February 21, 2011
Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
2010 RECORD: 80-82, 3rd place in AL West
BIGGEST ACQUISITIONS: After being dealt a last-minute loss in the Carl Crawford(notes) derby, the Angels made waves in January with their trade for Vernon Wells(notes) and his $86 million contract earlier this month. Wells finds a familiar face from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Halos clubhouse: Lefty reliever Scott Downs(notes) signed a three-year, $15 million contract after another lockdown season from the 'pen.
BIGGEST DEPARTURES: Mike Napoli(notes) and Juan Rivera(notes), two key components from previous division winners, were part of the Wells Trade. Hideki Matsui(notes) bolted for Oakland after one season of DHing in Anaheim. Bobby Abreu(notes) will assume his duties.
FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ANGELS:
1. Has the window closed on the Angels' glory days in the AL West? From 2004 to 2009, Los Angeles won five of six division titles, averaging 95.6 wins in those years while finishing an average of nine games ahead of their second-place opponent. The Texas Rangers obviously brought that dominance to a halt in 2010 and now the Oakland Athletics — who finished one game better than the Angels last season — feature a pretty good young squad that could again push L.A. to third place. The Angels still have some talented pieces and the manager to make a run, but here's betting any division win will look a lot more like 2004's triumph, when Los Angeles won 92 games, beating the A's by one game and the Rangers by three. The days of an easy coast into the playoffs are over.
2. Is this the best rotation in the division? It depends how Oakland's young arms perform with another year of experience under their belt and it also depends how the Angels' three question marks perform. There's no question that the Angels have one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball with Dan Haren(notes) (who will be here for his first full season) and power pitcher Jered Weaver(notes). But how will Joel Pineiro(notes), Ervin Santana(notes) and Scott Kazmir(notes) respond? At least one of them has to stage a bounceback season for Mike Scioscia to feel completely comfortable about his pitching staff.
3. What are Angels fans expecting from Vernon Wells? This is a really intriguing storyline. Though Wells posted a solid comeback season in 2010 with 31 homers, 88 RBIs and a .847 OPS, how will Angels fans react if he reverts to his dismal 2009 (.711 OPS) or 2007 (.706) form? GM Tony Reagins' late trade for Wells really reeked of a we'll-get-even-on-Monday-Night-Football type of bet and his leash will be a lot smaller if his $86 million gamble looks sour at first.
4. Will the Angels design a safer landing spot for Kendry Morales(notes)? A pile of pillows, a Chuck E. Cheese ball pit, a tub of Jell-o — all of these are things that Los Angeles might consider once Kendry Morales returns from the freak broken leg he suffered during a home run celebration last season. The big first baseman has cautioned that he might not be ready to go by opening day, but it's important that he eventually return to his 2009 breakout form (34 homers, 108 RBIs) if the Angels have plans on winning the division.
5. How long will Mike Trout(notes) stay down on the farm? The 19-year-old outfielder is listed as the top prospect in baseball and he posted Xbox-type numbers in his first season in the minor leagues in 2010. While Trout will start the year in Double-A and won't be pressured by the organization to make a big league appearance in 2011, you can bet he'll become a cult figure along the lines of Matt Wieters(notes) or Stephen Strasburg(notes) if he continues to mash the ball. If he does earn a big league ticket, figure it'll come late in the season when rosters expand.