The Angels have had good days, but they are increasingly distant. Friday marked another of the not-so-good days, with the team announcing third baseman Anthony Rendon was bound for season-ending surgery.
In 2002, when the Angels won their one and only World Series, Gerrit Cole pounded his thunder sticks and cheered the home team to victory.
Cole was 12 then. He would play high school ball at Orange Lutheran, five miles from Angel Stadium. In 2019, after winning 20 games for the Houston Astros, he could come home.
He was a free agent and, as always, the Angels desperately needed pitching. Cole was the best pitcher available, and the anticipation within baseball was the team that could win the bidding would be the one that could put a halo on him.
“I got the Angels,” then-teammate Wade Miley told USA Today, “and paying him at least $250 million.”
The Angels bid, but they did not get to $300 million. The New York Yankees got him for $324 million, and agent Scott Boras said money was not the only factor in Cole turning down his hometown team.
“In his mind, that pursuit of those world championships was something that was on the forefront of his final decision,” Boras said at the time.
The Angels quickly pivoted to another Boras client, third baseman Anthony Rendon, whom the Dodgers were courting. On the day after Cole picked the Yankees, Rendon picked the Angels.
The $245 million was important, sure. Rendon also cited an aversion to what he called “the Hollywood lifestyle,” and he wanted a place his family could feel comfortable.
“I think when people think about California, they think of the straight Hollywood, that glamour lifestyle, whole bunch of flashes and so much paparazzi,” Rendon said at his introductory news conference at Angel Stadium. “But everyone just said it’s the complete opposite down here.”
How’d all that work out for everyone?
For the Yankees, just fine. They have not made the World Series with Cole, but they made the playoffs twice, and he finished fourth in American League Cy Young voting in 2020, second in 2021.
For the Dodgers, even better. They won the World Series in 2020, and Rendon choosing the Angels meant the Dodgers could avoid an awkward conversation with Justin Turner about where he might play. The Dodgers also pursued Cole, but missing out on him and Rendon left more than enough money to acquire and then extend outfielder Mookie Betts.
For the Angels?
If you’re not an Angels fan, all you need to know is Angels fans rushed to social media Friday to see how fast they could recite a list of big-money contracts gone bad: Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Vernon Wells, Gary Matthews Jr., Justin Upton …
Upton is scheduled to make his season debut Friday — in Seattle, against the Angels, on the Angels’ dime. The Angels cut him in spring training to make room for Taylor Ward, a smart move.
But that means the Angels will be paying $64 million this season to two guys unavailable to them Friday: one playing against them, one suffering a season-ending injury for the second straight year. The opening day payroll of the division rival Oakland Athletics: $48 million.
The Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Guardians and Pittsburgh Pirates also opened the season with payrolls under $64 million, according to the Associated Press.
In 2020, Rendon’s debut season with the Angels, he and Mike Trout ranked among the top four position players in the American League.
In 2021, Rendon and Trout played 16 games together. In 2022, Rendon and Trout played 26 games together.
And, as former Angels star and current analyst Tim Salmon noted on a recent broadcast, the understudies in the lineup have been “overexposed” in the absence of Rendon, Ward and infielder David Fletcher. The Angels have given 666 plate appearances to bench players with an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS+) below the league average of 100, and in some cases well below: Matt Duffy (92), Luis Rengifo (67), Tyler Wade (60), Jack Mayfield (51), Juan Lagares (42) and Andrew Velazquez (40).
On Friday, Duffy batted third, Rengifo fourth.
On May 15, the Angels were tied for first place in the AL West. On June 15, they were 10½ games back.
In 1995, the year of the Angels’ most memorable collapse, it took them six weeks to lose so much ground.
Even in the new and expanded playoff format, the Angels entered play Friday five games out of a postseason spot — and just two games better than the Baltimore Orioles, a team that lost at least 108 games in each of the last three full seasons.
Rendon is expected to be ready for spring training, which would mark the final season in which the Angels have Shohei Ohtani under contractual control. The Angels have not finished within 10 games of first place in any of Ohtani’s first four seasons with the team, and this one appears eerily similar.
Was it only a month ago that we were asking how exciting it would be to see Trout and Ohtani in the playoffs? Now we are left to ask this: If you were Ohtani, and you have made clear winning is your first priority, would you sign a long-term extension with the Angels?
Arte Moreno, the Angels’ owner, loves his stars. Ohtani generates tons of goodwill for the Angels, and millions in marketing dollars. Moreno said he would not trade Trout, and Trout has committed his career to the Angels. If Ohtani declines to do the same, would Moreno decline to trade him and let him walk away in free agency?
The Angels are not cursed. No one believes that stuff. Or do they?