The soon to be 90 loss season the Angels are enduring is the bill due for almost a full decade of a half decade spent trying to prop up a perfectly decent team and turn it into a playoff one with free agent acquisitions and trading prospects. That only worked in 2014, when Los Angeles was swept out of the division round.
Other than that, the Angels have been resigned to also-ran status. Now, the non-Mike Trout core of that club has collapsed because of age and injuries, and the results aren’t pretty.
When it was over:
Given the extent of their injury problems in the starting rotation, and the limited effect a single player can have on the course of a season, it’s probably too simple to say “When Garrett Richards got hurt,” but I’m still going to say “When Garrett Richards got hurt.”
Richards started 2016 strong with a 2.35 ERA through the end of April, but had to leave after the fourth inning of his sixth start of the year. The diagnosis, a torn ulnar collateral ligament, was devastating to a club that had hung around .500 for the first month of the year. After winning that contest against the Rangers, the Angels lost eight of their next nine games, putting them in a hole from which they’d never recover.
It’s sad because, as the season progressed and Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs returned, the Angels could have gotten a lot better. Although ultimately the injuries to C.J. Wilson, Nick Tropeano, Andrew Heany, and Huston Street also would have probably sunk them anyway.
The good news, however, is that Richards has bounced back incredibly well from stem cell injections after electing not to undergo surgery. He should be throwing off a mound by the end of the month and is on track to be ready for Spring Training, assuming there are no further complications, and Richards, Shoemaker, and Skaggs will make a fine top three in the starting rotation.
What went well:
If there were any justice in the world, Mike Trout would win the AL MVP for again standing head and shoulders above the rest of baseball with his .318/.438/.555 performance. He walked 104 times, and still homered 27 times and swiped 26 bases while playing excellent defense. Despite only being 24 years old and playing just five full seasons, Trout has already essentially been as valuable as Hall of Famer outfielders Ralph Kiner, Earl Averill, Jim Rice, Kiki Cuyler, Heine Manush, Lou Brock, Edd Roush, and Chuck Klein. He’s a remarkable phenom, and every moment we get to watch him is a gift.
The trades made by new GM Billy Eppler this offseason were both uniformly a success, and the one he made at the deadline looks pretty good at the moment too. Yunel Escobar, acquired for a couple of young pitchers, hit .309/.360/.395 and played a good third base. He’s under contract for 2017 as well. And Andrelton Simmons recovered from his poor start and injuries to have the best offensive year of his career, hitting .283/.324/.371 while still providing fantastic defense. Meanwhile, the pitchers used to acquire him had decidedly mixed results in 2016, while Erick Aybar suffered through a truly atrocious campaign. And, taking advantage of the Minnesota Twins’ desperation to be rid of Ricky Nolasco, Eppler managed to get Alex Meyer included in a trade for Hector Santiago. Both Nolasco and Meyer have been solid in their short stints as Angels, but if they can keep it up, the Halos have a nice looking rotation for 2017 already.
Obviously, that didn’t do much to help the Angels this year. But once the club is past its commitments to guys like Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Josh Hamilton, and the handcuffs are taken off, Eppler’s limited success bodes well for the Angels down the road.
A second opinion:
When the dust settles, this will probably be the Halos’ worst season since 1980, and the maddening part, for those that would welcome such a disaster if it prompted some meaningful personnel changes, is that this 2016 baseball nightmare will change nothing. Why? In a word, injuries. Most of the rotation, their two best relievers, the stud shortstop, the surging young first baseman, and more…all were sidelined for weeks, some done for the year, some are on the shelf until 2018.
This should have been the season when the front office is forced to make some big changes. Instead, they have legit excuses for inaction. These are the times that try Angels fans’ souls. We’ll tell ourselves that they can right the ship in 2017, but deep down, this franchise isn’t going to have a shot til Opening Day 2018. That’s roughly 561 days from now, give or take a day or two…but who’s counting?
What’s in the future:
Probably another season or two of pain is in the offing for Angels fans. There simply isn’t enough on the farm to fill the holes this team has at catcher, left field, and second base. And while Mike Trout is a power unto himself, and Simmons is a very good player, no one else in the starting lineup has the ability to be more than just a solidly average contributor. In other words, the club lacks the upside right now that it’s going to need to pull itself out of this nosedive. The good news is they have another four years with Mike Trout. The bad news is he’s going to start to get paid a lot closer to what he’s actually worth, meaning they’ve wasted the years they had more room to build around him.
This offseason, expect more minor free agent signings and low-risk, high-upside gambits as the Angels wait for Josh Hamilton to come off the books, and for a couple of trades to fill the gaping holes the team has on the field, but nothing that’s going to compromise their long-term health any further.