With what they have, Angels aim to compete
Recent surge shows they could make run, but team-boosting trade unlikely
The Angels won all six games on their just-completed road trip, dispatching of both the elite (Tigers) and the obsolete (Astros).
Granted, a hole the size of the one dug by the Angels in the season's first half is not escaped in six games, for they still enter the week sitting nine games back in the American League West and 7 1/2 out of the AL Wild Card chase. But a streak of this nature is great for the psyche, even if it's only marginally good for the standings.
The Angels unquestionably have their work cut out for them if they're going to avoid missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year and the second since owner Arte Moreno started signing grandiose position player paychecks. The Halos are miles behind where they were expected to be, and losing Jason Vargas (blood clot in armpit), Tommy Hanson (forearm strain) and Peter Bourjos (fractured wrist) to the disabled list doesn't help.
But the Angels have little choice but to either go down with the ship or hope the whims of the Wild Card pursuit work out in their favor in the second half. (Remember the ultra-late push of the Brewers and Phillies last season, which ultimately didn't work out but did illustrate how quickly a castoff club can claim "contention" status.)
"We are not a buyer, we are not a seller," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "We're the Angels, who are sitting here trying to win a game today."
Sure, it's easy to beat the drum for the Angels to put the focus on the future by pulling the plug on 2013 and selling in order to build around Mike Trout for the long haul.
But what impact pieces do they realistically have to sell in the immediate?
After all, nobody's lining up to take on the payroll-sapping contracts of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in their post-prime years, and Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson have thus far offered only shadows of their past performances. Howie Kendrick is having a career year and is an attractive trade chip, but the Angels have him locked up through 2015 on team-friendly terms.
Really, the guy who would have made the most sense for the Angels to dangle in a deal is the pending free-agent Vargas, who has been arguably their most effective starter. But his medical situation, which will hold him out for the next few weeks, hinders, if not outright eliminates, his trade value. Left-handed reliever Scott Downs would certainly have value to a contender, and the Angels might explore his worth, but the haul for a 37-year-old bullpen arm obviously isn't going to be a franchise-changer.
The Angels are, by and large, forced to keep going with what they've got. They put themselves in this undesirable position by making those surprising commitments to Pujols and Hamilton, neither of which has panned out as planned.
It is a credit to Pujols' pure skill and will to win that he remains an above-average -- and at times elite -- run-producer, despite the plantar fasciitis that has largely limited him to DH duties. This is a positive Dipoto is quick to accentuate.
"As much as everybody likes to be critical of what Albert does with the Angels, he's been a heck of a player," Dipoto said. "He's hit 40-plus home runs since Opening Day of last year, and he ranks up there with all the names you would expect in regard to the runs he's produced. And he's done it with physical limitations that he wasn't anticipating and no one was anticipating."
True, but those limitations are more common as a player of Albert's age tries to endure the grind of 162 games, and they've made his fall from the Albert of old a precipitous one, with eight-plus years left on his contract.
Hamilton, meanwhile, went completely off the cliff after signing a five-year, $125 million deal last December, justifying the fears or nerves borne out of his strange second half with the Rangers last year. But this latest road trip was good for what was ailing him to, as he hit .429 with a 1.090 OPS in the six games, seemingly benefiting from the mental break he had been given beforehand.
"We've tried a lot of different approaches with Josh," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We shut him down for four days to get him to reboot a little bit, and we'll keep working with him to get him comfortable and where he needs to be."
He's still not exactly where he needs to be, and neither are the Angels. That's led to a great deal of uncertainty about the future of those in charge, though Moreno told USA Today last week that he won't make any evaluations until the offseason.
Dipoto has only been on the job since October 2011 and is well-respected in the industry, but his bid to replenish the rotation on the cheap hasn't worked. Scioscia has a rare amount of contractual security for a manager, as he's signed for $5 million a year through 2018. But this is no longer a club built in the mold of his pitching-oriented postseason clubs of the past, and so there is some uncertainty in his status. Not that he has much to worry about.
"If he gets fired at 3 p.m.," said former Angel Torii Hunter, "he'll have another job by 5 p.m."
It's the immediate future of the Angels that is of greater intrigue. Their 2013 situation is far from ideal, but there's no going back now, and perhaps this six-game streak is the start of their resuscitation.