As I sit in the guest bedroom of my grandmother’s house in Paducah, Kentucky I am reflecting on the 2015 holiday season and the year as a whole.
Spending Christmas with my family—check. Giving and receiving some nice gifts—check. Winning two of my three fantasy football leagues—check. Spending quality time with close friends during the holidays—check. Being thankful for the many gifts and blessings—double check.
This is not to say everything was perfect in 2015, far from it. However, I try to focus on the positives and try to forget the negatives as much as possible.
So how does this relate to my favorite sports team of all, the Los Angeles Angels (I would rather they be called Anaheim or California Angels, but again I’m trying to focus on the positives)? So what has been positive for my beloved Angels in 2015? Depending on who you talk to will determine the answer to this question. For me, first and foremost was another MVP-caliber season by Mike Trout (.299 average with 41 home runs and 90 RBIs). Trout again won the Silver Slugger Award for center field and was a finalist for an AL Gold Glove.
Some Angels fans may stop there with the positives, but I will continue with the emergence of Kole Calhoun in right field, both with his bat and his glove. Calhoun set career highs this season in both home runs and RBIs, hitting 25 out of the park and driving in 83 runs. His .256 batting average leaves a little to be desired, but his Gold Glove performance in right field and other batting numbers more than makes up for that.
Another big positive is the return of staff ace Garrett Richards from a significant knee injury that ended his 2014 season early. Richards finished with a record of 15-12 and a 3.65 ERA with 176 strikeouts in 207.1 innings. While these numbers are not as spectacular as his 2014 season, the fact that he did not miss a start after coming off the disabled list in the second week of the season is a major bright spot.
There was the rise of two young players, C.J. Cron and Johnny Giavotella, who were both key components of the September stretch run that fell just one game short of the Angels making the playoffs. Cron finished the season with a .262 average, 16 homers and 51 RBIs and played above-average defense in the final two months of the season when he played first base almost exclusively due to a foot injury to AL All Star Albert Pujols. The injury relegated the future Hall of Famer to being the designated hitter over the final two months.
Giavotella became a team spark plug by coming through with numerous clutch hits throughout the season, especially down the stretch after returning from a freak injury that sidelined him for four weeks in August and September. Giavotella hit .337 in the final two weeks of the season and he finished with a more than respectable .272 average with four homers and 49 RBIs despite missing 33 games.
Yes, his defense is below average, but I believe that will improve with time and experience. Howie Kendrick, who Giavotella replaced, was not a great defender either, especially early in his career, but he has shown great improvement since his first couple of seasons.
Other bright spots were the rapid development of young pitchers Andrew Heaney (6-3 with a 3.49 ERA) and Hector Santiago (9-9 with a 3.59 ERA and an AL All Star selection). It’s true that both Santiago and Heaney only pitched well for half of the season (Heaney because he was called up in late June and Santiago because he struggled in the second half), but both showed signs of being top of the rotation starters in the future.
The emergence of Carlos Perez behind the plate in the second half of the season was also a plus. Perez is not a star by any stretch of the imagination, but he caught almost exclusively during the final two months of the season and performed admirably batting .270 after the All Star break to finish the season with a .250 batting average. He was also solid behind the plat,e winning the trust of the Angels staff in the final two months of the season.
Albert Pujols topped the 40 home runs plateau for the first time as an Angel and drove in a team-high 95 runs, which earned him a trip to the All Star game for the first time since 2010. The negative side was a career-low .244 batting average and another injury that will possibly land him on the DL to start the 2016 season.
So what about the negatives: The biggest negative was the left field debacle of 2015. No one really produced until David Murphy was acquired in late July, but as a whole, it was definitely a major weakness all season. This was said to be the most pressing need to address during the offseason, but the Los Angeles Angels have really not addressed the spot in an acceptable manner for most Angels fans. The team has signed five potential candidates for 2016, none of which are any better than a platoon role. Daniel Nava, a lefty, and Craig Gentry, a righty, could be platooned, but the chance of this working out favorably is slim to none.
Daniel Nava part of the potential left field platoon the Los Angeles Angels may go with in 2016. Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Craig Gentry the other half of the potential left field platoon in 2016 for the Los Angeles Angels. Hopefully Arte Moreno will open his wallet to a bonafide power hitting left fielder. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Another question mark that has seemingly been filled (although not by a player most fans are pleased with) is third base by Yunel Escobar, who they acquired in a trade with the Washington Nationals by giving up hard-throwing reliever Trevor Gott. Escobar has a pretty good bat, but his defense at third base is far below average. In his first season at the hot corner last year, he posted a .954 fielding percentage.
The team also traded long-time shortstop Erick Aybar to the Atlanta Braves for Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons. The team also gave up top prospect pitcher Sean Newcomb. It was not an area of immediate need as Aybar was under contract for 2016, but it was made with the future in mind. The team also signed catcher Geovany Soto to back up Perez at catcher and they also signed Cliff Pennington to be a utility infielder as well.
None of these offseason moves have blown the doors off Angels fans and the public outcry has been pretty strong mostly in criticism of the suddenly frugal owner Arte Moreno, who has come out saying the Angels are probably not going to go after any of the big name free agents such as Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon.
So for my final Christmas wish list item (albeit a little late), I implore Moreno to open his checkbook and give the Angels what they need to make a run for the World Series in 2016.
The fans have been patient for the most part, despite some of the mistakes the team has made such as the five-year, $125 million dollar contract given to free agent bust Josh Hamilton (who they will still be paying over the next two seasons to play for a division rival). Many have also felt the Angels overpaid for Pujols, or at the very least gave him too long of a deal when they signed him to a 10-year, $242 million dollar contract before the 2012 season.
Arte, we need a power bat, preferably left-handed who can play left field. Whether a trade is the way to do it or a free agent signing, please do something productive during this offseason. Otherwise, I fear the Angels will suffer a similar fate in 2016 as they did in 2015 come playoff time—on the outside looking in.
Yes, I know the luxury tax is a big deal if you go over it, but it’s sort of like buying an expensive car with every possible upgrade, but you put the cheapest tires on it and hope that it will perform well. For a little bit of time things may go well, but eventually one of the tires will go bad (cheap players in left field) and your car won’t be able to keep up with less expensive but better put together cars.
The Angels have always been known for keeping things close to the vest when it comes to free agent signings, so I am hoping they have at least one ace up their sleeves, if not multiple aces that will save this offseason and the 2016 season from being another disappointment come October.
So Merry Christmas to all of you in Angeltown and here’s hoping Arte can make it a Happy New Year for the team in 2016.