Results tagged ‘ Sean Burnett ’
Veteran reliever Sean Burnett continues to feel good through every step of his rehabilitation from August forearm surgery, but the Angels are taking a cautious approach that could have him on the disabled list by the time Opening Day rolls around on March 31.
For the first time on Wednesday morning, Burnett progressed past his long-toss program and threw roughly 25 pitches off a slope – an artificial mound that’s place behind the traditional bullpen mound and has him throwing from about 75 feet but without pushing off a rubber.
The 31-year-old lefty “felt good,” said it was the most positive step in his rehab and expects to do it again on Friday. But he wasn’t throwing at full intensity and Angels manager Mike Scioscia estimated on Thursday morning that it’ll still be “a week to 10 days” before he throws his first bullpen session, which would leave roughly two weeks before the start of the regular season.
“No doubt we’re cutting close,” Scioscia said. “But he’ll be ready in his own time. You can’t look at the schedule and say you have to have him ready by a certain date. He’ll be ready on his own time and we’ll see when that is.”
Scioscia stressed that the target date for Burnett’s first bullpen session falls in line with the original projection.
Burnett doesn’t need a lot of time to get ready because he’s only a one-inning reliever, but the Angels will take their time with him because he missed a full season and because having him healthy throughout the summer takes precedence over having him on the active roster coming out of Spring Training.
The Angels can backdate Burnett’s DL stint far enough so that he only misses the first 10 days of the regular season, and they have several lefty relievers in camp – Brian Moran, Clay Rapada, Robert Carson, Buddy Boshers, Nick Maronde and Michael Roth – who can fill the void in the meantime.
Burnett’s arm has stood up to every test, but he knows he has to continue to follow the steps.
“Unfortunately it’s not my first surgery,” Burnett said, “so I know how the process works and I know you have to be to be patient.”
Here’s how it stacked up in combined wins …
AL East: 433
NL Central: 421
AL Central: 400
NL West: 399
NL East: 391
AL West: 387
And here’s where it ranked in run-differential …
AL East: 235
NL Central: 219
AL Central: 0
NL West: -137
AL West: -138
NL East: -179
But AL West teams have been particularly aggressive in the early portion of this offseason — and yes, it’s worth reminding all of you that it is, indeed, still early — which could make for an interesting dynamic in 2014, and should make the Angels’ return to the postseason that much tougher.
The Mariners just reeled in the biggest free agent of the offseason, snatching Robinson Cano from the Yankees via a reported 10-year, $240-million, Albert Pujols-like contract. No, they aren’t an instant contender. And as the Angels themselves have shown, throwing the most dollars at the best free agent in no way guarantees success. But this is an important building block for a Mariners team that has always struggled to land the big names (see: Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder). At some point, you have to overpay to lay a foundation (the Mets thought the same thing with Curtis Granderson). This reminds me of the Jayson Werth deal the Nationals made three offseasons ago. It was a vast overpay at seven years and $126 million. But at that time, it was the only way the Nats were going to land a premier free agent. Adding Werth — even if he isn’t a star to the magnitude of Cano — changed the expectations in Washington and ultimately helped make it a place where free agents wanted to play. Same can happen in Seattle, where the Mariners are showing a willingness to spend. And if they trade for David Price — they have the prospects to do it — watch out.
In the words of one executive, “The A’s may have one of the best bullpens in history.” It’s not much of an exaggeration when you consider that they added Luke Gregerson to a group that includes Jim Johnson, Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Sean Doolittle, etc. Their rotation — Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Sonny Gray, in whatever order — is darn good, as well. But here’s the most important part about the current A’s: After back-to-back exits in the Division Series, they’re going for it. You don’t trade for one season of Johnson, flip a talented prospect (Michael Choice) for Craig Gentry or give Kazmir a two-year, $22 million contract if you aren’t.
Then there are the Rangers, who you just know have another big more or two in them. I actually liked the Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler deal for them (and loved it for the Tigers). They’re paying Fielder $138 million over the next seven years, which is very reasonable for a guy whose home-run rate will inflate in Texas and who gives them the middle-of-the-order bat they’ve been missing since Hamilton left. Over the last four years, the Rangers have the third-best regular-season winning percentage in the Majors (.570, trailing only the Yankees and Braves) and have been to the World Series twice. They had the 10th-best staff ERA in baseball last year, and they surely aren’t done.
