With pitchers and catchers reporting next month, it’s time to reflect on what the Seattle Mariners’ divisional rivals have done to improve their respective rosters thus far. It’s important to emphasize “thus far” because there’s still time to make deals, especially with several notable names still on the free agent market.
We’ve already reviewed the Oakland Athletics. Next up are the Los Angeles Angels, who saw their season derailed by a rash of injuries to their pitching staff. The end result was their worst record since 2001.
On the field, Angels position players ranked ninth in the majors in fWAR, but nearly half that value came from one player — Mike Trout. The only other players providing starter-level value were shortstop Andrelton Simmons and right fielder Kole Calhoun.
Needs: OF, SP, RP, C, 2B
General manager Billy Eppler placed greater emphasis on defense when acquiring players this offseason. For example, Danny Espinosa slashed just .221/.301/.380 during his last three seasons with the Washington Nationals. But, the 29-year-old has been a plus-defender at second base and shortstop.
Martin Maldonado — known as a good pitch framer — served as backup to Jonathan Lucroy until the latter was traded to the Texas Rangers last August. After Lucroy’s departure, Maldonado became the Milwaukee Brewers’ full-time catcher. The 30-year-old is set to pair with Carlos Perez to form the Angels’ backstop duo.
Defensive metrics haven’t favored two other newcomers — Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere — but Maybin has been a center fielder until now. Barring injury to Trout, he’ll play left field. It’s possible the versatile Revere will either platoon with Maybin or serve as a fourth outfielder.
Just last week, the Halos reportedly signed former Houston Astros infielder Luis Valbuena. The 31-year-old was having a career year (13 home runs and .260/.357/.459) prior to tearing his hamstring in late July.
To a great degree, the success of the Angels will be depend on the recovery of the starting pitchers returning from injury. Garrett Richards appeared destined for Tommy John surgery, but opted to undergo stem cell therapy instead. Considering the right-hander has a 3.11 ERA in 64 starts dating back to 2014, a healthy return would significantly improve the rotation.
Southpaw Tyler Skaggs returned from Tommy John surgery last July after missing all of 2015 and appears ready for 2017. Matt Shoemaker wasn’t lost due to an arm issue. Rather, he was struck in the head by a Kyle Seager line drive in September. The 30-year-old suffered a fractured skull and required emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. Thankfully, he’s received a clean bill of health.
Richards, Skaggs, and Shoemaker will combine with Ricky Nolasco — acquired from the Minnesota Twins last August — to fill the top four rotation spots. The number-five spot remains a question mark with a collection of retreads and unproven youngsters in the mix.
Jesse Chavez didn’t start last season while playing with the Toronto Blue Jays or Los Angeles Dodgers, but has a 4.14 ERA in 49 career starts. Former Cincinnati Reds starter John Lamb is recovering from back surgery and may not be ready by Opening Day.
Another former Red —Daniel Wright — made five starts for the Angels after being claimed off waivers last September. The 25-year-old has just seven career starts on his big league resume and maintains his rookie status entering 2017.
The club intends to utilize another reliever — former Mariner J.C. Ramirez — in a starter’s role. The righty hasn’t started since 2011 when with Class-AA Reading in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
Down on the farm, Alex Meyer is the Angels’ top pitching prospect. But, it’s unclear if his future will be as a starter or reliever. His former organization — the Twins — was on the fence about his role. For now, Eppler plans to use the 6-foot-9 right-hander as a starter.
Given the lack of proven talent to fill out the rotation and the uncertainty surrounding their returning wounded, adding at least one veteran arm would be prudent. Experienced arms such as Colby Lewis, Doug Fister, or Jason Hammel would help shore-up the staff to varying degrees.
Heading into Spring Training, the closer job is up for grabs. Long-time closer Huston Street is coming off a disappointing injury-shortened season and will compete with youngster Cam Bedrosian. Veteran Andrew Bailey could be a factor, although the competition will likely come down to Street and Bedrosian.
Eppler told Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County that Albert Pujols — recovering from foot surgery — will be “limited” in Spring Training and may not be ready for the start of the season. While the future Hall of Famer’s bat has been regressing in recent years, he still managed to crush 31 homers and slash .268/.323/.457 last season.
Assuming Valbuena’s deal becomes official, he’ll provide insurance at first base and designated hitter in case Pujols’ recovery takes longer than anticipated. Primarily a third baseman, Valbuena started 34 games at first base during his last two seasons in Houston and he’s played over 200 games at second base during his nine-year career.
Last season, the Angels lost 11 more games than in 2015. The issue facing the club is whether they’ll continue to descend or bounce back. Based on the limited number of moves they’ve made, the former is more probable.
Even if the rotation stabilizes, the lineup appears pedestrian with the exception of Trout, Calhoun, Yunel Escobar, and C.J. Cron. Moreover, their bullpen lacks depth making it susceptible to overuse if the rotation falters.
Will the Angels be a pushover? Of course not. Manager Mike Scioscia will ensure his team continues to battle. But, the Angels haven’t positioned themselves to significantly improve in 2017.