Here’s a look at five big questions facing the Angels as they head into the 2014 season:
Will the St. Louis Albert Pujols make an appearance? The Angels paid massive money for Pujols before the 2012 season and haven’t got the return they expected. In 2012 Pujols started slow but rebounded to have a good season, but one lacking next to his lofty career standards. Last season Pujols suffered from plantar fasciitis all season and batted just .258 in 99 games with reduced power. The Angels still owe Pujols $189 million over the next seven seasons and need production from their slugger. If the future Hall of Famer can come close to his St. Louis Cardinals form the Angels may have the most formidable lineup in baseball.
Did they upgrade their pitching? The Angels starting rotation and bullpen struggled last season. The starters had a penchant for not getting deep enough into games, while the bullpen struggled due to potential overuse. Los Angeles made a couple of moves to improve their rotation, acquiring Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago that has the potential to improve the depth and quality of their starters. Both starters were acquired in the three-team trade that saw the Angels send Mark Trumbo to the White Sox. Skaggs, who the Angels originally drafted in 2009 before trading him for Dan Haren, is one of the better young lefthanders in the game. The twenty-five year-old Santiago put up solid secondary numbers with the White Sox last season. He’s a potential number two starter who averaged nearly a strikeout per inning last season. Skaggs and Santiago, combined with a healthy Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson give the Angels a deeper pool of starting pitching talent.
Is David Freese an upgrade over Alberto Callaspo? The Angels rolled the dice, sending talented outfielder Peter Bourjas to the Cardinals, along with Randal Grichuk, for Freese and Fernando Salas. The former World Series hero hit just .262 with nine home runs last season, a steep drop-off from the previous season. His defensive numbers also suffered from a year before. Like Hamilton a productive Freese could help propel the Angels lineup to new heights. The big question is what version of David Freese the Angels are receiving.A tough division may have gotten tougher: The AL West is suddenly one of the top divisions in all of baseball. The Oakland Athletics, two time defending division champions, should be as competitive as ever while the Texas Rangers look to rebound from a disappointing end to last season. The Rangers upgraded their lineup with the acquisition of Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers and Sin Shoo Choo from the Cincinnati Reds. Meanwhile the Seattle Mariners made a big splash in signing Robinson Cano from the New York Yankees and Corey Hart from the Milwaukee Brewers. Both the Mariners and Rangers could very well get in on the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes as well. There’s no question that the AL West will be even more improved next season, putting additional pressure on Pujols, Hamilton and the Angels to perform up to expectations.
Look for the Angels to potentially make a couple of additional moves before they report to spring training in late February. Even with the presence of Skaggs and Santiago the club may look to bolster their young rotation with one or two of the quality starters still available, like a Matt Garza or Bronson Arroyo. By: Chris Cabrera
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With another big offseason splash in Anaheim and the mega-moves made in Chavez Ravine, Southern California just may be the new center of the baseball universe. The baseball arms race has left the Northeast and shifted west. A year removed from the massive Albert Pujols contract the Angels surprised many by doling out another massive contract, this time to the mega-talented but sometime troubled Josh Hamilton. By replacing Torii Hunter with Hamilton the Angels have gotten younger and scarier from an opposing pitcher perspective, with an outfield that now boasts two of the most naturally gifted players in the last twenty years in Mike Trout and Hamilton.
The move to sign Hamilton was coupled with the cost cutting dumping of Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Hunter. It’s no question the Angels have gotten flashier, but have they gotten better? Here’s a rundown with some analysis of their offseason moves.
Josh Hamilton: There’s no question that if Josh Hamilton is healthy the Angels probably boast three of the top ten hitters in the game. From an outsiders perspective the gut reaction to the deal is that the Angels clearly upgraded over Torii Hunter. Although they clearly got younger, the performance of Hamilton from an advanced metrics perspective was comparable to Hunter’s performance last year. As David Schoenfeld at ESPN has pointed out via Baseball-Reference Hunter actually had a higher Wins Above Replacement (5.5) than Hamilton (3.4) last year. Hamilton clearly outpaced Hunter from a traditional baseball statistical perspective (HR’s, RBI’s, etc) but did so with a higher number of plate appearances and in a much more hitter friendly ballpark. Of course Hunter is an aging player and likely would not have repeated his performance of the previous year. Hamilton should also benefit from the presence of Albert Pujols in the lineup. Of course signing Josh Hamilton to such a big and lengthy contract is not without risk. Although he’s performed pretty consistently in Texas there is the always present risk of addiction, as well as a history of nagging injuries. From a win-now perspective it’s probably a good move.
Questionable back-end of the rotation: The Angels went after Zack Grienke but lost out to the cross-town Dodgers. Instead of using the Grienke money on pitching they used in on Hamilton. This combined with Dan Haren now being in a Nationals uniform has left some question marks in the rotation. Haren clearly regressed last year and it was probably wise to move him based on the sheer number of innings he’s pitched over the past decade. With Haren out as well as rotation fixture Ervin Santana the Angels rotation will have a different look. The big question is who’s the number three behind established aces Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson? They went out and added Joe Blanton and Tommy Hansen who both had ERA’s in the high fours in the National League. It’s questionable how those moves will transfer to the AL. Blanton is an innings eater but in most rotations is typically your fourth or fifth starter. Hansen has respectable career numbers but has a history of injuries. The bottom of the Angels rotation is a big question mark.
The Lineup: The starting pitching question marks may not be that important since the lineup is going to be ridiculous. What can you say about Mike Trout that hasn’t been already said, other than the fact he had one of the greatest seasons in baseball history as a rookie. The projected top six of Trout, Aybar, Pujols, Hamilton, Trumbo and Kendrick may be the top lineup in baseball. It’s difficult to find any weak spots and its likely Trumbo surpasses power numbers from last season.
Burnett and Madson: A traditional strength under Mike Scioscia the bullpen was a bit of a disaster last season and clearly in need of an upgrade. In Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson the Angels made a couple of nice moves, especially with the pickup of the underrated Burnett. Over the past few years in Pittsburgh and Washington Burnett has quietly been one of the more effective left set up men in the National League, pitching a solid number of innings with an ERA under three. Just thirty he’s still in his prime and the Angels were able to get him at a premium, just 8 million over 2 years. Even though Madson is coming off Tommy John surgery and may not be ready for opening day, he’s a compelling pickup who could provide some depth at the back of the pen. Madson and Burnett should provide depth, but there are still some question marks with closer Ernesto Frieri. Last season was a tale of two halves for Frieri, with his numbers regressing after the all-star break, contributing to the Angels total of 23 blown saves last season which tied Boston for first in the AL.
It’s hard to get a feel on what these moves will mean in the end. Although Hamilton brings a big bat to the lineup they signed him in lieu of going after pitching. With Haren gone and Grienke with the Dodgers the starting rotation really has some question marks. The bullpen has added depth and Frieri is a year older. Will the Angels simply outscore teams? With one of the best managers in the game they’re always going to be a contender, but it’s hard to see the Angels running away with things in a pretty competitive division. .
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