Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Money Can't Buy You Happiness....Or Wins

We saw this last year.  The Angels spent a boatload of money in the offseason to bring the best of the best to town.  They made the free agent splash once again this offseason.  They had the same exact record through seven games (2-5) and panic was starting to set in when the 2012 Angels ended April with an 8-15 record.  Then the phenom Mike Trout came.  The Angels season went from complete disaster to sixteen games over five hundred seemingly overnight.  The goal was not me, however.  When you spend big like the Angels have then you have lofty expectations.  When the division is won by a team with almost 1/3 the payroll as them ($154 million compared to $55 million) in the Oakland A's.  Will this year breed the same results?

The Angels salaries are very top heavy.  They only have four players who make more than ten million dollars in 2013.  Those four all make over fifteen, though, and two of them make twenty-five million.  Their highest paid player (Albert Pujols) is starting off the season just above the Mendoza line in terms of average.  It does seems like teams are pitching around him (nine walks in seven games) so he hasn't had many pitches to hit.  Unfortunately for the Angels they are doing it to get to their second highest paid player.  It sounds like a good problem to have, but it isn't when he is hitting .138 and has no home runs.  In the seven games in which they played, Josh Hamilton has only recorded hits in two of them.  $25 million doesn't buy you what it used to.  The Angels as a team are ranked 21st in the majors in runs.  This team was expected to lead the league, by a lot.

The next two highest paid players are both pitchers.  Well will start with last year's big signing, CJ Wilson.  He was absolutely awful in the second half of last season and had to get offseason elbow surgery to fix his issues.  It hasn't seemed to work out very well.  Wilson is sporting an ERA of 5.25 through his first two starts.  It may not have looked as bad as it seems.  He still has eleven strikeouts in those two starts.  His batting average against is only .234.  Then the other side shows that he is leading the American League in walks and has allowed a home run in every start.  The fact of the matter is they are paying him 15.5 million per season, and they expect more than they have been getting.

Then there is one of the most reliable pitchers in all of baseball, Jered Weaver.  He is worth every penny of the $17 million he gets every season.  He has made thirty starts five seasons in a row and in the last three he has posted a notch above 1 WHIP.  That is a model of consistency that the Angels rotation needs right now.  Too bad Weaver broke his non-pitching elbow on Sunday (also gave up five runs, bad day at the office).  Weaver will miss a minumum of a month, but most likely six weeks of action.  This is the worst news that LA could have heard.  Weaver is arguably the most important player on the roster.  The Angels lost Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana in the offseason.  They brought in Tommy Hanson (still some questions on why the Braves gave up on a 26-year-old fireballer) and Jason Vargas (was most likely helped by the cavernous Safeco Field).  Joe Blanton also came over from the Phillies (a fifth starter in the National League won't bode well in the American League).  The replacements they brought in do not even come close to the talent that they lost.  The rotation doesn't look like a playoff contender without Jered Weaver being their ace.

Who is going to replace Weaver?  Well they have the choice of Garrett Richard and hoping he continues his excellence that he showed off in the spring, or (gulp) Jerome Williams.  He makes you cringe just thinking about him making six weeks of starts.  There was a point in last season in which Williams lost five starts in a row and allowed 5, 5, 4, 5, and 5 runs in those starts.  Basically, the Angels need Weaver to make a remarkable recovery and work on the fact that his fastball is averaging under 86 MPH. 

The Angels have such a high payroll, we can't possibly care so much about these four players.  Then you look deeper into the team.  Trout seems to be a little hurt by the joke of a contract he was offered by his team.  He only has one RBI on the entire season.  A .281 batting average also won't be acceptable coming from the leadoff spot.  What is more alarming is he has not fixed his one true weakness, strikeouts.  Trout struck out 139 times in 2012, about one time per game.  He already has struck out nine times in the first seven games.  This is an trend that he needs to work on if he is going to continue to be the Angels lead off man.  Trout took the league by storm last year and he is the future of baseball, if he can handle the pressure of it all. 

Is it too early to panic?  Definitely, but it isn't too early to speculate.  This Angels team needs to get off to a good start.  They saw how hard it is to dig out of a deep hole like they had to last year.  If they even started the season as a .500 team then they would have made the playoffs.  So when people say it is way too early to panic, I understand why.  Take this into account, the games in April matter as much as the games in August and September.  There is no Mike Trout coming up from the minors this year to revitalize this team.  They have to do something to turn it around.  This team was meant to lead the league in most categories, and unless they get away from that 20th in the league range that they have been flirting with then they will be right where they were last year.  Hopefully Hamilton wakes up and starts hitting again.  Hopefully Trout proves that he is bigger than a sophomore slump.  Hopefully Pujols will get some pitches to hit.  Hopefully the rotation can survive six weeks without Weaver.  Hopefully they can start getting clutch hits when they need them.  That's all the Angels have right now, hope, because the facts do not look good.

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