Even the Astros have made some moves. They reached agreement on a three-year, $30 million deal with starter Scott Feldman — a guy the Angels would’ve liked, but not for three years — and previously traded for former Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler. They were easily dead last in 2013 in winning percentage (.315) and run-differential (minus-238), so they’re a ways away. But they have the second-best farm system in the Majors, per Baseball America, and they’re on their way.
What does all this mean for the Angels?
Well, nothing. At least not now.
They have about $15 million and some trade chips — Howie Kendrick still chief among them — to fill two spots in their starting rotation. They still have baseball’s best player in Mike Trout, two premier superstars in Pujols and Hamilton, two legit starters at the top of their rotation in Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, and a bullpen that can be among the deepest in baseball if Sean Burnett returns to full health. If they can sign someone like Matt Garza, they’re no doubt a legit playoff contender, regardless of how bad this past season turned out for them.
But their competition just keeps getting better.
The Angels’ budget got a little clearer on Monday, upon announcing they were non-tendering Jerome Williams, Tommy Hanson, Chris Nelson and Juan Gutierrez. That clears about $10 million in projected salary, crucial to an Angels team that needs to add at least two starting pitchers while staying below the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million.
So, how much room do they have left on the budget?
Let’s have a look …
The Collective Balance Tax Payroll is the average annual value of all 40-man-roster contracts, plus benefits, pensions, bonuses, etc. First, let’s add up the AAV of the 10 players on the budget …
Josh Hamilton: $25M
Albert Pujols: $24M
Jered Weaver: $17M
C.J. Wilson: $15.5M
Erick Aybar: $8.75M
Howie Kendrick: $8.375M
Joe Blanton: $7.5M
Joe Smith: $5.25M
Chris Iannetta: $5.18M
Sean Burnett: $4M
That equals $120.56 million. Then you have to add the $18.6 million the Angels owe the Yankees for the final season of Vernon Wells’ contract, which puts the total at $139.16. Then you have to project ahead for arbitration. Below are the Angels’ five remaining arbitration-eligible players, with the projections provided by MLBTradeRumors.com …
Mark Trumbo: $4.7M
David Freese: $4.4M
Ernesto Frieri: $3.4M
Kevin Jepsen: $1.4M
Fernando Salas: $700K
That’s $14.6 million, and it puts the CBT payroll at $153.76 million.
The last part is when it gets really uncertain with more than four months left before Opening Day (keep in mind: a team’s final CBT payroll isn’t calculated until after the season). To that figure, you have to tack on all the contracts for players with zero to three years of service time (the Major League minimum in 2014 is $500,000) plus benefits. I’m told the best way to go about it is to just allocate $20 million for all of this.
That puts the Angels’ CBT payroll at roughly $174 million, which gives them about $15 million of wiggle-room before hitting the luxury tax.
That figure is nowhere near exact, but as close as you can get at this point.
The Angels have signed free-agent reliever Joe Smith to a three-year contract worth about $15 million, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported on Saturday night.
Smith has posted a 2.42 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and a 2.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio with the Indians over the last three years. On the Angels, the 29-year-old right-hander will provide a major boost to the back end of the bullpen, joining closer Ernesto Frieri, lefty Sean Burnett and power right-handers Michael Kohn, Dane De La Rosa and Kevin Jepsen.
On Friday, the Angels also acquired 28-year-old righty Fernando Salas along with third baseman David Freese, as part of the four-player trade that sent outfielders Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals.
The Angels still need to add at least two starting pitchers, but were targeting a veteran setup man like Smith – as well as Edward Mujica – to round out the bullpen.
– Alden Gonzalez
There are pretty numbers, like .323, .432 and .557 — that’s Mike Trout‘s 2013 batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, respectively.
And then there are ugly ones, like the ones below — the nine stats that plagued the Angels in 2013 and, ultimately, may cost Trout another AL MVP Award …
150: That’s the amount of double plays the Angels grounded into. It’s a franchise record, two more than the 1996 team, and third in the Majors. Albert Pujols (in only 99 games) and Mark Trumbo tied for the team lead with 18, while Howie Kendrick (a notorious GIDP’er) and Josh Hamilton each had 16. Speedster (and non-walker) Erick Aybar followed with 14.
