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Angels

Angels mailbag: Yet another 2-4 start has Angels fans wondering about the future

Angels mailbag: Yet another 2-4 start has Angels fans wondering about the future

Albert Pujols (5) congratulates Mike Trout (27) after he drove in a run with a sacrifice-fly during a game against the Rangers on April 10.

(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The Angels have opened 2-4 for the fifth consecutive season, so there is plenty about the team to discuss. This is the forum to do it: a weekly feature on Mondays, with questions submitted through my email (pedro.moura@latimes.com) and Twitter accounts (@PedroMoura). If you have a question, feel free to ask.

I would not expect the Angels to become a primary free-agent destination next winter, because being one would require a significant departure from their typical manner of operation. 

Even without Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, the Angels have nearly $67 million committed to five players who will play for them in 2017, plus more than $26 million committed to one player who will not, Josh Hamilton.

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Then there are more millions due to arbitration players Kole Calhoun, Hector Santiago, Garrett Richards and, probably, Tyler Skaggs. Let’s call the total for those four $24 million.

So, that’s $117 million, and that’s not counting more players likely to qualify for arbitration, such as Matt Shoemaker and Johnny Giavotella. 

The Angels have never paid more than $165 million in salaries in a single season, so let’s assume that as a guideline for a cap. For 16 spots, they should have something short of $40 million to spend. Ten or so of those would be taken up by minimum-salaried players, leaving the Angels no more than $35 million to spend on six spots. Blowing $20 million-plus annually on one player will leave certain spots — third base? set-up man? — in substandard states. 

But, to actually answer your question, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista will be free agents in the big-bat category. I suppose Yoenis Cespedes could be a candidate. He can opt out of his contract with the New York Mets. Colby Rasmus will be a free agent. Jay Bruce might be a free agent. 

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Stephen Strasburg will be up for auction, if you fancy dreaming on pitching. Other starting pitchers would include Clay Buchholz and Andrew Cashner. Catchers Matt Wieters and Jason Castro will be free agents. And so will second baseman Neil Walker. 

I would not expect that to be expressly said at any point this season. But he remains under contract for two more seasons, and I would not expect him to leave his job this year. He has a good situation in Anaheim, if that wasn’t already obvious. 

That will not happen mathematically, of course. How many games back would they have to be for you to declare them effectively out? Ten? Twelve? Fifteen? I doubt they will be as far back as any of those numbers. A better question might be Aug. 1. 

I don’t see that Trout is being asked to lead the team any more than he did last year, or the year before, and he led off each of those seasons with home runs off Felix Hernandez. So it is hard to argue he would be feeling more pressure.

However, I think it stands to reason that at some point Trout will have a letdown sort of season. That’s not to say it will happen this year, or that it will be dramatic when it happens, but it only seems logical. The pace he is on is unprecedented. Because he has been so great, we have no real idea what to expect about how he will age, but he does seem slower than when he debuted. 

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It will be difficult to trade C.J. Wilson, as he’s likely looking at a late-May, early-June return and would need time to reestablish his value. If the Angels are indeed out of the race come July, trade candidates could include third baseman Yunel Escobar, setup man Joe Smith and left-hander Hector Santiago.  

I think the offense will be about league average, maybe a bit above. By wRC+ -- a fangraphs.com all-inclusive advanced metric -- they were tied for 15th in the majors last season. That range again seems reasonable, since they should receive better left-field production and, really, similar offensive numbers from every other position. Allot for one injury somewhere and average makes sense. 

I don’t know that either Erick Aybar or David Freese were particularly vocal team leaders. Both were respected in the Angels’ clubhouse, but I never got the idea they were the outward leaders. Mike Trout is the center of the team. He is the leader of the team. And then are other, more vocal players who provide leadership, such as closer Huston Street. 

The Angels started 2-4 in each of the last five seasons. They finished two of those seasons well below .500 at April’s end, right at .500 last year, and above it the two other years. The slow-starting trend is overblown, I believe, in part because of the team’s 8-15 record in 2012, after the big Wilson and Albert Pujols signings.

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I wouldn’t do anything now. What could you even do?

This seems like a chemistry question. It’s nearly impossible to discern a team’s chemistry until they’ve played a fair number of games. But, generally, it is more fun to win than lose. They seem to want to win. 

Personally, I would bat Escobar first, Trout second, Pujols third and Calhoun fourth, followed by some hodgepodge of the other hitters. But I wouldn’t say that Mike Scioscia’s reasoning for batting Calhoun fifth makes no sense. The Angels right fielder hit well last season, but he had morphed into a power-focused, strikeout-heavy hitter, which is not the type who fits well atop the order. 

Escobar’s career on-base percentage is 30 points higher than Calhoun’s. Last year, it was 67 points higher. You want your best hitters batting as often as possible, but you also want your best on-base threats to bat ahead of your singular best hitter. 

That’s it for this week’s Angels mailbag. Send in your questions to the below addresses at any time, and check back each Monday for answers. 

pedro.moura@latimes.com

Follow @PedroMoura on Twitter


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