As we get closer and closer to the opening of Spring Training, we take a look back at the offseason that was. For the Angels, it could easily be considered one of their most successful in team history with the additions of the best hitter of his generation, Albert Pujols, and the ace of the division rival Rangers and best pitcher in free agency, C.J. Wilson, in a single day. Those aren’t the only new faces that will be donning the red and white this season, however. After all, it takes more than two to win it all, so let’s take a look at the new members of the Angels and what they’ll be able to contribute to the Halos in 2012.
Maybe you’ve heard of this guy? He’s only the greatest hitter of his generation, and the Angels achieved quite the coup when they swooped in and signed the slugging first baseman to a 10-year, $240 million deal that immediately puts legitimate power into the Angels lineup. Pujols is coming off his worst season statiscally, hitting just .299 with a .366 OBP, .541 SLG, .906 OPS with 99 RBIs and 61 walks, all career lows. At 32 years old, there are those who feel the former Cardinal could be on the downward side of his career. However, looking closer at Pujols’ 2011, it’s more likely the perennial All-Star was suffering from nothing more than a painfully slow start. Over the final four months of the season, he hit at a much more Pujols-ian pace batting .318 with 28 home runs. He showed flashes of his old self during the Cardinals’ postseason run to a World Series title, hitting .353 with 5 home runs and 16 RBIs and a .463 OBP, .691 SLG, and 1.155 OPS.
At the end of the day, the Angels have added one of the most dangerous bats of a generation to the heart of their lineup. Pujols and his .328 career batting average and 445 home runs give significant bite to a lineup that finished 10th in the American League in runs scored and 9th in the AL for OPS. While he makes the futures of the other first basemen on the Angels’ roster in Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales a little murkier (the team is contemplating a move to 3B for Trumbo and DH for Morales), his offensive impact will undoubtedly make up for any hurt feelings over getting displaced. Will Pujols live up to the decade long commitment given to him by the Angels? Who know what will happen in 2022, but there is little doubt that Pujols’ presence in 2012 is going to make the Angels an immediate contender for the AL West, and legitimate threat for a World Series run.
The other part of the monumental day of free agency for the Angels was lefty former ace for rival Texas, C.J. Wilson. He comes West after two seasons as a starter with the Rangers, where he went 31-15, with back-to-back seasons with at least 15 wins. Last season, Wilson went 16-7, with a 2.94 ERA, with 206 strikeouts against just 74 walks with a career best 1.19 WHIP as he led the Rangers staff to another American League championship where they lost in the World Series to St. Louis. Wilson spent most of his career coming out of the bullpen, but has successfully transitioned to the starting rotation, posting a career 3.60 ERA with a 1.29 WHIP.
Wilson showed his ability to be the top guy for a pitching staff last season in Texas, and now joins a staff who finished second in the Majors in team ERA in 2011. However, after the stellar trio of Jared Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana, the starting rotation fell off a bit. Wilson makes a good staff even more formiddable and will look to be even more dominant in 2012. With four legitimate studs on the hill for the Angels, look for this staff to be among the best in the league this season.
Ianetta was acquired via trade with the Colorado Rockies in December in exchange for young starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood. The former Rockies backstop is a cerebral catcher with some pop to his swing who the Angels are hoping will improve their offensive production from the catcher position. The 28-year old Ianetta has shown legitimate power during his tenure Colorado, hitting 57 home runs with 199 RBIs in 370 games over the last four seasons. Last season, he hit .238 with a .370 OBP and a .785 OPS with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs. There is some question about the “Coors factor” in Ianetta’s stat line as his OBP was just .321 on the road last season, while it ballooned up to .419 while at home in hitter-friendly Coors Field.
Ianetta looks to be a clear offensive upgrade at cactcher for the Angels in 2012. During the 2011 season, three different players took swings as catcher, and they combined for a dismal .192 batting average, .252 OBP, and .555 OPS (good for 28th in the league) while hitting just 10 home runs and 48 RBIs. That’s right, three guys for the Angels over 162 games combined for fewer home runs and runs batted in than one Chris Ianetta splitting time in Colorado last year. Even if Ianetta’s numbers were somewhat inflated by the mile-high altitude of Coors, his production at the plate will be a marked step up from last season.
