2014 Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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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 2014 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Big Question: After two years of disappointments, do the Angels have a shot?

There has been no bigger disappointment in baseball over the past two years than the Angels. After signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson before the 2012 season and after signing Josh Hamilton a year ago, the Angels missed the playoffs both years. By a wide margin last season. And while Wilson has been solid, the two biggest bats on the market in those two seasons have been busts. Apart from promoting Mike Trout and watching him dominate baseball and apart from nearly single-handedly scaring teams away from long-term contracts for big sluggers, the Angels haven’t done anything of significance over the past two seasons.

But there is at least some reason to hope this year. It’s only modest reason, and it’s based more on unscientific things like the law of averages than anything truly tangible, but at the very least it’s too early for Angels fans to throw in the towel.

Simply put: it’s really hard to imagine Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton putting up two more dreadful seasons between them. Pujols was famously hampered by injuries last year and is supposedly healthy again. Hamilton was less famously aggravated by injuries. While it’s entirely possible that each of them has hit a Dale-Murphy-in-1989 kind of wall, it would be maddeningly improbable for a future Hall of Famer and a recent MVP to both do so at once. It could happen, but for me to believe it will require me seeing it. And if they do bounce back — even part of the way back, to respectability if not dominance — the Angels offense should be in fantastic shape.

Mike Trout is the best all-around player in the game and should continue to be so for a long time. While they lost Mark Trumbo’s homers, they also lost his nearly unprecedented out-making abilities. David Freese fell off a bit last year, but is capable of solid contributions. Kole Calhoun hit well in 58 games last season and has a nice minor league track record. Raul Ibanez can’t be expected to go on forever, but he had a fantastic season in 2013 and should contribute as well.  The upshot: the Angels were third on-base percentage, fifth in slugging and sixth in runs in the American League last season with Pujols and Hamilton doing close to nothing for them. It’s not hard to imagine the offense being among the best in the league with even a reasonable rebound from those two and expected contributions from the rest of the lineup.

So many ifs, obviously. And the “they look good on paper” thing hasn’t worked out too well for the Angels in a while. But the Angels could very easily have a playoff-caliber offense. And that’s reason to hope.

What else is going on?

  • Obviously offense isn’t everything. What really sunk the Angels last year was the pitching. The Trumbo trade did a lot to address that, bringing in Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, who should help bolster the back end of the rotation, which was hideous last season. Neither should light the world on fire — and while Skaggs has some upside, we pretty much know what Santiago is — but after the Joe Blanton experience in 2013, Mike Scioscia will probably welcome modest expectations reasonably-met.
  • The top end of the rotation is nominally OK with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson — they’re big stars and at times have been among the best starters in baseball — but Weaver’s diminished velocity and some late-season forearm issues have to be cause for concern.He’s lost a good four miles per hour off his heater since he came up and has become more hittable. While there’s no reason to panic, if he declines more quickly than expected, all bets are off for the rotation.
  • The bullpen sucked eggs last year too, but it should be improved. Bringing in setup man Joe Smith from Cleveland is a big help. And, while Sean Burnett and Dane De La Rosa will likely start the season on the disabled list, their presence for most of the season will represent a big improvement over last year. More generally, Jerry Dipoto brought in a ton of organizational bullpen depth via minor league signings that, unlike last year, won’t require him to repurpose starting pitchers and generally scramble if and when the relievers who start the season in Anaheim falter.
  • Hot seat watch: It’s been a long time since a major league manager did less with more than Mike Scioscia has done over the past two seasons and not paid for it with his job. Not that the Angels’ problems have been his fault — who bet on Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton forgetting how to hit? — but managers do usually pay for such struggles. If the Angels limp out to a slow start for a third straight year, it’s going to be hard for Scioscia to avoid the hot seat. In his favor, though, are the lack of 2012 or 2013-size expectations.

Prediction: They could surprise and, for once, exceed expectations. But with the Rangers and A’s as stocked as they are, it’ll be hard to see the Angels finishing above Third place, American League West.

Twins activated Glen Perkins from the 60-day disabled list

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The Twins announced, prior to the start of Thursday afternoon’s game against the Indians (the first game of a double-header), that reliever Glen Perkins was activated from the 60-day disabled list. Perkins had been sidelined since April 2016, recovering from left labrum surgery.

From 2013-15, Perkins served as the Twins’ closer, recording 102 saves with a 3.08 ERA. He appeared in only two games last season before going down with the injury.

Perkins appeared in the ninth inning of the first game Thursday with the Twins trailing 7-3. It did not go well. He gave up two runs on two hits, one walk, and two hit batsmen before being lifted. Alan Busenitz came in and induced an inning-ending double play from Francisco Lindor.

The Twins will likely ease Perkins back by continuing to use him in lower-leverage situations. Perkins has a club option worth $6.5 million for 2018 with a $700,000 buyout. The Twins picking up that option likely hinges on how Perkins fares down the stretch.

Red Sox owner John Henry “haunted” by Tom Yawkey’s racist past, wants to rename Yawkey Way

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The Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman reports that Red Sox owner John Henry is “haunted” by the racist past of previous owner Tom Yawkey and wants to rename Yawkey Way, the tw0-block street that runs from Brookline Avenue to Boylston Street.

Earlier this year, the Red Sox renamed an extension of Yawkey Way after David Ortiz.

Yawkey refused to promote black players from the minor leagues during the 1950’s despite exceptional performance. The Red Sox became the last major league team to integrate in 1959 when Pumpsie Green was added to the roster. Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in 1947, called Yawkey “one of the most bigoted guys in baseball.”

This comes days after racial tensions in Charlottesville, VA where protesters and counter-protesters clashed over removing the statue of Robert E. Lee. A member of a white supremacist group drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19. While President Trump has done little in the way of disavowing these hate groups, various city leaders have taken the initiative to remove Confederate monuments and the various other ways in which those people have been glorified. Baltimore, for example, removed four Confederate monuments early Wednesday morning.

Renaming Yawkey Way has been a long time coming and with the current political climate, Henry has finally been motivated enough to take action. He said, “I discussed this a number of times with the previous mayoral administration and they did not want to open what they saw as a can of worms. There are a number of buildings and institutions that bear the same name. The sale of the Red Sox by John Harrington helped to fund a number of very good works in the city done by the Yawkey Foundation (we had no control over where any monies were spent). The Yawkey Foundation has done a lot of great things over the years that have nothing to do with our history.”

Henry added, “The Red Sox don’t control the naming or renaming of streets. But for me, personally, the street name has always been a consistent reminder that it is our job to ensure the Red Sox are not just multi-cultural, but stand for as many of the right things in our community as we can – particularly in our African-American community and in the Dominican community that has embraced us so fully. The Red Sox Foundation and other organizations the Sox created such as Home Base have accomplished a lot over the last 15 years, but I am still haunted by what went on here a long time before we arrived.”

Henry says if the decision were entirely up to him, he would dedicate the street to David Ortiz, calling it “David Ortiz Way” or “Big Papi Way.”

Though racism is a problem throughout the U.S., racism has been a particular problem in Boston at least when it comes to baseball. Earlier this year, Orioles outfielder Adam Jones had peanuts thrown at him and was called racist slurs by fans at Fenway Park. Red Sox starter David Price said he has been on the receiving end of racist taunts from Boston fans as well. After the Jones incident, other players — including CC Sabathia, Barry Bonds, Mark McLemore, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. — spoke up and said that they had been treated similarly at Fenway Park.

Henry’s sensitivity to the issue is quite understandable. And he deserves kudos for doing the right thing in pushing to rename Yawkey Way, but one has to wonder why this hadn’t been done much, much sooner.