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ANAHEIM — After a series of notable offseason additions, the Angels figure to be one of the most fascinating teams to watch in 2018.
General manager Billy Eppler and his staff stunned many by winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes last month, and they continued to make more roster improvements by trading for veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler and signing infielder Zack Cozart to a three-year, $38 million deal.
After falling just short of an American League Wild Card berth in 2017, Eppler has assembled enough pieces around superstar center fielder Mike Trout to put the Angels in position to contend this year.
Here’s a look at the top five questions for the Angels heading into 2018:
1. Will Ohtani be able to succeed as a two-way player in the Majors?
There hasn’t been a two-way star in the Majors since Babe Ruth, so there is no modern blueprint for what Ohtani will attempt to do with the Angels this season. Ohtani, a 23-year-old pitcher and hitter, figures to make his greatest impact on the mound, where he has the potential to give the Angels another top-of-the-rotation arm to pair with Garrett Richards. But Ohtani never pitched more than 160 2/3 innings in a single season in Japan, and he received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right elbow in October to help heal a first-degree UCL strain. Ohtani is also expected to hit a few times a week as a part-time designated hitter, so the Angels will have to find a way for him to balance his two endeavors while maintaining a reasonable workload. If Ohtani struggles at the plate, will the Angels be prepared to ride it out, or will they pull the plug on his two-way dreams?
2. Will the Angels’ starting rotation stay healthy?
The Angels bulked up their lineup by re-signing Justin Upton and adding Cozart and Kinsler, but their ability to contend in 2018 will likely hinge on the health of their starters. For two consecutive seasons, the Angels’ rotation has been decimated by injuries, but if Richards, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs can avoid the disabled list, the club could field a talented and effective pitching staff. To prevent injuries and ease Ohtani’s transition to the Majors, the Angels are considering adopting a six-man rotation, which would be another intriguing development to follow.
3. Can Albert Pujols rebound?
Pujols has long been one of the most feared sluggers of his generation, but the 37-year-old saw his production dip to career-worst levels in 2017. According to FanGraphs, he was the least valuable player in baseball with a -2.0 wins above replacement. Still, the Angels believe that a full offseason of conditioning could help rejuvenate Pujols, who is owed $114 million over the next four years. Past winter surgeries have hampered Pujols’ ability to train ahead of Spring Training, but he was unrestricted this offseason, stoking some optimism about his ability to return to form in 2018.
4. Will the Angels finally break their playoff drought?
The Angels haven’t won a postseason games since 2009, and they’ve made the playoffs only once with Trout, in 2014, when they were swept by the Royals in the AL Division Series. The World Series champion Astros will likely enter the season as the favorites to once again win the AL West, but the Angels’ overhauled roster should put them squarely in the mix for one of the Wild Card spots. Trout is under contract for only three more seasons, so the urgency to win is building, as evidenced by the Angels’ willingness to commit more than $180 million to five newcomers this offseason.
5. Will Mike Scioscia manage the Angels beyond 2018?
Scioscia, the longest-tenured manager in baseball, will be entering the final season of his 10-year contract in 2018. Scioscia has compiled a .538 winning percentage, led the franchise to its only World Series title, in 2002, and won two AL Manager of the Year Awards over his 18 seasons in Anaheim, but the club is coming off back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1992-93. Unlike his two predecessors, Eppler — who is signed through the 2019 season — has a contract that outlasts Scioscia’s, giving him the ability to make a change in the dugout if he desires.
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.