Angels do not need an overhaul this offseason
Tinkering, not big free-agent splashes, could put club into playoff contention
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are ready to slip into baseball's wintertime background. The past two offseasons, they have been on center stage.
They emerged as the dark horse in the bidding for Albert Pujols and ended up signing him to a 10-year, $240 million deal two years ago, then also inked C.J. Wilson to a five-year, $77 million contract.
They came up short in the bidding for Zack Greinke last winter, but wound up singing Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million deal.
The free-agent splashes pumped up the payroll, but there was no on-field payoff. The Angels finished third in the American League West both seasons, leaving them without a playoff appearance in the past four seasons.
The Halos have now decided it's time to step back, take a deep breath and spend the offseason patching holes and focusing on stability. They are avoiding overreacting to the failures of the past two years, but it is not being ignored, either.
"There is always a frustration when expectations are not met," said general manager Jerry Dipoto. "We feel we have a lot of talent. We might not be as big a story [in the offseason], but in 2014, we have even higher expectations of ourselves."
There is a financial factor involved in the Angels' slowdown. They have $126.5 million already committed in payroll, and that covers only nine members of the projected 25-man roster and $18.6 million of the $21 million salary owed to Vernon Wells, who the Halos dealt last season to the New York Yankees.
That's more than the Opening Day payroll of 22 big league teams in 2013.
"There is not a lot of wiggle room," Dipoto admitted. "We are going to address smaller needs. We are going to look at what we might be able to do [in the trade market] for pitching without pulling our offense apart."
Just as big a factor, however, is to create a sense of calm among a team that, over the past two years, has been in a bit of upheaval by the free-agent raiding and then the constant scrutiny that came with the inability to meet on-field expectation. And there has been media speculation about the relationship of Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia, whose personalities are in stark contrast.
"It is important this winter to create a feeling of stability," said Dipoto. "We are changing the atmosphere. We have made a couple personnel changes with the Major League staff."
Don Baylor, a veteran big league manager and coach who, as a player, helped the Angels win a division title for the first time in franchise history as the 1979 AL MVP Award winner, has returned to Anaheim as the team's hitting coach. Gary DiSarcina, a shortstop with the Halos from 1992-2000 and a special assistant to the GM in 2011 and '12, has rejoined the franchise as its third-base coach.
"Don is one of the more important additions," said Dipoto, who was a reliever in Colorado, where Baylor was his manager. "There is a presence about him. There is a huge benefit to having someone with that kind of a clubhouse presence being a member of the coaching staff."
The clubhouse personnel has been altered and the clubhouse itself is being remodeled.
"We have one of the oldest stadiums and felt it needed a makeover, a different look, a different feeling," said Dipoto.
Now comes the challenge, though. The Angels may not be looking to grab the banner headlines with their offseason roster moves, but Dipoto knows there is work to be done without breaking up a core he feels provides a foundation to use for building a championship team.
"We have 15 guys that put us in a very good position," said Dipoto. "We have to solidify the back of our rotation and we needed to create bullpen depth."
The lineup? Mike Trout is one of the most exciting players in the game. Mark Trumbo has an impact bat. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar provided versatility in the order. But more than anything, the Halos need those big-name free-agent additions of the past two offseasons -- Hamilton and Pujols -- to rebound from subpar efforts.
Hamilton made his Angels debut by appearing in 151 games and hitting .250 with 21 home runs and 79 RBIs -- well below the expectations built off his success the five previous years in Texas. Despite being limited to 89 games because of injuries in 2009, Hamilton's five-year ledger with the Rangers included a .305 average with 142 home runs and 506 RBIs. In his four healthy seasons there, Hamilton hit at a .311 clip and averaged 33 home runs and 113 RBIs.
Pujols, meanwhile, played in only 99 games last season, and he has hit just 47 home runs in two seasons with the Angels. He hit 40 or more home runs in six of his final nine seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, and he drove in at least 100 runs in each of his first 10 seasons before picking up 99 RBIs in 2011 -- his final year with the Redbirds.
"We are adjusting our program for the spring to see if we can get going earlier [in the regular season]," said Dipoto. "I do believe in the talent combination we have."
The focus is the rotation.
Wilson and Jered Weaver are a strong 1-2 punch, but they need a strong support crew. The Angels' rotation ranked 11th in the AL with a 4.30 ERA last year. Wilson and Weaver were a combined 28-15. The nine other pitchers who started games for the Halos were a combined 30-42. Wilson was the only pitcher who worked the 162 innings necessary to qualify for the ERA title, which put an excessive load on the bullpen.
The structure is there. There is no need for a winter makeover.
However, the Angels do have to find the finishing touches to make a title run.