Los Angeles Angels 2017 Season Preview

GOODYEAR, AZ - MARCH 08: Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels takes the field during the spring training game against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark on March 8, 2017 in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Angels have been charged with what many see as a capital crime in wasting the prime years of superstar Mike Trout. The front office cannot argue against a bottom-dwelling farm system, tight money constraints, or a 2016 season that saw Los Angeles finish 21 games back in the American League West. In that light, the Angels are certainly guilty. However, fans as jurors are not to be swayed by such circumstantial evidence. The Agnels have the talent to play better than expected, and it is all outlined here in the Los Angeles Angels 2017 Season Preview.

Los Angeles Angels 2017 Season Preview

The expectations that various sources place upon the Angels are a bottom half finish in their division. Part of that expectation is warranted. Some of those predictions place too much weight on Los Angeles’ 2016 performance. The Angels were shut out of any hopes to contend last season due to loads of injuries and lack of organizational depth. Los Angeles has a shot at the wild card if they can stay healthy. Plugged holes via free agency and some repeat performances will further their chances of making the postseason.

Off Season Additions Bolster Defense

In one of the first moves of the off-season, Cameron Maybin was brought in as a left field upgrade. A natural center fielder, Maybin will bring excellent defense next door to Trout. He has been a serviceable hitter in his career as well and will be an all-around upgrade over Rafael Ortega.

Ben Revere signed a one year contract for $4 million to join Los Angeles. The speedy defender will be a good fourth outfielder as an option in the corners. He did not hit well last season in Washington with a dismal .217 average. Revere has been better than that in the past with a .295 career average before his lone year in Washington. A bounce-back season will prove a bargain for Los Angeles.

The Angels pulled the trigger on a trade to bring in Danny Espinosa from the Washington Nationals in December. Despite playing shortstop last year in Washington, Espinosa will play second base with Andrelton Simmons firmly entrenched at shortstop. The addition of Espinosa will create quite the double play combo as he is a plus defender.

A two-year, $15 million deal with a mutual 2019 option was enough to bring Luis Valbuena‘s versatility to Los Angeles. A fine depth player for the Angels, he will offer flexibility at third, second, or first base and DH if necessary. He brings an above average bat from the left side and stands ready to take over at third pending Yunel Escobar‘s exit after the season. Valbuena will likely get a lot of play at first base.

These moves have shown the front office is crafty with limited cash. The Angels are poised to be among the best defensive teams. Their mediocre offense can stand to win more games this season if the pitching holds its own and stays healthy.

The Bullpen

Three starting pitchers went down with UCL injuries last season. Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano are still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery while staff ace Garrett Richards went for stem cell therapy. Jered Weaver was not re-signed. This leaves the starting rotation in a dangerous spot. With very limited depth and most of the arms still fragile upon return, Los Angeles will be relying heavily on the bullpen. This may prove to be a problem.

The Angels’ bullpen was bad last season. The relief corps was ranked 28th in WAR at 0.3. The bullpen allowed more hits than any AL team except for the Minnesota Twins. The only off-season change to the bullpen was the addition of Yusmeiro Petit who was worth 0.1 WAR. Petit is another crafty addition as he slots into the long relief role while offering a spot start if necessary.

The Los Angeles bullpen was often cited as overworked in 2016 despite the fact that they ranked 13th in innings pitched at 544. The AL wild card winning Baltimore Orioles bullpen pitched 546 innings. Despite the bullpen being an obvious weakness, the Angels have the potential to cover this shortcoming.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols is far removed from his historic dominance in the 2000s as he enters his age-37 season. He is getting old, and he is entering the most expensive years of his contract. Pujols is still owed $87 million over four years at the conclusion of 2017. He is certainly not the player he once was with the St. Louis Cardinals, yet he still brings plenty of offensive value despite this overpaid status.

Nearly 20% of the active payroll is allocated to Pujols. The Angels need production from a player who is consuming so much of the team’s cash. He was worth 2.7 WAR offensively last season by hitting 31 home runs and carrying an excellent 11.5 strikeout percentage by today’s standards. Pujols has walked more in the past, but he still manages to draw walks at a league-average rate. He may be overpaid, but that does not mean he is not productive.

At this point, people need to stop thinking of Pujols as a player who is failing to meet expectations and begin to accept him for the player he is. He will likely be capable of double digit home run totals well past his playing days, and he will never strike out as much as  George Springer or Justin Upton. Pujols is no longer being paid to be the .300/.400/.600 and 40+ homerun guy anymore, but he is not the one dimensional player many label him to be. Pujols is still a threat and a solid cleanup hitter for a potential wild card team.

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