Halos head into uncertain winter full of questions

Drury wraps strong 2023 with sixth career multi-HR game

October 1st, 2023

ANAHEIM -- In a year that saw many things go wrong en route to an 89-loss season, infielder was a bright spot for the Angels, and ended his season with a big day at the plate against the A’s on Sunday.

Drury went 3-for-4 with two homers, a double and three RBIs to lift the Angels to a 7-3 win in the season finale at Angel Stadium. It was his sixth career multi-homer game and his fourth this season -- two of those coming against Oakland at the Big A. But the Angels (73-89) ended the year with the exact same record as 2022, setting a franchise record with their eighth consecutive losing season.

“It was just a punctuation on what he did this year,” manager Phil Nevin said of Drury's strong finale. “He missed seven or eight weeks and he scuffled in April. But he was able to put up that kind of year. He posted every day he was out there.”

Drury joined the Angels on a two-year deal worth $17 million in the offseason after a breakout season with the Reds and Padres that saw him hit 28 homers and post an .812 OPS in 138 games. The 31-year-old had a nearly identical campaign this year, batting .262/.306/.497 (.803 OPS) with 26 homers, 30 doubles and 83 RBIs in 125 games. Drury, though, did miss 27 games with a left shoulder contusion sustained in late June.

Barring an unexpected rebuild, Drury figures to be a key piece for the Angels again next season, and is expected to see most of his action at second base, while also being able to back up Nolan Schanuel at first base.

“He's a grinder, he's tough, and he’s gonna be back next year,” Nevin said. “He’s a big part of this group.”

Drury was brought in as part of the club’s strategy to improve its depth heading into this season, as the Angels also acquired veterans such as infielder Gio Urshela, outfielder Hunter Renfroe, left-hander Tyler Anderson and relievers Carlos Estévez and Matt Moore.

But it ultimately wasn’t enough. Among other issues, the Angels dealt with countless injuries (Mike Trout only appeared in 82 games due to injury), the rotation regressed, Urshela fractured his pelvis in June, Renfroe had one of the worst years of his career and was sent out on a waiver claim, Anderson was inconsistent and Estévez scuffled in the second half. Drury, Anderson and Estévez all signed multi-year deals, and are expected back next season.

The Angels also decided to address their depth again by being buyers at the Trade Deadline in an attempt to make the postseason for the first time since 2014. But after acquiring veterans Randal Grichuk, C.J. Cron, Eduardo Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López and Dominic Leone, the Angels quickly fell out of contention. And they eventually placed and lost Giolito, López, Renfroe, Leone and Moore to waivers on Aug. 31 in an effort to clear salary and get under the luxury tax.

The Angels now have plenty of question marks, including whether general manager Perry Minasian and Nevin will return next year. Minasian is headed into the last season of his four-year contract, while Nevin’s one-year deal expired at the end of the season.

And, of course, two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani is also headed for free agency. Ohtani, who underwent surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on Sept. 19, was at Angel Stadium and in the dugout on Saturday and Sunday, but didn’t address the media. Ohtani, though, spoke with Nevin and spent time with his teammates over the weekend, including as they cleaned out their lockers after Sunday’s game.

“He was happy to be around his teammates,” Nevin said. “It was good to see him. He missed being around the guys.”

Nevin has publicly stated he wants to return in 2024, but said on Sunday he still hasn’t heard whether he’ll be retained. It’s clear the players like playing for Nevin, but it might not be enough, as the Angels have gone 119-149 with him since he took over as manager last season when Joe Maddon was dismissed in June.

“I go in and assess everything I do,” Nevin said. “And same thing I told the group, you’re always trying to get better. And I think there's a lot of young kids in here who got better over the course of the year. I know it didn't go the way we wanted, but I'm proud of the way that room held together. But it wasn’t fun. It’s not fun ending the way we did, but there’s a lot of good things on the horizon.”