ANAHEIM, Calif. — “It’s not the way you wanted it to end, and it’s definitely not the way we envisioned it ending,” Angels slugger Mark Trumbo said as he cleaned out his locker Thursday morning at Angels Stadium.
“When you play that long and grind hard through an entire season, you’d like to have a little something extra on the end,” Trumbo continued. “But here we are.
“This year, it just didn’t work out.”
Certainly not for the Halos and their $159 million payroll that had fans eagerly anticipating another World Series appearance, 10 years after they won their only world championship in club history.
Albert Pujols was the jewel of the free-agent market, and he left his home in St. Louis to sign with the team for $240 million over 10 years. C.J. Wilson was one of the most highly sought-after pitchers on the market, and he chose to come back home to Orange County for $77.5 million over five years. Money well spent? Not if you judge it by the fact that the Angels will be watching on television as their AL West division rivals Oakland and Texas fight for the championship they hoped would be theirs.
“It’s tough to see it end this way,” manager Mike Scioscia said outside his office, “but it’s not like we didn’t play hard. We did. Every guy who took the field played as hard as he could, and for parts of the season, things just didn’t work out for us. We paid a price for the bad start, but after that (6-14) start our record was 83-59 and we played great baseball for the most part.”
“For the most part” is the killer phrase.
After the early season stumble, the Halos went on a tear, going 42-24 to give them a 48-38 record at the All Star break. The other 29 teams reported back for the second half on July 13, but the Angels’ break lasted a bit longer, as they dropped 22 of 36 before rallying with a 27-13 record to close the season.
“I wish I could tell you why it happened the way it did,” said the Angels’ heart and soul, right fielder Torii Hunter. “I can’t. I don’t really know.
“In spring training, we won a lot of games and we had a lot of fun. We’d show up early in the morning, Scioscia would be the judge in our team ‘court.’ He’d have us cracking up, and the day would get off to a great start and stay that way.”
So what happened when the regular season began? Of course, the soon-to-be AL Rookie of the Year and possible MVP Mike Trout was in Salt Lake City recovering from a virus and wouldn’t make his devastating impact felt until April 28. Other than that, all the pieces were seemingly in place.
“That’s what I mean — I don’t know,” said Hunter, who can become a free agent this winter and is looking for a multiyear deal to stay in Anaheim. “There was no pressure on us, nobody got tight; we just didn’t win. And we were too good for that to happen.
“When (Mike) Trout came up and Albert starting being Albert, we got things going and we were the best team in baseball record-wise. It just wasn’t good enough.”
The Angels finished third in their division, but remarkably remained in the hunt for a playoff spot despite erratic performances from starters Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, and a bullpen which led the American League with 22 blown saves. Zack Greinke stepped in to give the team quite possibly baseball’s best 1-2 combo with Cy Young Award contender Jered Weaver. Ernesto Frieri came over in a deal with San Diego and was the bullpen savior for a while. But after being nearly unhittable, he gave up leads in a few key games during the last five weeks. Which caused Hunter to reflect on his earlier statement.
“It’s crazy,” he said, “because we ended up with Albert having a great year, Greinke and Ernie pitching really well, Ervin turning around his season for most of the second half and Trout — what else can you say about him? He was amazing. But with all of the good things that happened and us rebounding after the bad start, it seemed that whenever we had to win a game, we couldn’t do it. I can’t explain why, because I just don’t know.”
What Hunter does know is that he wants to remain in Anaheim and play the final two seasons of his career as an Angel.
“The Angels are in my heart and always will be, no matter where I’m playing,” said Hunter, who played his usual outstanding outfield defense and was a revelation batting second, where he hit .313 with 92 RBIs and 16 home runs in just 140 games. “The last five years have been the best of my career, and I want to stay here. I love my teammates and I love the fans and the organization. I’m praying that everything works out so I can stay here.”
Other decisions must be made as well. Does Arte Moreno decline options on Santana and Haren, then use the money to keep Greinke? The determined right-hander is reported to be seeking a five-year deal for at least $20 million per season. After giving nearly one-third of a billion dollars to Pujols and Wilson last off-season, Moreno likely isn’t thrilled about the prospect of spending $100 million or more on a single player. But he’s also shown that he’ll go all-in if he thinks the team can improve enough to get that elusive diamond ring.
Hunter made about $18 million in 2012, but realizes that he’ll probably have to take a pay cut in order to stay with the Halos. He has indicated he’ll think long and hard, saying he not going to “let money stand in the way of me winning a championship.”
Finally, near the top of GM Jerry Dipoto’s to-do list should be getting a top closer to anchor the back end of the bullpen. To remain in contention despite 22 blown saves is a testament to Scioscia’s and pitching coach Mike Butcher’s deft handling of a shaky ‘pen. In 2013, 22 blown save might relegate you to last place in the division.
So, less than a year after the Angels were the talk of the sporting world, they’re right back there — but for less attractive reasons than opening the vault for the top two free agents available. Dipoto and Moreno were the toast of the Dallas winter meetings. Unfortunately for them, the rest of the organization and the fans, it was the Angels’ championship hopes that ultimately ended up toast.