Angels Look Like Playoff Team After Big Offseason Moves

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, December 28, 2017 3:53 PM UTC

Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 3:53 PM UTC

The Los Angeles Angels have been the biggest winners of baseball’s offseason and project as the most improved team in the American League. Is a World Series possible?

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It’s tough to be a White Sox fan living in Chicago because Pale Hose are hugely in the shadow of the crosstown and mega-popular Cubs. It’s much of the same if you are an Angels fan living in Los Angeles as that town bleeds Dodger Blue. Frankly, the only reason the Angels have been relevant whatsoever this decade is because they have the best player in baseball and future Hall of Famer in two-time AL MVP Mike Trout.

That said, the most interesting club in MLB this offseason has been the Halos, and they look like the most improved team in baseball. L.A. has made the playoffs just once since Trout debuted in 2011 and that was a three-game sweep in the 2014 ALDS to Kansas City. Baseball’s postseason would be much more interesting with Trout in it, and I’m here to tell you that’s going to happen in 2018 barring major injury. The Angels are currently +1400 on BetOnline MLB futures to win the World Series after being as high as +4000.

The Angels have made four big moves to win the offseason: re-sign slugging outfielder Justin Upton, win the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, sign free-agent shortstop Zack Cosart and trade for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Angels GM Billy Eppler has to be the early favorite for American League Executive of the Year. Let’s break each move down.

Upton was acquired during the 2017 season from Detroit as the Tigers were in salary-dump mode. He hit .245 with seven homers and 15 RBIs in 27 games for the Angels, helping to provide some protection for Trout, and .273 with 35 homers and 109 RBIs in 152 games overall. Upton could have exercised an opt-out clause in his deal, but the Halos handed him a five-year, $106 million extension to prevent that.

Ohtani was the biggest catch on the free-agent market as he has been called the “Babe Ruth of Japan” for his pitching and hitting ability – and the Angels are going to let him do both. Now, no one can honestly tell you what to expect from Ohtani. In a normal week, he probably starts on the mound once and then at DH for three games. FanGraphs projects him to go 11-7 with a 3.48 ERA in 148 innings as a pitcher and bat .257 with 11 homers and 36 RBIs in 280 plate appearances as a hitter.

Cozart had a career year in 2017 with the Reds, bating .297 with 24 homers and 63 RBIs while playing excellent defense. However, as good as he might be with the glove, he’s not in the same stratosphere as current Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who might be the best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith. So Cozart moves to third base. Good luck getting a ball through the left side of the infield.

Kinsler was another salary dump by the Tigers. At 35, Kinsler’s best years are likely behind him but he still hit .236 with 22 homers and 52 RBIs last year while winning a Gold Glove. With those additions, here’s a projected Angels lineup:

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Ian Kinsler, 2B

Mike Trout, CF

Justin Upton, LF

Albert Pujols, DH

Kole Calhoun, RF

Andrelton Simmons, SS

CJ Cron, 1B

Zack Cozart, 3B

Martin Maldonado, C

Maybe not the Astros or Yankees, but a pretty good group. You don’t see Ohtani in there, but when he is the DH, Pujols either will move to first base or to the bench. Pujols is coming off by far the worst offensive season of his career, hitting .241 with 23 home runs and 101 RBIs in 636 plate appearances. He played just six games at first base in 2017, the Angels are hoping he can play there three days a week or so if he’s over foot injuries that have plagued him the past few years. Los Angeles could actually choose to make Ohtani a hitting pitcher when they play in American League parks.

The rotation would probably look like this:

Shohei Ohtani

Garrett Richards

Matt Shoemaker

Tyler Skaggs

Andrew Heaney/Parker Bridwell/JC Ramirez

Lot of injury questions; even Ohtani reportedly has a first-degree sprain in his UCL and underwent a platelet-rich plasma shot in October in hopes of treating the elbow pain caused by it. He can pitch through that, but it also can lead to Tommy John surgery. So starting pitching would be the top concern for this team, although at least there's some depth.

The Angels were 80-82 last year -- Trout was limited to 114 games -- and had been projected at FanGraphs for the same record until all these moves. Now they are listed at 88-74, second in the AL West behind Houston. Those 88 wins would be enough for the second AL wild-card spot per those projections. SBR’s top-rated sportsbooks should start releasing win totals soon.

Anyone for a Freeway World Series? The Dodgers remain +500 MLB betting favorites.

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