After ruling the AL West for most of a six-year stretch, the Angels found themselves looking up at the Texas Rangers the last two years.
It was not a comfortable position for Angels’ owner Arte Moreno, who had not missed out on the playoffs in consecutive seasons since purchasing the defending World Series champions in 2003.
Moreno reacted with the most tumultuous and transformative offseason in franchise history.
General manager Jerry Dipoto came on in a nearly-complete overhaul of the front office. And Dipoto went big, landing free agent first baseman Albert Pujols and left-hander C.J. Wilson in the span of a few hours last December.
The additions addressed shortcomings in the Angels’ offense and depth issues in their starting rotation, making them a popular pick to return to the playoffs — and possibly win it all — in 2012.
“It’s pretty awesome,” outfielder Torii Hunter said this spring, his locker stationed next to Pujols’ in the Angels clubhouse. “This is probably the best team I’ve been part of my whole career, just looking at it numbers-wise.
“Right now, it’s just about being healthy. This is definitely my best shot. I’m all in.”
The addition of Wilson gives the Angels possibly the best rotation in the American League. If a healthy Kendrys Morales and a rebounding Vernon Wells join Pujols to give the Angels’ lineup depth, they could have enough offense to support that pitching, an imbalance they couldn’t address the last two seasons.
“We talked about in ’04 when you had Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon, Jose Guillen hitting 5,6,7, that was a pretty deep lineup that unfortunately I think lasted one day (because of injuries),” manager Mike Scioscia said when asked if the 2012 team could have the best lineup in his 13 seasons as manager. “So the potential is to be every bit as deep as we’ve ever seen here, which is important.
“More importantly, I think it’s a lineup that’s going to support a premium pitching staff. That’s something that we struggled with last year. So, we’re going to be deeper. I don’t think it matters if we’re the deepest lineup we’ve ever had here. What matters is, are we going to be good enough offensively to let these pitchers pitch without their backs against the wall, which happened a lot last year?”
Other than injuries, the most worrisome factor that could derail the Angels is the bullpen. The Angels blew 25 saves in 2011 (tied for third in the majors and second in the AL), including 10 by closer Jordan Walden in his rookie season (tied for the major-league lead).
But the only thing Dipoto did to address that area this off-season was sign veteran relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen in hopes of deepening the relief corps leading up to Walden who returns as closer.