By breaking bank for Pujols and Wilson, Angels take long-term risks

Nick PoustCorrespondent IIDecember 10, 2011

Albert Pujols did indeed say goodbye to St. Louis after helping the franchise to a championship, signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

As Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia boarded his airplane back to California from the Winter Meetings, he received a phone call. It was Artie Moreno, the team’s owner. He was calling to inform him Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson–the best hitter and pitcher on the free-agent market–were coming, having signed for a combined $331 million.

“I was on the plane Wednesday night, coming home from the baseball meetings in Dallas,” Scioscia said, as documented by the Los Angeles Times. “We were about to take off, my phone rang, and it was Arte. He asked if I was sitting down. I told him I even had my seat belt fastened. Then he told me about Albert.”

As the Times’ Bill Dwyre wrote, “Hearing that slugger Albert Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson would be coming to Anaheim, the Angels manager could have winged his way home unaided.

Dwyre’s description had to be spot-on. Scioscia was thrilled and, just like the rest of the baseball world, stunned. Anaheim wasn’t expected to have enough money to sign both, but Moreno somehow pulled it off.

The Angels certainly had reason to be so aggressive in signing Pujols, especially. After all, he hit 445 homers over his first 11 seasons, driving in an average of 120 runs per with a career batting average of .328. He already has over 2,000 hits. He is the best hitter in baseball.

At this stage in his career, there are risks attached to Anaheim’s investment. Pujols is already 31 and his best years may be behind him. He didn’t look healthy as this past season wound down, and it appeared as if he was walking on broken glass for most of the postseason. He still hit well, but his hobbled manner wasn’t a pretty sight.

During the regular season, he saw his production dip. He is so good that a down year results in a .299 batting average with 37 homers and 99 rbi’s. It was the first season of his career that he didn’t hit .300 and drive in 100-plus runs. He is that good, and he may continue to be that good. But 10-year contracts given to soon-to-be 32-year-olds with a full no-trade clause is a dangerous investment, no matter how talented the player is.

For the short-term, despite his aged appearance during the playoffs, Pujols is an incredible signing for Anaheim. He has the fourth-best slugging percentage of all time behind Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Lou Gehrig. If healthy, he is going to hit 40 homers and drive in 100 runs annually. For how many years will that last? That question doesn’t have a good answer, and that is a reality Moreno will have to face.

Even though his deal might be problematic, the team was wise to make a big splash. Anaheim, in recent memory, has been a talented team that just hasn’t had enough to win a championship. They have run into better teams in Boston and New York. These two AL East teams will be powerhouses for years to come, but Pujols might shift some of the power and give the Angels a realistic chance of contending for the championship that has been out of their grasp since 2002.

Wilson should certainly help their chances, too. The offense has question marks: who knows how much Torri Hunter has left in the tank, who knows if Vernon Wells can get back to his old form, and who knows if Mark Trumbo will take the next step after a solid rookie season. The pitching staff, however, has fewer holes; it may be the best staff in baseball. With Wilson, the Angels now have three aces, as Jered Weaver and Dan Haren are proven stars. Then there is Ervin Santana, who is far from chopped liver. All four pitchers posted sub-3.50 ERA’s this past season, and with Pujols anchoring the middle of the lineup they will get more chances to rack up the wins.

The 31-year-old Wilson agreed to a five-year, $77.5 million deal just after the news regarding Pujols reached Scioscia. Despite winning 16 games in 2011 for the Texas Rangers his postseason performance is concerning. In five starts he went 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA, allowing 18 earned runs in 28 innings. And he is far from proven, with only 43 regular-season wins to his name. It will help to have Weaver and Haren by his side, and he has the repertoire to be successful, but despite being the top guy for Texas he is far from a sure-thing. He should nonetheless fit in nicely with the rest of the rotation, but even still the Angels yearly commitment to him could backfire.

There are question marks attached to both prized signings, but Moreno should still be applauded for uncanny aggressiveness to make with money his manager didn’t even think he had. In the short-term, the two will greatly benefit the team in its quest to overtake the Texas Rangers and win a championship. Moreno may have a couple of problems on his hands down the road, but right now he can relish in a victorious, franchise-altering morning of spending that made Scioscia’s flight to California euphoric.