Can the Angels win the West in 2016?

The 2015 season was a very strange one for the Los Angeles Angels. It started off with the whole Josh Hamilton predicament, then there was Jerry Dipoto departure in July, and then the Angels looked dead and gone, until they went on a magical September run, that ended in missing the postseason by just a single game.

In the midst of all that, Mike Trout had another outstanding year, and the aging Albert Pujols had somewhat of a resurgence, in which he belted 40 homers. At the end of the day, the Halos came up short with a win total of 85 wins. The Texas Rangers ended up winning the division with a win total of 88 games, and the Houston Astros secured the second AL Wild Card position with a win total of 86 games.

The Angels were extremely close not only to reaching the playoffs, but winning the AL West. They can, and will be the division champs in 2016.

The Angels went into the offseason with quite a few holes and needs to fill. They needed to replace David Freese at third base (entered free agency), to fill the black hole of left field, find a second catcher to go along with Carlos Perez (signed Geovany Soto to a one-year deal), and possibly upgrade defensively at second base. The Angels kicked off the offseason with a blockbuster trade, in which they sent SS Erick Aybar and pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis to Atlanta in exchange for the 2015 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year, Andrelton Simmons, and catcher Jose Briceno.

The deal for Simmons did not fill an immediate need for the Angels, but it filled a need they would have had next offseason when Aybar became a free agent. Some argue that the Angels paid too large of a price in giving up their top two pitching prospects in Newcomb and Ellis. That may be true, but at the end of the day, the Angels are getting the best defensive shortstop in the game for five years at a very reasonable price ($53 million over the remaining life of the deal). Simmons has led the NL in dWAR all of the past three seasons and he has the ability to complete transform the Angels’ defensive outlook. Offensively, Simmons was very similar to Aybar statistically as he put a .265/.321/.338 line, while Aybar put up a .270/.301/.338 line. Simmons brings the Angels incredible defensive boost and similar offensive to Aybar.

The Angels addressed their need at third base by acquiring Yunel Escobar for the Nationals, in exchange for RHPs Trevor Gott and Michael Brady. The Angels are getting a guy in Escobar who is a significant offensive upgrade over Freese for what the Halos are looking for. During this offseason, the Angels have been targeting guys who can get on base in front of Trout and Pujols to give them more opportunities to drive in runs. In 2015, Escobar had his best offensive season in which he put up an impressive .314/.375/.475 slash line, while Freese put up a mediocre .257/.323/.420 line. Escobar is a guy who can get on base and set the table for Trout and Pujols.

Defensively, Escobar is less than stellar at third base, but he can still get the job done. His fielding percentage in 2015 was .970, which was actually fourth among qualifying third basemen, but his problem is range. With a guy like Andrelton Simmons playing next to him at SS, it will be less of an issue. Overall, Escobar will be an upgrade to the top of the Angels lineup.

Left field has been the most discussed position of need for the Angels this offseason. It was thought that they were going to make an attempt to sign one of the top FA outfielders (Cespedes, Upton, Gordon), but recently reports came out that Angels owner, Arte Moreno, has said that the team is “probably out” on signing one of those guys. They have signed Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry, who could end up being a platoon in left field. Despite what many Angels fans believe, if this does indeed end up as a platoon, it could work out really well. Angels’ left fielders put up an ugly .260 OBP in 2015. Nava has a career .358 OBP, while Gentry has a .338 OBP for his career. The Angels realistically, don’t have to make a huge splash in the free-agent market to make a big improvement in left field. Any further moves to strengthen the position, would probably push Gentry and Nava out of any platooning situation, which would give Mike Scoscia more options of the bench.

Let’s take a look at the Angels’ 2015 opening Day lineup vs. the potential 2016 Opening Day lineup.

2015 Opening Day Lineup

  1. Kole Calhoun, RF
  2. Mike Trout, CF
  3. Albert Pujols, 1B
  4. Matt Joyce, LF
  5. David Freese, 3B
  6. Erick Aybar, SS
  7. C.J. Cron, DH
  8. Chris Iannetta, C
  9. Johnny Giavotella, 2B

Potential 2016 Opening Day Lineup

  1. Yunel Escobar, 3B
  2. Kole Calhoun, RF
  3. Mike Trout, CF
  4. Albert Pujols, DH (if he’s ready)
  5. C.J. Cron, 1B
  6. Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry, LF
  7. Andrelton Simmons, SS
  8. Geovany Soto/Carlos Perez, C
  9. Johnny Giavotella, 2B

2016’s lineup already looks a lot deeper than 2015’s in many ways. Plus, Angels fans, including myself, are still holding on to that chance that the Halos do indeed go out and get a top bat. It would make this already good and improved offense, a great one.

Moving onto pitching, the Angels in 2015 ranked 13th in the big leagues in team ERA at 3.94. Their rotation was somewhat consistent, while their bullpen was nothing great, but it was solid. As it stands now, the Angels have seven major league starting pitchers competing for a spot in the rotation. They have Garret Richards, Andrew Heaney, Hector Santiago, Jered Weaver, Nick Tropeano, C.J. Wilson (coming off surgery on left elbow), and Tyler Skaggs, who missed all of 2015 recovering from Tommy John Surgery. The Angels have depth, and they could trade some of that depth, most likely Santiago or Wilson, to add to their offense. CJ Wilson could be moved if a team is willing to take some of the salary.

Richards, Heaney, and Santiago are coming off good years, while Weaver and Wilson are candidates for bounce back seasons. Tropeano has not had much experience thus far, and Skaggs missed all of 2015, recovering from Tommy John surgery. As for the bullpen, the back end is set with Huston Street closing, and Joe Smith as the set-up man. The Angels lost their seventh inning man, Trevor Gott, in the Yunel Escobar trade, but they have a lot of pieces that can fill that role (Fernando Salas, Mike Morin, Cory Rasmus, etc.). The Angels are very comfortable with their current rotation and bullpen going into 2016.

The Angels have improved their offense (with a possibility to improve it even more), and defense a lot this offseason. And with the return of Tyler Skaggs, and the continued development of their young pitchers, their pitching is looking very strong. The AL West figures to be a tough division in 2016, but the Angels only missed winning the division by three games last year. And the team that won the division, the Rangers, are looking like the same team from last year, apart from expecting Yu Darvish back in late May. The Astros, the team that finished a game in front of the Halos, have added closer Ken Giles, but even with Giles, they are looking like almost the same team. The Mariners have made a flurry of moves this offseason, and they figure to be potential contenders. But they came into this year as favorites to win the AL West, and they finished fourth, so there’s that. And the Athletics don’t look like they have the lineup or the rotation to be very good next year. With a better offense, and a few more wins, I believe the Angels can win the AL West in 2016.

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