May 20, 2024

The Angels are the only major league team never to have lost 100 games in a season. It is a nice distinction, but the apparent determination to maintain it has detracted from the pursuit of what should be the primary goal: a second World Series championship.

Losing 100 games is nothing to be proud of, but it is also nothing to be scared of, provided there is a plan to do something beyond save money.

The Baltimore Orioles lost 100 games three years ago, and five years ago, and six years ago. They had a plan: rid themselves of veteran players, let the losses pile up, draft and develop good young players, build a winning core.

On Wednesday, for the fourth time in six games this season, the defending American League East champion Orioles beat the Angels.

The Angels do not tank because owner Arte Moreno believes paying fans deserve a competitive team every year, but Angel Stadium was two-thirds empty Wednesday, with resale tickets available for $1 and entire sections vacant all around the upper deck.

The Angels are five games under .500, a depth they did not reach until Aug. 23 last season. They have played eight series and won one.

It’s early, of course. But, as Yogi Berra said, it’s getting late early out there. As of Wednesday, Baseball Prospectus gave the Angels a 3% chance of making the postseason.

The Angels last made the postseason in 2014; no team has gone longer without an appearance.

“We’re not doing it the right way,” Angels president John Carpino said four years ago. “We’re not winning games. So something is not right in our organization. We have to look at it.”

I was curious what the Angels had discovered and how it had been addressed. Carpino, through a team spokesman, declined to comment. Moreno did not respond to a request for comment.

The Angels’ plan can be difficult to discern. Moreno did not want to restock the Angels’ prospect pool by trading Shohei Ohtani last summer, or the previous summer. Moreno also did not want to match the $700-million contract Ohtani signed and did not want to spend to replace him with proven major league hitters.

The Angels truly believed they had a chance to retain Ohtani and, when his market in free agency exceeded Moreno’s comfort level, they could have pivoted and sold some of their young starting pitching for prospects. They did not do that, either.

Bo Porter, the Angels’ first-base coach, managed the Houston Astros in 2013. The Astros were proudly tanking that year. They lost 111 games.

“We are light years ahead of where the Astros were at,” Porter said.

In 2013, the Astros had four players who played long enough and well enough to make Houston’s 2017 World Series roster: infielders Jose Altuve and Marwin Gonzalez, and pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Brad Peacock.

On these Angels, beyond franchise anchor Mike Trout, there are quite a few youngsters who the team hopes could play long enough and well enough to lead the team to a glorious October: shortstop Zach Neto, catcher Logan O’Hoppe, first baseman Nolan Schanuel, outfielders Jo Adell and Mickey Moniak, and pitchers Griffin Canning, Reid Detmers, Patrick Sandoval and Jose Soriano among them.

“When you have these young, controllable assets and you have a future Hall of Famer, you are light years ahead of someone who is in a total rebuild,” Porter said.

“There are a lot of pieces that are already there that teams that are going through a total rebuild would be trying to get. If they continue to develop and be who we believe they are capable of being, there is no reason we don’t compete for a playoff spot.”

Compete for a playoff spot this year, or down the road?

“I’m talking this year,” Porter said.

By the end of this year, the Angels need to determine which of those nine prospects figure in their future. Only three were ranked as top 40 prospects at any point in their minor league careers, and for Moniak that was seven years ago.

A few pieces might be enough to avoid losing 100 games, but it does not appear to be enough to win.

And, if the direction is to refrain from spending big money until the Angels are ready to win, a stronger minor league system would get them there faster — desperately needed depth on the major league level, and fortified with prospects to make a big trade when they are ready to win. In other words, what the Orioles just did to acquire ace Corbin Burnes.

On Tuesday, the Orioles started eight of their own draftees in Anaheim, and eight more at triple-A. The Angels started six of their own draftees in Anaheim, and two at triple-A.

Tanking is not as easy to do anymore. Even if Moreno suddenly wanted to do it, the most recent collective bargaining agreement restricts the draft rewards.

The Angels could finish with the worst record but lose the No. 1 pick by losing the draft lottery. They also could not get the No. 1 pick in consecutive years, as the Washington Nationals did when they landed Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

In the meantime, tanking or not, the patience among Angels fans appears close to exhausted. From 2003 to 2019, the Angels ranked no lower than seventh among the 30 clubs in attendance. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, they have ranked no higher than 13th.

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