Last year, the Angels and Blue Jays entered the season expected to compete for division titles, if not a World Series. The Blue Jays had loaded up on exciting, new talent, robbing the Marlins along the way, while some called the Angels the best team in baseball.
Obviously, that all went haywire, kind of like a robot that you're told at the beginning of a movie "will never turn on its master." But with everyone's attention turned to the Rangers, grabbing up Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder, or the now Tanaka-fied Yankees, what are their chances this season?
Two years ago, the Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, the addition of the two of them, along with the graduation of Mike Trout, supposedly making the team an unstoppable force in the AL West.
That didn't happen, the team finishing third in the division and on the outside of the playoffs despite winning 89 games and having a better record than the eventual American League champions, the Detroit Tigers.
Last year, the team doubled down, bringing in Josh Hamilton and trying to round out a thin rotation with Jason Vargas (not bad), Tommy Hanson (gamble that came up empty), and Joe Blanton (dear god, how did he get 132 innings?).
And again, it fell apart. Despite another MVP-worthy season from Trout, and another solid campaign from CJ Wilson, Pujols struggled and went down with an injury, posting the lowest OPS of his career.
Josh Hamilton struggled mightily, also posting the lowest OPS of his career and displaying a shocking lack of discipline at the plate.
Jered Weaver, after three consecutive top-5 Cy Young finishes, saw diminished velocity and made only 24 starts, posting his highest ERA since 2009.
All together, this lead to train wreck of a season, the Angels finishing 78-84, 18 games behind the first place Athletics.
This offseason, the Angels have taken a quieter approach, trading Peter Bourjos for David Freese, giving the team someone to play third base, and dealing away the powerful and defensively-challenged Mark Trumbo for Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. Though Skaggs' stock has fallen over the last two years, posting a 5.43 ERA in parts of two major league seasons, he's still only 22 years old, while Santiago, fresh off a 3.56 ERA in his first year as a starter with the White Sox, could make an immediate impact in the rotation.
Still, with questions surrounding Jerry DiPoto's ability to competently assemble the team (or, conversely, how much free reign he has with team owner Arte Moreno double-checking his every decision), and with the success that the Rangers and Athletics have had the last two seasons, it's made sense that people aren't considering the Angels as contenders this year. That's not even including the possibility of a much improved Mariners club with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Robinson Cano leading the way.
But this is the Angels team that's not supposed to compete. If the team struggles when they should succeed, then it stands to reason that in this opposite world that Anaheim exists in, when they should struggle, they'll blow everyone away.
Let's not forget that the Angels still have Mike Trout, the best player in baseball and arguably a Norse god sent to Earth to learn humility. Albert Pujols, though another year older, has said that his foot feels 99.9% healthy and could be poised to bounce back. Over the last two months of the season, Josh Hamilton hit .296/.352/459, giving hope that he still has the talent to be a front line starter.
Add in the new acquisitions in the rotation, and hopefully strong, healthy seasons from Wilson and Weaver, and it wouldn't be absurd to expect the team to contend in 2013. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA standings have the team pegged to win 87 games, one behind the Athletics for second in the West.
There are still holes, especially in the rotation should Skaggs, Santiago, or Garrett Richards underwhelm, and not much depth. The farm system, after a series of win-now moves robbing them of prospects and draft picks has Baseball America calling their system the "thinnest" in the game.
Without a backup plan, the Angels will need for everything going right in 2014 for them to stand a chance in the AL West. Given their string of misfortune the last two seasons, you'd have to hope that the pendulum would swing back their way soon.
Toronto Blue Jays
Things in Toronto are a little rougher. While the Angels play in a difficult division, the Blue Jays play in something that's closer to a war zone with baseball-shaped bullets flying around their heads. Last year, when Alex Anthopolous emptied the farm, looking at what passed for a weak AL East, he came up empty, the Blue Jays winning only 74 games. And that weak window is apparently closed now.
The World Champion Red Sox return most of the team for another go; the Yankees are fresh from a $345 million shopping spree; the Tampa Bay Rays have their endlessly self-replicating farm system; and the Baltimore Orioles are a solid if unspectacular team that could still add an impact arm in AJ Burnett. The Blue Jays have no Houston Astros to count on facing 18 times a year.
Last year, the team completely imploded despite the additions. R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, expected to front the rotation, threw roughly league average innings, while the habitually injured Josh Johnson predictably pitched only 81.1 innings. Unfortunately, among the Todd Redmonds and J.A. Happs, there was no one else to give quality innings to, no pitcher with more than four starts posting an ERA+ higher than 98.
At the plate, while Edwin Encarnacion proved that 2012 was no fluke, hitting 36 home runs, and Adam Lind had his best year since 2009, the rest of the offense was either ineffective, on the disabled list, or somehow ineffectively on the disabled list. Only three players appeared in more than 120 games, and one of them was J.P. Arencibia, who, with a .194/.227/.365 line, could have aided the Blue Jays more by watching the games on TV.
As for the rest, Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes missed significant amounts of time, and Brett Lawrie, expected by many to come into his own as a 23-year-old, struggled in his 400 at-bats.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, while they can hope for healthy campaigns from Reyes and Bautista, Alex Anthopolous has been hamstrung by last year's decisions. The upper levels of the farm system are largely bereft, the strength coming from lower-level prospects that are still years away. At the same time, there are holes all over the field for the Blue Jays, from Dioner Navarro at catcher (his .856 OPS last season being well beyond his career .684 mark), and Ryan Goins at second base, not inspiring much confidence.
The Jays will need a strong return from Brandon Morrow, hoping for something resembling his 2012 campaign, and that, at 26, Kyle Drabek can make good on the promise he showed when he was selected 18th overall in 2006. But that's a lot of hope without much of a backup.
There are a lot of question marks in the Blue Jays roster and they're in a division that doesn't suffer that easily. The team tried to go big last year and came up empty and now they'll have to wait for the reboot.
At the very least, they have Munenori Kawasaki, and hopefully that will keep things interesting all year long.
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