COMMENTARY | Some people look at this time of year as a new beginning and a chance to make changes to past actions or habits in hopes of a better year ahead. While others just see it as an arbitrarily selected endpoint on an arbitrary calendar.
Baseball is the only major sport that plays all its games within a single calendar year, and the end of the year is a good time to stop looking back at the season that was and start looking forward to the season that will be.
Last year at this time, the Los Angeles Angels were looking forward to a season with hopes of a playoff run that would never manifest. What they got instead was a season of disappointing pitching and defense, injuries and off-the-field conflict.
It was bad, but it wasn't really a surprise. At the start of the year, they had just signed the top free agent hitter on the market in Josh Hamilton as a "retaliation" signing after the Los Angeles Dodgers had signed pitcher Zack Greinke.
Even if Josh Hamilton didn't wind up being one of the worst hitters in baseball in 2013, they still should've put that money into a starting pitcher -- someone like Kyle Lohse, who secretly had a good year for the Milwaukee Brewers at about $90 million less.
So, let's take a look forward and see what kind of resolutions the Angels should make to improve the team for a run at the division title in 2014 -- and beyond:
1. Get One More Starter
The Angels technically have enough starting pitching after fleecing the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Mark Trumbo trade, but they don't quite have a playoff-caliber rotation. They're rumored to be interested in Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Garza -- the two top pitchers available that don't require draft-pick compensation.
This is just smart baseball now and it's refreshing to see the team thinking like this. They could also still make a run at the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price with the recently acquired Tyler Skaggs as a trade centerpiece.
2. An Extension for Mike Trout
Mike Trout has already established himself as the best all-around player in the league and with baseball's collective bargaining agreement, he has been paid peanuts. This year, he'll make somewhere between $500K and $1 million. Next year, he'll enter arbitration for the first time and will probably break Ryan Howard's record of $10 million.
Sometime in the next year, the Angels need to look at making a huge investment in him as a part of the team's future. His overall production to date is somewhat unprecedented, so it won't be surprising to see an unprecedented contract. A contract in the 10-year, $200 million range would blow away any previous extension and would provide the Angels with the game's best player for the next decade.
3. Don't Revert to Old Habits
The AL West might have the best 1-4 teams of any division in baseball. They've certainly been the most active. In this environment, the front office needs to be smart. The Angels already started making changes as last season was coming to a close and they have continued through the offseason. No more "retaliation" transactions and no more squandering the team's tomorrow for possible improvements today.
They moved Trumbo and Peter Bourjos -- two players who were replaceable -- and got back a decent third baseman and two young, cost-controlled starting pitchers. It appears owner Arte Moreno has turned over control of the baseball operations to the baseball operations people. Let's hope he keeps it that way.
4. Get and Stay Healthy
Injuries were a big problem last year for the pitching staff and for many of the players. The main loss was Albert Pujols, whose plantar fasciitis finally got the better of him and he was shut down for the second half of the season.
Bourjos was a bit injury-prone as well but he was traded for David Freese, who is also recovering from injury issues. Every team has injuries, but the Angels had somewhat of an epidemic and finding a way to neutralize that this year could be a huge difference-maker.
5. Play Some Defense
Sure, the pitching was bad and manager Mike Scioscia did some weird managing at times, but the pitchers can only do so much. When the ball is put in play, it is up to the defenders to do their job and last year, the Angels were one of the worst in the league at this.
This has some more specific sub-resolutions like don't let Raul Ibanez play defense. The Seattle Mariners put him in the outfield so much last year that he cancelled out all of his offensive production. Bad defenders turn outs into hits. Hits turn into runs and runs turn into losses. It's not rocket science.
The Angels and their fans have a brighter year ahead in 2014 and if the team can keep most of these resolutions, then you can expect to see them making a run at the division title this year and in the future as well.
Jed Rigney is a Los Angeles-based award-winning filmmaker who also fancies himself a baseball writer. He is also a humor columnist at Through The Fence Baseball.
You can find him on Twitter @JedRigney.
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- Los Angeles Angels
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