This was the time of the year that Angels fans had become accustomed to over the vast majority of the last decade.
For recent fans and long-time ones as well, the consistency of being legitimate contenders for a postseason berth, even if they didn't make it, was a welcome site after 40 years of occasional good seasons and playoff appearances followed by the rude awakening that this was still the Angels, so any success was going to not last long.
However, after four straight seasons of early tee times for players and two losing seasons in the last three campaigns, those long time fans are looking at a time period which is all too familiar to them while the newer fans are clamoring for somebody's head because they expect playoff and an eventual second World Series title.
While cities like Pittsburgh and Oakland, both with lower-half payrolls, prepare for Division Series contests, the Angels have some serious soul searching to do as well as some serious roster repairs to make if they ever hope to return to the kind of team that won the division five times in six seasons and made the American League Championship Series twice before falling to the eventual champions.
First and foremost, the Angels have to address the mess that is the reported feud between general manager Jerry DiPoto and field manager Mike Scioscia, as well as the desire of owner Arte Moreno to continue acting like a light version of the late George Steinbrenner.
Moreno is clearly not a stupid man, as one does not amass the kind of fortune that he did in outdoor advertising without having the smarts to know what to do. However, those smarts must be displayed in the best way possible: by letting the general manager do his job and telling the field manager to manage the team he is given and turn them into winners.
DiPoto earned a reputation as an astute evaluator of talent, as well as a man who could find prospects that nobody else would consider asking for in deals. The biggest example of that was when, as the interim GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he completely torched then-Angels GM Tony Reagins in a deal that would be one of a series of blunders that led to Reagins' ouster following the 2011 season.
The deal, as all fans know, saw Dan Haren come from the D-Backs to the Halos at the 2010 trade deadline in exchange for Joe Saunders, then-minor league prospect Patrick Corbin and a player to be named later, which turned out to be pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs.
Haren had a couple of nice seasons for the Halos, but was non-tendered by the team after the 2012 season and pitched for Washington in 2013. Saunders moved on from Arizona to Baltimore and earned the win in the Wild Card game against Texas before pitching in Seattle in 2013.
But the real prizes were Corbin, who had his breakout season in Phoenix this year, and Skaggs, who is expected to be a serious candidate for a spot in a young and talented Diamondbacks rotation next season.
However, since coming to the Angels, DiPoto has found himself having to go after the big-money free agents instead of making the solid baseball deals that were his forte during his brief time in the front office in Arizona.
Shortly after his arrival, he landed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and while the Angels finished with 88 wins in 2012, a 6-15 start put the team in a hole they never were able to get out of as the A's won the division and the Rangers captured a wild card spot.
Also, Pujols and Wilson were both disappointing relative to the expectations they came to the team with. The veteran first baseman wound up reaching the 30-100 level for the year, but he was never truly the Phat Albert from the Cardinals until the second half.
Wilson, meanwhile, got off to a nice start, but struggled down the stretch and later revealed he was pitching with bone chips in his arm.
Facing an impatient fan base and an owner that was desperate to win, DiPoto landed Josh Hamilton and then tried to put together a team from what little was left on the market.
He signed Joe Blanton to a two-year deal, gave Ryan Madson a one-year pact , traded Kendrys Morales to the Mariners for Jason Vargas and dealt Jordan Walden to the Braves for Tommy Hanson. Of those deals, the only one that panned out was Vargas, who pitched well for a good stretch before going on the DL with a blood clot issue.
Blanton went 1-14 and was so bad he became a long reliever that was seldom used, Hanson was so bad that he was demoted to the minors and Madson never saw a pitcher's mound during a game situation in his attempt to come back from Tommy John surgery.
As for Hamilton, well, Angels fans know all too well how that turned out.
Now going into this season, DiPoto (and yes, if Moreno has any kind of smarts about baseball, he won't fire the GM and will instead let him build the team the right way) faces having to rebuild a starting rotation that only has Wilson and Jered Weaver getting guaranteed spots heading into spring, as well as an offense that has plenty of veterans but outside of the super tandem of Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo is beginning to show its age.
Priority one needs to be re-signing Vargas to a four-year deal with a club option for a fifth season. However, the price needs to be reasonable for a guy with a 4.02 ERA in 2013 and a 4.30 career ERA in parts of eight seasons. If DiPoto can get him on a deal in the range of $16 million a year, then that would be a huge coup considering the dearth of starting pitching this offseason.
After that, the Angels need a third baseman, though this is something that can be done during Spring Training via a trade instead of looking for a free agent that isn't to the right level. The bait for this trade? outfielder Peter Bourjos.
While Bourjos is clearly a Gold Glove-caliber defender and has speed to burn, with the emergence of Kole Calhoun as a legitimate offensive threat, the guy who forced Torii Hunter to move to right field is expendable and could get a nice player in return once he proves his wrist is healthy.
Finally, the Angels desperately need to rebuild a bullpen that was decimated by injuries and trades. However, that bullpen help doesn't need to include a closer. Yes, Ernesto Frieri can be a bit of an adventure on the mound from time-to-time. However, aside from a small stretch in July, Frieri was lights out and ended up with 37 saves, including 11 straight to finish the year.
However, the rest of the 'pen needs a complete overhaul, from Kevin Jepsen to Michael Kohn to even considering Jerome Williams for the long relief spot should he not end up winning a job in the starting rotation.
Finally, DiPoto needs to jettison both Blanton and Hanson. Blanton was a disaster who doesn't look like he can pitch at this level any more, and Hanson refuses to change his mechanics, which leads to opponents running at will and giving his catchers and infielders no chance to stop it.
The keepers for next season should be as follows:
Catchers: Chris Iannetta, Hank Conger
Infielders: Albert Pujols, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Andrew Romine, Luis Jimenez
Outfielders: Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Josh Hamilton, Kole Calhoun, J.B. Shuck
Starting Pitchers: Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Jason Vargas, Garrett Richards
Relievers: Sean Burnett, Ernesto Frieri, Jerome Williams, Dane De La Rosa