The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim enjoyed themselves a nice year in 2014. Coming up two wins shy of the franchise record 100 wins, the meteoric rise of Mike Trout saw the young star finally capture the American League Most Valuable Player award that he'd had coming to him for three seasons. Albert Pujols managed 159 games after missing 63 games the previous season and provided value for a club that invested heavily in his talents (more on that later). The 2014 version of the Angels were super-powered by their offense, leading the AL in runs while tying for first in OPS with Detroit.
Of course, that's a lot easier to do when you have the best player in the league. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone had a Mike Trout?
The front runners ended up bowing out in the ALDS, however, when they ran into the Team-Of-Almost-Destiny, losing the series 3-0 to the Kansas City Royals. It's worth mentioning that "losing the series 3-0" doesn't do the Angels effort justice, as they lost the first two games by a total of 3 runs in a combined 22 innings.
Fortunately for the Angels (and a lot of us reading this here at Red Reporter), 2014 is the past. We're just a few short weeks from the 2015 season, so let's take a look at what we can expect from this vintage of the Angels.
The Elephant in the Room
I couldn't do this justice without mentioning former Red outfielder Josh Hamilton. Reds fans are all too familiar with the trials and tribulations of the troubled former MVP, and the latest in bad news came Wednesday when we learned that Hamilton was meeting with the league in NYC in regards to potential discipline. When asked if the discipline was PED related, bow-tied FOXSports baseball insider Ken Rosenthal was told, "Worse."
According to CBS Sports.com's Jon Heyman, sources indicate that Hamilton has admitted to the team and the league of going on a binge a few months ago that involved cocaine. At this point, there's no indication of a failed drug test (of which Hamilton is required to undergo numerous times a week due to his previous transgressions with substance abuse). Rumors of a possible suspension range all over the place, and it's possible that the Angels won't see Hamilton on the field at all this year.
The team wasn't likely counting on much production from the outfielder this year, anyway, as he was expected to be out until at least May after off-season shoulder surgery. Hamilton has be rehabbing in Texas, and doesn't even have a locker at Angel's Spring Training.
Regardless of the baseball situation, those of us here in Reds Land know too well of Hamilton's demons and this latest incident highlights the dangers of drug addiction; it'll sink its teeth into anyone, even those with the most to lose. I really don't care if Josh Hamilton ever sees the baseball field again, it is my sincerest hope that he can finally get healthy and clean so he can enjoy watching his children grow up. That's more important than any pennant or World Series ring. Good luck, Josh.
Mike Trout is the type of player to make both sabrmetric nerds and old school scouts swoon in unison. The kid is a special talent, and he's shown from day one that the potential is endless. It says a lot, for instance, that his 2014 MVP year could be considered his "worst" by a lot of metrics. Trout is beginning his career as the type of player who only comes along once in a generation. Through his first three big league seasons, Mike Trout has put himself in some seriously legendary company. Saved you a click: Trout is really, really good. First three seasons, Mike Trout vs. Barry Bonds? The home run king isn't even the conversation.
Steamer Projection: .296/.390/.535, 31 HR, 92 RBIs, 8.6 WAR
Albert Pujols put together a full season of plus value for the 2014 season, though it was a far cry from the 10 year, $240 million dollar contract that the previously All-World, three time MVP was expected to put up in the winter before the 2012 season. Father time has obviously caught up to Pujols, and figuring out what to expect from him going forward is going to be difficult. Some will point to 28 home runs and 105 RBIs from a 34 year old player and say, "Hey, we'll take it." But the bar has always been higher than that for Pujols. His ISO was lowest than it's ever been in a full season, as was his WAR. He also put up a negative value on defense, which isn't surprising, but going into his age 35 season, you wonder how long Pujols's days as the starting first basement are numbered, and if we won't see him at least half DH, half 1B in 2015.
Steamer Projection: .268/.328/.462, 25 HR, 86 RBIs, 2.9 WAR
Garrett Richards, and sure, we could talk about Jered Weaver or CJ Wilson here. But Richards is the more intriguing part of this rotation. After posting a few mediocre seasons in Anaheim, Richards broke out in 2014. In 168 innings pitched Richards posted an ERA of 2.61 (basically identical to his FIP of 2.60), Richards was the best part of an Angels rotation that could use the help. The bad news? Richards knee blew up in late August, leaving him out of the Angels run to the postseason. He probably wouldn't have saved the Angels in 2014, but he's got to figure heavily into their 2015 plans. The recovery time for his torn patellar tendon is six-to-nine months, but talk out of Angels camp is that he's on track. His recovery and bounce-back season will go a long way for the Angels in 2015.
Steamer Projection: 27 GS, 10-8, 153 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
Howie Kendrick will not manning second base for the Angels for the first time in almost a decade. Kendrick was a solid contributor for LA (and many times more than just solid), but was traded away in the off season for LHP Andrew Heaney. Hours later, the team brought in Josh Rutledge to possibly replace Kendrick, but the spring training battle will be interesting to see.
I guess the aforementioned Josh Rutledge goes here, as he seems most likely to become the new keystone and middle infield partner to Erick Aybar. There's not much to see here, and if Aneheim is expecting Rutledge to be the answer to losing Kendrick, well, that's going to be hard to come by. Rutledge is a guy that's shown some ability in the minors, but not much in the way of major league ability. He never walks (5.4 BB%) and strikes out at a good (bad?) clip (21.0 K%). In 105 games for Colorado last year, he put up negative value everywhere. UZR/150 doesn't like him at 2B.
Steamer Projection: .240/.289/.358, 9 HR, 50 RBIs, -0.9 WAR
Matt Joyce joins the Angels squad for what they had planned, probably, to be solid depth. It remains to be seen what happens from here with the question marks (understatement) regarding Josh Hamilton. Regardless, it seems to be a solid addition for hitting depth, as Joyce has put up plus value for Tampa over the last few years. He's not going to offer the pop that Hamilton brings, but he'll be just as competent in OBP, and if he offers 140+ games, he'll easily be as valuable as Hamilton has been in his Angels tenure.
Steamer Projections: .241/.331/.391, 13 HR, 53 RBIs, 1.9 WAR
The Angels farm system is thin, as they used a lot of assets to acquire the 2014 team that nearly won 100 games. The acquisition of Heaney for Kendrick should bolster a rotation that could use the bolstering. He's their top rated prospect (clocking in 18th on MLB's Top 100, and 2nd on the LHP list) and should contribute soon, most likely in the rotation from Opening Day. Roberto Baldoquin, a Cuban shortstop, was signed earlier this winter. He's expected to start in A+ or AA, but Angels executives expect him to move through the chain quickly. He's an interesting prospect to watch, though he won't be helping the big league team in 2015
Apropos of nothing: the Angels have a RHP prospect named Joey Gatto, which I find just the best thing.