30 Clubs in 30 Days: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Posted: March 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

angelsSomething tells me that Arte Moreno and Co. didn’t expect this type of response when the team spent hundreds of millions of dollars on free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and CJ Wilson. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, one of the most successful franchises in the game from 2002-2012, fell into the trap that so many have before them. That is, spending big time money on marquee free agents only to be let down by injury and ineffectiveness of players past their prime.

At 78-84 in 2013, the Angels finished in third place in the American League West. That’s saying something considering the fact that two 90+ loss franchises, the Seattle Mariners and the Houston Astros, were the only two inferior opponents in their division. Manager Mike Scioscia, who signed his own long term megadeal a few years ago, is firmly planted in a red hot seat heading into 2014. His inability to turn big time dollars spent into victories could lead to his dismissal sooner rather than later.

For the Angels, the problems are still a plenty. Pujols, once the best player in baseball, is coming off a dismal campaign in which he hit just .258-17-64 in 99 games. “The Machine” has broken down, contributing a pedestrian .767 OPS to a disappointing lineup held together by one man, Mike Trout. The 22-year old superstar was the only Angel to hit over .300 (.323), reach base at a rate above league average (.432), and slug above .455 (.557). Without Trout, the Angels’ 2013 lineup would resemble the Astros more than one would think despite a payroll more than $150 million higher than their division rivals.

This offseason, the Angels set out to improve their lineup by adding former World Series MVP David Freese from the Cardinals for Peter Bourjos. When healthy Freese is a solid bat with clutch characteristics. The only problem is that, similar to the rest of the Angels’ lineup, he’s rarely healthy. The 31-year old played in just 138 games last year and has played more than that only once in his 4+ year career. A complimentary player in St. Louis, Freese will be asked to play a bigger role by providing protection for Pujols and Hamilton in the middle of their order. The latter had a miserable first year in LA, hitting just .250. Hamilton’s resurgence will be critical in the Angels’ providing Oakland and Texas with a fight at the top of the division. The team also added DH Raul Ibanez, who can still swing a decent stick despite his escalating age.

The pitching staff, meanwhile, has been a major bane to their success as well. Gone are Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson, and Jerome Williams. Those three combined to go 22-21 in 2013. Replacing that trio will be a collection of youngsters, Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, and Tyler Skaggs. Both Santiago and Skaggs were acquired from the White Sox and Diamondbacks, respectively, this offseason via trade. The former is a nifty lefty with boatloads of talent. The latter was a top prospect in Arizona’s farm who has top-of-the-rotation potential. The Angels may not have the experience that they had in their 2013 rotation. But, the upside of this trio is certainly more impressive than those who departed. It will take some time. But, the Angels moved in the right direction with their pitching staff by dealing away the likes of Mark Trumbo to land high-upside hurlers.

Joining them in the rotation will be Wilson, who was spectacular a year ago (17-7, 3.39), Jered Weaver, and Joe Blanton. Weaver (11-8, 3.27) is the unquestioned ace of the staff. His season ending injury last summer put a team that was already thin in the rotation into a serious bind. Blanton, meanwhile, was atrocious in his first campaign back on the West coast (2-14, 6.04). The team game him a large, multi-year contract prior to 2013, so they’ll have to ride him out at least through the spring to see what he has left in the tank. If Weaver and Wilson can stay healthy, and the young arms behind them continue to blossom, the Angels will have a solid staff. Or, at the very least, a big improvement over the hot garbage they sent out there a year ago.

The bullpen, which relied on no-namers and never-weres a year ago, was improved as well. Ernesto Frieri (37 saves) returns to his customary closer’s role. His electric fastball and blistering slider causes opposing hitters to wet their pants in the batter’s box. He’ll have a new setup man in front of him, as the team inked sidearm specialist Joe Smith to take over that role. LHP Sean Burnett is returning from elbow surgery. Once he comes back, the Angels should have a solid late-inning trio to rely on.

Key Acquisitions

C Yorvit Torrealba (Rockies)
3B David Freese (Cardinals)
DH Raul Ibanez (Mariners)
LHP Hector Santiago (White Sox)
LHP Tyler Skaggs (Diamondbacks)
RHP Joe Smith (Indians)

Key Departures

1B/OF Mark Trumbo (Diamondbacks)
OF Peter Bourjos (Cardinals)
LHP Jason Vargas (Royals)
RHP Jerome Williams (Astros)
RHP Tommy Hanson (Rangers)
LHP Scott Downs (White Sox)

Projected Lineup and Rotation

OF Kole Calhoun – .256-20-51
OF Mike Trout – .305-31-90
1B Albert Pujols – .285-22-75
OF Josh Hamilton – .267-22-81
3B David Freese – .263-9-49
DH Raul Ibanez – .239-20-55
2B Howie Kendrick – .283-12-69
C Chris Iannetta – .229-11-37
SS Erick Aybar – .281-7-65

RHP Jered Weaver – 10-8, 3.55
LHP CJ Wilson – 12-9, 3.73
RHP Garrett Richards – 9-7, 3.77
LHP Hector Santiago – 7-8, 4.53
LHP Tyler Skaggs – 5-5, 4.65
RHP Joe Blanton – 7-7, 4.27

RHP Ernesto Frieri – 3-3, 3.60, 31 Sv

Outlook

californiaangelsThe Angels are a tough team to prognosticate. At first glance, one has to be skeptical about an aging lineup rife with large contracts that have yet to pan out in LA’s favor. But, there’s always a solid chance that both Pujols and Hamilton revert back to their superstar ways with a healthy campaign. Bad luck had a lot to do with both of their struggles last year, and a swing in the proverbial pendulum could see both lead the Angels to new heights in 2014.

The pitching staff, while set up to be brilliant in 2015, is still too young to be consistently relied upon this season. I loved the trade of Trumbo for Skaggs and Santiago because it dealt from a position of strength (power) and addressed a serious weakness (young, cost controlled arms). If both are throwing strikes, they can be unhittable. But, can they do that on a consistent basis so soon? That remains a question that will be answered with time.

On paper, the Angels have looked like contenders for two straight years. Reality was much different. After addressing their needs for young arms and improving their DH spot by inking Ibanez, Los Angeles should be primed for a bounce back year. Just not enough of a bounce back to get them back to the playoffs in a difficult AL West. I foresee the Angels improving their record and winning between 81-87 games. It won’t likely be enough to capture a division crown. But, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will be contenders for a Wild Card spot in 2014.

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