One year ago, the tattered collection of players who manned left field for the Angels produced a .592 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, the worst mark in the major leagues that season, and the 10th-worst mark in the last century.
This season, it was often said, could not be any worse. But against all odds, it has been. The eight men who've played the position this season have combined for a .583 OPS, the seventh-worst number in the last century.
Saturday, the Angels designated for assignment perhaps the two men most responsible for that failure: Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry. They signed them a week apart in December, opting to form a $2.4-million platoon instead of agreeing with any of the bevy of high-priced starting-caliber corner outfielders who were free agents.
"To be honest with you," Gentry said during spring training, "I was pretty surprised that it stuck out that way."
So was much of the industry, and answers have never quite been provided. Angels owner Arte Moreno has declined repeated requests to speak to The Times since December, when he was asked what he would tell fans frustrated by the team's inaction regarding high-priced free agents.
"You know, we're doing the best we can," he said then. "Any of those [outfielders], you'd like to have … but it's the economics."
There were lesser possibilities beyond the likes of Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton: The Angels pursued Austin Jackson, but he opted for a chance to play center for the Chicago White Sox. They came close to a three-team trade that would have netted them Michael Saunders, an All-Star this year, only to have it fall through because of a medical issue with another player involved.
Both Nava and Gentry had succeeded in the majors in previous seasons, but struggled in 2015. Both went on to miss months with injuries this season. And both continued to toil when healthy.
Nava was on the active roster. His designation made room for Shane Robinson to be activated from the 15-day disabled list, where he spent the last three weeks because of a sprained ankle. Gentry was on a rehab assignment with triple-A Salt Lake.
"Two separate situations, and although when those guys came on we certainly looked for them to bring a lot to what we needed on the offensive end and in left field, it unfortunately didn't materialize," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.
Facing almost exclusively right-handed pitching, Nava hit .235 with a .309 on-base percentage and .303 slugging percentage. Against mostly left-handers, Gentry had four singles, one double and three walks in 39 plate appearances as an Angel — a .413 OPS — all in April. He missed a month with a back injury, then more time with a personal issue. And then he logged a .405 OPS in eight games for Salt Lake this month, prompting the club to pull the plug.
"He seemed like he never got on track," Scioscia said.
Boston also designated Nava for assignment last season on July 30, traditionally one of the easiest times in a major league season to slip players through waivers, because of the roster crunch surrounding the nonwaiver trade deadline. Last year, Tampa Bay claimed him off waivers the following week.
To fill left field in the immediate term, the Angels will use some combination of Robinson and Ji-Man Choi, Jefry Marte, Gregorio Petit and Cliff Pennington, upon his likely activation from a hamstring strain Sunday.
Among them, only Robinson has notable experience manning left field in the majors.
C.J. Cron could resume swinging a bat as soon as Tuesday, and the Angels believe a major league return in two weeks is now a possibility. When he broke his hand July 8, he was expected to miss six to eight weeks, meaning he's now ahead of schedule. "Yeah, I know," Scioscia said. "It's amazing." … Scioscia intimated the Angels are likely to push right-hander Tim Lincecum's next start back a day to Friday in his hometown of Seattle. That could allow them to split up left-handers Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs within their rotation, with Santiago staying on schedule Thursday against Oakland, if Santiago is not traded by Monday.