Angels’ highlights can’t replace low of missing playoffs again
SEATTLE — It was a season in which 21-year-old Mike Trout emerged as baseball’s most dynamic player, ace Jered Weaver won 20 games, and Albert Pujols bounced back from a horrid start to hit 30 homers, 50 doubles and drive in 105 runs.
Torii Hunter hit .352 with 57 RBIs after the All-Star break, Mark Trumbo had 32 homers and 95 RBIs, Zack Greinke was almost untouchable in his last eight starts, and reliever Ernesto Frieri went two months without giving up a run.
Yet for all that went right for the Angels, who lost to the Seattle Mariners, 6-1, Tuesday night at Safeco Field but still have a chance to win 90 games, so much went wrong.
Their offense stunk during an 18-25 start, their rotation went into a tailspin during a 5-13 stretch to open August, and the bullpen was an Achilles’ heel for much of the season, leading the AL with 22 blown saves.
The result: The Angels, with a $159-million payroll and World Series aspirations, missed the playoffs for the third year in a row. They close their season with a meaningless game against the Mariners on Wednesday.
“I don’t know that players should go home feeling like the season is a failure, but I bet you every one of them is feeling like they came up short,” General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. “And we have to figure out how to not come up short next time.”
Dipoto is not expected to overhaul the roster as the Boston Red Sox did in July, but there will be significant changes this winter.
The top priorities are to re-sign Greinke and Hunter, add another starting pitcher or two, bolster the bullpen and find some way to trade underachieving, overpaid outfielder Vernon Wells.
The Angels probably will shed $32 million by letting pitchers Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen and infielder Maicer Izturis go, but there doesn’t seem to be much financial flexibility.
The Angels have $93 million committed to seven players — Wells, Weaver, Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Scott Downs — for 2013 and for the cost of buyouts for Haren and Santana.
Add an estimated $18 million for Greinke, $12 million for Hunter, catcher Chris Iannetta’s $5-million option, $5 million each for arbitration-eligible third baseman Alberto Callaspo and first baseman Kendrys Morales, $2 million for pitcher Jerome Williams and $5 million for minimum-wage earners, and the payroll is pushing $145 million.
“We have a lot of commitments,” Dipoto said, “but we’ve never been short of resources.”
Earlier this season, it appeared the Angels would shed another $18 million by letting Hunter go, but the 37-year-old right fielder’s clutch play in September, when he hit .351 with 27 RBIs in 28 games, and willingness to take a pay cut has altered those plans.
“We love Torii and have a tremendous interest in bringing him back,” Dipoto said. “But a lot of what we do with our position players will be predicated by what we do to create pitching depth.”
Dipoto will begin serious talks with the agent for Greinke, who was acquired from Milwaukee on July 27, soon. “That’s something we’d like to explore,” Dipoto said.
It will probably take a nine-figure contract to retain Greinke, but the Angels can’t afford to continue paying front-of-the-rotation prices for back-of-the-rotation starters, so Williams and Garrett Richards could provide cheaper alternatives, and Dipoto will explore the free-agent and trade markets for arms.
Adding an established closer, which would move Frieri to a set-up role that he’s probably more suited for, will be difficult.
Only one dominant closer, Detroit’s Jose Valverde, will be a free agent, unless New York Yankees right-hander Rafael Soriano opts out of his contract.
Dipoto may have little choice but to package speedy center fielder Peter Bourjos and possibly Morales in a trade for a closer or set-up man with closing abilities.
A reliable back-end reliever, combined with Frieri, Downs, Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden, would deepen a bullpen that ranked 11th in the league with a 3.83-earned run average. But Dipoto is hesitant to spend big on relievers.
“With starting pitchers, you have track records, and you have a good idea what you’re going to get out of position players,” Dipoto said. But spending lavishly on relievers “is akin to going to Las Vegas and throwing it down on double-zero green,” the GM said.
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.