Biggest Winners and Losers from Los Angeles Angels' Offseason
Separating the winners from the losers during a Los Angeles Angels' offseason is like eating an entire pack of Saltine crackers under one minute. It's not a simple task, regardless of the confidence level or the expectation.
Just look at the past.
The 2011-12 offseason was pricey and filled with positives, but the players most seemingly thought would be the sure-thing winners were simply not. Not yet.
In 2012-13, it was the offseason of Joe...Blanton? Josh Hamilton made an interesting "trio," which turned out to be a "solo" act by Mike Trout. And a guy named J.B. Shuck was ignored, only to end the season with a fifth-place finish for Rookie of the Year.
Though monetarily pinched, while lacking trade chips and depth in the minor leagues, general manager Jerry Dipoto has not sat in the corner and sulked.
Along with manager Mike Scioscia, the Angels relied on difficult moves, letting go of favorites like Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos, with low-cost signings—sans Joe Smith—to obtain pitching depth in the rotation, bullpen and the minor league system while also addressing areas of need like third base and DH.
That deserves, at least, a small golf clap for effort. However, none of those moves can have a definitive winner or loser until the season, maybe toward the end of spring training, at the earliest.
For now, it's about the big picture. Not only focusing on the directly affected by all of the signings, trades and interesting weight gains but also including the indirect, too.
So, with that mind, grab your Saltines and let's take a look-see at what could be considered the winners and losers from the Angels' offseason.
Winner: Mark Mulder
The last time 36-year-old Mark Mulder threw a pitch in a MLB game was in 2008.
That's over five years removed, dealing with early retirement, a product of a bad shoulder that left him hardly able to throw.
(Morgan Freeman voice.)
Back then, Bernie Madoff was just another name, Tiger Woods was on his way to shatter Jack's record and the Philadelphia Phillies were as hot as the can't-miss real estate market. That's how long ago that was.
But things change. And sometimes, you just happen to be watching Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez on television.
According to MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez, Mulder had recently tinkered with his delivery—releasing his hands from his glove at a higher point—after watching Rodriguez do the same. And the results were shocking, amazing..."Hey, call the scouts" kind of stuff.
Incredibly, there was no pain. None. Zero.
And after seeing the veteran throw, and throw some more, Angels scout Tim Huff was convinced this guy still had something left in the old tank. Not long after, the Angels signed Mulder to a minor league deal, with an invite to spring training.
It's truly an amazing tale, even though the ending might not play out perfectly, leaving all the parties involved with more loser-like qualities.
For now, though, it's unbeatable.
It's another shot at playing this great game (and getting paid).
To that, all of the Angels' non-roster invitees (so far) are worthy of a "winner" grade.
(It's OK if you read the entire thing in a Morgan Freeman voice.)
Winner: Mike Trout
Mike Trout only needed to wake up on the morning of January 16, 2014 and turn on some form of ESPN to see that his offseason was going pretty well. Sure, the news involved Clayton Kershaw—and one, huge extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers—and had nothing to do with the Angels' young star.
In the era of teams attempting to lock up their young talent to deals—well before the idea of free agency ever becomes an option—Trout, the fans of Trout and the Angels organization can all expect his next deal to be something historically/monetarily amazing.
January 16, 2014 made that quite clear.
And Trout will be earning those mighty dollars while playing center field; when Peter Bourjos was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, that aspect of Trout's career was also made quite clear.
Winner: Albert Pujols
There is little surprise some would rather keep Pujols in the "He's Washed Up" category than re-expect something special from the once perennial slugger. No argument here. His past two seasons have not been all that great, mediocre at best.
But this is also a guy who suffered knee issues and plantar fasciitis (learned word of 2013) last season.
It was hard to watch—The Machine was defective.
That obvious health deterioration left one absolute following 2013: If he was ever to get back to some form of the days as a St. Louis Cardinal, giving a glimpse of the multimillion dollar output expected by the Halo realm, then a healthy offseason would be the starting point.
And, according to ESPNLA.com, Pujols is healthy, ready to prove the critics wrong.
That's a positive. It doesn't foreshadow what might happen in the season, mind you. But there has to be some level of respect given to a guy that works hard while also dealing with off-field drama in the form of Jack Clark.
Winner: C.J. Cron and Taylor Lindsey
When a team's farm system is not highly rated, like the Angels' current situation, any prospect who gains a little notoriety is a plus.
Both C.J. Cron and Taylor Lindsey fit that category.
Besides earning the opportunity to compete in the Arizona Fall League—a great chance for extra exposure—the two have landed on MLBPipeline.com's top-10 prospect list for their respective positions—Cron at first base (No. 3) and Lindsey at seconds base (No. 7).
How that plays into the Angels' plans for 2014 remains to be seen, though both have been slated to get a call-up this year, but their respective progressions should give a confidence boost for the future of the organization.
Who knows? Cron and Lindsey could play a vital role in taking over the right side of the infield, replacing two big names in Howie Kendrick and Albert Pujols.
Loser: Joe Blanton
Had Joe Blanton gone 14-2 in 2013, helping the Angels as an unlikely workhorse, this could have been a different conversation. After going 2-14 with an ERA over 6.00, however, his time with the Angels is practically up.
Sure, there were glimpses of quality starts here and there in 2013—he had nine quality outings in 20 starts—leaving a hair strand of hope he could give the Angels a solid arm at the end of the rotation. But that never really turned into a consistent reality.
And expecting a turnaround this season is not a risk the GM or manager can afford to take again.
Now, as the Angels have attempted to piece together a new rotation, Blanton is barely mentioned in any equation in 2014—unless it is followed by a snare drum and hi-hat.
Loser: Grant Green
Grant Green performed well at the plate for the Angels last season, hitting .280 in 40 games. And he did a decent job maturing defensively, finishing the season with a fielding percentage of .987. (Kendrick's was .982., if you are keeping score.)
By the beginning of the offseason, things had some serious upside for 26-year-old California product. For a moment there, he seemed to be a lock at second base for the Angels in 2014, as rumors spread about Howie Kendrick on the trade market.
There was also speculation he could platoon at third base, too.
Now, because of the addition of David Freese at third base, and no deal (or deals) has enticed the Angels to part ways with Kendrick, Green is left battling for one of the final spots coming off the bench in 2014.
Loser: The Angels' Ownership
I always find it difficult to throw meaningful amounts of blame on a team's ownership because...well...owners don't play. It's the easy route, where the player's inability to live up to the major league level is shielded and tossed onto the person who cuts the check.
However, this is the offseason, the hypothetical days, so it's OK to throw some disapproval toward the Angels' upper brass—especially when the mistakes made atop the chain have not been hard to miss.
It starts with depth.
There are 30 teams in the MLB. Subsequently, that means there are 30 minor league systems. And out of those 30 minor league systems, the Angels rank last, according to Baseball America (per MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez).
If this were a Talladega Nights scenario, where it's cool to be last if you aren't first, the club would be praised. However, in reality, the lack of international players and the quality prospects lost to trades the past few years have ownership in a difficult spot.
It's one that can't be solved by spending, either.
The Angels are very close to the tax threshold ($189 million) this season. It's not the worst thing in the world—the penalty for first-time offense over the threshold is not huge, per FanGraphs—but it does highlight the fact that this organization has thrown around big contracts that haven't really improved the team.
Now, the Angels are left playing cost-controlled—the MLB version of Risk.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats and contract info were courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
Follow Rick Suter on Twitter @rick-suter.