There are 40 games left in the regular season. Over 75% of regular season games have been played. The Angels are now a paltry 2 games over .500 and 4 games back in the Wild Card. Unfortunately there are 4 teams in front of them, not counting the division leaders. Meaning that the 4 game deficit is looking more and more insurmountable. Even if the Angels put together a hot streak, they would have to count on minimum of 3 of the 4 teams above them basically falling over in the next 40 games. You can certainly believe one of these teams might start playing like the Angels and fade from the playoff race, but 2 or even 3 of those teams? It's unlikely. Our chance to make the playoffs now stands at 11%. If I'm a betting man, and I happen to be, I'm putting money on the Angels missing the playoffs for the third season in a row.
But I'm not here to bemoan how bad this team is right now. We see that in every single game thread. I wanted to explore how the we're supposed to fix this team, and get back into contention in 2013 and beyond. We have no more Mike Trout's to call up from the minors. The system is basically spent at the upper levels. It's nice to see Downs and Walden coming back from the DL, but if CJ Wilson and Dan Haren still don't know how to pitch then I don't see it mattering much. I'm not prescient enough to declare this season over, but we're basically on life support. What's more unfortunate is that unless this team makes some significant changes going forward, we're going to be revisiting this fate all over again next year. The reason for this is that the Angels, although they have a lot of money coming off the books are still going to be one of the highest paid teams in baseball and they still must make significant improvements at a number of different positions to avoid doing this all over again in 2013. Spending their way out of another 3rd place finish isn't likely. They are going to have to be more creative in the front office to make this happen.
So what do we do? I don't think firing Sosh is realistic right now. Clearly he's made some bad tactical decisions in some key games but frankly it's not his fault that the entire rotation has decided to implode over the last few weeks. Maybe he's too complacent, but from a players point of view he's still a very popular manager. Managers are just as much about connecting with players as they are about strategy. Maybe some of his staff should be replaced, but I don't think suddenly axing Sosh is going to suddenly fix everything and it might even be counter-productive from a stability and player morale standpoint.
What I know for sure we need to do is start selling off our assets and going for volume of players. We need to start replenishing the farm and the sooner we do that the better. Since the deadline is passed there isn't much the Angels can do at this point in the season. But once the season ends Dipoto has an immense amount of work to do.
Here is the 10 step plan for contending in the 2013 season and getting back this franchise back on track:
Step 1: Cut Vernon Wells. The inability to get on base should not be tolerated. Verno is apparently some kind of Whammy on this team. He should be removed from the roster as soon as possible.
Step 2: Trade Kendrick for prospects. This guys is a league average middle infielder at this point. He still might have potential for better things and last year he was very good, but that isn't materializing this year. If Dipoto can move him for the right deal, especially if it includes positional replacements that are younger and cheaper he should do so.
Step 3: Cut Takahashi. He's arbitration eligible once the season ends and he's apparently incapable of pitching against major league hitters. He's gone.
Step 4: Trade Morales or Trumbo for Prospects. Morales is having an inferior season to Trumbo, with the exception that he appears to be improving in the second half instead of regressing. Regardless, he's still damaged goods at this point and the notion that he'll even come back to his 2009 production seems hopeful at best and delusional at worst. He too has poor BB/K ratios and while he's better at contact that Trumbo he still has only mediocre power for a true DH. Trumbo has been atrocious in the 2nd half with a .690 OPS, 7 BB and 43 K. He's putting up a .534 OPS over the last month, but his first half was so ridiculous that he value to the Angels is likely much higher. Morales is also more expensive than Trumbo and won't be under team control for much longer. The biggest problem is that both of them are blocked at 1B and as such they are defensive liabilities or one dimensional players. One of these guys should be moved for more versatile players while we have the chance. If by some miracle we can get a valuable player to insert into the lineup in return along with prospects they both could be moved, but that's highly unlikely. It's more likely that we only get prospects back and in that scenario the Angels could only afford to ship one of them.
Step 5: Decline the option on Santana. If there were better options available in the FA market I'd dump Haren too, but I'm not seeing many better options. Haren might just be playing hurt. Santana is a head case.
Step 6: Re-Sign Torii Hunter. I'd actually give him a 2 year deal if the price was right. He'd split time at RF and DH. The market doesn't have a lot of solid players out there at RF, and Torii figures to only get worse, but it's not like the Angels have a lot of OF prospects that are capable of replacing him either. The other reasonably priced FA options in the OF truly make you appreciate the guy.
Step 7: Pick up Iannetta's Option. He is one of the few regulars in the lineup that can consistently get on base. He should be primed to return in 2013.
Step 8: Sign Zack Grienke. He's been pretty lousy for us but I think that's a fluke and not a regression to some mean. He's the best FA starter on the market this off-season and he's also the youngest at only 28 years old. We clearly need help in the rotation department. He's still the best choice.
Step 9: Sign Joe Saunders. He's likely to be inexpensive and a decent stop gap until additional help can arrive down the road. He'd be a good fifth start option, and could move up in the rotation if someone gets hurt.
Step 10: Sign Brandon League. He's been pretty awful with the Dodgers since they picked him up but he's been a solid reliever for the last few years. He's a superior replacement to Hawkins/Isringhausen whom the Angels obviously shouldn't re-sign.
I think these 10 steps, although pretty bold, are all realistic and should conceivably fit within Moreno's budget. Eating Wells contract will hurt, but no more than having him actually have at bats against MLB pitching. Trading some of our lineup for depth and younger players seems odd, but realistically it's a much better strategy to trade from a strength to address a need than to simply horde a strength and shoehorn players into positions they probably shouldn't be playing. I think the FA pickups are all realistic and aside from Grienke should all be reasonably costed.
We might be watching a playoffs without the Angels for the third season in a row, but it doesn't have to be a 4th or 5th if Dipoto starts making some changes once the trading season starts again.