With Arte Moreno out, Angels need to spend big in free agency

Arte Moreno is heading for the exit, the Angels owner plants a for-sale sign under the big A in August. Shohei Ohtani could follow Moreno out of town, the two-way phenom is poised to become a free agent after the 2023 season.

If there was ever a time for the Angels to act boldly and take a high-risk, potentially profitable swing in the market, it’s now. Your mantra as baseball’s winter meetings begin Sunday in San Diego should be this: Go big or go home.

What do they have to lose but another chance to send two of the greatest players in baseball history — 3x American League Most Valuable Player Mike Trout and Ohtani, the game’s main attraction — to the playoffs?

General manager Perry Minasian has been proactive this winter, making significant but incremental improvements to the roster with the signing of free-agent left-hander Tyler Anderson and trade acquisitions of right fielder Hunter Renfroe and utility infielder Gio Urshela.

But if the Angels want to overcome an eight-year playoff drought and compete with World Series champion Houston Astros, 90-win Seattle Mariners and improving Texas Rangers in the AL West, they need to add a starting shortstop and at least two reliable ones Helper for a bullpen that lacks a proven closer.

According to Fangraphs, the Angels have already increased their competitive tax balance sheet to about $206 million, leaving them $27 million short of the first luxury tax break of $233 million.

With Moreno selling the team, they should go all-in by chasing one of the top four free-agent shortstops — Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, Carlos Correa, or Xander Bogaerts — and let the new owner take care of the luxury tax bill.

That would allow the Angels to put easy-hitting shortstops David Fletcher and Andrew Velazquez in utility roles — where they belong — and Luis Rengifo, who had a breakout in 2022 with a .723 percentage on base plus slugging, 17 homers and 52 had RBIs to stay at second base, the position he feels most comfortable and effective in.

Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner throws his bat.

Free-agent shortstop Trea Turner could be a strong option for the Angels as they work to strengthen the lineup.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

It would also lengthen the heart of a lineup that will feature Trout, who hit 40 homers last season; Ohtani, AL MVP 2021 and runner-up 2022; Renfroe, one of seven players to hit 25 or more homers in the last five full seasons; and third baseman Anthony Rendon if he can stay healthy for more than half a season.

Neither Turner, Swanson, Correa nor Bogaerts will come cheap. They are expected to be on multi-year deals averaging $25 million to $32 million per year and would take the Angels above the CBT threshold for the first time since 2004.

The Angels have whistled badly on their big free-agent swings since 2012 and for the $240 million they spent on Albert Pujols, the $125 million they spent on Josh Hamilton, the $77 million they spent on CJ Wilson got little for the money and – so far – the $245 million they pledged to Rendon.

But the four free-agent shortstops are 30 or younger and in their prime and don’t face the risks associated with the heavy-legged Pujols, who were 32 when he signed with the Angels, and Hamilton, the one history full of substance. Abuse issues and quickly flared up in Anaheim.

And each of the four shortstops would add an impact racquet to a lineup that needs more punch to keep up in the rugged AL West.

The Angels, who haven’t had a winning record since 2015, finished 73-89 in 2022, finishing 33 games behind the Astros, who added hitting first baseman Jose Abreu to their championship-level offense.

The Mariners have one of baseball’s most aggressive GMs in Jerry Dipoto, who is already working to improve a playoff team led by 2022 AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodríguez. Rangers showed how serious they are about winning by signing ace Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $185 million deal on Friday night.

The rotation of the notoriously skinny Angels is actually looking solid as Anderson, who went 15-5 for the Dodgers last season with a 2.57 ERA, joined an Ohtani-led group denied with a 3.67 ERA sixth-ranked baseball player and has promising young lefties – dealers Patrick Sandoval, Reid Detmers and José Suárez.

Renfroe, who hit .255 last season with .807 OPS, 29 homers and 72 RBIs for the Milwaukee Brewers, will deliver pop from the right, pushing Taylor Ward to left from right field and Jo Adell, the highly acclaimed prospect who has struggled offensively and defensively in Anaheim, on the bench or in smaller leagues.

Urshela, who hit .285 last season with .767 OPS, 13 home runs and 64 RBIs for the Minnesota Twins, will offer insurance at third base in case Rendon suffers another injury, solid depth at shortstop and second, and a possible train partner for left-handed first baseman Jared Walsh.

The Angels' Anthony Rendon pushes through an RBI single against Cleveland in April.

The Angels’ Anthony Rendon struggled to stay healthy during his tenure at Anaheim.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

After three moves in the offseason, the Angels improved their rotation, added significant power to their lineup, and deepened their bench.

But they can’t stop there. If they can sign one of the free-agent shortstops—damn the luxury tax—and acquire a shutdown reliever or two, they should be fighting for a playoff spot.

A new owner spending $2.5 billion on the club won’t quibble over a few million dollars’ luxury tax, and a deep run into the playoffs in 2023 could convince Ohtani to sign a long-term deal with the Sign Angels.

That would be a win-win situation for the new owner and the team.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/angels/story/2022-12-04/angels-free-agency-strategy-team-sale With Arte Moreno out, Angels need to spend big in free agency

Emma Bowman

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