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The Angels Are a Tragedy Worthy of Shakespeare

Perry Minasian speaks at his introductory press conference as the general manager of the Los Angeles Angels.

The Angels are the cause of their own downfall, and waiving pending free agents is the latest example of their flaws.

You have likely heard by now that the Los Angeles Angels placed a quarter of their roster on irrevocable waivers. While they are not alone among losing teams hoping to save salary, the sheer scale is the latest instance of the front office doing something simultaneously shocking and logical to a fault. I won’t really expand on the reasons GM Perry Minasian is doing this as others have explained it already, but the skinny of it is that they save money and get a better compensation draft pick. No, I am here to tell a tragic tale worthy of William Shakespeare.

Baseball did not exist during the Renaissance, but the Angels have more than their fair share of themes that grace the stage: pride, loyalty, hope, fragility, desperation, heartbreak, loss. What makes this franchise so tragic is that their downfall into helplessness for years to come was not at all inevitable; it was wholly preventable at a variety of inflection points along the way going back to last decade. The Angels could have been great, but they have instead languished in mediocrity and are now headed for futility in the near future.

Elizabethan theatre has a specific structure to it, both in regard to comedy and tragedy. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, the main character always has a fatal flaw that leads to their downfall, much like in Ancient Greek tragedy. But the main separator from Athens and the genre of comedy is that the events of Shakespearean tragedy are consequential. The actions of the characters directly lead to the eventual climax, rather than randomness or the Fates determining what happens to the people involved. There is no divine intervention, even when angels are involved.

What Makes the Angels a Shakespearean Tragedy

The Angels match these qualifications to a startling degree of accuracy. Owner Arte Moreno has insisted on competing for a playoff spot regardless of his franchise’s circumstances. His unyielding pride won’t let him concede he has lost when most others recognize that is the case. He even aimed to sell the franchise last year and then backpedaled because he loves the team so much. Moreno’s insistence to go for it when that does not make sense has forced multiple general managers to constantly mortgage the future for a playoff berth that never arrives. The presence of century-defining superstars in OF Mike Trout and SP/DH Shohei Ohtani have brought hope for success, only for former GM Billy Eppler and now Minasian to patch together faulty rosters around them.

Outside observers (including me) joke about the baseball gods creating fun pitching matchups or dragging fan favorites away due to injury. The Angels have dealt with plenty of the latter, and even if some faceless deities were responsible for 3B Anthony Rendon missing most of the past three seasons or OF Taylor Ward getting hit in the face, the front office still responds to those injuries.

But there is one more aspect that Shakespeare uses to set up a tragedy: the main character starts from a high, respected place before proceeding to lose everything. Contrary to the likes of Macbeth, Lear, Othello, and Hamlet, the Angels don’t have a fortunate place to begin with. In a sense, they are more tragic because they have been falling in a bottomless pit for years.

The 2023 Plan

LA’s stretch of being stuck in the middle goes back to 2010, the year before Trout debuted. They haven’t won less than 74 games in a full season, and their win percentage in 2020 was higher than that. But they have only made the playoffs once since then, and 2014 was the only year with 90+ wins.

Many people have written about the Angels ad nauseam, but what’s happened in the past year is an epic on its own. The team started with the blahest of blah moves by taking the interim tag off of Manager Phil Nevin. An energetic skipper probably would not change how this season is going, but a bland personality has not helped.

Minasian, to his credit, did what Eppler failed to do during the offseason: add real supporting players. The Angels have been running a stars-and-scrubs lineup for years, and the lack of depth seriously hurt. Minasian made low-cost additions of INF Brandon Drury, 3B Gio Urshela, and OF Hunter Renfroe while also believing in SP Tyler Anderson’s breakout. CP Carlos Estevez pitched well at Coors, and he has mostly succeeded as the closer. With the Angels unlikely to resign Ohtani, 2023 was their last chance to compete with their phenom. Their promising rotation looked like an above-average unit, and the lineup could be as well.

The moves have not quite worked out. The hitters are 11th in wRC+, but the pitching is only 23rd in ERA. Anderson, SP Reid Detmers, and RPs Jaime Barria, Chris Devenski and Aaron Loup all have ERA’s over five. The average hitters have been average-ish, but the team was hoping for more. Injuries have ravaged the roster. C Logan O’Hoppe has played 25 games, Rendon 43, and SS Zach Neto 67.

Second Half Nightmare

Some thought the front office had done enough to grab a wild card spot. But the “A” Plan and June trades for INFs Mike Moustakas and Eduardo Escobar only got the Angels to one under at the All-Star break. But an injury to Trout and a loaded AL had Minasian and Moreno pondering an Ohtani trade. Instead, the team won four straight games, decided to buy before the deadline, and then won four more. Minasian had a weak farm system to begin with, and he plummeted it to acquire SP Lucas Giolito, RPs Reynaldo Lopez and Dominic Leone, 1B CJ Cron, and OF Randal Grichuk.

While I and many others said the Angels were making the wrong decision, it was certainly a defensible one. They were only four games out at the time, and some fans would have forsaken the team for trading a global superstar. But the Angels then lost seven in a row to begin August and finished the month 8-19. With a record that bad, most of the players struggled, including the deadline acquisitions. Grichuk has a .567 OPS in LA while Giolito carried a 6.89 ERA across six starts. Cron has similarly struggled and is currently on the IL. If there was hope in April, it vanished in late summer.

In the middle of the month, the Angels called up 1B Nolan Schanuel, their first-round pick from a month earlier. While promoting prospects quickly is admirable, this was a last gasp move of desperation. This was Minasian’s final glimmer of hope in the fourth act, only to see his team continue to lose, with a zero next to their name under playoff odds.


Now we are in the fifth act, where the protagonist knows their fate, and the playwright is tying up loose ends. After five months, Minasian, likely with Moreno’s blessing, finally admitted his team cannot win. So he salvaged what he could by placing six players on waivers where other teams claimed five of them. The Angels will save a little money and drop below the Competitive Balance Tax threshold. But those are tiny consolations.

The final criterion for a Shakespearean tragedy is that most of the characters die by the end of the play. A couple background characters are still alive to reckon with the violence and loss, but for all intents and purposes, no one is left. The Angels, for all intents and purposes, now have no one left in the franchise. The headline acquisitions have all left town. The precious few prospects play for other organizations. Ohtani will be signing elsewhere while recovering from a UCL tear. Trout will not return this season. The kingdom of heaven will be made of scraps in 2024.

In true Shakespearean fashion, this all could have been avoided. Minasian could have traded away Ohtani last season for the biggest return in sports history. Moreno could have followed through on his announcement and sold the team to someone with a clear vision. The two of them could have agreed to sell in July and beef up a weak farm system instead of tearing it apart. The Angels could have simply played better this season. Instead, a franchise in a huge market, with a World Series title this century, will be limping through some awful campaigns for years to come.

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