Mike Trout

2013 Preview: Los Angeles Angels

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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.

Jason Kipnis could join Team Israel for 2017 World Baseball Classic

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians throws during batting practice prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.

For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.

Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.

Rangers to sign James Loney to minor league deal

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: James Loney #28 of the New York Mets tosses to first base against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.

Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.

The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.