By Louis Addeo-Weiss
The 2019 Los Angeles Angels season can be personified by loss; both numerically and emotionally.
July 1st saw the untimely passing of pitcher Tyler Skaggs, whose death was recently revealed to have come as a result of a fentanyl, oxycodone, ethanol, and alcohol overdose.
As of September 1st, the Angels record is 65-72. The Angels, playing in the same division as the Houston Astros (88-49) and the Oakland Athletics (78-57), two teams who are looking towards competing in the postseason. The Angels are working towards ending the remainder of the season on a strong note, while simultaneously looking forward to 2020.
With the club set to have payroll flexibility this offseason, GM Billy Eppler should set out at addressing weaknesses that have prevented them and their franchise golden boy, Mike Trout, from appearing in the postseason since 2014.
Here are five names that could figure into turning the Angels into a contender for 2020.
SP: Gerrit Cole
When it comes to the notion of having a big year when one is set to hit free agency, Gerrit Cole has easily checked all of those boxes. The right-hander, who has a 2.87 ERA and a 149 ERA+ in two seasons since joining the Houston Astros, currently leads baseball in strikeouts with 252. His 4.6 WAR, according to baseball-reference, is fifth among American League pitchers, and his 13.315 SO9 is second to Chris Sale (who will miss the remainder of the season with shoulder fatigue), who has posted a 13.317 SO9 rate. For a club who has been at a loss for reliable starting pitching, with their rotation ERA of 5.31 ranking 28th as of August 31st, the addition of Cole would give the Angels their first true ace since the days of Jered Weaver. As far as dollars are concerned, Cole will most certainly not be cheap, with many expecting his deal to mirror the likes of Max Scherzer and David Price’s, and with Cole being a native of Southern California, many see the Angels as early favorites to land the former UCLA Bruin.
SP: Madison Bumgarner
I’ll preface this one by saying that luring Bumgarner to Los Angeles may be difficult considering his longstanding ties to the Bay Area San Francisco Giants, but as we’ve already noted, the Angels have the resources to attain Bumgarner’s services. For a team who has struggled to make it to the postseason, adding an arm like Bumgarner, who you can make the case for as arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time (0.25 WS ERA), to that roster would be cause for celebration in the Big A. While not the same pitcher he once was from 2013-16 when he posted a 2.86 ERA, 129 ERA+, and amassed 17.9 WAR, Bumgarner is still having an all-around solid season, leading the NL in starts with 29, 9.0 SO/9, and posting a 2.9 WAR. Expect the Giants to offer him a qualifying offer come season’s end, but don’t count out the Angels pursuing him should he decline. Should Bumgarner continue to pitch at his current rate, expect the left-handler to land a deal in the range of 3-4 years between $60-75M.
OF: Marcell Ozuna
With right fielder Kole Calhoun scheduled to come off the books, the Angels will be in the market for a power hitting outfielder. Enter Marcell Ozuna. Acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals after a terrific 2017 season in Miami, which saw the left fielder slash .312/.376/.548, while hitting 37 home runs and posting a 149 OPS+, Ozuna has not quite replicated those numbers in St. Louis, though still producing at a respectable level. Since the start of his tenure with the Cardinals, Ozuna’s 112 OPS+ ranks 4th (tied with Kyle Schwarber) among all left fielders with at least 80% of their games at the position. While the club already has Justin Upton entrenched in left, Ozuna could conceivably move right, a position he has some familiarity with, playing in parts of 65 games there, and posting an impressive 10 defensive runs saved. Ozuna’s presence in the lineup would give Trout further protection, which could, in turn, make for more run scoring.
OF: Corey Dickerson
While he may not be a household name like the aforementioned names on this list, it would be a shame to overlook how solid Dickerson has been for most of his career. A career .286 hitter with a respectable 119 OPS+ (as of 09/01), Dickerson has seemingly hit wherever he has played, posting above average OPS+ marks in each organization he’s played for. Not to mention, the left fielder has shown flashes of great defensive play, winning a gold glove in 2018 with 16 DRS, though has posted a -7 total in 2019. What makes Dickerson a match with the Angles is his expected affordability. The left-handed hitting Dickerson, who has a 131 OPS+ to go with his .309/.349/.562 slashline, could garner a two-year deal, which seems highly reasonable for an Angels club with open pockets. With two-way Star Shohei Ohtani expected to return to pitching, this will decrease the number of at-bats the club will get out of him at their DH position, which could open the door for Dickerson should his defensive metrics continue to falter. Over the course of his career, Dickerson has started 124 games at DH, most of which came during his tenure with the Tampa Bay Rays.
SP: Cole Hamels
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
A respectable 3.69 ERA, 2.6 WAR, and 122 ERA+, according to baseball-reference, have Hamels in line for another multi-year deal as he enters free agency for the first time, coming off an 8-year/$173M deal he signed while a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Like the above-named Gerrit Cole, the 2008 World Series MVP is a California-Native, hailing from San Diego. Prior to his trade to the Texas Rangers in 2015, rumors swirled about Hamels possibly landing with the Dodgers, though this never materialized. Plugging Hamels, a veteran presence, into a relatively young rotation featuring the likes of Andrew Heaney and Felix Pena, could manifest itself in a fashion similar to when former Angel John Lackey went to the Hamels current employer, the Chicago Cubs, on a two-year/$32M deal prior to the 2016 season. And while Hamels day’s as an ace may be in the rear-view mirror, the left-handers 121 ERA+ since the start of 2018 ranks 14th among all starters with at least 300 innings pitched over that span.