The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had a rough last two seasons that were injury riddled and ended with no playoff berths in either.
After coming in third in the AL West in 2010 with an 80-82 record, 2011 did not prove much better as the Angels only won five more games; landing them 10 behind the division-winning Texas Rangers.
The most frustrating thing was the Angels had one of the best pitching staffs in the American League, but losing the MVP caliber bat of Kendry Morales, who broke his leg in a walk-off celebration, just proved too much to recover from. And Angel’s owner Arte Moreno had about enough as this off-season he made certain that his Halos would not have that problem again in 2012.
Will Moreno’s moves prove to be enough for his Halos to dethrone the Rangers as the kings of the AL West in 2012?
Let’s check it out….
Where should I begin?
The Angels were the talk of the off-season, as owner Moreno started by promoting John Carpino to president, who in turn hired Jerry Dipoto to be the new GM. Moreno basically handed Dipoto a blank check to go acquire the top two free agents available, first baseman Albert Pujols and pitcher CJ Wilson. Pujols is considered the best player in the game today, and he is fresh off a World Series Championship win with the Cardinals. Wilson was ironically the ace of the Angels division rivals in Texas, which should make his transition pretty easy. Moreno gave his new GM, Dipoto free rein to clean house in the front office too, allowing him to fill it with his own people. Dipoto made his second in command Scott Servais, who revamped the Rangers farm system into the best in baseball, so there was not only the immediate big name splash made here. The $317.5 million spent will help the Angels be relevant now, but the Angels are rebuilding internally will payoff long-term too.
In 2011 the Angels had one of the best pitching staff in baseball, and in my opinion now with the addition of Wilson, they enter 2012 having the actual best rotation across the board. Fangraphs.com, also recently ranked the Angels #1, which only further confirms my notion. What is scary is that Wilson looks to be the Angels number three, behind aces Jered Weaver and Dan Haren who are the best 1-2 in Bigs. That means the Angels top three rotation spots are held by three All-Stars, who each pitched over 220 innings last season and all three landed in top seven for the 2011 AL CY Young award. But what make the Angles rotation over-the-top is that there fourth starter, Ervin Santana happens to also be a former All-Star, who pitched 228 innings in 2011, with a 3.38 ERA. And Santana would be a solid two anywhere else, but of course Weaver, Haren and Wilson all qualify as #1’s. Oops…I forgot to mention that this foursome ranges in age from 29-32, which is primetime.
And I haven’t even mentioned the 10-time All-Star yet; who boosts 3 MVPs and two World Series rings named Albert Pujols. Pujols is considered the best in the business and he can carry a team with his bat, like he has done for 11 years with the Cardinals. Pujols would make any team he joined a playoff contender, but he is looking to be surrounded by a healthy Kendry Morales, an improved Vernon Wells, veteran Tori Hunter, Erick Aybar, Bobby Abreau and Howie Kendrick…..enough said. Pujols is the new face, in what looks to be a new era in Angel’s baseball.
In order for all the positives to live up to expectations a lot of questions have to still be answered in Anaheim.
The biggest question is the health of Kendry Morales, who has been out for almost two seasons with a broken leg. Morales had multiple surgeries on his leg and my guess is the Angles are hoping that Morales can still swing a hot bat and become the team’s DH. Remember Morales was the main part missing from the team that struggle these last two seasons and he would be ideal to hit behind Pujols. If Morales cannot produce, Mark Trumbo can certainly take over. Trumbo finished second in the ROY voting in 2011, after smacking in 29 homers and 87 RBIs, but the Angels are so overloaded they are not sure where they can put Trumbo. Nice problem to have.
Halos fans do have to be suspect about the potential of the bullpen. The Halos are banking on getting late inning help from veteran relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen but the real worry is whether 24-year old Jordan Walden can adjust to life as the Halos full-time closer, as it is only Walden’s second season. Unquestionably the two righty vets can lend Walden a helping hand, but will that be enough? Last season, Walden posted a 2.98 ERA with 32 saves, but he fell apart at the end of the season blowing 10-saves, which tied for most in baseball. Walden did get an All-Star nod and finished seventh in the ROY voting because the kid does have a fastball that clocks 100 mph. Still, all that becomes meaningless if Walden cannot embrace the role. And you can bet that the pressure will be immense.
Another question is whether Chris Iannetta can be the everyday catcher. The Halo pitchers, like Jared Weaver had been accustomed to Jeff Mathis for six seasons but he was traded to the Blue Jays in the off-season after picking up Iannetta from the Rockies. It always takes some time for pitcher and catcher relationships to click no matter who the guys are. Once the regular season starts the Halos cannot be wasting a lot of time figuring this out because they do not want Texas to get any leeway from the get-go, but luckily the club has skipper Mike Scioscia, who is not only one the best managers but also was an All-Star catcher back in his playing days. Mathis will be missed, but Iannetta needs to be himself without worrying about trying to mold himself into who he is replacing. This is something to keep an eye on.
Last but not least is Vernon Wells who came to the Angels from the Blue Jays last season and to say he has not lived up to expectations would be an understatement. It would be hard for me to see Wells not improve his .218 batting average but he still did ding 25 homers but he walk and doubles numbers plummeted by so much that I just can’t see them staying there again. Wells claims he needs a ‘do-over’ from 2011 and has worked relentlessly to make sure that he proves his worth, but he is still a negative until proven otherwise.
PLAYER(s)/GAME-CHANGERS TO WATCH:
1) Albert Pujols…. Welcome to life in the American League. The expectations are threw the roof in Anaheim for Pujols to carry this team on his shoulders. This could be interesting to see how Pujols fares in a new uniform, new ballpark and new division. Over his 11-year career, Pujols averages 42 homers, 126 RBIs and a .328 batting average per season so those are the numbers the Angel fans will be expecting to see. Pujols was the face of St. Louis so he knows how to handle the media circus that follows him everywhere so at least he is used to that.
2) The Angels fifth starter competition would normally be something to watch but with the four in front…who really cares?
The 2012 Angels are primed just about everywhere, and are the best team in the AL West even over the media-favorite Rangers.
My only concern is how quickly the Halos will click because there will be a learning curve with all the new and old faces adjusting to each other. Still, once the Halos do gel they will be hard to beat. Vegas has the Halos as the AL West favorites, but fans have to try to keep things in perspective, as it is a long season and in baseball you cannot bank on anything.
Barring no serious injuries, my predication is that the Angels of Anaheim will win 90+ games in 2012, and take back the AL West again.
And please, feel free to quote me on that one.
- The Los Angeles Angels Just Keep on Winning (rantsports.com)
- Pujols not Angels’ only improvement (msn.foxsports.com)
- Los Angeles Angels: Already Planning in Anticipation for a Huge 2012 Season (bleacherreport.com)
- Ringolsby: Returning stars a welcomed sight (foxsportsarizona.com)
- MLB Schedule 2012: Albert Pujols, Angels Televised on FOX Eight Times (losangeles.sbnation.com)
- Angels GM Now Mailing Handwritten Replies To Fans Who Send Him Trade Ideas [Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim] (deadspin.com)
- Eric Mack: Fight for division will prove a boost to Angels, Rangers (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- Wilson, Angels prepare for Pujols (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)