Wednesday, December 4, 2013

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By Greg Bearringer, AngelsWin.com Columnist - 

As I witnessed the rest of the league (specifically the AL west) make a flurry of moves over the past few days, I began to wonder just what the Angels are waiting on. Of course, the week before free agency opens in hardly the time for panic, but it is the off-season; a few days can crawl by very, very,very, very slowly.

Part of the problem is that the Angels have begun leaking out information to the press the past few days. "We can't get fair value for Trumbo," the GM says. "Unless they get a good deal for Kendrick, we might have to find two pitchers for the price of two Blanton's", we're told. The question is: what if this is true? What if the offseason is "Freese, Smith, Salas,  Scott Feldman, and Bartolo Colon or something?"

Now, before I go further let me just say that this is almost certainly not the end of the Angels off-season. Once Robinson Cano lands somewhere, teams needing a  second baseman might begin to view Kendrick more favorably. Ditto for Stephen Drew and Erick Aybar.  Personally, I'd love to see a three team trade where the Angels end up with Trevor Cahill or Yovanni Gallardo plus a decent prospect, but we need to remember: off-seasons are weird. "We're done for the offseason" can turn into "welcome Josh Hamilton!"  in a heartbeat. We should also remember that lower expectations are always in the best interest of an organization when it comes to the offseason. If Moreno ends up exceeding the luxury tax and signing a big name free agent or if somehow David Price is the opening day starter in Anaheim, the Angels look like geniuses. If they screw the pooch and end up feeding off  the fetid carrion of a picked-over pitching market (I imagine Dipoto exclaiming, "look, I found a nice hunk of Scott Baker!" to a ravenous Scioscia), then they are simply fulfilling the expectations they set.

Anyway, back to my premise. If this is the Angels off-season, have the Angels improved? The answer would have to be "yes", though with major qualifiers. First, if the Angels can just get "average" out of the two pitchers they end up with, they will have a much improved rotation. Assuming that Sean Burnett returns to form, the Angels bullpen is greatly improved -- even if Joe Smith is mid-grade fuel acquired for  the premium price. The line up is roughly the same as the 5th highest scoring line-up in the AL-- with the addition of a hopefully-healthy Albert Pujols, a huge improvement at third in David Freese, and some presumed improvement by Josh Hamilton. Not loosing Kendrick helps raise the floor of offensive production, and would probably help the defense improve simply out of continuity.

The real question is: would this team plus two average inning-eaters be improved enough to contend for the AL West? The answer, however much it pains me to say it, is probably "no". Even if we take two 200 inning, 4.30 ERA starters as a given, the club still has one-too-many question marks. For starters, the line up is dependent upon improvement by two players who needed to be great and weren't  (Pujols and Hamilton) and the continued quality performance of a rookie (Kole Calhoun). Secondly, there is little depth on the roster outside of  shuffling around Mark Trumbo or hoping that Grant Green isn't a defensive nightmare. The viability of the rotation is dependent upon Jered Weaver not loosing more velocity off his fastball and hoping that the good Garret Richards shows up more often than the bad Garret Richards.

This is the "glass half-empty" view, but it is pretty realistic. If Hamilton and Pujols start playing up to their potential, that plus two average pitchers will have the Angels winning a whole lot more. However, he last two seasons have shown us that "just enough" in the rotation is never enough across a whole season.  I think the Angels need at least one starting pitcher whose description doesn't start with the term "innings eater". It doesn't have to be an ace; it could be a reclamation project with upside or, preferably, a solid no. 3 starter. And, for the record, I think the Angels get just that next week. If they don't, the Angels will probably be hunting for a new GM and manager. The AL west is going to be a fight next year, and they need to make sure that they can take a hit and keep on punching. 


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