Despite outrageous payrolls and the best player in baseball, the Angels have been mired in mediocrity over the past few seasons, missing the playoffs every year since their mini-dynasty of the 2000's ended in 2009. However, things appear to have turned the corner this season.
The Angels enter Friday with a 38-33 record that places them six games behind the Oakland Athletics in the AL West. While their odds of winning the division appear to be minimal considering the best team in baseball is currently reigning on top, the Angels are still prime contenders to nab one of the AL Wild Card spots. The Halos are currently tied with the Yankees for the final Wild Card spot, but seven other teams are within five games and three within two. Despite this, Baseball Prospectus currently estimates the Angels' playoff odds as 81%, the second highest percentage in the AL.
The club's offense is arguably the best in baseball, as their 15.5 WAR tops the majors, while their 111 wRC+ ranks second and their .328 wOBA fifth. The rotation has been nearly as strong. After placing 24th in the majors with a 112 ERA- last season, the club's starting staff has experienced a drastic turnaround. Nearly halfway through the season, the Angels' rotation holds a 3.68 ERA (10th in baseball), 3.65 FIP (7th), 8.02 K/9 (5th), and 99 FIP- (10th), and has been instrumental in Anaheim's return to glory.
Of course, the bullpen has been an entirely different story...
Buyers or Sellers?
Already in a prime playoff position, and with a roster built to win now, the Angels will clearly be buyers this summer. The only question is to what degree.
The Angels are well-positioned offensively with a deep lineup (sans Raul Ibanez) and a bench that features a number of intriguing young options (and John McDonald). The Halos are much more likely to make a move to shore up their pitching, but the Angels aren't exactly in absolute need of another starter, and while the bullpen has been awful, there is some reason for optimism via prospects such as RJ Alvarez and some expected improvement from big leaguers likeCam Bedrosian.
The Angels will, without a doubt, be buyers, but at this point, it's still up in the air as to just how big of an addition they want to make.
Pitching, pitching, pitching.
As mentioned above, the Angels' rotation has seen a large uptick in performance this year, and adding another starter would qualify as more of a luxury move than one of necessity (Matt Shoemaker has been strong since replacing Hector Santiago in the rotation, but I wouldn't be willing to bet on that success continuing) . Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Angels are indeed looking for an upgrade in the rotation, opening up the window for a number of acquisition possibilities.
When the Angels were last competitive two years ago, the club splurged on Zack Greinke at the deadline, acquiring him for two well-regarded pitching prospects (Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena) and a top young shortstop (Jean Segura) who would make the All-Star team in his first full year with Milwaukee (though he has fallen off quite a bit offensively this year). Unfortunately, Greinke wasn't enough to push the Angels over the top, as the team fell four games short of a playoff berth and watched their rent-a-ace depart for the National League club located just up the I-5.
This time around, the Angels don't have the means necessary to go after a marquee name, but that won't stop them from trying. David Price is almost certainly out of the Angels' price range at this point, but they have been linked to Jeff Samardzija, whose price tag should be quite a bit less than Price's considering this is the first year he's pitching at a truly elite level. The Angels are a long-shot to nab Samardzija, but it's not entirely out of the question.
The more likely scenario is the Angels go after someone like Ian Kennedy or Dillon Gee. While Gee is currently on the DL with a strained lat, he should be back by the beginning of July, and he was excellent to start off the season before getting hurt.
Kennedy is quite possibly the perfect fit for the Angels considering his Orange County roots (he was born in Huntington Beach) and fly ball tendencies that would fit well at Angel Stadium. He has excelled with the Padres this season, currently notching career bests in both FIP (3.08) and K/BB (4.08). The Angels displayed demonstrated interest in acquiring Kennedy last summer, but their bid ultimately fell short, and Arizona dealt him to San Diego.
Samardzija's teammate Jason Hammel could also be an option. The 31-year-old Hammel is enjoying a superb season with the Cubs (3.02 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 130 ERA+, 4.47 K/BB, 2.6 WAR), and while it is unlikely that he keeps up with his current pace, he should still be a valuable rental for a team in need of a quality mid-rotation starter. The Angels were among the teams interested in Hammel this past offseason.
With the Phillies looking like they're out of the playoff hunt, they could look to sell off Cliff Lee. The southpaw has been dealing with an elbow strain that has sidelined him for the past month, though he should be back by the All-Star break. With Lee's value dinged by his recent injury, the Phillies may not find now to be the most opportune time to deal their ace, but at this point, he would probably fetch a greater return than if he were dealt in the winter when he would have just one year remaining on his contract before he became a free agent. Lee's market is limited due to his $25 million salary, so the Angels' financial prowess could give them an upper hand in the Lee sweepstakes.
