The Los Angeles Angels blew up the 2011 winter meetings by signing not just the top pitcher on the market in CJ Wilson, but the top hitter of the decade in Albert Pujols. While they won three more games in 2012 than they did in 2011, they dropped from second place to third in the American League West.
Fortunately for Angels fans, owner Arte Moreno wants to win. Moreno shelled out a five-year, $125 million deal to sign Josh Hamilton from division rival Texas, which immediately got fans salivating over a lineup containing Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Hamilton.
The Angels did lose Zack Greinke and Dan Haren to free agency, though, and they traded Ervin Santana to Kansas City, leaving more questions than answers in the rotation.
Here's a look at the 2013 Angels.
2012 Record: 89-73
Key Arrivals (courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com): Jason Vargas, Josh Hamilton, Joe Blanton, Sean Burnett, Tommy Hanson, Ryan Madson, Ervin Santana
Key Departures: Kendrys Morales, Jordan Walden, Zack Greinke, Torii Hunter, Dan Haren
Projected Rotation (per official site)
Jered Weaver (20-5, 2.81 ERA, 1.018 WHIP, 142 K in 2012)
CJ Wilson (13-10, 3.83 ERA, 1.344 WHIP, 173 K)
Jason Vargas (14-11, 3.85 ERA, 1.178 WHIP, 141 K)
Tommy Hanson (13-10, 4.48 ERA, 1.454 WHIP, 161 K)
Joe Blanton (10-13, 4.71 ERA, 1.262 WHIP, 166 K)
C: Chris Iannetta (.240/.332/.389 2012 slash line)
1B: Albert Pujols (.285/.343/.516)
2B: Howard Kendrick (.287/.325/.400)
3B: Alberto Callaspo (.232/.331/.361)
SS: Erick Aybar (.290/.324/.416)
LF: Mike Trout (.326/.399/.564)
CF: Perer Bourjos (.220/.291/.315)
RF: Josh Hamilton (.285/.354/.577)
DH: Mark Trumbo (.268/.317/.491)
Closer: Ryan Madson (missed 2012 with injury)
Setup 1: Sean Burnett (2.38 ERA, 1.235 WHIP in 2012)
Setup 2: Ernesto Frieri (2.32 ERA, 0.985 WHIP, 23 SV)
Others: Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen, Garrett Richards
The rotation might be the single largest question the Angels have to answer going into 2013, and it starts at the top. Weaver won 20 games in 2012, but his K/9 has dropped from 9.3 in 2010 to 7.6 in 2011 and 6.8 last season. He has been in the top five in AL Cy Young voting each of the last three years, however, so Weaver is still a reliable ace.
CJ Wilson had a career year in 2011, with a 2.94 ERA and over 200 strikeouts. So the Angels were understandably worried by the numbers he posted last season, the first of a seven-year deal. If he rebounds, the rotation will look much stronger.
Jason Vargas was acquired by trade from Seattle for Kendrys Morales. While his 14 wins are impressive considering that state of the Mariners at the time, he does not miss many bats and therefore will rely heavily on the defense behind him.
Once upon a time, Tommy Hanson was the future of Braves pitching. Through his first 460.1 innings of major league ball, he posted a 3.28 ERA and 8.4 K/9. But injury concerns shortened his 2012, and his performance dropped. If Hanson returns to his pre-2012 performance level, the Angels will be thrilled to have him.
Joe Blanton fills the role in the Angels' rotation he previously filled in Philadelphia, that of rotation filler. His 1.262 WHIP and 4.88 K/BB paint the picture of a serviceable arm, but three straight years of an ERA over 4.70 makes Angels fans wonder who else might be available.
Bad news, Angels fans. According to Keith Law of ESPN, the Angels have the worst farm system in baseball. But trading three prospects for a rental of Zack Greinke gutted the organization. It would not be a surprise to see the Angels pursue a trade at some point to acquire another starter. While free agent Kyle Lohse would be a perfect fit for the Angels, there have been no signs Moreno will chase another expensive signing.
