9/27 – 10th inning:
Chicago’s surprise offensive spark, Nicky Delmonico, steps up to the plate for the rebuilding White Sox. 4-4 score, 2-1 count. Blake Parker, the Halos dominant waiver wire addition (2.54 ERA, .172 BAA, 86 Ks/67.1 IP) is in the game. The Angels are on their last leg of the season, and a loss will send them to their second straight losing season. An elevated offspeed pitch, and boom, home run. The Angels lose and the Twins are the second wild card team. Delmonico’s two run jack ended what was an interesting and entertaining season for the 80-82, 2nd place Halos.
The Angels, led by phenom (and arguably the best player in baseball) Mike Trout, lost to the White Sox on a walk-off, effectively ending their season of fringe contention, spectacular comebacks and crushing losses. While the season ended with a thud, there is hope that perhaps next year, they could go for it again.
While many scouts and personnel believe the Angels aren’t good enough and they lack the farm system for success down the line, I see potential. The Angels’ future isn’t as bleak as it seems, but Billy Eppler has his work cut out for him to take them from being fringe contenders to a fearsome club. This offseason, the Halos have a plethora of free agents: Yunel Escobar, Brandon Phillips, Ben Revere, Cliff Pennington, Huston Street, Bud Norris, Ricky Nolasco ($1M buyout likely to be reached), Jesse Chavez, and possibly all-star LF Justin Upton, whom the Angels acquired at the August trade deadline in exchange for RHP Grayson Long. To say the least, Eppler will be on the phone and in negotiations all winter just to fill the spots. The problem is, the Angels need to bolster their pitching staff and offense to remain competitive. One thing that will certainly help is freed-up money. Finally the atrocious Josh Hamilton contract is over (take a deep breath, Angels fans), and RHPs Huston Street and Ricky Nolasco’s departures will give them some breathing room. Heck, if Justin Upton opts out, they’ll have $22M more to spend in the offseason on upgrades. As far as big contracts go, the Halos still have to pay Albert Pujols a boatload of cash, and Mike Trout continues to get richer for good reason. Luckily, emerging star Andrelton Simmons is only on the books for $46M until the end of the 2021 season, and waiver wire surprises Blake Parker and J.C. Ramirez, are under team control. Beyond that, Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron, Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, and Matt Shoemaker are notable arbitration-eligible players. This team has a couple more years left together, so why not go all in?
Let’s take a look at their projected roster, with my breakdowns, for the 2018 season:
Ideal offseason additions:
3B Mike Moustakas (FA)
2B Cesar Hernandez (from PHI)
2B Neil Walker (FA)
RHP Lance Lynn (FA)
LF Justin Upton *if he opts out*
C: Martin Maldonado
1B: C.J. Cron/Luis Valbuena
2B: ? (Possibly Kaleb Cowart)
3B: ? (Possibly Jefry Marte)
SS: Andrelton Simmons
The Angels will have the most work to do with their infield. At catcher, Maldonado is probably the guy. He was great on defense, saving 10 runs (good for #15th in the majors via fangraphs.com), but struggled to a .221 batting average offensively. Another defensive superstar is the emerging talent, Andrelton Simmons. He is an easy lock after saving 32 runs, and achieving career highs in hits, doubles, and runs batted in. On to second base – the Achilles heel of the Angels. Veteran second baseman Danny Espinosa was shockingly bad for the Angels last season, leading to a midseason DFA and the acquisition of Brandon Phillips. With Phillips, 36, heading to free agency, it’s back to the drawing board again. Potential fits include Neil Walker, Cesar Hernandez (via trade) or in-house (albeit mediocre) youngster, Kaleb Cowart. Lastly, the corner infield could be an issue. C.J. Cron and Luis Valbuena should probably platoon, as they both struggled despite spurts of offensive excellence. Third base is an interesting spot, as they could bring back Yunel Escobar, sign 37-home run hitter, Mike Moustakas, or get crafty with trades. Moustakas would be a great fit as a lefty slugger behind Trout and Pujols.
LF: (Justin Upton?)
