For the second year in a row, aggressive free agent spending led to high expectations that the Angels didn’t deliver on—both on the field and for their fantasy squads. The club’s 78-84 finish in 2013 led to the team’s worst record in 10 years. While there were some solid performances by a few key performers, the Angels were a victim of injuries to aging veterans and a lack of depth in the starting lineup. This wasn’t a fantasy black hole (no team with Mike Trout in the fold can be considered bereft of fantasy usefulness), but if you invested big in the Angels in 2013, there is a good chance you were disappointed.

Will 2014 be a transitional year for LA or will the Angels climb back into contention? Here is an early sneak peak at what we anticipate for the Angels next season.

Angels’ Top 10 Prospects List

Projected Lineup

  1. CF Peter Bourjos
  2. LF Mike Trout
  3. 1B Albert Pujols
  4. RF Josh Hamilton
  5. DH Mark Trumbo
  6. 2B Howie Kendrick
  7. SS Erick Aybar
  8. 3B Luis Jimenez
  9. C Chris Iannetta

Trout is the obvious must-buy/draft player here, but after that come a host of questions. Pujols (foot) and Bourjos (wrist) are both recovering from injuries and should be ready for spring training, but both come with question marks. Bourjos’ potential speed has always tantalized, but he hasn’t run much since his rookie campaign in 2011. A full recovery from plantar fasciitis should translate to better numbers for Pujols across the board, but he is entering his Age 34 season and hasn’t been an elite force since 2010. Hamilton is only a year younger than Pujols and coming off of a year when he flailed at anything that moved. He might bounce back, but it will take more than just good BABIP luck to fix what ails Hamilton. It’s important to remember Hamilton and Pujols both have fantasy value, they just no longer have the top 20 or 30 value that they had earlier in their careers.

Projected Bench

The fluidity of some of the situations mentioned above mean that any or all of these players could log more than the usual 100-150 plate appearances you’d expect from a bench player and provide some value in AL-only leagues. Calhoun is a Bourjos injury away from racking up everyday playing time, and he was a surprising source of power last year down the stretch for the Angels. Conger could wrest additional playing time away from Iannetta in 2014, particularly if the club tries to move more toward youth as the season progresses. Green and Nelson both could play third base, although neither did enough with the bat last year to merit mixed league consideration unless you’re absolutely desperate.

Projected Rotation

The rotation is just like the line-up: decent at the top with some solid fantasy contributors but thin/weak at the bottom. An elbow injury limited Weaver to 154 innings last year, but when he was on the mound he was his usual solid self. Just keep in mind that he has never been a big strikeout guy, and he hasn’t whiffed over 150 since 2011. Weaver is obviously worth owning, but targeting him as an ace is a mistake. Wilson also isn’t an ace, but is drafted appropriately and might even be slightly undervalued. In shallower mixed leagues, he’s a great matchup play at home in the pitchers’ paradise that is Anaheim.

The rest of the staff is riddled with question marks and where the Angels are likely to try to upgrade this offseason. Richards throws hard and always shows flashes of promise, but has been inconsistent to date. Of the potential back three, he has the most upside. Williams also performed well at times, but has bad stretches are really bad and he was borderline even in AL-only. Blanton is listed in the depth chart as a starter, but he seems the most likely candidate to be shown the door—large salary notwithstanding—if the Angels sign someone or acquire an arm via trade.

Projected Closer Candidates

The Angels brought signed Ryan Madson to a one-year, incentive-laden deal last winter and the expectation was that he’d close in May or June once he returned to full health. This never came to fruition, and Frieri held onto the job all year. Frieri relies almost entirely on his 93-95 MPH fastball, but the results were there, and there’s a good chance he starts 2014 as the closer again if the Angels don’t bring in outside help. De La Rosa was a sneaky cheap middle reliever in fantasy in 2013, earning double digits in AL-only despite picking up a mere two saves. De La Rosa is the logical choice in the ninth should Frieri slip, but nothing that happens in Spring Training should change their roles on Opening Day.

Hot Stove Possibilities

Rumored Needs: Starting Pitching

Rumored Trade Chips: Peter Bourjos, Chris Iannetta, Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo

Nearly all of the free agent rumors surrounding the Angels revolve around them bringing in a starting pitcher, with former Angel Jason Vargas the most likely candidate to sign with LA. There are a few other, more high profile free agents being mentioned, but the Angels don’t seem to be pushing as hard this winter as they did the last two off seasons. Given their aggressive spending the last two winters, it would be foolish to count them out on any free agent, but the rumor mill seems to be focusing on them trying to shed dollars, not add more free agents. The other area where the Angels might look to upgrade via free agency would be in the bullpen. If the rumor mill is to be believed, Brian Wilson is the kind of relatively cheap pick-up the team would try to make, as opposed to chasing a big money guy like Joe Nathan.

