Los Angeles Angels: 5 Biggest Weaknesses Entering the New Year
The Los Angeles Angels, well ahead of the ceremonial ball drop, have already begun to fulfill their New Year's resolutions for 2013.
Following their 2012 third-place finish in the AL West, owner Arte Moreno and general manager Jerry Dipoto wasted no time in retooling areas of need: The bullpen, the bullpen...and the bullpen.
And, of course, the merry-go-round ride possibility of signing Zack Greinke—which was eventually eased by signing Josh Hamilton.
That’s right, Angels' faithful. While the move may not make total sense, the forecasting of ticket sales because of it is crystal clear. Besides, what's the hurt if Hamilton can also bring his career .304, 35 home run and 122 RBI average?
Headline power aside, the club did proceed as promised and upgraded the bullpen. They signed Ryan Madson to an incentive-latent deal with a base salary of $3.5 million (h/t LA Times' Lance Pugmire) and also added left-handers Sean Burnett and Brandon Sisk for mid- to late-inning relief.
After several (questionable?) acquisitions that brought starting pitchers Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas to the club, plus the signing of Hamilton, the club looked set for 2013.
GM Jerry Dipoto, in an article by MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez, expressed his delight saying this:
We have a very good defense, we've got a strong offensive club, we have a top of the rotation that's representative with the better top of the rotations in the league, and we've got a bullpen now that I think matches up depth for depth with anything that we've had here for quite some time.
Without question, he's right. They do. However, just like skipping the gym a week into January or grabbing those extra chocolate cupcakes at work, resolutions can also get broken with weakness.
And the Angels are no exception to the rule. Let's take a look at five weaknesses that may hinder any thought of a 2002-like campaign for the club in 2013.
(All stats provided are from baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted).
A Healthy Starting Rotation
The Angels are only going to go as far as the front-end rotation will take them. And, unfortunately, it's uncertain how far the front-end rotation can actually go—health wise.
Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will have the most pressure to keep things stable and their arms healthy. Tommy Hanson, assuming Mike Scioscia puts him ahead of Jason Vargas at No. 3, will also have added pressure.
All three will need to stay healthy—something they haven't accomplished in the past—in order to keep the rotation from crumbling; and fans yearning for Zack Greinke...maybe even Ervin Santana if it gets really bad.
But can they stay healthy, or at the very least, 75 to 80 percent?
Weaver was hampered with biceps tendonitis late in the season, dropping his innings under 200 for the first time since 2008. Wilson pitched with bone spurs in his left elbow (an injury he had in 2008 with the Rangers) and needed offseason surgery to correct it (h/t ESPN.com).
The past two seasons have also been injury plagued for Tommy Hanson. He missed the last two months of the 2011 season with a bad shoulder. And he missed time last year with back problems.
All three pitchers are slated to return to the squad at full health by spring. But once a pitcher has gone through an injury—especially to the throwing arm—the uncertainty always lingers.
Weaver did still manage a CY Young-type season, going 20-5 with a 2.81 ERA; however, the injury affected him in the final months.
Undoubtedly, his progression will have plenty of curious eyes watching that across-the-body throwing style.
For Wilson, although he pitched through the injury last season, racking up 202.1 innings of work, his command suffered.
Will the results from the repair be the same as it was in 2008?
And Hanson has made the attempt to wipe out any uncertainty over his health by tinkering with his mechanics (h/t MLB.com's Mark Bowman). However, Hanson is also anything but certain.
Without question, in order to keep the staff in one collective piece and the season intact, they all will be expected to carry inning loads in 2013.
The amount, however, may be just the thing to aggravate their injuries from last year, leaving only the offensive output and new-look bullpen responsible for carrying the weight of it.
Quality Innings from the No. 4 and No. 5 Starters
The Angels took a gamble when they dealt Ervin Santana (for unproven relief pitcher Brandon Sisk) and didn't re-sign Dan Haren.
Now, the two hopeful replacements are former Seattle Mariners' left-hander Jason Vargas and Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton. And I am not completely certain that both, when looking at their numbers, are much of a solid upgrade over Haren and Santana.
Vargas had a good year on a not-so-good team in 2012. He pitched 217.1 innings, while posing a 3.85 ERA with 14 wins. But he also gave up an astounding 35 home runs.
Sure, only nine were surrendered at Safeco Field, possibly leaving the idea of him succeeding in a pitcher’s park—which Angels Stadium is also considered (according to ESPN.com.'s ballpark factors).
But a pitcher, especially a starting pitcher, doesn’t work like a uniform choice: only used during home games or when the team thinks it makes sense. The scenario doesn't shadow the fact of the 35 long balls in 2012 or the 24 combined given up to the Oakland A's and Texas Rangers in his career.
