We're now hours away from Angels pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training in Tempe, Ariz. Before that happens, I answered some of your lingering questions below.
Can you see the Angels someday trading Mike Trout?
-- Albert M., Los Angeles
Keith Law of ESPN.com recently mentioned the possibility, and it garnered a lot of attention, because Law is a reputable baseball writer and because, well, it's Mike Freakin' Trout we're talking about here. Law deemed the Angels' farm system the worst in the industry and said it's so depleted that the organization may have to someday consider trading Trout in order to replenish it. Angels fans promptly began to freak out.
This isn't really something worth worrying about yet, but it's an interesting thought to consider because of the haul Trout would bring back. It'd be big. Problem is, it'd still be almost impossible to get fair value for him. Besides Bryce Harper, nobody really comes close to matching Trout's combination of age (24) and production (he's compiled a Major League-best 37.8 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement since 2012).
You would probably have to start with a Giancarlo Stanton, or a Kris Bryant, or a Carlos Correa, and then each team would have to kick in some good prospects. It's not just that the Angels wouldn't part with a potential icon; it's that it would seem unreasonable for teams to give up what he's truly worth. Trout is that good, which is why the Angels will probably keep trying to build around him, at least for the next five years.
How long is Jered Weaver's leash? He's been a beast for so long, but his decline is clear and the team has options at starting pitching.
I don't think we're at a point where manager Mike Scioscia needs to see dominance from Weaver in order to warrant keeping him in the rotation. You're right, of course. Weaver is trending downward and the Angels have other options. But even this Weaver -- with an average fastball velocity of 84 mph, 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a home-run rate of 1.4 in 2015 -- is good enough to warrant one of five spots in the Angels' rotation.
No, he isn't an ace. But last year he was still able to figure out ways to generate weak early contact and occasionally pitch deep into games at times. What I can see is the Angels somehow trying to maximize the amount of times Weaver makes starts at Angel Stadium, where the rock pile augments his deception and fly balls don't travel far. Weaver had a 2.79 ERA at home and a 6.01 ERA on the road last year. That's a huge split, and it's no coincidence.
What's the situation for left field?
I have now been answering this question continuously for a full 12 months, ever since Josh Hamilton underwent shoulder surgery in early February of 2015. Since then, the Angels have dumped Hamilton, suffered through Major League-worst production from their left fielders and passed on a plethora of free-agent bats that would've solved the position long term. Now Daniel Nava is set up to get the most plate appearances in left field, which is fine if he can replicate the .278/.364/.403 slash line he produced with the Red Sox from 2012-14. That is in no way set in stone, however.
At most, Nava, a switch-hitter, would likely sit against most lefties, opening it up for someone like Craig Gentry, a right-handed hitter, to start basically every third day. But left field will probably be billed as an open competition in Spring Training, because that's what you do when you don't have a clear answer. The switch-hitting Ji-Man Choi, an on-base threat who could sneak up on people, is a natural first baseman who could get time in left field and factor into the mix. So can young outfielders like Rafael Ortega or Todd Cunningham. It may take a while to find the right mix.
The division still seems up for grabs. Can the Angels stay close enough to warrant a big move at the [All-Star] break?
I agree with what Angels GM Billy Eppler recently said about the American League West, that it'll be "one of those divisions where teams stay within striking distance up until that last month, that last couple weeks of the regular season." The Astros have a chance to be really good, but they have their own concerns. And the AL as a whole seems wide open. Seriously. Is there one team that you don't believe has a realistic chance of making the playoffs? I can't find one.
The concern with the Angels is their offense. There isn't a whole lot of protection for Trout, and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of on-base ability. But Eppler has a bullet he has yet to fire. He still has the ability to trade a starting pitcher or two for a big bat. It can happen in Spring Training, or it can happen before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. If all of the starters remain healthy, I expect it to happen at some point. It could make the difference this season.
Who is the No. 1 player you are excited to see in Spring Training?
-- Jonathan H., Bloomington
It'll be fun watching Andrelton Simmons play defense every day and, well, different seeing Geovany Soto fall to his knees every time he tosses the ball pack to the pitcher. But I'll go with Choi, who's a bit of an unknown commodity. He's from South Korea, has yet to play in the Majors and was limited to 88 Triple-A games the last two years. The Angels seem pretty high on him. He's a 24-year-old who just recently learned to switch-hit and carries a career .404 on-base percentage. I'm not sure how well he can move in left field, but I expect the Angels to try him there.