26: That’s the number of pitchers the Angels used this season, three shy of the club record set in 1999. In April alone — a month when the bullpen compiled 95 innings, fifth-most in the Majors — they used 18 (!). It’s a sign of the lack of quality pitching depth the Angels had beyond the Opening Day roster, but also of the injuries they faced, like …
18: That’s the amount of starts Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas missed due to fluky injuries. Weaver fell at the Rangers Ballpark mound on April 7, suffered a fractured left elbow and didn’t return until May 29. Vargas was diagnosed with a blood clot in his left arm pit area shortly after his June 17 start, had invasive surgery and didn’t return until Aug. 13. Down the stretch, the Angels started to see what kind of continuity they can get from Weaver and Vargas being productive and in the rotation at the same time. But it was too little, too late.
13: That’s the combined appearances made by the two new relievers, Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson. Burnett made all of them — 11 in April, a couple in late May — before getting shut down with a torn flexor tendon. Madson missed a second straight year after Tommy John surgery and was released on Aug. 5. Together, Burnett and Madson were supposed to make the Angels’ bullpen a strength. Together, they came up with 13.
32: That’s the combined amount of April losses for two star-studded teams in back-to-back years. In 2012, the Angels started 6-14, roared back into relevance shortly after Trout’s callup and faded down the stretch. In 2013, they dropped 17 of 26 in the season’s first month and never even got back to .500. The Angels had a great Spring Training in 2012, a not-so-great one in 2013. Why the bad early starts — in addition to perhaps a flawed club — is hard to put your finger on.
-63: That’s the amount of runs the Angels didn’t save on defense. In other words, it was their DRS score — 27th in the Majors. And it’s pretty inexplicable considering their DRS was plus-58, tied for second in the Majors, just last season. Yeah, Pujols played only 99 games and Alberto Callaspo was traded in late July, but the personnel was basically the same. And definitely not enough for a 121-run difference (!). Everyday players Trout (-9), Hamilton (-8), Chris Iannetta (-7) Aybar (-7), Kendrick (-3), J.B. Shuck (-1) and Trumbo (-1) had negative scores. The Angels were 19th in UZR, tied for 27th in fielding percentage and 28th in caught-stealing percentage. So, yeah, it’s not just that one sabermetric stat. The Angels were not a very good defensive team this season.
2.6: That’s the combined Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs.com, for Pujols and Hamilton. That’s actually higher than I expected, but obviously nowhere near what the Angels hoped for. In other words, two guys making a combined $33.4 million (or nearly 25 percent of the entire payroll) contributed three wins, if you round up. Pujols didn’t play past July 26, was severely hobbled when he did, and finished with a .258/.330/.437 slash line. Hamilton slumped up until the final five weeks of the season and finished at .250/.307/.432. You can talk about the pitching problems all you want — and I agree, it was the No. 1 issue in 2013 and is the No. 1 concern right now — but perhaps the Angels make a playoff run if they get normal years from Pujols and Hamilton.
66: That’s the amount of outs the Angels made on the bases, more than anyone in baseball — for a second straight year. Last season, they led with 72 outs on the bases. Kendrick (10), Aybar (7), Shuck (7) and Hank Conger (6) had the most.
22: I saved this one for last because I thought it was the most telling. It’s the amount of losses the Angels suffered in games during which they scored at least five runs. That’s the second-most in the Majors in 2013. The only team that lost more of those games was the Astros — the 111-loss Astros. Team Nos. 3-10: Twins, White Sox, Brewers, Orioles, Blue Jays, D-backs, Padres, Rockies. None of them made the playoffs, and the vast majority of them were never close. Nothing says pitching problems like losing a game in which you get five or more runs from your offense — 22 times.
Every article or blog post or tweet regarding the Angels’ offseason strategy — whether it’s the pursuit of starting pitcher or the scenario at third base or the situation regarding Jerry Dipoto and Mike Scioscia — tends to be followed by a response very similar to this:
WHO CARES, JUST LOCK UP MIKE TROUT NOW!!!
It’s understandable, given the fact that Mike Trout is the unquestioned best player on the star-laden Angels and, at 22, may already be the best in all of baseball. The Angels, however, have not begun extension talks with Trout, sources confirmed, and were never expected to with arbitration still a full year away.
It’s all about the Competitive Balance Tax payroll.
