If you ask any Angels fan for their opinion on how the season has been so far, you better stand back and just let them rant for a few minutes. The 2016 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been the following: dreadful, disappointing, unlucky, embarrassing, embarrassing, embarrassing, and… embarrassing.
Why the repetition of the word “embarrassing”? Well here are a few reasons why..
From blowing leads to getting ejected because you were drawing a base, the 2016 Angels are on pace to finish with the worst record in the Mike Scioscia era.
At the All-Star break, the Angels stand at 37-52 and in last place in the AL West. They are on the verge of missing the playoffs once again… but I bet owner Arte Moreno is pleased that merchandise and attendance numbers have been good once again. The Angels have been above .500 only once this season and that came after a sweep of the A’s in April that put them at 5-4. In what has been the theme of the season for the Angels, the Angels took one step forward with a 5-4 record and took three steps back as they were swept by the then 0-9 Twins and the team has had a losing record since then. The team’s confidence in spring training was at an all-time high and they were positive that they would be making a return to the playoffs even though the front office failed to upgrade at left field, starting pitching, and relief pitching. On paper, where do you start when discussing the Angels?
If you look up the word inconsistent in the dictionary, you will find a picture of the Angels offense. They are the type of team that would score 21 runs in a six game span and in their next game, they would beat the Red Sox 21-2. Across MLB, the Angels rank 9th in team batting average with a .266 average and they also rank 14th in total runs scored with 403. After a horrific start to the season, many of the players have begun to find their stride and have improved their hitting.
Yunel Escobar has been one of the better hitters in the American League, but not defenders with THIRTEEN errors, with a .317 batting average and he has been able shorten his swing to be able to hit the other way and beat shifts.
With Mike Trout, he is having another stellar season with a .322/.425/.567 line to go along with 18 home runs and 58 RBI’s. After a slow start, Albert Pujols is still projected to go for 30 HR’s/100 RBIs but hitting a miserable .205 with the bases empty should be a concern especially when the Angels are struggling to get on base to start a rally. C.J Cron had been cooking at the plate before his hand injury after he was hit by a pitch as he hit .303 in June and .364 in July with 17 RBI’s. Other players such as Andrelton Simmons, Johnny Giavotella, and Daniel Nava have also improved their hitting as of late and a huge offensive 2nd half is need by the trio. This team is not close to the superb offensive display that the 2009 and 2014 teams provided but this group has all the potential to help turn this season around and get off to a couple of long win streaks.
When discussing the pitching staff, well it is a completely different story. The Angels are currently 22nd in MLB with a team ERA of 4.52 but that stat does not paint the entire picture. It has been a disaster half season for new pitching coach Charles Nagy. The Angels came into the season confident that they would be one of the best pitching staffs in the AL as they had eight potential starters and GM Billy Eppler had hopes of trading away at least two starters for players that would help out other team needs. Instead, Eppler was forced to bring in Tim Lincecum and Jhoulys Chacin to help out the injury-plagued rotation.
An All-Star last season, Hector Santiago has struggled with command and his mentality to make every single pitch a perfect one and to pitch around batters when he is ahead of the count has ruined his game with a 4.58 ERA/44 walks. Angels great Jered Weaver is hanging in there in likely his last season with the Angels as his 83 mph fastball has been able to fool opponents at times but when batters are able to adjust to the slow fastball in their 2nd plate appearance, Weaver does not even make it past the 5th inning. Nick Tropeano has been a bright spot for the Angels this season with a 3.12 ERA and he has done an incredible job of limiting the damage with runners on base. Last but not least, who can forget about Matt Shoemaker? Ever since he returned from his short stint in the minors to fix up his mechanics, Shoemaker has been pitching like prime Pedro Martinez… ok Shoemaker is not even close to prime Pedro but his numbers as of late are looking a lot like Pedro’s numbers in the late 1990’s. Shoemaker has brought back his 2014 confidence and his 2.14 ERA in June was one of the best in the majors. Shoemaker’s split-finger fastball has been effective throughout his starts in May/June and he has been able to rely on his sinker once again for crucial outs.
With the bullpen, it is a mess. Aside from Cam Bedrosian and his amazing 1.09 ERA so far, the bullpen has become a laughing-stock once again. Joe Smith’s sinker has become an easy pitch to get a hit out of, Huston Street has struggled to shut down games, and the duo of Fernando Salas and Jose Alvarez have blown far too many games. Mike Scioscia has said it over and over again that this bullpen is better than this and it is the truth. Many of the relievers were solid over the past two seasons and now they are looking like batting practice pitchers..
Now it is impossible to talk about the 2016 Angels season without covering the mountain of injuries that have deteriorated this team’s depth. Tyler Skaggs, C.J Wilson, Andrew Heaney, Garrett Richards, Nick Tropeano, Huston Street, Joe Smith, Cory Rasmus (twice), Daniel Nava (twice), C.J Cron, Andrelton Simmons, Geovany Soto, Cliff Pennington (twice), and Craig Gentry have all been to the disabled list. The Angels have had FOURTEEN PLAYERS on the DL this season, which leads MLB. Eppler and Scioscia have had to scramble to find replacements and switch up some players positions to accommodate with the injury issue. Who knows, a completely healthy Angels team would have a winning record right now and would be fighting the Texas Rangers for 1st place in the American League West?
