So after this tease of a season one wonders how we're going to improve in 2012. From where I'm sitting
this roster is a fricking mess. It's not without some very good players, but the players who aren't performing are going to be very difficult to improve upon without a major trade or simply eating salaries. I see both of those options as highly unlikely.
As far as the good of it, we have some nice stable pieces both in the lineup and the rotation, followed by some question marks, and then the problem pieces of the roster.
Hitting Stability - The Amazing Angels Infield:
Second Base - Howard Kendrick (4.4 WAR)
Shortstop - Erick Aybar (4.7 WAR)
Third Base - Alberto Callaspo (4.2 WAR)
Utlity - Maicer Izturis (3.3 WAR)
Kendrick, Aybar and Callaspo were consistent bright spots on this team for 2011 providing great
consistency in the infield, better than average to excellent defense and solid plate results putting up over 4 WAR a piece. Kendrick and Aybar both eclisped the 30 double mark and Aybar swiped 29 bases and was only caught 6 times. Callaspo had a .367 OBP and was the only regular on the team to have more walks than strikeouts. He was also a defensive wizard turning in a 1.4 dWAR at third base, which was the highest dWAR on the team. In addition the three starters, Maicer Izturis put together an excellent 3.3 WAR as a utility player. The only downside to Aybar and Kendrick are their continued inability to take a pitch turning in low walk totals, but this is a known quantity with these two hitters, and in spite of this they appear to keep improving at the plate over the years instead of regressing as they head into their prime.
Pitching Stability - The Best Top 3 Rotation in the AL and a really good Southpaw in the pen:
Starting Pitcher - Jered Weaver (6.7 WAR)
Starting Pitcher - Dan Haren (4.0 WAR)
Starting Pitcher - Ervin Santana (3.2 WAR)
Relief Pitcher - Scott Downs (2.3 WAR)
All of the above pitchers ranged from good to exceptional for this team and there is no reason to think they won't turn in similar performances in 2012. The top 3 of the rotation are probably as good as there is in the American League, and Downs was the best thing we had going in a sometimes shaky but otherwise decent bullpen.
Question Marks - An Aging Right Fielder and The Sophomore Slump Candidates*:
Right Field - Torii Hunter (2.1 WAR)
Center Field - Peter Bourjos (4.7 WAR)
First Base - Mark Trumbo (2.1 WAR)
Starting Pitcher - Jerome Williams (0.5 WAR)
Closer - Jordan Walden (1.5 WAR)
Bourjos had an outstanding season providing the expected great D in center and then suprising all of us with
a .439 Slugging percentage, behind only Kendrick and Trumbo on the team. He also swiped over 20 bases, and knocked 10 triples and 12 homers. The primary concern for Bourjos is that as a supposedly speedy player his OBP is a mediocre .328 and he only walked 32 times in 2011. It remains to be seen if this translates into a drop-off on the offensive side going forward when more pitchers figure him out. Trumbo was a nice suprise and can certainly mash (.477 slugging led the team) but he also can't take a walk looking at 25 walks in 149 games and whiffing 120 times. Since he's a young player like Bourjos, it is curious if he'll be able to adjust to pitchers and get more patient, or if they'll continue to exploit the gaps in his swing even more frequently translating into a drop off. It also is uncertain where Trumbo might play next season if Kendry's Morales comes back. A move to another position might be appropriate although based on the numbers from 2011 the infield should otherwise remain in tact. Perhaps a move to the already clogged outfield is worth considering, but only if the Angels can move one of their aging veterans along with their bloated salaries. Hunter had a mediocre season by his generally higher standards (and his 18 million dollar a year salary) and as he ages one can only assume it's going to get worse. It's uncertain if he's going to be able to contribute out of RF like his pay justifies in 2012 but frankly I don't thing the Angels have much of a choice there and they also don't have anyone better to fill the position even if Hunter isn't around short of trading for somebody.
As for the pitchers, Walden was scary and inconsistent but still turned in a decent WAR as a closer. One might hope that as a rookie his numbers will improve with experience. Williams was fantastic in limited starts in 2011 and with a controlling option over him there is no reason to think he won't be a candidate in the rotation for 2012 as a quality 4th or 5th starter.
*I'm aware Bourjos is already technically a Sophomore.
More Question Marks - An Old Man and the Two Kids who need to prove themselves:
Outfield - Mike Trout (0.7 WAR)
Catcher - Hank Conger (0.4 WAR)
Designated Hitter - Bobby Abreu (1.4)
The two kids on this list didn't get enough playing time to determine if they are valid options for 2012, although considering the current alternatives it would be foolish for the Angels not to play Mike Trout and Hank Conger fulltime going forward just based on their minor league numbers alone. Even with Trout's late season slump he still proved more valuable than the other options in Left Field. Conger should simply be named the starting catcher out of spring training next year. If he isn't then at least move him and some other pieces for a proven veteran to sit behind the plate, preferably one who can get on base at a respectable clip. Abreu had a nice OBP and zero power and his projections for next year are no better. The Angels can't afford a DH who can't hit for power, especially when you're competing for at bats with two other aging outfielders who although they have nice counting stats in the HR department, can't put up decent numbers otherwise. Expect Trout and Conger's WAR to go up with more playing time, and Abreu's to continue to erode.
The Total Disaster - Everyone is overpaid. Nobody is under-rated:
Left Field - Vernon Wells (-0.1)
Catcher - Jeff Mathis (-0.1)
Catcher - Bobby Wilson (-0.2)
Starting Pitching - Tyler Chatwood (-0.3)
Starting Pitching - Joel Pineiro (-1.6)
Relief Pitching - Fernando Rodney (-0.3)
Vernon Wells and his contract are an albatross on this team and unfortunately it appears he is an immovable object as far as his contract is concerned. Short of the Angels firing Reagins and then trading Wells to the team that hires Reagins as their GM, he's coming back for 2012. The only hope is that he can take his terrible line this season and turn it around into the .800 OPS player he was capable of being in the past. Pulling singles through the infield is unfortunately difficult to do in Anaheim as opposed to the turf in Toronto though and hitting pop up's too often is an out anywhere. It's uncertain how the Angels can improve with Wells aside from just swallowing his contract. It's almost certain he gets at least one more year to prove himself, especially when you're counting on an unproven rookie and other aging veterans in decline to pick up his slot.
When looking a the catching situation it's clearly a nightmare, especially when Scioscia won't simply name Conger his starter. Conger at least has upside. Wilson and Mathis are both awful. Mathis is slightly better than awful on defense, but then gives it all back by batting .180.
The 5th starter situation is also difficult as Piniero is likely gone and Chatwood isn't really in a position to improve on that. What's more relevant though is wondering if the Angels should care. Looking at the playoff teams in 2011 none of them outside of Philly have 3 exceptional starters like the Angels do, let alone 5.
As for Rodney, he's mercifully off the team for 2012 and so is his salary. He can easily be replaced and improved upon with help from the minor leagues.
The Angels appear to potentially need help at First Base, Catcher, Right Field, Designated Hitter and in the Bullpen for 2012. How they manage to improve at these positions is unclear. Starting Trout and Conger both seem like obvious options in terms of making the team younger, potentially better long term, and not adding anything to the payroll. Moving Hunter from RF in the last year of his contract is highly unlikely so expect him back in RF for 2012. The Angels just have to hope that his 2.1 WAR doesn't erode much further. Likewise at 1B they have to hope Trumbo finds patience instead of turning into a hacking mess.
Whether or not Kendry's Morales comes back is also a major question mark. If he does then first base is solid assuming he's fully healthy, but where Trumbo goes is uncertain.
There doesn't really appear to be a major path to victory in 2012 for the Angels short of watching the likes of Conger and Trout finally deliver on their high expecations. At present I see the following as the best possible roster considering the constraints the Angels currently have to contend with, meaning that it's very difficult to trade their aging veterans without eating almost all of their contracts.
C: Hank Conger
1B: Mark Trumbo*
2b: Howie Kendrick
3b: Alberto Callaspo
SS: Erick Aybar
LF: Mike Trout
CF: Peter Bourjos
RF: Torii Hunter
DH: Bobby Abreu / Vernon Wells
Bench: Maicer Izturis
Bench: Bobby Wilson
SP: Jered Weaver
SP: Dan Haren
SP: Ervin Santana
SP: Jerome Williams
SP: Tyler Chatwood
RP: Jordan Walden
RP: Scott Downs
RP: Hisanori Takahashi
RP: Rich Thompson
RP: Bobby Cassevah
RP: Trevor Bell
* Kendry's Morales is probably not coming back to play for the Angels.
Realistically I think the best thing the Angels can do as far as roster moves go is to DFA Mathis and then try to sign/trade for a quality catcher to backup Conger and maybe add another bullpen arm at the right price over Bell/Chatwood. They could also seriously consider a trade/signing for a power left-handed DH bat assuming Morales doesn't return that can split time with Wells and send Abreu to the bench. Potential trade pieces could be Trumbo or Izturis. Aside from that? Barring a blockbuster trade I just don't see how this roster is going to be much different in 2012 from 2011, the only difference is that hopefully Scioscia has more information and actually plays the correct people.
All WAR statistics were lifted from Baseball-Reference.com