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.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Indians 12, White Sox 0: The Indians gave Corey Kluber 12 runs of support which, c’mon, that’s a bit of overkill, innit? To make it fair they should be forced to begin all Corey Kluber starts with, like, negative three runs. Or make him pitch with his left hand or something. As it was, he allowed one hit over seven shutout innings. Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez each homered and drove in three. The entire Cleveland team was then referred to The Hague for crimes against compassion.

Yankees 7, Mariners 5: Seattle had to feel pretty dang good being up 5-0 after their half of the fifth inning. They shouldn’t have. New York clawed back with two on an Aaron Judge RBI single in the bottom half, got one more with a Didi Gregorius sac fly in the seventh and then Gary Sanchez tied things up with a two-run shot in the eighth. Then, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and extras looming, Gregorius reached base and Giancarlo Stanton reached for the lumber:

Ballgame.

Note: if you get annoyed at the concept of who is a “True Yankee” and who is not a “True Yankee” or the larger notion that players who join the Yankees don’t really become part of the team until they’ve delivered some sort of signature moment, you may want to avoid all coverage of the Yankees today, because it’s only 6:30AM and I’ve already seen like five different articles and video features playing that jazz.

Blue Jays 5, Braves 4: J.A. Happ‘s audition for contending teams continued, as he wins his fifth straight start, almost going the distance in doing so. He wasn’t sparkling — he allowed four runs and six hits — but he didn’t walk anyone and struck out eight dudes. Between that and the long start, it’s as if Toronto is showcasing him in a window display with the words “traditional workhorse, nothing flashy but built solidly” written on the glass. “Go ahead, take him for a spin,” the salesman says. “I’ll be talking to my manager to see if I can get you his best deal!”

Phillies 4, Cardinals 3Odubel Herrera hit a go-ahead solo home run off of Cardinals reliever Sam Tuivailala in the bottom of the seventh inning and the bullpen actually showed up to hold that lead, allowing the Phillies to go home with the W. Herrera has now homered in four consecutive games and in five of his last six. Which, if my experience with Philly talk radio is still up-to-date, means that only 60% of the callers will be complaining about Herrera’s “work ethic” and “hot dogging” today instead of the usual 85%.

Cubs 4, Dodgers 0: Jon Lester was fantastic, twirling seven shutout innings. Kyle Schwarber went deep and a couple of RBI singles and a fielder’s choice later this one was in the books. Javier Baez had two doubles and a triple, scored a run, stole a base and flashed some decent leather. He just needed to get hit by a pitch and, I dunno, sing the National Anthem to fill up every column of the scorecard. They have that on the scorecard, right?

Reds 5, Tigers 3: The Tigers led early and held the Reds to only two singles for the first five innings, but back-to-back homers from Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez, followed by a later dinger by Adam Duvall, put Cincy over. Tyler Mahle won his fourth start of the month. It’s not a riveting competition, but he’s been the Reds’ best starter this year.

Athletics 12, Padres 4: Petco Park in San Diego is known as a pitcher’s park, but the ball flies there during day games before that marine layer rolls in. That was the case yesterday as the A’s hit five homers, going back-to-back twice. Franklin Barreto, Josh Phegley, Mark CanhaMatt Olson and Jed Lowrie all went deep for Oakland. Barreto and Phegley went back-to-back in the second, each hitting their first dinger of the season. Canha and Olson went back-to-back in the third.

Giants 6, Marlins 5Brandon Belt had three hits Gorkys Hernandez hit a two-run single during San Francisco’s five-run sixth inning and no one threw at anyone and no benches cleared. How refreshing. The Marlins behaved themselves and it’s almost as if the Giants realized that it’s not worth getting players injured just to protect the misguided notions of honor espoused by notorious red-ass Hunter Strickland.

Orioles 3, Nationals 0: Andrew Cashner and four relievers combined on a five-hit shutout and Mark Trumbo hit a two-run blast. There was a long rain delay here which chased Cashner after four and, if it had been longer and wetter, might’ve washed out the game entirely before it was official. The Baseball Gods have not smiled on the O’s much this year, but they at least did them this one solid and let this one resume.

Twins 4, Red Sox 1: Lance Lynn allowed only an unearned run in five innings and four relievers allowed the Red Sox bupkis over the final four. Max Kepler hit a two-run homer, Robbie Grossman hit a solo shot and Brian Dozier doubled in a run. The Twinkies have won four of five.

Astros 5, Rays 1: Charlie Morton allowed only an unearned run in six innings and three relievers allowed the Rays bupkis over the final three. Jose Altuve hit a homer, Jose Altuve also hit a solo shot and George Springer and Alex Bregman each homered. The Astros have won four of five.

Yeah, the games sometimes blend together for me. Sorry.

Rangers 3, Royals 2Austin Bibens-Dirkx — pitching to similarly hyphenated catcher Isiah Kiner-Falefa — pitched excellently into the seventh inning and Rougned Odor homered to give the Rangers their fifth straight win. The Royals lose for ninth straight time.

Rockies 10, Mets 8: Same score as Tuesday night. In this one New York led 3-0 at one point but such leads are meaningless at Coors Field, especially early. After blowing that they led once again — 8-6 in the fifth — but Ryan McMahon‘s three-run homer put the Rockies back on top to stay. These two teams have combined for 50 runs in three games. They still have one more to play in this series today. Everyone be aware of the location of your nearest fallout shelter.

Brewers vs. Pirates — POSTPONED:

The rain is falling through the mist
Of sorrow that surrounded me.
The sun could never thaw away
The the bliss that lays around me.

Let it rain, let it rain,
Let your love rain down on me.
Let it rain, let it rain,
Let it rain, rain, rain.