The Angels made a few notable additions this offseason that should have them set up for a better year in 2017 than 2016. I mean, it would be hard for it to be worse. But the possibility that things go awry again remains a pertinent one. Here is what that unfortunate scenario would look like.
The rotation falls apart again
The Angels’ rotation certainly has the potential to be great, but the team is banking on quite a bit going in their favor. Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs both dealt with various arm issues at various points last season, and they are now being counted on to be key components of the rotation.
Richards flashed ace potential in 2014, but he hasn’t come all that close since, and he still only has one complete season as a starter under his belt. And now, he’s coming off a season in which he underwent an alternative to Tommy John surgery, stem-cell therapy; the effectiveness of which is still unproven.
He isn’t the first to choose to go this route instead of surgery, but it has only worked for a select few players. As of now, he is one of them, but Richards’ elbow could decide that it needs Tommy John surgery at any point this season, which could spell disaster for an Angels team in desperate need of the right-hander’s services.
Skaggs might be the biggest question mark on the starting staff. He has struggled to remain healthy throughout his short career, and it took him nearly two years to make it back to a Major League mound following his 2014 Tommy John surgery.
He only made 10 starts in 2016, and he has not yet demonstrated the ability to stay healthy over the length of a season; the most starts he has made in a season is the 18 he made in 2014. He has dealt with numerous nagging injuries recently and in this worst-case scenario, Skaggs never quite figures out a way to remain on the field.
The contributions of the two aforementioned pitchers in addition to Matt Shoemaker, who shouldn't have a problem returning from his season-ending skull fracture he suffered last year, will determine where the Angels go this year and if Richards and Skaggs continue dealing with arm troubles, it won’t be far.
The Angels have more starting pitching depth this season than they did last season, but there is still not much quality there, especially with Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano likely on the shelf for the year.
The bullpen is as bad as it looks
The bullpen is easily the weakest link of this team and in this calamitous scenario, it stays that way. Cam Bedrosian is their best reliever, but can he carry over his success from last year to this year? If he reverts back to his old ways, the Angels are in deep trouble because the relief corps is very thin beyond him.
The team is counting on Huston Street bouncing back from an injury-plagued season, and he already suffered another injury early in Spring Training that will prevent him from being ready for the start of the season.
They are also hoping that Andrew Bailey goes from a journeyman to a key piece of their bullpen in a year’s time. His 11 1⁄3 innings with the Angels last year were impressive, but it’s difficult to ignore the five seasons that came before that in which he desperately searched for his 2009-Rookie-of-the-Year form to no avail.
Of the remaining relievers on the team, Mike Morin is the only one who stands out, but that’s merely because of a great season he had three years ago, which, after two lackluster seasons, could have been nothing more than a fluke. Morin finding success again will be vital to the Angels moving forward.
The rest of the bullpen is filled with uninspiring pieces who could be valuable, but they could also be worthless. At this point, it’s hard to project the Angels’ bullpen as a strength. And if none of their relievers outperform expectations, as would be the case in this dreadful scenario, it could easily be one of the worst in the league.
Various injuries take their toll
In addition to the injuries to the rotation, injuries to players like C.J. Cron and Andrelton Simmons really hamstrung the Angels last year. They are slightly better equipped to deal with such injuries this year, but a few of the players the Angels added to help ease these concerns come with injury-riddled pasts.
Cameron Maybin is expected to be the Angels’ everyday left fielder, but he’s played no more than 95 games in two of the last three years due to multiple injuries. In Maybin does get hurt, the Angels have outfielder Ben Revere. But Revere dealt with an oblique injury in 2016 that not only caused him to only play 103 games but also severely hindered his productiveness when he was on the field, hitting a putrid .217/.260/.300.
The Angels also signed the left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena to add a bit of infield depth. However, he only appeared in 90 games last year, and he will open this season on the disabled list due to a hamstring strain.
Without Valbuena, the Angels’ depth is already being tested, and they are now in a similar situation to last year where one injury could force them to reach into their weak farm system in search of assistance, which would greatly hamper the team’s postseason chances.
The bottom of the order doesn’t hit enough
By Defensive Runs Saved, the Angels had the third-best defense in the American League last year and by Ultimate Zone Rating, they had the best defense in the AL. And they did that despite Andrelton Simmons, arguably the best defender in the game, spending about a month on the DL.
Because of the uncertainty of their pitching staff, the Angels’ defense is especially important. The good news is that it should be even better this year with a full year of Simmons in addition to the acquisitions of Cameron Maybin, Danny Espinosa, and Martin Maldonado.
However, when the Angels went all in on defense, they sacrificed some offense. Maybin, Espinosa, Maldonado, and Simmons have all been below-average hitters throughout their respective careers. Those four plus Carlos Perez, who will be splitting time with Maldonado at catcher, have a combined career 80 wRC+ (where 100 is league average).
There’s no doubt in my mind that the defense of all of these players will be fantastic, but it remains to be seen if their positive defensive impact will be enough to outweigh their likely sub-par offensive production.
Right now, the Angels appear to be a better team than they were in 2016, but there are still a fair amount of concerns, and the team is similarly flawed. They are counting on a number of players either rebounding from poor seasons or building upon breakout seasons. If everything goes right, the Angels could be really good. But if everything goes wrong, this season could look a lot like last.
While they probably won’t be favorites to win the World Series this year, their season probably won’t be a complete train wreck, as is outlined here, either. In reality, the Angels’ season will likely fall somewhere in the middle of the two where a few things go right and a few go wrong. All the Angels need is for a few more to go right than wrong.