The current shoals being navigated by Angels GM Billy Eppler are treacherous ones.

On the one hand, you've got one of the weakest farm systems in the game and a major-league club that finished 14 games below .500 in 2016. On the other hand, you've got the best player in baseball -- Mike Trout -- who's in his prime and gives the Halos the strongest one-man foundation in the game.

The defensible decision that Eppler and ownership has made is to try to contend around Trout. This brings us to the next layer of complications.
Those barren minor-league rungs mean the Angels can't pull off blockbuster trades to improve the current roster. As well, the dubious past investments of Arte Moreno mean there's not room in the operating budget to chase frontline free agents.

Eppler, then, must make improvements at the margins. That's precisely what he's done this offseason.

Not that bad in 2016?

First, the baseline may be higher than you'd think just by eyeballing the Angels' fourth-place finish. Last season, the Angels played to a run differential of minus-10, which scales to an 80-win season rather than their actual total of 74 wins. Those 74 wins are obviously a factual matter, but a team's "run differential record" says more about their future outlook than does their record in the standings.

To be fair, if you drill down a bit deeper to the batted ball level, then the Angels look as bad as their actual 74-88 record, but consider the run differential approach to be one bit of evidence that their 2017 baseline may be a bit better than it seems at first blush.