Let me try to explain. There are two different types of payroll. There’s the actual team payroll, which is what the active players are making in that season. And then there’s the CBT payroll, which is the payroll Major League Baseball uses to tax teams that go over a certain threshold. For the Angels — and the Yankees, and all of the teams that spend big on their roster — the latter is the most important.
The CBT payroll is calculated as the average annual value of all player contracts on the 40-man roster, plus benefits.
So, for example: Albert Pujols is making $16 million in 2013, which counts towards the Angels’ payroll figure. With regards to the CBT, though, he’s making $24 million — the average annual value of the 10-year, $240 million contract he signed in December 2011.
How does this relate to Trout?
Well, let’s say the Angels sign him to a 10-year, $300 million deal (that’s just a number I’m throwing out, basically because it’s easy to divide — and perhaps because I’m thinking of Robinson Cano). Even if in that contract, Trout is making only $1 million in 2014, the figure for the CBT payroll would be the AAV of that: $30 million.
And by that point, you can forget about adding any pitching to the roster.
The CBT threshold — the number at which first-time offenders are charged a tax of 17.5 percent — is going up from $178 million to $189 million this offseason. That buys the Angels a little extra wiggle room, but they’re still awfully close to that figure. So close, in fact, that it’ll affect whether or not they extend the qualifying offer to Jason Vargas, a figure that’s close to $14 million and would allow the Angels to receive Draft-pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. If Vargas takes it, they’d basically already be over the luxury-tax threshold.
Here’s what’s in the books for the Angels in 2014 (the first number is what the player will make that season and the second is the AAV that counts towards the CBT payroll) …
Albert Pujols: $23M, $24M
Vernon Wells (to the Yankees): $18.6M, $18.6M
Josh Hamilton: $17.4M, $25M
C.J. Wilson: $16.5M, $15.5M
Jered Weaver: $16.2M, $17M
Howie Kendrick: $9.7M, $8.375M
Erick Aybar: $8.75M, $8.75M
Joe Blanton: $7.5M, $7.5M
Chris Iannetta: $4.975M, $5.18M
Sean Burnett: $3.875M, $4M
That adds up to $126.5 million in payroll commitments, and just under $134 million for the CBT. But we’re not done. Not even close. There’s also the pending arbitration cases for eight players: Peter Bourjos, Ernesto Frieri, Juan Gutierrez, Tommy Hanson, Kevin Jepsen, Chris Nelson, Mark Trumbo and Jerome Williams.
A rough — very rough — estimate for what that would amount to: $25M (though Hanson, Williams, Nelson and Gutierrez are all non-tender candidates).
Then there’s the 25 or so other players on the 40-man roster that you have to pay (a little more than $500K each), and then there’s the benefits and bonuses for all of them, which is a rough estimate of $10M. And that puts the Angels pretty close to that $189M figure.
If you add a Trout extension, to a payroll in which Wells will be the second-highest-paid player, then they’ll have to shed payroll.
So, the logical question is: What’s the rush?
* thanks to Cot’s Contracts for providing all the info
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto wouldn’t address his uncertain job status Thursday. And really, there isn’t much to say. He, like Mike Scioscia and basically everyone in the front office and coaching staff, is waiting on word from Arte Moreno on what will happen for 2014. For now, Dipoto will focus solely on what needs to be done in the offseason. A story is posted on Dipoto’s main focus: attaining cost-controlled starting pitching.
Here’s what else the second-year GM had to say in a 30-minute scrum with Angels beat writers.
On addressing third base …
“We’ll go out and look at what’s available there, whether it’s trades, secondary market, waiver wire, free agents. In an ideal world, we’ll come up with what we believe is a combination of players. I don’t think we’re going to find Brooks Robinson, but we’re going to go out and find a combination of players. Some of it might be on hand, some of it might be outside the organization that we have to go access it. But we’ll try to put together a good – I don’t want to call it a platoon, but a good timeshare at third base that works.”
On Grant Green being an answer at third base …
“I guess at the end of the day, there’s still a lot that has to be done in order to get Grant comfortable enough to play third base on a more regular basis. But as when we acquired Grant – Grant is vertatile enough … and at the very worst, we felt like what we got was an athletic guy whose got ability in the batter’s box and can get on base, who is versatile enough to move around the field.”
