The Angels were forced to watch last season as a player they traded – Mike Napoli – and a player they could have signed – Adrian Beltre – helped lead the Rangers to the World Series for the second season in a row. The Angels finished with a solid 86-76 record, but those two decisions alone cost general manager Tony Reagins his job.
In Reagins’ place stepped Jerry DiPoto, a young baseball mind but a man who has never captained a franchise. It’s safe to say DiPoto exceeded expectations in his first offseason, swooping in to sign Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract while also adding the top free-agent starter – and a former Ranger – in C.J. Wilson.
Armed now with arguably the top hitter and the top rotation in the game, the Angels are in position to compete with, and even surpass, the Rangers this season. While questions remain about the Angels offense, if their arms can beat the Rangers bats, they will find themselves in position to win their first World Series title since 2002.
Signed first baseman Albert Pujols to a 10-year contract.
The Angels entered the Pujols bidding quietly, but when it was all said and done, they were the team that ended up with star first baseman. Pujols is coming off a season in which he posted career lows in batting average (.299) and RBI (99), but that doesn’t change the fact that he is routinely referred to as the best hitter in the game. He will be a consistent run-producing threat near the top of the lineup, a role the Angels struggled to fill a year ago. Although the lineup around him is not as potent as the one he left in St. Louis, Pujols should remain a top fantasy option. He isn’t getting any younger, but if Pujols stays healthy this season, he should have no trouble topping the .300 mark and posting triple-digit RBI.
Signed pitcher C.J. Wilson to a five-year contract.
Although the Angels lost to the Rangers each of the last two seasons, they extracted a small level of revenge by stealing Texas’ ace away in free agency. Wilson, a south California native, took less money than he could have made to sign with his hometown team. His addition to the rotation gives the Angels a foursome of starting pitchers that rivals any in baseball. Wilson managed to post 31 wins and strong numbers across the board the last two seasons despite pitching in one of the league’s toughest parks for pitchers, but with road ERAs under 3.00 in each campaign, he could be even better in his new home.
Traded pitcher Tyler Chatwood to the Rockies for catcher Chris Iannetta.
With Napoli in Texas, the Angels struggled to get even minimal offensive production from the catcher position last season. Looking to upgrade behind the plate, the team sent Chatwood, one of its top pitching prospects, to the Rockies in exchange for Iannetta. In a career-high 112 games last season, Iannetta hit .238 with 14 home runs and 55 RBI. Those numbers alone aren’t much better than the Angels catchers combined to put up last season, but Iannetta should offer a reliable backstop for the team’s talented pitching staff. While Iannetta will be worthy of a spot in AL-only leagues, be aware that he will hit lower in the order and owns just a .208 career batting average away from Coors Field.
Signed relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins one-year contract.
Although the bullpen was one of Angels’ strong points last season, the team still opted to sign the veteran Hawkins to improve the middle relief corps. Hawkins was a reliable seventh-inning reliever for the Brewers last season, posting a 2.42 ERA in 52 appearances out of the bullpen. Expect him to fill a similar role with his new squad.
Traded catcher Jeff Mathis to the Blue Jays for pitcher Brad Mills.
Manager Mike Scioscia was always fond of Mathis’ defense, but with Mathis carrying a .194 career batting average and top prospect Hank Conger waiting in the wings, the Angels decided Mathis was expendable. Mills is a southpaw who will be just 27 this season, but with a 9.82 ERA in 14 career appearances, he likely will be more insurance than rotation candidate.
Lost pitcher Joel Pineiro via free agency.
Pineiro signed a two-year deal with the Angels before the 2010 season, and though he threw the ball well in his first year, the team did not attempt to bring him back after his second season, one in which he posted a 5.13 ERA and 62:38 K:BB ratio in 145.2 innings. After making $8 million each of the last two seasons, Pineiro will be forced to compete for a roster spot with the Phillies during spring training after the two sides agreed on a minor league deal this offeseason.
Lineup (vs. RH/LH)
1. Erick Aybar, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, 2B
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Torii Hunter, RF
5. Mark Trumbo/Bobby Abreu, DH
6. Vernon Wells, LF
7. Alberto Callaspo, 3B
8. Chris Iannetta, C
9. Peter Bourjos, CF
The only safe assumption in the Angels lineup is that Pujols will bat third. Beyond that, the Angels could go a number of directions both in front of and behind Pujols, so don’t be surprised to see some juggling by Scioscia early on. Aybar and Kendrick, when at their best, would provide the table-setters needed in front of Pujols, and the combination of Hunter, Trumbo and Wells – in some order – would provide plenty of pop behind him. The Angels struggled to score runs last season, but Pujols’ presence alone could help the players around him improve at the plate.
