What the Blue Jays can learn from a team like the Angels

Apr 9, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, CAN; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) singles in the seventh inning against Toronto Blue Jays at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, CAN; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) singles in the seventh inning against Toronto Blue Jays at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Blue Jays enter what should be a fairly lengthy “win-now” phase, they should look at the recent history of the teams around the league. In my mind, one club to pay particular attention to would be the L.A. Angels.

Because I’m starved for baseball content like everybody else, I found myself cruising on youtube earlier this weekend and came across a video from a channel called iTalk Studios, where they were discussing the state of the Angels these days. I’m not here to talk smack about the Angels, but the video laid out some great points about a cautionary tale.

The Angels were one of the better teams in baseball in the early 2000’s, and they’ve struggled to get back to that standing despite having arguably the best player in the world in Mike Trout since 2011. They also have Shohei Ohtani on their roster these days, who won the AL MVP for his unprecedented two-way talents in 2021. Unfortunately Trout was hurt for most of last season so they didn’t get to enjoy the two dominating at the same time, but it still feels like they are a ways off after winning just 72 games last year.

As I watched the video I got thinking about how the Angels have gone about their roster building over the last decade. To their credit, I would say that ownership and the front office have felt the urgency of adding talent around Trout, but they’ve gone about it in all kinds of ways that have ultimately worked against them.

The major point I took away from the video was the damage that the Angels did to their chances by signing aging veterans to big-money contracts. The first to come to mind would be the 10 year, 254 million dollar pact handed to Alberts Pujols in late 2011. He wasn’t the same MVP calibre star in L.A. that he’d been in St. Louis, and in a lot of ways that contract ultimately backfired. Pujols was far from alone in that category though.

The following year the Angels made the ill-advised decision to sign Josh Hamilton to a five-year, 125 million dollar contract, which turned out to be a disaster. They traded for Justin Upton a few years later, and in 2019 they gave Anthony Rendon seven years and 245 million and that hasn’t started out so well either. Collectively, that’s a lot of money to spend on a group of players that have barely moved the needle at all.

So what does this have to do with the Blue Jays? The parallel that I see here is that the Jays are now in a phase where they’re handing bigger contracts to veterans to complements their young core pieces. They signed Hyun Jin Ryu to a four year, 80 million dollar contract two years ago, gave George Springer six years and 150 million last winter, and inked Kevin Gausman for five years and 110 million in November, as well as extending Jose Berrios for seven years and at least 131 million.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the Jays have repeated the same mistakes that the Angels have made at all here. It’s possible that some of their bigger contracts could age poorly, and plenty of folks would point to the rough start for Springer’s six-year deal that saw him play just 78 games last year. The difference in my eyes is that the risks have been a lot more calculated for the Jays, where it felt like the Angels frequently signed the biggest star they could find and hoped it would help them get back to the playoffs.

As Ross Atkins and the rest of the front office look for those kind of finishing pieces to the roster, I’d be surprised to see them massively overpay to bring in a star player. They must have set a limit to retain Marcus Semien before the Rangers gave him his huge seven-year deal, and while I’m surprised that they were legitimate reports linking them to Corey Seager, I don’t think we’re going to see the Blue Jays play in that kind of market with any other free agents. They might be willing to hand a 10-year contract or even longer to a player or two, but I believe it would be for a 22 year old Vladimir Guerrero Jr., or 23 year old Bo Bichette.

As that pertains to the here and now, I expect and even prefer that the Blue Jays stay away from free agents like Carlos Correa and Freddie Freeman once the lockout is over. It’s not that I don’t think those guys would help, because of course they would, it’s just that their next potential contracts strike me as the type that have hurt the Angels over the last decade, at least in the context of the future in Toronto. Correa is reportedly looking for at least a decade-long contract, and Freeman is 32 and an awkward roster fit for the Blue Jays, even if he’s an incredible hitter.

Next. Players drafted by Atkins who the Jays couldn't sign. dark

So again, I don’t mean to pick on the Angels here at all, but I really do see them as a cautionary tale for many teams around the league, including the Blue Jays. You can only sign so many players to huge contracts, and the Jays will have to take calculated risks going forward, especially with the commitments they’ve already made. They have their homegrown core star in Vlad Jr. and even a second one in Bo Bichette, but building around them is easier said than done.