Behold, the fool saith, “Put not all thine eggs in the one basket” – which is but a manner of saying, “Scatter your money and your attention”; but the wise man saith, “Put all your eggs in the one basket and – WATCH THAT BASKET“.

-Mark Twain,  Pudd’nhead Wilson, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar, Chap. 15

If any team has taken this quote to its ultimate conclusion, it’s the Angels. Their eggs are in a Trout-shaped basket, no matter how much treasure has been spent on Albert Pujols. Mike Trout is essentially his own category on the team, leading all Angels in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, and walks. As the only player who didn’t get a chance to drive in Trout, he missed out on the lead for RBI (five behind Pujols) and his 11 steals trailed Erick Aybar by four. With an MVP award and three second-place finishes in his four full years in the majors, Trout is all the eggs and might just be the basket too. Sure, trading the superstar in the next few years as the team around him declines would bring back a massive haul, but would any team with that kind of prospect package also want to put all their eggs in one basket?

LAA Record wRC+ SP ERA- RP ERA- DRS UZR BsR Pay – $M
2013 .481 (17) 109 (3) 114 (24)  109 (26)  -63 (27)  -3 (19) -10 (25) 130 (8)
2014 .605 (1)  110 (3) 100 (14)  97 (17) -16 (20) 26 (7) 2 (12) 168 (6)
2015 .525 (11)  96 (15) 105 (17) 101 (22)  3 (15) 14 (9) 0 (18) 151 (8)

 

“The World Series Defense”

This year Trout will be flanked in the outfield by a combination of Daniel Nava and Kole Calhoun.

Nava, who began his career in the majors with a first-pitch grand slam, is coming off a miserable season: .194/.315/.245. Granted, this was over just 60 games, but a corner outfielder/first baseman who doesn’t hit for power and didn’t get on base last year might be too much of a stretch for Anaheim to rely on. In the mix with him as a platoon partner: former Rangers and Athletics outfielder Craig Gentry. Gentry looked to be coming into his own in 2012-13 with a pair of .759 OPS seasons, getting on base at a .370 clip, and stealing almost 20 bags a year. His time in Oakland was much less successful but as he collects AL West teams, at least the ballparks and competition are somewhat familiar.

Kole Calhoun has been something of a revelation in his modest success. Coming off a .256/.308/.422 season that saw him spend the majority of his time batting first or second though illustrates the other problem facing the Angels: a misallocation of resources. Calhoun is a useful player but as one who doesn’t hit for a particularly high average and also doesn’t draw walks, he’ll end up struggling to contribute at the top of the order. Calhoun may be an interesting case of start-of-game success making him appear more productive than he is several at bats into a game. When he led off a game, which he did 49 times, Calhoun hit .267/.327/.467. He also hit three home runs to being games. Just like people place more weight on games in April and September, when the sample is small enough to change rapidly or the pressure to finish strong is adding focus, Calhoun might get the benefit of the doubt with his early at bats sticking in the mind of his manager.

Albert Pujols is recovering from offseason foot surgery and is expected to begin the season on the DL. Pujols was an All-Star again after a four-year absence from the game but much of his bounceback, 40-homer campaign was a tale of two halfs: first (.269/.329/.505, 26 homers) and second (.220/.285/.419, 14 homers). C.J. Cron and Daniel Nava might come closer to replacing Pujols than anyone would have believed when he signed with the Angels.

If Pujols misses time, besides Nava, he’d be replaced by C.J. Cron. Still just 26, Cron has averaged 23 homers over 162 games – he’s played 192 in the majors so far. Cron doesn’t walk much but the power is legit.

After a 19 home run campaign in 2013, Andrelton Simmons has homered 11 times in two seasons combined. And that’s fine. His defense will come with him to California and that’s where his value lies. And according to Baseball Reference, his nickname is Simba, now playing in the shadows of Disney.

Johnny Giavotella finally got his chance to play everyday and did so in the magical age-27 season. Hitting .272/.318/.375 as someone hyped for his bat took some of the magic away. #FreeGiavotella isn’t irrelevant, but the payoff wasn’t there in 2015.

The Angels acquired Yunel Escobar (.314/.375/.415) from the Nationals to take over third base, but there’s still the slim chance of bringing back David Freese at a bargain rate and moving Escobar to second.

The catching duo is slated to be Carlos Perez and Geovany Soto. Perez will be just 25 in 2016 and had a .645 OPS in 283 PAs last year. Soto plays the part of the veteran at 33; his 2008 season is far in the past but double digit homers could be a ray of light breaking through the clouds.

LA’s farm is notoriously barren, but one of the few remaining prospects is a catcher with the unlikely name of Jett Bandy. His defense may be smooth enough to please even Mike Scioscia, while maybe even adding some offense to the mix.

