The 2011 Angels enjoyed quite the eventful season. The former kings of the AL West finally got displaced by the Texas Rangers in 2010 and had big plans to try and reclaim their crown. Those plans quickly went awry after a tumultous off-season that included an embarrassing failed attempt at Carl Crawford which they only compounded by making a disastrous trade.
Their off-season dealings didn't spell doom for the Angels on the field though. While they didn't have the strongest of lineup, they rode a strong rotation and the unexpected contributions of several young players to put the team back into contention until the final days of the regular season.
Now that their season is done, let's take a look back at what exactly went right and wrong for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2011.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The Angels had one of the weakest lineups in the American League yet still managed to win 86 games and stay in the post-season hunt until the final week of the season, so something had to have gone right.
The main thing was the Angels rotation. Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana combined to form one of the best top threes in all of baseball. Weaver and Haren both posted the kind of numbers that will garner them Cy Young votes. Santana wasn't quite on the same level, but he was close and also threw a no-hitter, thus garnering him plenty of attention for the fine year he had. Those three were so good that they helped make up for the weak back end of the rotation and had teams shaking in their boots that the Halos would sneak into the playoffs.
On the offensive side, it wasn't all bad for Los Angeles. Second baseman Howie Kendrick finally delivered on much of his potential by smacking a career-high 18 homers, earning an All-Star berth and finished with the 11th best WAR amongst American League position players. Not too shabby for a guy who struggled so badly in 2009 that he had to be sent back to the minors.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Let's see, I guess there wasn't much that went wrong for the Angels. Jeff Mathis was arguably the worst hitter in the majors again, but they kind of knew that already. The same goes for Scott Kazmir being so bad that he was released after just one start. I feel like I'm forgetting something. What could it be?
Oh, right! The Angels started the season off by making one of the worst trades in the history of basell. I guess that qualifies as "going wrong." Yes, in their desperation to not look like fools after whiffing on every single major free agent, the Angels hit the panic button and traded for Vernon Wells, proud owner of one of the worst contracts in baseball. They assumed that even with his albatross of a contract that he could provide some much needed power and production for the middle of the order. What they got instead was a player who posted a .248 OBP, one of the worst qualifying OBPs for an outfielder in the history of the sport. To make matters worse, the Angels actually gave up Mike Napoli in order to get Wells.
Yes, this is the same Mike Napoli who never gained Mike Scioscia's trust and thus couldn't displace Jeff Mathis in the lineup. This is also the same Mike Napoli who is putting up monster numbers for the World Series-bound Texas Rangers, a team he ended up on after the Blue Jays flipped him for Frank Francisco after getting him from the Angels. Talk about a double whammy.
Just to add to the Angels' misery and middle of the order woes, the other guy they had been planning on powering the lineup was Kendrys Morales. The last we saw of Kendrys, his name was still Kendry (before he corrected what was apparently just a typo), he was breaking ankle during an aborted walk-off grand slam celebration. He was supposed to be ready to play by Opening Day, but that turned into some time in late-April or early May which quickly became him undergoing yet another season-ending surgery. Really, it is a wonder that this team managed to win 86 games.
The two most pleasant surprises for the Angels this season were the performances of Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos. Both youngsters were major question marks heading into the season, but both ended up performing admirably with the bat and glove, and played prominent roles in the Angels' success. Both players have their flaws, but given how this the Angel roster got, being able to turn those two kids into productive full-time starters was a real bonus that they couldn't have counted on to start the year.
But their strong seasons pale in comparison to the return of Jerome Williams. A top prospect for the Giants several years ago, Williams clawed his way from the baseball gutter all the way into the Angel rotation late in this season. And Jerome didn't just come back up for a cup of coffee either. Williams made six starts and four relief appearances that left him with a 3.68 ERA and very likely guaranteed him a spot in the 2012 Angels rotation.
Finally, a different kind of surprise was the Halos inking Jered Weaver to a team-friendly contract extension. With Weaver putting up Cy Young caliber numbers all season long, everyone in baseball assumed that the Scott Boras-repped Weaver hit free agency in search of a lucrative contract with some team other than the Angels. However, Weaver bucked that conventional wisdom and order Scott Boras to negotiate an extension with the Halos that will keep the big right-hander in Angel red through the 2016 season.
The tragedy that was Vernon Wells' 2011 season has been well-documented already, so there is no sense dwelling on it. But Wells wasn't the only disappointment for the Angels.
Bobby Abreu took his transition to being a full-time DH in stride, but he also didn't really hit very much. He finished the season with a .253 average, the lowest of his career, just barely beating out his average from 2010. He still drew a ton of walks, but any semblance of power he had completely abandoned him as his ISO for the year was a paltry .112, which was especially bad considering he spend most of the season batting third or fourth in the line-up.
Abreu and Wells got the most attention as the high-profile failures, but the silent killer of the Angel season was their faulty bullpen. Once the strength of the Scioscia-era Angels, the bullpen undercut the Angels time and time again. Free agent pick-up Scott Downs was fantastic and rookie closer Jordan Walden was mostly very good up until he melted down in the final week of the season, but after those two, Mike Scioscia had no one else he could trust. Fernando Rodney was so bad that he lost the closer job during the first series of the season and ended up being phased out of the bullpen depth chart altogether by the final month. Another free agent signing, Hisanori Takahashi, finished the season with a respectable looking line, but he struggled mightily with inconsistency, making it hard for him to be trusted in high leverage situations.
The Angels did get a dose of hope with the performance of righty Bobby Cassevah in the final two months of the season, but by that time, the damage had already been done.
As you might imagine, making one of the worst trades and bungling several high-profile free agency negotiations doesn't really do a whole lot of guy's job security. Sure enough, general manager Tony Reagins and several of his top assistants got the axe shortly after the season ended. The search is currently underway for a new GM, making it hard to speculate on what changes could be afoot.
Surely the Angels will look to try and add a potent bat or two to the lineup and address their bullpen depth issues. They will also have to find someone to fill the final spot in their rotation, vacated by impending free agent Joel Pineiro, since Tyler Chatwood and Garrett Richards both appear to not be ready for the majors yet. Like last off-season, the Angels are sure to be linked to many of the top free agents like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, but their ability to land one of them remains to be seen since they figure to have no more than $25 million to spend this off-season, assuming they don't raise their payroll.
One more change should hopefully be afoot too. The first likely task of the new Angels GM will be to break Mike Scioscia of his obsession with the offensively-challenged Jeff Mathis, likely by non-tendering him, forcing Scioscia to use young slugger Hank Conger, last year's primary back-up Bobby Wilson or a new acquisition. This change alone should cause Angel fans to dance in the streets.
Depending on how free agency unfolds, the third base timeshare of Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis could get pushed aside from a player capable of holding down the hot corner on a permanent basis. That will leave Callaspo and Izturis battling for playing time as the team's top infield utility man with the loser possibly getting shipped out of town. If not, Mike Scioscia will likely continue playing whoever has the hottest bat out of the two.
When it comes to juicy position battles, Anaheim could be the place to look this spring. With Torii Hunter entrenched in right and Peter Bourjos manning center, that leaves the likes of the aging Bobby Abreu, young slugger Mark Trumbo, disappointing Vernon Wells, rehabbing Kendrys Morales and super prospect Mike Trout left battling for playing time at first base, DH and left field. Mike Scioscia has always had a lot of loyalty to his veterans, so there is a real chance that both Trumbo and Trout could be the odd men out so that Wells and Abreu can both get one more chance to underachieve and disappoint.
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