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Ohtani, Pujols and the Angels’ Death Wish

March 27th, 2018 · No Comments · Angels, Baseball

The Los Angeles Angels have under contract the consensus “best player in baseball”, one Michael Nelson Trout.

For all the won-loss good it has done the club — which has not won a postseason game during Mike Trout’s six full seasons.

It appears that one great player, surrounded by mediocrity (or worse), is unlikely to drag a team to the playoffs, which has been the case in five of Trout’s six seasons.

The Angels are sensitive to the charge that they are “wasting Mike Trout’s prime” by not getting competent players around him, potentially making him the supercharged version of Ernie Banks, a Hall of Famer who played exclusively for the Chicago Cubs and, like Trout, was twice voted league MVP but never participated in a postseason game.

Trout’s chances, and the Angels’, of getting back to the playoffs pivot on two key club decisions, neither of which looks like a winning strategy just now.

1) Continuing to play the once-great Albert Pujols, 38, whose “wins above replacement” (WAR) number last season was minus-1.8, presumably a factor in prompting the stat-wonk website to declare him “the worst player in baseball.”

2) Signing “Japanese Babe Ruth” Shohei Ohtani and embarking on reinventing how baseball in the majors is played to allow the 23-year-old rookie to pitch every sixth game (in a six-man rotation) but also to let him serve as designated hitter for two or three games a week, when he is not pitching. Ohtani’s at-bats push Pujols back onto the field, at first base, where the creaky veteran’s lack of mobility will be on full display.

Those two decisions appear to suggest the Angels have a competitive death wish: They act as if they want to win, talk about it, bring in some solid veterans, make a high-visibility signing — but how is pandering to a rookie and hanging on to a faded veteran making them better?

The problems are straightforward.

–Pujols, 38, cannot run. He should not be on the field except as a DH, which (pre-Ohtani) the Angels recognized; only six times did they allow him to play first base last season; it was 28 games at first in 2016.

But now they are going to send him out there in games when Ohtani is the DH. Pujols has some residual power; he drove in 101 runs and hit 23 homers in 2017, but he was awful in nearly every other stat, from a league-high 26 hit-into-DPs, to the ruinous .286 on-base percentage. And now the Angels are planning to send him back out to first base, where his fragile feet will be at renewed risk and his immobility displayed.

What the Angels ought to do with Pujols, as great as he has been (mostly for his first team, the St. Louis Cardinals), is release him and eat the final four years of that mad, 10-year, $240 million contract owner Arte Moreno gave him ahead of the 2012 season, and turn over 1B to Luis Valbuena. Or just about anyone who can produce at league-average levels, because Pujols cannot.

–The Angels might be able to squeeze a bit more production from a Pujols who doesn’t have to wear the leather and stand on the infield dirt for half the game. Though, predictably, Pujols and the Angels, are saying he is in better shape, physically, than at any time since 2013. One would like to think the club isn’t keeping him around because he is 32 hits shy of 3,000 hits — for which he would get a $3 million bonus. (But think of all the marketing opportunities!)

–Ohtani is thought by many to be the greatest pitcher-and-hitter since Ruth, but allowing him to try to pull that off means all sorts of special treatment from the Angels, none of which looks like it will make the team better. Including the Ohtani-preferred six-man pitching rotation, unknown in MLB, and the role as a part-time designated hitter — because he apparently cannot or will not play in the field.

Ohtani is a big story, and not just in Japan, but so far he looks overmatched whether he is throwing the ball or trying to hit it.

In spring training, he is 4-for-32 with no extra-base hits, three walks and 10 strikeouts. There are holes in his swing.

On the pitching side, he has been shelled in two official spring-training games, surrendering nine hits, three homers and nine runs in 2.2 innings.

Instead of being a savior for the Angels rotation, which is riddled with guys who generally are not quite healthy, Ohtani looks like he has no idea how to retire MLB hitters.

Actually, it has been a while since Ohtani retired hitters on either side of the Pacific. Bothered by injuries (ankle, thigh), he pitched only 25 innings in Japan in 2017, allowing 19 walks.

The Angels hope they have signed the kid who had the great stats for the Hokkaido Nippon Fighters in 2016: a 1.86 earned-run average in 140 innings, with a 10-4 record.


The Angels appear to improve themselves with competent, veteran hitters at three positions. Outfielder Justin Upton, 30, who had a fine September with the club last year, signed for five years and $106 million and has been asked to hit behind Trout.

The Angels also signed Zack Cozart, 32, a fine defensive player with some pop in his bat, to hold down third base, for three years and $38 million. And they added Ian Kinsler, 35, to handle second base, a black hole in 2017, obtaining him in a trade with the Tigers. The Angels will pay the $11 million due Kinsler in the final year of his contract.

The bulk of this team looks competitive, even with a mix-and-match bullpen, but the two decisions that are infused with management willfulness — Pujols still on the team and the rookie Ohtani dictating how often he pitches and how often he hits will drag them down — and another year of Mike Trout’s peak will be lost.



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