“The Gang Solves the Trash Crisis”

Jered Weaver and the pitching staff, as well as the Angels’ fortunes, have gone hand-in-hand downhill. Weaver blew people away in 2010 and since then has been in a strikeout spiral. In 159 innings last year he struck out just 90. Entering his age-33 season, trying to bounce back from injury in the final year of his deal, the Dream Weaver will need to stave off the dark clouds a little longer to keep his career going.

C.J. Wilson: entering age-35 season, battling injuries, struggling to keep the strikeouts near his career average. Didn’t we just leave this party?

That’s where the sun comes out.

Garrett Richards’ 2014 was cut short due to a freak injury and he pretty much bounced back in 2015 with a 103+ ERA in 32 starts. He won’t turn 28 until the end of May and is the ace of the staff these days. And he’s got a little help.

Hector Santiago allowed the most home runs in the American League last year – 29 – nearly doubling his total from 2014. If he can keep the balls from resembling a hailstorm in the bleachers, he might be able to hold off the up-and-comers for a little longer. Otherwise, he can go back to a swing role, or be used as one of the team’s few trade chips.

Andrew Heaney, acquired for Howie Kendrick prior to the 2015 season, had a fine debut with a 3.49 ERA, 17.8% strikeout rate, and a bit more success against fellow southpaws than righties. His 2015 wasn’t without some struggles, but he’s set up to build on it.

Matt Shoemaker gave up five or more runs six times last season and those blowup starts earned him a demotion to the minors. He also struck out 10 batters three times. If he can avoid the meltdowns he’ll stick in the rotation. Otherwise…

Tyler Skaggs, who was drafted by the Angels in 2009, traded to the Diamondbacks in a package for  for Dan Haren the next year, and then reacquired in 2013 was 181 innings into his major league career (113 with the Angels) when Tommy John surgery ended his 2014 and wiped out all of 2015. He’ll be fighting to join the rotation all year like sun poking through the clouds.

Former Astro farmhand Nick Tropeano is less than 60 innings into his big league career. He showed last year that his mid-90s stuff, when the changeup and slider are working too, make him a player to watch this year.

Huston Street has had surprising longevity as a closer. Debuting in the ninth at 21, just a year out of college, he’s saved 315 games in eleven years four four teams. Street isn’t alone: Joe Smith appeared in at least 70 games for the fifth straight year, struck out around 20% of batters and walked about 7%. Year-in, year-out he’s predictable.

The Angels have high hopes for 24-year-old Cam Bedrosian (son of Steve) in the pen. He has a mid-’90s fastball along with a slider and cutter, but his 5+ BB/9 rate in a brief stint last year didn’t do much to quell control concerns.

For a brief time this week, it looked like the Angels were going to acquire LF Michael Saunders for a prospect in a three-team deal that would send Jay Bruce to the Blue Jays. Saunders had a lost year in 2015, but in the three prior seasons he averaged .248/.320/.423 with 13 each of homers and steals. With a career OPS+ of just 93, you almost wonder why they didn’t just ask for Jay Bruce straight up if they were the team sending the prospect?  He’s a fine player when healthy, but it brings about another issue: the Angels farm system is weak. As the team builds around Trout as best as it can, it reenacts the plot of The Giving Tree and sooner or later Arte Moreno is going to find his GM sitting on a stump just watching the game play out.

This year, the Angels have their fourth GM in the Scioscia era: Billy Eppler by way of the Yankees. Current Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto cleared his desk in Anaheim after a mid-season clash with Scioscia, despite the peacemaking efforts of a hapless Arte Moreno. But while the old-fashioned Scioscia will be around through 2018, Moreno opted to stick with the trend of young saber-savvy execs and brought on San Diego native Eppler (Dipoto’s right-hand man Matt Klentak was an internal option before he left for Philadelphia).

While Scioscia’s tragic illness may have made us smile, Angel fans have become reluctant to give him much credit for the team’s 2002 World Series and run of success in the years thereafter. Former bench coach Joe Maddon’s current reputation as one of the game’s best managers hasn’t helped, but there is some solace in seeing two former assistant coaches back in the fold: Ron Roenicke is the new third base coach, and Bud Black takes on a special assistant role in the front office. Yet the biggest cause for celebration may have been the release of pitching coach Mike Butcher, who once raised the ire of fans by downplaying the struggles of his charges, insisting that he slept “like a baby at night.” He goes to Arizona to handle Zack Greinke, while Charles Nagy takes over in Anaheim.

Team forecast: Partly cloudy with scattered showers. 83-79. The Mike Scioscia Angels are gone. Chone Figgins isn’t being proto-Ben Zobrist. A GM had to depart because the manager may be seen as the most important part of the baseball product. The Angels are talented, but it’s all in a few players. They’re injury prone given the guys making up their roster. There’s not much help in the minors to promote or trade for reinforcements. Can they make the playoffs? Well, Bryce Harper almost dragged the Nationals into the postseason last year and Mike Trout could do the same.

Check out Effectively Wild‘s season previews and the schedule of our own companion previews.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

2013-15 team stats via FanGraphs. Salaries via Spotrac.

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