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Springtime Storylines: Did anybody have a worse offseason than the Los Angeles Angels?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Big Question: Did anybody have a worse offseason than the Los Angeles Angels?

These previews are supposed to be forward-looking, but with the Angels, it’s hard not to look back at the winter. Indeed, Arte Moreno all but demanded that we focus on the offseason when he said several months ago that the Angels were going to make a big splash in the free agent market. Well, they didn’t. Thought to be the favorites to land Adrian Beltre or Carl Crawford, they landed neither. After they signed elsewhere, it was revealed that the Angels’ bidding on them wasn’t as competitive as one would have hoped. It’s hard to conclude anything other than Moreno misread the free agent market, and the result of it is a lot of grumpy Angels fans.

Not that the Angels did nothing. They gave up a great-hitting catcher in Mike Napoli and a useful outfielder in Juan Rivera to land Vernon Wells and his massive contract (and then saw the catcher get shuttled to division rival Texas).  They signed excellent setup man Scott Downs, only to see him break his toe while horsing around with his kid, which could cost him a month of the season. They also signed Hisanori Takahashi.  In addition to Napoli and Rivera, out the door went Hideki Matsui.

From a baseball perspective, the additions of Wells, Downs (once healthy) and Takahashi are positives.  Wells provides Mike Scioscia with a good bat and good defense, allowing Bobby Abreu to slide over to the DH slot. With Torii Hunter and Peter Bourjos, Wells should help give Anaheim one of the best defensive outfields in baseball.  Given Scott Kazmir’s struggles, Takahashi — who did a little bit of everything for the Mets last year — could help solidify the rotation but, at the very least, provides a lefty-killing presence in the pen.

But at best these moves (when combined with some of the other things discussed below) merely help the Angels tread water. They were an 80-82 team last and they needed to get better in a number of ways to catch up to Texas and Oakland.  They didn’t do it. Adding an impact bat without giving up useful players was what needed to happen, and it didn’t.  Maybe that doesn’t add up to the worst offseason, but given the expectations of the fan base, it’s pretty darn disappointing.

So what else is going on?

  • While the lineup wasn’t bolstered in the offseason, the rotation remains pretty good. At least the top of it.  Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Joel Piniero (assuming he’s healthy) provide a nice 1-2-3.  The bottom is far more shaky. Ervin Santana has lately alternated adequate and poor years. There’s no legitimate reason for this and it’s probably just random, but if you do believe that cosmic forces are at work you’ll note that it’s an odd numbered year, and if form holds he’ll stink.  Scott Kazmir looks to be a disaster area in the fifth spot. If I’m Mike Scioscia I consider just plugging Takahashi in there and calling the Kazmir experiment a failure.
  • Kendrys Morales is starting the year on the DL as his left leg continues to cause him problems. And even when he comes back he’s going to be rusty and slow because he didn’t play any defense all spring and his leg problems have screwed up his conditioning regimen. That’s no good, but the silver lining to all of this is that it seems to have opened up a spot for Mark Trumbo who hit the tar out of the ball at Salt Lake City last year, hit the tar out of the ball down in Venezuela over the winter and has continued to hit the tar out of the ball this year during spring training.
  • That Wells/Hunter/Bourjos outfield may not hold up all year. Not because of their health, but because Bourjos may simply not hit well enough to justify his spot in the lineup. He turned heads with the glove last year, but didn’t hit a lick. And, given that he spent a lot of time in extremely hitter-friendly leagues while in the minors, he has never impressed.  Mike Scioscia’s love of defense may truly be tested if Bourjos can’t figure out what he’s doing at the plate.
  • There were a couple of interesting positional battles for the Angels. At third base, Brandon Wood entered the spring with what figured to be his last shot at snagging a full-time gig. Despite steady improvement as spring progressed, he appears to be the odd man out at third (in favor of Maicer Izturis) and first base, where Trumbo is the much better bet to replace Morales. Out of options, Wood will likely hit the waiver wire, and he still has enough residual promise, I presume, that a rebuilding team will take a chance on him.  Another battle was at catcher, where Jeff Mathis, Bobby Wilson and Hank Conger all got looks. Mathis — who couldn’t hit a baseball on the hittingest day of his life if he had an electrified hitting machine — will get the nod. This is Mike Scioscia’s team, so is that any surprise?

So how are they going to do?

Eh. They were roughly a .500 team last year. I’m struggling to see how they’re substantially better this year. And with the additional salary obligation to Vernon Wells, combined with what appeared to be Arte Moreno’s unwillingness to pay top dollar for top talent all winter, It’s hard to see how the Angels will have the will or ability to make significant in-season changes on the fly if they find themselves far behind Texas and Oakland.

The only saving grace for Anaheim is that both Oakland and Texas have durability questions at key positions. If guys like Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Brett Anderson and Andrew Bailey have things go sideways for them, sure, the Angels have enough solid players and a good enough rotation where they could contend in a weakened field. But if all things are equal — and when we make predictions we have to assume all things are equal — it’s hard to see Mike Scioscia’s squad doing any better than third place.

Sonny Gray was denied insurance coverage for the World Baseball Classic

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  Pitcher Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics poses for a portrait during photo day at HoHoKam Stadium on February 22, 2017 in Mesa, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser reports that Athletics’ right-hander Sonny Gray will not pitch in the World Baseball Classic after failing to meet the necessary criteria for insurance coverage. He missed 70 days on the disabled list with forearm tightness and a back strain in 2016.

According to Oakland GM David Forst, Major League Baseball tried to persuade the insurance carrier to waive the requirements for Gray to pitch for Team USA, but the request was ultimately refused. Without coverage, Gray will be unable to participate in the competition, though Forst adds that the 27-year-old is still in perfect health as Opening Day approaches and should benefit from a slower spring training schedule without the added commitment on his plate.

Injuries complicated a down year for Gray, who pitched to a career-worst 5.69 ERA, 3.2 BB/9 and 7.2 SO/9 rate through 117 innings in 2016. His 1.4 HR/9 and 17.8% HR/FB rates suggested that he felt the effects of the home run spike more than most, capping a disappointing follow-up to his All-Star campaign during 2015.

While Gray works up to a healthy and productive start to the 2017 season, the Athletics will still see two players on WBC rosters next month: right-handed reliever Santiago Casilla, who is scheduled to pitch for the Dominican Republic, and fellow righty John Axford, for Team Canada.

Report: Josh Hamilton likely to undergo another knee surgery

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 24:  Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers in the dugout before a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 24, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
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Rangers’ outfielder Josh Hamilton is scheduled for another knee exam on Monday, according to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Hamilton left camp last week after feeling some pain in his left knee and received a PRP injection to alleviate the symptoms. Wilson notes that both Dr. Walt Lowe and Rangers’ assistant general manager Mike Daly noticed little improvement in the days following the injection.

More drastic measures could be necessary if the 35-year-old intends to return to the field this year. MLB.com’s TR Sullivan adds that the Rangers are considering arthroscopic surgery for Hamilton, which would set him back at least 4-6 weeks and eliminate any real chance of his making the Opening Day roster in April. Until they see the results of the surgery, however, the Rangers won’t rule out Hamilton’s potential return to the big leagues in 2017.

Hamilton is looking at his third major procedure since the end of the 2015 season. He missed all of the Rangers’ 2016 campaign after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery last spring and has not seen a full workload in the majors since his 2013 run with the Angels. Should he make a full recovery this season, he figures to see some time at first base/DH or the corner outfield.