The Angels didn’t make any earth-shattering moves this offseason but have nonetheless been busy adding complementary pieces to their squad. They’ve signed utility player Brandon Drury, left-hander Tyler Anderson, righty Carlos Estévez and outfielder Brett Phillips, in addition to trading for infielder Gio Urshela and outfielder Hunter Renfroe. With just over a week until Spring Training, it seems they are still not done, with Jon Heyman of The New York Post reporting they’ve been in touch on Elvis Andrus, Michael Wacha, Gary Sánchez, Andrew Chafin and Zack Britton.
The interest in Britton was reported last week but those four other names show that the club is casting a wide net in its continued search for upgrades to the roster. The interest in Chafin makes plenty of sense since he and Britton are both left-handed relievers. They are in very different positions as free agents, however, with Britton coming off a couple of injury-plagued seasons that followed a lengthy run as one of the best relievers in the league.
Chafin, on the other hand, has been fairly consistent for a few years and has been even better recently. Even though he had a rough showing in the shortened 2020 campaign, he’s still posted a 3.05 ERA over the past six seasons. Isolating that to just 2021 and 2022, his ERA was 2.29 with a 25.7% strikeout rate, 7.5% walk rate and 47.9% ground ball rate. Either of those two, or any of the other southpaw relievers still available, would be a logical addition for an Angels club that currently has 35-year-old Aaron Loup as its best option in that department. Loup posted a ridiculous 0.95 ERA with the Mets in 2021 but saw that number jump to 3.84 last year. The interest in those pitchers seems to be wide, however, with at least 10 teams seemingly in the running.
Andrus, 34, is a veteran shortstop who has appeared in each of the past 14 seasons. Generally considered to be a strong defender and baserunner, his bat has been inconsistent, though he’s coming off a strong platform in that regard. From 2018 to 2021, he hit just .255/.302/.360 for a wRC+ of 74, but he launched 17 home runs last year and slashed .249/.303/.404 for a wRC+ of 105. When combined with his glovework and 18 steals, he was worth 3.5 wins above replacement on the season. His market has been fairly quiet so far, with the Red Sox the only other club connected to him this offseason.
The Angels don’t really have a clear shortstop at the moment, with David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo and Urshela potential options there. All three of them have spent more time at other positions so far in their careers. Fletcher would be the strongest defensive option of that bunch, having received strong grades from advanced metrics. However, he’s generally fared poorly at the plate, outside of the shortened 2020 season. His career batting line is currently .278/.324/.360, wRC+ of 87. Rengifo and Urshela were both above average at the plate last year but got poor marks for their work at short. If Andrus were brought in, he could firm up the position and bump those guys into spending more time at second or the corners. Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh should take third and first base, respectively, but both are question marks after injury-marred seasons. Having Urshela, Fletcher, Rengifo and Drury on the roster for one second base job and bench roles would be crowded, but any one player going to the IL would quickly free up some opportunities, and some of them are capable of playing the outfield as well.
Wacha, 31, is considered by many to be the top starting pitcher still unsigned based on his strong 2022 season, but his work prior to that season is mixed. With the Red Sox last year, he posted a 3.32 ERA over 127 1/3 innings, striking out just 20.2% of opponents but keeping his walks down to a 6% rate. He made multiple trips to the injured list on the year, however, which is likely a concern for interested clubs. He hasn’t hit the 130-inning mark since 2017 and has seen his results oscillate wildly since then. He had a 3.20 ERA in 2018 but made only 15 starts that year. That was followed by ERAs of 4.76, 6.62 and 5.05 over the next three years before the solid 2022 campaign.
That shakiness aside, there is a fit with the Halos. The club currently has five solid rotations options in Shohei Ohtani, Anderson, Reid Detmers, José Suarez and Patrick Sandoval. However, they have generally used a six-man rotation with Ohtani around, in order to limit his overall workload with him also playing in the lineup almost every day. That arrangement could suit Wacha well, since he hasn’t been able to stay healthy over a full season in recent years. He’s reportedly looking for a two-year deal and has also been connected to the Orioles and Twins, though that was before those clubs acquired Cole Irvin and Pablo López, respectively.
Sánchez, 30, had an extreme profile early on his career, tearing the cover off the ball but not getting great reviews for his glovework. Those extremes have been sanded down in recent years, as his work at the plate has cooled but his defense has seemingly been less concerning of late. With the Twins last year, he hit .205/.282/.377 for a wRC+ of 89, was considered above average by Defensive Runs Saved and got positive marks for his framing from both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus. He was connected to the Giants at one point this offseason but that was before they agreed to terms with Roberto Pérez.
The club has a couple of catching options in Max Stassi and Logan O’Hoppe. However, they were connected to Willson Contreras earlier this winter and seem open to bolstering that area of the roster. Stassi was great in 2020 and 2021 but is coming off a down season at the plate where he hit just .180/.267/.303. O’Hoppe is a highly-touted prospect that came over to the club in the Brandon Marsh trade. He had an excellent year but has played just five major league games and none in Triple-A yet. It’s possible he just hits the ground running this year but it wouldn’t hurt to have another option since not all prospects immediately click at the big league level.
Financially, the club is in record territory but it doesn’t seem as though they’re maxed out. Their previous high for an Opening Day payroll was last year’s $189MM figure, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. They’re currently around $206MM for the upcoming campaign, per Roster Resource, with a competitive balance tax figure of $220MM. That latter number is somewhat close to the lowest tax threshold of $233MM, though general manager Perry Minasian has said there’s no mandate from ownership to stay under that line.
It’s unlikely that the Angels will ultimately land all or even multiple members of this group, but there’s logic to the varied approach. The club already has star players in Mike Trout, Ohtani and, if healthy, Rendon. What they have lacked in recent years is strong depth to cover for injuries or underperformance elsewhere on the roster. It seems the club has some awareness of that fact and is setting its sights on packing the roster with various quality players so that cavities don’t develop throughout the year. Speaking of Rendon, Heyman reports that he’s feeling fantastic. He was excellent for the Angels in 2020, the first year of his deal with the club. He hit .286/.418/.497 for a wRC+ of 152. However, injuries have limited him to just 102 games combined over the past couple of seasons, with diminished production when on the field. If his health cooperates, he could be a difference maker for the club this year, but it also seems like they’re planning to have plenty of fallback options around the roster. It will be an interesting season for the Angels since it’s the last year before Ohtani is slated to reach free agency, with fans of many rival clubs hoping that he’s available at the trade deadline. For now though, it seems like the club is still committed to putting together a strong team and avoiding that path.