No matter what happens this year, no matter how it ends, whether the Angels' Cinderella story their way to the World Series or they lose every single game for the rest of the season, 2012 is going to be a great year for the Angels. Well, maybe I shouldn't go handing them that already, but with the way things are looking, next year has a enough potential in it to instill hope in a greater season then the one being had now. Not to disregard this season the Angels have had, it's been a good one so far with plenty of great moments, but there's been too much lost potential, too much dead hope. Yet, with a new season comes new opportunities, new hopes, but more importantly a fresh start. I can think of an Angel or two who would love a fresh start right about now. Those are just intangibles however, a GM can't sign a hope to fill a vacancy at 3rd base, and you definitely can't send a fresh start to the mound to close out a tight ball game. Yet there are many concrete factors coming into play which will help get this ballclub on the right path permanently, or at least for the 2012 season.
Firstly, and probably the most obvious, the Angels are going to have a lot of dead money coming off the books. Scott Kazmir and GMJ, two long gone yet hated Angels are still sapping this team of millions and millions of dollars, but after this season their leeches will be mercilessly cut away from this team's wallet. They aren't the only two draining this team of cash, non-producers like Fernando Rodney and Joel Pineiro will be gone after this season and give their roster spots to someone who actually deserves it. Between the four of them there's a lot of cash being wasted, though I can't be too confident on whether or not that money will go to a honorable cause seeing as how the spending is still in the hands of Reagins. It's not all about the money, first thing's first and that's cutting ties with anyone who negatively affects this team and their ability to make it to the post-season. There's still a player or two who could use a swift boot out the door *cough*Jeff Mathis *cough*, but as of now it doesn't seem like the team is rushing to get them off the roster.
So there's four freed up roster spots, but who's gonna take 'em? I can't account for the other 3, but I know for sure who's going to take one of them, and his name is Kendrys Morales. He hasn't been in a ballgame in well over a year after his tragic multiple season-ending injury, but that isn't going to stop this organization from giving him a shot at continuing his career from where he left off. He may not jump back into the game at 100%, but even if he does a fraction of what he's capable of, this offense will improve, though there will probably be a logjam that will make it difficult for him to get playing time. Morales will most obviously be DHing for a good portion of the season, wheeling in and out with the likes of Abreu and possibly even Vernon Wells. I wouldn't be surprised if Scioscia had Trout on the opening roster as an insurance policy to Vernon Wells in case he lets his performance from this year ride into next year as well, and if that happens Trout will take much of his playing time and force him to DHing. That'll keep Morales from getting a steady number of games as the DH meaning he'll have to share 1B duties with rookie slugger Mark Trumbo, and if he ends up winning the ROY award (which looks more likely each day) I don't think Scioscia is going to want to have him benched a few days out of the weeks for a player who is pretty much a roll of the dice at this point. But if Morales DOES happen to get better, where will he play? That, unfortunately, is a bridge we're going to have to cross when we come to it. Let's just hope that bridge comes by fast.
Another big question mark on this roster is Vernon Wells, unsurprisingly. But it isn't a question of will he be good or not, it's a question of how good of a rebound year he's going to have. I may be the only one, but I have no doubt in my mind that Vernon Wells is going to bounce back after his horrific freshman year in Anaheim. Let's not forget that he was an All-Star last year who bashed his way to 31 HR's and 44 doubles, the same Vernon Wells who hasn't broken the 15 double mark yet. But that doesn't worry me, Vernon Wells' numbers have always fluctuated between mediocre and above average every season. Although Wells has never had a season nearly as bad as the one he's having now he is still relatively young at the age of 32. Well, relatively young may be a stretch, but he certaintly isn't an old timer yet and I doubt this is a permanent drop in performance due to age or whatever reasons you want to present. Wells has never really had a consistent stroke in his career, hitting anywhere from .240 to .300 in his entire career. He may not come back next season as that power type guy we were looking to pair up with Morales, but if he can find that consistent semi-power stroke (much similar to Hunter) he's displayed a handful of times in his career he'll fit in nicely with the power trio of Morales, Trumbo, and Hunter.
Speaking of Torii Hunter, earlier in the season Hunter looked like he was on a sharp decline, but after the past few weeks he's looked like himself once again. He could finally be getting out of a season long slump, or we could just be destined to watch quick flashes of what used to be buried between long periods of mediocre offensive production.
Lastly, but most importantly are the kids on the team, the same kids that have been carrying this team the majority of the season. This season was a big transition for the rookies on this team, most importantly Bourjos, Trumbo, Chatwood, Conger and Walden. Chatwood and Conger got a fair amount of ML experience this season and I have no doubt that both of them will be able to lock down a roster spot for opening day next year, but it's going to take a lot of improving on their parts. Conger's defense hasn't been met with much love from the Scioscia, but his past few starts have shown a big improvement in his defensive abilities behind the plate. The only thing that troubles me is he might be focusing too much on the defensive aspect of his game, his offense has been too shaky to withstand any neglect, but if he can find a consistent stroke at the plate he'll do wonders in improving this teams terrible offensive production from their catching corps.
Chatwood did a lot a dazzling in his time with the Angels, but he also did a lot of disappointing. He's proven that he can be a dominating starter, but if he can't get a handle on his control and cut down on the walks he won't be finding much starting time with the club. As much as I would love to see Chatwood take the 5th spot in the rotation come opening day next year it would be very beneficial to give him some more seasoning in the minors, at least until the All-Star break. Unless he's able to prove himself in spring training he probably won't make the roster until early next season barring some desperation move that brings him back to the majors. However, if he can improve quickly in the minors he could be up with the team come September, tall yet manageable order for someone with his talent.
What's going to make or break this team next season is the rookie trio of Walden, Trumbo and Bourjos. Walden has had the hardest time out of the three of them, yet he's continued to pile on the adjustments in order to be a successful closer in the majors. If he can learn how to throw anything that isn't his damned fastball he'll be in line for a phenomenal season as the Angels closer next year, he just needs to kill his dependency on the fastball. Walden is deadly when he throws his secondary pitches, but when he gets into jams he tries to brute force his way out of them with the fastball, drifting from that gameplan in 2012 will bring nothing but success for Walden.
Bourjos has his early season struggles at the plate even though his defensive game shined so bright it could be seen all the way on the east coast. After a long season of multiple offensive slumps it seems he's finally found the approach that works best for him, and with his .346/.411/.642 slash line and 1.000+OPS it's hard to ignore the vast improvements he's made. Bourjos and Mark Trumbo have been the life of this offense the past month, if this sticks to both of them they could be dangerous and feared hitters.
I'm not much of a speculation kind of guy, but with the potential this team carries into next year it's hard not to think of what could possibly be. The planets are aligning in the Angels favor come the 2012 season as long as some crazy end of the world catastrophe doesn't occur next year. As far as I know nothing like is supposed to happen, but then again I haven't come out from this rock I've been living under since 2002.