Over the past 13 months, beginning with the Vernon Wells acquisition last January and continuing through the Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson signings in December, the Los Angeles Angels have committed something like $97 quadrillion to future player salaries.
If that seems like a big number, well...yeah. It certainly is. That's a 97 followed by 15 zeros: $97,000,000,000,000,000. Huge total. It's actually more wealth than was believed to exist in the world, but Arte Moreno somehow found it. Maybe he prints it himself.
So have the Angels improved significantly? C'mon, of course they have. It's almost impossible to throw this sort of money at something without improving it. I'll direct your attention to the "Arrivals & Departures" section of LA's team report...
That's crazy. They upgraded from Russell Branyan to Pujols, from Tyler Chatwood to Wilson, and from Jeff Mathis to Chris Iannetta. And they made Fernando Rodney go away, so that's a win, too.
Last year's Wells trade was a notable disaster — L.A. is on the hook for another $63 million due Vernon, plus it shipped Mike Napoli out of town. But you can't argue that this team's 2012 roster isn't better than the 2011 version. (For the record, general manager Jerry Dipoto isn't the guy who made the insane move for Wells, so don't blame him). These are clearly exciting times for Halos fans.
However, the recent spending binge has left the Angels with an abundance of DHs, a less-than-ideal situation at third base, and more outfielders than any team really needs. Let's hit the questions...
With Pujols penciled in at first base, what the heck will Mike Scioscia do with Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo?
Unless the American League introduces a second DH spot this season — an idea that Detroit can probably get behind — then the Angels appear to have a dilemma. Check out this team's pre-spring training depth chart. Pujols is on first, with Wells, Peter Bourjos and Torii Hunter camped in the outfield from left to right. That would seem to leave Morales, Trumbo and a still-expensive Bobby Abreu vying for at-bats at DH.
Abreu is hardly an ideal everyday player at this stage in his career, so we can probably dismiss him from the conversation quickly, assuming Morales and Trumbo enter the season healthy. (Not a completely safe assumption, as we'll soon discuss). Bobby will turn 38 in March, the power is gone — he slugged .365 last year with eight homers in 585 plate appearances — and his on-base skills aren't what they used to be. He's due $9 million in 2012, his final year under contract, so you have to imagine L.A. would almost give him away. There's just no room for the guy right now.
Morales is still battling back from a broken left ankle, an injury that's caused him to miss the past year and a half. He's been hitting from both sides of the plate this winter at the Angels' minor league complex in Arizona, and the BP sessions have drawn positive reviews. He's reportedly running on treadmills, too. You'll recall that Morales is just two years removed from a 34-homer, .306/.355/.569-season. If the ankle is ready for everyday action, then he's the best option at DH for this team.
So where does that leave Trumbo? Well, the Angels are planning to give him a look at third base this spring, an ambitious position shift to attempt at the major league level. the 26-year-old is making his way back from a stress fracture in his right foot, so he hasn't been able to put in much work defensively during the off-season. For fantasy purposes, we just have to hope that Trumbo will eventually get 10 appearances or five starts this season at third, thereby earning position eligibility. It's a bit unrealistic to project him as the team's everyday third baseman. The Angels are just looking for ways to get his right-handed power bat in the lineup. Trumbo delivered 29 homers and 87 RBIs last season, but the batting line wasn't too impressive (.254/.291/.477) and he only drew 25 walks. He's an interesting young player entering his peak years, and there's clearly a path for regular playing time here. Alberto Callaspo remains an option at third for L.A., though he's not a recommended fantasy play.
In the best-case scenario for the Angels, the following things happen: A) Both Morales and Trumbo are healthy on opening day, B) Trumbo achieves some degree of competence at third, allowing him to get a few starts per week in the field and DH, thus guaranteeing that C) Scioscia will be able to exploit right/left match-ups every day. The Angels have a deep roster, loaded with switch-hitters, so it seems they'll always have a couple of dangerous hitters lurking on the bench. An alternative best-case scenario for the Halos, if the Trumbo-to-third experiment is a failure, might be a trade for David Wright. You'll find speculation on that subject here and here. LA obviously has a few trade chips, they're in win-now mode, and they could use an upgrade at third. It's not the nuttiest rumor we've ever heard.
Wait, you're 800 words into this thing and you STILL HAVEN'T MENTIONED MIKE TROUT. What the...?! HE'S AWESOME! MIKETROUTMIKETROUTWooooooMIKETROUT!
