After an up and down regular season that started with high expectations the Los Angeles Angels head into the 2014 with a surprising amount of optimism. A solid late season run combined with a solid finish by Josh Hamilton, not to mention the incredible play of Mike Trout, gave the team some momentum as the season ended. The Angels made some interesting moves in the offseason that could very well inject some new life into the roster. The health of Albert Pujols is another factor that could help propel the Angels to a turnaround. The Angels 2014 Home Opener is March 31st against the Mariners and tickets for the Angels Opening Day are on sale now.
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.
Same with Josh Hamilton: The uncertainty that surrounds Pujols is magnified with Josh Hamilton. The former Rangers and Reds slugger is a prime example of the potential risks inherent in massive multi-year guaranteed free agent contracts. Hamilton hit just .250 last season with 21 home runs, numbers that pale in comparison to his peak years in Texas. Perhaps even more concerning is his penchant for strikeouts. After striking out fewer than 100 times for three consecutive seasons Hamilton has averaged 160 strikeouts per season for the past two years. The Angels still owe Hamilton over $100 million over the next four seasons, so like Pujols, they need production from their other big money player. A lack of offense from Hamilton and/or Pujols limits the team’s ability to make additional moves to bolster the roster.
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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