After Mike Trout called for free-agent adds, the Angels did nothing. The GM explains why

When spring training started, superstar outfielder Mike Trout took the rare step of calling on the Los Angeles Angels to add more in free agency. He said he was “pushing, pushing, pushing” upper management to continue adding to a team he felt could still get better.

That came on the heels of Angels GM Perry Minasian saying his team would be aggressive in roster building. That 2024 wouldn’t be a rebuilding season.

And after Minasian hired Ron Washington as manager, he said he heard from agents proclaiming that their clients wanted to sign in Anaheim.

The season starts on Thursday. The most expensive free agent contract the Angels signed was middle reliever Robert Stephenson, who will earn $33 million over three years. They added no major-league free agents after Trout’s public calls.

“For me, I can say as much as I want to the front office, to Arte,” Trout told The Athletic on Sunday. “It’s ultimately his decision. I haven’t talked to him since to find out what the situation was. But I’m sure he had a reasoning for it, and felt strongly about it.”

There were players Trout watched sign elsewhere who he could have easily envisioned joining him in Anaheim. Their doing so would have been a statement of intent about the direction of the Angels. That it did not come to pass could be construed as a statement, as well.

“Obviously there were a few guys that I think if — not just the Angels, I think in general — guys you want on your team,” Trout said, before shifting gears. “But the guys we’ve got in this clubhouse, we’re confident in.”

Right now, Trout maintained, they’ve got to only think about the people who are in the room. Developing their young core. And for himself, returning to producing the kind of season he once delivered with metronomic reliability after playing only 237 total games over the last three seasons.

“I think a lot of people are writing me off. I just use it as motivation,” Trout said.

But it all does beg the question of why the Angels didn’t add around Trout this offseason. Why they telegraphed a plan to be competitive but ended up shedding more than $40 million in payroll, according to FanGraphs.

Minasian sat down with The Athletic to discuss the disappointing offseason and explain the organization’s reasoning.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Trout wanted the team to aggressively pursue free agents. That didn’t happen. Why not? How would you assess the offseason?

I guess I would say the moves we made might not be headliners per se. I think some of the moves we made, and some of the players have seen, at least what they’ve communicated, they’re pretty excited about the year. All our players — and that’s what I love about this group — it’s a really competitive group. They want to get better.

Mike first and foremost. Mike cares. Mike wants to win as bad as anybody. I think he’s put himself in a really good spot. The work he’s done before he got to camp. The work he did in camp. The amount of games he’s played. The amount of at-bats he’s gotten, how strong he is. I think he’s due for a big year. And we’re going to let our play do our talking. That’s something we’ve talked about a lot. We’re going to go and play the games and play baseball and see what happens.

Do you feel like there’s a playoff team in this roster somewhere?

To me, I don’t like to predict. What are we doing every day? I have the utmost confidence in our manager. Our coaching staff, and the group of players we have to take every day really seriously. Put everything they have into that particular day and go play. And see what happens. There’s some guys, there’s some really interesting players on this roster, from a youth standpoint that we took a look at.

It’s like, ‘OK, do we go get somebody? Or do we allow this person to play? Do we go get a starter? Or do we want to see Chase Silseth? Do we want to see Reid Detmers pitch in the rotation?’ Those were the debates we had. Where we felt we needed the most was bullpen. And that’s where we attacked, and tried to do it with some impact, and numbers. And we’ll see how it all plays out. You don’t know until you start playing. We’ll see where it goes.

When the offseason started, you said two things. One, that you guys would be aggressive. And two, that you’d heard from agents that their clients wanted to play in Anaheim. But at the end of the day, payroll is $41 million lower. How does that square?

Fair question. We were aggressive, especially in the trade market. There were players we liked in the trade market that we felt like could really help the club. But what we were losing, we couldn’t stomach. Some of the players that were on this roster, we really, really like. Some of the players that are in our minor leagues, regardless of what publications say, we feel like have a chance to be pretty impactful young players going forward. So we made the decision we made.

I’ve been with teams where we’ve won the offseason. We’ve made big splashes and were on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And we traded for this guy and we signed that guy. I’ve been on those teams. And it didn’t work.

