MLB Spring Training 2013: Can the Los Angeles Angels Live Up to Hype?

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MLB Spring Training 2013: Can the Los Angeles Angels Live Up to Hype?
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Outfielder Josh Hamilton switches jerseys this season from the Texas Rangers to the Los Angeles Angels. …

COMMENTARY | On Monday, February 11, Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., will be abuzz with activity as pitchers and catchers for the Los Angeles Angels start reporting for spring training.

The first workouts are scheduled for the following day and for the Angels, it will also be a time for introductions. Several new faces are in camp to help propel the Angels back to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

The Angels showed improvement last season in winning 89 games yet still found themselves on the outside looking in. Expectations were high after the team spent $317.5 million to acquire slugger Albert Pujols and starting pitcher C.J. Wilson.

However, Pujols got off to an uncharacteristically slow start, not hitting his first home run until May 6.

Wilson started strong but faded badly down the stretch, posting a 4-5 record and 5.54 ERA in the second half.

Despite that, the Angels remained in playoff contention until the final week of the season. But, still, they fell short of their ultimate goal.

This past offseason, Angels owner Arte Moreno once again opened up his wallet, signing free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract.

So once again, expectations are high for the Angels.

The question now on the minds of Angels fans: Can they live up to the hype?

On paper, the lineup for the Angels is indeed formidable with Hamilton in place. On an everyday basis the Angels can trot out a batting order that consists of two former MVP Award winners (Pujols, Hamilton), two former Rookie of the Year Award winners (Mike Trout, Pujols), two former batting champs (Pujols, Hamilton), and four players who hit 30 or more home runs last season (Trout, Hamilton, Pujols, Mark Trumbo).

A formidable lineup, indeed.

However, questions abound concerning the Angels' pitching staff. The Angels failed to re-sign starting pitcher Zack Greinke this winter after giving up three top-25 organizational prospects in acquiring him from the Milwaukee Brewers last July.

They also lost starters Dan Haren and Ervin Santana; Haren departed via free agency, and Santana was dealt to the Kansas City Royals.

General manager Jerry Dipoto acted swiftly, signing free-agent pitcher Joe Blanton and trading for starters Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas.

Dipoto also bolstered the bullpen with the signings of Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett, joining returning relievers Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen.

The general consensus is that the rotation was weakened, but the numbers don't necessarily indicate that. The departing trio of Greinke, Haren and Santana combined for a 4.50 ERA and 84 ERA+ in 2012. The new trio of Hanson, Vargas and Blanton combined for a 4.32 ERA and 87 ERA+.

Bench depth is also a concern. While the Angels' everyday lineup offers an element of explosiveness, the bench offers quite the opposite.

Vernon Wells would appear to have the fourth outfielder role locked in, especially considering the fact he's owed $42 million over the next two seasons. Prospect Kole Calhoun will challenge for a roster spot as well; he hit .174 in limited action over 21 games last season.

Scott Cousins and Trent Oeltjen were also signed this winter, although neither has had considerable impact at the major-league level.

The Angels also lost a valuable utility infielder in Maicer Izturis, who signed a three-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Andrew Romine, Brenden Harris, Luis Rodriguez and Bill Hall will all compete for that role. Hall offers the most versatility, having played all three outfield positions during his major-league career as well.

Without question the Angels appear to have a roster that on paper promises to deliver the goods. In addition, Moreno will expect a return on the $442.5 million he's invested in high-profile free agents over the past two offseasons.

Chemistry will be the key. Last year it took Pujols several weeks to finally heat up and be comfortable in his new surroundings. As a result, the Angels found themselves behind the 8-ball quickly and spent the rest of the season in catch-up mode.

That same fate must be avoided. The Angels will need to jell quickly and find that chemistry during Cactus League games. The AL West Division has gotten extremely competitive with the likes of the Texas Rangers and Oakland A's. Neither team will be giving in to the Angels' hype.

The Angels themselves need not to give in to the hype, either -- they need to deliver on their considerable promise.

Doug Mead is a freelance sportswriter living in the Los Angeles area. His work has been featured in Bleacher Report, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.

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