On Ernesto Frieri being the closer in 2014 …
“I don’t really think, ‘Who’s the ninth-inning guy?’ Ernie has been the ninth-inning guy for two years and has done a tremendous job. We’ll go out and try to add more depth. I feel like with Ernie, Dane De La Rosa, Michael Kohn, Kevin Jepsen, Sean Burnett, we have the makings of a good bullpen. … Who pitches the ninth inning is to the manager’s discretion.”
On whether Angels are doing a disservice by playing well down the stretch and not getting a higher Draft pick …
“The Draft is such an unpredictable animal. Whether you’re picking ninth, 13th, 17th, you’re going to have an opportunity to pick a good player. How many times do we [as executives throughout baseball] get the Draft right? It’s a very hard thing to do. It’s not a slam-dunk process.”
On how Peter Bourjos fits in next year …
“It depends on how he comes back from wrist surgery. He’ll have a two-month down period, rehab, have to see where he is in Spring Ttraining. Josh [Hamilton] has played very well for two months, [Mike] Trout is Trout, [Kole] Calhoun and J.B. Shuck are having good years, [Collin] Cowgill has played well. It’s an area where we are particularly deep. … Peter is definitely part of the mix. But when you have as much down time as he’s had … how much playing time he gets, where he fits in the mix, depends on how he returns from this injury and a lot of fractured playing time. It’s not easy to play with so many nagging injuries, small and major. We need to get a healthy Peter Bourjos out there and find out where he is.”
On whether he’d soften stance on zero-to-three service time players with Trout next year …
“That’s something we do internally in baseball operations. I’m not going to make that into a story. That’s something every team adheres to, to their own internal scale. We’ll leave it at that. Every team has their own scale and they operate accordingly.”
On long-term-extension talks with Trout …
“No comment. Obviously, we’d like him to be here long-term.”
The Angels are wrapping up a season in which they were never really in the playoff mix, about to make it four consecutive postseason absences despite back-to-back marquee signings, and the prevailing sentiment – in the media and within the organization – is that either Jerry Dipoto or Mike Scioscia will be dismissed by owner Arte Moreno when it’s all set and done. They haven’t worked well together, the team has disappointed, and you can’t have another season like this, on a team with a payroll this high, and not make organizational changes.
But would that really make the Angels better?
What if the perceivably impossible scenario took place?
What if they both did stay?
Replacing Scioscia means eating the roughly $27 million that’s owed to him over the course of a contract that runs through 2018, not to mention parting ways with one of the most accomplished and respected managers in all of baseball. Parting ways with Dipoto means starting all over again – for the second time in three years – with an entire front-office team, from scouts to execs, all over the country and in Latin America.
This is too important an offseason to be transitioning to a new front office, or assembling a new coaching staff, or structuring new organizational philosophies. This team needs to worry about its on-field roster, one that needs to get back into contention quickly because (A) the Angels can’t reload, (B) Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are only getting older – and more expensive – and (C) the farm system needs to keep cultivating.
The best course for the Angels may be to give Dipoto and Scioscia another chance to foster a productive working relationship and actually use their differing views for the betterment of the organization.
Dipoto loves new-aged statistics, Scioscia is of the old-school mentality. Dipoto doesn’t have the autonomy to decide on Scioscia’s employment, making it difficult to establish any authority, and Scioscia is used to being more heavily involved in baseball-operations decisions. They “get along to get along,” as one person said. The Mickey Hatcher dismissal put a significant strain on their relationship last year and they’ve bumped heads on several quandaries this season, from Ernesto Frieri‘s recent demotion to Garrett Richards‘ role to Grant Green‘s upside.
But their relationship isn’t considered to be so fractured that they can’t work together (though solidifying a hierarchy might be necessary). For what it’s worth, they’ve been said to be just fine lately.
That’s what winning can do.
“Winning changes everything,” one player said of outside speculation regarding Dipoto and Scioscia. “If we were winning, none of this would be going on.”
If Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas didn’t combine for 18 missed starts due to fluky injuries, or if Pujols weren’t limited to 99 games because of plantar fasciitis, or if Hamilton hadn’t struggled so mightily in his first season in Anaheim, the Angels would be much better off and the narrative would be completely different.
And that’s what we have to keep in mind in this situation.
