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On the Brink - A Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim preview

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A look ahead at our first opponent on the upcoming seven-game homestand

A little help? Please?
A little help? Please?
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

This decade, the Angels have enjoyed the blessings of deep pockets and Mike Trout. One might think that those two things alone would be enough to experience sustained success. Rather surprisingly, the Angels have only tasted the postseason once in the last six years. They had a chance to pull even with the Astros for the second Wild Card slot on the last day of the 2015 season and weren't able to do so, as they fell victim to a complete game performance from Cole Hamels of the Texas Rangers.

There's been no shortage of dysfunction in the Angels organization over the course of the past calendar year. In last August's essay, I touched upon the fallout from the Josh Hamilton saga and the open war between general manager and manager that led to the departure of former GM Jerry Dipoto. The unfortunate consequence of manager Mike Scioscia winning that particular battle is that it means the coaching staff will probably continue to eschew analytics that could help give the Angels an extra edge. You'd think a team that missed the postseason by a single game would be more interested in improving on the margins, but given that owner Arte Moreno will apparently have Scioscia's back in any conflict with his alleged superior, what reason could Scioscia possibly have to change?

Moreno's spending strategies also created a world full of difficulties for new general manager Billy Eppler this offseason. Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson, and Jered Weaver are soaking up nearly $66 million of the Angels' 2016 payroll. The structure of Pujols' contract, combined with the far more justifiable structure of Trout's, put the Angels in a situation in which they had very little wiggle room under the luxury tax threshold. Moreno didn't feel that this Angels team was a good enough risk to spend big in free agency and pay the tax. That may well have been the right decision, but whether you want to blame past contracts or Moreno's attitude towards this offseason, the fact remains that Eppler's flexibility was minimal.

All of this kinda puts a controversy over the presence of a 14-year-old kid in a major league clubhouse in perspective, huh.

Due to the financial constraints, Eppler's offseason was similar to that of the White Sox, albeit less effective. Eppler only threw about $10 million at free agents, with the largest contracts going to utility infielder Cliff Pennington and backup catcher Geovany Soto. Like Rick Hahn, Eppler's more significant acquisitions came via trade. The Angels made a Trevor Gott-sized bet that problem child Yunel Escobar could fill the void that David Freese left at third base. Escobar is very aggressive within the strike zone and is coming off an outstanding season with the bat, but his glove work at the hot corner leaves much to be desired.

Fortunately, Escobar will have plenty of help on the left side of the infield as Eppler's other big trade acquisition was otherworldly defensive stopper Andrelton Simmons. A team reaps a world full of value simply by plugging in Simmons' glove at shortstop; whatever he gives you at the plate is gravy. The Angels should prepare for dry meat, but they won't be likely to complain about it.

The new additions complement the core of the Angels lineup, which promises to be productive. In addition to the otherworldly Trout, Albert Pujols is still trucking along after belting 40 homers as a 35-year-old last season. Right fielder Kole Calhoun made great strides both on defense and as a power bat last season; he's a well above-average regular. Less encouraging is designated hitter C.J. Cron, who can belt the occasional long ball but is otherwise a poor man's Mark Trumbo.

The Angels' offense should be productive enough to keep them in contention but there's plenty of questions surrounding their pitching staff. Hard-throwing Garrett Richards is a firmly above-average major league pitcher, but he's miscast as a number-one on a team that wants to contend.  Richards relies primarily on a fourseam, sinker, and a hard 88 mph slider.  All are good pitches, but oddly it's the slider rather than the sinker that's behind his plus groundball rate. Richards' command can get pretty erratic; he leads all of baseball in wild pitches over the past two seasons by a huge margin.

Jered Weaver is a far cry from the ace he used to be. Though he never threw particularly hard, Weaver's fastball is now close to 81 mph, similar to what position players offer when they take the mound. His curve sits in the mid-60s. Though he's sporting similar velocity to what Jamie Moyer had in his early 40's, Weaver's not a Moyer-like mastermind having Moyer-like success; he's just lobbing up junk and praying.

Old friend Hector Santiago has found superficial success in the Angels rotation and even made an All-Star team last year. FIP hates his guts, but you'd expect that from someone who led the American League in home runs allowed last year. Though he's not quite the inefficient walk machine he was with the White Sox, Santiago has survived thus far on the basis of low BABIPs. He probably won't last, but when he's not playing the Sox you should root for him, because he's one of baseball's good guys. The rotation is rounded out by Matt Shoemaker, who comes with similar home run problems and Nick Tropeano, who's filling in for the promising Andrew Heaney while the latter is on the shelf. Tropeano has a violent delivery and is still looking to refine his secondary pitches in hopes of getting an extended stay in a big league rotation. At least he's on the right team for that.

The Angels' situation isn't quite hopeless just yet, but things are getting ugly fast. Their roster is middle-of-the-road in a tough division and their farm system is one of the worst in baseball. With circa $50 million coming off the books following this season (thanks primarily to Wilson and Weaver's expiring contracts) and little in the way of help coming from the minors, the Angels will have to spend very wisely if they are adamant about staying under the luxury tax line and wish to compete with the Astros and Rangers teams of the future. For now, Scioscia's dated thinking and Moreno's counterproductive meddling have created a mess for the organization and even the best player in the world and his extremely favorable contract might not be able to save it. We talk often about the careers of Chris Sale and Felix Hernandez essentially having gone to waste thus far, but Mike Trout hasn't won a postseason game yet either. In five years, Trout's case might stand out as the most unfortunate of them all.

Projected Record and Finish: 78-84, 4th place AL West

Probable Starting Pitchers

  • Monday, April 18: Carlos Rodon vs. Hector Santiago
  • Tuesday, April 19: Mat Latos vs Matt Shoemaker
  • Wednesday, April 20: Chris Sale vs. Garrett Richards
  • Thursday, April 21: John Danks vs. Jered Weaver

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Yunel Escobar - 3B

SP1. Garrett Richards - RHP

2. Craig Gentry - LF

SP2. Hector Santiago - LHP

3. Mike Trout - CF

SP3. Matt Shoemaker - RHP

4. Albert Pujols - DH

SP4. Jered Weaver - RHP

5. C.J. Cron - 1B

SP5. Nick Tropeano - RHP

6. Kole Calhoun - RF

CL. Huston Street - RHP

7. Andrelton Simmons - SS

RP1. Joe Smith - RHP

8. Carlos Perez - C

RP2. Fernando Salas - RHP

9. Johnny Giavotella - 2B

RP3. Jose Alvarez - LHP