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It Has Seldom Been More Los Angeles Angels Than It Is Right Now

Carson Fulmer of the Angels looks faintly dyspeptic on the mound during an April 16 game at Tampa Bay.
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

"He didn't do the job," Angels manager Ron Washington said of Luis Guillorme's failed attempt to get down a squeeze bunt in the eighth inning of his team's 7-6 loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday night. "It wasn’t anything I did wrong. He didn’t do the job." Pressed somewhat in a follow-up question, which noted that the pitch Guillorme was unable to bunt was way outside, and that the reliever who threw it had walked the previous two batters to load the bases, Washington raised his voice, slapped the podium, and stood his ground. "Why are you making excuses?" he asked. "He was throwing the ball in the strike zone. [Guillorme] did not get the bunt down. Period."

This is not really how you want to hear your baseball team's manager talking, if you are someone who cares about the Angels or are someone who plays for the Angels. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the more you take the moment and the statement apart, the worse it gets: the attempt to manufacture exactly one run against a scuffling reliever who had to that point thrown 14 balls and 12 strikes in an outing that also included a pitch-clock violation; asking Luis Guillorme, who is both one of the team's astonishingly large collection of Freely Available Veteran Talent and a 29-year-old known quantity whose signal offensive skill is bat control, to do it; a leadership figure getting spicy, in mid-May, over what was either a stubborn managerial decision or a mistake in execution by a veteran player in whom the organization plainly has no investment; that all of this is, again, about a botched squeeze bunt; that the loss dropped the team's record to 15-28. "It sucks to go through," catcher Logan O’Hoppe said after Tuesday's loss. "It’s not fun. But you gotta go through it. There's light on the other side of it. But there’s no hiding, this is not fun."

Washington has been around baseball long enough to tell you that his job is incredibly hard at baseline, but there is already an impossibility about this Angels team that seems unique to this accursed organization. Without Mike Trout, who remains out indefinitely after surgery on a torn meniscus, the organization's years of ill-tempered drift and deep institutional dedication to flubby patchwork are all right there to read. Washington, a legendary teacher of baseball stuff who also twice managed veteran-heavy Rangers teams to the World Series, has a roster that embodies the least appealing and most unworkable aspects of young teams and veteran ones. The most important players on the roster, especially without Trout and Anthony Rendon—you'd be forgiven for having assumed as much, but Rendon is in fact on the 60-day injured list with a hamstring tear that ended what felt like the first warm spell in what is now his fifth season with the team—are young but no longer rookies.

The best of those look to be the sort of players that good teams tend to have, but are neither cornerstones nor prodigies. Jose Soriano, who has a live arm and intermittent control, has shown some promise while being stretched out as a starter. Logan O'Hoppe is already a good big-league catcher. Soriano is 25, O'Hoppe 24. The one healthy ex-prodigy currently on hand, erstwhile phenom Jo Adell, is having what looks like a modest but decently sustainable breakout after years of being nearly unplayable; he's 25, and out of minor-league options. The team's two most-recent first-round picks, first baseman Nolan Schanuel and shortstop Zachary Neto, are already fixtures in the lineup, which says as much about the lack of obstructions in the system as it does about their star quality—Schanuel's OPS+ is 82 and Neto's is 86. There is not a lot of help coming behind them anytime soon: The Angels' Baseball Prospectus organizational write-up is a rich text in its own right, a collection of raw teenagers with comparisons like "late-career Melky Cabrera" at the top followed by a bunch of future relief pitchers. "Sometimes systems are bad for all the right reasons," the overview reads. "This is not the case here."

The plurality of the roster given over to veteran players is proof of this. It's not just that the Angels have struggled to develop stars. It's also not just the fug of malaise that invariably overtakes the big-ticket veteran free-agent hitters they've added. The Angels have been unable to develop the sort of big-leaguers that function as the connective tissue on not just good but even serviceable big-league rosters, and as a result they have been plucking hopeful handwritten "I still work!" signs off discarded veterans and dragging them off the curb.

A surprising number of these have worked out adequately enough in limited showings, but a team that is not just enjoying surprisingly positive contributions from players like Carson Fulmer, Hunter Strickland, Willie Calhoun, Kevin Pillar, Miguel Sanó, and (Tuesday's duffed bunt notwithstanding) Luis Guillorme, but relying upon them is in a bad spot. The injury-driven attrition that put all those players in the lineup is something that every team has to deal with. The distinctly Angels aspect is being there so fulsomely, and this early in May, and this grouchily. "When you don’t have the people that you’re supposed to have, there’s [still] a game on the schedule,” Washington said last week, in a story about the Angels' new status as the port of last resort for freely available veteran types. "We can’t approach it that we can’t play baseball because we don’t have this guy, we don’t have that guy. We have to approach it that, the guys we have, they’re good enough to do what the game asks them to do." It is Washington's fault that he is asking them to bunt with the bases loaded. The rest of it is just what it looks like—an organization that has operated proudly and even defiantly without any sort of plan for a decade, redecorating on the cheap.

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