Arrival of Albert Pujols lets Angels continue owner Arte Moreno’s plan to win over fans in Los Angeles
Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Los Angeles Angels.
2011 record: 86-76
Finish: Second, AL West
2011 final payroll: $141.8 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $140 million
Yahoo! Sports’ offseason rank: 5th
Hashtags: #artedeco, #machine>rallymonkey, #paintingLAred, #Jer-ee!Jer-ee!Jer-ee!, #troutseason, #straightedge, #wheresbobby
Well, where to start …
Apparently the only man more disappointed than the three-million-plus fans, who last year watched the Angels spend a second consecutive season without October baseball while getting outclassed by the Texas Rangers, was Arte Moreno.
Since, he’s taken on $86 million for Vernon Wells (minus the $5 million the Toronto Blue Jays giddily kicked in and, as it turned out, minus former GM Tony Reagins), then $85 million for staff ace Jered Weaver, and $240 million for Albert Pujols, and $77.5 million for former Rangers ace C.J. Wilson, and $33.5 million for second baseman Howie Kendrick.
See, the Angels, a mostly smart and savvy organization, had not just failed to reach the World Series since the thunderbolt of 2002, and hadn’t just fallen behind in the AL West, but had stalled Moreno’s L.A. manifest destiny. Up north, the Dodgers were going to pieces in the most humiliating way possible. All the Angels had to do was maintain their seamless composure, continue their run of postseasons, and the hearts and minds of L.A.’s hardball fence-sitters would be theirs.
Instead, they suffered through their first losing record in seven years in 2010, then finished 10 games behind the Rangers in ’11.
AL West, meet sledgehammer.
Granted full confidence by Moreno, new GM Jerry Dipoto traded a decent young arm (Tyler Chatwood) for a catcher (Chris Iannetta) who’d be something more than four automatic outs a night. Playing coy for weeks, Dipoto, armed with the kind of money only Alex Rodriguez makes, stalked and scored Pujols. Before the Dallas hotel staff slipped a bill under Dipoto’s door, he’d also signed Wilson. And while a glut of available closers couldn’t persuade him to buy a year or two of Jordan Walden development in the eighth inning, Dipoto puffed up the bullpen with veteran right-hander LaTroy Hawkins.
So, while Moreno might not have become a true one-percenter, neither is he camping in a tent outside Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.
Amazing what a fresh $3-billion television contract can do to a roster, particularly one that is aging in some critical places, where the one-dimensional types are beginning to stack up over at DH.
While the Angels aren’t exactly young again, they could be. Uber-prospect Mike Trout turned 20 in August and already he’s 123 at-bats into his big-league career. He’s 14 months older than Bryce Harper. And Peter Bourjos, 24, had some very promising stretches in his first full season. Career grinder Mark Trumbo, 26, led the Angels in home runs, RBI and slugging, which, in a lifeless offense, pretty much forced everyone to overlook the .291 on-base percentage. Second baseman Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar are 28, as is Kendrys Morales, who has celebrated two birthdays since he last swung a bat.
For an offense that hasn’t scored in the top half of the American League since 2009, the addition of Pujols is, of course, beyond significant. To a pitching staff that led the league in ERA in 2011 and went home after September anyway, Pujols means run support, and Wilson means mid-rotation depth.
And now the young bats can develop at a less desperate pace, because, after a couple years of searching for production, manager Mike Scioscia can run the whole lineup around Pujols and not worry so much about the likes of Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Wells.
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Indeed, some large decisions await Scioscia and Dipoto in spring training. If Morales is healthy and can pick up where he left off two summers ago, he’s the DH, which doesn’t leave many at-bats for Abreu. If Trout and Bourjos shine, what’s that mean for Wells? And if Trumbo doesn’t exactly take to third base, where’s that leave him?
As Scioscia would certainly agree, too many bats are better than the alternative. He’s already lived through that.
Assume Pujols continues to be Pujols, only the best hitter in baseball. Assume the little guys get on base in front of him, and the veterans do a reasonable job of protecting him.
Then, what makes the Angels every bit as good as the Rangers, and perhaps better, is the second coming of Kendrys Morales.
Since flinging himself at home plate May 29, 2010, Morales has been a human newswire of surgeries, rehabs, recoveries, setbacks and restarts.
Last seen, the Cuban switch-hitter was becoming one of the most feared men in the league. He was fifth in the 2009 MVP balloting and was on his way to another 30-plus homer, 100-plus RBI season when his career wandered off. On crutches.
Yeah, assuming Pujols is Pujols, and the rotation (Weaver, Dan Haren, Wilson, Ervin Santana, Jerome Williams) is as sound as it looks, and Walden sticks to the strike zone, Morales could make the Angels great again.
Angels in Haiku
Once kings of the West
The Angels have upgraded
With a prince, Albert
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