Mar 25, 2014, 9:46 AM EST
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.
Dec 19, 2014, 7:28 AM EST
Can someone justify this sort of golden parachute? Will anyone even bother to try?
Dec 19, 2014, 6:50 AM EST
The Giants haven’t gotten many of their sought-after targets this offseason, but they keep one of their starters.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:27 PM EST
It took long enough, but Matt Kemp has finally been traded to the Padres.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:00 PM EST
Get excited, I guess.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:30 PM EST
The Padres continue to overhaul their lineup while the A’s continue to unload.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:46 PM EST
Young, 29, batted .302 with seven home runs and .779 OPS (120 OPS+) over 255 plate appearances this past season.
Dec 18, 2014, 7:50 PM EST
Lowe began his career with Seattle and had his best season with the club in 2009.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:41 PM EST
Is this the beginning of the end for the Tampa Bay Rays?
Dec 18, 2014, 6:07 PM EST
Johnson missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late April.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
Does Ichiro really have one more year left in him?
Dec 18, 2014, 5:40 PM EST
Veteran catching depth.
Dec 18, 2014, 5:17 PM EST
Giavotella is a career .315 hitter with an .835 OPS and as many walks as strikeouts in nearly 2,000 plate appearances at Triple-A.
Dec 18, 2014, 4:47 PM EST
He’s probably not the one who knocks. Indeed, this crew seemed so amateurish he probably called first to make sure it was a good time for everyone.
Dec 18, 2014, 4:17 PM EST
It started with an argument over candy.
Dec 18, 2014, 3:34 PM EST
Between Cuba and North Korea, it’s been a big couple of days for communism. Let’s see what communists thought about baseball once upon a time.
Dec 18, 2014, 3:18 PM EST
Medlen missed all of this year recovering from his second Tommy John elbow surgery.
Dec 18, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
What a difference a day makes.
Dec 18, 2014, 2:38 PM EST
Rollins is not tied to Kemp, at least not entirely.
Dec 18, 2014, 1:06 PM EST
Baseball card collecting in the post-bicycle spokes, pre-crash world of the 1980s.
Dec 18, 2014, 12:17 PM EST
And the Padres “continue to consult medical experts.”
- Bud Selig will get a $6 million a year pension. Which is obscene. 0
- Jake Peavy agrees to a two-year, $24 million deal to stay with the San Francisco Giants 3
- Matt Kemp has officially been traded to the Padres 23
- Padres acquire catcher Derek Norris from Athletics 33
- St. Petersburg City Council votes down deal to allow Rays to look for new stadium site 86
- What will the future of Cuban players in MLB look like? 25
- Royals sign Edinson Volquez for two years, $20 million 29
- Rays, Padres, Nationals agree to 11-player trade 97
- Baseball’s highest-ranking Hispanic woman employee sues for discrimination (163)
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba (144)
- Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, and Astros interested in Phillies’ Cole Hamels (111)
- Rays, Padres, Nationals agree to 11-player trade (97)
- Chase Headley signs a four-year deal with the Yankees worth at least $52 million. (95)