Heavenly Perspective: Top 10 Reasons for Angels Fans To Keep the Faith in 2011
It's been a brutal winter in Anaheim.
While the rest of sunny Southern California basks in bright blue skies and mild temperatures, around Angels Stadium there swirls a raging tempest of anger and frustration.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, once the big bullies of the AL West, are being pelted with icy snowballs like the schoolyard peons they've become. And the onslaught is coming from every angle.
Division rivals aren't afraid to knock them to the ground with big free-agent signings and then kick them while they're down there. Reporters from every news outlet around the league mock the Angels for their pitiful attempts to get back up or for failing to try at all.
Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre, Jayson Werth, Ty Wigginton, Jorge de la Rosa, Cliff Lee and now Rafael Soriano—those are some big swings and misses. It's easy to see why the Angels are getting pummeled amidst a hellish, wintry storm.
Still, it is important to remember it is always darkest before the dawn.
Like the army of naysayers forming along Katella Avenue, time marches forward. What looks bad today will surely change tomorrow, and when those storm clouds finally break, the light that shines through will reveal a vast landscape of things to be excited about this spring.
Here are the top 10 reasons not to give up on the Angels just yet.
10. Manager Mike Scioscia
No matter what players you put on the field, they will always have a fighting chance with Mike Scioscia guiding them.
Scioscia is the longest tenured manager in the American League and for good reason. In 11 seasons as the Angels' skipper, he has racked up 980 wins, good for fifth among active managers, and his .550 win percentage is the highest of any manager with at least 10 years of service.
Just two years after taking the reins, Sosh took the lowly Anaheim Angels from bottom feeders to the top of the food chain with their first World Series title in 2002.
Since then, the Angels have won five division titles and made two trips to the American League Championship Series. Scioscia also managed to earn himself two Manager of the Year awards along the way.
Despite missing out on some key names, the Angels still have plenty of talent to work with going into the 2011 season. If anybody knows how to cultivate it, it's Scioscia.
9. The Return of Kendry Morales
Throughout the Winter Meetings in Florida, and indeed throughout the entire offseason, the Angels have stuck to the mantra that Kendry Morales coming back is the biggest free-agent signing they could ever accomplish.
The slugging first baseman burst onto the scene in 2009 with 34 home runs, 108 RBI and a .306 batting average. He finished fifth in the MVP voting that year and looked to be a contender in 2010, but a broken leg cut his season short and the Angels struggled to replace his presence in the lineup.
The loss of Morales's bat had a ripple effect across the team. Scoring runs became a nightly hassle when role players were suddenly forced to try and pick up the slack.
Without decent run support, pressure mounted on the Angels' injury-plagued starting rotation and surprisingly weak bullpen, both of which had trouble holding the meager leads they were given.
Catcher Mike Napoli filled in nicely at first and led the team with 26 home runs, but it wasn't enough.
This year, Morales is healthy once more and should provide the pop that the Angels offense so badly missed most of last season.
8. Jered Weaver
While Felix Hernandez was off winning his first Cy Young award in Seattle, Jered Weaver was down south, beating him out for the strikeout title.
Weaver led all of baseball with 233 strikeouts, the first Angel pitcher to do so since the great Nolan Ryan.
He also racked up a career-best 3.01 ERA, the lowest in Anaheim since John Lackey lead the AL in 2007 with a 3.02 mark.
In a season of dramatic ups and down on the mound, Weaver was a consistent high point. He handled his first year as the team's “ace” with incredible poise, helping fans quickly forget their fears over losing Lackey in the offseason.
Weaver is as competitive as they come, driven by success but no longer haunted by minor mistakes, as so many young pitchers are prone to be.
Now, with a full season as an ace under his belt and a strikeout title to defend, Weaver will be a serious contender for King Felix's crown.
7. Dan Haren
If one ace is good, two is better.
Dan Haren joined the Angels via a midseason swap with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who took Joe Saunders in exchange. Saunders is a talented lefty and will have a nice career as a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy.
Haren, meanwhile, has spent his career at the front of the rotation.
His halting delivery produces strikeout totals year in, year out that can be rivaled by only a handful of pitchers. Among them is Jered Weaver.
Already said to be good friends in the clubhouse, watching these two go back and forth trying to one-up each other every week is going to make the three days between their starts seem like an eternity.
The focus this offseason has been on the Angels offense, but for my money, great pitching always beats great hitting. And this one-two punch is going to be about as great as they come.
6. A Re-Vamped Bullpen
Typically a source of strength, the Angels' bullpen was unusually disastrous last season.
Timely outs were rare at best, the middle relievers pitched like their eyes were closed, and Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney were as solid as Jello when it came to closing
Considering the Angels' struggles at the plate, protecting leads quickly became more important that ever before, a perfect time for the 'pen to fall apart.
This year will be different. For all of their missed opportunities elsewhere, Angels brass managed to improve the relief corps. by adding lefties Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs.
Downs was on every team's wish list at the trade deadline last year, but the Angels waited patiently for the crafty lefty to become a free agent. Look for him to create havoc for tough, left-handed bats over the next three years.
Takahashi, meanwhile, is the Swiss Army knife of relievers. He can strikeout lefties, provide middle relief support, close and even start when the need arises.
As for the holdover Halos, Rodney will be handed the closing job to start the season, but flame-throwing setup men Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden will be hot on his tail should the former Tiger falter at any point.
5. A Bounce-Back Year for Some
The Angels' offensive production fell through the floor last season, down more than 200 runs from their franchise record-setting pace of 883 in 2009.
