Which team in the major leagues is the farthest from first place?
Why, that would be the Orange County Angels, currently sitting nine games behind the Metroplex Rangers. The good news is that first place doesn't matter nearly so much as it used to; the Angels are only 4½ games out of the second Wild Card slot.
So they've got that going for them.
Still, it's not easy to appreciate silver linings when you're 6-13 after a winter that included two huge free-agent signings and a great deal of good cheer. And there's little doubt that management's casting about for ideas.
Luckily, Ken Rosenthal's got them:
Taking those one at a time ...
1. Wait for Albert Pujols
Right, because what else are you gonna do? Unless he's hurt -- and he sure didn't look hurt in spring training, when he batted .383 and cranked seven home runs in 60 at-bats -- he's going to hit, eventually. And you want him on your team when that happens.
2. Promote Mike Trout
Last season, Trout destroyed Class AA pitchers. He was 19. The Angels gave him a shot in the majors, but he didn't hit during his 40-game stint. He was 19.
This season, he's 20. He's destroying Class AAA pitchers. He's also one of the fastest players in professional baseball, and an excellent center fielder.
So yes, he probably does belong in the majors. I suspect he'll be there soon. Then Mike Scioscia just has to figure out where to play him. Does Scioscia bench Vernon Wells, who leads the team with four home runs? Does he bench Peter Bourjos, a brilliant center fielder who's off to a terrible start with the bat? Unfortunately, Wells, Bourjous and Trout all bat right-handed, so there's not even a hint of a platoon opportunity there.
3. Free Mark Trumbo
Trumbo's been the Angels' best hitter. Which doesn't mean he is the Angels' best hitter; last season he was their third- or fourth-best hitter, and no better than Bourjos. Rosenthal argues that Trumbo simply needs to play every day, and if that means fielding .925 or whatever at third base, so be it.
I'm not so sure. Unfortunately, Trumbo also is a right-handed batter. So, no platoon in left field.
The problem is the same as it's always been: With Kendrys Morales returning to the fold, the Angels have three players -- Trumbo, Morales, Pujols -- for two positions. While the switch-hitting Morales really doesn't have enough time in the majors to make his splits brilliantly meaningful, he has fared a lot better against right-handed pitchers than lefties, so perhaps a Trumbo/Morales DH platoon is in order. Except that would mean Trumbo would play just a third of the time. Which isn't exactly what Rosenthal -- or apparently, Mike Scioscia -- has in mind.
4. Release Bobby Abreu
This is an easy one, except for Abreu's $9 million salary and the fact that he's the only left-handed bat on the bench.
Trifling reasons to keep him around, though. If Wells and his massive contract can't be cut and Trout's getting a spot, Abreu's obviously the odd man out.
5. Fix the Bullpen
Easier said than done, perhaps. As Rosenthal notes, "The chances of adding an impact reliever less than a month into the season are slim ..." Also, if you've got a terrible bullpen, even an impact reliever won't turn things around.
Then again, it's early. Jordan Walden and Kevin Jepsen have terrible ERAs, but probably aren't terrible pitchers. I would recommend calling up top pitching prospect Garrett Richards and sticking him in the bullpen for a while ... Except as poorly as Ervin Santana and Jerome Williams have pitched this month, the Angels might actually need Richards to join their rotation soon.
The Angels will play better than they've played. I never thought they were as good as the Rangers. But I always thought they were good enough to win 90 games, and I still think that.