Mar 25, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT
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.
Aug 3, 2015, 9:36 PM EDT
Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg has been sidelined since July 4 with a left oblique strain, but it sounds like he’s rounding into form for the stretch run.
Aug 3, 2015, 9:13 PM EDT
The Braves are calling him day-to-day, but these type of injuries are notoriously tricky.
Aug 3, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
Clayton Richard tossed six innings of one-run ball in a win over the Padres on Sunday, but he was designated for assignment by the Cubs today for the second time in the past two weeks.
Aug 3, 2015, 8:19 PM EDT
Matz impressed over his first two starts in the majors before going down with a partial tear of his lat muscle, but he’s starting to ramp things up in preparation for his return.
Aug 3, 2015, 7:32 PM EDT
Kipnis is expected to miss two to three weeks.
Aug 3, 2015, 6:58 PM EDT
Cubs rookie third baseman Kris Bryant was forced to exit Sunday’s game against the Brewers after feeling dizzy on a hard slide into second base, but he’s back in the starting lineup for tonight’s series opener against the Pirates.
Aug 3, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT
Capps has quietly been one of the game’s most dominant relievers this season.
Aug 3, 2015, 5:19 PM EDT
Out since late May with a neck injury.
Aug 3, 2015, 5:14 PM EDT
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Aug 3, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT
He is now calling Jose Bautista “a good man and a great human being.”
Aug 3, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
The newest Blue Jay struck out 11 in eight innings of work.
Aug 3, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Panik’s breakout season has been put on hold.
Aug 3, 2015, 3:06 PM EDT
Dating back to 2013 he’s hit .337 with a .900 OPS off lefties.
Aug 3, 2015, 2:53 PM EDT
Power-hitting third baseman/first baseman.
Aug 3, 2015, 2:43 PM EDT
It’s not necessarily likely, but since it isn’t a torn UCL there’s at least a chance he could make it back.
Aug 3, 2015, 1:47 PM EDT
He’s spent this season at Triple-A, batting .260 with 13 homers and 11 steals.
Aug 3, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
Time for a little Loria bashing to brighten up your Monday.
Aug 3, 2015, 12:41 PM EDT
Not a bad draw for him, as he has owned the Twins this season.
Aug 3, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Viciedo is still just 26 years old.
Aug 3, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Using your closer in the seventh or eighth inning may be a good idea, but Mike Matheny says that it’s not that simple.
- Yordano Ventura calls Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accuses him of stealing signs 71
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 83
- The benches cleared in Toronto, too 79
- The Reds’ and Pirates’ benches cleared after Brandon Phillips was hit with a pitch 64
- Reminder: even though the trade deadline has passed, trades can still happen 13
- Settling the Scores: Saturday’s results 36
- Lucas Duda’s last eight hits have been home runs 11
- Report: Larry Lucchino stepping down as president and CEO of the Red Sox 32
- The benches cleared in Friday’s Giants-Rangers game (205)
- Blue Jays acquire David Price from the Tigers (113)
- Rangers land ace left-hander Cole Hamels from Phillies (106)
- Royals make another big move, get Ben Zobrist from A’s (95)
- Report: Rockies trade Troy Tulowitzki to Blue Jays for Jose Reyes and prospects (92)