Some of that can be attributed to the loss of Kendry Morales and the departure of Chone Figgins, but just as much blame rests on the shoulders of those who tried to take their place.
Tried and failed.
A year after leading the Angels with a .312 batting average, shortstop Erick Aybar could only manage to hit .253 last year. Bobby Abreu also fell nearly 50 points from the year before, eking out a .255 effort.
Mike Napoli, Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter—same story. The Angels managed to overcome a big loss in 2009 but couldn't come up with the same effort in 2010.
But, as they say in sports, there's always next year. A fresh start is just what this offense needs to get going on the right track.
Aybar suffered a tough transition in his first year as a leadoff man. If he finds himself in the same position come Opening Day, he'll at least have the experience he gained last year and perhaps a little more confidence as well.
The rest know that big time offensive help isn't coming anytime soon. If they want to win, they'll have to do it themselves, with Morales there to help lead the charge.
It's hard to imagine the Angels scuffling as badly as they did at the plate last season. Let's see what a nice piece of humble pie does to their appetite for success this year.
4. Midseason Acquisitions
Of course, if guys like Rivera, Abreu and Aybar don't manage to turn things around this year, the Angels and their fans can always look forward to the July 31 trade deadline.
Say what you want about his failures in the winter–and there is much to be said–Tony Reagins can get deals done come summertime.
In three years as the Angels general manager, Reagins annually acquires big names to help bolster his squad in July.
You always remember your first, and for Tony, his first was a doozy, swapping first basemen with the Atlanta Braves when he traded Casey Kotchman for Mark Teixeira.
At the time, the Angels were already running away with the division and Tex was only there to provide an insurance policy once the playoffs started. Naturally, the Angels were quickly dismissed in the first round by the Boston Red Sox, and the Angels couldn't woo Teixeira back to Anaheim in the offseason.
The next year, Reagins shored up L.A.'s beleaguered pitching rotation with Scott Kazmir, who was nothing short of phenomenal in the regular season, before flaming out in the playoffs.
Since then, he's been a shocking disappointment, but the trade still goes down as a good move for Reagins.
He also picked up the aforementioned Dan Haren before last year's trade deadline. Haren, the hottest pitcher on the market not named Cliff Lee, found his groove again with the Angels and will look to continue that next year.
Rest assured Angel fans, whatever opportunities Reagins missed out on in, he'll surely find new ones by July.
3. Trade Bait
The Angels may not have to go out shopping to satisfy their midseason needs.
With a backlog of players at several different positions, Reagins's voicemail could be packed with offers by the All-Star break.
Catchers Mike Napoli, Jeff Mathis, Bobby Wilson and Hank Conger will be fighting for two, maximum three, spots on the roster throughout Spring Training, assuming none are traded beforehand.
Conger looks to be the future at the position, but at this point, none are untouchable on the trade market.
Along with their surplus infielders like Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis or Howie Kendrick, the Angels might just have what some contender thinks it needs to make that final push into the playoffs.
All Reagins will have to do is what his predecessor taught him—take calls and listen to offers. If he plays his cards right, he could wind up with the better end of any potential deal.
2. Moreno's Money
The primary excuse for the Angels failing to land any significant free agents this offseason has been money.
Owner Arte Moreno professed he wouldn't sign off on the type of exorbitant contracts given to Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford because it would mean drastically raising ticket and concession prices. He claims to be looking out for fans first.
But all of that may be moot, if rumors are to be believed.
In this case, the rumors speak of a new television deal for Arte and the Angels, one that could bring in anywhere from $2-4 billion in new revenue. That kind of cash rivals the media deals of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, to whom the Angels frequently lose their free-agent targets.
Again, these are just rumors, but imagine what they could mean for the franchise. Suddenly, no player is beyond the Angels reach. No name is too big, no bidding war too high.
The allure of the Southern California lifestyle and the money to match it would make Anaheim one of the hottest destinations for impact players who want to win.
Lengthy sports seasons like baseball's are driven by storylines. This one will be worth keeping an eye on this season.
1. Expect the Unexpected
It's a cliché, I know, and a fairly meaningless one at that. But for Angels fans in 2011, this one couldn't be more perfect.
The bleak winter the Angels have suffered makes it hard to see any hope of a warm embrace. Too many players have been overlooked or undervalued. Too many rivals have improved too greatly.
But the future is not set in stone, and no one can know how the coming season will play out until it's over.
Who could've guessed the 2002 Anaheim Angels, a no-name group of role players who just finished their umpteenth losing season in a row, would win 99 games, earn a Wild Card berth in the playoffs and rob the San Francisco Giants of the World Series trophy?
Sometimes things just work out.
And sometimes they don't.
Carl Crawford doesn't guarantee Boston another trip to the World Series. He is just as susceptible to a down season as anyone else. Besides which, the Red Sox couldn't make it last year with another Angels target, Adrian Beltre.
Beltre spurned the Angels and signed with the AL West champion Texas Rangers. Texas may have made a nice pickup, but they still lost a key run-producer in Vladimir Guerrero and an irreplaceable ace in Cliff Lee.
One turned ankle or sore shoulder and both Boston and Texas could be in for a disappointing season. Just look at the Angels.
The three-time reigning division champs came off a record-setting season only to watch their star player go down with a fluke injury and guys struggling to compete in his absence, all of which led to their first losing season since 2003.
It's sports. It can happen to anyone. To borrow another cliché, it's why they play the games.