Here’s your postcard from the Angels’ Cactus League spring training camp in Tempe. The sun is shining, but those sure look like storm clouds, or maybe a bad dust cloud just beyond the buttes here at Diablo Stadium.
What promised to be a time of excitement has turned into a month of debate about who the Angels really are, how they moved parts around their roster and how they treated an emerging superstar.
The shine of potential success sure was dulled with the past weekend’s negotiations over the contract of AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout. He nearly won the MVP honors and took home all the hardware as the rookie sensation who helped carry the team.
The end result was a slap in the face from the Angels owner and his general manager.
Trout put up monster numbers as a young phenom (.326-30HR-129RBI-49SB). A first season like that merits an enormous pay bump. The Angels refused. They renewed his contract, jumping him from $490,000 — the league minimum — to a second year salary of $510,000. That sounds like a lot, but reality says it is just a 10 percent raise — substandard in baseball circles.
Over the last ten Rookie of the Year winners, the average salary of those players jumped 21 percent between years one and two.
The Halos low-balled him, played hardball with him and sure raised eyebrows for how they treated him.
It leaves a bad taste in your mouth after what appeared to be a sweet off-season of player deals that would put the Angels back into pennant contention.
There sure was a lot excitement just weeks ago, when the off-season shifted to preseason. Here came the big bat of Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, joining an already talent-laden batting order. The bats would make up for the lack of depth of arms on the pitching staff.
But, all is not well right now here in the Cactus League. The Angels have the worst record of spring training of anyone in either Arizona or Florida. Sure it might not mean very much, this (1-7-2) spring training start, but this sure looks like a roster with some problem spots.
Hamilton has yet to get untracked, but he will hit. But will he hit home runs and drive in runs like he did at the ballpark in Arlington a year ago? He might not crank out 45 bombs like he did in Texas last season. That is a lot of money — $24 million — to pay someone who might not be here what he was there.
Albert Pujols, last year’s $24 million acquisition, has yet to play in a game after late off-season knee surgery. He will play and he will hit, but will he hold up for the duration of the long schedule?
There is no fallback plan if the top two power hitters are not the terrors they were in the past. Kendry Morales, who has home run power, is gone — shipped to Seattle in a trade for pitcher Jason Vargas.
Vernon Wells remains on the roster, or should we say the Halos are stuck with his $16 million contract on the roster for at least another two years. He has fallen off the face of the earth, following a .211 season with just 11 homers.
Mark Trumbo had a great first half, but faded badly in the second half and is being moved around in positions again.
The pitching staff is thin. Power pitcher Zack Greinke is up the freeway now with the Dodgers, talking openly about his $147 million contract and his expectations.
Gone too are starters Dan Haren and journeyman Ervin Santana — one as a free agent; the other dealt away.
The Angels dealt for Tommy Hanson, once a prized property of the Atlanta Braves, who has battled health issues. Vargas has come from Seattle, with a reputation of being good one start; bad the next.
Yes, the staff is led by the ace Jered Weaver and high-priced C.J. Wilson, but depth beyond that remains an iffy proposition.
The bullpen looks stronger, if there are no more elbow problems for Ryan Madson, but he has already had one setback with his arm. Sean Burnett, veteran Kevin Jepsen and Scott Downs round the pen out, but Madsen is the key, with Jared Walden gone to the Atlanta Braves.
Granted — this is the Cactus League and this does not mean much right now. But as you near the end of the month, it is not like you can throw a light switch on.
The Angels swapped off some pieces for other pieces. Whether they are a complete team remains to be seen. How they treated Mike Trout coming off that great contract year, and how he reacts to it, might be worth watching in a season with some question marks about it.
Questions like, do we really have a World Series team here?