CF: Mike Trout
RF: Kole Calhoun
Once again, this is only a problem if Upton opts out of his remaining 4 years and $88M. If he does return, the Angels have a fantastic center fielder in Mike Trout, and Kole Calhoun, who is incredible defensively, but lacked consistency at the plate this year. Nonetheless, I expect him to be the starting right fielder come April. At this point, what hasn’t been said about Mike Trout? He is incredible defensively and offensively, steals bags, and doesn’t carry around an ego. He is truly one of a kind. If Upton doesn’t return, the Angels could make a run at J.D. Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, or others. It seems to me that Justin enjoys Anaheim, and has a good shot at returning, but when you hit 35 home runs with 44 doubles, and 109 RBIs, you might have a shot at more money on the market.
As far as Pujols, he’s a big question mark. The prolific slugger showed how flawed he was this year, with a dismal .286 OBP and only 53 runs scored. On the bright side, though, he plans to get in better shape this offseason, and is still a perennial 100+ RBI hitter. We’ll see.
SP: Garrett Richards
SP: Parker Bridwell
SP: Tyler Skaggs
SP: Matt Shoemaker
SP: Andrew Heaney
Other options: J.C. Ramirez, Nick Tropeano
The Angels have quite a few options for their starters, but can they stay healthy? The x-factor, as always, will be Garrett Richards. The hard throwing ace has had 2 years in a row with injury issues, and if he goes down again, the Angels are ace-less. One of the biggest surprises this year was Parker Bridwell. He was DFA’d by the Orioles, but came to Anaheim and posted a 3.64 ERA with 10 wins. Down the line, Skaggs, Shoemaker, and Heaney are all good pitchers, but need to be healthy. Because of the lack of health, it wouldn’t hurt the Angels to add an extra pitcher to supplement their current group. Also, they have some more depth with another surprise, J.C. Ramirez, and Nick Tropeano, who underwent Tommy John surgery.
Going into the next season, the Angels bullpen looks like it’s in decent shape. Middleton and Bedrosian are the two guys to look out for, as they have sky-high potential. Both have great stuff, but are inconsistent. Of course, Alvarez will probably get many opportunities to face lefties, and Scribner could see a bigger spot this season. Blake Parker is my preliminary choice for the closer role, as he is the most consistent pitcher of the bunch. The Angels could add one or two guys to compete, as Eppler’s small additions (Bud Norris and Yusmeiro Petit) payed off big time.
Prospects to watch: RHP Jaime Barria, OF Jo Adell, 1B Matt Thaiss, C Taylor Ward, OF Jahmai Jones.
As far as the farm system, it’s still not very good, but they could have a couple impact players down the line. Jaime Barria, 21, posted an impressive 2.80 ERA in 26 games at three levels, making him a possible starting pitching option if their injury prone rotation goes down again. An intriguing name to me is Jo Adell, the talented outfielder whom the Angels used their 10th pick of the draft for. He strikes me as a dynamic outfielder with lots of tools – a Byron Buxton type.
Why I’m hopeful
The Angels have 2-time MVP Mike Trout, the best defensive shortstop in the MLB, Andrelton Simmons, and young emerging pitchers from the scraps of other teams. They may not be the biggest and most popular names, but guys like Blake Parker, J.C. Ramirez, Parker Bridwell, and Keynan Middleton could make big impact. Plus, added health will give the Angels more length in their pitching staff than they’ve ever had before. With the lucrative contracts of Josh Hamilton, CJ Wilson, Ricky Nolasco, and Huston Street gone, they can finally be free to bolster their offense. 2017 was a very competitive year for them, but 2018 could be better. The fact that they were second in the MLB for comeback victories shows their resilience.
The Angels have plenty of holes, but they could improve and impress again. 15 years is to long to wait for World Series contention. This year is behind us, and next year is unpredictable. It’s a new year, and there’s new opportunity. If they stand pat, expect another .500 season, but if they can get crafty and improve their ball club, they can exceed their recent performance. They just need to put in the work.
(image via latimes.com)