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2017 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 2017 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. 

Let’s look first at the strengths. There’s Mike Trout, the undisputed best player in the game. That’s always a good start. I could bore you with a bunch of stats and historical comparisons here but we’re friends here and, let’s be honest, we don’t need or even want that. The guy is good, ’nuff said.

Indeed, I had an impulse to simply photoshop Trout’s head on this poster and be done with the entire Angels preview:

 

You could almost stop reading now and know what’s up in Anaheim this year.

But honestly, Trout isn’t the only strength here. The Angels have the best defensive shortstop in the league in Andrelton Simmons and a lot of other good defensive players as well, from Kole Calhoun in right, Cameron Maybin in left, Luis Valbuena at first (or wherever he’s slotted once he comes back from a hamstring injury) and Danny Espinosa at second. Their catching corps — Martin Maldonado and Carlos Perez — are solid too. When you lack team depth and have pitching challenges like the Angels do, not kicking the ball all over the field is a good thing. The Angels have kicked the ball a lot in recent years but they’ll be pretty good with the leather in 2017, and that can make up for a lot of faults.

But I ain’t gonna lie, there are a lot of faults here.

Garrett Richards is back from a UCL injury that sidelined him most of last season. He didn’t get Tommy John surgery — he went with stem cell treatment — so the recovery time is lower. Still, it seems like a lot of guys who go the rehab route end up going under the knife eventually anyway, so everyone will have their eye on the Angels’ ace as the season goes on.

Beyond Richards the rotation is suspect. Matt ShoemakerRicky NolascoTyler Skaggs — also coming back from injury — and Jesse Chavez do not, as a group, strike fear into anyone’s hearts. I guess the hope here is that Nolasco’s pitching after he came over from Minnesota is more indicative of what he can do than what he did earlier in the year. Or, for that matter, for the past three seasons. If Richards is healthy he’s an ace. The rest of these guys are basically average at best.

The pen has issues. Cam Bedrosian had a fantastic 2016, but it was definitely a huge step up for him and may have been an aberration. closer Huston Street did not have a fantastic 2016, is recovering from a strained lat now and it’s fair to ask whether he’s got what it takes to close in the bigs anymore. Even if that’s too pessimistic an assessment, he’s missed a lot of time this spring. Andrew Bailey, like Nolasco, pitched well after coming to Anaheim last summer but poorly before that, with the poorly looking more like his true level than the well. Otherwise Mike Scioscia has a lot of young arms but not a lot of particularly good ones. Look for his bullpen to feature a cast of thousands.

As for the lineup: Trout is Trout. Albert Pujols is recovering from yet another foot issue. He still has old man strength and can hit some dingers, but he’s a shell of his former self and it’s fair to ask how many lower body maladies a guy whose primary value is tied up in power can tolerate. Yunel Escobar, Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron are useful and predictable, even if they’re not game-changers. The Angels were 10th in offense in the AL last year. It’s hard to see them making a big leap from that level this year, even if they’re not likely to be too much worse either.

Ultimately, there’s not enough pitching here and there’s not a scary enough secondary or tertiary offensive threat behind Trout to make the offense difficult to deal with. If you play the Angels you’ll score some runs and you can pitch to everyone who isn’t wearing the number 27. That’s not gonna cut it in the AL West this year.

Prediction: Fourth place, American League West.

The Astros continue to refuse to take responsibility for the Taubman Affair

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I’m calling it the “Taubman Affair” because writing “the incident in which a top front office executive — Astros Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman — taunted a reporter for her past opposition to the team acquiring a domestic abuser, after which the team lied, aggressively about it, accusing another reporter of fabricating a story, then admitted that they lied but made no apology for smearing the reporter” is too unwieldy for a headline.

If you need catching up on it, though, you can read this, this or this.

The latest on it all: yesterday, after walking back their angry denial that the incident ever occurred and admitting that, yes, Taubman did in fact gleefully and profanely target a reporter for taunting, the team basically went silent and let Game 1 unfold.

Today General Manager Jeff Luhnow went on a team-friendly radio station (i.e. the station that broadcasts Astros games). In the entire segment he was asked only one question about it: “Your thoughts on the SI article, Jeff.” Luhnow said that he would withhold comment, but apologized to “everybody involved,” including the fans and the players, saying “this situation should have never happened.” You can listen to the entire segment here.

He did not, however, make any specific mention of what “this situation” was. Nor did he acknowledge that, actually, it’s at least two “situations:” (1) the initial behavior of Taubman; and (2) Monday night’s team-sanctioned attack of Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein, who reported it. Indeed, at no time in the team’s now multiple comments has anyone acknowledged that, as an organization, the Houston Astros’s first impulse in all of this was to attempt to bully and discredit a reporter for what has now been established as a truthful report to which the Astros have admitted. And they certainly have not voiced any specific regret or offered any form of accountability for it.

Major League Baseball is apparently investigating Taubman’s conduct. But it is not, presumably, investigating the Astros’ disingenuous smear of Apstein. A smear that the Astros likely undertook because they figured they could intimidate Apstein and, what may even be worse, because they assumed that the rest of the press — many of whom were witnesses to Taubman’s act — would go along or remain silent. If they did not think that, of course, releasing the statement they did would’ve been nonsensical. It speaks of an organization that believes it can either bully or manipulate the media into doing its bidding or covering for the teams’ transgressions. That part of this has gone wholly uncommented on by the Astros and apparently will for the foreseeable future. No matter how this shakes out for Taubman, if the Astros do not talk about how and why they decided to baselessly attack Apstein on Monday night, nothing they ever say should be trusted again.

More broadly, everything the Astros are doing now is the same as when they traded for Roberto Osuna in the first place.

In 2018 they wanted to do an unpopular thing — arbitrage a player’s domestic violence suspension into the acquisition of cheap relief help — while wanting to appear as though they were good actors who had a “zero tolerance for domestic violence” policy. To solve that problem they shoveled a lot of malarkey about how “zero tolerance” actually includes a fair amount of tolerance and hoped that everyone would go along. When not everyone did — when fans brought signs of protest to the ballpark or expressed their displeasure with Osuna’s presence on the roster — they confiscated them then hoped it’d all blow over and, eventually, via Taubman’s rant on Saturday night, lashed out at their critics.

Here, again, they want to do something unpopular: retain a boorish and insensitive executive in Taubman without him or the team suffering any consequences for it, be they actual consequences or mere P.R. fallout. Again, it’s kind of hard to pull that off, so to do so they falsely accused a reporter of lying and then circled the wagons when they caught heat for it.

I have no idea how long they plan to keep this up. Maybe they are calculating that people will forget and that forgetting is the same as forgiveness. Maybe they simply don’t care. All I do know is that folks will be teaching the Astros’ response to all of this as a counterexample in crisis management courses for years.