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2015 AL West preview: Angels could boom or bust

Will Matt Shoemaker sustain his breakout success, or will he AAAAAAA HE SEES US, FLY YOU FOOLS!
Will Matt Shoemaker sustain his breakout success, or will he AAAAAAA HE SEES US, FLY YOU FOOLS!
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Angels are one of the biggest boom-or-bust teams in baseball. That was on full display the last two years -- they fell apart and finished below .500 in 2013, but then clicked on all fronts and won an MLB-best 98 games in 2014. Their biggest offseason move in a win-now year was to voluntarily open up a huge hole at second base, but they're still starting with the best player in baseball (Mike Trout), a future Hall of Famer (Albert Pujols), and a rotation full of upside. The main questions will involve the health of the veteran stars, but to win this division someone new will also have to step up.

Trout Pujols
Trout is sharp, but will Pujols come back into focus? -- Photo credit: Harry How/Getty Images

Projected Lineup

C Chris Ianetta
1B Albert Pujols
2B Johnny Giavotella
SS Erick Aybar
3B David Freese
LF Matt Joyce/Collin Cowgill
CF Mike Trout
RF Kole Calhoun
DH C.J. Cron

Bench: Drew Butera (C), Efren Navarro (1B/LF), Taylor Featherston (IF)

Depth (Triple-A): Grant Green (IF), Josh Rutledge (2B), Alex Yarbrough (2B), Daniel Robertson (OF)

Projected Rotation

1. Jered Weaver (R)
2. C.J. Wilson (L)
3. Matt Shoemaker (R)
4. Hector Santiago (L)
5. Drew Rucinski (R) or Jose Alvarez (L)

DL: Garrett Richards (R)

Depth (Triple-A): Andrew Heaney (L), Nick Tropeano (R)

CL: Huston Street (R)
Key pen: Joe Smith (L), Mike Morin (R), Vinnie Pestano (R), Cesar Ramos (L), Fernando Salas (R)

Key Injuries

Ranked on a scale of 1 (no big deal) to 10 (serious problem)

Player Details Rating
SP Garrett Richards Recovering from knee surgery (Aug. 2014); at least two more rehab starts, could return April 19 2
SP Tyler Skaggs Recovering from Tommy John surgery (Aug. 2014) and will miss entire season 3
RP Cory Rasmus Recovering from core surgery (March 24); could miss two months 3
OF Josh Hamilton Recovering from shoulder surgery (Feb. 2015); out at least two months 3

Explaining the ratings: There are important names on this table, but not critical problems. Richards is almost back and may only miss a couple starts in April if all goes according to plan. Skaggs has been out since last summer, so that loss has already been accounted for. Rasmus is an important reliever, but there are enough arms to hold down the fort until he gets back and as a bonus he'll be extra rested in the second half. It's hard to know what to make of Hamilton, especially since he's only been "okay" since joining the Angels. They have a solid, downright A's-like platoon to replace him in left, and it's not out of the question that Cowgill and Joyce could replace his mediocre production from the last two years. On the other hand, if he comes back healthy and sober, there's always a chance of that fallen superstar rising again, and when you're paying that much money for a guy your ideal situation probably involves that guy playing and producing.

Best-Case Scenario

Boom. Trout wins another MVP, and Pujols cracks 30 homers for the first time since 2012. Calhoun backs up his breakout season and Cron establishes himself as a consistent slugger. Hamilton comes back and plays well enough to earn back the love of Angels fans. Actually, to earn the love of Angels fans for the first time. Andrew Heaney emerges and makes everyone forget about Howie Kendrick, especially since they somehow piece together league-average production at second base anyway. Weaver and Wilson bounce back, Richards doesn't miss a beat in his return, and Shoemaker is for real, giving the Angels arguably the top rotation in the game. They run away with the AL West again, but this time Pujols and Freese channel their inner Cardinals and lead them through the playoffs. I'm not going to say what trophy they win because it feels dirty to write even in theory, but it's one the A's have nine of. Trout is also given the 2016 MVP in advance, just to save everyone time and because the awards are cheaper when bought in bulk.

Worst-Case Scenario

Bust. Trout only finishes third for MVP, and this time it's actually because two players were better than he was. Pujols continues his mid-30s decline by posting a .750 OPS in half a season. Hamilton never contributes, and Wilson takes the year off to be his sponsor. "I sucked last season anyway," Wilson explains. Weaver shows that he's really just league-average now even when healthy, as he was in 2014. Calhoun is only a 2-win player, Cron is a platoon DH, and the lineup has too many glaring holes to be a major strength. Shoemaker doesn't repeat his breakout and profiles as a true No. 4, Richards' recovery lingers into late May, and the rotation is a mess. In a repeat of 2013, the world is shocked when the Angels' top-heavy roster finishes below .500, but this time they fall below the resurgent Astros for fourth place. Mike Scioscia is lauded for nearly salvaging a winning record amid the adversity, and he's given a lifetime contract. In an effort to rehabilitate his image, Justin Bieber buys the team in exchange for $500 million and 20 million Twitter followers; his first orders of business are to mandate team tattoos reading "Angles Rule" (sic) and trade Trout for Floyd Mayweather. The 38-year-old boxer hits .068 with one home run in 2016 but plays every day.

My Prediction

The Angels have several great players in their lineup, but they have chosen to completely punt the position of second base. I'm thinking of a team who met that exact description in 2014, and I'm remembering that it didn't turn out well for them. Turns out that it's really hard to get nine players' worth of production out of eight guys, even with Trout helping (or Donaldson), and second base isn't exactly an easy position at which to find help. If either Pujols or Freese don't stay healthy, which is always a possibility, the infield is going to be really weak. I'm also not sold on their rotation, because there is a lot that can go wrong there and not a lot of depth if it does. Basically, these are the kinds of problems that we all saw heading into 2013 (top-heavy, lack of depth) but that most people were afraid to vocalize because picking against that many superstars feels dangerous.

I can't in good conscience predict them to finish with a losing record, even though there's an outside chance of it, but I also can't pick them to win the division because I don't think they will. In my larger prediction, I put them fourth behind the Astros, partly just to do something different. I don't really think the Angels will finish fourth, I just think someone will finish behind Houston, so I picked the Angels to best highlight the extremity of the situation (that the Astros are better than people think, and that the Angels could fall as far as anyone this year). What do I think the Angels are most likely to do? Win 84-88 games and be in the Wild Card race. However, I'm not writing these to make safe picks, so I'm picking their downside here. Sue me, I'm an A's fan. Record: 81-81


Sources: 25-man rosterInfieldOutfieldRotationBullpen

Revisit the 2014 preview