Well, everyone, we finally made it. After 99 painstaking days with of heated negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA, the two sides finally reached a deal on Wednesday afternoon, bringing baseball back into our lives once again.
With the end of the lockout comes the removal of the transactions freeze that has been hanging over the game for the better part of three months now, meaning that players will be free to sign with teams as soon as the new CBA is ratified at around 3 P.M. PST.
Things could start really picking up quickly here, so we thought it might be necessary to catch everyone up on where the Angels stand now that the lockout is finally over. They kept themselves busy in the weeks leading up to then, but there is still a lot that they still need to accomplish now if they want to return to the (now expanded) postseason for the first time since 2014.
What did the Angels do before the lockout?
The main focus of the Angels’ offseason prior to the transactions freeze taking effect was, predictably, pitching, and they managed to make a decent amount of progress in that area before the December 1 deadline. Their first notable deal of the offseason was their most significant to date, bringing on former Mets righty Noah Syndergaard on a one-year, $21 million deal. While definitely risky, the move for Syndergaard gives the Halos a guy with undisputed ace-like ability, and the duo of him and Shohei Ohtani could potentially rank among the league’s premiere frontline pairings.
After filling that hole in the rotation, they turned to the bullpen with their next move, signing Syndergaard’s former Mets teammate Aaron Loup on a two-year, $17 million deal. Loup was quietly one of the best relievers in all of baseball in 2021, if everything goes to plan, he should be able to provide the type of steadying presence at the end of games that the club has lacked for a good while now.
After Loup, the next move was signing former Reds righty and Fullerton native Michael Lorenzen to a one-year, $6.75 million deal. Lorenzen spent most of his seven years in Cincinnati pitching out of the bullpen, but he’ll begin the year as a member of the Angels’ regular rotation after reportedly receiving strong interest as a starter while on the free agent market.
Finally, the Angels made the move that fans had been clamoring for for months, bringing back closer Raisel Iglesias on a four-year, $58 million deal right before the final buzzer sounded. After being acquired from the Reds in December of 2020, Iglesias had the team’s best season from a closer since Francisco Rodriguez was in his prime, and this made re-signing him one of their biggest priorities of the entire offseason. He’ll now be around for the foreseeable future, and if everything goes according to plan, he and Loup could represent a fearsome tandem in the later innings in 2022.
The Halos also made some smaller moves in between these, most notably bringing in infielders Tyler Wade and Andrew Velazquez from the New York Yankees. Both figure to compete for bench spots during Spring Training, though either beginning the year as the team’s starting shortstop could be a possibility for reasons we’ll touch on later.
As far as departures go, the biggest one was Alex Cobb—who they had interest in bringing back—leaving for San Francisco to join the Giants on a two-year deal. The other notable one was Dylan Bundy signing a one-year deal with the Twins in attempt to rebuild his value back to pre-2021 levels.
What do they still need to do?
Despite focusing much of their efforts early in the offseason on fixing their perpetually underperforming pitching staff, the Angels still have a good amount of work left to do in that department if they want to get back into contention in the American League in 2022. Their most pressing need that still remains is filling the final spot in their rotation, as it seems unlikely (though not out of the question) as of now that they would hand a guaranteed spot to either Reid Detmers or Griffin Canning right out of the gates given their struggles in the majors last year. Ohtani, Syndergaard and Patrick Sandoval is a very good starting point, and Lorenzen and José Suarez could potentially be solid enough options at the back end, but securing one more high-level arm could make the difference between that group being just decent and something much more.
Though not as pressing as bringing in another starter, adding one more piece to the end of the bullpen is also a move that the Halos could stand to make. Bringing back Iglesias and signing Loup was a great start toward solidifying that unit, but the rest of the guys behind them all have some sort of question marks attached to them, ranging from inexperience (Austin Warren, José Quijada, etc.) to inconsistency (Mike Mayers) and anywhere in between. Although the group as a whole does look better than it has in the past few seasons, one more sure thing added to the mix could help a whole lot.
Moving away from pitching for a second, the Angels need to also figure out what their plans are regarding the shortstop position. There are still a handful of big names out on the market (Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, etc.) if they decide to go in that direction, but based on comments made by Perry Minasian earlier in the offseason, it seems like they’d also be fine sticking with an internal option there as well, whether that be Wade, Velazquez, Luis Rengifo, or someone else. Regardless of which option they choose, they need to set it in stone quickly, as what they do in that spot could determine what they can or can’t do in the other areas of need.
What does the market look like?
Unfortunately for the Halos, the starting pitching market moved quicker than any other position group prior to the lockout. In the handful of days leading up to December 1, we saw Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Jon Gray, and a host of other names all decide on their destinations for 2022, leaving the options still available pretty slim. The undisputed top two pitchers left in free agency are Carlos Rodón and Clayton Kershaw, both of whom have real injury concerns, and the drop off from them to the next tier (Yusei Kikuchi, Zack Greinke, Danny Duffy, etc.) is incredibly steep. If the Angels want to fill that last rotation spot with an impact arm, they might’ve missed the boat on doing it via the open market unless they’re willing to take on the risk the top two guys carry.
On the bright side, the other areas of need for the Angels still have plenty of guys left in free agency. The reliever market didn’t move as fast as many people expected it to, so quality arms such as Ryan Tepera, Collin McHugh or Andrew Chafin among others could still be viable options for strengthening the bullpen. The competition for them should be somewhat steep considering the fact that every team could use more bullpen help, but upgrades definitely exist if they want to pursue them.
The position player market also still has a good handful of top-end names available despite seeing some early action. The Angels have really only been linked to super-utilityman extraordinaire Kris Bryant, though (unless you believe the Halos-themed pajamas in Correa’s Christmas picture are some sort of sign), so it’s probably a safe assumption that their priorities still lie on improving the pitching staff first and foremost.
What about trades?
As far as starters are concerned, the trade market is much more appealing than free agency. The Athletics and Reds are two teams that appear ready to shed payroll, and between Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt for the former and Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle for the latter, there’s definitely not a shortage of arms out there. In fact, the Angels were rumored to have spoken to Cincinnati about Castillo before the lockout, but talks reportedly did not progress into deal-making territory at the time.
There are also shortstops that seem to be available on the trade market, the most notable of which being Paul DeJong of the Cardinals and Nick Ahmed of the Diamondbacks. Both of their current contracts ($15 million over the next two years for DeJong and around $18 million over the same time frame for Ahmed) might be a little pricy for a team still needing to upgrade elsewhere, though, so unless their current teams are willing to pitch in a little salary help, it feels more likely that the Halos would stay internal at the position.