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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.

Video: Gerrit Cole cranks out a three-run home run

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 20:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the third inning against the Colorado Rockies on May 20, 2016 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
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Pirates starter Gerrit Cole helped his own cause during Thursday afternoon’s 8-3 victory over the Diamondbacks. The right-hander erased a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the second inning, cranking out a three-run home run to left-center field off of lefty Patrick Corbin.

It’s Cole’s second career home run. The other one came on September 7, 2014 off of Cubs pitcher Blake Parker.

Since Cole came into the league in 2013, he is one of only 22 pitchers (min. 100 plate appearances) with above-average production at the plate, going by FanGraphs’ wRC+ stat.

As for the pitching, Cole went five innings in a no-decision against the D-Backs, yielding an unearned run on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts. On the year, he’s 5-3 with a 2.53 ERA and a 44/16 K/BB ratio in 53 1/3 innings.

Rougned Odor’s suspension reduced to seven games

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 23: Rougned Odor #12 of the Texas Rangers fields a ground ball hit by C.J. Cron #24 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  in the fifth inning at Global Life Park on May 23, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
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Major League Baseball has reduced Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor‘s eight-game suspension by one game to seven, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports. Odor will begin serving the suspension on Friday, and the Rangers are expected to call up infielder Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock to replace Odor, per MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan.

Odor landed a right cross on the face of Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista in a series finale between the two teams on May 15. Bautista, who had been hit in the ribs by a Matt Bush fastball, slid in late and hard to Odor in an attempt to break up a ground ball double play attempt. Odor didn’t take kindly to Bautista’s slide. After Odor swung at Bautista, the benches emptied.

Bautista had his appeal hearing on Thursday morning. A decision on his case, a one-game suspension, isn’t expected to be made for another day or two.

Profar, 23, has hit .284/.356/.426 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 189 plate appearances at Round Rock this season.

Braves’ Hector Olivera suspended 82 games for domestic violence

Atlanta Braves' Hector Olivera heads to first base after hitting a double in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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Major League Baseball just announced that Braves outfielder Hector Olivera has been suspended through August 1, 2016 for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. The suspension is retroactive to April 30, making this an 82 game suspension. Olivera has been on paid leave since his arrest and will be required to return salary earned during that time.

Olivera was arrested early on April 13 after assaulting a woman at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington, Virginia while the Braves were in town for a series against the Washington Nationals. The victim told police that she had been assaulted by Olivera. Police say the victim had bruises and was transported to a hospital. Olivera was at the hotel and taken into police custody.

Olivera had played in five games before the incident and was slated to be the Braves’ regular left fielder this season. There is little if any reason to believe he’ll feature in the Braves future for long after his suspension is served. Atlanta reportedly tried to trade him after his arrest, but there were understandably no takers. Olivera is in the second year of a six-year, $62.5 million contract.

Commissioner Manfred said in a statement today that, in addition to his suspension, “Mr. Olivera has also agreed to make a significant charitable contribution to one or more charitable organizations focused on preventing and treating survivors of domestic violence.”

Report: Chase Utley’s family received death threats from Mets fans after controversial slide

DENVER, CO - APRIL 22:  Chase Utley #26 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up onthe on deck circle as he prepares to take an at bat against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 22, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Dodgers 7-5. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Even before Chase Utley broke former Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada‘s leg with a slide during the playoffs last year, the second baseman was persona non grata in New York. Utley, playing for the rival Phillies, made the right field corner his — literally — with his performance at Citi Field. He was booed during his introduction at Yankee Stadium before the 2009 All-Star Game, prompting him to say audibly, “Boo? F— you.”

The slide put New York’s hatred of Utley into overdrive. Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports that after Utley broke Tejada’s leg, his family received death threats from angry Mets fans. In order to protect himself and his family, Utley didn’t stay at the team hotel after Game 2 of the NLDS.

His teammate, Clayton Kershaw, wasn’t happy with the way Utley was treated. He said, “Chase was playing the game the way he’s always played. Obviously you never want anybody to get hurt. The game being in the playoffs, and all that stuff, magnified everything. But there’s been a whole lot of slides a lot worse than that over the course of baseball [history] . . . Some of the stuff he had to go through, it wasn’t fair.”

The Mets host the Dodgers for a three-game series beginning on Friday. As McCullough notes, the two clubs didn’t get into any retaliation business when they played each other in Los Angeles earlier this month.