Things could certainly be worse. Ultimately, Los Angeles boasts three pitchers who were aces in recent memory. But Wilson and Hanson will need to return to that form for the Angels to keep pace with a very good and improving division.
It is still not certain that Ryan Madson will be ready to close on Opening Day. Since 2007, Madson boasts a 2.89 ERA, 1.192 WHIP and 8.6 K/9. He saved 32 games in 2011 for Philadelphia when closer Brad Lidge was lost. If he is at full strength, Mike Scioscia has a reliable man to pitch the ninth.
Frieri, meanwhile, was a godsend to the Angels in 2012. They had hoped Jordan Walden would step into the full-time closer role, but Walden was erratic and they were forced to make a change. Frieri came in and struck out 13.9 per nine innings for Los Angeles, with 23 saves and a WHIP under one. If Madson is unable to start the season or he struggles, Frieri is likely the next guy in line for save opportunities.
Sean Burnett fills the left-handed side of the setup role for the Angels. Burnett posted a 2.38 ERA and struck out 9.1 per nine for Washington in 2012. In 95 plate appearances in 2012, left-handed batters struck out 28 times and walked once, batting just .211. Scioscia will certainly have choices late in games between two capable setup men.
There is not much to complain about as a Halo fan when you look at this batting order. Clearly, AL Rookie of the Year and MVP-robbed Mike Trout will bat leadoff. He should have no trouble batting at or close to .300, with 50-plus steals, and should easily score 100 runs considering the thunder behind him.
There is some uncertainty surrounding the enviable No. 2 hole in the lineup, as Scioscia has insisted he will bat Hamilton at cleanup. One option is Peter Bourjos, whose speed and gap power would be an advantage. But Bourjos struggled mightily to get on base in 2012 and will have to show more patience if he is to earn that spot.
Mark Trumbo is another contender. After finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2011, Trumbo followed it up with 32 home runs and 95 RBI in 2012. Unfortunately, he also has a patience issue, walking just 36 times.
Right now, the odds-on favorite to bat second is the shortstop, Erick Aybar. He does not strikeout often, he gets on base and is better at working counts than Trumbo or Bourjos.
There may not be a better three-four combination in baseball. While Pujols' April scared many fans, who were staring down the barrel of a 10-year commitment, he went on to post an OPS of .975 or higher in each of June, July and August. Meanwhile, Hamilton had his healthiest year since 2008, playing in 148 games and batting .285 with 43 home runs and 128 RBI.
Trumbo is a logical fit behind Hamilton in the five spot. He is powerful enough to knock Pujols and Hamilton in, and he also plays capable first base and somewhat lacking corner outfield so Hamilton or Pujols could take half-days off as needed.
While he strikes out too much to be a high average threat, Trumbo has 61 HR and 184 RBI in 301 career games. And he is capable of a 30/100 season if he stays healthy.
Kendrick likely slides into the sixth spot in the order. He is a career .292 hitter who has averaged 12 home runs and 13 steals over the last four seasons. While the 29-year-old second baseman has little upside beyond those averages, he is also a very safe option for Scioscia, getting on base consistently and fielding his position well.
Callaspo and Iannetta will bat seventh and eighth, respectively. Over the last four seasons, Callaspo has batted .300 (in 2009), then .265, .288 and .252 last season. If he can repeat the 2009 and 2011 numbers, the Angels would be thrilled. Callaspo has just five more career strikeouts than walks and plays a passable third base.
It seems cruel to Halo lovers to remind them of the deal that sent Mike Napoli away for Vernon Wells, who will now sit on their bench, but it is hard not to look back in regret with the catching duties falling to Iannetta.
A career .236 hitter, Iannetta has played over 105 games just once in his career, playing 112 in 2011. He is a below-average hitter, providing useful but unspectacular defense behind the plate.
There is still some hope in the Angels organization than Hank Conger, a career .201 hitter over three seasons, will develop into a real hitter as his defense would be a legitimate upgrade.