Yes, Dipoto and Scioscia both shoulder plenty of blame for what has taken place in 2013.
Dipoto was unsuccessful at turning limited funds into necessary pitching depth, with Joe Blanton (2-14 with a 6.04 ERA), Tommy Hanson (5.66 ERA in 70 innings), Sean Burnett (limited to 13 games) and Ryan Madson (released after missing a second year post-Tommy John surgery) all flopping in 2013.
Scioscia’s teams have started slow each of the last two seasons – 27-38 in 2013, 18-25 in 2012 – and up until their recent, too-late run, had done little right. They’ve been one of the worst defensive teams in baseball (26th in Defensive Runs Saved), they’re tied with the Rangers for the most outs made on the bases and are 16th in the Majors in run-differential, despite winning 22 of their last 31 games.
But Dipoto is the savvy GM the organization wanted after parting ways with Tony Reagins two Octobers ago; one who would prioritize the farm system and is well-thought-of throughout baseball and isn’t afraid to express his own opinions. And simply put, the Angels aren’t really going to find a better, more respected field manager than Scioscia.
Would replacing one of them move this organization forward in 2014, or would it actually set them back — only to create the illusion of accountability?
That’s the question.
Pitching: RH Yu Darvish (10-5, 2.66 ERA)
Pitching: RH Garrett Richards (3-4, 4.18 ERA)
- An MRI on Howie Kendrick‘s left knee revealed only a sprain, and no structural damage. The Angels are still unsure if he’ll have to go on the disabled list, but they’ll give it four or five days to see.
- In the meantime, the Angels called up Green, who was acquired from the A’s in exchange for Alberto Callaspo last week. It looks like he’ll get the majority of his playing time at second base, where he’s most comfortable. Right-hander Daniel Stange was optioned to Triple-A, bringing the Angels back to 12 pitchers and 13 position players.
- Peter Bourjos is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment at Triple-A Salt Lake on Thursday (the same day Jason Vargas will throw five innings/75-80 pitches). He still has pain in his right wrist, so he just figures he’ll have to play through it and maybe have a minor surgical procedure in the offseason. He can’t make it any worse, so it basically comes down to how much pain he can tolerate.
- Sean Burnett is slated to have the surgical procedure to fix his torn flexor tendon on Wednesday, performed by Dr. James Andrews. He’s expected to be fully healthy and ready to go for the start of Spring Training.
- As you probably noticed, Iannetta is starting again, against a right-hander. That makes just one start for Hank Conger in the last eight games. Here’s what Mike Scioscia said about the catching situation: “Hank’s going to get time. Chris’ defense is starting to play a lot more, and that’s important. At the plate, he’s been pretty consistent with what he’s done. He’s taken his walks, I think he’s starting to feel a little more comfortable in the batter’s box. But I think primarily on the defense side, he’s doing a good job. And if he matches up on the offensive side, he’ll get some playing time. Hank’s going to play. At times, one guy is going to do it more than the other. And right now, Chris is feeling a little more comfortable right now.”
- In case you were wondering about Robert Coello, who’s been nursing right shoulder inflammation since June 9 … he isn’t expected back this year. He’s still rehabbing in Arizona and hasn’t played catch in like two months.
The good news for the Angels is that they expect to get a handful of key players back shortly after the All-Star break, including Peter Bourjos, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas; perhaps even Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson.
But, as Mike Scioscia intimated, that’s not really anything they can hang their hat on right now.
“I don’t think our struggles correlate to guys being out,” he said during Thursday’s voluntary workout. “It’s not like saying, ‘Well, we’ve been banged up and now we’re going to be healthy.’ … We need guys to get in their game more than getting back from the DL.”
There’s no sugarcoating where the Angels find themselves right now. They’re 44-49, 11 games back of first place in the AL West and nine games back of the second Wild Card spot. It’s the most games under .500 that the Angels have been at the All-Star break since 1994 and the largest divisional deficit since 2001. They didn’t make the playoffs either of those years, and only one team — the 2003 Twins — has done so after entering the All-Star break five or more games under .500.
To win 93 games — the minimum amount required to make the playoffs in the AL last year — they’ll have to go 49-20. That’s .710 baseball. The best winning percentage in the Majors right now is .613 (by the Cardinals).
But nearly 43 percent of season remains, so hope does, too.
