Offense: On paper, there’s no reason this team shouldn’t generate plenty of runs. But the same thing could have been said the past two preseasons before free-agent additions Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton struggled offensively. If both can approach their best seasons, they’ll form a dynamic trio with wunderkind Mike Trout, who should produce another MVP-worthy season. Ibanez, who will turn 42 in June, might provide some surprising punch now that he’ll be a full-time DH and occasional first baseman.
Rotation: The Angels’ pitching success will depend on the backend of their starting staff. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are dependable Nos. 1 and 2, and Garrett Richards did enough last season to earn a shot in the rotation, but Santiago and Skaggs – acquired in the three-team deal that send bomber Mark Trumbo to Arizona – are huge unknowns. Santiago had a solid spring, but Skaggs, a once and future Angels prospect, had problems getting outs.
Bullpen: The Angels targeted relief help last season and brought in right-hander Smith, who signed a three-year deal. Smith should be the team’s setup man for closer Ernesto Frieri, who had 37 saves but a 3.80 ERA. There were concerns about right-hander Dane De La Rosa, who suffered a forearm strain this spring, but he had a promising bullpen session last weekend and should be fine. Not so for lefty Sean Burnett, who will open the season on the DL in his comeback bid from elbow surgery last season.
Player to watch: Kole Calhoun is a perfect example of a self-made player: not big, not fast, not much power, but he plays at another speed and works harder than most. The trade that sent Bourjos to St. Louis for Freese created an outfield opening, and Calhoun staked his claim. He’s the Angels’ likely leadoff hitter, so his ability to be patient at the plate and get on base ahead of Trout will be important to the team’s offensive success.
Why they will win: Healthy, productive seasons by Pujols and Hamilton, plus steady performances by new starters Santiago and Skaggs to complement Weaver and Wilson.
Why they will lose: Their starting pitchers don’t hold up, and their offense can’t create enough runs to end a four-year playoff drought.
Rob Neyer’s outlook: Every team has question marks. Every team, even the Dodgers and the Tigers. But not many teams with the Angels’ financial resources and payroll have as many question marks, big question marks, as they do. Sure, it’s possible that Pujols or Hamilton – or both! – will begin to justify their massive contracts. And yes, it’s possible that Santiago or Skaggs – or both! – will pitch far, far better in the majors than they’ve ever pitched before. These things really are possible! But they’re not particularly likely, which is why the Angels show up in third place in everyone’s projections (well, except for Baseball Prospectus’). Still, there’s plenty of demonstrated talent on this roster, which is why the Angels are worth watching, at least early on.