After his Angels missed the playoffs for the second straight year -- the first such drought under his watch -- owner Arte Moreno channeled his inner Steinbrenner this offseason, cleaning out the front office and signing both the top hitter (Albert Pujols) and pitcher (C.J. Wilson) on the free-agent market.
Call it shortsighted if you want, but with just those two additions, the Angels go from being also-rans in the top-heavy AL West to perhaps the frontrunners in the entire American League.
The Wilson move might actually prove to be the more critical of the two. Coming off another stellar year in Texas, the left-hander gives the Angels a trio of 220-inning aces much like the Phillies have in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Throw in Ervin Santana, who pitched 228 2/3 innings last year, and you could argue the Angels have the best starting rotation in all of baseball -- which, as the Phillies, Athletics and Braves have shown in recent history, is often the difference over a 162-game season.
Of course, the Pujols move is the one that grabbed all the headlines -- and for good reason. Widely regarded as the best player in baseball, he single-handedly transforms the Angels lineup from underwhelming to imposing, and his presence should resonate throughout the batting order, both by rejuvenating veterans like Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu and by providing newcomers like Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout with the support they need to thrive.
The arrival of Pujols does create a logjam at first base, where Mark Trumbo, last year's home run leader, nearly won AL Rookie of the Year and former face of the franchise Kendrys Morales was expected to play whenever he returned from a leg injury. Between those two and Abreu, only one can occupy the DH spot, which could lead to frustration among Fantasy owners. But if such dilemmas are the norm for perennial contenders, the Angels are well on their way.
Bust ... Mark Trumbo, 1B
It's not that Trumbo can't repeat last year's 29 homers. It's just that, given his lack of plate discipline, everything has to go just right for it to happen. And already things are going wrong. The biggest blow came when the Angels signed Albert Pujols, leaving Trumbo without a position. He was supposed to learn third base this offseason as a creative way to keep his bat in the lineup, but a stress fracture in his foot kept him off the practice field. The Angels still might try to rotate him between DH, third base and possibly left field, but such instability often has an adverse effect on a player's batting average, which in Trumbo's case, could lead to an on-base percentage lower than any number of homers could justify. Besides, if Kendrys Morales is healthy, it's all moot anyway. Trumbo will get drafted in mixed leagues given his potential for 30-plus homers, but consdiering all the variables at work here, he could easily be a waste of a pick.
Sleeper ... Kendrys Morales, 1B
As if Morales' season-ending ankle fracture early in 2010 wasn't bad enough, the 28-year-old slugger then kept Fantasy owners on the hook right up until the end of spring training last year, burning some of the early drafting types for a second straight season. Needless to say, nobody is counting on Morales for much now, which means he's likely to go for next to nothing on Draft Day. So far, his work in batting practice has the Angels cautiously optimistic that he'll be ready for the start of the season. Of course, we were hearing reports just as favorable this time last year only to find out he needed a second surgery, but what are the chances of that happening again? A second surgery was surprising enough. A third would be grounds for a lawsuit. Granted, a healthy Morales would face the same playing time obstacles as Mark Trumbo, but considering Morales is the better all-around hitter, he's a better gamble in the late rounds than Trumbo is in the middle rounds.
Impact prospect ... Mike Trout, OF
The surprise announcement that Trout was on his way to the majors last July was cause for celebration among Fantasy owners. But they soon discovered why so few 19-year-olds get such an opportunity. Though his time in the majors wasn't a rousing success, Trout ended up with five homers and four steals in 123 at-bats, showing that he has the power and speed to go along with his career .338 batting average in the minors. With that skill set, Trout is such a certainty for stardom that some scouts actually prefer him to Bryce Harper. Now that he's gotten his feet wet, you can bet the Angels will jump at the first opportunity to promote him, and in a lineup featuring has-beens such as Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu, that opportunity could come within the first few weeks of the season. Trout may not make the opening day roster, but if you have a place to stash him in mixed leagues, he could pay huge dividends down the line.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Erick Aybar||SS||1||Jered Weaver||RH|
|2||Bobby Abreu||DH||2||Dan Haren||RH|
|3||Albert Pujols||1B||3||C.J. Wilson||LH|
|4||Torii Hunter||RF||4||Ervin Santana||RH|
|5||Howard Kendrick||2B||5||Jerome Williams||RH|
|6||Alberto Callaspo||3B||Alt||Garrett Richards||RH|
|7||Vernon Wells||LF|| |
|8||Chris Iannetta||C||CL||Jordan Walden||RH|
|9||Peter Bourjos||CF||SU||Scott Downs||LH|
|Top bench options||RP||LaTroy Hawkins||RH|
|R||Mark Trumbo||CI/OF||RP||Hisanori Takahashi||LH|
|R||Kendrys Morales||1B||RP||Rich Thompson||RH|
|Though rushed last year, Trout is closer to being a star than his age would have you believe. He'll be back this year, but not until the Angels clear a starting spot for him.|
|2||Jean Segura||22||SS||Class A||Class A|
|Segura is already an excellent contact hitter and has enough power potential to rate among the best middle infielders in Fantasy someday. Look for him to make a splash in 2013.|
|Richards has looked good in the minors but wasn't quite ready for his leap to the majors last year. He's next in line if Williams falters, though, and he has the stuff to stick.|
|4||C.J. Cron||22||1B||Rookie||Class A|
|The 2011 first-rounder has massive power potential and is old enough that he might not need long in the minors. He's a legitimate long-term keeper despite his moderate ceiling.|
|5||Johnny Hellweg||23||SP||Class A||Double-A|
|Hellweg broke through as a starter last year after struggling as a reliever. If he can keep his control in check, his high-90s fastball gives him top-of-the-rotation potential.|
|Best of the rest: Kaleb Cowart, 3B; Taylor Lindsey, SS; Daniel Tillman, RP; Ariel Pena, SP; Alexi Amarista, 2B; Ysmael Carmona, RP; Luis Jimenez, 3B; Kole Calhoun, OF; Randal Grichuk, OF; Fabio Martinez, SP; Jeremy Moore, OF; Matt Long, OF; Cam Bedrosian, SP; Carlos Ramirez, C; Trevor Reckling, RP; David Carpenter, RP; Ryan Mount, SS; Darwin Perez, SS; Donn Roach, RP; Andrew Romine, SS; Chris Scholl, RP; and Travis Witherspoon, OF.|
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