Here's a to-do list for Angels' new GM

Minasian will try to build Halos' 1st playoff team since '14

November 14th, 2020

Perry Minasian beat out a sizable field of candidates to land the Angels’ general manager job on Thursday. Now, he really has his work cut out for him.

The 40-year-old baseball lifer, who most recently served as an assistant GM with the Braves, takes over a team with significant talent -- and a frustrating recent history of missed opportunities.

You know the basics by now. The Angels have a generational player in , who just finished in the top five in American League MVP voting for the ninth time in as many seasons. Yet the club has played exactly three playoff games in that time, getting swept in the 2014 AL Division Series. The Halos have finished under .500 for five straight years, going 26-34 in 2020 to miss out on an expanded, 16-team playoff field despite terrific performances from offseason acquisitions and in support of Trout.

There has been bad luck in recent years. There has been tragedy. But most of all, the Angels have failed to put together a good enough, deep enough roster to ride Trout to October. That is now Minasian’s task. Trout and Rendon make for as good a starting point as any, but the pressure will be on the new man in charge to build a winner around them.

A big part of Minasian’s job will take place behind the scenes as the Angels attempt to set up a long-term player development machine to rival the one up the road at Dodger Stadium. For now, though, here are five issues for Minasian to tackle right away, with an eye on 2021.

1) Finally fix that rotation
The Angels ranked 29th in MLB in starters’ ERA in 2019 and ‘20, and over the past six, playoff-free seasons combined, they sit 29th in innings, 22nd in ERA, 27th in FIP, 20th in strikeout-to-walk ratio and dead last in FanGraphs’ WAR. As Minasian said in his first interview after taking the job: “Pitching is going to be a major priority.”

So how do the Halos supplement Bundy, , , and hopefully, ? Three options already are off the board, with Robbie Ray re-signing in Toronto, and Marcus Stroman (an obvious would-be target) and Kevin Gausman accepting qualifying offers from the Mets and Giants, respectively. But Minasian still will have plenty from which to choose.

Solution: Two premium targets stand out here: and . The 29-year-old Bauer just won the National League Cy Young Award and is clearly the best pitcher on the market, one who could be amenable to a short- or long-term deal. The 33-year-old Lynn is coming off two stellar seasons as a top-of-the-rotation workhorse in Texas, with one affordable season ($9.33 million) left on his contract. But acquiring either would be a stretch, with Bauer set up to command a substantial commitment from a crowd of suitors and the Rangers perhaps reluctant to send their ace to a division foe.

If Minasian can’t reel in either, he will still need to acquire multiple starters. One strong fit would be , who averaged 165 innings and a 106 ERA+ from 2014-19 before missing most of ‘20 due to the shortened season and non-arm-related injuries. A veteran lefty such as , or also could provide steady innings at the back of the rotation. Yet it may be worth trying to replicate the successful Bundy trade by targeting a younger, higher-upside arm such as Colorado’s Jon Gray, who would seem to be a prime candidate for a change of scenery and has two remaining years of club control.

2) Bolster the bullpen
Aside from the emergence of , 2020 did not offer a ton of encouraging signs for this group. Of the 13 pitchers who made at least five relief appearances for the Angels last season, only four produced a sub-4.00 ERA. As a whole, Halos relievers tied the Phillies for the MLB lead in blown saves (14) and had the sixth-highest rate of allowing inherited runners to score (37%). In other words, expect to see quite a bit of bullpen turnover, with the situation offering Minasian his greatest opportunity to demonstrate a penchant for uncovering gems.

Solution: Quality relievers come from everywhere, in moves that often are overlooked at the time -- see the acquisition of Mayers off waivers from the Cardinals last November. So Minasian surely will cast a wide net. Still, a higher-profile addition or two would help. While All-Star closers and are the most obvious free-agent candidates, how about righty Trevor May and lefty ? Both had top-10 strikeout rates among MLB relievers in 2020 (minimum 20 innings), with May carrying shutdown-closer upside and the 34-year-old McGee having played for Angels manager Joe Maddon for five seasons in Tampa Bay.

3) Fill out the lineup
The Angels are top heavy, and Minasian could stand to build up the depth. A middle infielder is one clear need, with incumbent able to play either second base or shortstop. The Angels also may need a catcher and corner outfielder, depending on 's recovery from hip surgery and top prospect 's readiness after he posted a .478 OPS in his 38-game debut in 2020. A left-handed bat or two to complement Trout, Rendon, Fletcher and would make a lot of sense.

Solution: Second baseman is available after the Cardinals declined his option. He has a .356 OBP since 2017, and his back-to-back Gold Glove Award-winning defense would help out the Halos’ pitching. As for the outfield, free agent has quietly been a solid performer over the past five seasons (106 OPS+), including the past two for Oakland, and would fit nicely as a part-timer who could keep Adell’s seat warm while spelling Upton and others. would be a splashy catching addition, but it seems more likely that the Angels will focus their efforts elsewhere and simply look for some veteran depth to hold Stassi’s place.

4) Figure out the Ohtani situation
When 2020 began, there was real hope that Ohtani would regain his place as a legitimate two-way star. Instead, he made only two disastrous starts on the mound before sustaining a forearm strain and never got things going at the plate, either (.190/.291/.366). The Angels may now be nearing a tipping point. Ohtani is expected to be ready to pitch again this spring, but another injury could force him into a role as a full-time position player.

Solution: Minasian supports the continuation of the two-way plan, but he is going to have to be ready to make a tough choice if the time comes. As much as the Angels could use Ohtani’s electric pitching arm -- and as fun as the two-way dynamic is -- the club simply must get production from him on at least one side of the ball.

5) Begin the transition to a post-Pujols era
A year from now, the 10-year, $240 million contract that signed with the Angels before the 2012 season will have mercifully expired. (Though a 10-year, $10 million personal-services contract will begin). Pujols is a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer and an all-time great. But unfortunately for the Angels, while he has climbed to the upper reaches of many significant career leaderboards in Anaheim, he has been a significantly below-average hitter (87 OPS+) and a below-replacement-level player overall (-2.7 Fangraphs WAR) since 2017.

Solution: Pujols presumably will remain on the roster. But that doesn’t mean he needs to have a regular role. , who crushed the ball down the stretch as a rookie, deserves a shot as the everyday first baseman. Ohtani figures to see a significant amount of time at DH when he’s healthy and not pitching, and the Angels could use Upton there, too, in order to rest him and upgrade defensively. Making Pujols a bench player could be uncomfortable for Minasian and Maddon, but it’s a necessary step for a team dedicated to winning.