Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Los Angeles Angels.
The Big Question: Can the Angels slug their way to an AL West title?
With the addition of outfielder Josh Hamilton, signed to a five-year, $125 million contract, the Angels now have four players (Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo, and Hamilton) projected to hit at least 25 home runs with at least a .790 OPS according to Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system. Trout, on the heels of an historically-great rookie season in 2012, is expected to be the most valuable of them all, shocking no one.
The Angels will be relying heavily on that offensive core as their starting rotation after ace Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson is questionable at best. Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, and Tommy Hanson are each expected to post an ERA above 4.00 according to ZiPS. Weaver, with three consecutive top-five finishes in AL Cy Young balloting, should once again be expected to dominate the competition leading an otherwise motley crew.
The bullpen is a parade of question marks. Will Ryan Madson be healthy enough to assume the closer’s role at some point in April? With a bad elbow, Madson has yet to face live competition in the Cactus League and is highly unlikely to be ready in time for Opening Day. Ernesto Frieri, a 27-year-old who saved 23 games for the Angels last year, will be the interim closer. Behind Frieri are Scott Downs and Sean Burnett, two solid lefties who should hold down the seventh and eighth innings. Aside from them, however, middle relief could potentially be a problem for the Halos.
What else is going on?
- The Angels decided to move Trout to left field, giving Peter Bourjos the everyday job in center field. The move was debated throughout the off-season, with some saying that Trout is just as capable as Bourjos as evidenced by a lengthy highlight reel. Moving from center to left hurts Trout’s value, at least when it comes to Wins Above Replacement, as center fielders are credited 2.5 runs and left fielders are debited 7.5 runs (net difference of ten runs, or 1 WAR) in positional adjustments. Last year, Trout posted baseball’s first 10-WAR season since Barry Bonds in 2004, according to Baseball Reference.
- Albert Pujols is trying to bounce back from what was the worst season of his career in 2012. Though, to be fair, “worst” for him constituted 4.6 WAR, which would be a career-best for many other players. Rumors of his demise may have been greatly exaggerated if you believe in the middle four months of his season. Between May 1 and August 31, Pujols posted a .962 OPS with 29 home runs in 445 plate appearances.
- The left side of the Angel infield is quietly pretty good. Neither shortstop Erick Aybar nor third baseman Albert Callaspo will wow you with offensive production, but slightly above-average defense and base running turns them into a nice combination.
Prediction: First place, American League West.
Wilson Ramos’ agent tells the Washington Post that Ramos still plans to seek a four- or five-year contract this winter in free agency despite the fact that he’s recovering from knee surgery.
Yikes, good luck with that. Ramos suffered ACL and meniscus tears in late September 26 and his rehab will extend well into the 2017 season, when he will turn 30. This coming off a career year that may or may not be a fluke. It’d be hard to commit to him for more than, say, three years under the best of circumstances but given the knee injury it seems unlikely he’ll get offers of that length.
My guess is that he’ll get a lot of two-year offers which give him some rehab time and then a chance for a make-good year with incentives or vesting options. A straight multi-year deal, however, may be very hard to come by for Ramos. Who may very well be a DH very, very soon.
The Game: Cleveland Indians @ Chicago Cubs, World Series Game 3
The Time: 8:00 PM EDT
The Place: Wrigley Field, Chicago
The Channel: FOX
The Starters: Josh Tomlin (Indians) vs. Kyle Hendricks (Cubs)
As you may have heard, this is the first time a World Series has been played at Wrigley Field in 71 years. Cubs fans have had a lot of time to think about this one, but I assure you, they’re ready. Wrigley is going to be complete bedlam. Or a complete train wreck. Depends on your point of view and, probably, what time you’re walking around Wrigleyville.
The cold and rain of Cleveland is being replaced by some moderately unseasonable warmth in Chicago today. It’ll be in the 60s this afternoon and isn’t projected to cool down after the sun goes down. Between that and clear skies, it should be a lovely night for baseball. Unless you’re a pitcher, that is: strong winds are forecast to be blowing out tonight. That bodes poorly for Indians starter Josh Tomlin, who gave up 36 homers this season, which was just one behind Jered Weaver for most in baseball. The Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks is far better suited to such conditions, as he’s a groundball machine. Look for the Cubs batters to be taking some big uppercuts all night.
The Cubs won’t have Kyle Schwarber taking uppercuts, at least not all game long, but he could pinch hit. The Indians are strongly considering putting Carlos Santana in left field so they can keep both his and Mike Napoli‘s bats in the lineup in the DH-free NL park. The Cubs won 103 games this year without Schwarber, so they should be OK, even if he was a nice addition in Cleveland. Santana, on the other hand, has played exactly one game in the outfield in his major league career. That came in 2012. Do not expect Santana to be . . . smooth.
Cleveland is still looking at pitching Corey Kluber on short rest in tomorrow’s Game 4 and, if it goes that long, bringing him back again in Game 7. The “win all of Kluber’s starts and steal one elsewhere” approach is defensible, but this matchup seems less-than-ideal for the Indians in the “steal one” department. Hendricks has been solid as a rock down the stretch and in the postseason. Between his vexing stuff and a crazy crowd at Wrigley tonight Chicago seems poised to grab the momentum in this series tonight.