Angels add depth during offseason

By The Sports Xchange
POSTED: 4:20 PM Feb 13 2014   UPDATED: 4:20 PM Feb 13 2014

Tempe, Ariz. -- The Angels didn't "win the offseason" this time around. After consecutive winters in which they signed first baseman Albert Pujols and outfielder Josh Hamilton -- deals that cost a combined $365 million and so far netted them two third-place finishes -- they tried something different this winter.

"We've actually had a fairly active offseason," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "It just hasn't drummed up a lot of attention, which is not such a bad thing."

Instead of adding marquee stars, the Angels simply filled up the bottom half of the roster with more depth than they've had in years.

Whether that depth proves to be productive is one of the big questions that will begin to be answered in the spring.

The most important question is whether their starting rotation has enough depth. Last year, they couldn't replace right-hander Jered Weaver and left-hander Jason Vargas when they were injured, and there were few bright spots for the future on the pitching staff.

Now, the Angels go into the spring with righty Garrett Richards and newly acquired Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs at the back of the rotation. None of the three has been through a full season as a major league starter, so how they progress will be a major factor in how well the Angels do.

The Angels also hope to have a deeper bullpen, with depth added by having a healthy Sean Burnett and Kevin Jepsen, to go with free-agent addition Joe Smith.

Offensively, the Angels will be looking to see if Pujols (now recovered from the knee and foot problems that slowed him last year) and Hamilton (now more than 20 pounds heavier and perhaps more comfortable in his new surroundings) can return to form.

Beyond that, the story of the spring among position players will be fierce competition for jobs on the bench. The Angels signed infielders John McDonald, Ian Stewart and Chad Tracy, first baseman Carlos Pena, outfielder Brennan Boesch and catcher Yorvit Torrealba to minor league deals. They will push incumbents Collin Cowgill, Grant Green, Andrew Romine and J.B. Shuck for bench jobs.

NOTES, QUOTES

--OF Josh Hamilton has gained about 20 pounds over the winter in an effort to get back to the form that earned him an MVP in 2010 and a $125 million deal from the Angels prior to the 2013 season. Hamilton had a disappointing first year with the Angels, so he and the club are hoping that added weight can help him rebound.

--1B Albert Pujols is looking for a bounce-back season after he struggled with plantar fasciitis in 2013. Pujols missed the last two months of the season. The time off seems to have helped him get back to 100 percent, though, so the Angels are expecting a much better season.

--RHP Joe Blanton is facing an important spring. Blanton has a year left on his contract, but no apparent place on the Angels staff. If he doesn't pitch well, he could be released. If he does, he could be an option for the Angels or for a trade.

--LHP Mark Mulder will be an intriguing pitcher to follow this spring. Mulder hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2008, but he's attempting a comeback. The Angels were impressed enough with him in workouts over the winter that they are giving him a shot.

--SS John McDonald probably has the best chance of making the Angels' Opening Day roster among the seven major league veterans signed to minor league deals in January. McDonald is a defensive whiz who can play shortstop, which makes him a good candidate to back up Erick Aybar.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was like having a flat tire and a broken rim." -- 1B Albert Pujols, on playing in 2013 with knee and foot problems.

ROSTER REPORT

PROJECTED ROTATION:

RHP Jered Weaver

LHP C.J. Wilson

LHP Hector Santiago

RHP Garrett Richards

LHP Tyler Skaggs

The rotation is strong at the top, but after Weaver and Wilson, it is full of question marks. Santiago, Richards and Skaggs each have potential to be solid major league starters, but none has made 30 starts in a single season yet.

If one or more of them fails, the Angels could be in trouble. They don't have much depth behind them. The best-case scenario for the Angels is LHP Mark Mulder surprises and pitches well enough to make the rotation.

PROJECTED BULLPEN:

RHP Ernesto Frieri (closer)

RHP Joe Smith

LHP Sean Burnett

RHP Kevin Jepsen

RHP Dane De La Rosa

RHP Michael Kohn

RHP Fernando Salas

Frieri is a lightning rod for criticism from Angels fans because he has a tendency to make his saves a little more dramatic than they'd prefer, but he still gets the job done. He has converted 90 percent of his save opportunities over the past two years.

After that, the Angels are hoping for a much-improved bullpen if they get healthy seasons from Burnett and Jepsen. Smith, a free-agent signee, is one of the most dependable right-handed setup men in baseball.

PROJECTED LINEUP:

RF Kole Calhoun

CF Mike Trout

1B Albert Pujols

LF Josh Hamilton

3B David Freese

DH Raul Ibanez

2B Howie Kendrick

C Chris Iannetta or Hank Conger

SS Erick Aybar

Despite a disappointing season from Hamilton and an injury-marred year from Pujols in 2013, the Angels still finished sixth in the league in runs. They are hoping simply getting improvement from those two, plus the additions of Freese and Ibanez, can more than offset the loss of Mark Trumbo.

Freese and Ibanez are two of the biggest question marks, though. Ibanez is 41, and Freese is coming off a disappointing season in which he battled injuries in St. Louis.

Calhoun will be a key player to watch. He was very good in two months at the end of 2013, and showed an ability to get on base and hit for some power. He's likely to get a crack at hitting leadoff, even though he's not a prototypical leadoff hitter.

TOP ROOKIES: LHP Tyler Skaggs, originally drafted by the Angels, was one of the top prospects in the Diamondbacks system before the Angels acquired him in the Mark Trumbo trade. Skaggs is just 22, but the Angels are going to give him a shot at breaking camp in the rotation. 2B Taylor Lindsey is considered by many to be the top prospect in the Angels system. He spent last season at Double-A. If he progresses quickly, he could make Howie Kendrick trade bait.

MEDICAL WATCH:

--LHP Sean Burnett (torn flexor tendon) is still recovering from surgery last summer. The Angels are expecting him to be ready for Opening Day, but they will start him behind other pitchers in spring training.

--1B Albert Pujols (torn plantar fascia) was nearly fully recovered by the end of the 2013 season, and he went through normal conditioning and baseball activity over the winter.