In what is unquestionably the surprise of the offseason, Albert Pujols has signed a 10-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels for approximately $250 million. Oh, and if that came as a shock, then the fact that within an hour after that news broke the Angels also inked left-handed starter C.J. Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million deal should make jaws drop all over the baseball landscape.
Throw out those power rankings, discard your previous "where will they be in spring" projections and prepare to adjust to the rapidly changing landscape of Major League Baseball.
There's a new powerhouse in the American League, and it's not in the American League East—nor is it the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers. It's not even the Detroit Tigers, who return in 2012 with the defending American League Cy Young award winner and Most Valuable Player wrapped into one outstanding individual performer, Justin Verlander.
No. The new top of the heap is in Orange County. It's the Los Angeles Angels.
With the acquisition of Albert Pujols the Angels have taken a huge step toward rectifying the most glaring problem the team has had the past few seasons: lack of middle-of-the-lineup power. The Angels have the other guys.
They've got the table setters. The Angels have speed and hitting ability that they can station both at the top and the bottom of the lineup. Howie Kendrick is a .300 hitter waiting to happen. Peter Bourjos and heavily hyped rookie Mike Trout are both guys capable of stealing 40-plus bases in a season. Second-year first baseman—and now likely designated hitter—Mark Trumbo will add power but not speed.
What about some veterans to steady the ship? Well, the Angels have both Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter on the roster. Hunter in particular is known as a fantastic clubhouse presence and is one of the more popular players in the league among his peers.
The real strength of the Angels is of course the starting pitching, which is anchored by ace Jered Weaver, whose decision to accept an affordable contract extension this past summer likely played a key role in freeing up the cash needed to afford Pujols. That rotation is boosted by other top talents such as Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and now former Texas Ranger C.J. Wilson.
Wilson, who was counted on to be the No. 1 starter in Texas, can just go about his business as the No. 3 or 4 starter in Los Angeles. His ability to eat innings will give the bullpen needed rest, and his makeup as a left-handed starter who can strike out over 200 hitters in a season means that there is no avoiding above-average pitching when facing Los Angles.
The Angels have some questions in the bullpen, where rookie closer Jordan Walden struggled down the stretch last season, but Los Angeles also has one of baseball's best managers in the dugout in Mike Scioscia. Scioscia is cut from the same cloth as former Cardinals manger Tony La Russa. He's a skilled tactician who is always thinking one or two steps ahead of the competition. He manages with a decidedly National League style in spite of his American League residence.
Scioscia and the Angels will have to get used to managing something besides games, though. With Pujols on board they'll be forced to manage expectations. The Angels and Albert are going to be front-page news—not just now but all the way to Opening Day. They're going to be the preseason No. 1—the "can't miss" pick. They're Duke, the Yankees, the Heat and the Lakers
That can be lots of fun, but it can also spell trouble. It doesn't matter anymore, though, because the Angels are going to be everyone's World Series pick. Let's see how they handle it.