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Los Angeles Angels head into offseason looking for a fresh start in 2019

For the last seven years, the Los Angeles Angels have struggled to build a winning team around the greatest player in franchise history, Mike Trout. The seven-time All-Star has yet to win a playoff game with the team that drafted him as the 25th pick of the 2009 MLB Draft.

That same year Trout was drafted was the last time the Angels won a playoff game; they defeated the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS (3-0) before falling to eventual champions New York Yankees in the ALCS (4-2). L.A. has made the playoffs on just one occasion since then, back in 2014 where they were swept by the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS.

Los Angeles sits at 79-81 heading into Saturday, two games below .500 with two games left against the Athletics in Oakland. Heading into the offseason after another disappointing season, this team has a lot of concerns piling up. Let’s break down the biggest ones:

Shohei Ohtani

It was announced earlier this week that Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani will undergo Tommy John surgery during the first week of the offseason. The procedure will keep Ohtani off the mound for the entire 2019 season, which obviously leads to two big questions for Los Angeles.

What will the starting rotation look like in 2019 without Ohtani?

Lately, the Angels have really had it rough when it comes to their major-league pitching staff. In the last four years, six (Ohtani will be number seven) Angels pitchers have undergone Tommy John surgery.

Los Angeles had some promising appearances from their pitchers throughout the 2018 season that could help when it comes to filling Ohtani’s spot, or reconstructing the entire rotation. Matt Shoemaker spent five months on the disabled list recovering from forearm surgery and returned to throw five innings against the Texas Rangers on Sept. 25, striking out seven while only giving up one run. Before he was shut down for the season due to shoulder inflammation, Nick Tropeano was 7-7 with a 4.74 ERA and 64 strike outs in 76 innings.

There was also Andrew Heaney, who threw six scoreless innings against the Houston Astros and Rangers in a season where he saw career-highs in IP (180) and strikeouts (180 Ks). Rookie Jaime Barria made his debut this season in April, and he reached double digits in wins (10-9) finishing with a 3.24 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. 2017 second-round draft pick Griffin Canning could also find himself competing for a roster spot during spring training after shooting his way up to the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate this season.

The Angels could also go after free-agent pitchers at the top of the market, such as Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin, Charlie Morton and J.A. Happ.

Will Ohtani be allowed to hit next season?

It’s still unclear whether or not Ohtani will hit in 2019. But if he does, he would become the first player in MLB history to continue playing in the year after surgery, according to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan. It would also be a huge boost to the Angels’ offense next season.

Ohtani is hitting .283 with 22 home runs, 57 runs and 59 RBI in his rookie season. His .930 OPS would rank seventh in the majors if he qualified (Trout is first with a 1.090 OPS). Ohtani is also the first player in Major League Baseball history with 10 home runs, 10 stolen bases and 10 games pitched in a single season.

The Tommy John surgery rehab timetable is generally much shorter for hitters (6-9 months) than pitchers, though the Angels have yet to confirm that Ohtani will be hitting next season. They have indicated they will develop a rehab plan with the doctors in the coming weeks and months. You would think that the Angels would agree to letting Ohtani hit in 2019 as long as they get the OK from Ohtani’s doctors. 

Mike Scioscia

While Angels manager Mike Scioscia has said that he wants to continue managing, it seems like a change is more likely, possibly coming as early as this weekend. After nearly two decades with the Angels, Scioscia earned one pennant and one World Series championship, but Los Angeles has made the playoffs just once in the last nine years despite annually high-priced rosters.

What has hurt the Angels the most under Scioscia’s reign has been his dismissive attitude towards analytics. When former general manager Jerry Dipoto tried to push the Angels in a more stat-heavy direction, Scioscia was painted as a manager resistant and misinformed to the advantages of advanced analytics. In 2015, Dipoto resigned as the Angels GM after just three and a half years and now holds the same job with division rival Seattle Mariners.

If Scioscia’s out at the end of this season, current GM Billy Eppler, who is heading into his fourth season with the Angels, will need to find a new skipper who is going to be on board with baseball in the 21st century. 

Mike Trout

Over Mike Trout’s eight years in the majors, he has produced a .307/.416/.573 batting line, hitting 239 home runs and 189 steals. He has made the All-Star Game in each of his seven full seasons, winning the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year and five Silver Slugger awards. A two-time AL MVP, Trout has never finished below fourth in the vote.

Trout already signed a six-year, $144 million extension prior to the 2014 season, keeping him in Los Angeles through 2020. However, with his free agency getting closer, the Angels are looking to come to terms on another extension, as they are reportedly looking to offer Trout a lifetime contract.

The question of whether Trout will agree to remain a part of the organization that drafted him is going to have Angels fans, as well as the rest of the baseball world, on edge this upcoming offseason.

Albert Pujols

The obvious concern with Albert Pujols is two-fold: the 38-year-old’s body isn’t as strong as it used to be, and he remains under contract for another three seasons.

Pujols ended his 2018 season early following knee surgery, and he also had surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow. The ten-time All-Star will begin his offseason by rehabbing.

For the past five seasons, it has been as if Pujols has never not been battling through injuries. Back when the 2013 season began, he was recovering from knee surgery he had during his first offseason as an Angel, and his plantar fasciitis made it difficult for him to run hard to first base. In 2015, he aggravated an inured plantar plate on his right big toe and had offseason surgery.

The legendary slugger’s offense has been on a steady downward trend for about ten years, and he’s no longer an average hitter. He has just a .243 average and a .684 OPS since 2017. Pujols finished 2018 hitting .245/.289/.411. and while last year’s shortened season marks represent an improvement from 2017, they are also the second-worst offensive numbers of his career.

Pujols logged 70 games at first base and 47 as the Angels’ designated hitter in 2018. He hit .233 with 30 RBI while at first and hit .263 with 34 RBI while DH.

2019 is going to be the year where the Angels have to take a long and hard look at where Pujols fits in their lineup, and if they can fit him somewhere, will he actually be able to help the team win?

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