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Next Steps for Halos baseball

Posted By Greg Quintero On Oct 5 2012 @ 11:13 pm In LA Angels Of Anaheim | No Comments

The expression “hindsight is 20/20″ may have never been more accurate than when applied to the 2012 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim season. In December 2011 the Angels turned baseball on it’s ear when they acquired first ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols from the St. Louis Cardinals, and top lefty C.J. Wilson from the rival Texas Rangers via free agency. There was a sense of euphoria the around the “Big A” not felt in a decade as fans began dreaming of a World Series title to bookend their 2002 Championship. However, the dream would become a nightmare as the Angels struggled out of the gate, and the team built to overtake the power house Texas Rangers ultimately finished in third place in the AL West at 89-73. The club did have positives to take into the winter, Mike Trout emerged as a superstar, Kendrys Morales returned from a two year layoff, and Jared Weaver cemented his status as a perennial Cy Young candidate. Despite those positive the club is left with more questions with answers as they prepare for 2013.

As other clubs prepare for post season play the Angels are now faced with several decisions regarding the team for next season. What we know currently is GM Jerry Dipoto, Manager Mike Scioscia, and his coaching staff will be back. Scioscia’s seat got a little hotter this year as a growing minority of fans felt a shake up might be needed, but he will be given another shot to guide the team back to the post season in 2013. Pitching coach Mike Butcher will also return, a curious decision considering the pitching (specifically the relief pitching) was the elephant in the room when the team struggled in 2012.  The front office and coaching staff appear to have remained in one piece, but wholesale changes could be coming if the team comes up short again next season.

Pitching will likely be the Halos biggest makeover when spring training begins. The  Angels paid a steep price in prospects for pitcher Zack Greinke, and will push hard to resign the free agent to ensure he is more than a late season rental. With Greinke likely to command a nine figure salary over the course of his new deal, the Angels will probably have to cut salary to retain his services. Team options on pitchers Dan Haren and Ervin Santana would possibly be declined following equally disappointing 2012 campaigns at the cost of locking up Greinke. The bullpen was the Angels achilles heel this year, and will need signifigant upgrades in the off season. To the Angels credit the back of the bullpen appears set with Jordan Walden and Scott Downs setting up Ernesto Frieri who has emerged as the teams closer. Middle relief will need to be addressed via free agency after the 2012 corps of veteran journeymen fizzled in the second half. As the team reflects this off season they need look no further than up Interstate 5 to see the importance of a solid bullpen on the success of a club. The Oakland A’s leapfrogged to the top of the division thanks largely to a bullpen in which every player had a role, and executed it to perfection.

Stronger pitching will take pressure off the teams offense, which at times seemed to come up one run short of what the bullpen was capable of holding. For all the concern surrounding Albert Pujols slow start in 2012 the nine-time All-Star finished with a stat line on pair to his career average (.285 Avg, 30 Hrs, 105 RBIs in 2012). Fellow first baseman Kendrys Morales saw increased time at DH following a two year injury lay off and put up solid numbers in 134 games. Morales possibly enters his last season under the A in 2013 as he will be arbitration eligible follwing the season, and is probably less than amicable to settling into the DH role for the remainder of his career. Opposite the duo of Morales and Pujols, the hot corner will continued to be manned by the dependable Alberto Callaspo. Callaspo is often under appreciated in part to the lack of power one normally expects from a third baseman, but in a position that has become increasingly thin his blue collar approach is a valuable asset. The remainder of the infield should remain static with Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick as the double play combo, and Chris Iannetta behind the plate. Iannetta, who recently signed a three year deal appears to mix enough glove to appease the defensive-minded Scioscia, and enough bat to keep fans satisfied.

The Angels outfield has the building blocks to become the envy of baseball for years to come. 21- year old Mike Trout was called up from the minors in May and reversed the Angels dreadful start, while showing all the signs of being a true “Five Tool” player. To Trout’s right is another probable mainstay for the Halos, left fielder Mark Trumbo. Trumbo had another excellent season despite of a late season swoon that reaked havoc on the Angels post season aspirations. The futures of fellow outfielders Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos and Torii Hunter remain in question. The team would love to get out from under the contract of Wells who was the main piece in the lopsided deal for Mike Napoli. If attempts to unload the overpaid left fielder prove futile, the club could be left with no choice but to chalk his name up next to Mo Vaughn and Gary Matthews Jr. in the annals of team disappointment. If Wells does remain on the team a choice will likely have to be made between Bourjos and Hunter. Bourjos wrestled the job in center from Hunter in 2011, but quickly was riding pine in 2012 in favor of Trout. The choice would be difficult — deal Bourjos for a package of players, or let the widely popular Hunter walk via free agency. Baseball wisdom would lean to the youth of Bourjos, but a veteran leader such as Hunter is often invaluable for a team with the goal of winning a World Series.

With 2012 now in the rear-view mirror the Angels must focus on a much improved 2013 or face the real possibility of major changes. With a large amount of assets tied up to existing contracts the team may need to take a page from “Moneyball” and scour the market for players to fit the roles the team needs. 2012 was about Pujols, Wilson, a shaky bullpen, and a third place finish. In contrast, 2002 was about Eckstein, Spiezio, a top bullpen, and a World Series win. The ground work is laid for the Angels to enjoy success for many years, this off season must be about filling in the gaps, and finding the glue that brings it all together. The Angels hallmark in 2002 is the one thing money couldn’t buy in 2012– the heart of a champion.

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