The Angels look ready. With sky high expectations placed on the team for this season and beyond, they better be. Things have changed for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim recently. They’re one of the “big boys” now with the fourth highest payroll in Major League Baseball for a second straight year (with an assist from a new television deal). But expectations have changed for another reason too. Well, make that two reasons: Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. In one day last December the front office transformed the franchise’s fortunes and agreed to terms with the most prized position player and starting pitcher on the free agent market. The additions of Pujols and Wilson put an already decent team into instant contender status. On the eve of their much anticipated 2012 debut, let’s take a brief look at the seemingly ready to go Angels.
The addition of Pujols alone will transform the lineup in short order. In 2011 the offense was below league average in runs scored. Reasonably, one would expect the offense to at least move across the average threshold with the most potent bat of the last 10 years (and one of the greatest hitters of all-time) now in the fold. There is other reason for optimism too. The return of Kendrys Morales is one of the major keys for the club this season. He was only able to play in 51 total games the past two seasons due to a freak ankle injury. He showed in his breakout 2009 campaign that he has the ability to form a pretty good 3-4 combination with Pujols. The team also has Howard Kendrick coming off the best season of his career, the steady Torii Hunter, and Peter Bourjos, off an underrated year, in the lineup. General Manager Jerry Dipoto made a nice move in acquiring catcher Chris Iannetta from the Colorado Rockies; he should be able to provide a lot more offense out of the position than last season. After a dreadful 2011 season, the realistic (only?) direction for Vernon Wells to go is up. Manager Mike Scioscia has options as the roster has some excess at the corner infield spots and the outfield. Mark Trumbo, who hit 29 home runs in his rookie season last year, will see time at a number of positions including third base. The addition of Pujols and Morales’ return mean that Bobby Abreu is relegated to the bench and top prospect Mike Trout is stuck in the minor leagues, at least for the time being. The Angels have the potential to be a top 10 run scoring offense in 2012.
Really, the strength of the Angels is starting pitching (the bullpen should be at least adequate too). The starting rotation is strong one-through-four with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Wilson. In Weaver, Haren, and Wilson, Anaheim arguably has three of the top five starting pitchers in the American League from 2011. Whether that is true or not, they certainly have three of the top ten starting pitchers in the American League today. The fourth starting pitcher, Santana, is coming off a solid season and back-to-back years with 30+ starts and 200+ innings. If he is able to maintain that level the Angels will be in great shape through their front four. The major area of concern for the team is the fifth spot in the rotation and a lack of viable options. Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards are still battling (and will likely battle through a considerable chunk of the season) for the final spot. With such a strong front of the rotation, the fifth spot does not need to be excellent but merely not terrible. The problem may come if there is an injury to Weaver, Haren, Wilson or Santana.
The Angels have the makeup of a team that is ready for big things. They have two shiny new toys added to a roster that had some things going for it already. One cannot draw many conclusions from exhibition games but in the recent Freeway Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, sort of the unveiling of the 2012 team in front of the hometown fans, the Angels outscored their “cross-town rivals” 21-10 in three games, winning two in fine fashion. Again, not much can be taken from exhibition games. Nevertheless, the Angels look ready for what may be a special 2012 season.