Inbox: What's the most intriguing spring storyline?
Beat reporter Alden Gonzalez answers Angels fans' questions
It may seem trivial, but one of the ways Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto likes to illustrate the organization's balance is by pointing out that the Angels have 20 pitchers and 20 position players on the 40-man roster, and are inviting 31 pitchers and 31 position players to Spring Training.
Here's another way of looking at it: Twenty of the players on the 40-man roster have been added in a 15-month stretch since the end of the 2013 season, with 17 of them coming over via trade. And 31 of the 62 invitees reported to Spring Training for other teams, or were still in college, just last season.
That's a lot of movement for an organization that's concluding its second straight under-the-radar offseason. Dipoto did a lot of work to help the Angels make a 20-win improvement last year and is hoping for similar success in 2015. Before that quest begins anew, we tackled some of your questions.
What do you think will be the most intriguing Spring Training storyline?
-- Austin D., Long Beach, Calif.
The recoveries of Garrett Richards (ruptured left patellar tendon) and Josh Hamilton (surgery on his right AC joint) promise to be prominent, ongoing narratives. But it'll be really interesting to see some true competition, and not just for roles off the bench or final bullpen spots. Four guys (Josh Rutledge, Johnny Giavotella, Grant Green and Taylor Featherston) will fight to be the everyday second baseman and at least three guys (Hector Santiago, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano) will compete for the final rotation spot. Both of these are wide open, so it should be fun to see how it unfolds. We didn't really get this last spring.
If Richards is the dominant pitcher coming out of Spring Training, will he be the No. 1 starter?
Spring Training traditions: Early wakeup calls, grainy pictures on Twitter, "B" games and Mike Scioscia refusing to announce his Opening Day starter until the bitter end, even though we all know who it is. This year should be no different. Barring injury, it will likely be Jered Weaver for a franchise-record seventh time (and sixth in a row). Richards, no doubt has the best stuff on the staff and may already be the best on it, but there will be no need to rush him through Spring Training just so he can take the ball on April 6. Besides, Weaver -- coming off an 18-win, 3.59-ERA, 213 1/3-inning season -- has done nothing to suggest he doesn't deserve to be the Opening Day starter.
Help me understand how the Angels did so well in the regular season and so poorly in the playoffs.
-- David W., Laguna Hills, Calif.
Not to brush aside what ended up being a stunning, disappointing finish, but I've always considered baseball's postseason to be pretty random, especially when it comes to the five-game Division Series. Give the Royals credit -- they played incredible defense throughout October, their bullpen was virtually unhittable and they got hits when they needed them. If there's a recipe for postseason success, that's it. But I think clinching the division with two weeks left in the regular season, then trying to ramp the intensity back up in October and running into a team that was playing do-or-die games until the very end ultimately hurt the Angels. It almost looked like the Royals were playing at a different speed.
Do you expect the Angels to repeat?
I expect them to be in the mix, which is really all you can ask for. But I also expect the American League West to be tougher. The Astros have added veteran players to an emerging young core, the Rangers will be healthier, the A's look like just as big a threat as they did 365 days ago and the addition of Nelson Cruz could be the final piece the Mariners needed. I think the Angels' rotation is deeper, I expect the bullpen to be good, and though they may not lead the Majors in runs again, the offense still looks pretty solid.
One thing to keep in mind: The Angels have some payroll flexibility. They're roughly $15 million below the luxury-tax threshold and a lot of ace-caliber starters -- David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, Mat Latos among them -- are heading into their walk year. If the Angels find that they need another arm, or perhaps a second baseman, they may be able to get it in July. And if they do, they'll hope it works out better than the Zack Greinke trade in 2012.
Do you get the sense the Angels are serious about Hector Olivera? Or are they just doing their due diligence?
It's due diligence. Assistant general manager Scott Servais, pro scouting director Hal Morris and international scouting director Carlos Gomez have been moving between Florida and the Dominican Republic the last week or so, watching all the available Cuban players so at the very least they can build a database on this influx of relatively unknown talent coming out of the island. They haven't ruled out anyone, but they aren't aggressive on anyone in particular, either. There's no chance they can compete in the market for Yoan Moncada. And if Olivera -- a 29-year-old infielder -- commands $10 to $12 million a year, as has been projected, he would push the Angels too close to the luxury-tax threshold.
Any word on the stadium situation, or a gut feeling on it?
There haven't really been any new developments on this since late September, when the Angels ended negotiations on the framework of a pre-arranged deal with the city of Anaheim. The Angels are still open to negotiating with Anaheim officials, but remain open to other sites -- most notably Tustin, Calif. -- as well. This could be an important calendar year for this issue. The Angels can opt out of their stadium lease as soon as 2016 and as late as 2019. If not, they stay until 2029. If they want to move into a new ballpark by 2019, they need to get going soon. If renovating Angel Stadium remains their best bet, the stare down must end.