Trade Likelihood: Moderate
As I wrote yesterday, one motivation for the Angels acquiring another starter would be to move Santiago back to the bullpen full-time. Santiago, a southpaw, would help the Angels fill what is probably their biggest hole: left-handed relief pitching.
The Angels are currently without a left-handed reliever on their 25-man roster after losing Brian Moran and Sean Burnett to season-ending injuries, and as ESPN's Jayson Stark reported, the club is actively searching for one to add. As MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez noted last month, the Angels could target a number of strong left-handers including Baltimore's Troy Patton, Philadelphia's Antonio Bastardo, and Cincinnati's Sean Marshall. Chris Cotillo also speculates that Boston's Andrew Miller and Arizona's Joe Thatcher could be options.
Cleveland's Josh Outman probably has the strongest likelihood of ending up in Anaheim, as he was designated for assignment earlier this week. Lefties have hit just .180 against Outman this season, so he would be a perfect LOOGY in an Angels' bullpen that currently lacks one.
With Ernesto Frieri imploding and Mike Scioscia's unwillingness to turn to Mike Morin or Joe Smith in the ninth, the Angels could also explore the market for a closer. The Padres' Huston Street, who has a 1.00 ERA with 19 saves in 27 innings, could be an option in that scenario.
Overall, the Angels' bullpen has been disastrous this season. With a 4.34 ERA, they have the sixth worst tally in the majors in that category, and their FIP isn't much better at 4.20. If the team's bullpen had been merely average up to this point, there is a strong possibility that they could be within a game or two of Oakland. I'd be shocked to see the Angels not make some sort of move to add to their struggling bullpen.
Trade Likelihood: High
Pieces to Deal
The Angels have a notoriously barren system that will drop a wrench in any trade discussions attempted over the next month and a half. However, they still have a few pieces worth keeping an eye on.
MLB trade deadline is July 31st
.275/.302/.461 (106 plate appearances), 3 HR, 15 RBIs, 116 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR
Cron has been a pleasant surprise for the Angels this season, though his performance still hasn't been enough for Scioscia to play him over the struggling Ibanez.
A 2011 first round pick and one of the Angels' top prospects entering the year, Cron has hit at every level he has played at. After slugging .319/.369/.602 in 122 Triple-A plate appearances to open the season, Cron joined the Angels in early May, and has continued to hit, though he still lacks the ability to take a walk. With a 115 OPS+ through his first 33 games, Cron is clearly one of the better offensive options on the Angels, and is also the youngest position player on the roster not named Mike Trout.
The Angels could really use Cron now, and in the future, but he is a valuable trade chip that may be necessary to consummate a deal for a starter.
Trade Likelihood: Low
The closest thing the Angels have to depth at any position in the organization is at second base. While Howie Kendrick appears likely to stay put now that the team is contending, the Angels still have a pair of two-baggers that should garner significant consideration in any deal this summer.
The 22-year-old Taylor Lindsey was cited by multiple publications as the Angels' top prospect entering the season, with Baseball America even including him in their annual top 100 prospect list at number 93 overall. Lindsey is well regarded for a plus hit tool that appears to be the attribute that should carry him to the majors, potentially as a first division starter. Unfortunately, after posting a .780 OPS in Double-A last year, Lindsey has struggled to figure things out at Triple-A. In 255 plate appearances, Lindsey has hit just .233/.324/.368, showing an increase in his walk rate, but not making nearly enough contact for a guy who's entire future depends on how much he hits. Of course, Lindsey's .245 BABIP is well below average, so that could at least partially explain some of his troubles.
Not as well known or as highly regarded as Lindsey, Alex Yarbrough offers much of the same characteristics as his Triple-A counterpart, relying solely on an above-average hit tool. Taking over for Lindsey at Double-A, the 22-year-old Yarbrough has fared quite well, hitting .296/.331/.440 with 32 extra-base hits in 306 plate appearances. A 2012 fourth round pick, Yarbrough could be a nice get for a team looking for someone capable of being a league average second baseman for the next half decade or so.
Trade Likelihood: Moderate
The Angels have a system full of weaknesses, and pitching is certainly one of them, though they did add quite a bit in the draft earlier this month (draftees aren't eligible to be traded until a year after signing, so the 2014 class is off limits).
The Angels don't have any elite pitching prospects, and their highest upside arms, such as Hunter Green, Keynan Middleton, and Ricardo Sanchez probably won't be moved. Still, they have some intriguing names in guys like Mark Sappington, Austin Wood, Nate Smith, and Kyle McGowin, the latter of whom had a 2.93 ERA in the hitter's haven California League before his recent promotion to Double-A.
None of the Angels' young arms will be anything more than an accessory in any deal not for a reliever, but there is a good chance at least one of them is pitching for a new organization come August 1st.