So the biggest thing for me is, and we’ve talked about it before as a group, is to block out all the noise. Worry about the room and do whatever we can that day to win a game. That’s the mantra. Wash has basically brought that from day one. And I think it’s really carried over and resonated with the guys, and we’ll see what happens.

Even if you were aggressive in the trade market, why is payroll so much lower? Why was there a conscious decision not to add in free agency?

I think it’s about opportunities. And what fits short-term and long-term. And what players are available. And what are the risks with those players. What do you have to give up to acquire those players from a draft pick standpoint. I think you factor all those things in.

We were obviously in a lot of different conversations. I guess, at the end of the day, we have what we have. And we’re excited with what we have. I understand, “Why aren’t we this, why aren’t we there? We went there last year. Why aren’t we there?” It doesn’t mean we won’t get there. We’ll let the year play out, we’ll see what’s available. We’ll see where we are in the standings, and who knows?

The most expensive deal you’ve been authorized to give in your Angels tenure is $58 million over four years to Raisel Iglesias. He was then salary-dumped months later. Do you feel like you’ve been given the opportunity to build the roster you want?

Yeah. There’s no excuses here. Again, it goes back to fit. Finding the right player. When you’re giving out a certain level of contracts, you have to be right. And then it’s something that we don’t take lightly. We do our homework on every free agent. And it goes back to what we have. … I’ve asked a lot of questions to the (former Angels GM) Bill Stonemans of the world. Guys that have done this before.

Sometimes you go through some adversity and you go through some seasons that don’t necessarily go how you want them to go. But people develop. Players develop. If you give them the chance to continue to do that, they’ll surprise you.

Weighing certain things and looking at what was out there from an outfield standpoint. We have some young outfielders that we believe in. That we feel like when they get their opportunity to play, have a chance to be really good players. Same thing on the infield. I know we have some youth there. With that being said, could we have gone out there and made a splashy signing at first base or at shortstop or whatever it may be? Possibly. But we like those players. We think they have a chance to be really good players and core pieces and we want to see them play.

Depth has always been an issue. Injuries have been crippling. Do you think you have the depth in your system right now to sustain injuries during the season?

I think we’ll find out, is the best way to answer that. I can’t answer that yet. We’ll see how it plays out. From a roster construction standpoint, I think when the season starts, things change.

What we have now is not what we’re going to have a month from now, two months from now, four months from now. But we do feel like from a bullpen standpoint, we have some pretty good depth there. From a position player standpoint, whoever doesn’t get the opening day nod per se, should be a pretty talented bench. With guys that aren’t necessarily bench players that can fill in and play every day if they have to. That’s the goal, right?

Rotation-wise, we’ve got five starters. José Soriano had a great spring, he’s put himself on the map as someone we feel like could start if given the opportunity down the road. José Suarez had a really good camp. He’s somebody that’s been really productive. We’re probably deeper in the rotation, knock on wood, than we’ve been the last three years that I’ve been here.

General Manager Perry Minasian has one more year left on his Angels contract. (Lucas Peltier / USA Today)

You only have one year left on your contract. Is it tough to navigate that?

I’m not worried about that. That has zero — for me, I wake up every day. Whether I have a one-day contract or a 30-year contract, it’s what am I doing to make this place better. There’s a lot of people that work there. There’s a fanbase that is relying on me to make this place better. I don’t take that lightly. I have tunnel vision when it comes to that stuff. So that has zero bearing on anything.

There were reports of you guys in the mix for almost every single free agent. Did you feel like you were in the mix for all of these guys?

We had a lot of conversations, and there were a lot of guys that wanted to play here. Now, you have to line up. From a contract standpoint. Years standpoint. All those types of things. Money standpoint. That didn’t necessarily work out. But, it goes back to the staff we brought in. Wash coming in. There was a lot more phone calls from players than I’ve had in the past. Just in general interest of playing here.

But with that being said, again, we like our roster. We like some of the young players. We believe in some of the young players we have. And sitting there and looking at it, we felt like we could go get X, and look at losing this young player. For one reason or another. No options left, whatever it might be. You know what, we’ve put a lot of work into this player. He’s developed over the last couple years, the last year, whatever it may be, let’s see it through. Let’s give him an opportunity to play, let’s work with him this spring.

I was beyond impressed with the spring training from the quality of work standpoint that we had. Hopefully that carries over to the season.

What do you need out of Trout and Anthony Rendon this year given the recent injury history?

