Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v San Diego Padres

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.

Chicago woman pledges money to a domestic violence charity for each Aroldis Chapman save

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 28:  Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Chicago Cubs pitches in the 9th inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the White Sox 3-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Though never charged with a crime, Aroldis Chapman was involved in a domestic violence incident that involved the intimidation of his girlfriend. He allegedly smashed a window of a car in his garage and then fired a gun, sending his girlfriend cowering into the bushes. He admitted to that much anyway, saying he used bad judgment, particularly with the gun, and apologized as he accepted his suspension from Major League Baseball.

But though he apologized, Chapman has declined to make any efforts to combat or to raise awareness of domestic violence. He is not required to do so, of course, but his peculiar dismissal of the topic in the press conference introducing him as a Chicago Cub the other day continues to make many uneasy with rooting for a team which employs him, even if he makes them better and even if his talent is undeniable.

One such person is Cubs fan Caitlin Swieca. She decided to do something about it, however, and has found a way to at least begin to make Chapman’s presence on her favorite team at least a little less uncomfortable:

Swieca selected the Domestic Violence Legal Council of Chicago, which provides free legal services to victims of domestic violence. Chapman got his first save last night and her first pledge was made. Many others have taken her example as her pledge has been publicized. If you’re interested in getting involved, she has provided some additional domestic violence charities in the Chicago area:

If a young woman who is, presumably, not making $11.325 million this year can make such an effort, I wonder if Aroldis Chapman might see clear to do so too.

The names and teams to watch between now and Monday’s trade deadline

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 3: Jonathan Lucroy #20 of the Milwaukee Brewers looks to the dugout during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium on July 3, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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We already saw a big deal go down today, with the Padres trading Andrew Cashner to the Marlins. Between now and Monday afternoon, however, there will be many, many more. Keeping track of them is not always easy, but we can contain the chaos a little bit by ticking off the big names with the most heat around them.

Here, as of this morning, are the most significant players with rumors attached:

Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers

Linked to: Mets, Red Sox, Indians and Rangers
Likelihood of being traded: Seems highly likely. We’ve seen no reports saying the Brewers truly plan on keeping him.
Most likely destination: Beats us, though the Red Sox have the most to trade from and the GM with the history of the boldest moves. The Indians may be the most desperate for catching, however.

Chris Sale, White Sox

Linked to: Dodgers, Yankees and Braves. Rangers could certainly use him. Obviously, tons of teams would love to have him.
Likelihood of being traded: Less than 50-50, but certainly not zero. Sale’s recent uniform shredding antics and his clashes with the front office are frequently cited, but the real calculus here is whether the White Sox honestly think they can contend while Sale is still under team control (he has club options which keep in Chicago through 2019). Even if he was a model citizen, there are just as many good arguments for dealing him as there are for keeping him, mostly surrounding his undeniable status as one of the game’s top starters and his team-friendly deal for that ace performance. That combination equals a heavy package of prospects in return. If we ran the Sox we’d probably deal him, with the recent controversies as a cover for what is really an admission that, nope, we’re just not a good enough team to compete and, yep, we could get a king’s ransom for him.
Most likely destination: The Dodgers make all kinds of sense. They have young pitching which can help the White Sox win later and can deal it to get Sale who can help them win now.

Andrew Miller, Yankees

Linked to: Rangers, Nationals and Indians, all of whom need bullpen help.
Likelihood of being traded: Low to moderate. He’s under team control through next year and The Yankees like to talk about they don’t rebuild, they just reload. After seeing the haul they got for a rental of Arolids Chapman, however, it may be hard to say no to the sort of package a club may offer for Miller.
Most likely destination: The Nationals have had several scares late in games lately. If they can get over their tendency to hoard prospects rather than truly go for it, they could probably get a deal done.

Jay Bruce, Reds

Linked to: Mariners more than anyone. Indians and Rangers have been mentioned.
Likelihood of being traded:  Almost certain. The Reds are gonna be bad for a while and the often uneven Bruce is enjoying his best year. Time to strike while the iron is hot.
Most likely destination: The rumors about Bruce fall into two categories: legitimate stuff about the Mariners’ interest and general noise which sounds a lot like the Reds trying to pretend there are more teams interested in Bruce than there really are in order to get the Mariners to raise their price. Anything can happen, of course, and one should not bluff unless one is willing to carry through with what one is threatening, but I still think Bruce is a Mariner by Monday evening.

Chris Archer, Rays

Linked to: Dodgers, but no one else super seriously.
Likelihood of being traded:  Seems low. The Rays will certainly entertain offers, but Archer’s value is lower than expected during this subpar year for him and he’s under team control for a really long time. If you overwhelm the Rays they’ll deal him, but it will take a big, big offer.
Most likely destination: We think it’s more likely that he’s still a Ray next week, but if he goes anyplace it’ll likely be Los Angeles if they cannot pry Sale loose from the White Sox.

Wade Davis, Royals

Linked to: Dodgers
Likelihood of being traded:  Less than 50% in our view. The Royals may have been intrigued by the Chapman deal with the Cubs, but they are rumored to want to package Davis with teammate Ian Kennedy in a salary dump situation, suggesting that they’re less interested in maximizing the return for Davis than they are in dumping Kennedy’s salary. It’s hard to see why someone like the Dodgers, who are apparently enamored with Davis, would want to do that. It suggests that the Royals are just sort of messin’ around.
Most likely destination: He’ll probably still be a Royal unless the Dodgers make a strong take-it-or-leave-it offer for a standalone Davis deal.

Jeremy Hellickson, Phillies

Linked to: No one specifically yet, but obviously tons of teams want starting pitching. The Rangers, Orioles and maybe the Giants are all teams which have been mentioned in passing.
Likelihood of being traded:  50/50, driven by the Phillies allegedly high asking price — Jayson Stark has reported that they want a top, top prospect for a Hellickson rental — and driven by the fact that the Phillies could just wait until November, give him a qualifying offer and take a pick for him.
Most likely destination: Hard to say, but he’s going to look a lot more attractive to teams like the Rangers the harder it is for them to get one of the top line guys.

Rich Hill, Athletics

Linked to: Same suspects as Hellicskson and the other starters.
Likelihood of being traded: High. It’s the A’s, they make deals.
Most likely destination: No clue. He’s no one’s top choice, but everyone is going to get more desperate between now and Monday afternoon.

OTHERS:

  • Edinson Volquez of the Royals, Matt Shoemaker of the Angels and Julio Teheran of the Braves are mentioned as pitching targets, though it’s not at all certain those clubs are inclined to make a deal. This is especially true of the Braves who did quite well trading starting pitching last winter and may wish to wait until the offseason once again;
  • Carlos Gonzalez, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran are the top non-Lucroy/Bruce bats which have been mentioned. The Cubs and Orioles have been mentioned as possible suitors for Reddick. Gonzalez hasn’t been linked to any specific teams strongly, though he has reportedly asked to be traded. The Rockies winning more lately may make them hesitant to deal him, however. The Yankees still haven’t signaled that they’re waving the white flag. Trading Beltran means they’re waving the white flag.
  • Any reliever not pitching for a contending team is fair game. More relievers will likely change teams than anyone. So many that we’ll lose track of ’em.

We’d love to be more specific than that, but this is our eighth year of tracking the trade deadline at HardballTalk. That experience has taught us to expect the unexpected.