Do the Angels Have Too Many Question Marks?

Offseason activity failed to settle some key questions with the Angels, and with the beginning of spring training, new and serious additional questions have quickly arisen. Added to the lack of health and experience on the starting staff and the lack of talent and ability in left field, fans can now add what appears to be front office concern for the left field situation, more health issues on the mound, and the revelation that Albert Pujols may

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not yet be fully recovered from the plantar fasciitis that again flared up late last season, and which resulted in off-season surgery.

I’ve written before about the problems the Angels have had in finding any reasonable major league talent to play left field, suffering through the past two seasons with sub-par performances from Josh Hamilton, Collin Cowgill, Brennan Boesch, Shane Victorino, David DeJesus, Matt Joyce, and a few
others, and about the poor judgment of potentially starting the 2016 season depending on the likes of Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry to man the position. Well, just a few days into spring training, management has apparently recognized the situation, and attempted another ill-conceived and pleasantly ill-fated move to “bolster” the position. For some unknown reason, GM Billy Eppler and company came to think that Michael Saunders could be the solution to the problem, and they negotiated a three-way trade to acquire the oft-injured, under-achieving 29-year-old outfielder.

Saunders missed almost all of last season due to a knee injury, and over his seven year career in Seattle and Toronto has never reached 60 RBI in a season, only once hit over .247, and has a career average of .230. It seems that his troublesome knee is not fully healed, and that that ended the potential deal. What remains a mystery, though, is why it was Saunders the team was after, as the three-team deal also involved Cincinnati, and would have sent a legitimate power-hitting outfielder, Jay Bruce, to Toronto. Why wouldn’t it be the Angels who are after Bruce, who is a year younger than Saunders and who has averaged 26 home runs over his eight-year career, and not the far less talented,

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and far less desirable, Saunders?

At least the team is trying to find help for their weakest position.

Pujols, who seemingly battles the plantar fasciitis every season, finally underwent surgery, but he waited until November to have it done, and there is a question as to whether or not he’ll be ready to go at the start of the season. Also, for the first time in his career in Anaheim, he appears to be receptive of the reality that he needs to be at first base on no
more than a very limited basis, instead spending the majority of the time as the team’s designated hitter. At 36 and having suffered a series of nagging injuries over the past couple of years, he now realizes that he is of much more help to the team by preserving his health on the bench rather than putting himself at risk playing first base.

As far as the starting rotation is concerned, the team has lots of bodies, but their respective health and consistency remains up in the air. Garrett Richards needs to show that he is the number one guy and that he is fully healthy after last season’s return from his major leg injury in late 2014. The super-talented Andrew Heaney needs to progress and make it known that as he begins his first full season in the majors that he is the number two guy in the rotation. Hector Santiago, who was 7-4 with a 2.30 ERA on July 20, but who lost his next five decisions and finished 9-9 with a 3.59 ERA, needs to prove that he’s the pitcher that started the 2015 season, and not the guy who finished that season.

Talking about comebacks, there is none needed more than one from Matt Shoemaker, who as a rookie in 2014 was 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP, but who, despite the occasional flash of 2014, last year suffered through a 7-10, 4.46 year. And, add to the potential comeback list, one from Tyler Skaggs, who after being re-acquired in the Mark Trumbo deal prior to the 2014 season, was showing his potential after 18 starts when he injured his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery which sidelined him for the 1-1/2 seasons since.

And then, of course, there is C.J. Wilson, the confounding lefty who always seems to be just about ready to show the ability and consistency that the Angels thought they were getting when they signed him to a a five-year, $77.5 million contract before the 2012 season. Wilson was limited to 21 games last season before he underwent elbow surgery in August to remove bone spurs and chips. Now, however, he’s suffered from shoulder

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soreness, diagnosed as tendinitis, and his spring training has been shut down “for a few days”. How many times have we heard that, with the result turning out to be “for the season” or even “forever”?

With so many starters questionable, the Angels need continued improvement from another youngster acquired in a trade before last season, Nick Tropeano. He showed promise in 11 2015 starts and he could end up as an important member of the team’s 2016 rotation.

And finally, there is the team’s unquestioned ace over most of the past decade, Jered Weaver, who is coming off the worst season of his career, the only sub-.500 season he’s ever had, 7-12, and with an ERA of 4.64, almost one and a half runs higher than the lifetime ERA he took into last season. Hopefully Weaver will bounce back and show last year was an aberration, and return to his form of the prior four seasons, over which he posted a combined 67-30 record.

In a division with two strong teams in Houston and the Rangers, plus the possibly improved Mariners, getting back to the playoffs will be no easy task for the Angels, and just these three question mark areas could be enough to sink their 2016 ship.

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