Other than the superlative play of second year outfielder Mike Trout the 2013 season was a disaster for the Los Angeles Angels. After adding outfielder Josh Hamilton via a massive free agent contract the Angels entered last season with a $135 million payroll. Hamilton struggled all season and based on his play over the past year and a half its hard to imagine the former Ranger and Red ever living up to the investment that Artie Moreno and the Angels made in him. Albert Pujols, the former four-time NL MVP, struggled with plantar fasciitis all season and has a greatly disappointing season by his standards. The powerful Mark Trumbo started strong but had a rough second half.
It was a long year in Anaheim.
Still, even with all the superstar struggles the Angels had a surprisingly efficient offensive attack, finishing in the upper third of the American League in most categories. While Pujols and Hamilton struggled Trout put together one of the greatest seasons in history by a second year player. In a season full in injuries at many positions manager Mike Scioscia was able to get surprising performances from a variety of players, many who didn’t start the season on the Angels roster. As the Angels head into the 2014 the Angels should feel confidence in their offenses ability to again put runs on the board, with the potential of even greater productivity next season should Hamilton and Pujols regain their former glory. Hamilton’s post All-Star break numbers a solid increase over his first half, but still nowhere near the numbers he regularly put up in Texas. If Pujols can stay healthy and produce numbers comparable to his first year as an Angel the club should be in good shape offensively. Add David Freese to the mix, acquired from the Cardinals in a package that included Peter Bourjas, and the Angels offense will be just fine.
The issue though is the Angels pitching staff which was near the bottom of the American League. The Angels were 24th in all of Major League Baseball in earned run average at 4.23. Opponents batted .261 off the Angels pitching staff, 26th in baseball. In virtually every major pitching category the Angels pitching staff was in the lower third of major league baseball. The Angels clearly need to upgrade both their starting rotation and bullpen but that process isn’t as easy as in years past. Teams have become wiser and many young starters are locked up to long-term deals before they reach free agency. Those who do reach free agency are often over priced and teams end up paying a premium for them. A perfect case in point is the San Francisco Giants paying Tim Lincecum $15 million per year and the Minnesota Twins paying over market value for the combination of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes.
The Angels are set at the top of their rotation with Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson and young Garrett Richards. After those three it’s murky at best how the Angels will fill out their rotation. Jason Vargas left for Kansas City and a four-year deal. Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson struggled last season and clearly are not the answer. If Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka ends up becoming available the Angels will likely bid, but so will the Dodgers and several other clubs. The rest of the free agent crop of pitchers is underwhelming and several of them have already signed. That leaves a group that includes Bronson Arroyo, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Hiroki Kuroda, Bartolo Colon and Ubaldo Jimenez.
It’s an interesting crop of free agent pitchers, better than last season but diminished with several already signing, including Scott Kazmir who signed Monday with the Oakland Athletics. Of the remaining group the biggest ace is likely Matt Garza, but the well traveled right-hander will likely come at a pretty hefty price tag. Several teams are rumored to be looking at Garza, including large market clubs like the Yankees. Beyond Garza there is always the option to trade for David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays ace lefty would give the Angels one of the best number one starters in all of baseball but the Angels would likely have to give up more than they’d like to acquire price.
Of the remaining group Bronson Arroyo is an interesting option that may come at a reasonable price tag and be a solid middle of the rotation starter. He’s a workhorse who regularly pitches 200 innings per year and has consistently put up solid numbers in a hitters park. The negative is that Arroyo regularly leads the NL in homers and would be making the transition to the American League at the age of 37. Bartolo Colon has made an impressive comeback over the past couple of seasons, but is now forty. He’s re-defined himself as a strike-thrower the past couple of seasons and may be a decent arm to look at on a shorter, more incentive laden deal. Much like Colon is the option of looking at Roy Halladay. The likely future Hall of Famer had a sudden fall from elite status last season where he was battered with an ERA over six. If healthy the former Cy Young Award winner may be worth a look as a mid-rotation starter. He’s a tremdendous asset to any team due to his impressive work ethic and leadership.
Beyond the starting rotation the Angels bullpen should be in good shape. They acquired Fernando Salas from the Cardinals in the Peter Bourjas trade and Salas, along with free agent signee Joe Smith should shore up the bullpen. The side-armer Smith put up elite numbers with the Indians the past three seasons. He’ll join a bullpen that already includes right-handed set-up men Dane De La Rosa, Michael Kohn and Kevin Jepsen, lefty Sean Burnett and closer Ernesto Frieri.
Like last season it may all come down to pitching for the Angels in 2014. With many free agent starters jumping out of the market quickly the Angels will need to quickly move to shore up their rotation for the upcoming season.
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By: Chris Cabrera