That wasn't actually phrased as a question, but fine. We can discuss Mike Trout. The 20-year-old ranks among the game's elite prospects on pretty much everyone's board — Keith Law has him at No. 1, Kevin Goldstein and Jonathan Mayo at No. 3 — and he really has no obvious holes in his game. Trout is an excellent defensive outfielder, he's an accomplished base-stealer (56 SB in 2010), he lives on base (.422 minor league OBP), and the kid hit 16 homers last year across two levels (one of which was the majors). In dynasty leagues, he should already be owned. Trout has the potential to be great, an eventual early-round fantasy asset. Everyone likes him. He made his big league debut at 19, which puts him in impressive company historically.
In the near term, however, Trout's path to an everyday major league role is blocked. Bourjos is an outstanding defensive outfielder, good enough to nudge Trout to a corner spot whenever he arrives. Dipoto really doesn't sound like a man who intends to deal away his incumbent center fielder:
"Peter Bourjos is a guy we're going to hold," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a December interview. "He's one of the better defenders in the league, a 0-to-3 (major league service time player). He's a good player who fits in very well on a good team and makes our pitching staff better."
Hunter is in the final year of his deal, so a spot definitely opens up for Trout in 2013. Wells was a wreck at the plate last season (.218/.248/.412), but it's obviously tough to sit a guy who's making $130,000 per game. He was a fly-ball machine last year (48.1), managing to clear the fence 25 times, so at least he was a modest help in one category.
Bottom line: Unless someone suffers a spring injury or Wells completely flat-lines, we're probably going to see Trout begin the year at Triple-A. There's little question that Trout has the necessary talent to force his way onto the big league roster, so he'll be player worth tracking throughout the spring.
Any other prospects of interest in this organization?
Only for those of you in very deep dynasty leagues. Trout is the gem here. If for some reason you're compelled to go mining in this system, I suppose you can consider 21-year-old middle infielder Jean Segura. He has plenty of speed (50 SB in 2010) and it looks like he'll hit for average (.316 career), but injuries have been an issue. If he sticks at short, he could enter the fantasy discussion someday (but not this season). RHP Garrett Richards is a hard-thrower (upper 90s), though his fantasy potential is dimmed a bit by the unspectacular K-rate (6.5 K/9 at Double-A). His ground ball tendencies should serve him well in real life, but it's an issue in any fantasy format that places a limit on innings and/or starts.
Other names to file away: RHP John Hellweg is a hard-throwing giant (6-foot-9) who struck out 113 batters in 89.1 innings at Single-A last year, 2B Taylor Lindsey flashed some power and speed in the Pioneer League, and 19-year-old 3B Kaleb Cowart is of interest because...well, mostly because he's a third baseman. Cowart was also Baseball America's 2010 High School Player of the Year, and a first-round draft selection. Like every other name in this blurb, he's not yet ready for prime time.
OK, back to the majors: Who are the value picks on L.A.'s roster?
This team is like a buffet of fantasy value. Just scan the list of useful Angels getting picked outside the top-100 over at Mock Draft Central:
2B Howie Kendrick (ADP 105.1) - He's eligible at three roster spots (1B/2B/OF), he's coming off an 18-homer, 14-steal season, and he's a career .292 hitter. What's not to like?
SS Erick Aybar (147.8) - Think of him as a low-cost alternative to Elvis Andrus. Both shortstops hit .279 last season, and Andrus only swiped seven more bags.
CF Peter Bourjos (135.2) - He once stole 50 bases in the minors, so there's plenty of speed here. Boujos isn't bomber, but he's not a severe liability in homers, either.
RF Torii Hunter (177.9) - Hunter's best days are behind him, but he can still the fantasy community (in an 80-20-80-.265 sort of way).
SP Ervin Santana (150.92) - OK, so he may not deliver another 3.38 ERA, but it's not like his 2011 performance was a total fluke. Santana struck out 7.0 batters per nine innings, he coaxed grounders at a career-best rate (43.5 percent), and his xFIP was 3.93, which isn't so bad. Considering the investment this team has made in the batting order, there's a very good chance Ervin will deliver more than 11 wins this season.
RP Jordan Walden (158.2) - If you tend to take the design-on-a-dime approach to your fantasy bullpen, then this is one of your targets in 2012. Walden tired down the stretch in his age-23 season, giving up five earned runs over his final three appearances in September. But he still gave us 32 saves on the year, finished with acceptable fantasy ratios (2.98 ERA, 1.24 WHIP), and he struck out 67 batters in 60.1 innings.
LA enters the season with an excellent starting staff, a respectable 'pen, a massively upgraded batting order and a deep bench. The Angels are built to contend, and they'll assist fantasy owners along the way. When Arte spends, we all win.
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