2013 Los Angeles Angels Preview
The Angels beefed up for 2012 but the results of their actions were not as expected. Now with Josh Hamilton on board, the club looks to rebound in 2013 and take a run at Oakland for the AL West crown.
After an offseason that saw the ball club sign pitcher CJ Wilson and super slugger Albert Pujols, Angels fans were more excited about the 2012 campaign than they had been in nearly a decade. Unfortunately, the 2012 Angels did not live up to their expectations and finished in third place behind Oakland and Texas in the AL West. So this winter, owner Arte Moreno shelled out $125 million to land slugger Josh Hamilton from division rival Texas to give their offense an additional boost, but the departure of reliable pitchers Zach Greinke, Ervin Santana and Dan Harren could spell trouble for the ball club as the 2013 campaign wears on.
The Angels do have the benefit of returning 20-game winner Jared Weaver to the rotation for 2013. Weaver (20-5, 2.81 ERA) has been in the top five vote getters for the Cy Young award in each of the past three seasons and will be the club’s ace this season and while his strike-out ratio has dropped in each of those seasons, he is still a solid top of the rotation guy who will give the club innings and consistent performance throughout the season. Behind Weaver, Wilson (13-10, 3.83) saw his production and effectiveness both slide last season after putting up career numbers in 2011. If he can bounce back following all of the hoopla that surrounded his arrival last season, the Angels will have two solid guys at the top of their rotation. They will need this to happen if they want to keep pace with the A’s in the division as the rest of their rotation will be shaky at best.
Jason Vargas will join the rotation this year after coming over from the Seattle Mariners this offseason. He won 14 games last season for the M’s, but he relies heavily on his defense given his propensity to leave pitches where they shouldn’t be far too often. Tommy Hanson is expected to pitch fourth, and he through injuries last season that hampered his production and inflated his ERA into the mid-4’s. If he can stay healthy this year and bounce back to his pre-2012 form, the club will have a solid number four guy that came at a cheap price.
For the final spot in the rotation, the Angels have turned to Joe Blanton, who filled the same role with the Philadelphia Phillies organization. Blanton went 10-13 last season and struck out 166 batters, but he finished with an ERA of 4.71 making it his third straight season in which he had an ERA over 4.70. That is hardly the kind of guy you want at the back end of your rotation but unfortunately for the Angels he may be their only choice. The ball club depleted an already weak farm system when they traded for Greinke, and now that he is gone they have very little depth in their minor league system to turn to if there are any injuries to their starting five, or if any of their starters get off to a horrendous start to the season.
If closer Ryan Madson is able to pitch on Opening Day, the Angels’ bullpen will look much better than it did last season. Madson missed all of 2012 due to injury but has proved that he is a solid reliever and his 32 saves in 2011 showed that he had the stuff it takes to be a solid closer as well. If he is not, the team will insert Ernesto Frieri into that role again to start the 2013 campaign. Frieri stepped up in 2012, saving 23 games for the club in absence of Madson. He was originally slated to be one of their two set-up men, but when Jorden Walden failed as their closer, skipper Mike Scioscia had to turn to someone to take over and Frieri did a fine job, striking out 13.9 batters per nine innings pitched. If Madson is able to go on Opening Day, Frieri will slide back into the set-up role along with lefty Sean Burnett.
Burnett came over from the Nationals this offseason where he struck out 9.1 men per nine innings and finished the season with a 2.38 ERA. Burnett is simply lights-out against left handed hitters. He allowed just one walk to lefties last season vs. 28 strike-outs and he held left-handed hitters to just .211. Combined with Frieri, the Angels should have no problems shutting down opposing hitters in the last two innings of any close ball games. The rest of the bullpen looks to be filled out with Scott Downs, Kevin Jespen and Garrett Richards among others.
The Angels have a very formidable offense on paper with the addition of Hamilton to the combination of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Trout was named the American League Rookie of the Year last season after batting .326 for the ball club as their lead-off hitter. He will resume that role this season and given that he now has even more power hitting behind him in the line-up, there is little reason to believe that he will not hit .300 or better again with as many as 50 steals and 100 runs because if he gets on base, someone is going to drive him home.
As to who will hit behind Trout, that remains to be seen this spring although centerfielder Perer Bourjos is a good bet to win the spot. Bourjos struggled last season, hitting just .220 but he has the ability to drive a ball into the gap which would be a perfect complement to Trout’s speed on the bases. DH Mike Trumbo who batted .268 last season is another option but he too has some patience issues at the plate. He did manage 32 homers and 95 RBIs last season, so he certainly has the power to be the second guy in their line-up, but he will have to show that he has improved his patience at the plate this spring if he wants to hit that high in the batting order once the season starts.
Another option for the Angels in the number two slot is shortstop Erik Aybar. He hit .290 last season and is better at reading pitches than either Trumbo or Bourjos and while he doesn’t hit for power, he would give them another set of speedy legs on the bases for the best number three-four combination in the league to drive home.
Batting third for the club will be Albert Pujols who had a slow start to 2012 but came back to post a OPS of .975 or better in the months of June through August. The Angels spent a fortune to sign Pujols last season and they fully expect him to be the power-hitting first baseman that he was for the Cardinals this year. They will place Hamilton behind him in the clean-up spot and he is coming off his healthiest season since 2008, something that Angels fans are delighted to see. Hamilton played in 148 games for Texas last season and hit .285 with 43 homers and 128 RBIs. If he and Pujols can both post those kinds of numbers this season, the Angels will have a shot to go head-to-head with Oakland for a division crown, but if Hamilton gets injured, it will be hard to replace him in the line-up with any of the guys currently on the Angels’ roster.
Trumbo seems a more likely fit to hit fifth behind the two sluggers and while he strikes out a ton, he does have the power that will be necessary to drive either Pujols or Hamilton in. Trumbo can play first base and in the outfield, so he will probably be the guy the team turns to when either Pujols or Hamilton needs a day off in the field, but expect them to insert one of them in at DH if that is the case to keep their bat in the line-up. Second baseman Howard Kendrick, third baseman Alberto Callaspo and catcher Chris Iannetta will round out the Angels order and all three are capable of producing decent numbers for the club. Kendrick is probably the best hitter of the three, hitting .292 over his career and averaging 12 homers and 13 steals over the past four seasons. Iannetta will need to stay healthy and focused if the club expects to be successful this season as he has played only one season in which he saw more than 105 games. He’s not a great defense catcher either, so the Angels will need something special out of him this year as they don’t have many options to replace him in their system right now.
While the top two-thirds of the Angels offense and the top-end of their starting rotation and bullpen look good, the bottom third of their line-up and the back-end of their rotation do not, and whether or not that will be enough for them to keep up with Oakland at the top of the division will remain to be seen. The combination of Trout, Pujols and Hamilton should be good for upwards of 350 runs between the three of them, but beyond that this offense is going to struggle. With question marks abound concerning Vargas and Blanton, and Madson still trying to return to the club as their everyday closer, the months of April and May are likely going to be rough going for this ball club, but as the summer approaches look for them to click and go on a tear. They should keep pace with the A’s, and finish the season about a half game off the pace for the Division title, but with the AL East and AL Central so vastly improved, it will be a struggle for the Angels to make the playoffs even as a Wild Card team this season, which would certainly be looked at as a major disappointment given the amount of money the club has spent on free agents over the past two years.
By Robert Gonzalez