Angels mailbag: Wrapping up the 2017 season

Hello, Angels fans. Your favorite baseball team finished its 2017 season with an 80-82 record, trailing the wild-card-winning Minnesota Twins by five games. The record was what most expected at the season’s outset, but the path to it probably not. The Angels had a chance to make the playoffs until the fifth-to-last night of the 2017 season.

In the end, Kansas City and Tampa Bay finished in the same spot, and the Angels will pick in between those two teams in the June draft, 17th overall.

On most Mondays this season, I answered questions from readers about the present and future of the team. Let’s do it for one last time in 2017.

The Angels believe they will have a lot more starting pitching available next season, and it’s certainly possible. Garrett Richards appears healthy. When he is healthy, he is good. At opening day, Andrew Heaney will be 21 months removed from Tommy John surgery. When he has been healthy, he also has been good. Tyler Skaggs is already a long way removed from his surgery, and though he struggled some this season, he has the necessary traits to achieve success.

Matt Shoemaker is expected to be recovered from a forearm nerve problem well before the start of spring training, and Nick Tropeano the same from his Tommy John operation. Parker Bridwell was at least a capable fifth starter, and is healthy. JC Ramirez is waiting for a stem-cell injection to heal his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, and it is conceivable he could pitch too.

That’s seven guys who have had at least some success at the major league level. Obviously, it would be better if six of them did not have injury concerns, but these are pitchers we’re talking about. In an interview over the weekend, Eppler put one more pitcher in that category: triple-A right-hander Jaime Barria, who rose through the system this season.

So, all of that to say: The best-case scenario for what’s in-house is better for the Angels’ pitchers than it is for their hitters. Without Justin Upton, they don’t have anyone who could play left field at significantly above replacement level. So, justifiably, it seems hitting is going to be a priority.

That’s not to say they won’t acquire starting pitching. I’m certain they will. Teams need more than seven or eight starters to get through a season. But it seems reasonable to prioritize hitting.

There are no No. 1 starters available on the free-agent market. Yu Darvish is the best of the bunch, he is going to cost a ton of money, and he has just not been that good this year. Jake Arrieta, Masahiro Tanaka and Lance Lynn can or will be available, but they come with questions. The trade market is much more difficult to predict. I don't expect the Angels to acquire a top starting pitcher this off-season. I've also been wrong before.

If I had to make a list, it’d look like this. This is not necessarily the Angels’ priority list, and theirs is subject to what the market ends up valuing:

1. Left fielder

2. Second baseman

3. Starting pitching

4. Third or first baseman

5. Backup catcher

These are all needs that were apparent during the season, so I won’t bore you with an explanation. The flexibility in the corner infield comes from Luis Valbuena’s ability to play either position.

Sure. They won 80 games and didn’t benefit from a full season of Richards, Heaney or Skaggs. If those three could provide 500 innings, that would help a great deal. If Albert Pujols could move a little better, that would help. If Justin Upton sticks around for the full season, that would help. A second baseman who can both hit and field would help.

Yes, I expect Scioscia to return in 2018.

I’m not going to predict what day Justin Upton decides or announces his decision, but the deadline to do the latter is three days after the World Series, so that could be anywhere from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4. It’s the standard opt-out deadline. San Francisco right-hander Johnny Cueto has the same one this year.

In opting out, Upton would be turning down $88.5 million of guaranteed money over four years. Evaluators I’ve asked generally believe that his value on the free-agent market would be something similar, so his decision may depend on how he assesses the Angels’ chances and his comfort level in Orange County.

That depends on what you mean by a big payday. Mike Moustakas can really hit for power, and he can really field his position. But there are some serious impediments to a successful long-term deal with him. Talent evaluators frequently reference his “soft body.” In scouting parlance, that is code for, “He is not in good shape.” If he is not in good shape at age 29, how will he look at 33?

Like almost all potential moves, he makes sense at a certain price range, and no sense at others.

The plan is for him to arrive in February in better shape.

There is not, like, a mandatory amount of nonsense all teams must traverse on the path to the promised land. They can be good next year if they spend money to improve the roster in the winter. Looking further down the line, there is some talent building on the farm. Scouts gush about Jahmai Jones, the 20-year-old outfielder who finished 2017 at Class-A Inland Empire and logged an .857 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He has significant potential, and a 2019 arrival no longer seems out of the question. He should appear on all of the top-100 prospect lists next year. The system is still not good or even average, according to those who would know, but it’s better than it was two years ago.

No. He will be on the team next season.

That concludes this season’s mailbag. Thanks for reading, and feel free to continue the communication into the off-season at the below addresses.

pedro.moura@latimes.com

Twitter: @pedromoura

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