If the team goes the trade route, it’s likely that one of the players mentioned above will be moved for a starting pitcher. Kendrick was also linked to “prospects” this winter. While a pure salary dump is unlikely, it is possible the Angels will move guys like Kendrick and Iannetta for a little payroll flexibility, particularly if they decide to make a big splash for Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka.

Positional Battles to Watch

Third Base: Luis Jimenez vs. Chris Nelson vs. Grant Green
In terms of 2013 performance, this is a fantasy black hole that should be avoided, especially in standard mixed leagues where a bad starter doesn’t do you any favors. Jimenez probably has a real life edge because of his defense, but the power that he showed in the minors hasn’t translated to the majors. Nelson had one strong year when he was with the Rockies, but faded badly last year and is looking more like a backup/utility type. Green has the most promise of the trio, but the prospect luster is wearing off rapidly. Like Nelson, his future might be as more of a utility player than as a starter.

Fourth/Fifth Starting Pitcher: Jerome Williams, Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Chris Volstad
As noted above, while the top two rotation spots for the Angels are etched in stone, the rest of the staff is up in the air. Richards probably has the inside track for the no. 3 or the no. 4, but the last one or two spots (depending on whether or not LA signs a free agent) are an open question. Williams would seem to be the favorite, but the organization says that he isn’t guaranteed a spot. Blanton’s contract might keep him in the rotation early, but Hanson (if he is tendered a contract) and Volstad might figure into the mix as well. The reality is that this is probably Williams’ spot to lose, but this is something to keep an eye on in Spring Training. Hanson is the guy to watch from a fantasy standpoint. If he’s healthy and back on his game, he potentially has deeper mixed league value… and could be one of those endgame AL-only picks who returns double-digit value.

Player to Target: C.J. Wilson
This is more of a left-handed compliment than an enthusiastic endorsement of Wilson, but despite hurling 200-plus innings with 170-plus strikeouts for four years running Wilson is still viewed somewhat negatively in fantasy circles. This is primarily due to his high walk rates and the aggravation he provides his fantasy owners when he walks himself into trouble when his control/command is completely off. I like Wilson as a mid-tier rotation option, and based on the way people price C.J., he should be a slight to moderate bargain depending upon your league.

Player to Avoid: Josh Hamilton
Avoid isn’t quite the right word here; if Hamilton falls in at the right price or the right draft slot you have to take him, as he has value in any format. My concern is that a couple of owners are going to get cute and bet on a Hamilton comeback and his price is going to sail way past my comfort level. There is probably a mild bounce back coming in 2014, but the 43 HR he hit in hitter-friendly Arlington aren’t coming back and at Age 33, Hamilton is entering that age where his peak is in the rearview mirror. He hit .201 against left-handed pitching in 2013. The Angels probably won’t put Hamilton into a strict platoon, but if he’s a liability for 150-200 plate appearances he’s not going to be a source of top-tier power or batting average.

Deep Sleeper: Kole Calhoun
Since the Angels don’t have any obvious choices for this designation in the high minors, this label falls on a guy who came to the plate nearly 200 times at the major league level last year. Calhoun was never on anyone’s prospect lists, but he has always played his way into larger roles than anticipated due to his intensity and approach. With Bourjos’ injury history, it is entirely possible that Calhoun manages to sneak in 250-300 plate appearances even if the Angels don’t trade a hitter. Trade or no, a potential starting gig for Calhoun by midyear wouldn’t surprise me at all. Calhoun’s minor league speed didn’t translate in the majors last year, but 10-12 steals on top of his 12-15 home run potential isn’t a reach. The value proposition in deeper mixed and only leagues is there if Calhoun gets the opportunity to play.

Taylor Lindsey is the prospect that could find his way onto the roster by midyear, but as the Angels no. 1 prospect isn’t really much of a “sleeper” anywhere save for a standard mixed league. The catch-22 in Lindsey’s case is that most of his appeal comes as a deep league play; he isn’t likely to produce big numbers in home runs or stolen bases, so he’s better left to deeper mixed and AL-only if he’s starting…and it’s difficult to call him a “sleeper” in those formats. This is all moot if Kendrick isn’t traded. Lindsey is mostly a commodity for leagues with deep reserve lists and dynasty formats; he’s just a name to keep in mind everywhere else.

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I realize how crazy early this is, but what price do you think Hamilton will go for in a 12 team, AL only league next year? 25?
In a start-up, start over league that might be a little high. He could go for that, but I'm thinking $22 or $23 might do it. I show him earning $16.34 last year; the PFM shows him at $17.53 using my methodology (no inflation, 175/85 hitting/pitching split, SGP turned on). If you split the difference between what I show him earning in 2012 ($33) and what he earned last year, that's a $24-25 player, but as I said above I see Hamilton as a moderate bounce back candidate, not a big one.