1. Jered Weaver
2. Dan Haren
3. C.J. Wilson
4. Ervin Santana
5. Jerome Williams
The Angels rotation was good last year, but the addition of Wilson makes it an elite unit heading into the 2012 campaign. Weaver continued to improve last season, and with an 18-8 record and 2.41 ERA, he might have picked up his first Cy Young if not for Justin Verlander’s absurd season. Haren and Wilson, both former aces themselves, fill out the next two spots in the rotation, while Ervin Santana, who has thrown more than 220 innings the last two seasons, rounds out the fearsome foursome. The fifth starter spot is unsettled, but if Williams can pitch anywhere near the level he did last year, he will open the season with the job.
Closer: Jordan Walden
Walden’s overall numbers last year – 32 saves, a 2.98 ERA, and 67 strikeouts in 60.1 innings – and his ability to hit triple-digits with his fastball make him a lock to open 2012 as the Angels closer. However, to hang onto that role this season, he needs to become more reliable after blowing 10 saves a year ago. Walden’s skills and youth allowed the Angels to overlook his inconsistency a bit last year, but with a realistic chance of winning the World Series this year, Scioscia may not be as patient.
Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise
Besides Albert Pujols, where else will the Angels find offense?
Consider: Pujols has produced an average season of 40 home runs, 121 RBI and a .328 batting average in his 11 seasons. Also consider: the Angels’ leaders in each category last season put up marks of .288 (Alberto Callaspo), 29 home runs and 87 RBI (both Mark Trumbo). Trumbo and Torii Hunter were the only players to top 80 in terms of RBI, and third-place finisher Vernon Wells tallied just 66. The Angels will rely on their loaded pitching staff this season, but the team will need to improve offensively if it hopes to make a deep postseason run. Both Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick have quality seasons under their belts and could be catalysts atop the lineup with career-best seasons. The biggest issue may be discovering who will bat in the two spots directly behind Pujols so that opposing pitchers can’t simply walk King Albert. Hunter hit fourth in 96 games last season and is the top candidate to hit behind Pujols this season. He will need to inch his OPS back up into the .800 range to force pitchers to face Pujols. While Trumbo led the team in the power categories last season, the acquisition of Pujols leaves him without a regular position. He should see action at several positions, and serve primarily as the DH, but he may struggle to replicate last year’s marks. The player the Angels need to step up the most is Vernon Wells. While Wells is 33 and coming off a 25-home-run season, he needs to do a far better job both making contact (.218 in 2011) and getting on base (.248) to be more effective. Pujols alone will help the offense improve, but the Angels need better seasons out of several players to take some pressure off the pitching staff.
What will the Angels get out of Kendrys Morales this season?
It was only three seasons ago that Morales, in 152 games, put up a .306/.355/.569 slash line with 34 home runs and 108 RBI. He got off to a good start the following season, but he has not stepped on the field since breaking his ankle in a freak accident May 29, 2010. Morales is still recovering from the injury nearly two years later, but he was cleared to resume baseball activities this winter and appears close to returning. A healthy Morales would give the Angels the clean-up hitter they are looking for behind Albert Pujols, but he would also be a huge trade chip if he can prove the injury is behind him and finds success early in the season.
The Angels possess arguably the top starting pitching staff in the league and also a strong relief corps. They also now have one of the top run-producers in the league in the middle of their lineup in Albert Pujols.
There are still questions about the rest of the lineup around Pujols, and the team still needs to identify a regular lineup. While the bullpen is a strong point, questions at closer remain after Jordan Walden blew 10 saves last season.
Rising: Howie Kendrick – Although he is not much of a sleeper any longer after posting an .802 OPS last season, Kendrick is still a player on the way up. If he hits in front of Pujols this season, he will see better pitchers to hit and should approach or top the .300 mark for the first time in a full season. If that happens, don’t be surprised to see Kendrick jump into the top tier of fantasy options at second base.
Falling: Bobby Abreu – While Abreu played in 142 games last season, he struggled to hit for both average and power and spent most of his games in the DH role. With Mark Trumbo pushed off first base, and Kendrys Morales nearing a return, Abreu’s at-bats will fall even further. He still managed to steal 21 bases last year, but with fewer opportunities at the plate, it’s likely that his production in that category will drop as well. Don’t expect Abreu to be much more than an AL-only option this season.
Sleeper: Erick Aybar – Aybar posted a .312 batting average and .353 OBP three seasons ago, but he has not approached those numbers each of the last two years. However, he is coming off a season in which he posted career highs in games played (143), home runs (10) and stolen bases (30). If those numbers remain steady – or even improve – and he hits atop the order and improves his OBP, he should find himself easily among the top 10 shortstops at season’s end.
Supersleeper: Scott Downs – Jordan Walden will open the year as the Angels closer, but Downs is next in line should Walden’s inconsistency persist into this season. Downs posted a minuscule 1.34 ERA and sparkling 1.01 WHIP last season – and has not finished with an ERA over 3.09 since 2006 – so he has an impressive track record. Downs can be counted on for superb ratios, so he may be worth stashing on your roster in hopes that he becomes the closer at some point.