynamic and athletic outfield, along with Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun.
3. Starting pitching
Richards is slated to return this season after stem-cell therapy apparently worked in healing his elbow injury, but beyond that there are a ton of question marks. Wilson and Jered Weaver have departed, and Heaney and Tropeano will not pitch this season. Matt Shoemaker had a .671 OPS against and a 2.93 ERA from May through September, but was hit in the head by a line drive September 4 against the Seattle Mariners and missed the rest of the season. Ricky Nolasco pitched well after coming over from the Twins at last year’s trade deadline but hasn’t been particularly good since 2013. Tyler Skaggs is coming off of Tommy John surgery. Free agent signee Jesse Chavez is bad. As it stands, this rotation is thin. The Angels should be wishing for Richards and Skaggs to stay healthy, but adding depth by signing someone like Jason Hammel or Doug Fister seems critical with so many injury-prone pitchers.