'Forgotten' Angels hoping to defy expectations in their post-Ohtani world


The usual buzz surrounding the Angels was noticeably absent this spring, the departure of the supernova that was Shohei Ohtani giving their training camp the feel of a county fairgrounds the day after the circus left town.

Gone was the Japanese media throng that greeted Ohtani in the parking lot every morning, followed the two-way star’s every move throughout the day and peppered players with questions about him in the clubhouse.

Gone were the photographers who climbed the butte overlooking the practice facility — known as Shohei Mountain — to get aerial shots of Ohtani’s arrival.

A daily media contingent that consisted of 30-50 reporters, photographers and camera operators fell this spring to two or three Southern California-based reporters who follow the team on a regular basis, with a few national and freelance writers dropping by occasionally.

“Just a little bit,” Angels pitcher Patrick Sandoval said with a chuckle, when asked if things were quieter around camp this spring. “We got our clubhouse back.”

Make no mistake: In no world are the Angels better off without Ohtani, the two-time American League most valuable player who was the team’s best pitcher and hitter for three years before heading for greener and bluer pastures with the 10-year, $700-million deal he signed with the Dodgers in December.

But there is at least one benefit to the loss of a player who was the axis upon which the Angels spun, a once-in-a-lifetime talent whom the Angels moved mountains for in a desperate attempt to reach the playoffs in 2023, believing it was the only way they could retain him in free agency, only for it to all come crashing down on them in August.

“I guess the narrative on the outside is that we’re kind of forgotten about now that Ohtani is not here,” Sandoval said. “There are no high expectations of us from the media and the fans and baseball in general.”

Angels manager Ron Washington looks on from the dugout.

Ron Washington enters his first season as manager of the Angels.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The Angels have been a major disappointment to most of their own fans after failing to produce even one winning record — let alone a playoff berth — in the six seasons they had Mike Trout, a three-time AL MVP, and Ohtani in the lineup.

They are considered longshots to end a nine-year playoff drought in a rugged AL West that features the defending World Series-champion Texas Rangers and the perennial-contending Houston Astros, but at least they won’t be deemed a colossal flop if they fail to reach the postseason.

And they shouldn’t feel compelled to trade several of their precious few top prospects from one of baseball’s thinnest farm systems to acquire marginal upgrades the way they did last summer in a last-gasp effort to seize a playoff berth, which eluded the Angels when they lost seven straight and 16 of 21 games to open August.

“When you lose a guy like Shohei, it’s a big, big loss — what he brought to the team, you can’t replace that,” Trout said. “But if we have normal, healthy years, we might surprise some people. We have a lot of veteran guys and some young guys who are talented. You never know what could happen.”

To have any chance of even finishing above .500, the Angels, under the direction of new manager Ron Washington, will need normal, healthy years from Trout and third baseman Anthony Rendon, the high-priced veterans who are so far removed from their last healthy years, it’s hard to say what a “normal” season would even be for them.

Trout, 32, in the sixth year of a 12-year, $426.5-million contract, has been limited by injuries to 237 games in the last three seasons, and the perennially hobbled Rendon, 33, among baseball’s biggest busts since signing a seven-year, $245-million deal before the 2020 season, has played only 148 games since the start of 2021.

Mike Trout runs the bases at Angels spring training in February.

Mike Trout runs the bases at Angels spring training in February.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Trout suffered a season-ending calf injury in mid-May 2021, sat out five weeks of July and August 2022 because of a back issue and sat out all but one game from July 4 to the end of 2023 because of a hamate fracture in his left wrist

“Last year was the best my body has felt in a long time until I broke my hand,” Trout said earlier this spring, “but you can’t control that.”

The numbers didn’t reflect how Trout felt. The center fielder hit only .263 with an .858 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 18 homers and 44 RBIs in 82 games last season, well below his career .301 average and .994 OPS and well off his power pace of 2022, when he hit 40 homers and drove in 80 runs in 119 games.

But Trout says he believes he has identified a “bad habit” that he developed over the last year and a half in which he would “slide” into his swing instead of maintaining a firm base. That made it tougher to catch up to high velocity and caused him to swing under too many pitches.

“My head is moving too much, and when the head moves, the ball moves,” Trout said. “I’m trying to slow everything down [this spring]. It sounds simple, but it’s a process. My swing hasn’t felt right for the past year, year and a half, but I know I’m gonna get that feeling back.”

The Angels aren’t expecting Rendon to reprise his 2019 season, when he hit .319 with 1.010 OPS, 34 homers, 44 doubles and 126 RBIs to lead the Nationals to a World Series title, but with Ohtani no longer locked in at designated hitter, Rendon can be rotated through the DH spot to reduce the wear and tear on his fragile body.

But even with bounce-back years from Trout and Rendon, the Angels might not be playoff contenders.

They spent $49 million to rebuild their bullpen, with $33 million going to new setup man Robert Stephenson, but they made no significant additions to their rotation or lineup, with suddenly stingy owner Arte Moreno, perhaps feeling burned by so many nine-figure-deals-gone-bad, tightening his grip on the purse strings this winter.

Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon walks on the field at Tempe Diablo Stadium during spring training on Feb. 19.

Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon walks on the field at Tempe Diablo Stadium during spring training on Feb. 19.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The rotation features four starters — Sandoval, Reid Detmers, Tyler Anderson and Griffin Canning — who are coming off subpar 2023 seasons.

The Angels have one of the game’s best young catchers in Logan O’Hoppe and two other promising youngsters in shortstop Zach Neto and first baseman Nolan Schanuel, but they did virtually nothing to fill Ohtani’s void, passing on free-agent slugger Cody Bellinger, and they lack power from the left side.

They will need a lot to go right and very little to go wrong to make any kind of playoff push, but who knows? Maybe after being decimated by injuries for so many years, they’re due for some good luck.

“The last two years, I thought we were gonna win the World Series, I really did, but obviously injuries and things happened,” Angels left fielder Taylor Ward said. “So I’m not going to say anything now. I’m going to go in with no expectations — I think a lot of us are — and just see what happens.”



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