December 08, 2011
Did the balance of power shift in the American League overnight?
The Los Angeles Angels had a monster Thursday morning, signing Albert Pujols(notes) to a 10-year, $254 million deal. As if that wasn't enough, the Halos also added C.J. Wilson(notes) to their starting rotation with a reported five-year, $75 million contract.
For the princely sum of around $325 million, the Angels signed two of the top free agents available this winter. And in doing so, it feels like the epicenter of the AL has shifted much farther west than the New York and Boston corridor.
The Rangers have won two straight AL pennants and seem intent on getting even better. They already signed Joe Nathan(notes) to strengthen their bullpen. Consequently, their rotation should get better with Neftali Feliz(notes) becoming a starter.
But there's surely more offseason tweaking to come. They could answer the Pujols signing by adding Prince Fielder(notes). Or they could add a power-hitting corner outfielder like Carlos Beltran(notes) or Josh Willingham(notes). Yu Darvis might be too expense for their tastes, but they'll surely be looking for a starter to replace the loss of Wilson.
However, the Angels surely aren't done playing with their roster, either. Pujols taking over at first base likely makes both Mark Trumbo(notes) and Kendrys Morales(notes) available. With the emergence of super-prospect Mike Trout(notes) in center field, Peter Bourjos(notes) could get dealt to a team looking for speed and outfield defense.
The Angels have flirted with moving Trumbo over to third base to provide a power boost over the combination of Alberto Callaspo(notes) and Maicer Izturis(notes). But that was put on hold while Trumbo recovers from a stress fracture in his right foot. Besides, a 30-homer slugger could help fetch a closer.
For the past five seasons, the AL East has hoarded two of the league's four playoff spots. Teams in the AL West and Central could forget competing for that extra postseason bid against the Yankees, Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. But the Rangers and Angels will now make the playoff race even more interesting
The Rangers finished only one game behind the Yankees for the best record in the AL last season. Overtaking them for the league's top spot is a very real possibility.
Meanwhile, the Angels finished five games back in the wild-card race without Pujols, Wilson and whatever other additions the team might make. That gap between them and the AL East playoff contenders probably just got much smaller.
MLB's decision to open up the postseason field for one more team in each league now looks pretty convenient. There's far more competition to accommodate and the possibility of one of the AL East powerhouses meeting one of the AL West's top guns in a one-game playoff is incredible. This is going to be fun to watch.
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