Can the Angels Catch the Rangers?

The Texas Rangers have been the talk of the league lately. Just a few weeks ago they were tied atop the AL West, a division that featured no clear frontrunner. The Angels and Mariners stayed close enough to create some intrigue, but it didn’t last long. In a run that started on Independence Day, the Rangers have taken 11 straight and have eliminated at least one division contender, the Mariners, by beating them four times. They now have a four-game cushion. It could have been more, too, had the Angels not put together a modest run of their own.

In early June the Angels hit rock bottom. Their 4-2 loss to Kansas City in the series opener was their sixth straight, leaving them five games below .500 and six games out of the AL West. Things didn’t get immediately better from there, though they did start to string together wins. In fact, from June 12th up through Saturday they hadn’t lost two straight. Even with two losses to Oakland, they’ve gone 21-10 since that game against Kansas City. Yet they’ve made up just two games on the division lead in that month-plus span.

The Angels now find themselves in a difficult position. They clearly expect to win this season, as their $141.75 million payroll is $20 million more than their previous high. But they’re going up against a Texas team that was not only considered better at season’s start, but has the resources to make upgrades themselves. That is, even if the Angels make a move, or multiple moves, to shore up their current roster, they’ll have to contend with an upgraded Rangers roster. That could further complicate matters, and it could dictate how the Angels proceed in the next two weeks.

To their benefit, the Angels are set in terms of starting pitching. Their staff ranks second in IP, third in ERA, and second in FIP, leading to the highest WAR in the AL. They might want to add an arm for depth, perhaps as insurance against a collapse from Joel Pineiro or Tyler Chatwood, but it does not rank high on their list of needs. Their relievers have done well enough, but given their 40 meltdowns, just five away from the worst in the league, they might prefer to add one more arm. As we’ve seen on the market, that might not be overly difficult. If they left the pitching staff in tact and used only in-house replacements, they’d probably fare reasonably well, if not very well, the rest of the way.

Where they could really use help is on the other side of the ball. Their team wOBA of .312 is just below league average, and there are no serious contenders, save perhaps for the White Sox, trailing them. As was the case even two months ago, power is their biggest problem, as their .132 ISO ranks below all other contenders, and far behind the Rangers’ team .175 mark. If they’re going to make a serious run at the West they simply must add a power bat. It’s the most noticeably absent part of their game.

They thought they might be getting that power bat when they signed Russell Branyan, but he hasn’t provided much production at all. It has been just 56 PA, but he has just two extra base hits in that span, which is far below expectations for a guy with a .251 career ISO. Again, things might turn around, but his playing time is a complicated matter. He fits at either DH or first base, but the Angels are seemingly covered there with Mark Trumbo, who has by far the highest ISO on the team, and with Bobby Abreu, whose .388 OBP leads the way. Removing either player from the lineup would only serve to hurt it. Abreu could move to the outfield and open up the DH spot, but the Angels are crowded there, too, with Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, and Peter Bourjos.

The crowding at first base, DH, and outfield greatly hurts the Angels’ pursuit of a power bat, since those are typically where power hitters play. For instance, Carlos Beltran would greatly serve their needs. With their payroll already at an all-time high, they’re pinching pennies, but the Mets have said that they’ll eat the remainder of Beltran’s salary in order to receive a prospect for him. He would step right in as the power bat the Angels require, but there is no logical place to play him. They could use him in an outfield corner and move Wells to center, but that would only weaken the outfield defense. That unit has been very friendly to the pitching staff so far, producing 15.4 UZR, which ranks third in the AL. Bourjos is by far the standout there. So if they did decide to bench Bourjos in favor of Beltran, they would lose on defense part of what they’d gain on offense.

Beyond Beltran, there aren’t many power-hitting players who are available. Wilson Betemit has some pop, and has been connected to the Angels, but that would mean removing Alberto Callaspo, but they’d be trading his good OBP (.364) and defense (.4.8 UZR) for Betemit’s power upgrade. Again, that’s taking away from one area to improve another. Aramis Ramirez would provide the better upgrade, since he hits for more power and can play an average third base, but there are many complications, including his no-trade rights and the 2012 option that vests if he’s traded, that could hold the Angels back.

The Angels have a clear need as they approach the deadline, but there is no clearly available player who can fill it. They have their own roster issues that further hinder them, which could leave them empty handed come August 1. It’s not the worst position to be in, since they do have one of the best pitching staffs, if not the best overall staff, in the AL. But absent another power bat they could find it difficult to catch the Rangers, a team that figures to improve on its own weaknesses before July 31st. They might be all-in for this season, but unless they can solve their roster puzzle and find a power bat that fits, they stand little chance of making up the difference in the division.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

23 Responses to “Can the Angels Catch the Rangers?”

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  1. Luke says:

    I wonder what prospects the Angels would be willing to give up?

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  2. marshen says:

    If the Angels do make a move, it traditionally comes from out of the blue and includes a player nobody would expect. Rarely do the Angels end up with a player that is rumored to be a player they are targeting.

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  3. chuckb says:

    The Angels strike me as the AL’s version of the Cardinals. They’re really good in certain positions and very mediocre in others. They apply band-aids to fix sizable holes in an effort to maintain 85 win respectability and then say to themselves, “we just needed a couple of breaks in order to get to 90 or 92 wins.” Like the Cardinals, they seem to think they’re better than they are. “Berkman won’t hurt us in the OF” or “Theriot will be a good SS” on the one hand and “Wells is better than those at fangraphs say” or “Torii Hunter’s one of the best OFs in the AL” on the other.

