The Angels could use a bit of swagger. They could use an October too.
Yes or no, Perry Minasian: Is this a playoff team?
“We’ll find out,” Minasian said.
Minasian, the Angels’ general manager, earned respect throughout the sport for a second consecutive winter of guiding owner Arte Moreno away from the brightest stars in the free-agent constellation and focusing instead on desperately needed depth.
No team in the major leagues has a longer playoff drought. This is the time to guarantee October.
Dave Roberts, the Dodgers’ manager, guaranteed a World Series last spring. The guarantee was not unfounded. It stirred interest, even if the Dodgers did not make it to the World Series. No harm done.
Come on, Perry Minasian, guarantee your long-suffering fans a postseason spot. The Angels’ attendance last season was their worst in 20 years.
“I’ve been around too long in this game,” he said. “You never know. I’m just not a guarantee person.”
I am not asking you to tempt the baseball gods, or to guarantee the Angels win the World Series, or even win the American League West. I am just asking you to guarantee the Angels win one of the 12 postseason spots available to the 30 major league teams.
So, one last time: Is this a playoff team?
“You’ve seen playoff teams,” he said. “You tell me. You can say we’re short. You’re not going to hurt my feelings.
“It seems like a lot of people are picking us third, fourth, whatever.”
Your team finished third last season. Your team is better, right?
“So is everybody else,” Minasian said.
Of the 15 American League teams, Fangraphs projects the top 10 — the Angels included — to win from 80 and 90 games.
“There’s not that many rebuilding teams per se, so there is a lot of parity,” Minasian said. “Our division is really difficult. Houston is the class of the division. Seattle made the playoffs last year. They’re not going anywhere. Texas had a huge offseason, two in a row.”
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And your Angels?
“We like what we’ve done,” he said. “It’s always fun to make the big splash. As a sports fan myself, when my basketball team or my football team goes out there and gets the best player, you get excited.
“For us, we already have some high-end talent. We really wanted to focus on improving the middle of the roster. Instead of going and pushing the chips in on one player, we wanted to spread it out and try to fill as many holes as we could.”
One winter ago, the Angels spent $120 million on starting pitchers Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen, closer Raisel Iglesias, and relievers Archie Bradley, Aaron Loup and Ryan Tepera.
“We need to keep our high-end talent on the field. But we cannot have one injury and have the season be over. It can’t happen. That’s on me.”
— Perry Minasian, Angels general manager
Baseball Prospectus projected the Angels to win 88 games last season, with a 68% chance of making the playoffs. Fangraphs projected the Angels to win 82 games, with a 39% chance of making the playoffs.
The Angels won 73 games. They failed to post a winning record for the seventh consecutive season, failed to make the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season, failed to win a postseason game for the 13th consecutive season. Syndergaard and Iglesias were traded during the season, with the Angels saving about $58 million.
“We need to keep our high-end talent on the field,” Minasian said. “But we cannot have one injury and have the season be over. It can’t happen. That’s on me. I needed to do a better job of filling this roster to where we can withstand certain situations that happened over the course of the year.”
Over the last winter, the Angels spent $97 million on starting pitcher Tyler Anderson, closer candidate Carlos Estévez, reliever Matt Moore, and infielders Brandon Drury and Gio Urshela, and outfielder Hunter Renfroe.
The projections are similar: Baseball Prospectus: 86 wins, and a 53% chance of playing in October; Fangraphs: 83 wins, and a 41% chance of playing in October.
The depth additions this year and last, while certainly prudent, cannot solve for the two greatest hurdles standing between the Angels and October.
The Angels were 27-19 when Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon played regularly together for most of the first two months last season, and 46-70 thereafter. That’s almost .600 ball with both stars healthy, not even .400 ball beyond then.
It is better to have Drury and Urshela than, say, Phil Gosselin and Jack Mayfield. It is nonetheless too much to ask even Drury and Urshela to make up for any extended absences of Trout and Rendon, neither of whom has played even 120 games in a season since 2019.
The Angels also are dependent on the uncertain progress of every starting pitcher not named Shohei Ohtani.
All of the Angels’ top five starters posted an earned-run average under 4.00 last season. An encore, like a playoff berth, is not guaranteed.
Did Anderson truly reinvent his career with the Dodgers last summer, at 32, or did he simply enjoy a career year? Can Reid Detmers, Patrick Sandoval and José Suarez maintain effectiveness while increasing their workload? None of those three pitchers have thrown 150 innings in a major league season; Suarez has not thrown even 110.
The Dodgers signed Anderson for depth last season, then helped him develop into an All-Star. For all the attention the Angels paid to depth for this season, they did not sign a proven major league starter for the back end of the rotation, or for insurance against the inevitable turns of ineffectiveness and injury among the top five.
Neither did the Dodgers, but their depth starters this season rank among baseball’s top 100 prospects, so the Dodgers could promote them, or trade them for a front-line starter, or some combination of both. The Angels have no pitchers among baseball’s top 100 prospects.
“Starters are expensive,” Minasian said. “You sign another starter, and it takes away from some of the other things.”
Shortstops are expensive too. The Angels did not sign one, despite a market offering four outstanding but expensive options. They will start the season, at least, with shortstop by committee. They also will start with a bullpen projected by Fangraphs as the weakest in baseball.
You can see why Minasian is cautious. The Angels are in the exact same position they were this time last year: If things go right, you could see October from here.
That’s not a guarantee. For a team that last appeared in the playoffs during the Obama administration, it is what it is: fingers crossed, and play ball.