State of the Franchise: Los Angeles Angels

Last Season: 80-82 (3rd AL West, missed playoffs)

The best part about this article for me: starting next week, we’ll have a “This Season” feature at the top. God, I love baseball season.

Ok, back to the Angels. Last year was a year of utter disappoint for the team, highlighted by power hitting first baseman Kendry Morales breaking his leg at home plate after hitting a walk-off home run. Regardless of the franchise seeing 2010 as a lost season, the Angels still made noise at the trading deadline, acquiring Arizona Diamondbacks ace Dan Haren. The team viewed Haren as a long-term piece the team could slot into the rotation along with the likes of Jared Weaver, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir.

The Angels franchise had huge plans this off-season, targeting outfielder Carl Crawford, third baseman Adrian Beltre and pitcher Cliff Lee as possible additions. Well, Crawford signed with the Boston Red Sox, Beltre upped with the Angels division rival Texas Rangers, and Cliff Lee took his talents to Philadelphia. The only players the team was able to add were two lefty bullpen arms in former New York Met Hisanori Takahashi and former Toronto Blue Jay Scott Downs. Not exactly the off-season haul the team was hoping for. The team also lost clubhouse leader Vladimir Guerrero to the Baltimore Orioles and outfielder/designated hitter Hideki Matsui to the Oakland A’s.

The team’s biggest off-season move came with a surprising trade involving the Toronto Blue Jays. Looking to add pop to their outfield, the Angels acquired three-time All-Star center fielder Vernon Wells for catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera. Though the Angels didn’t give up too much talent wise for Wells, they did take on the entirety of Wells’ massive contract. Wells has $86 million remaining over the next four years, only $5 million which the Blue Jays are on the hook for. While Wells experience a resurgent year last year, he still isn’t the same player that originally signed that huge contract. He posted a .273 batting average with 31 home runs and 88 runs batted in. His .515 slugging percentage was the highest its been since 2006, and the Angels will hope that he can come close to replicating those numbers in the middle of their line-up this season.

Another knock on Wells is that his defense in center has slipped considerably since his prime, during which he won three Gold Gloves. Last years center fielder for the Angels, Torii Hunter, has already agreed to move over to right because of his decline in speed. Hunter had a solid year offensively, hitting .281 with 23 home runs and 90 runs batted in. With Hunter now in right, the team will shift Bobby Abreu into a full-time designated hitter role. The team will need a bounce-back season from Abreu, who had one of his worst offensive seasons, hitting .255 with 20 home runs and 78 runs batted in. However, at age 37, the team may have to come to terms with the fact that Abreu’s productive years are behind him, and should hope for whatever they can get at this point.

Another aspect that hurts this line-up is first baseman Kendry Morales will start the 2011 season on the disabled list. The Cuban defector was on the verge of stardom after his monster 2009 campaign in which he hit .306 with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in. Those numbers were good enough to place him fifth in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting that year. Before his injury last season, Morales was well on his way towards another fantastic season, connecting on 11 home runs and 39 runs batted in in only 51 games. The Angels will need his bat back in the line-up as soon as possible if they want to compete in the American League West, especially because the rest of the team’s infield is very mediocre offensively. This year’s projecting starting infield of Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis combined to hit just 18 home runs last year. Former top farmhand Brandon Wood also bombed in his first full season in the bigs, hitting a lowly .146 with four home runs. Every game in which the team is without Morales thumping away in the heart of this line-up, the less likely they are to be towards the top of the division.

Pitching wise, the Angels should be better than they were last year. Hard-luck ace Jered Weaver was a victim of the team’s lackluster offense at certain points during the season in 2010. Regardless of his 3.01 ERA, 233 strikeouts and 1.07 WHIP, Weaver posted a very pedestrian 13-12 record. With any sort of offense supporting him this year, it’s not insane to think that Weaver can eventually win 20 games a year. An All-Star last year, Weaver won 16 games in 2009, which is a more appropriate figure given his stuff.

Filling out the rotation behind Weaver, Dan Haren will undergo his first full season of play in the American League, a much more offensive league in comparison to the National League. Haren has plenty of experience pitching in the AL West, winning 43 games in three season with the Oakland A’s from 2005-2007. In his 14 starts with the Angels last year, Haren had a 5-4 record with an impressive 2.87 ERA and 75 strikeouts. Haren should have no problem holding his own on this staff and forming one of the best 1-2 combos in the entire league.

Behind Haren and Weaver, the team will hope that fire-baller Ervin Santana can replicate his season last year. After a horrible 2009, Santana rebounded beautifully, leading the Angels in wins with 17 and posting a 3.92 ERA. The team will also hope for a bounce back year from Scott Kazmir. Once considered one of the best up-and-coming lefty talents in the game, Kazmir has been a mess since the Rays run to the World Series in 2008. Last year, Kazmir may have hit rock bottom, posting a 5.94 ERA on his way to a 9-15 season. His strikeout numbers were way down as well, failing to strikeout more than seven batters per-nine innings for the first time in his career. New addition Hisanori Takahashi will round out the rotation, and though he posted fantastic numbers with the Mets a year ago, his best work came out of the bullpen.

Speaking of bullpens, the Angels transformed their corps from a year ago. They traded away Brian Fuentes at mid-season, and are prepared to go with Fernando Rodney at the closer spot. Scott Downs, the other free agent acquisition, will start this year on the disabled list. So, for the first few weeks, the Angels will use a patch-work, no-name group to get them through the dog days. However, nobody knew who Francisco Rodriguez was when the won the World Series in 2001, so it’s not like manager Mike Scioscia is foreign to using nobodies and proving people wrong.

In sum, I don’t see the Angels doing anything special this year. I would be surprised to see them finish above the Texas Rangers or Oakland A’s, to be quite honest. This team got hamstrung when their top free agent targets decided to go elsewhere, and I don’t think they did enough to fill the holes they had. They have a good rotation, which can carry any team to better finishes that expected. But, unless Scott Kazmir regains his form, I think they’re putting way too much hope in a repeat season from Ervin Santana.

The Angels have some work to do, but luckily, they have a very talented farm system. This may not be the year for them, but they’re one of the best-run organizations in baseball. They’ll be back on top in no time, and it will be like they never missed a beat.

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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