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September 27, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Los Angeles Angels

by Jay Jaffe, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in September (or before), the league division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines an overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.

Today the bell tolls for the Los Angeles Angels, whose future looks bright despite a late-season charge that fell short. It's time to kiss them goodbye.

Signs of hope: The Angels can lay claim to what is arguably the American League's best front-of-the-rotation trio in Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana, all of whom have provided at least 228 innings, an ERA of 3.38 or better and at least 7.0 strikeouts per nine in 2011. Weaver ranks second among AL pitchers in WARP (5.8) and ERA (2.41) behind only Justin Verlander, and he might be the first Scott Boras client in memory to have given his team a hometown discount, having signed a five-year, $85 million extension rather than await a $100 million-plus free-agent payday.

Elsewhere, infielders Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo, and Howie Kendrick might be too reliant upon batting average for some tastes, but all have posted true averages of at least .277 and WARPs of at least 3.0, led in the latter category by Aybar's 4.5. Peter Bourjos emerged as a true asset in center field thanks to a much stronger bat than in his rookie season (.271/.328/.439), Mark Trumbo bopped 29 homers and slugged .477 to help offset the loss of Kendrys Morales, and uberprospect Mike Trout got his first taste of major league action, debuting a month before his 20th birthday.

Signs of disaster: The Vernon Wells trade was catastrophic on many fronts. The 32-year-old has hit just .220/.250/.418 in left field, which won't cut it, particularly at a price of $23 million ($5 million paid by Toronto this year). Worse, he's still owed another $63 million through 2014. The loss of Mike Napoli, sent to Toronto for Wells before being flipped to Texas, did nothing to clear up the Angels' muddled catching situation. Weak-hitting Jeff Mathis (.176/.226/.261) has drawn the majority of starts, while both Hank Conger (.214/.288/.364) and Bobby Wilson (.185/.250/.278) proved disappointing, as well; stack those up against Napoli's 5.5 WARP with the Rangers, and you've got a division-turning trade.

Signs you can ignore: Trout hit just .204/.260/.381 in 123 plate appearances, with a 28-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Then again, he made the jump to the majors after just 75 games of Double-A experience due to injuries and Wells' ineffectiveness, and fared better in his second stint with the team until a 3-for-38 slump dragged his numbers back down. He's still one of the game's best young talents. Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus

Bowden's Bold Move
The Angels showed patience and foresight in allowing their young players to develop during the first half of 2011. Though it cost them in the win column early in the season, and their late-season push fell just short, they head into the offseason feeling pretty good about their young nucleus of Bourjos, Trumbo, Trout, Conger, Walden, and Tyler Chatwood. That said, several large needs remain in order for the Angels to compete with the Rangers next year fot the AL West title.

Though the Angels will finish 2011 with the AL's best team ERA, they'll also finish 10th in the league in runs scored. They'll finish the year fourth in saves but tied with the Blue Jays with a league-worst 25 blown saves. And after "graduating" most of their top minor league talent in 2011, they no longer have a deep enough farm system to make significant trades. Thus, they will have to turn to free agency.

There are two moves the Angels could make that would go a long way in remedying their bullpen and offensive issues. Free-agent closer Heath Bell has posted 132 saves since taking on the closer's role full-time for the Padres in 2009, and he should be the Angels' first target. Though AL Rookie of the Year candidate Jordan Walden saved 32 games in 2011, he also blew 10 chances. It is imperative the Angels acquire a lockdown closer if they expect to win with pitching and defense. Moving Walden to an eighth-inning role similar to that of the Yankees' David Robertson, the Tigers' Joaquin Benoit, and the Rangers' Mike Adams will give their bullpen some much-needed depth. Bell's preference is to stay in San Diego, but Orange County is less than a two-hour drive north.

The Angels have had a gaping hole at third ever since the departure of Troy Glaus after the 2004 season. Signing third baseman Aramis Ramirez would be a huge factor in improving the Angels' run production in 2012 and beyond. Ramirez, 33, hit .306/.360/.506 with 35 doubles and 25 home runs for a moribund Cubs squad this year. Alberto Callaspo did an adequate job this season for the Angels, but he hit just six homers and drove in a mere 46 runs, which is simply not enough production from a corner infielder. Ramirez has a good relationship with Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells, who both could help convince him to sign with the Angels.

The Angels should get first baseman Kendrys Morales back after missing nearly two years due to major leg injuries. His return will almost seem like another free-agent acquisition and should add more punch to the middle of the Angels' lineup. Trout should be fully ready for the majors, which could add significant speed and power for the offense. Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 92-70

Coming up just short after making the final weeks of the season interesting, the Angels probably have the best below-average offense in baseball. They had solid players at seven of nine lineup positions this year, but the other two did their best to cancel out the rest of the team. To maximize the rest of the team, the Angels need to get Jeff Mathis' pitcher-like bat out of the lineup and let Mike Trout push Vernon Wells to a fourth outfielder as soon as possible. Outside of patching up the offensive holes, none of the rest of the current starters have high, unexplored upsides. Weaver-Haren-Santana remains a potent Top 3, but the team's going to need more contributions from the supporting cast.

Worst-case scenario: 75-87
Though the Angels probably don't currently have the personnel to win 95 games, the solidity of most of the lineup can at least keep the team from bottoming out too far. Even with Conger and Trout likely starting full time, the Angels have some decent offensive depth with Maicer Izturis able to competently replace any of the infielders. Morales' hopeful return gives the Angels a surplus of adequate 1B/DH types. Replacing a starting pitcher that goes down is a little trickier and might need to be addressed in the free-agent marketJerome Williams has been a surprise contributor, but Chatwood's rookie season had some real down moments, and Garrett Richards isn't quite ready as a full-time option. Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
The Angels already received a taste of the future with Trout, who will finish the year a handful of at-bats under the 130 mark to maintain his eligibility for 2012 Rookie of the Year voting, for which he's an early favorite. Having one of the best, if not the best, prospects in baseball automatically makes the future bright, but the system falls off quickly beyond that one bright, shining star. The team's biggest hope when it comes to a more immediate future is infielder Jean Segura, who had all but a lost season due to hamstring issues, and while they are deep at the lower levels with players like third baseman Kaleb Cowart and second baseman Taylor Lindsey, those are still players to dream on more than count on and are years away. One interesting development will be 2011 first-round pick Chris Cron, who could move quickly, but possesses a similar skill set (and similar positional limitations) to Mark Trumbo, who is coming off a year in which he led the team in home runs. Pitching wise, the system has little to praise at any level, but luckily that is the team's strength at the big league level. It's not a bad system as much as it is one that should allow the team to remain competitive in the American League West, but not put them over the top unless Trout explodes, which is a distinct possibility. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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