New general manager Jerry Dipoto made it clear that one of his top priorities during the offseason would be to add a veteran right-handed pitcher to the back end of the bullpen to help close out games. That’s why one of the first moves made this winter by the Angels was the signing of free agent LaTroy Hawkins. The 39-year old is one season removed from shoulder surgery in 2010, but his 2011 showed no signs of lingering damage. While with Milwaukee last season, Hawkins posted a 2.42 ERA with a 1.241 WHIP while striking out 28 and walking 10 during 48.1 innings of work. Hawkins has found longevity in baseball by transitioning to the bullpen and has experience closing out games, with 87 career saves. His versatility coming out of the pen will add some much needed depth to the Angels’ bullpen.
Last season, the Angels were tied for first in the Majors for blown saves. 24-year old rookie closer Jordan Walden finished the season with an impressive 2.98 ERA with 32 saves, but blew 10 save opportunities and faded down the stretch, posting a 4.35 ERA during the month of September. Hawkins is the only major addition to the bullpen, so it will be on him to take some of the pressure off the young Walden so that he doesn’t wear out during a late season postseason push, which the Angels are counting on being in. Without any other relief pitchers added to the back end of the bullpen, will Hawkins hold up or be enough to help the Angels turn a few more of those save opportunities into wins? If his health stays good, then he’s shown he’s capable and the Angels bullpen will benefit from his presence.
Cantu comes to the Angels at a bargain rate, having been signed to a Minor League deal during the offseason as a free agent. At 30-years old, Cantu has been a journeyman utility infielder for five different teams during his eight seasons in the big leagues, playing 1B, 2B, and 3B while showing an ability to hit for some power. He is a career .271 hitter with 104 home runs, but has seen his offensive production fall off in the last few years. In 2011, Cantu was with the San Diego Padres for just 57 games before being cut after hitting just .194 and spent the rest of the season with the AAA affiliate for Colorado.
Cantu will not be cracking the starting lineup for the Angels anytime soon (or ever), but he does provide experience and depth in the infield for cheap. If he can return to some form of his pre-2011 self at the plate and hit with any pop, his versatility in the field could free up the Angels to make a trade with one of their hotter commodities, like Maicer Izturis or Alberto Collaspo. While he is in no way better than anyone currently slated into the starting lineup, his added depth to the infield could give the Angels some flexibility in the event they want to make a move through trade to add to their bullpen.
Mills finds himself on the Angels after being traded from Toronto for catcher Jeff Mathis in early December. The 26-year old lefty has been a star in Toronto’s farm system, where he was their top pitcher in AAA during 2011, posting an 11-9 record with a 4.00 ERA in 24 starts. He was named to the Minor League All-Star team for the second time in his career, and has posted a 36-28 record and a 3.57 ERA in five Minor League seasons. However, Mills has struggled when injuries forced him up to the Majors. In three seasons (2009-2011), Mills has posted a 2-3 record with an 8.57 ERA and a 1.82 WHIP in 48.1 innings pitched. In 2011, he appeared in five games for the Blue Jays (starting in four) and went 1-2 with a 9.82 ERA and 1.91 WHIP, surrendering 20 earned runs in just 18.1 innings of work.
While Mills hasn’t been exceptional for Toronto, he can fill a need for the Angels in 2012. Mills has some talent, as shown by his success at the AAA level, but may have been rushed to the Majors and pushed into a role he wasn’t suited for due to injuries to the Blue Jays’ in recent years. The Angels will not need him to start, as they have a fairly deep starting rotation heading into the season, but he could fill the need as a situational left handed reliever coming out of the bullpen. He won’t need to be lights out, like a closer, or work a bunch of innings like a starter. If he can come in and get one or two batters out at a time, bridging the gap between the starters and the back end of the bullpen, he’ll add some value to the Angels’ pitching depth.
It has been a busy offseason for the Angels, and with Spring Training just around the corner, it’s almost time to see how these new additions will pan out. So what do you think? Who will be the best acquisition the Angels made this offseason in 2012? Will it be the obvious answer, Pujols? Or will the added offense behind the plate with Ianetta, or the extra ace on staff with Wilson, or the added depth of Hawkins, Cantu, or Mills be the big difference maker this season?