Thanks to an off-season spending spree, the 2012 Angels might've been the most disappointing 89-win team of all-time. Apparently they didn't learn their lesson though as they spent only slightly less this winter so that they could once again vie for a World Series or the "most disappointing team in baseball" label for the second straight year.
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You May Say I'm A Dreamer (11:30 AM)
2013 Burning Question (12:45 PM)
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X-Factor (3:15 PM)
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Depth Chart (as of 2/13)
C: Chris Iannetta
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Howie Kendrick
SS: Erick Aybar
3B: Alberto Callaspo
LF: Mike Trout
CF: Peter Bourjos
RF: Josh Hamilton
DH: Mark Trumbo
SP: Jered Weaver
SP: C.J. Wilson
SP: Tommy Hanson
SP: Jason Vargas
SP: Joe Blanton
CL: Ryan Madson
Apparently the Angels spent a little bit of money this off-season, but I'm sure you didn't hear about it as the moves were so under the radar. The marquee move was obviously the nine-figure deal they signed Josh Hamilton to in order to give the Halos quite possibly the best lineup in baseball and the best defensive outfield in decades. Hamilton will get the most attention, but what might've been more important was the Angels adding Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson to a bullpen that arguably cost the Angels a post-season berth last year. Finally, the Angels essentially overhauled their rotation with two low-risk, low-ceiling arms in Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton and one high-risk, high-reward bet on Tommy Hanson. They are apparently hoping that if they can just find a few guys to eat some innings, the offense should be able to carry the load. In other words, it is the exact opposite strategy they employed last season.
It is funny to think that going into last season, most thought that the Angels had the best rotation in baseball. And this was before they traded three of their few valuable prospects for Zack Greinke. That "best rotation" tag didn't stick for long as Dan Haren and Ervin Santana both turned in the worst seasons of their careers. As a result, Santana was traded away and the Angels declined Haren's contract option. Following them out the door was Greinke, though the Angels did want to keep him, at least until the Dodgers got involved and bid his contract value up out of the Angels' price range, which is an impressive feat unto itself. The Halos also sent three relievers packing, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins and Jordan Walden, but all three were big reasons that the Angels had a miserable bullpen in 2012, so there weren't exactly a lot of tears shed over their departures.
Impact? Well, if you consider a little, tiny dent on the surface as "impact" then the Angels might have one guy. Kole Calhoun has a shot at earning a bench spot on Opening Day and could be pressed into a more prominent role if injury strikes (hello, Josh Hamilton), but even that is a stretch. The best bet for an Angel rookie providing value is southpaw Nick Maronde who had a brief cameo as an effective LOOGY last September. The Angels want to keep him as a starter in the minors, but if Downs and/or Burnett get hurt or struggle, then they could call Maronde back up. That's pretty much all the Halos minor leagues has to offer, which is about what one would expect from arguably the worst farm system in all of baseball.
Other than the final bench and bullpen spots, the Angels roster is all set. The closest thing they have to a position battle is at closer where the team has stated the job will go to Ryan Madson, but they aren't sure if that will be on Opening Day. In which case, Ernesto Frieri will hold down the gig until Madson is ready, assuming Frieri doesn't pitch so well that they decide to leave him in the role. The next best battle after that will be between Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards to see who can be the team's swingman. Grab your popcorn!
The internet tells me that "Holt" is Josh Hamilton's middle name, which is pretty cool, but I'm pretty sure his middle name is actually "Injury Concern." Hamilton played 148 games in 2012, which was the most games he's appeared in since 2008. The Angels are hoping that moving him to right field and giving him some spot starts at DH can keep him healthy, but history suggets that won't work. As mentioned before, Madson is coming off Tommy John surgery, so he might take time to get fully healthy and effective. They also have C.J. Wilson and Sean Burnett coming off minor off-season elbow surgery, but both are supposed to be ready to go for training camp. The bigger concerns on the pitching staff are Jered Weaver who dealt with a bad back and sore shoulder last season and Tommy Hanson who has had significant shoulder problems as well. Other than that, the Halos are a picture of perfect health.
Is the Angels' rebuilt rotation good enough for them to return to the playoffs?
In a perfect world, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton combine their powers to form a space-traveling super robot named Voltron. In a slightly less perfect world, they all individually put up monster offensive numbers and get into a three-way race for AL MVP as they lead the Angels to a league-best offense with supporting production from the Mark Trumbo that was an All-Star in the first half of 2012 (and not the guy that struck out constantly in the second half of 2012) and rebound seasons from Howie Kendrick and Peter Bourjos. Toss in Cy Young caliber seasons from Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and a great year from a rejuvenated Tommy Hanson and the Halos trounce a competitive AL West, cruise through the playoffs and finally get owner Arte Moreno the World Series he has been trying to buy for the last decade.
A sophomore slump from Mike Trout? Sure. Josh Hamilton can't stay healthy and struggles away from Arlington? It could happen. Albert Pujols' plate discipline continues to erode? I don't see why not. Jered Weaver's back causes his fastball to lose more velocity? This is starting to get scary now. With all the possible injuries that loom over the Angels' season as well as performance questions for key Angels, there is going to be a lot of pressure on the team to win big and it may be too much for them to handle. The season hasn't even started yet and already there is talk that Mike Scioscia, once considered untouchable in Anaheim, could get the axe if the Angels get out to another slow start. If that happens, all bets are off for the Halo season.
There's no reason that the Angels shouldn't be in the AL West and/or Wild Card race until the final day of the season, and really they should earn a playoff berth. The team has a ton of talent, but the rotation does leave one wanting for more. Still, a lot went wrong for them last season and they still won 89 games. With just a little more luck this season, it is hard to conceive of a lot of scenarios in which they don't win 90+ games and earn a playoff spot.
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