This is the fourteenth and final edition of Hope for the Hopeless, where we will take a look at the first
ten fourteen teams in the league eliminated from playoff contention, and examine what their fans can be optimistic about after a disappointing 2013 season. Next up: the Los Angeles Angels.
If you're an Angels fan and looking for something to be hopeful about, there's always this: Mike Trout is the best all-around player in baseball, and he'll more than likely be an Angel until at least the 2017 season. Trout has been unbelievably good in 2013, just like he was in 2012, and there's really no better building block in baseball.
Past Trout, there are a few things for Angels fans to be optimistic about. Mark Trumbo has steadily increased his walk rate over his three career seasons while keeping his absurd power intact, and if weren't for a BABIP drop of over 40 points this year, he'd have a pretty fine looking triple slash. Los Angeles also has a pretty nice pair of backstops in Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger, both of whom are under team control through 2015 (and beyond, in the case of Conger).
Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar have been a perfectly acceptable middle infield duo this year, though the club's relatively weak farm system might necessitate the trade of Kendrick this offseason in an attempt to acquire some more young talent. The Angels have also seen outfielder Kole Calhoun put together a solid rookie campaign, but he might have difficulties finding playing time in 2014 with Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Josh Hamilton, and Albert Pujols all healthy and vying for playing time.
Speaking of Hamilton and Pujols…yeah, their seasons didn't exactly go as expected. Saying that Hamilton's year has been a disappointment is probably an understatement, but he did increase his OPS by 100 points after the All-Star Break while logging 600 plate appearances, something that happened just twice in his career coming into this season. As for Pujols, his plantar fasciitis destroyed his year, but the point remains that all three of his triple slash categories have been steadily decreasing every season since 2009. He's not the same player anymore, but I don't think he'll be as bad as he was in 2013 next season – if he stays healthy.
The Angels also have a decent foundation on the mound, led by front-end starters CJ Wilson and Jered Weaver. Neither guy might not be worth the money they're being paid, but you can really do a lot worse at the top of your rotation. Garrett Richards is a perfectly acceptable #3, and the club really just needs two solid innings eaters to fill out the rotation. Impending free agent Jason Vargas could be one, but Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, and Jerome Williams should not be starting for the Angels next year.
Injuries really doomed the Angels this year, but the team isn't exactly completely screwed going forward. Yeah, there's a lot of money committed to contracts over the next few seasons, but none of those contracts are nearly as bad (yet) as the Vernon Wells contract that handcuffed the Angels in the past couple of seasons. Vargas is their only free agent, and if the team can find someone to take Blanton off their hands, their rotation could supplement the team's dynamic offense pretty well and keep them in the AL West race in 2014. But this is a division that is getting better and better, and if the Angels don't adapt and improve along with the division, they could end up left in the dust.