Conger will share the bench with Vernon Wells, who will make $21 million in 2013—the exact same as reigning A.L. MVP Miguel Cabrera. Shortstop Andrew Romine and outfielder Scott Cousins will likely earn spots on the 25-man roster, but much can change during spring training.
At the moment, it is impossible to say anyone but Jered Weaver. The struggles of CJ Wilson and Tommy Hanson in 2012 make Weaver not just the ace, but the only dominant starter on the team.
The back end of the bullpen is likely to be underrated, especially if the manager can effectively mix and match Burnett and Frieri in their setup roles and if Madson gets and stays healthy. Those are, however, big ifs, and pressure will be on Weaver to continue providing ace-like starts week after week.
In a lineup of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, one would be hard-pressed to make a wrong choice. But I will give Pujols the nod. Since 2001, Pujols has not failed to hit 30 home runs and knock in 99 or more runs. And prior to 2012, he had never scored less than 99 runs. He is a career .325 hitter with a 1.022 OPS and plays exceptional first base.
Trout is the phenom. He put up amazing numbers at 20 years old and will likely star at the top of the Angels order for years to come. But let us see the kid do it at that remarkable level again.
Hamilton, meanwhile, has produced whenever he has been healthy, but 2012 was his first year surpassing 140 games since 2008. He will be 32 years in May and will always be one diving catch from the disabled list.
In the "get them on, get them over, get them in" process of building a lineup, Scioscia is counting on Pujols to be the "get them in" guy, and history tells us he will not disappoint.
The easy answer here is Trout, because the kid is so special. But I will instead choose Wilson and Hanson.
As I stated above, the Angels could potentially find themselves with three aces if these two can regain their form in 2013. The offense will score runs, probably plenty of them. But keeping runs off the board will be the challenge, and Weaver cannot pitch every night.
If Wilson and Hanson struggle or get hurt, things could go very bad for the Angels in a tough division. But if those two perform well and do so for the duration of the season, Los Angeles will be in good position to make a deep playoff run. No American League manager would want to face Weaver, Wilson and Hanson at their best in a five- or seven-game series.
The Angels' top prospect is Kaleb Cowart. But the switch-hitting third baseman is a long shot to see the majors in 2013 after finishing 2012 at A-Ball Inland Empire. He is the only impact bat currently in the Angels' system and gives fans hope for future power from the hot corner.
Kole Calhoun may be available as an extra outfielder if the Angels suddenly found themselves with a need at their deepest position. And Nick Maronde, while currently ticketed to start 2013 in the minors and stretch out as a starter, could be added bullpen depth.
What Will the Angels Do Well?
The Angels will score runs. They have four players in their starting lineup coming off of 30-plus home run seasons. There is no question they boast one of the most talented one-through-five lineups in baseball.
If Bourjos were to turn back into the .270/12 HR/22 SB player he was in 2011, things would get even sweeter for Scioscia. Bourjos led the league with 11 triples that year, and there are those who think he has a 15-20-homer, 30-steal season ahead.
What Will the Angels Not Do Well?
Starting pitching is the big question mark. The lineup is thunderous and the bullpen is deceptively stingy, but the workhorses need to keep them in games.
Vargas and Blanton are what they are, and the Angels will be happy to get whatever innings they can out of them. But Weaver, Wilson and Hanson will need to take slack off the bullpen, working deep and effectively into games. If they can do that, this team could be very dangerous.
The Angels are in win-now mode. Aside from Trout, their stars are predominantly on the wrong side of 30. While Angel fans do not want to think about this, the contracts given to Pujols, Hamilton and Wilson will likely leave the team cash-strapped in seasons to come, unable to add to deteriorating talent, similar to the current predicament faced by the Yankees.
That situation would be much more acceptable with a couple World Series banners hanging next to Fielder Falls.
The Rangers are deep despite the loss of Hamilton, the Athletics are defending division champions and Seattle is young and talented. With so much invested in the Angels current roster, they cannot afford another third-place finish.
Projected Finish: 93-69, second in AL West
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