10 questions facing Angels in 2014
Scioscia and Co. seek bounce-back seasons from Pujols, Hamilton, pitching staff
The bad thing about the Angels heading into the new year is that a lot of players need to bounce back.
The good thing is that a lot of those players have track records that suggest they should.
Three of them (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Jered Weaver) are superstars, one is a year removed from being an elite third baseman (David Freese), one was among the most durable and effective relievers from 2009-12 (Sean Burnett) and one is only 22 years old (Tyler Skaggs).
So many things went wrong in 2013 that it almost makes you believe a lot should go right in 2014. That's how it works, right? Don't the baseball gods intervene in matters like these? Or isn't there some sort of physics law that applies to this?
The Angels can only hope.
For now, all they have are a lot of questions.
Here are the 10 biggest:
10. How will the Angels pitch?
The Angels ranked 11th in the American League with a 4.23 ERA this past season. Their rotation didn't get deep enough into games, their bullpen wasn't deep enough to handle the workload, and their Minor League system was too depleted to provide quality depth. But in Skaggs and Hector Santiago, the Angels have some cost-controlled starting pitching. And in standout setup man Joe Smith, they have a formidable weapon for the back end of the 'pen.
9. What can be expected out of 41-year-old Raul Ibanez?
Skeptics will point to Ibanez's .203/.295/.345 slash line in the second half as a clear sign that he wore down late and will continue to fall off in 2014. But keep in mind that Ibanez spent 832 1/3 innings in the outfield with Seattle last season, but is pretty much only a designated hitter with the Angels. And note that he's a career .349/.407/.522 hitter at Angel Stadium. Bottom line: The Angels paid a pretty fair price ($2.75 million base salary, plus an additional $2.25 million in incentives) for someone who posted an OPS-plus of 123 last season.
8. What can be expected of Freese?
Freese fell off considerably from 2012 to '13. His slash line went from .293/.372/.467 to .262/.340/.381; his Ultimate Zone Rating at third base from 2.1 to minus-16.5. His season began with a back injury that had him batting .163 by the end of April and finished with an October in which he hit just .179/.258/.268. Freese, 30, is probably an upgrade over Alberto Callaspo, nonetheless. But is he still good enough to make it worth losing Bourjos and taking on an additional $4 million or so?
7. Can Calhoun handle an everyday role?
The trade that sent Bourjos and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals for Freese and reliever Fernando Salas was made for three reasons: 1. The Angels needed a third baseman; 2. Parting ways with Bourjos allows Mike Trout (center) and Hamilton (left) to move to the outfield spots where they're most comfortable; 3. They believe Calhoun is an everyday player. Calhoun always mashed in the Minors, and in 58 Major League games last year, the 26-year-old, 5-foot-10 sparkplug batted .282/.347/.462. Now we'll see how he fares when the sample size stretches out.
6. Will Weaver return to his ace-like form?
Weaver is still only 31 years old, his right arm is healthy, and he was very effective in 2013, going 11-8 with a 3.27 ERA despite missing more than seven weeks with a broken left elbow. But this is Weaver's average fastball velocity from 2010-13: 90.1 mph, 89.2, 88, 86.8. Those around the team will tell you that Weaver has never really relied on velocity, that he's a master at putting pitches together, and that his delivery plays up his stuff considerably. All of that is true. But that's still a scary trend for the ace of a staff who's owed $54 million over the next three years.
5. Does Trout get his mega-extension?
Any deal signed after Opening Day does not count toward a team's Collective Balance Tax payroll -- the average annual value of all 40-man-roster contracts, plus benefits -- until the following season. That's important to note for an Angels team that needs to stay below the $189 million luxury-tax threshold and finally has Vernon Wells coming off the books in 2014. Will it pave the way for a Trout extension, one year before he's expected to shatter the record for a first-year arbitration-eligible player? Soon enough, locking up the game's best player will be the Angels' top priority.
4. Who will be added to the starting rotation?
The Angels now have five starters in Weaver, Skaggs, Santiago, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards, but three of them -- Skaggs, Santiago and Richards -- have options left, and general manager Jerry Dipoto said they'll be "very aggressive with how we fill our pitching needs." Free agent Matt Garza and Masahiro Tanaka are still at the top of their list, with the likes of Bronson Arroyo, Jason Hammel and Paul Maholm being potential fallback options.
3. How many prime Pujols years remain?
If ever the Angels were going to get an MVP-caliber season out of Pujols, this is the one. In 2012, he was adjusting to new surroundings and the expectations of a $240 million contract, going homerless in his first 27 games before rebounding profoundly. In 2013, he dealt with plantar fasciitis and batted .258/.330/.437 before his season ended after 99 games. At full health, the Angels expect Pujols to be among the game's best hitters once again in 2014. They'll deal with the seven other years -- and the $189 million he'll be paid throughout -- one at a time.
2. Which Hamilton will show up?
Will it be the one who batted .217/.271/.397 in his first 106 games or the one who batted .329/.392/.518 in his final 45? Although his best production came while the team was out of the playoff race, the Angels believe finishing the season strong will have a carryover effect that could get Hamilton back to his MVP self of 2012. Adding 15-20 pounds of muscle, which he purposely shed heading into last Spring Training, should also help that cause.
1. Can Mike Scioscia and Jerry Dipoto figure it out?
Angels owner Arte Moreno saved himself from a tough, franchise-altering decision when he opted -- somewhat surprisingly -- to let both Dipoto and Scioscia stay despite a 78-84 season. Instead, the Angels reconfigured their coaching staff, adding Don Baylor as hitting coach, Gary DiSarcina as third-base coach and creating two new positions, with Dave Hansen as assistant hitting coach and Rick Eckstein as Major League player information coach. But a fifth consecutive playoff absence in 2014 could bring Scioscia (signed through 2018) and Dipoto (club options for 2015 and '16) back to the proverbial chopping block.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.