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The Los Angeles Angels were the media darlings to win it all in 2012. Now that the pressure has shifted elsewhere -- namely, Toronto -- the Angels can go about dominating the AL West in 2013 like they were supposed to last season.
If you had told Angels fans that Albert Pujols would hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 RBI, Jered Weaver would win 20 games, and Mike Trout would have one of the greatest single seasons in baseball history, they probably would have expected a parade going down some really big street in
Los Angeles Anaheim in early November. Instead, they were playing golf, eating hamburgers, and sitting at home while the Oakland A's and Texas Rangers made the postseason. In response, owner Arte Moreno opened the checkbook again this offseason, signing Josh Hamilton to a five-year/$125 million contract in hopes of winning his second World Series title.
Manager: Mike Scioscia (9th year)
2012 record: 89-73, 3rd in AL West
SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven
First Series vs. Tigers: April 19-21 @ Angels Stadium
This part is easy: Mike Trout will lead off for the Angels this season. He's older and fatter this year (more on that below), but will still be a very good baseball player in 2013 and you don't have to hate him anymore now that Miguel Cabrera has his MVP award. The second spot in the lineup is still up for grabs, and may not be completely settled by Opening Day. Second baseman Howie Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar are the primary candidates for the role. Kendrick doesn't have much success hitting there throughout his career, while Aybar is a speedster who doesn't walk as much as Angels fans would like and, steal percentage aside, isn't the greatest baserunner. Catcher Chris Iannetta is a dark horse candidate for the role due to an excellent walk rate throughout his career. Regardless, whoever hits between Trout and Albert Pujols needs to bridge the gap successfully.
Speaking of Pujols, it seems like many have soured on him due to his poor (for him) overall numbers in 2012. His homer-less streak to start the season was well documented by a certain sports media conglomerate dominated by sensationalism, but once he got his first one it was business as usual. From May 6th (the day he hit his first homer) on, Pujols hit .305/.365/.569 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in 127 games.
Josh Hamilton will go through his mental lapses throughout the season, but will still hit 30 home runs and drive in a boatload of runs. Some are worried about Angel Stadium sapping some of his home run power, but only one of Hamilton's 43 dingers last season would have stayed in the park in Anaheim. He also led the league with 15 "no doubters," according to ESPN's Hit Tracker. Mark Trumbo will be the primary DH now that Kendrys Morales is in Seattle.
After Trumbo, the batting order is mostly up to Mike Scioscia's imagination, which most Angels fans seem to have soured upon. History suggests that the aforementioned Kendrick would probably be more successful hitting behind Trumbo and Hamilton, but Vernon Wells will get his fair share of playing time. Third baseman Alberto Callaspo, center fielder Peter Bourjos, and backup catcher Hank Conger will hit at the bottom of the lineup in some order when they are in the lineup.
It's not often that you see a team replace three of its starters and say that they improved their rotation, but the Angels arguably did that simply by getting rid of Ervin Santana in the offseason. While I liked that deal at the time for the Kansas City Royals, the Angels were able to replace Santana by trading for Seattle Mariners left-hander Jason Vargas. Vargas is interesting in that his career platoon splits are nearly even and he allows a ton of fly balls. The latter trait fits perfectly in Angels Stadium, where Vargas will have two of the best defensive outfielders in baseball behind him whenever he takes the mound. I wouldn't be surprised to see Vargas' ERA approach the 3.75 mark this year.
The lone question mark in the Angels' rotation is right-hander Tommy Hanson. Coming off of Tommy John surgery in 2011, Hanson was very good for the Atlanta Braves in the first half of 2012, winning 10 games with a 3.71 ERA. He seemed fatigued after the All-Stark Break, which fits in line with his 5.69 second half ERA. If Hanson can replicate his first half numbers, the Angels got away with a steal of a trade.
