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.
Feb 27, 2015, 11:04 PM EST
The Rangers will shut down Edgar Olmos days after picking him up on a waiver claim from the Mariners.
Feb 27, 2015, 10:55 PM EST
Eury Perez is the early favorite to take over in center field while Melvin Upton recovers from a foot injury.
Feb 27, 2015, 10:05 PM EST
New Twins manager Paul Molitor cracked down on electronics usage in his first address to the full squad at spring training.
Feb 27, 2015, 9:10 PM EST
Ryan Howard had his first full healthy season since 2011 and both GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. and guest instructor Dan Plesac thought he looked like he was in very good shape.
Feb 27, 2015, 8:20 PM EST
Two more suitors enter the Dayan Viciedo sweepstakes.
Feb 27, 2015, 7:15 PM EST
Michael Saunders will return to the Blue Jays a lot sooner than anticipated.
Feb 27, 2015, 7:10 PM EST
For the second time this offseason, the Athletics have claimed Alex Hassan off waivers.
Feb 27, 2015, 6:36 PM EST
Chris Davis will get some work in the outfield this spring. He hasn’t played there since 2012.
Feb 27, 2015, 6:05 PM EST
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark will be keeping a close eye on how the Cubs handle the eventual promotion of prospect Kris Bryant.
Feb 27, 2015, 5:10 PM EST
It’s been a long week.
Feb 27, 2015, 4:51 PM EST
Note: they’re not fans of this particular bit of product placement.
Feb 27, 2015, 4:35 PM EST
Lowe pitched for the Red Sox from 1997-2004.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:50 PM EST
New name, same luck.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:27 PM EST
Except, of course, when he does.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:06 PM EST
Pierre was a singles-hitting, base-stealing machine.
Feb 27, 2015, 11:19 AM EST
If he’s called up to the majors Santana will get $2.5 million in guaranteed money.
Feb 27, 2015, 11:03 AM EST
When he’s done he’ll have played 18 years in the bigs and will be pushing 400 homers.
Feb 27, 2015, 10:47 AM EST
“The only way he is really going to help us is in the bullpen.”
Feb 27, 2015, 10:35 AM EST
Yes, this is mostly just an excuse to post a picture of Bartolo Colon
Feb 27, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
Cedeno had a brief stint in the majors last season with the Phillies.
- Aramis Ramirez says 2015 will be his last year 29
- Francisco Rodriguez re-signs with the Brewers 9
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended 283
- Pirates open to massive extension for Andrew McCutchen 18
- Report: Josh Hamilton had a relapse this offseason that “involved at least cocaine” 86
- Yankees don’t plan on having to pay A-Rod’s $30 million in home run milestone bonuses 50
- San Francisco — and all of California — will consider a smokeless tobacco ban that includes MLB parks 131
- Rob Manfred says a return to a 154-game season could happen one day 67
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended (284)
- San Francisco — and all of California — will consider a smokeless tobacco ban that includes MLB parks (131)
- Report: The Yankees were “fuming” at how A-Rod handled his early arrival to spring training (114)
- Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada reportedly signs with the Red Sox for $31.5 million, plus $31.5 million in penalties (106)
- Brian Sabean says that California taxes are a hindrance to the Giants signing free agents (102)