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2014 Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Mar 25, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 8.00.41 PM Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Big Question: After two years of disappointments, do the Angels have a shot?

There has been no bigger disappointment in baseball over the past two years than the Angels. After signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson before the 2012 season and after signing Josh Hamilton a year ago, the Angels missed the playoffs both years. By a wide margin last season. And while Wilson has been solid, the two biggest bats on the market in those two seasons have been busts. Apart from promoting Mike Trout and watching him dominate baseball and apart from nearly single-handedly scaring teams away from long-term contracts for big sluggers, the Angels haven’t done anything of significance over the past two seasons.

But there is at least some reason to hope this year. It’s only modest reason, and it’s based more on unscientific things like the law of averages than anything truly tangible, but at the very least it’s too early for Angels fans to throw in the towel.

Simply put: it’s really hard to imagine Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton putting up two more dreadful seasons between them. Pujols was famously hampered by injuries last year and is supposedly healthy again. Hamilton was less famously aggravated by injuries. While it’s entirely possible that each of them has hit a Dale-Murphy-in-1989 kind of wall, it would be maddeningly improbable for a future Hall of Famer and a recent MVP to both do so at once. It could happen, but for me to believe it will require me seeing it. And if they do bounce back — even part of the way back, to respectability if not dominance — the Angels offense should be in fantastic shape.

Mike Trout is the best all-around player in the game and should continue to be so for a long time. While they lost Mark Trumbo‘s homers, they also lost his nearly unprecedented out-making abilities. David Freese fell off a bit last year, but is capable of solid contributions. Kole Calhoun hit well in 58 games last season and has a nice minor league track record. Raul Ibanez can’t be expected to go on forever, but he had a fantastic season in 2013 and should contribute as well.  The upshot: the Angels were third on-base percentage, fifth in slugging and sixth in runs in the American League last season with Pujols and Hamilton doing close to nothing for them. It’s not hard to imagine the offense being among the best in the league with even a reasonable rebound from those two and expected contributions from the rest of the lineup.

So many ifs, obviously. And the “they look good on paper” thing hasn’t worked out too well for the Angels in a while. But the Angels could very easily have a playoff-caliber offense. And that’s reason to hope.

What else is going on?

  • Obviously offense isn’t everything. What really sunk the Angels last year was the pitching. The Trumbo trade did a lot to address that, bringing in Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, who should help bolster the back end of the rotation, which was hideous last season. Neither should light the world on fire — and while Skaggs has some upside, we pretty much know what Santiago is — but after the Joe Blanton experience in 2013, Mike Scioscia will probably welcome modest expectations reasonably-met.
  • The top end of the rotation is nominally OK with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson — they’re big stars and at times have been among the best starters in baseball — but Weaver’s diminished velocity and some late-season forearm issues have to be cause for concern.He’s lost a good four miles per hour off his heater since he came up and has become more hittable. While there’s no reason to panic, if he declines more quickly than expected, all bets are off for the rotation.
  • The bullpen sucked eggs last year too, but it should be improved. Bringing in setup man Joe Smith from Cleveland is a big help. And, while Sean Burnett and Dane De La Rosa will likely start the season on the disabled list, their presence for most of the season will represent a big improvement over last year. More generally, Jerry Dipoto brought in a ton of organizational bullpen depth via minor league signings that, unlike last year, won’t require him to repurpose starting pitchers and generally scramble if and when the relievers who start the season in Anaheim falter.
  • Hot seat watch: It’s been a long time since a major league manager did less with more than Mike Scioscia has done over the past two seasons and not paid for it with his job. Not that the Angels’ problems have been his fault — who bet on Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton forgetting how to hit? — but managers do usually pay for such struggles. If the Angels limp out to a slow start for a third straight year, it’s going to be hard for Scioscia to avoid the hot seat. In his favor, though, are the lack of 2012 or 2013-size expectations.

Prediction: They could surprise and, for once, exceed expectations. But with the Rangers and A’s as stocked as they are, it’ll be hard to see the Angels finishing above Third place, American League West.

  1. RonKarate - Mar 25, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    It’s like Arte Moreno has morphed into Gene Autry. Over the hill former stars and mediocre pitching. Same old Angels.

    Well, we can watch Mike Trout daily.

  2. 13arod - Mar 25, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    I see them in second place not third because rangers have too many injured players

  3. phillysports1 - Mar 25, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    13arod …. Really ? So you expect Hamilton , Pujols to play over 150 games ? Texas Will win that division .

  4. gibbyfan - Mar 25, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    Although I’m a cardinal fan I hope Albert and DF have huge years

  5. 13arod - Mar 25, 2014 at 11:15 AM

    phillysports1 the rangers have too many injures and dont have really a good team i see the angles having a better team then the rangers this year

  6. El Bravo - Mar 25, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    No pitching. This team is a bust. Distant third at best. I’m hoping the Astros beat them out for what will be the most lop-sided rankings ever.

  7. phillysports1 - Mar 25, 2014 at 11:54 AM

    13arod … idk well see about that . I understand what your saying though ..

  8. cohnjusack - Mar 25, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    I’m over the Albert schadenfreude. I wanna see the guy kicking ass again this year. He’ll nver be his old .330/.430/.650 prime again and that shouldn’t be expected, but I would love to see back to hitting 30 homers.

  9. stlouis1baseball - Mar 25, 2014 at 12:49 PM

    Although I still have a chip on my shoulder for the way he blatantly lied…
    yeah…I have an issue with letting things go.
    I would like to see A.P. back to his old self. .330/30/100 would be great.
    Not likely…but I can hope.

    • gibbyfan - Mar 25, 2014 at 1:52 PM

      I think if he can stay healthy he could make those numbers –seems like a lot of us are getting over Albert’s departure–first two years I was totally enjoying the downturn.

  10. trefkennedy - Mar 25, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    Let’s get it TeamAngels

  11. moogro - Mar 25, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    If they called themselves the Anaheim Angels they could break the curse.

  12. notsofast10 - Mar 25, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    There is only one team IN Los Angeles!

    Go Dodger Blue!!!!

    • asimonetti88 - Mar 25, 2014 at 4:20 PM

      Arte Moreno is the only person who likes the Los Angeles part. Angels fans we all still consider the team the California Angels.

  13. boogerhill - Mar 25, 2014 at 10:08 PM

    Sorry, Mr Tude is not the best player in the game, see Detroit!

  14. peddealer - Mar 26, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    When the HELL was CJ Wilson a star in this league as a starter? Decent in the reg. season, atrocious in the playoffs !

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