With Josh Hamilton, are the Angels a World Series favorite?
The 2013 MLB season could have a significant West Coast tilt to it, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels making the bold, splashy moves that we once expected from the likes of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
The Angels nabbed the best free-agent hitter available in Josh Hamilton, while the Dodgers inked the best pitcher on the open market in Zack Greinke.
As a result, the Dodgers and Angels look like two of the favorites to make it to the World Series. With all of the additions these clubs have made, we have the makings of a rivalry that could decide who wins a championship for years to come.
The rosters aren't set, and plenty of other moves will be made before Opening Day. But based on lineups, starting rotations, bullpens, benches, coaching and management, who looks more likely to win the World Series?
Which of these Southern California teams is best equipped to end October holding a trophy amidst a champagne celebration?
Is Albert Pujols still one of the best hitters in MLB?
The three-time National League MVP was overshadowed this season by AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout. Yet Pujols still hit 50 doubles, 30 home runs and 105 RBI in what was considered an off year for him.
Trout was the AL MVP runner-up with a .326 batting average, 30 home runs and 83 RBI.
Now, Josh Hamilton—coming off a year in which he slugged 43 homers with 128 RBI—is going to join that duo. Pujols, Hamilton and Mark Trumbo form a fearsome middle of the order in Anaheim.
For the Dodgers, Matt Kemp is arguably the best player in the NL when fully healthy. Before hamstring and shoulder injuries sidelined him, he was off to an MVP-caliber start this season.
The big question in Chavez Ravine is how Adrian Gonzalez will respond with a full season back in the NL. The first baseman put up unimpressive numbers after coming over from the Boston Red Sox and has been a disappointment over the past two seasons.
There are still too many uncertainties with the Dodgers, while the Angels are assembling a lineup that almost looks like the MLB version of The Avengers.
The team that lost Zack Greinke would have to be perceived as inferior to the club that gained Greinke as a free agent, wouldn't you think?
By adding the top pitcher available on the open market, the Dodgers significantly upgraded their starting rotation.
This was a staff that was already led by Clayton Kershaw, the 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner who arguably could have won those honors again this past season. The left-hander has been the best pitcher in the NL over the past two years.
While the Angels have Jered Weaver, who could stake a claim to similar dominance as Kershaw in the American League, their rotation suffers a drop-off after him. C.J. Wilson is a good No. 3 starter, but certainly nowhere near the caliber of Greinke.
The Dodgers have a surplus of starting pitching, with at least two starters that could be dealt away. The Angels are still looking for a No. 2 starter while adding back-of-the-rotation starters like Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton this offseason.
This one is no contest.
The Dodgers are betting that Brandon League can be their closer for the next three seasons, despite him pitching in that role for only one full season while with the Seattle Mariners.
The Angels are taking a chance on Ryan Madson, who took the past year to recover from Tommy John surgery. Yet the Angels felt confident enough to sign him to a one-year deal.
If healthy, the Angels probably have the better closer. But can Madson return to his old form next year, or will he have to build himself back up to what he was during the season?
Backing up League are Kenley Jansen and Ronald Belisario, giving the Dodgers a strong late-inning trio to close out games.
But the Angels have greater depth in their relief corps, led by Ernesto Frieri, who saved 23 games last season.
The Halos also added Sean Burnett, who was one of the best left-handed relievers in MLB this year for the Washington Nationals. Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen give the Angels five strong relievers—a luxury most MLB teams don't enjoy.
After signing Josh Hamilton, the Angels have more outfielders than manager Mike Scioscia can put on the field at once.
While Mark Trumbo is far too powerful a bat to keep on the bench and Kendry Morales provides another power bat to play at designated hitter, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto will have to make a trade to accommodate one of his sluggers.
The Angels also have Peter Bourjos, an excellent defensive outfielder who could see the bench or get traded.
Those three players—even if two of them are inevitably traded—beat anyone the Dodgers have on their bench. Juan Uribe? Jerry Hairston Jr.? Nick Punto? Those are decent utilitymen, but none of them have star potential or could be considered an everyday MLB starter anymore.
Dodgers GM Ned Colletti will try to break up his glut of utility bench players, but he isn't likely to fetch more in return than some mid-level prospects. Perhaps he can get a reserve or two that can present a threat off the bench, but as of right now, the Dodgers don't have that.
Mike Scioscia has managed 13 seasons with the Angels, winning a World Series championship and five division titles.
With him, the Angels must have an advantage in the dugout, right?
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly certainly falls far short of Scioscia when it comes to his managerial résumé. He's only been an MLB skipper for two seasons after serving a long apprenticeship on Joe Torre's coaching staffs with the Dodgers and the New York Yankees before that.
Yet, right now, is Mattingly the better manager than Scioscia?
Scioscia finished third in the AL West with a team that added Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Mike Trout and Zack Greinke. Yes, the Angels played in a difficult division, competing against the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics. But the Halos performed far below expectations.
Mattingly kept the Dodgers in first place through much of the season's first half, despite losing Matt Kemp for a significant period of time. He also had to put together a cohesive lineup on the fly after the Dodgers added four players in their blockbuster deal with the Red Sox.
While the competition was arguably weaker, the Dodgers finished two games back for the NL's second wild-card playoff bid.
Angels owner Arte Moreno should be considered second to no one after pulling off the heist of signing Josh Hamilton.
In two consecutive offseasons, he has shocked the baseball world by acquiring two of the best hitters in baseball in Hamilton and Albert Pujols.
But the Guggenheim Baseball Management group that took over ownership of the Dodgers in March is in the process of changing the balance of power in the MLB and blowing up the model for how baseball teams do business.
Their budget is seemingly limitless, and no player appears unattainable for an ownership group willing to spend whatever it takes to bring a World Series title to Chavez Ravine. Other MLB teams now realize they have no chance at a player if the Dodgers truly want him.
This is a game-changing development for baseball. While the Dodgers' newly free-spending approach has yet to result in a championship, that philosophy puts them in a better position to succeed than any of their competitors.
The Dodgers have a decided advantage in starting pitching.
That edge could be significant in a playoff series. Look at how the Detroit Tigers fared against the San Francisco Giants in this year's World Series.
Yet the Angels have a stronger, deeper lineup featuring three MVP candidates that can wear out any opposing pitcher and can change a game with one swing. Three other players that could end up on the bench would be starters on many other MLB teams.
The depth extends to the bullpen, with three relievers that could be a closer. The Angels' relief corps is also better equipped for left-right matchups in later innings.
Additionally, the Angels play better defense around the field, cutting down potential runs and giving their pitchers the luxury of making occasional mistakes.
The Freeway Series between the Dodgers and Angels would be a fantastic matchup, pairing two of MLB's most formidable teams. Ultimately, however, the Angels have more star power, and that talent would be the difference in the World Series trophy going to Anaheim.
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