We are exactly two weeks from opening day, with some decisions left to be made, but we have a clearer idea of the roster construction the Angels might use starting on April 1.
“I think we’re moving towards an eight-man bullpen, and you can figure it out from there,” manager Joe Maddon said Thursday. “In the American League, the bench, sometimes you struggle to get them in the game. That’s why I like the National League rules. Pinch hitting, if you look at our lineup, should not occur very often.”
The caveat with any Angels roster talk is Shohei Ohtani, whose uniqueness as a true two-way player gives the team uncommon flexibility in this regard. Ohtani will be one of the six starting pitchers used by the Angels, and adding eight relief pitchers would leave 12 roster spots for the rest of the offense, which will also often times include Ohtani.
That means essentially a four-man bench, usually including whoever of Albert Pujols or Jared Walsh isn’t starting, and Max Stassi or Kurt Suzuki as catcher (the other starting). They’ll need at least one backup infielder. Luis Rengifo and Franklin Barreto both fit the bill, but Rengifo has minor league options and Barreto doesn’t, which adds a variable.
Juan Lagares has stood out among reserve outfielders, hitting .400/.423/.480 this spring, and is defensively good enough to play center field. Dexter Fowler, acquired from the Cardinals before spring training, is just 3-for-20 (.150) this spring but figures to start in right field.
“Right now, the game plan is Dex will be out there,” Maddon said. “Lagares will play all three. We’ll get him involved as much as we possibly can. Don’t get me wrongm I like Lagares a lot. I think this is going to be quite a find for us. But Dexter is here for a reason.”
Lagares is on a minor league deal and if he makes the club would have to be added to the 40-man roster, which is currently full.
Others to consider for the bench from the 40-man roster include Matt Thaiss and Taylor Ward, both cornermen with Thaiss more likely to play third and Ward most likely to play in the outfield, if he’s not filling in at catcher. There’s also utility infielder Jack Mayfield, who has only started once this spring. Jo Adell figures to start in the minors, as could Anthony Bemboom if he’s not filling in at catcher if Stassi still needs some time after offseason hip surgery. That quintet all has options, allowing for maneuverability if needed.
What a relief
Of the eight-man bullpen, a few names we know. Raisel Iglesias was brought in to close games, Mike Mayers was the Angels’ best reliever last year, lefty Alex Claudio was signed to a one-year deal, and non-roster invitee Junior Guerra was just added to the 40-man roster.
Felix Peña will probably start the season on the injured list, and trade acquisition Aaron Slegers was supposed to pitch Thursday but had back tightness and was scratched. His availability for opening day is unknown.
#Angels reliever Aaron Slegers was supposed to pitch today but didn't. Joe Maddon said "he got a little bit tight so we pulled him out." Team should know more tomorrow. Slegers has been dealing with back spasms this spring.— Jack Harris (@Jack_A_Harris) March 18, 2021
Jose Rivera is a Rule 5 pick, and will need to remain on the active roster or the Angels would have to place the right-hander on waivers, and potentially return him to the Astros.
Of the pure relievers, everyone else has options, so take your pick among Ty Buttrey, Kyle Keller, Luke Bard, and the like.
General manager Perry Minasian on Tuesday didn’t rule out adding more relief pitching before the season.
A few wild cards could be from extra starting pitchers. Jaime Barria might not make the rotation, but might be out of options. He’s already used three options, and could be approved for a fourth option year. Jeff Fletcher at the Orange County Register explained the scenario a few weeks back.
Patrick Sandoval pitched two innings on Thursday, allowing a run. The Angels plan to stretch him out as a starting pitcher, even though the left-hander has yet to throw more than three innings this spring. With no minor league season until May, it might make more sense to keep Sandoval on the major league roster as a reliever rather than leave him at the alternate training site. The Angels haven’t yet decided.
“He’s probably capable of both (starting and relieving),” Maddon said. “But I see his long-term future as a starter.”