Despite all the big signings and trades of the last few offseasons, the Angels find themselves in limbo. They aren't a bad team, but they probably aren't that good either. At best, they are a fringe playoff contender that need to avoid having their biggest weaknesses exploited in order to actually have a shot at breaking their post-season drought. The problem is that there weaknesses are pretty substantial.
The Halos may have a 22-year old wunderkind at the core of their roster, but they have an age problem in that Trout's main supporting cast is old, and not in that older, wiser and more efficient sort of way. Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Jered Weaver are old in the "I hope we can just get one or two more good years out of them" way. Those three are the most important players on the roster after Trout and all three are coming off of a season where in which they showed signs of significant decline. Mike Trout is great and all, but even he can't stop Father Time.
The basic issue is that the general rule is that once you get past age 30, you decline. That's exactly what those three have been doing, but in order for the Angels to rebound in 2014, they need all three of those players to reverse that trend.
It is plausible that all three could improve over their 2013 performance. For Pujols and Hamilton, the bar is set so low that they almost can't help but be better. Whether or not they can be better enough is another matter altogether. Pujols' body appears to be slowly disintegrating and Hamilton appears to early onset Alzheimer's as he no longer seems to be able to remember how to tell the difference between a fastball down the middle and a slider that is going to end up buried in the dirt of the right-handed batter's box.
Those two being able to reverse their aging curve is the only chance that the Angels stand at having the kind of top-tier offense they will need to offset their below average run prevention. And we haven't even mentioned the ancient mummy that is Raul Ibanez who has been tabbed to replace the production of young slugger Mark Trumbo yet.
Age isn't a problem in just the lineup though. Jered Weaver is now on the wrong side of the 30 and his fastball has been on the wrong side of 88 MPH for the last season and a half. He should still have a few strong years left in him, but he has a ton of mileage on his arm. There is also the dirty little secret in Anaheim that Weaver's been dealing with arm soreness on and off for the last few seasons.
With so little depth in their rotation, the Angels can't afford to have their ace continue drop velocity or, even worse, breakdown and end up on the DL after so many years of being such a workhorse. Speaking of the rest of the rotation…
See that picture up above? That's Mark Mulder. Yes, the Mark Mulder who is an analyst on Baseball Tonight. Yes, the Mark Mulder who hasn't throw a pitch in the majors in five years.
Guess what? He was a frontrunner for a rotation spot before he blew out his Achilles in the first few days of camp and now the team is reeling as they try and find more rotation depth. In other words, the back-end of the rotation is a bit of a work in progress, to put it lightly.
The Angels went to great lengths to reload their rotation in the offseason by parting ways with fan-favorite Mark Trumbo. That landed them Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, but neither of them is guaranteed to actually be in the rotation when they break camp. Santiago has wildly outperformed his peripherals the last two seasons, so there is skepticism about just how effective he can be. In fact, many believe he is ultimately better off in the bullpen. As for Skaggs, the Angels firmly believe he will help them a lot in the years to come, but he may not be ready yet after struggling with his mechanics in 2013.
That leaves Garrett Richards, a guy who has been unable to secure a rotation spot the last few seasons despite numerous opportunities, as the de facto #3 starter. If either Skaggs or Santiago get kicked to the bullpen or minors, all the Angels really have to fall back on is Joe Blanton who is coming off one of the worst starting pitcher seasons of the last decade or a few poor options from their miserable farm system.
For a team that once, decades ago, had the slogan "Tanana and Ryan and two days of cryin'" infamously attached to their rotation, the 2014 rotation could be a throwback for all the wrong reasons. As good as the Halo lineup could be this year, they don't need their rotation to be lights out, but they need it to be better than terrible and they just can't count on that happening right now.