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Scioscia places more value in on-field chemistry

Upbeat clubhouse is nice, but Angels skipper seeks right mix when it counts @LyleMSpencer

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- All summer long and now into winter, we've heard the Boston Red Sox and their nation rave on about the power of upbeat, uplifting chemistry in transforming a dismal 2012 operation into a World Series champion one year later.

With all sincere respect to the Red Sox and all the other teams that have carried vibrant vibes to October celebrations, Angels manager Mike Scioscia is of the view that clubhouse chemistry can be vastly overrated in relation to the brand found on the field.

"I've been part of it as a player," Scioscia said on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. "I've been part of totally dysfunctional clubhouses that win championships.

"There are a lot of examples of different variations of things in the clubhouses that are really neither here nor there as to what [goes into] the on-field chemistry -- the pitcher-catcher relationship, the defensive chemistry. That's what wins games, and that's what you want to put your heart and soul into."

As a young catcher in the Dodgers' organization in the late 1970s and into the '80s, Scioscia was part of clubs that managed to win -- and win big -- amid untold internal strife. There were stars with undisguised disdain for each other, and yet, when it was time to function between the lines, they formed a seamless unit.

Chemistry in all forms is a relevant issue as the Angels continue to change the faces and heartbeat of a franchise looking to end a four-year postseason drought.

Already this offseason, third baseman David Freese, relievers Joe Smith and Fernando Salas, and starters Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs have been imported. The acquisition of another starting pitcher via free agency is a distinct possibility, giving the 22-year-old Skaggs a little more time to develop.

Two more familiar names have been detached this offseason, with Mark Trumbo heading to Arizona and Peter Bourjos moving to St. Louis in deals designed to fill voids in the rotation and at third base. Randal Grichuk, taken a pick ahead of Mike Trout in the Angels' brilliant 2009 First-Year Player Draft, joins Bourjos with the Cardinals.

Only four players -- pitchers Jered Weaver and Kevin Jepsen, shortstop Erick Aybar and second baseman Howie Kendrick -- remain from the super 2009 outfit that claimed a third consecutive American League West title.

For five years, the emotional force and most prominent clubhouse figure was Torii Hunter, now encamped for a second season in Detroit. But he wasn't alone is driving the club; strong, vocal leadership came from a number of lockers. Trumbo was evolving into that kind of presence.

By virtue of stature, leadership roles fall to Albert Pujols, coming back from a debilitating foot injury, and Josh Hamilton, looking to rebound from a disappointing debut season in Southern California.

Freese, who enjoyed an October in 2011 for his hometown Cardinals that stands among the best in history, has the profile to take on an active clubhouse role.

"You never go into a season not paying attention, not wanting good clubhouse chemistry," Scioscia said. "For the most part we have that. That pales in comparison to the on-field chemistry that wins you games. You need mentoring, you need leadership, a lot of things in the clubhouse.

"There's the exception where you have the bad clubhouse chemistry and still win. Usually that's a cure-all for any rough edges that might happen in the clubhouse, but I don't think it's critical, I really don't."

What he does consider critical is top-shelf pitching, something the Angels did not have in 2013. Their rotation wasn't good, and the bullpen was a little worse.

Weaver and C.J. Wilson are proven starters of championship quality. Garrett Richards, Santiago and Skaggs have the potential to fill out the rotation nicely, but general manager Jerry Dipoto has made it clear he's investigating all avenues leading to established arms.

"Our deficiencies, I think, were very evident, probably for the last couple of years on the pitching side," Scioscia said.

Angels starters were 17th in the Majors in total innings pitched, placing severe stress on a bullpen that yielded the fourth-highest ERA (4.12) in baseball.

Closer Ernesto Frieri will welcome the arrival of Smith, who allowed only five of 23 inherited runners to score for the Indians and had 25 holds in 70 appearances. Salas, hoping at 28 to regain his fine 2011 form, joins holdovers Sean Burnett, Dane De La Rosa, Michael Kohn and Jepsen in a bullpen that figures to be improved.

Scioscia is optimistic that Pujols and Hamilton will return to All-Star levels and needs no convincing that Trout will continue to show why he's the game's best all-around player -- whether he bats first, second or third.

Of Pujols, Scioscia said, "I'm going to be really surprised if he's not the healthiest he's been in a number of years." And Hamilton? "Josh is going to have a big year for us."

About Trout there is no doubt. The only question: How much higher he can fly?

Scioscia is taking heart in how the Red Sox strong-armed their way past 2012 to a glorious 2013.

"I think what Boston did is a great indication," Scioscia said. "I think we have the same potential to hopefully do what they did."

Nothing promotes great chemistry, the man submits with a smile, like winning.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim