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ICYMI: Early free agent rumors. roster moves, injury updates, and more

The offseason is still very young, but there has been no shortage of Angels news so far

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MLB: Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s only been a week and a half since the Atlanta Braves hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy and ushered in the beginning of the 2021 offseason, but as far as the Angels are concerned, that short period of time has brought many different things to talk about.

From a qualifying offer decision to a pair of roster moves to a number of different free agency rumors, we’ve already seen a flurry of different news items coming from the Halos thus far in what has been a pretty eventful start to the winter. There’s a whole lot to get into, so we gathered all of it here in a supersized edition of the news and notes surrounding the Angels:

Free Agency Buzz

  • The first substantial rumor of the offseason came from MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, who reported that the Angels are “working to add at least one and possibly two impact starting pitchers” this winter. Morosi also listed two names that the club has reportedly already shown interest in, those being Blue Jays lefty Robbie Ray and Red Sox southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez.

Ray revitalized his career this year in Toronto, posting a personal-best 2.84 ERA with a league-leading 248 strikeouts in 193.1 innings across 32 starts. The 30-year-old lefty is the presumptive favorite in the AL Cy Young race, and his long-awaited breakthrough season has made him one of the most sought after free agent starting pitchers on the market.

Rodriguez didn’t have quite the amount of success Ray did in 2021, pitching to a rather lackluster 4.74 ERA, but all of his underlying metrics suggest that he pitched a lot better than what his final numbers would indicate. His 3.32 FIP and 3.43 xFIP both fell almost a full run and a half lower than where his ERA was, and his absurdly high .363 batting average on balls in play also suggests that some positive regression is due for him in 2022. Both Rodriguez and Ray were extended qualifying offers by their respective teams, which means that the Angels would have to forfeit their second-highest pick in next year’s draft if they were to sign either of them.

  • Just a couple days after Morosi’s report, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic echoed a similar sentiment in his offseason preview column, saying that the Angels are likely going to be in the market for starting rotation upgrades. Rosenthal also mentioned a handful of names that the Angels reportedly see as potential fits, including Ray, Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard of the Mets, Alex Wood of the Giants, Max Scherzer of the Dodgers, and Justin Verlander of the Astros.

That’s a pretty long list of names offered up by Rosenthal, with the main link between all of them being the fact that they all would represent pretty significant additions to an Angels rotation in need of further reinforcements beyond incumbents Shohei Ohtani, Patrick Sandoval and José Suarez. The biggest addition of all of them, of course, would be Scherzer, who put together yet another fantastic campaign in his age 37 season. Scherzer posted a 2.46 ERA in 30 starts this year, including an incredible mark of 1.98 in 11 starts after his mid-season trade to Los Angeles. He is far and away the best starter on the market this year and reportedly has a very important fan within the Angels organization, although outbidding the crosstown rival Dodgers for his services may prove to be very difficult.

Not too far behind Scherzer is Stroman, who himself put up a quietly great year in his first full season in New York. Stroman posted a career-best 3.02 ERA in his 33 starts in 2021, which came primarily due to a 50.8 percent ground ball rate that ranked eighth among all qualified starters in baseball this year. He certainly fits the grounder-heavy mold that the Halos have going on in their rotation currently (both Sandoval and Suarez would’ve ranked up there with Stroman had they had enough innings to qualify), and his durability would be a welcome addition to a staff that has had just two pitchers reach the 100 innings threshold since the beginning of 2019.

Wood doesn’t have the name-brand value as the other pitchers he was listed with in Rosenthal’s report, but he was no slouch himself last season, pitching to a 3.83 ERA in 138.2 innings. He may not be the flashiest player in the world, but if signed as a mid- to back-end type starter, the Angels could definitely do a lot worse.

The final two guys mentioned by Rosenthal, Syndergaard and Verlander, fall into a similar camp, as both of them are former top-of-the-rotation caliber arms coming off Tommy John surgeries that make it tricky to pinpoint where exactly their value on the market lies. Syndergaard came back at the very end of 2021 for a pair of one-inning stints in what was his first in-game action since March of 2020, and it’s still unknown whether he will accept the Mets’ qualifying offer or test the free-agent market. Verlander has appeared in just one game since the start of the 2020 campaign (including none in 2021), but in his last full season of work in 2019, he was the AL Cy Young Award winner. He is seen as more likely than Syndergaard to test the open market, where he would almost certainly be looking at a one- or two-year deal due to his age.

  • Speaking of Verlander, Angels GM Perry Minasian confirmed to reporters earlier in the week that the club did indeed have someone scouting the showcase that he held for teams in Florida on Monday.

There were between 15 and 20 teams in attendance at Verlander’s showcase, where he reportedly ran his fastball up to 97 miles per hour and generally looked sharp throughout. If he is anywhere close to the form he was at prior to his surgery, he could be a rather interesting option for the Angels to consider this offseason, as he could potentially slide in as the ace that the team has needed for a long time without the typical commitment that comes with signing an ace both years- and salary-wise. Bringing him in would be a very big gamble, of course, but one that they may be at least considering taking.

Roster Moves

  • Lost amid all the free agent rumors was the fact that the Angels made a pair of roster moves since the end of the World Series. The first of these came last Friday, when they added minor-league infielder Brendon Davis to the 40-man roster.

