This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on Jan. 23, and ending on Feb. 22 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, the offseason changes since then and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We started in the American League East, worked across to the National League, tackled the Central divisions, and now jump to the AL West, going in alphabetical order. Next up, the Los Angeles Angels.
2012 finish: 89-73 (3rd place, AL West)
LHP Sean Burnett, LHP Brandon Sisk, LHP Jason Vargas, RHP Ryan Madson, RHP Tommy Hanson, RHP Joe Blanton, OF Scott Cousins, OF Josh Hamilton and INF Bill Hall.
RHP Dan Haren, RHP Ervin Santana, RHP Jason Isringhausen, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Jordan Walden, OF Torii Hunter, 1B/DH Kendrys Morales and INF Maicer Izturis.
Why they will improve this year
It's amazing to think a team that won 88 games last year was considered a "disappointment." But with the free agent signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, fans and analysts alike expected the Angels to make the playoffs. While not everything went as planned, they could be more dangerous in 2013.
I call it the "Miami Heat Theory." Sure, the Heat made it to the Finals in their first year after signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade. But they still massively underperformed by most standards. In year two, they took care of business.
By no means am I implying that the Angels will win the World Series in 2013, but I do expect them to make the playoffs this time around. They lost three right-handed starting pitchers, but gained a promising lefty in Vargas and a high-potential righty in Hanson. The bullpen got a boost from Burnett and Madson, and word on the street is they added one more bat.
Losing Hunter is a huge blow for this team, but when you go out and snag Hamilton afterwards, it softens the blow quite a bit. There may not be a more well-rounded, dangerous lineup in the league than they have in Anaheim, and they should score runs in bunches. So many so, that they could easily touch the mid-90's in wins.
Why they will regress this year
Let's start with the addition of Hamilton. It's a great pick up, given his likely immediate production in the middle of the order. Pairing him with Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo is almost unfair. But will the constantly-injured slugger stay healthy? Will he stay out of trouble in the L.A. area? More worrisome, do the losses of Hunter and Morales offset the addition of Hamilton?
There are some questions, including whether Trout will be able to repeat his performance from 2012. If you've watched the guy play, you know he probably will. But we've seen second-year players plummet before—most recently, Eric Hosmer in Kansas City last season.
My main gripe with the team lies in the pitching staff, where a top two of Jered Weaver and Wilson complement an average-at-best back of the rotation in Vargas, Hanson and Blanton. Sure, there is potential for greatness, and a lot more potential for disaster.
Keep in mind that the Angels did have a good team last season, so regressing to 85 wins or so is not nearly out of the question. Let's assume the offense lives up to the hype, and the Angels score runs at will. Can they crack the young, talented A's starting rotation in their own division? Can they out-slug the always powerful Rangers? Time will tell, but if the Angels catch a couple bad breaks, they're in trouble.
The outlook for 2013
Fear not, Angels fans. I believe in your team this year. And coupled with slight regressions from their main competition in the AL West, I expect the Angels to re-take the division crown in 2013. It's not going to be easy, but I think they will get there with a surprisingly dominant bullpen and tons of runs.
Adding Hamilton to the lineup is a coup, no matter how you look at it. Yes, Hunter and Morales are gone, but I think the large majority of general manager's would trade those two for Hamilton straight up any day. I foresee a bounce-back year for Howie Kendrick, another season of growth for Peter Bourjos and Trumbo, and a lot of wins because of it.
Will the Angels be the best team in the league? Probably not. But they are going to be a lineup nobody wants to face in the playoffs. My main issue remains in the rotation, where Weaver is a stud and I think Wilson will have a better year, but question marks remain throughout.
As we've seen many times, pitching and defense wins championships. If Vargas has as solid of a year—as I'm hoping—and Hanson's arm doesn't explode, the Angels may have a World Series formula in place. But, it's a rickety bridge they are crossing with that rotation.
Nevertheless, it's the opinion of this writer that the Angels sneak past Oakland and Texas to grab the AL West division title, improving by five or so wins over 2012. If Hamilton's injury problems crop up, mark them down for a Wild Card spot.
Potential changes before Opening Day
While there aren't a ton of rumors to be found right now, an unfortunate setback for Madson means the Angels might have to scramble to replace their presumed closer. They have some guys already in the bullpen who can be promoted, but might they try to hit the trade market instead? Jose Valverde and Francisco Rodriguez are both free agents, too.
As I mentioned above, a thin starting rotation could potentially do the Angels in this season. Even though they already surrendered a top draft pick for Hamilton, could they go after Kyle Lohse? I'm all for it, if they can make it happen. He would be a solid add to the middle of the rotation for Anaheim.
Biggest surprise: Vargas
Biggest disappointment: Hanson
Bold prediction: Trout redeems last season's near-miss and wins the AL MVP award.
- Trout, LF
- Erick Aybar, SS
- Pujols, 1B
- Hamilton, RF
- Trumbo, DH
- Kendrick, 2B
- Alberto Callaspo, 3B
- Chris Iannetta, C
- Bourjos, CF
- Weaver, RHP
- Wilson, LHP
- Hanson, RHP
- Vargas, LHP
- Blanton, RHP
Projected finish: 94-68, 1st place
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You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.