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.
Sep 3, 2015, 11:04 PM EDT
Bryce Harper didn’t have an official at-bat tonight, but he still made a major impact in the Nationals’ 15-1 blowout victory over the Braves.
Sep 3, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Stroman threw 4 2/3 hitless innings in his first minor league rehab start.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:29 PM EDT
Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias was forced to exit Thursday’s game against the Royals in the third inning when he was hit in the hand while trying to drop down a bunt.
Sep 3, 2015, 9:50 PM EDT
The Dodgers called up top prospect Corey Seager today and manager Don Mattingly isn’t wasting any time getting him into the starting lineup…
Sep 3, 2015, 8:46 PM EDT
Murphy had a stint on the disabled list earlier this season due to a left quad strain.
Sep 3, 2015, 7:37 PM EDT
Strasburg left his most recent start on Sunday with discomfort in his upper back, but he’s on track to make his return for a crucial series against the Mets next week.
Sep 3, 2015, 6:50 PM EDT
McCutchen feels “a little sore” and has been “hobbling around a little bit,” so he’ll take a rest before a big series against the Cardinals this weekend.
Sep 3, 2015, 6:13 PM EDT
ESPN has pulled Schilling from their broadcasts for the remainder of the season.
Sep 3, 2015, 4:31 PM EDT
Sentiments like these — of which I’ve seen a few — makes me wonder about Ruben Amaro.
Sep 3, 2015, 4:07 PM EDT
His glute injury proved minor.
Sep 3, 2015, 1:51 PM EDT
He was suffering from dehydration yesterday.
Sep 3, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
Finally, Tom Brady and Boston sports fans get a win!
Sep 3, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT
Shut down for the season with a hip injury.
Sep 3, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT
This is must-click link material.
Sep 3, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT
Kevin Jepsen will fill in at closer.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:38 AM EDT
Not that either of those things are valid reasons to keep a guy out of the Hall of Fame.
Sep 3, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT
Considered by many to be the No. 1 prospect in baseball.
Sep 3, 2015, 9:25 AM EDT
But teams should be coming to him.
Sep 3, 2015, 7:55 AM EDT
Clayton Kershaw strikes out 15 as the Dodgers sweep the Giants.
Sep 3, 2015, 12:12 AM EDT
Justin Turner was going to be out by a mile on this ill-advised stolen base attempt in the bottom of the fourth inning Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, but he got a little creative …
- Bryce Harper walks in all four of his plate appearances, scores four runs 0
- ESPN pulls Curt Schilling off broadcasts for rest of regular season and Wild Card game 91
- David Ortiz is more likely to be boned in Hall of Fame voting for being a DH than for PED stuff 124
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 74
- The Marlins are going to change everything except their biggest problem this offseason 53
- Drooling over Miguel Sano’s incredible numbers through 50 career games 35
- Matt Williams puts up another strong performance in his quest to get himself fired 105
- Settling the Scores: Tuesday’s results 81
- Sarah Palin sticks up for Curt Schilling, tells ESPN to “stick to sports” (266)
- David Ortiz is more likely to be boned in Hall of Fame voting for being a DH than for PED stuff (127)
- Matt Williams puts up another strong performance in his quest to get himself fired (105)
- ESPN pulls Curt Schilling off broadcasts for rest of regular season and Wild Card game (99)
- David Ortiz tweets his happiness about the Deflategate decision (98)