We need them. We need the whole team. And we need to pick each other up when we need to. When somebody’s out, we need somebody else to come in and step up. We need to stay a tight-knit group. We need to worry about the room and only the room. And block out all the outside noise. Those guys are top-tier players when they’re healthy. We’d all love to see them play 162 games. I think all of us would.

But with that being said, it’s not about two players. It’s about the whole entire group. And again, I think anybody that’s been around our spring training, listened to our staff — nobody’s relying on one player. Nobody’s relying on two players. It’s an entire team that we need. … What did we use last year? Sixty-five? Sixty-six? Whatever it was. Whatever the number ends up being, we need each one of those people to contribute as best they can.

When you look at the foundation for the future, is it Zach Neto and Logan O’Hoppe?

Obviously, they’re both talented. Nolan Schanuel is talented. Silseth is talented. Detmers is talented. There’s a group of young players here that I believe can take another step. And they’re hungry and they’re workers and they’re baseball 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it’s contagious. When you’re around them, you can feel it.

Zach Neto could be part of the solution going forward. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

And I think some of the young players we’ve brought to camp, and we’ve been pretty aggressive with some of the younger prospects we brought to camp. We wanted them to be around those guys and see it, and feel it. And it was amazing. You’d walk into the food room and you’d see Zach holding court with Nelson Rada and Kyren Paris and some of the kids we’d have. Same thing on the pitching end. You’d see Patrick Sandoval holding court with Caden Dana and Victor Mederos and Sam Bachman.

The way the game is, you have to develop young players. And the only way to do that is to give them opportunities. But they have to earn the opportunity. You don’t just give it out. They have to earn it. Going back to this offseason, we felt like there were the four, five, six, seven, eight young players that we have on this club have earned the right to at least start the season, and see where it goes.

Your assistant GM was fired after last season, and you were left as the only MLB team without an assistant GM. Have you replaced him?

It hasn’t happened yet. I think we’re more than capable of getting everything done with what we currently have. Staff has been outstanding, going through spring training and divvying up some things. I will say this. In a roundabout way, we’ve been able to involve more people in more things. Developing staff is a big deal too. And being a part of different experiences and understanding areas that aren’t your expertise will only make you better, and more well-rounded. For me, there’s no issue there. There’s no excuses. We’re fine.

Do you know if construction ended up getting started on the spring training facility? The team has said it was set to start on March 25.

I don’t know.

When you talk to Arte Moreno, do you feel like there’s a desire to make this a competitive team? And if it is, why are some of these moves not being made?

I just go back, there’s no guarantees because you make one or two moves. There’s no guarantees on anything. We have, in our eyes, we have significant upside in the current roster that we have. Now we need things to go right. We need some of our young players to continue to develop. We need some of our older players to play. There are no secrets.

If those things happen, I think we’ll be in a place where our play does our talking. I’m in constant contact with (Moreno). We’re on the same page. More than willing to dive in and, for us, this offseason, with what was out there and what we talked about and some of the concepts that were thrown at us, we felt like this was the right way to go.

Do you think he’s ever going to want to sign a big free agent again?

That would be a question for him.

Do you think there’s a different culture with this team this year?

It’s different. You have different leadership, it’s going to be different. The culture last year I had no issue with. It was a good culture last year. Phil Nevin did a — it wasn’t a culture issue, in my opinion. But yes, it’s different. You have a change in leadership, it’s going to be different. What’s emphasized, style of play, what’s important to this manager and staff is going to be a little different than the previous manager.

You said at the GM meetings that you wanted them to have a little more of an edge. Have you seen that?

We’re going to find out. Spring training is one thing. Everybody feels good. Everybody’s optimistic. I’m very lucky in my lifetime, I’ve been in 36 straight years in a major league spring training.

And I’ve never walked out of there saying, “Oh man, this is going bad.” You don’t win anything for having a good spring training. But it’s building blocks. And I think this spring training was really important for us, for our players to understand what the expectations are from our manager and our staff. And what being an Angel is and walking in the door. And what’s expected of you from a work standpoint and a prep standpoint. All those types of things.

I think they did a great job laying that out. But every team — I imagine if you talked to all 30 camps, they feel like spring training went well. I’m excited to start and play some games and see where we’re at.

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