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.
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2012 record: 89-73
Finish: Third, AL West
2012 final payroll: $160.1 million
Estimated 2013 opening day payroll: $152 million
Yahoo! Sports offseason rank: 5
Hashtags: #hombre2point0 #troutysoph #3darkfalls #rangerswest #joshinright #jerryjerryjerry #toriisatiger #trumbombs #sciosciable
When the 2012 season ended, the Angels, as an organization, had three basic problems:
One, they were third best in the AL West.
Two, their time as the coolest team in Southern California was in jeopardy.
Three, they hadn't played a postseason game since Oct. 25, 2009, when Chone Figgins was their leadoff hitter, Vladimir Guerrero was their cleanup hitter, Gary Matthews Jr. was their second bat off the bench and Scott Kazmir was in their rotation.
Three years later, their lineup had the best player of the past decade and, perhaps, the best player of the next decade. But the rotation was choppy, the bullpen shallow, Arte Moreno's patience was running as thin as his mustache (or farm system) and, up the road, the Dodgers once again were big-footing the city.
What's a franchise to do?
For the second consecutive winter, Moreno crop-dusted the AL West with C-notes. The man who once complained about legacy contracts and their relationships to franchise purchase prices (still lost on most) dropped close to a half-billion on three players over a calendar year. Those would be Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and, six weeks back, Josh Hamilton. True, they cleared some payroll (and outfield) space by letting Torii Hunter walk. And Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Zack Greinke won't be back.
(In 2002, the season of the franchise's lone World Series championship, the Angels' payroll was $62 million. In the 2017 season, the Angels will owe Pujols and Hamilton $58.5 million and – if there is no contract extension – Mike Trout will be months from free agency.)
Clearly, Moreno has experienced a change of heart and he expects more from his club. The rotation behind Jered Weaver and Wilson was retooled with trades for Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas, along with the signing of Joe Blanton. A soft bullpen added Ryan Madson and left-hander Sean Burnett.
The signature deal, though, was Hamilton at $125 million over five years, a risk-reward contract Moreno is banking on to solve at least a couple of the Angels' problems.
The Texas Rangers seem to have slipped. The Oakland A's are good but certainly not unbeatable. The New York Yankees are dangerous, yet old and fragile. The Boston Red Sox are rebuilding.
Once, the Angels wouldn't have needed the help, back when they were banging out 95-plus-win seasons, when the system was strong and the players got it and Mike Scioscia was the leader everyone wished they had. Life changes. There's a new-ish general manager who took it upon himself to fire the hitting coach, who happened to be a great friend of Scioscia's, and while the Angels won 89 games last season there was uneasiness about it.
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They couldn't hit, then they couldn't pitch, and by the time they could do both, they'd already burned another season. Suddenly the Angels were underachievers three seasons running, even as their payroll grew and Moreno's glare narrowed. Is that Jerry Dipoto's fault? Predecessor Tony Reagins'? Scioscia's? The players'? The farm system's?
A fourth dark October and we're very likely to get Moreno's opinion.
Forget New York and Boston, two hotbeds of expectations and stress. The greatest pressure to win in the American League comes to Anaheim, to Dipoto's and Scioscia's doorsteps, a pressure matched in baseball only by that in Los Angeles, on the National League side.
Scioscia will put Pujols and Hamilton on the same lineup card, back to back. He'll lead off Trout. He'll have Mark Trumbo and his 30-plus-homer clout in the five hole. He'll have his pick of No. 2 hitters, from Erick Aybar to Peter Bourjos to Howie Kendrick to Alberto Callaspo. Basically, he should have the best lineup – or something close to it – in the league.
He has a true closer in Madson, assuming the Tommy John surgery took, and a second reliable lefty (with Scott Downs) in Burnett. The bullpen should not be nearly as erratic in '13 as it was in '12.
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Which leaves the rotation, and what happens after Weaver, and that's where the Angels are vulnerable.
The Angels are better. More, they're expected to be better. And this is where it gets interesting.
By Oct. 3, when the Angels were packing for the offseason, Albert Pujols had his 30 home runs and his 105 RBIs and his respectable-for-most .285 batting average. He'd come a long way from his homerless April. He'd managed late in the season on a sore calf, along with a knee that ultimately would require arthroscopic surgery.
After 11 seasons in St. Louis, he'd in time gotten his legs under him in Anaheim. He was, you know, fine.
In Pujols 2.0, he will sit in the three spot, two behind Trout, one ahead of Hamilton, and the Angels' offense will turn there. For all they will be able to do, the Angels should be most capable in the middle of their lineup, and it is Pujols who stands in the middle of that.
Run out on a rail
Ol' Frank McCourt left a trail
Of tears in O.C.
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