Money changes everything. Just don’t tell the Los Angeles Angels that.
The Angels entered 2012 as the hands down favorite to represent the American League in the World Series. After all, during the off season, Angels owner Arte Moreno became the Western version of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner after he lavished more than $325 million dollars on free agents Albert Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson.
Alas, the Angels got off to a horrendous start and finished April with a woeful 8-15 record. Pujols had zero home runs. Just as the boo birds began flying in, an outfielder by the name of Mike Trout (.326 BA, 30 HR in 139 games) came along and suddenly everyone forgot about the big contracts.
Trout, who was called up from the minors 20 games into the season, and the Angels caught fire. They went 49-32 over the next three months and found themselves just three games behind division leading Texas at the end of July. But then the whole season seemed to come crashing down on one fateful night.
The Angels began August playing the AL West leading Rangers in Texas. It was the third game of an important four game series and the Halos were in second place; just three games back. When the Angels opened a 7-1 lead in fourth inning, a win and a two game deficit were practically assured. Too bad baseball is such a wacky game. Texas would come back to tie the game at seven and send it into extra innings. The Angels came back with three in the top of the tenth only to surrender four runs to the Rangers in the bottom of the inning and lost 11-10. That loss appeared to have a lasting effect as the Angels won only five of their next seventeen and found themselves 8.5 games out of the division lead on August 31st.
All that followed after the dramatic loss seemed to highlight the weaknesses a ton of dollar bills couldn’t cover up. Even Zack Greinke couldn’t fill the holes at the back end of the rotation or cover up a questionable bullpen. The Angels did manage to pull of an 18-9 record in September and finish with 89 wins. The only problem was the Orioles and Athletics never faltered and the Angels failed to make the postseason for the third straight year.
Albert Einstein once said insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results. Well, this winter Moreno once again threw money at the problem and signed yet another big name free agent, Josh Hamilton. So is Einstein right or wrong? 2013 may be the year Angels fans find out.
Best case scenario for 2013
The American League West could be, on paper at least, the Halos’ division to lose. The Oakland A’s and a roster comprised of no-names and veteran cast-offs from other teams surprised everyone by winning the division title on the final day of the season. Was their run a fluke? Texas faltered the last two weeks of the season winning just three of their last ten regular season games so they enter 2013 with a lot of questions, especially with Hamilton gone. Seattle and the newcomers to the AL West, the Astros, are still in the midst of searching for the right path to get back on track. So if the Angels offense gets uncorked early this year while All Star pitcher Jered Weaver continues to flash his sometimes “un-hittable” form, Angels fans might finally get their money’s worth.
Most Important Angels
If any other player hit 30 home runs and had 105 RBI, it would be a career year. But Albert Pujols is not most players. He didn’t hit his first home last year until May 6th and fans know he can not start the same way this year.
Josh Hamilton comes with a troubled past and his .259 average after the All-Star break last year has some wondering if he isn’t starting to go south; or to the beer tap. Hamilton is dissing all the negative talk and has instead enlightened us all about how his new, gluten-free veggie diet has cut down his weight and added plenty of muscle. We’ll only care if his bat contains lead.
Jered Weaver firmly ensconced himself as one of the premier pitchers in baseball yet is still being scrutinized for signing a less-than-market-value five year, $85 million deal in 2011. His one-time teammate, Greinke, signed for $147 million this winter so who knows what Weaver is thinking now. Weaver is also known to have a short temper when he doesn’t do well. In 2011, he was suspended six games for throwing at the head of Detroit’s Alex Avila. The fact is the Angels pitching success revolves around him keeping a clear head and healthy arm.
Potential Breakout Players
Trout turned out to be one of the biggest stories in baseball last year. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian called him Mickey Mantle and his exploits were shown so much on “Baseball Tonight,” you’d think you were watching reruns. Last year, Trout made a run at both Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. It would certainly be “normal” for him to drop off a bit in 2013. But if he is just getting started; then watch out.
[Find the links to all 30 MLB team previews here: 2013 MLB Team Previews]
The starting staff starts, of course, with Weaver and Wilson but the lack of a consistent number three man was part of the Angels undoing last year. The Angels parted ways with both Dan Haren and Ervin Santana and replaced them with Braves one-time star pitcher Tommy Hanson along with a couple of others. The fact the Angels were able to get a pitcher with Hanson’s reputation for the low, low price of reliever Jordan Walden raised some eyebrows.
In Hanson’s 2009 debut season, he went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA. He was being looked at as the second coming of John Smoltz. Even though he amassed a career record of 45-32 in just 3+ seasons with the Braves, the word began spreading that his velocity was dropping. He suffered a back injury last August and ended up winning just one of his final ten starts after he returned. The Angels desperately need a healthy number three in the rotation.
The Angels found a way to pluck pitcher Ernesto Frieri away from the Padres last May. Soon, he was the closer and finished up with 23 saves in 26 chances. He was a big reason the Angels remained in the wild card hunt. Is he the closer the team so desperately needs?
As of now, it appears unlikely a rookie will crack the opening day roster unless the injuries start to mount up. Left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde may be the only name to speak of given many of the “majors-ready” prospects were traded away as part of the deal to obtain Greinke.
Worst Case Scenario
Naturally, if any of the holy trio of Trout, Pujols, or Hamilton slip up and the pitching fails after Weaver and Wilson get their turns on the mound, it could be a long season for Angels fans and a short one for manager Mike Scioscia.
Last season was one of discontent between the players and coaching staff. Outfielder Torii Hunter made comments that he felt some of the coaches were simply collecting a paycheck. Shortly afterwards, batting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired. If the Angels falter again, the manager with the longest tenure of any current manager, 13 years, may have to take the blame.
Areas of concern
The Angels did indeed address their pitching needs. The question is whether they sacrificed quality for quantity(?). The number four and five starters are, Jason Vargas, who has worn out his welcome with three other teams, and Joe Blanton, who was dumped by the Phillies as part of their housecleaning and didn’t endear himself to the team he was dealt to, the Dodgers, either.
The Angels led the league in blown saves in 2011 and tied for third (22) last year. In spite of Frieri’s success, GM Jerry Dipoto decided to take a shot on injured Phillies closer Ryan Madson. Madson underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of last season so it was a risky signing. Unfortunately, Madson is still hurt and will most likely begin the season on the DL. Dipoto also signed left handed reliever Sean Burnett away from the Nationals. Burnett and Scott Downs appear to give the Angels more left handed relief help than other teams.
Who needs to bounce back from a down 2012
Vernon Wells may go down as one of the biggest loads in history. He will make $21 million each of the next two years and may be as low as the fifth outfielder on the depth chart. Can the man finally earn his pay?
Alberto Callaspo might not be a starting third baseman on many teams besides the Angels. He batted .300 in 2009 with the Royals and looked poise to help the Angels when they acquired him at the July trade deadline in 2010. But he has been sporadic. He batted .265 in 2010, .288 in 2011, but dropped to .252 last year.