Angels retooling, looking to compete in 2017

Angels retooling, looking to compete in 2017

The Angels rolled into the Winter Meetings in December with a plan to fill the holes in their roster for 2017 and hopes that they'd get better and maybe a bit -- or a lot? -- luckier when it comes to injuries.

They like their core of position players. They love their MVP center fielder. They have a large group of starting pitchers to choose from once Spring Training begins in February. Their bullpen has the potential to be a real asset. And they have the longest-tenured manager in Major League Baseball.

But the Angels need to improve quite a bit from their 74-88 record in 2016 if they're going to seriously contend in the American League West. The defending champion Rangers appear to have gotten better, as have the second-place Mariners and third-place Astros. It's going to be a very competitive division once again, so they need to bring it from Game 1 all the way through No. 162.

"I think that any time you go through a season, whether it's a good season or a bad season … you look within not only yourself, but you look within your staff and you look within your organization to see if there are things that you can do better," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

That means getting a new second baseman (Danny Espinosa). That means getting a new left fielder (Cameron Maybin). That means getting a catcher, a fourth outfielder and more pitching -- moves that could still be coming this winter.

Eppler, Maybin on trade to Halos

In the meantime, here are five questions the Angels need answered if they're going to contend in 2017:

1. Can they stay healthy? Given the fact that starters Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano all tore their ulnar collateral ligaments last year, and that left-hander Tyler Skaggs missed most of the season while he came back from his torn UCL, the Angels will still be playing catch-up. Richards will attempt to come back without surgery, but Heaney and Tropeano are on the shelf for the year.

That's where a large group of starting pitching candidates enter the picture, with Ricky Nolasco and Matt Shoemaker expected to make the rotation, along with new signee Jesse ChavezAlex Meyer, Nate Smith, John Lamb, JC Ramirez, Daniel Wright and others are possibilities.

The Angels simply cannot afford to have another season full of bad luck in the arm-health department.

2. What else will they do? The Angels still need a backup outfielder, and they prefer to sign one who hits left-handed, so Coco Crisp and Angel Pagan make sense. They could also entertain the idea of adding another starter or two, although their recent trade of projected starter Jett Bandy to Milwaukee for backup catcher Martin Maldonado and a Minor League pitcher might indicate they are in play for a free-agent backstop like Matt Wieters.

3. Will Albert Pujols still be effective? The future Hall of Famer turns 37 on Jan. 16, and he's recovering from plantar fascia surgery on his right foot that will probably have him cutting it close when it comes to being ready for Opening Day. Those two things combined aren't exactly the most positive developments, but then again, this is no normal player.

Pujols' injury may sideline him

Even with advancing age and health issues, Pujols can still hit. And a simple repeat of his 2016 totals -- .268/.323/.457, 31 homers and 119 RBIs -- would fit just fine in the middle of what should be an improved lineup.

4. Who will close games? The Angels have veteran closer Huston Street coming back off an injury and up-and-coming Cam Bedrosian, who was dominant (1.12 ERA, 51 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings) before succumbing to his own injuries. They also have Andrew Bailey, a former All-Star closer who pitched well after joining the Angels last year, so there could be a competition for who gets the ball in the ninth.

"His role is going to be based on his performance," Scioscia said of Street. "If he's throwing the ball like he did and throwing it consistently, he's a natural to be at the back end of our bullpen, and he definitely has a chance to win that job, and we will be deeper if Huston is pitching in the ninth inning."

5. Can Mike Trout really keep this up? It seems impossible, doesn't it? And then he goes and pulls it off, every year.

Trout a two-time MVP winner

Some might argue that Trout wasn't quite as good in his latest MVP year of 2016 as he was in his other MVP year of '14, or the other three seasons in which he finished second in the award voting, but he did tally career-high numbers in walks (116) and on-base percentage (.441) while cutting down his strikeouts to 137 from 184 in '14 and 158 in '15. He doesn't turn 26 until Aug. 7.

That means he's getting, well, better. Doesn't it?

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.