Four consecutive seasons and counting without a playoff appearance for the Angels has patience wearing thin in Los Angeles (of Anaheim). While they may have resisted the urge to make big, splashy moves this offseason, they also may not have done enough to break their post-season drought. Could the Halos really be on the verge of another fruitless season despite a massive payroll and having the best player in the universe on their roster?
Depth Chart (as of 2/19)
C: Chris Iannetta/Hank Conger
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Howie Kendrick
SS: Erick Aybar
3B: David Freese
LF: Josh Hamilton
CF: Mike Trout
RF: Kole Calhoun
SP: Jered Weaver
SP: C.J. Wilson
SP: Garrett Richards
SP: Hector Santiago
SP: Tyler Skaggs
CL: Ernesto Frieri
The Angels went to great lengths this offseason to turnover much of their rotation. That came in the form of a big three-way trade that netted them Hector Santiago from the White Sox and Tyler Skaggs from the Diamondbacks. Both are young and talented, but neither are actually guaranteed a rotation spot. Santiago has outperformed his FIP for a two seasons with the White Sox, making his ability to actually stick in the rotation uncertain. As for Skaggs, he saw his prospect stock decline last season amid mechanical issues. If he can't get those straightened out quickly, that would lead to Skaggs starting the season in the minors. If Skaggs gets sent to the minors or Santiago demoted to the bullpen, that really just leaves Joe Blanton, who they would much rather just release.
GM Jerry Dipoto also made a point of addressing the team's dreadful bullpen performance of the last few seasons. His biggest move was to sign sidearmer Joe Smith to a three-year deal. Smith should slot in as the quality setup man the Halos have been searching for since Scot Shields retired. Also added to the mix is Fernando Salas, but he is not a lock to make the roster out of training camp.
On the position player side, the Angels tried to replace Mark Trumbo with the age-defying Raul Ibanez. If Ibanez can replicate what he did in Seattle last season, he should be a reasonable facsimile of Trumbo, but at age 41, it is also entirely likely that he could just turn into a pile of dust, leaving the Angels with a giant hole at DH. Finally, David Freese takes over at third base. The Angels are rolling the dice on Freese being able to overcome back issues that ruined his 2013 season and help make up for the lost production of Trumbo.
Much to the chagrin of podcasters and female Angel fans, homegrown hero Mark Trumbo was the piece they traded to land the aforementioned Santiago and Skaggs. His massive power will be missed, but his sub-.300 OBP, well, maybe not so much. They also sent speedy but injury-prone Peter Bourjos away in the trade for David Freese, freeing up center field for Mike Trout on a full-time basis.
The reason the Angels had to trade Trumbo for two starting pitchers is because they shed 60% of their rotation in free agency. Jason Vargas signed in Kansas City after the Angels declined to match their four-year offer and Jerome Williams and Tommy Hanson were non-tendered. They landed in Houston and Texas, respectively, so at least they still be around to potentially haunt the Halos. Unfortunately, they were unable to rid themselves of Joe Blanton.
Here's the thing about rookies, to have them, you need to have a farm system and the Angels forgot theirs back in 2009. They pretty much just drafted Mike Trout and decided that they had peaked and decided to quit while they are ahead. The closest thing they have to an impact rookie would be Tyler Skaggs, who just barely missed the cut off for being a rookie, so he technically doesn't count. Still, he is still a prospect in spirit and as of right now he is slotted in as the team's fifth starter. The Angels would really like for him to emerge as something a lot more than that, but it might take a year or two. Beyond that, all they have is a handful of low ceiling relievers that could get called up at some point. So, maybe they might want to think about reviving that whole minor league system thing. All the cool kids are doing it.
Aside from the standard bench and back of the bullpen battles, the Angels depth chart is fairly settled save for the rotation. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson with the #1 and #2, but things get murky very quickly after that. Garrett Richards is all but guaranteed of one rotation slot, but he has a long track record of inconsistency, so a disastrous spring could get him returned to the bullpen. With the way the rest of the roster is set up, the Angels would like the aforementioned Santiago and Skaggs to win the last two spots, but we don't always get what we want, do we?
Right now, the Angels almost have no choice but to give spots to Skaggs and Santiago in the wake of Mark Mulder's latest career-ending injury. Joe Blanton is on the roster, but the team wants to avoid him at all costs. More likely, they will sign or trade for a low cost veteran, just so they don't have to start Skaggs if he isn't ready.
As we saw last season, Albert Pujols' feet and knees are starting to crumble into dust. He is supposedly fully healthy right now, but at age 34 (give or take), there is no guarantee he will stay that way. If his body betrays him again, it could be another long, frustrating season in Anaheim.
David Freese is also coming off of an injury-plagued season that really saw his production dip. Back problems hampered Freese both in the field and at the plate. He, too, is also supposedly 100%, but back problems are the sort of thing that has a way of coming back over and over again.
The next most pressing concern is Sean Burnett who projects to be a top setup man and possibly the only lefty in the Angels bullpen. He is coming off of offseason surgery after basically missing all of 2013 and only just started throwing again, so his availability for Opening Day is in question.
Finally, Raul Ibanez is a mummy, so you can't rule out body parts just falling off in the middle of the game. That might result in a short DL stint.
The Angels have had their worst case scenario play out two years in a row now, so they could be due for some good luck. This year, that would take the form of some of their veterans turning back the clock a few years. A healthy Albert Pujols returning to near-MVP form seems almost essential to the Angels returning to World Series contender status. Josh Hamilton remembering that he's a hitting savant and not a source of alternative wind energy would be a close second. Coming in third would be Jered Weaver's recent mechanical tinkering allowing him to recover some of the velocity he has shed in the last few seasons.
If we are talking a truly best case scenario though, they'd also need Raul Ibanez to crank out 25+ homers again and for David Freese's back to get healthy so he can recapture his 2011 World Series magic. A healthy Sean Burnett coupled with quality work from Joe Smith would go a long way towards the Angel bullpen becoming an actual asset rather than the liability it has been the last few years. Oh, and while we are at it, why don't we throw in Mike Trout putting up a 12 WAR season an running away with the AL MVP. Third time's a charm!
See 2013, rinse, repeat.
What's that? Apparently my editor wants me to write some more here. OK, fine. The worst case here is scarily easy to see. Albert Pujols once again spends the season struggling with injury. Josh Hamilton continues to swing and miss at an alarming rate. Jered Weaver's velocity drops to a point that even Jamie Moyer is embarrassed for him. Ernesto Frieri implodes as closer over and over again. Santiago, Skaggs and Richards all show they are better off in the bullpen and/or minors. Kole Calhoun struggles now that teams have the book on him. David Freese undergoes a backeotomy. Raul Ibanez is finally vanquished by Van Helsing. All the while, Mike Trout starts plotting his escape to Philadelphia or New York (your choice) in 2017.
Let's be honest, as long as the Michael Nelson Trout is on the roster, the Angels should always at least be interesting. Their 78-win 2013 season was pretty much as bad as things were ever going to get for the Halos. So very much went wrong that year. At a minimum, they should be in for a dead cat bounce in 2014. What they will probably get is better production from Albert Pujols, but maybe not All-Star level production. Josh Hamilton figure to be at least a little bit better as well. Really though, it is the rotation that can't help but be better. The unholy trio of Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jerome Williams combined for a 5.39 ERA over 58 starts in 2013. The Angels could try and field a backend of the rotation that bad and would have a hard time replicating it. On that alone, the Angels figure to improve by a few wins.
In the end, the Angels should be better, but probably not better enough to emerge from the increasingly competitive AL: West. 86 wins and an outside shot at the second Wild Card is right about where the Halos should land.