June 16, 2024

Media magnet Shohei Ohtani left Anaheim for Los Angeles, where he was greeted in Chavez Ravine as if he descended from above.

Angels owner Arte Moreno refused to match the Dodgers’ $700-million offer and Ohtani’s departure not only left huge holes in the lineup and starting rotation, but opened a lot of seats in the press box. Nearly 40 Japanese media members trailed Ohtani on the 5 Freeway from the “Big A” to Dodger Stadium.

Ohtani produced a staggering 34.7 wins above replacement in six seasons with the Angels, who nevertheless posted a losing record in all six seasons. Without the two-way star, what possibly could be of interest this spring?

Well, it hasn’t been as bereft of news as expected. Here is a brisk look at the Angels’ offseason and spring training bullet points.

Nov. 9: The unabashedly positive Ron Washington is hired to replace the fired Phil Nevin as manager, bringing the number of Black managers in MLB to two after Dusty Baker retired. The number of Black managers in Southern California? Two, with Washington joining the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts.

Feb. 14: A year after Moreno changed his mind about selling the team and pulled the Angels off the market, he tells the Orange County Register, “I am here long term.” He does leave the door ajar, saying, “I’m a business person. If someone gets really stupid, then you have to go.” Moreno, who paid $183.5 million for the team in 2003, said a year ago he turned down an offer of more than $3 billion, so it’s difficult to imagine what would constitute a “really stupid” offer.

Feb. 19: Spring training begins and players exude excitement, part-time Angels employee Anthony Rendon excepted. The oft-injured third baseman, who has played in only 200 of the 546 Angels games since signing a seven-year, $245-million contract before the 2020 season, told reporters baseball has “never been a top priority for me. It’s a job. I do this to make a living.”

Not since J.D. Drew has a player with so much talent displayed such a lack of enthusiasm. Rendon’s comments weren’t a surprise, though. Days earlier on a podcast he said: “We gotta shorten the season, man. There’s too many dang games.”

Feb. 19: Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Angels clubhouse, superstar Mike Trout for the first time nudged the door open to a potential trade, saying “maybe down the road if things change.” Trout, 32, signed a 12-year, $426.5-million contract in 2019 and has spent his entire 13-year career with the Angels.

Feb. 19: Trout tries to convince Moreno to sign free agents, saying, “I’m going to keep pushing as long as I can, until the season starts or until those guys sign.” At this point, “those guys” are down to standout starting pitchers Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, down-market starters Mike Clevinger and Michael Lorenzen, and extremely old starters Zack Grienke, Johnny Cueto and Rich Hill. Designated hitter J.D. Martinez also is available, although the Angels would prefer to keep the DH spot free for Rendon and Trout to rest their legs while still getting at-bats.

The Angels’ free-agent signings so far are relievers Robert Stephenson, Matt Moore and Adam Kolarek, reclamation project starter Zach Plesac, and reserve outfielder Aaron Hicks.

March 5: First baseman Miguel Sanó stands out as the most promising of several minor league free agents signed by the Angels. Once one of the most feared power hitters in baseball, Sanó told the Athletic that he dropped 58 pounds and is attempting to resurrect his career at age 30.

Other former major league position players trying to win a roster spot include corner infielder/outfielder Hunter Dozier, whom the Kansas City Royals are paying $9 million after releasing him last May; veteran reserve outfielders Jake Marisnick and Willie Calhoun; and good-field, no-hit shortstop Richie Martin.

An intriguing bullpen piece could be left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who spent the last two seasons recovering from a torn flexor tendon. A starter early in his career, he was 17-6 for the Boston Red Sox in 2017 and posted a 1.62 earned-run average with the San Diego Padres in 2020 and 2021 after becoming a reliever.

All of which makes for a mixed bag less than a month from opening day. Yet despite the scars of eight consecutive losing seasons, Angels fans continue to believe. The Athletic’s annual “Hope-O-Meter” poll of fans is underway, and last year, 81.4% of Angels fans were optimistic about the team’s fortunes. Astonishingly, that was higher than Dodgers fans (75.6%).

Last year, of course, the Angels had Ohtani and still went 73-89.

A bulk of the at-bats this spring have gone to a cadre of promising young players: shortstop Zach Neto, first baseman Nolan Schanuel, catcher Logan O’Hoppe and outfielders Mickey Moniak and Jo Adell. Any optimism from Angels faithful must bank on those players delivering, Trout and Rendon staying healthy and Rendon prioritizing his chosen profession.

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