So yeah, this team is bad… well more than just bad. Its baseball and this team could suddenly just start to click with good situational hitting and consistent pitching as they begin to fight for a playoff spot… but it is unlikely so it is time to start to look at the future.
For owner Arte Moreno and GM Billy Eppler, the mentality to “rebuild” this team should be to just go with the assumption that this team has a 4-year window before the grueling rebuilding era begins. Why four years? Well Albert Pujols could be playing his last games in MLB and the year 2020 could also be Mike Trout’s final season in Anaheim. Now both are just huge assumptions but for the Angels to get back into playoff contention, a quick re-load with the thought that this team has four years to compete is the best way to revive the winning mentality in Anaheim.
Now along with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, the Angels have a solid core revolving around: Garrett Richards (arbitration until 2019), Tyler Skaggs (arbitration until 2020), Nick Tropeano (arbitration until possibly 2021), Andrew Heaney (arbitration until 2021), Andrelton Simmons (UFA in 2021), and Kole Calhoun (arbitration until 2020). Four all-star potential starting pitchers (3 in 2017 due to Andrew Heaney’s Tommy John surgery) and three all-star hitters is not a bad core to build your team around. See Angels fans, it is not THAT bad..
Now it is likely a sure guarantee that Angels GM Billy Eppler has shifted his focus to the MLB Trade Deadline. At this point, Yunel Escobar, Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, Huston Street, and Joe Smith are all candidates to be traded. Matt Shoemaker would easily bring in the most value prospects and he could help a contender that is looking for a #3 or #4 starter in the rotation. Yunel Escobar could also be an option to be traded but there are pros and cons to that. Yunel is the 2nd best hitter on the team, best leadoff hitter since Chone Figgins, and best 3rd baseman since Chone Figgins BUT his attitude, defensive errors, and lazy play at times are all huge red flags for the Angels coaching staff. No matter what Eppler does, he needs to bring in some prospects to bolster the farm system and they can possibly discover a hidden gem like Trevor Gott in the Huston Street trade. Taylor Ward, Nate Smith, and Matt Thaiss are some of the current valuable prospects for the Angels but they are still in need of depth for the future.
Unless Billy Eppler goes through the “Moneyball” route or tries to rip off GM’s like how Celtics GM Danny Ainge did to now former Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King in the NBA, Eppler will need to improve the team through free agency. With the farm system ranked around 25-30, it is hard to see Eppler pull off a trade to bring in a coveted left fielder like Carlos Gonzalez or an ace like Chris Sale so free agency is the only route at this point.
With C.J Wilson/Jered Weaver’s $20 million dollar contracts coming off the books this winter, the Angels will be at $98 million heading into free agency this year. With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire on December 1st of this year, huge changes with rules on the field and luxury tax, Arte Moreno’s long-time rival, could be on the horizon. Although he denies it, avoiding the luxury tax penalty was one of the reasons as to why Moreno refused to go after a player like Yoenis Cespedes last winter. The luxury tax threshold was at $189 million and regardless of what happens with the new CBA, the luxury tax threshold will likely increase once again. Unlike the past few seasons, Moreno could afford a few solid free agents and still avoid the luxury tax this winter with Angels at $98 million.
Even though Josh Hamilton will be the highest paid player on the Angels next season, the Angels can still afford to bring in top free agents but the 2017 free agent class is looking to be one of the weakest in years. As of now, the top free agents for 2017 are: Josh Reddick, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Encarnacion, Matt Wieters, Alicides Escobar, Mark Trumbo, and Aroldis Chapman. The class to look forward is the 2018 free agent class where Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, A.J Pollock, Dee Gordon, Jose Fernandez, Andrew Miller and Kelvin Herrera will be available. Some of these names could be unrealistic but many fans also thought that acquiring Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton (at the time and yes, it is not the best example) were unrealistic. Whether it’s acquiring Josh Reddick to help fill the hole at left field or paying over $200 million for Jose Fernandez, Arte needs to make the right decisions in free agency and not bring in another Josh Hamilton controversy.
A hypothetical, fantasy lineup but a 2017 team featuring Escobar, Calhoun, Trout, Pujols, Reddick, Cron, Simmons, Bandy, Giavotella plus a healthy rotation with Richards/Tropeano/Skaggs/open spot for a starter/Santiago can compete in the American League. If Moreno resists making a home run signing, then 2018 is the way to go with Josh Hamilton’s contract finally ending + loaded class of free agents. Hopefully Moreno has learned his lesson that pitching wins championships. Just look at how the Royals, Giants, and Cardinals were able to bring win championships. It is not all about spending big for top offensive talent but instead, it is about building a solid rotation and a veteran, shutdown bullpen that can save the day in October.
The Angels are a mess with the lack of depth and with their financial struggles to be able to improve the team but there is light at the end of the dark tunnel. Instead of doing something idiotic like trading Mike Trout, build around your once-in-a-lifetime superstar. With the right moves, the Angels could be back in contention to compete against the Texas Rangers in the division and once again fight for the pennant. It’s a depressing time for Angels fans as the team is projected to lose 97 games but as the old saying goes, good things come to those who wait.
Writer’s Note: Stats and numbers courtesy of ESPN, MLB, Sportrac, Baseball Reference, and Fangraphs