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Uphill struggle defined Angels in 2013

Uphill struggle defined Angels in 2013

Uphill struggle defined Angels in 2013

From four pitching additions to two superstar players to one early hole -- for the Angels, everything that could go wrong in 2013 pretty much did.

It began in Spring Training, with a pitching staff that was behind schedule and a $240 million first baseman who was still hobbled. It leaked into the start of the season, when the rotation couldn't get deep into games, the bullpen got taxed and 17 losses made up the first 26 games.

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And it didn't get better until the very end, when a 23-13 record to finish the season did little more than raise spirits and lower the Angels' Draft position.

Year in Review
Looking back at 2013
MLB statistical leaders
Final standings

Ryan Madson never got healthy, Josh Hamilton had the worst season of his illustrious career, Albert Pujols didn't play past July, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson couldn't compete in the American League, Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas missed a combined 18 starts with fluky injuries, and the Angels missed the playoffs for a fourth straight season, leading them right back to the drawing board.

Here are the five storylines to take away from the 2013 calendar year:

5. Angels go 0-for-4 in pitching additions

You can learn all you need to know about how this past season turned out by simply thinking back to the Dec. 12, 2012, news conference at the ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney.

That day, the Angels introduced starters Blanton and Hanson, and relievers Madson and Sean Burnett. Together, they represented the relatively low-cost additions that would match the Angels' pitching with their offense and play a big part in getting them back to the postseason.

That, um, didn't turn out so well.

Blanton went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA, lost his rotation spot in late July and didn't pitch past Sept. 3.

Hanson posted a 5.42 ERA, was optioned to the Minor Leagues in early August and allowed 20 stolen bases in 13 starts.

Burnett made only 13 appearances before he was shut down with a small tear in his left flexor tendon July 31.

Madson never came back from April 2012 Tommy John surgery, missing a second consecutive season and getting released Aug. 5.

Of those four, only Blanton and Burnett remain on the roster. And only Burnett is being counted on to contribute in 2014.

4. Big money, small production

The big contracts for Pujols and Hamilton were the main reason the Angels had to go cheap on pitching, and let's just say they didn't get their money's worth in 2013. Together, Pujols and Hamilton contributed 2.6 wins -- per FanGraphs.com's version of Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) -- while making a combined $31 million.

That's almost $12 million per win.

Pujols was hampered greatly all year by an aggressive bout with plantar fasciitis, which led to a .258/.330/.437 slash line, 65 of 99 games as a designated hitter and the end of his season on July 26.

Hamilton batted .250/.307/.432 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in his first season in Anaheim -- and the first of a five-year, $125 million contract -- even though he posted a .329 batting average in his last 45 games.

The club is financially committed to Hamilton and Pujols for years to come, and with Mark Trumbo gone, a resurgence from those sluggers will be crucial. There's reason for optimism, though. For Pujols, it's that his foot has fully healed and he's having a normal offseason. For Hamilton, it's his late surge and a desire to regain the 15-20 pounds he purposely shed last offseason.

3. Sophomore slump? Yeah, right.

Yes, a lot went wrong for the Angels last season. But none of that involved Mike Trout. All he did was establish (reestablish?) himself as perhaps the best player in the game at the tender age of 22.

His .323/.432/.557 slash line almost mirrored his .326/.399/.564 line from a historic rookie season. He finished second to Miguel Cabrera for the American League's Most Valuable Player Award for a second straight year -- all while sparking yet another exhaustive debate -- and easily led the Majors with a 10.4 fWAR, one year after his 10 fWAR was tops in the game by a wide margin.

Trout is still a year removed from arbitration eligibility, but his payday may come soon.

He's expected to shatter every arbitration record there is, and many around the league are wondering if he'll be the first $300 million player in the sport. Soon enough, the Angels are expected to have preliminary discussions with Trout's agent, Craig Landis, regarding a mega-extension. One way or another, Trout will cost them a lot of money very soon.

2. Time for change

Alberto Callaspo, Peter Bourjos, Scott Downs, Blanton, Hanson and Trumbo have essentially been replaced by David Freese, Kole Calhoun, Joe Smith, Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs and Raul Ibanez.

Being out of it early allowed Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto to get a head start on improving the roster for 2014, so he swapped Callaspo for A's young, versatile infielder Grant Green and traded Downs to the Braves for young reliever Cory Rasmus in July.

On Nov. 22, he traded Bourjos and outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals in the deal that landed Freese and reliever Fernando Salas, paving the way for Calhoun to start in right field. Five days later, he signed Smith to a three-year, $15.75 million contract. On Dec. 10, he sent Trumbo to Arizona as part of a three-team trade that brought Skaggs from the D-backs and Santiago from the White Sox. And on Dec. 18, Ibanez was added on a one-year, $2.75 million, incentive-laden deal.

Now, with roughly $15 million of wiggle room before hitting the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million, the Angels will look to free agency for a starting pitcher.

1. Scioscia and Dipoto stay, others go

Rumors swirled for most of the summer that it would be manager Mike Scioscia or Dipoto, or both, getting dismissed at season's end. A lot of what went wrong with the Angels was out of their control. But they also shared plenty of blame -- Dipoto for the pitching acquisitions that didn't pan out, Scioscia for four consecutive playoff absences -- and weren't necessarily working in harmony.

In the end, though, they both stayed on -- and the coaching staff had a makeover.

Bench coach Rob Picciolo and hitting coach Jim Eppard were let go, replaced by Dino Ebel -- promoted from third-base coach to bench coach -- and veteran skipper Don Baylor, respectively. Also added were Gary DiSarcina (third-base coach), Dave Hansen (assistant hitting coach) and Rick Eckstein (player information coach), bringing what the Angels hope is more personality and thoroughness to Scioscia's staff.

Perhaps most important in all this: Dipoto and Scioscia put together this coaching staff together. They're said to be doing a lot better this offseason, but the big test will be when the games start and the adversity inevitably comes.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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