Angels exploring free agency, trade market in bid to build more ‘aggressive’ pitching staff

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During a chat with reporters Tuesday at MLB’s general manager meetings, the main topic of conversation surrounding Angels GM Perry Minasian mirrored his club’s primary focus for this offseason.

Pitching, pitching, pitching.

For most of his 45-minute availability, Minasian fielded one question about the position after another, standing at the edge of a courtyard at the Omni Resort in Carlsbad after what he called a “productive day” of meetings with other executives around the league.

While he stopped short of naming any targets specifically — either via free agency or the trade market — Minasian did expound on the type of attributes he’s hoping the Angels pitching staff will possess in 2022, using one adjective in particular to sum up what they’re looking for.

“We’d just like to be a little more aggressive — I think ‘aggressive’ is the right word,” Minasian said. “Certain pitchers set tones, and I think there’s a trickle-down effect. I think we were lacking in that area.”

And as the offseason gets under way, Minasian thinks there will be several ways for the Angels to add it.

There’s free agency, of course, which this year features a deep crop of starting pitchers that could complement an Angels rotation that currently has only Shohei Ohtani, Patrick Sandoval and José Suarez penciled in.

American League Cy Young finalist Robbie Ray and former Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez were two names linked to the club in a Tuesday report by MLB Network. But there are many others who could be options for the Angels as well, from potential future Hall of Famers such as Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander to younger starters including Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman, Jon Gray and Carlos Rodón.

“Frontline starting pitching is tough to acquire,” Minasian said. “That being said, we’d like to significantly improve our rotation … We’d definitely like to find an arm or two that can impact the rotation.”

Minasian said the Angels have begun to prioritize their free-agent targets, though stopped short of offering an exact number of new pitchers they want to add.

He did say he isn’t opposed to going after players who had been extended qualifying offers by their former clubs, and whose signings would thus require the Angels to give up draft picks as compensation (Ray and Rodriguez are two such candidates).

Minasian thinks the franchise will be able to make compelling cases to free agents, too.

“We like what we have to offer, from the team standpoint, from the clubhouse … I think Southern California is as appealing as any place in the country,” Minasian said. “I’m hoping a lot of these free agents, especially the arms, their favorite color is red.”

Minasian continued to leave open the possibility of exploring the trade market, as well, where the Cincinnati Reds, Oakland Athletics and Miami Marlins have all been rumored as potential trade partners for teams seeking big-league pitching help.

“If it’s a trade where we have to give something up, obviously we have to weigh that too,” Minasian said. “But the trade market is definitely an area where we’ll look to see if we can make an addition.”

Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez throws against the Houston Astros during the first inning in Game 3 of the ALCS on Oct. 18 in Boston.

(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Minasian said the bullpen is another place the Angels will try to acquire new pieces, while also doubling-down on the team’s interest in bringing back closer Raisel Iglesias. Though he highlighted the potential displayed by some younger internal options such as José Quijada, Andrew Wantz, Austin Warren and Oliver Ortega, he also noted “we’d like to add. You can never have enough.”

The challenge of making such sweeping transformations isn’t lost on Minasian, who conceded that the desired improvements on the mound will be a “difficult task” for the Angels to accomplish.

Last year, their pitching staff ranked 22nd in the majors in team ERA, 25th in walks per nine innings and 19th in batting average against (though they were close to or above league average in some advanced metrics such as FIP, SIERA and wins above replacement).

“I think obviously last year is not how we wanted it to end up, 77 wins,” Minasian said. “But I think a year from now, two years from now, we’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, that was an important season for a lot of the arms, for people to get chances, for some of the guys to put themselves on the map.’ Hopefully that comes to fruition.”

Still, as Minasian knows as well as anyone, rectifying the Angels’ long-standing pitching problems by next season will almost certainly take a string of successful new additions this winter, too.

“We’re exploring everything,” Minasian said. “We’re having conversations with everybody and trying to get the lay of the land to a certain extent and see what fits.”

Here are other Angels notes from the GM meetings on Tuesday:

  • Minasian said the team will “take a strong look” at potentially trying to bring back free-agent pitcher Alex Cobb. The 34-year-old right-hander had a bounce-back, albeit injury-shortened, 2021 campaign after being acquired by the Angels last offseason. “He’s obviously had a quality year,” Minasian said. “We know the person. It was a quality guy in the clubhouse.”
  • Asked whether catcher Matt Thaiss is ready to step into a major league role, or whether the Angels will explore external options at backup catcher, Minasian said the former first-round pick is “definitely an option to do that, but we’re open” to other possibilities too. “You always want depth at that position,” Minasian added. “Similar to pitching, you can never have enough catching.” Thaiss, 26, transitioned back to catcher in triple A this past season.
  • Minasian didn’t reveal much about what the Angels lineup might look like in 2022. He said “it’s possible” Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh could be starting outfielders next year. He also said, if David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo are the team’s two starting middle infielders next year, Fletcher could be at shortstop and Rengifo at second base. But he reiterated that those types of decisions won’t be made until spring training.

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