This transaction capped off what was a very eventful year for the 24-year-old Davis, whom the Angels acquired in the minor-league portion of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft. Davis started the 2021 season with High-A Tri-City and rose all the way to AAA Salt Lake by the end of it thanks to a breakout campaign that saw him hit .290/.361/.561 with 30 home runs and 16 stolen bases combined across the three levels. Interestingly enough, he got better as he worked his way up the system, as his OPS rose from .872 in High-A to .902 in AA to a whopping 1.050 in AAA. Davis had the prospect pedigree as a former fifth-round pick of the Dodgers that was used as part of the package sent to acquire Yu Darvish from the Rangers, but he was finally able to translate that into stellar results on the field in 2021, and he’s become someone worth monitoring as a result.

  • The other roster move from the Angels came right after they added Davis to the 40-man, when the team announced that they had claimed infielder Andrew Velazquez off waivers from the New York Yankees.

A journeyman for most of his career, Velazquez became somewhat of a fan favorite for Yankees fans in 2021 as a Bronx native playing for his hometown team. He played in 29 games for the Yankees last season—including a start as shortstop for the AL Wild Card Game last month—and slashed .224/.235/.358 with six extra-base hits. Velazquez figures to be another depth piece at middle infield for the Angels, and if they don’t make any other external acquisitions at that spot this offseason, he could potentially compete for a roster spot in Spring Training.

Injury Updates

  • Minasian gave some injury updates regarding a few Angels players this week, the most significant of which being the news that Chris Rodriguez will likely miss most of the 2022 season due to right capsule repair surgery in his shoulder.

Rodriguez’s absence is an unfortunate blow to the Angels’ pitching staff, as the 23 year-old righty broke out his rookie year to the tune of a 3.64 ERA in 15 appearances (13 out of the bullpen and two starts) before going down in August with what was described at the time as a right lat strain. It is also the latest in what has been a pretty lengthy injury history in Rodriguez’s young career. He missed the better part of three minor-league seasons because of recurring back issues prior to his debut, and a bout with right shoulder inflammation knocked him out for about a month early into last season. Rodriguez figured to be in the mix for either a starting or bullpen role for the Halos in 2022, but they’ll now have to find a way to replace both his production and potential volume on their staff next year.

  • In more positive injury news, Minasian also mentioned that Mike Trout, Patrick Sandoval, Jo Adell and Griffin Canning are all healthy following their various injuries and doing normal offseason activities. Trout, of course, only played in 36 games in 2021 after suffering a right calf strain that took a lot longer to heal than him or the team expected. Canning and Sandoval were both knocked out with lower back stress fractures last season, but they’re both expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training. Sandoval looks to be locked in to one of the team’s rotation spots after his breakout campaign, but Canning’s role is more unclear after struggling pretty bad prior to his injury. Adell missed the last few weeks of the season with a left abdominal strain following a collision with the left field wall during a game in Houston, but as we know now, the injury did not turn out to be serious.
  • One name not mentioned by Minasian was Anthony Rendon, who underwent season-ending hip surgery in early August, but the Halos third baseman told MLB Network Radio that he expects to be ready for Spring Training as well.

Rendon was plagued by a myriad of different injuries that limited him to just 58 games in 2021, all of which he attributed to the lingering issue in his hip. He also mentioned that he felt like his poor performance last season—he hit .240/.329/.382 with just six home runs when he was on the field—was due in large part to the injury as well, saying he felt a stabbing pain in his hip for much of the year and that it felt like “a clamp grabbing the front of [his] hip and the back of [his] butt”. If he is indeed ready for the start of 2022, he’ll be looking to return to the level of production from his first year with the Angels and his days with the Washington Nationals while slotted in the middle of the lineup around Trout and Ohtani.

Award Season

  • MLB started handing out its end-of-season awards this week, starting with the Gold Gloves on Sunday. The Angels had a pair of nominees in David Fletcher at second base and Jared Walsh at first base, but unfortunately, neither of them were able to walk away with the hardware.

Walsh came in as a runner-up to Yuli Gurriel of the Astros, and Fletcher to Marcus Semien of the Blue Jays. It’s a shame to see neither of them recognized for the great work that they did on the defensive side of the ball in 2021, but given the rest of the team’s struggles there, it’s good to have a solid foundation on the right side of the infield.

  • In more positive award news, Shohei Ohtani took home the AL Silver Slugger Award at DH, to the surprise of absolutely no one.

Ohtani’s Silver Slugger is the 26th in franchise history, and the first by an Angels DH. He is also just the second Japanese player to win the award, joining Ichiro Suzuki, who did it on three separate occasions (2001, 2007 and 2009). Next up for Ohtani is the AL MVP announcement, as he was named a finalist for that award alongside Semien and AL Hank Aaron Award winner Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The results for the AL MVP race will be announced on November 18.

Other Notes

  • The Angels made another coaching change recently, as they decided to let go of first base coach Bruce Hines, who was only with the club for a single season. Hines joined third base coach Brian Butterfield and catching coach José Molina as members of the staff to be let go this offseason. None of these vacancies have been filled yet, but it was reported that the club talked to former Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin recently.
  • The Halos may be looking at a potential reunion with former top prospect José Soriano, who was DFAd by the Pirates earlier this week. Soriano was the first pick in last year’s Rule 5 draft, but he never pitched in the big leagues with Pittsburgh because of a setback during his rehab from Tommy John surgery that forced him to undergo a second revision surgery, a procedure that will likely knock him out until 2023. If Soriano clears waivers (which is likely given the injury), the Pirates will have to offer him back to the Angels.