MLB preview: Los Angeles Angels
The Angels may or may not retake control of the AL West, but they're no longer the clear second fiddle to the Rangers. Spending around $330 million on two players can do that for you.
2011 record: 86-76 (2nd in AL West). Projected 2012 finish: 94-68 (2nd in AL West).
Projected starters: C Chris Iannetta, 1B Albert Pujols, 2B Howard Kendrick, SS Erick Aybar, 3B Mark Trumbo, LF Vernon Wells, CF Peter Bourjos, RF Torii Hunter, DH Kendrys Morales, SP Jered Weaver, SP Dan Haren, SP C.J. Wilson, SP Ervin Santana, SP Jerome Williams, CL Jordan Walden, RP Scott Downs, RP LaTroy Hawkins.
Half-full outlook: One way to shore up an offense that finished 10th in the league in runs the year before is to add the best hitter in the game. Pujols wasn't the best in baseball last year, but I think that was more an abberation than him being in decline. I fully expect the Angels to get 3 or 4 years of elite production from Pujols before that contract becomes an anchor. And the addition of Wilson is another move that should definitely make the Angels better. It not only boosts their own pitching — and I would take Los Angeles' top three of Weaver/Haren/Wilson over any other in the game except maybe the Phillies' — but it deprives the division rival Rangers of the guy that had been their best starter. In other words, the bridge between Los Angeles and Texas has been reduced considerably, if not demolished altogether.
Half-empty outlook: It's tough to look at the Angels and think they don't have the talent to win a ton of games, but it remains to be seen if they'll make the best possible use of that talent. Keeping megaprospect Mike Trout stuck in the minors so Wells, who has a total WAR of 5.6 since 2008, is just silly, unless Trout isn't as ready as everyone seems to think he is. If the Angels are really going to play Trout at third over Alberto Callaspo, they're really hurting themselves defensively (and considering Trumbo's .291 OBP in 2011, the move may hurt them offensively as well). And as enamored as I am with the top of the Angels' rotation, any team that plans to hand Williams the ball every fifth day, and have Walden close, is not without its pitching concerns.
Halways between the two outlook: MLB finally announced today that it will, in fact, add another wild card in each league. Since I expect the teams in the AL East to beat each other up all year, I can't really envision a scenario in which the Angels would fail to make the playoffs. They have too much high-end talent, and if Wells (or Hunter) becomes too big a liability, or Trout isn't hitting enough to justify putting up with his "defense," I expect Mike Scioscia to adjust. The Rangers, until proven otherwise, remain the team to beat in the division ... but the Angels are one heck of a potential second-place team.