Talk about quarterback Eli Manning upstaging his big brother.
In 2011, the Texas Rangers became the talk of the AL West by going to two straight World Series’. Then, Southern California sports talk was all about the mess known as the Dodgers. The Angels and their second-place finish became third page news. So when the team fired GM Tony Reagins and brought in the Diamondbacks Jerry DiPoto, no one noticed
Then suddenly, the city of Anaheim, whose residents are still a bit hurt by owner Arte Moreno’s decision to call the team the “Los Angeles Angels,” got back on the map in a big way – they signed some guys named Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson (16-7. 2.94 ERA in 2011).
Now, the expectations for this team rival the “World Series or die” expectations the Yankees and Red Sox live with every year. The Angels are a hotter ticket than a Bruce Springsteen concert. So are ‘Better Days’ ahead for this team?
Best Case Scenario for 2012
A couple of years ago, Moreno publicly lamented that he needed to spend money the way the Red Sox and Yankees did. But when free agent outfielder Carl Crawford signed with Boston, some called Moreno a hypocrite. Well, so much for that talk.
Wilson joins a rotation that includes ace Jered Weaver (18-8 in 2011), and Dan Haren (16-10). On paper, this is arguably one of the best rotations in baseball.
The signings may have achieved Moreno’s goal of being known as the Evil Empire West. Naturally, manager Mike Scioscia is discounting the pressure on this team. “Our expectations are the same as they are every year…to field a competitive ball club and give ourselves a chance to win a World Series,” he said….while drooling.
Most Important Players
Looking beyond the big names, the Angels acquired catcher Chris Iannetta from Colorado. Okay, so Twitter wasn’t a-flutter with that one. Yet many Angels fans feel his 2011 numbers (.238 BA, 14 HR) fill a huge hole at catcher. Last year’s tandem of Hank Conger and Jeff Mathis combined for just 9 home runs and a .195 batting average.
Projected fourth starter Ervin Santana ended up with pretty decent numbers (11-12, 3.83 ERA) last year but lacked consistency. His “achilles heel” was the neighborhood bullies – Santana was 1-5 overall versus the Rangers, Red Sox, and Yankees. DiPoto may have sent a signal to Santana, and the projected fifth starter, Jerome Williams, when he tried to obtain pitcher AJ Burnett from the Yankees.
Potential Breakout Players
The hope is last years’ rookie of the year candidate, first baseman Mark Trumbo (29 HR), won’t fall victim to the sophomore jinx. Actually, he has more problems than just trying to live up to expectations.
Trumbo suffered a stress fracture in his foot towards the end of 2011 and is still a couple of weeks away from being able to play in spring training games. And he will have to recover while learning a position he has never played as a professional before. In an effort to relieve the logjam at first base with Pujols and Kendrys Morales, the plan is to convert Trumbo to a third baseman. Oh well, he probably can’t do worse than Alberto Callaspo did there last year. Callaspo committed 15 errors, third most by a third baseman in the American League.
The Angels have two young outfielders that they are quite high on, and justifiably so. Outfielder Peter Bourjos, who enters his third season with the club, hit .271 with 11 triples last year. Mike Trout, who is still too young to order an alcoholic drink, hit .220 in 56 games last year. The Angels organization believes he is a star waiting to explode.
Worst Case Scenario
Someone once said the way to win pennants is to play .500 against the teams ahead of you and beat the hell out of the guys below you. The Angels couldn’t do either consistently in 2011. They were 27-30 within their own division, including losing 12 of 19 to the Rangers. And show me a team with a 3-7 record versus the Kansas City Royals and a 2-6 record versus the Red Sox and I’ll show you a team sitting home in October.
One other question might come from the track record of CJ Wilson. Some are wondering if two years of success is enough to justify the $77 million the Angels threw at him. In Texas, Nolan Ryan, a guy who obviously doesn’t know a thing about pitching, decided to invest $60 million in the unproven Yu Darvish from Japan rather than sign Wilson. Does Ryan know something the rest of us don’t?
Area of Concern
The Angels led the league in blown saves last year with 25. Closer Jordan Walden blew 10 of them himself. The signings of Wilson and Pujols certainly didn’t allow the Angels to entice some young, up and coming relief pitcher. The best they could do was pick up journeymen LaTroy Hawkins (2.42 ERA in 2011) and Jason Isringhausen (3-3, 4.05 ERA last year with the Mets) .
Hawkins, 39, has played for so many teams, I think the Knicks cut him when they signed Jeremy Lin. Isringhausen, also 39, isn’t the same pitcher who earned 300 saves but Scioscia already appears to have him penciled in on the roster. “Jason is going to slot in with LaTroy and Scott Downs in a set-up role,” he said.
Who needs to rebound
Let’s play “The Six Degrees of Vernon Wells” game. If Wells could have hit better than .218 and gotten this team over the hump, former GM Reagins still has a job, which in turn would have meant the Angels wouldn’t have needed Albert Pujols, which in turn would have allowed rookie sensation Trumbo to remain at first base rather than become an experiment at third. Whew.
Some in the Angels organization want to move Wells and clear the way for their prospects but the guy is owed about $60 million the next three years. Doesn’t exactly sound like a bargain.
First baseman Morales (.306 BA, 108, RBI, 39 HR in 2009), is one of those guys who will have to endure the ridicule that comes with suffering a stupid, freak injury. In May of 2010, Morales broke his foot jumping on home plate after hitting a game winning grand slam. He hasn’t played since but is expected back this year.