Los Angeles Angels
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An enterprising screenwriter could find abundant material for an old-fashioned soap opera by studying the Los Angeles Angels' past three seasons.
Act One found the Angels compiling the major league's best record in 2014, only to be swept in the American League Division Series by the eventual World Series winners, the Kansas City Royals.
In Act Two, the club recovered from the unceremonious dismissal of outfielder Josh Hamilton before the 2015 season because of a drug and alcohol relapse, the midseason firing of general manager Jerry Dipoto and a summer collapse to miss a playoff spot by one game.
The drama intensified in Act Three, with season-ending injuries claiming five starting pitchers and two closers before the Angels won nine of their final 11 games last year to avoid finishing last in the AL West.
However, the upcoming episode of As The Halo Turns promises to be the most intriguing yet.
General manager Billy Eppler navigated owner Arte Moreno's financial restrictions during the offseason to fill significant holes without relinquishing significant talent. Eppler acquired outfielders Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere, second baseman Danny Espinosa, catcher Martin Maldonado and infielder Luis Valbuena while collecting pitchers off waivers.
Maybin will become the 20th Angel to start in left field since Opening Day 2015, with Revere in reserve. Espinosa replaces the dedicated, yet overmatched, Johnny Giavotella. Maldonado brings a reputation as a superior pitch-framer. Valbuena provides missing left-handed power.
Fangraphs.com was so impressed that it projected the Angels as a wild-card contender. Eppler agreed.
"We have the potential to be in the playoffs," he told the Los Angeles Times.
Eppler explained the rationale for his acquisitions.
"In a perfect world, you have elite defense up the middle," he told Fangraphs.com. "I think everybody has noticed that the position players who have walked in the door have all been solid average, or better, defensively. That's something that is important to us."
Espinoza and Maldonado join center fielder Mike Trout and shortstop Andrelton Simmons up the middle. Complementing Trout and Simmons on offense are designated hitter Albert Pujols, right fielder Kole Calhoun and third baseman Yunel Escobar.
But one plot complication already has developed. Valbuena, projected to be the starting first baseman, will be out four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring. Valbuena had season-ending surgery on that muscle last August.
Nevertheless, for Eppler's view of the club's potential to become reality, the Angels must get solid pitching.
Indications from the starters this spring appear positive. Right-handers Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker are impressing after recovering from serious injuries. Richards relied on injections of stem cells and platelet-rich plasma to avoid Tommy John surgery. Shoemaker sustained a fractured skull and cranial bleeding after a batted ball hit him in the head in September, but he has been dominant in spring training.
However, the bullpen remains a work in progress, especially after closer Huston Street strained his back March 3. Right-handers Cam Bedrosian and Andrew Bailey are competing to fill Street's role, while competition elsewhere remains wide open.