And with the All-Star break finished, here are the main storylines from here ’til the offseason (click here for my first-half story, with video of the Top 5 moments) …
The July 31 crossroads.
As of now, the best bet here is that the Angels don’t do anything major before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. They’re too dangerously close to the threshold at which teams get taxed 17.5 percent by Major League Baseball — something the Angels’ brass doesn’t seem willing to take on — and it’s hard to really be sellers, per se, when Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are on your payroll. But these next couple of weeks could have a big impact on this topic, which brings me to the next storyline …
The next 20 games.
Thirteen of them are against the A’s and Rangers, two teams that are a combined 30 games over .500 and two teams ahead of the Angels in the AL West. This is a stretch that can have them looking towards 2014 or maybe — just maybe — eyeing a playoff spot this fall. In total, 26 of the Angels’ 69 remaining games will come against Oakland and Texas. That’s a lot. Almost 40 percent.
Pujols and The Foot.
At what point does Pujols finally relent and have surgery on the plantar fasciitis that’s been ailing his left foot — and his entire game — all season? He’s determined to play through it all year, and if the Angels stay somewhat relevant, I have every reason to believe he will. If they fall out of it, though, perhaps he shuts it down. Still, 500 homers is only 10 away. And Pujols is adamant about not missing time.
Hamilton and The Numbers.
He hasn’t hit any better than .237 in any month this season, and he has a .224/.283/.413 line for the season. His OPS (.696) is tied for 122nd in the Majors, with Brian Dozier, and his FanGraphs-calculated WAR (0.8) is fourth among Angels position players. To finish with 30 homers, he needs to average a home run every 4.3 games (assuming he doesn’t miss any time). He was able to do that in 2012 (3.4) and 2010 (4.2). To reach triple-digit RBIs, he needs to drive in a run every 1.13 games. The closest he got to that rate was last year, at 1.16. If Hamilton averages four at-bats per game the rest of the way — it’ll likely be lower than that, given walks and inevitable time off — that totals 276. If he gets 110 hits in that span, that’s a .399 batting average. And that would put his average on the season at .302. Amazing to think he even has a remote chance to get to 300-30-100.
Trout’s MVP chances.
Chris Davis (.315/.392/.717) and Miguel Cabrera (.365/.458/.674) are having absurd seasons, making Mike Trout only a fringe candidate for the AL MVP. But don’t sleep on him. He’s at .322/.399/.565 through 92 games. Through 92 games last year (a year he should’ve been the MVP), he was at .340/.402/.592. Not too far off. And if Davis and Cabrera slip, Trout may find himself in the conversation once again. (Sidenote: Trout’s strikeout and walk rates have actually improved from last year, a sign he’s only improving as a hitter. He struck out 21.8 percent of the time and walked 10.5 percent of the time last year. This year, he’s striking out 16.4 percent of the time and walking 11 percent of the time.)
Jered Weaver’s stock.
Somewhat lost amid the struggles of Pujols and Hamilton is that Weaver hasn’t really been, well, Weaver. He missed more than seven weeks with a broken left elbow, struggled upon coming back, went on a very good three-start stretch — two runs in 20 2/3 innings — and then gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings to the Mariners to close out the ceremonial first half. He’s now 3-5 with a 3.63 ERA in 11 starts this season, with a fastball velocity that continues to decline (90.1 in 2010, 89.2 in 2011, 88.0 in 2012, 86.8 in 2013). Weaver will make $54 million from 2014-16, and the Angels don’t figure to get a better starting pitcher during that time. A strong second half would ease a lot of concerns.
If the Angels do fall out of it, it’ll be interesting to see how they look ahead to 2014 and beyond. This is not a roster you can really rebuild with. This is a roster you can only continue to add pieces to in hopes of winning a championship. And if the Angels don’t make the playoffs, I expect them to try to contend again in 2014. But come August and September, if they’re far back, how do they start planning for next year? Does Garrett Richards go back to the rotation (perhaps bumping Joe Blanton or Tommy Hanson)? Does Hank Conger become the everyday catcher? (Since June 12, he’s had the exact amount of games — 17 — and at-bats — 47 — as Chris Iannetta.)
And what’s the fallout from owner Arte Moreno for missing the playoffs a fourth consecutive year, and after back-to-back December blockbusters?
We may have to wait until the offseason for that one.