At first glance, the two year/$15 million contract that the Angels signed Joe Blanton to in the offseason seemed like a bit of an overpay for a pitcher who hasn't had a season with an ERA under 4.00 since 2007. However, the Angels did their homework with this one. Blanton seemingly fell victim to poor outfield defense and bad home run luck during his time in Philadelphia. His FIP has been significantly lower than his ERA in each of the past three seasons and his xFIP hasn't been above 4.01 since 2008. If he can be the pitcher that averaged 2.6 bWAR per season during his three years with the Oakland A's from 2005-2007 -- not an unreasonable assumption, given the evidence -- then the Angels made a great move.
I spent a good five minutes trying to google information about C.J. Wilson's offseason surgery to remove bone spurs that plagued him throughout the second half of 2012, but apparently "C.J. Wilson shoulder" just gives you links to stories about Wilson's new endorsement deal with Head & Shoulders. Anyway, he got the surgery -- turns out it was his elbow anyway -- and will probably be the guy that was 9-5 with a 2.43 ERA during the first half last year in 2013.
Here's a fun fact: Jered Weaver is the only pitcher in baseball to have finished in the top five of Cy Young balloting in each of the past three seasons. He still hasn't won one, largely thanks to our own Justin Verlander, but 2012 was also a spectacular year for Weaver. He finished with a sparkling 20-5 record and 2.81 ERA, but only pitched 188 2/3 innings due to back and shoulder injuries. It may be a stretch to predict a fourth year in the top five, but I wouldn't attribute that to a drop off on Weaver's part; he should be excellent again in 2013.
The Angels added left-hander Sean Burnett and flamethrower Ryan Madson to a bullpen that was downright awful down the stretch in 2012, and probably could have used at least one more new arm, to be honest. Madson is coming off of Tommy John surgery and won't be ready to start the season. Burnett is an excellent lefty that I would have loved to see in a Tigers uniform this year. Joining him at the back end will be Ernesto Frieri and Scott Downs, a righty-lefty combo that handled most of the closing duties in 2012.
Spring Training storylines
The biggest story out of Angels camp early on is how Mike Trout came into camp weighing around 240 pounds. Trout downplayed the rumors, claiming that he is only around 10 pounds over the weight that he played at for the majority of the 2012 season. I'm not concerned about Trout's weight -- if anything, spending the spring away from mom's home cooking has already taken care of that. I'm interested to see if Trout forces his game in 2013, especially on the basepaths. He was excellent last season, but is still just 21 years old. He needs to be able to tune out the media, especially now that he has already reached stardom.
Sticking with Trout, the Angels didn't give him much of a pay raise despite the 20 year old having one of the best single seasons in baseball history. Needless to say, Trout wasn't happy [insert joke about him having to live with his parents here]. To add insult to... well, insult, the Angels also told Trout that he will be playing left field when Peter Bourjos is in center -- something that they did quite often last season, in the team's defense. Trout took the high road on both of these issues, but it remains to be seen whether he lets them affect his play in 2013.
Player to watch: Ernesto Frieri
The Angels' bullpen was 12th in the American League in ERA, FIP, and xFIP last season, but were dead last in ERA and FIP in the second half. Frieri was a big part of the problem, allowing 14 earned runs in just 28 second half innings after putting up a 0.71 ERA in the first half. He blew three saves in August and September, and took the loss in a fourth appearance. He is the leading candidate to start the 2013 season as the Angels' closer while Ryan Madson continues to recover from Tommy John surgery. Like Bruce Rondon for the Tigers, Frieri's ability to close out games could determine how far this Angels team goes in 2013.
Someone probably wrote this exact sentence last year, but it would be a huge disappointment if the Angels don't make the playoffs this season. They shored up their weaknesses in the rotation and bullpen, and turned the loss of Torii Hunter into an upgrade when they signed Hamilton. Their payroll may become a mess in a few years -- hey, that sounds familiar -- but they will be a juggernaut until that time comes. I don't know if they have the pitching to win in the postseason yet, but they definitely have the overall talent to get there. If they are able to win it all, it will be because the little moves made this offseason -- signing Blanton, trading for Vargas and Hanson, improving the bullpen -- all paid off in a big way.