In preparation for a season that may or may not happen, I’ve been going around the major leagues and writing mean things about each team. Today, I’ll head to Southern California and talk about Los Angeles’ second favorite team: The Angels.
Brief history of the franchise
In 1961, Major League Baseball decided the Los Angeles area was big enough for two franchises, and created the Los Angeles Angels as an expansion team. Owned by “Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry, the team was initially unsuccessful and often viewed as LA’s “second team.” They tried to break that stigma by moving to the neighboring town of Anaheim and changed the official team name to the California Angels.
In 1997, they - like everything else in this country will eventually be - were purchased by Disney - and re-branded the Anaheim Angels. Then in 2005, they wanted to make their name as confusing as possible, so they started calling themselves the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Finally, in 2016, they came full circle by simplifying the name to simply Los Angeles Angels.
That means in 60 seasons, the franchise had four name changes...and only one World Series title. That title came in 2002, and the most memorable thing about that team was their unofficial monkey mascot.
Eh, it’s better than singing Baby Shark.
Recently, despite having the best player in baseball on their roster since 2012, the Angels have managed to make the playoffs once during that span.
On the bright side, the team was featured in the funniest movie ever made:
What happened in 2019
Another MVP performance from Mike Trout resulted in a 4th place finish. This marked the fourth straight season that the Angels finished with a losing record. How the hell does a team with the consensus best player continually perform so poorly?
It's great that @MikeTrout wins his third AL MVP. But it further demonstrates how much the @Angels have wasted his career. We deserve to see Trout perform in the playoffs. Feels almost Ted Williams-esque.— H (@HenYay) November 15, 2019
The biggest reason for their failure was a starting rotation that put up the worst combined ERA in the American League. Remember the 2011 Phillies, and how they would send an ace to the mound just about every night? The Angels were kind of like that, except instead of an ace, each game would be started by a guy who probably should have been pitching in the minors. It’s telling that Shohei Otani was probably the team’s most valuable starter in 2019, and he served as a designated hitter the whole season.
Unfortunately, the Angels’ season was marred by a real tragedy that was far worse than anything that happened on the field when Tyler Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room.
After Mike Scioscia lasted 19 years as manager, his successor’s tenure was much shorter. Brad Ausmus was fired after just one season, presumably because the Angels really wanted to hire Joe Maddon.
You may remember Maddon as the manager who lost the 2008 World Series. He also led the Chicago Cubs to a title in 2016. You might have thought that bought him some loyalty, but apparently he didn’t see eye-to-eye with the team’s front office, and the team let his contract expire.
About that homecoming...
Remember when people didn’t want to go after Bryce Harper in free agency? They argued that the team could just wait a couple of seasons until Mike Trout would undoubtedly jump on the opportunity to play in front of local fans.
To all Philadelphia Phillies fans do not sign Bryce Harper I repeat do not sign Bryce Harper he is not even close to worth 300 million+. He is an overrated player be patient and wait for Mike Trout.— Tyler J (@Ty_Jones1981) February 19, 2019
Do the Phillies wanna be locked in on Harper this season, or wait for Trout next year? @MLBNetwork— Steve Ramirez (@SRAMIREZ2320) February 16, 2019
As it turns out, Trout was quite fine with continuing to play his games in Anaheim. It wouldn’t shock me if the Angels eventually decide to rebuild and trade away Trout in a few years. But in that scenario, the Phillies would be paying $37 million to a player in his mid-30s. Not ideal!
Speaking of big money declining players....
Before Trout came around, Albert Pujols was generally considered to be the best hitter in baseball. While he no longer has a claim to that title, he’s still getting paid as if he did.
In 2012, the Angels felt they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add a future Hall of Famer to their roster. They outbid the Cardinals for his services, giving him a ten-year deal that will keep him on the team until he’s 42.
There’s some revisionist history painting the Cardinals as being especially smart for walking away from Pujols.
In very small print in this article is numbers to showcase why the @Cardinals were brilliant to let Pujols walk away.— Broadway Louie's (@bdwylouies) August 22, 2017
They weren’t that brilliant considering they offered him a ten-year deal too, and if not for the Angels’ insane offer, they’d be the ones dealing with a vastly overpaid declining star.
The Angels presumably understood that the final years of the deal might be ugly, but hoped that teaming Pujols with Trout would result in success during the early part of the deal. They were wrong. Pujols was fine during the first few years of the deal, but he had already fallen off from his perennial-MVP status by that point.
And now, Pujols is clearly in decline. He hasn’t been worth more than one win above replacement in the past three seasons, and at age 39, it seems unlikely that a turnaround is imminent.
Albert Pujols during the last year of his contract https://t.co/kggWgBoQ0c— cursed (@PlsBillyEppler) July 5, 2019
What to expect in 2020
Some teams might have let those huge contracts slow them down, but not the Angels. Apparently, they felt their salary structure wasn’t quite top heavy enough, so they added Anthony Rendon to the mix. Rendon is definitely a solid addition - and I’m glad he’s out of the National League East - but with his deal, the Angels will be paying over $130 million to five players: Trout, Pujols, Rendon, Justin Upton, and Andrelton Simmons. Does that sound like the core of a championship team?
Note that none of those five players are pitchers. Instead of spending big money to fix the rotation, the Angels found cheaper, short-term solutions in veteran pitchers Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy. Both should provide a level of competence that was absent from the rotation last season, but its not a great sign that the Orioles - a team with an even worse overall pitching staff than the Angels - were willing to get rid of Bundy.
While the Angels will probably be improved over last season, unless they get a much better than expected performance by a few of their starting pitchers, 2020 will go down as yet another year of Trout’s career wasted.