Angels flawed, but still could take AL West

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If nothing else, the AL West should be very interesting to follow. There are reasons to be optimistic about each squad, but I couldn’t help but grow more pessimistic with regards to each team as the spring went on. The Rangers may well have the most talent in the division, yet theirs is a squad with the potential to be decimated by injuries and the funds might not be there to bring in replacements. The A’s know that feeling well, so they made increasing their depth a priority over the winter. Unfortunately, while their fallbacks are better, they currently have Ryan Sweeney, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Kurt Suzuki comprising the heart of their lineup.
The Mariners, for all of their positive moves, still have obvious holes in their rotation and lineup, though if they get a working Erik Bedard back in June and a legitimate DH in July, there’s the chance they could run away with the division. They’re the one team capable of doing so, in my opinion.
The Angels, though, are still the favorites for the moment, even with John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins all having departed. The lineup, while lacking a superstar, is pretty strong throughout and the team has five solid pitchers to fill its rotation. Also, let’s face it… the Angels are pretty much always better than expected. Credit Mike Scioscia and/or the team’s ability to do the “little” things. The Angels typically wins several more games a year than the computers say they should, and it’s not all because of summer acquisitions like Mark Teixeira and Scott Kazmir.
In 2010, the Angels look worse on paper than they have in several years, perhaps since before their World Series victory in 2002. It’s the rotation that scares me more than anything. While the Angels have their five proven starters, no one in the group is likely to dominate.
As part of my 2010 projections, I had 57 AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, including all five Angels starters. Here’s how their ERAs ranked in that group:
Jered Weaver – 14th (3.96)
Joe Saunders – 22nd (4.07)
Scott Kazmir – 32nd (4.20)
Joel Pineiro – 35th (4.25)
Ervin Santana – 53rd (4.65)
It’s a group with some upside, particularly when it comes to Kazmir and Santana. But I’m not overly optimistic in regards to any of them. Plus, there’s no 220-inning workhorse here. Kazmir is a weak bet to make 30 starts, and I also wouldn’t put any money down on Santana doing so. The Pineiro signing was extremely important for the Angels, but I think they’ll come to regret not bringing in a Chad Gaudin-type to function as a swingman. Matt Palmer did the job better than anyone could have imagined last year, but the league clearly caught up to him and he was dreadful this spring. The Angels have no quality alternatives unless prospect Trevor Reckling develops quickly.
Of course, the lack of an extra starter is something that can and probably will be addressed in July. But I worry that Palmer may cost them several games before then.
The Angels will score runs, though not as many as they could if they’d simply commit to Mike Napoli over Jeff Mathis. I think the bullpen will be adequate, in part because I expect Kevin Jepsen to turn into a force in a setup role. The defense is strong, particularly aside from the outfield corners. That’s a big reason why the projections for Weaver and, especially, Saunders are as kind as they are.
My guess is that enough will go right for 86-88 wins and another trip to the postseason. Still, this is a team that could finish under .500 if only a few things go wrong.

Blue Jays acquire Randal Grichuk from the Cardinals

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The Blue Jays announced on Friday that the club acquired outfielder Randal Grichuk from the Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Dominic Leone and minor league pitcher Conner Greene.

Grichuk, 26, became expendable when the Cardinals acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins. With veteran Dexter Fowler in right field and Tommy Pham — who finished 11th in NL MVP Award balloting last season — in center, Grichuk was effectively pushed to the bench. He will get a shot at regular playing time in an outfield corner with the Jays. Grichuk has had solid numbers since debuting in 2014, but he hasn’t been able to recapture the magic of his 2015 campaign. Last year, he hit .238/.285/.473 with 22 home runs and 59 RBI in 442 plate appearances.

Grichuk will earn $2.8 million this season and will be eligible for arbitration for two more years before becoming a free agent.

Leone, 26, posted an impressive 2.56 ERA with an 81/23 K/BB ratio across 70 1/3 innings last season. The right-hander will earn $1.085 million this season and then will become arbitration-eligible for the next three years. Leone certainly helps bolster the Cardinals’ bullpen and may work his way up to high-leverage innings behind closer Luke Gregerson.

Greene, 22, was selected by the Blue Jays in the seventh round of the 2013 draft. This past season, with Double-A New Hampshire, Greene compiled a 5.29 ERA with a 92/83 K/BB ratio in 132 2/3 innings. He throws hard, but control has been a big issue for the right-hander throughout his minor league career. The Cardinals may think they can help turn him around.