2016 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 2016 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Angels.

With Mike Trout, all things are possible. Well, not all things, but a whole lot more wins than a team with this many holes and as thin a system as the Angels have might otherwise expect to get. When you start with the best player in baseball — and when you back him up with a declining but still dangerous Albert Pujols — you’re starting out OK.

Beyond those two things get a bit uncertain. The trade for Andrelton Simmons definitely shores up the defense up the middle, but unless he has that breakout offensive season some have figured he has in him someplace (Braves fans waited for four years and it never happened), his bat won’t add much to the party. Yunel Escobar at third base is an intriguing option for some offense if you think his nice 2015 was indicative of a resurgence as opposed to an outlier. Kole Calhoun took a step back last year but is still solid and has some upside. C.J. Cron‘s power is the real deal and he could hit between 20-30 homers. Overall, though, there’s an awful lot of low-OBP dudes on this Angels lineup, minimizing the damage Trout, Pujols and Cron can do with their bombs. And that’s before you figure that Pujols, who is battling some foot problems this spring, is likely to continue to go slowly and gently into that good night. Last year the Angels were close to a bottom-third offense. It’s hard to see them improving dramatically this year.

Garrett Richards tops the rotation. He wasn’t as great in 2015 as he was in 2014, but still has fantastic stuff and is another full offseason and a regular-ramp-up removed from his ugly knee injury from late in 2014. Jered Weaver‘s velocity — or shocking lack thereof — is concerning. Hector Santiago‘s screwballs are fun. Andrew Heaney could truly emerge this year as a solid number two or three starter. C.J. Wilson will start the year on the DL and there is no solid timetable for his return. Matt Shoemaker was a disappointment last year but he’ll fill in for Wilson. Huston Street and Joe Smith in the pen is pretty decent. The rest of the pen is neither great nor terrible.

The biggest issue with the Angels: there’s not a lot of upside to be seen here. Mike Trout is amazing, but you can’t reasonably expect him to get better. You can’t expect most of the rest of this club to get better either, but that’s because it’s less than amazing. They won 85 games last year and it felt like that exceeded their real level of talent by a good deal. Where does the improvement come from this year? Especially given how barren their minor league system is?

Prediction: Third place, AL West.

Major League Baseball threatens to walk away from Minor League Baseball entirely

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The war between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball escalated significantly last night, with Minor League Baseball releasing a memo accusing Major League Baseball of “repeatedly and inaccurately” describing the former’s stance in negotiations and Major League Baseball responding by threatening to cut ties with Minor League Baseball entirely.

As you’re no doubt aware, negotiations of the next 10-year Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs the relationship between the big leagues and the minors — and which is set to expire following the 2020 season — have turned acrimonious. Whereas past negotiations have been quick and uncontroversial, this time Major League Baseball presented Minor League Baseball with a plan to essentially contract 42 minor league baseball teams by eliminating their major league affiliation. Baseball is also demanding that Minor League Baseball undertake far more of the financial burden of player development which is normally the responsibility of the majors.

That plan became public in October when Baseball America reported on the contraction scheme, after which elected officials such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren began weighing in on the side of Minor League Baseball. Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball were not happy with all of that and, on Wednesday, Manfred bashed Minor League Baseball for taking the negotiations public and accused Minor League Baseball of intransigence, saying the minors had assumed a “take it or leave it” negotiating stance.

Last night Minor League Baseball bashed back in the form of a four-page public memo countering Manfred’s claims, with point-point-by-point rebuttals of Major League Baseball’s talking points on various matters ranging from stadium facilities, team travel, and player health and welfare. You can read the memo in this Twitter thread from Josh Norris of Baseball America.

Major League Baseball responded with its own public statement last night. But rather than publicly rebut Minor League Baseball’s claims, or to simply say, consistent with Manfred’s statement on Wednesday, that it preferred to negotiate in private, it threatened to simply drop any agreement with Minor League Baseball and, presumably start its own minor league system bypassing MiLB entirely:

“If the National Association [of Minor League Clubs] has an interest in an agreement with Major League Baseball, it must address the very significant issues with the current system at the bargaining table. Otherwise, MLB clubs will be free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.”

So, in the space of about 48 hours, Manfred has gone from being angry at the existence of public negotiations to negotiating in public, angrily.

As for Minor League Baseball going public itself, one Minor League Baseball owner’s comments to the Los Angeles Times seems to sum up the thinking pretty well:

“Rob is attempting to decimate the industry, destroy baseball in communities and eliminate thousands of jobs, and he’s upset that the owners of the teams have gone public with that information in an effort to save their teams. That’s rich.”

Things, it seems, are going to get far worse before they get better. If, in fact, they do get better.