Angels ready to compete in tough AL West
Do Angels have enough to get back to the postseason in 2016?
ANAHEIM -- Spring Training begins 50 days from Wednesday, the day before New Year's Eve, and the Angels seemingly still have some work to do.
Left field and second base are still a concern, as is the overall strength of the rotation and bullpen -- and that doesn't even begin to address a barren farm system. Those issues are heightened when considering how much stronger the American League West should be this coming season. But an already bloated payroll is nearly maxed out, and alternative options are hard to come by.
With that in mind, here are the top five questions facing the Angels as they enter 2016.
1. Is this it for left field?
The Angels have so far tried to solve their left-field problem in bulk, signing three guys to inexpensive one-year contracts (Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry and Rafael Ortega), claiming another off waivers (Todd Cunningham), and adding two others on Minor League deals (Quintin Berry and Nick Buss). Gentry (a right-handed hitter who fares better against lefties) and Nava (a switch-hitter who does better against righties) appear to be locked in a left-field platoon, with Cunningham (out of options, just like Gentry and Nava) looking primed to be the fourth outfielder.
But is that good enough? The Angels got only a .592 OPS from their left fielders last season, tied for the fourth-lowest mark in Major League history, and there doesn't seem to be much money left to attack the issue further. Angels owner Arte Moreno recently told reporters the team is about $4 million below the $189 million luxury-tax threshold -- their spending limit the last few years -- and that they'd "probably be out" on big-name free agents like Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton. If that's the case, can they still find a way to score runs more consistently?
2. What becomes of Pujols?
A significant number of years and dollars remain on Albert Pujols' contract, but whether the Angels receive the elite production they're paying for remains a legitimate concern. Pujols is owed $165 million over the next six years, but is turning 36 in the middle of January and is coming off surgery to alleviate pain near the arch of his right foot, a procedure that has him questionable for Opening Day.
Pujols' timeline isn't necessarily the issue; it's the production he'll be able to provide once he returns.
The star first baseman is already a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he's also dealt with a litany of lower-body issues that continue to affect his offseason workout regimen and hinder his production. Pujols belted 40 home runs and made the All-Star team last season, feats he hadn't accomplished in five years. But he also finished with a .240 batting average and a .307 on-base percentage. The Angels' offense will need more than that.
3. Does Giavotella return?
The scrappy, undersized Johnny Giavotella proved to be a sparkplug for the Angels last season. He was acquired from the Royals for Brian Broderick, a pitcher the Angels had just signed out of the Mexican League, then locked down the starting job in Spring Training and wound up batting a respectable .272/.318/.375, going 11-for-30 over the final 10 games after a bout with fourth nerve palsy.
Giavotella's bat isn't the problem; it's his defense.
The 28-year-old posted a minus-12 Defensive Runs Saved score (tied for last among qualified second basemen), a minus-7.2 Ultimate Zone Rating (second-to-last) and committed 12 errors (fourth most at his position). The Angels were previously in talks for veteran second basemen Chase Utley and Neil Walker, but both went elsewhere. They could still use one of their starting pitchers for help.
4. Is the rotation good enough?
General Manager Billy Eppler has expressed hesitancy to part with his starting-pitching depth because he feels he may need it all. The Angels currently have eight Major League-ready starters for next season, a gift left over from ex-GM Jerry Dipoto. Some outsiders believe they lack a true ace, but the Angels -- who turned away from a starting-pitching-rich free-agent market headlined by David Price, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto -- believe they already have one in Garrett Richards.
Around him, though, there are questions.
Jered Weaver has steadily declined and is coming off his worst season; C.J. Wilson, whom they could still trade for some savings, is recovering from a procedure to remove loose bodies from his pitching elbow; Tyler Skaggs is coming off Tommy John surgery; Hector Santiago has walked four batters per nine innings throughout his career; Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano are varying degrees of unproven; and Matt Shoemaker was sluggish in his sophomore season.
5. Can the Angels keep up?
The Astros are coming off their first playoff berth in 10 years, boast an upward-trending young nucleus and just added the electric Ken Giles to the back end of their bullpen. The Rangers, reigning AL West champs, have a loaded lineup and will benefit from the return of Yu Darvish, who joins Cole Hamels to make up a solid rotation. And under Dipoto, the Mariners have made a plethora of moves, signing Nori Aoki and Steve Cishek, bringing back Hisashi Iwakuma, and trading for the likes of Adam Lind, Leonys Martin, Wade Miley and Joaquin Benoit.
Where does that leave the Angels?
They're only two years removed from a 98-win season, still employ the game's best all-around player in Mike Trout and seem to have a nice mix of big-name veterans and up-and-coming stars. But depth -- make that quality depth -- remains the issue. In the bullpen, is there enough beyond Huston Street and Joe Smith? In the lineup, can others outside of Trout, Pujols and Kole Calhoun step up? And in the rotation, do those beyond Richards have what it takes? The AL West is stronger, with the young A's also capable. The Angels will have their hands full.