Blanton, like Vargas, can also provide a lot of innings for a team. He has averaged 210 over a nine-year career. However, at this point for Blanton, that's all it really equates to—innings.
He had an ERA of 4.71 in 2012, while giving up 29 home runs in 191 innings, and finished the year 10-13. The right-hander hasn’t posted an ERA under four since 2007, and it's difficult to believe that he has enough left in the tank to make a real impact.
Perhaps Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams will fill the void. But even that might be a stretch.
When it comes down to it, pitching is about the "quality" of innings, not the "quantity" of innings. And, when compared to Haren's and Santana's quality-start rate of 65 and 57 percent, respectively, it looks as though Vargas (54 percent) and Blanton (55 percent) may not be the answer.
The first eye-popping reaction when an Angels' fan reads that catching is a weakness for the club is most likely one accompanied with words of shame (towards me).
However, this is not a knock towards Chris Ianetta, so hold your horses; or, in this case, Rally Monkey.
Ianetta is certainly a solid catcher. And the club giving him an extension of three years at $15.5 million (h/t LA Times' Mike Giovanna via Twitter) is a smart move.
Whatever offense he provides—which won't be Mike Napoli-type numbers—is only an added bonus to his defense. He threw out 26-percent of base runners last year (25-percent was the league average) while also recording a well-above average fielding percentage (.996).
And the seven pitchers penciled in thus far as possible starts for the Angels have a combined stolen-bases-against average of 67 percent (the league is 71). Which is helpful—and makes for a nice hyphenated word.
But the question remains, moreover, if he can duplicate those numbers while catching in 100-plus games as the primary receiver. Remember: Last season Ianetta, while splitting time with Bobby Wilson, caught in only 79 games.
He did catch 112 games with Colorado in 2011. But that was only the second time in his seven-year career he accomplished such a workload (the other was 104 in 2008).
In order for this experiment to be a success, Ianetta will need to eat up more innings behind the plate.
However, regardless if Ianetta can—or cannot—be the full-time battery mate the Angels' brass is banking on, there remains another question:
Can Hank Conger and John Hester do enough as backup? Their contribution, unlike in year’s past, will definitely matter; they won't be able to use their MLB time just to get better and mature.
And there isn't time to send another player from Boston to Los Angeles—unless Mike Napoli isn't telling us something.
The Angels' infield, unlike the outfield, doesn’t have any depth.
Although I don't look at this problem like it's a comparison to an NBA bench and it might not present a huge problem but it does leave certain scenarios out there that no Angels' fan, coach or management (admittedly or not) wants to see.
Without question, Alberto Callaspo, Eric Aybar, Howie Kendrick and Albert Pujols make up a very solid infield, both defensively and offensively.
However, the backup situation if one of those players goes down makes for a little more worry.
The Angels' signed: Luis Rodriguez, a 21-year-old infielder who hasn't seen MLB action since 2011, to a minor league deal.
Tommy Field, a shortstop and utility player that has only 18 career games under his belt, came off the waiver wire (h/t ESPN.com.).
Andrew Romine, the left-handed hitting third baseman that spent time with the club last season, will also be around as backup. He has a .227 average for his career, although he did hit .412 in 17 AB last year.
After that, unfortunately, the only other options the club will have as backup in 2013—get ready to eek—is giving Mark Trumbo another shot at third; or possibly Albert Pujols at third base and Trumbo at first.
Or, dare I say, a quick-fix option during the season via trades—such as Peter Bourjos or Vernon Wells?
One thing is certain: Help is not going to come from the Angels’ farm system.
A Depleted Farm System
The Angels, much like the Red Sox and Yankees in recent years, have followed the game plan of win now, worry about the future another time...like in the future.
And it is that very process that has left the farm system very weak.
True, in the MLB world, sometimes moves need to be made. However, the Angels have squandered away top-10 players in their farm system the last couple of years with little to show for it.
In 2009, according to baseballamerica.com, the team gave up three top 10 prospects—shortstop Jean Segura, right-handers Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena—in the trade with the Brewers to acquire Zack Greinke.
And we all know how that deal turned out in the end.
There was also the signing of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, which cost the club first- and second-round picks in the 2012 draft as compensation.
The highly publicized deals left the team with baseball's smallest bonus pool ($1.6 million) for the first 10 rounds, also according to baseballamerica.com, and could hinder any rebuilding efforts.
So, it might take a while.
And "a while" might not be the best timetable for the current Angels operations. With such a depleted farm system, stocked with only Kaleb Cowart, the 20-year-old slugger (who is not MLB ready) as a top-rated prospect, the team is left without a ton of options during the trade deadline.
Unless the Angels use talent on the current MLB roster to sweeten a deal, any trades this coming year—and beyond—will be hard to negotiate; and that, in the ever unknown of the MLB, is trouble.
This, above anything else, will make the team vulnerable in 2013.