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  4. Snoth says:

    The Angels need to seriously unload payroll. I would desperately try to get rid of Torii Hunter and his $18 million for next season but he has a no trade clause and nobody would want him..They could trade Piniero and save a few mil and I think he actually has some limited value.

    Could the Tiger theoretically want Torii? They need a serious upgrade over Mags so it could be a bad contract swap. Torii is a clear upgrade over Mags I’d say and in return they don’t have to pay Torii 18 million next year.

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    • j6takish says:

      For once I can proudly say, the Tigers don’t have any bad contracts to swap. We need Guillen, and Magglio comes off the books next year. If we are going to pay Torii hunter 18mm, we might as well pay Beltran 18mm

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  5. Nate says:

    They should go get a switch-hitter from Cuba with legit power.

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  6. Llewdor says:

    “payroll $20 million more than their previous high”

    Angels fans, I give you Vernon Wells.

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  7. j6takish says:

    The Angels are a team full of average players. They really don’t have any flaws, but no huge strengths either. Any upgrades they make will be a downgrade in another area.

    However, Texas can greatly improve their bullpen and center field. Also, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler are not 240, if Cruz gets going, it’s game over Angels

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  8. j6takish says:

    **240 hitters

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  9. DavidB says:

    I don’t really buy the author’s statement that LAAA needs a power bat because their team ISO sucks. They don’t score enough runs, so they need more good hitters, but if the best position players available that are real upgrades over who the Angels already have happen to help the team score runs in ways that don’t involve dingers, then that’s who they should get. Additionally power bats may still have a higher acquisition cost than for example, hitters who get on base and run the bases well.

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  10. prospectslol says:

    Aramis’ agent hinted yesterday that he would waive his NTC after his family returns home at the end of July… he also said Aramis would require a team to drop the 16M option for next year if he declines his NTC – making him a 5M rental for the rest of the season….

    That makes him extremely valuable trade commodity if the Cubs can get him to be traded prior to July 31st… I don’t think he’d clear waivers, making it much more difficult for the Cubs to trade him and reducing his value if he doesn’t accept a trade this month.

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  11. JohnnyComeLately says:

    So Beltran wouldn’t be a huge upgrade over Vernon Wells? That’s your answer. Trade for Beltran and bench Wells. Of course it won’t happen because GM’s make the trades and I highly doubt Reagins really wants to acknowledge how badly he screwed up in taking on Wells by trading for Beltran less than 4 months later.

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  12. bginsc says:

    I do not understand how Callapso ranks high in defense… aside from making too many errors, he makes mental mistakes… but those probably aren’t part of the formula. At any rate, the Halos got Callaspo as a replacement for Chone Figgins – but it didn’t work. He can’t bat leadoff, he doesn’t steal bases, and he’s not as good a defender. Three strikes, you’re out… therefore, to me anyway, 3B is the obvious position to upgrade our power.

    Thing is, whether they admit it or not, this is a team in transition… Abreu will be gone after this year, Torii Hunter is slowing down, and unless a miracle happens and Weaver fires Scott Boras, Weaver will be gone after next season. A much needed youth movement is afoot, but those take time as the new kids have to develop into bonafide major leaguers. (please keep that in mind, Mike Trout fans… despite all the calls for him to be on the team, he’s not ready… as his recent call-up to fill in for Burjous shows). Progress is being made – hopefully Burjous will remain hot when he gets back in there, Trumbo is getting valuable experience to go along with his scary power, and Conger needs to be behind the dish more because he’s clearly the catcher of the future.

    What this season comes down to is this: the team is trying to win while in transition, and that’s a pretty hard thing to do.

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  13. Tony Reagins says:

    I’m confident Vernon will turn it around during the second half; we don’t need a bat, our team is horribly underrated.

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  14. Phantom Stranger says:

    The Angels are not as good as the Rangers, point blank. The talent difference is too much to overcome, unless the Angels add even more payroll. Too many people have fond memories of the Angels from the last decade and always expect them to be the best in the division, but those teams are gone.

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    • Texas_Dawg says:

      Yep.

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    • Nocturne says:

      I agree with you, and I’m an Angels fan. It’s not “too many people”, it’s the team’s management who believes this. I’m not going to pin this on Tony Reagins because he’s more of a middle man than shot caller. Fact is, the high ranking people in the organization think it’s still 2007 and that they can pull it off. They don’t have the players to do so, not on the major league roster and not in the minor leagues. The kids with the talent to help just aren’t ready.

      As someone above said, 3B is the logical place to upgrade. This is one time I will not drink UZR’s kool-aid, Alberto Callaspo is not a 4+ UZR player, and I say this having seen his ridiculous mistakes throughout this season. All he has been good for is making contact (not always good contact) and avoiding Ks. He routinely kills rallies, doesn’t have much pop, has below-average speed, and makes some truly puzzling base running blunders, not to mention his gaffes as a defender (bad positioning being the biggest mistake he makes). I would love to have a player of Aramis Ramirez’ caliber manning 3rd for the team, but I’d much rather them eat the season and not trade away more talent for someone who may flop as a Halo. They’ve done a good job rebuilding their lower minors, let’s not start tearing that apart.

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      • joser says:

        Your description of Callaspo is, word-for-word, pretty much any Mariners fan’s description of Chone Figgins this year. I’m sure the M’s would be happy to send him back, where he can go back to batting lead-off and magically turn back into the player he was in Anaheim. The Angels wouldn’t even have to pay him anything.

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