Indeed, the Angels should be a fun team to watch in 2013.
But they will need a better finish.
Owner Arte Moreno put the payroll at over $150 million again this offseason, plucking Hamilton from the rival Rangers in a stunning move that gave the Angels arguably the deepest and most dynamic offense in the Majors.
Now, when pitchers and catchers report to Tempe Diablo Stadium on Monday, the Angels will once again head into camp with World Series hopes and an intense pressure to win -- even more so than last year, which began with the offseason signings of Pujols and C.J. Wilson.
If healthy, the Angels are expected to at the very least end a three-year playoff absence.
In order for that to happen, they will need a less-heralded rotation to hold its own, for Madson to bounce back, for Bourjos to re-establish himself and for their big-name players -- Pujols, Hamilton, Trout, Weaver and Wilson -- to lead the way. Oh, and a better start than the 6-14 hole they dug themselves into last April would also be nice.
The work starts now.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Split squad vs. Cubs and at Giants, Feb. 23 at 12:05 p.m. PT
at Reds, April 1 at 1:10 p.m. PT
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Can Ryan Madson revert back to his old self?
The bullpen has been the Angels' Achilles' heel over the last two seasons, with an American League-leading 47 combined blown saves. Now, in order for the relief corps to be a force, their new closer will have to re-establish himself as, well, the closer of old.
How effective will Madson be a season removed from Tommy John surgery? The procedure boasts a great track record, but we've also seen relievers struggle immediately after coming back (like Joe Nathan) before eventually regaining their footing.
The Angels signed Madson for only one year, so they need a quick recovery. And if he can eventually become the dominant closer he was with the Phillies in 2011, the Angels' bullpen can be a force -- a necessary one given the question marks in their rotation.
2. Is the rotation good enough?
You have to cut back somewhere, even if you're sporting payrolls in the $150 million range. The Angels signed Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract -- one offseason after hooking Albert Pujols for 10 years and $240 million -- and spent to upgrade the bullpen. That means general manager Jerry Dipoto could not -- or was unwilling to -- pay the inordinate sums that were handed out to starting pitchers this winter.
He instead built a staff mostly of innings-eaters who tailor to their surroundings (fly-ball pitchers in a spacious park with one of the best defensive outfields behind them). Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have been replaced by Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton. But the big key will be their No. 2 starter, C.J. Wilson, who needs to bounce back from a rough second half.
3. What production will Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton provide long term?
Over the next half-decade, the Angels will have $239 million tied up in Pujols and Hamilton, two of the best hitters in the game but also two ballplayers older than 30 who showed signs of slowing down last season.
Pujols started out painstakingly slow last season, with no homers until May 6 and a batting average below .200 as of May 14, then put up numbers comparable to the best first basemen the rest of the way. Hamilton was on fire in the first half but hit .259 with an .833 OPS after the All-Star break, as the Rangers eventually lost footing in the division race.
The production the two can provide in 2013 is unquestioned, but it starts to get dicey when you think long term, especially with Pujols signed through 2021. To keep them fresh, at least, the Angels will have a fluid designated-hitter spot, with Mark Trumbo capable of filling in at first base and right field when needed.
89-73, third in AL West
Projected batting order
1. CF Mike Trout:
.326 BA, .963 OPS, 30 HR, 49 SB, 129 R in 2012
2. SS Erick Aybar:
.290 BA, .324 OBP, .416 SLG, 8 HR, 20 SB in 2012
3. 1B Albert Pujols:
.285 BA, .343 OBP, .516 SLG, 30 HR, 105 RBI in 2012
4. RF Josh Hamilton:
.285 BA, .354 OBP, .577 SLG, 43 HR, 128 RBI in 2012
5. DH Mark Trumbo:
.268 BA, .317 OBP, .491 SLG, 32 HR, 95 RBI in 2012
6. 2B Howie Kendrick:
.287 BA, .725 OPS, 8 HR, 67 RBI, 14 SB in 2012
7. 3B Alberto Callaspo:
.252 BA, .331 OBP, .361 SLG, 10 HR, 53 RBI in 2012
8. CF Peter Bourjos:
.220 BA, .606 OPS, 3 HR, 3 SB, 195 PA in 2012
9. C Chris Iannetta:
.240 BA, .332 OBP, .398 SLG, 9 HR, 253 PA in 2012
1. Jered Weaver, 20-5, 2.81 ERA in 2012
2. C.J. Wilson, 13-10, 3.83 ERA in 2012
3. Tommy Hanson, 13-10, 4.48 ERA in 2012
4. Jason Vargas, 14-11, 3.85 ERA in 2012
5. Joe Blanton, 10-13, 4.71 ERA in 2012
Closer: Ryan Madson, 32/34 saves, 2.37 ERA in 2011
RH setup man: Ernesto Frieri, 2.32 ERA in 2012
LH setup man: Sean Burnett, 2.38 ERA in 2012
The new guys
OF Josh Hamilton: Pujols, meet Hamilton -- yet another big offseason addition nobody saw coming. In December 2011, the Angels added a first baseman they did not really need in Pujols. In December 2012, the Angels added an outfielder they did not really need in Hamilton. The result is a lineup many consider the best in baseball when you throw in 21-year-old superstar Mike Trout.
CL Ryan Madson: The Angels would love to reap the benefits of a Madson comeback, and so, early in the offseason, they targeted the SoCal product and Scott Boras client, promptly signing him to a one-year deal with a low base salary ($3.5 million) that's rich with incentives. Madson is a buy-low reliever, but he is critical. The Angels are counting on him to eventually take over the ninth -- even if it isn't right out of the chute -- in order to upgrade the bullpen.
SP Jason Vargas: With Hamilton signed, the Angels had a surplus they could use to further address the rotation. And so they sent Kendrys Morales to the Mariners for Vargas, who, like Morales, is in his final season before free agency. The 30-year-old left-hander has been a quietly consistent starter the last three years -- albeit while pitching in spacious Safeco Field -- posting a 3.96 ERA while averaging 204 innings.
SP Tommy Hanson: A couple of years ago, Hanson was considered one of the brightest young arms in the game. But a drop in velocity, attributed by him mostly to not having a normal offseason after injuries to his back and shoulder, limited his production in 2012. After a down year, the Angels swapped him for hard-throwing reliever Jordan Walden. Even if Hanson is more 2012 than 2011, the Angels like what he brings to the middle of a rotation.
SP Joe Blanton: Angels fans were anticipating Greinke; instead they got Blanton. And so the 32-year-old right-hander has been disparaged moreso for whom he isn't than for whom he actually is: A reliable innings-eater who actually had a solid season in 2012 and who could benefit from returning to a spacious park and a good defense. Over the last eight years, Blanton has topped 190 innings six times while compiling a 4.37 ERA. The Angels will take that kind of consistency from a guy who is expected to be the fifth starter.
RP Sean Burnett: Couple Burnett -- signed to a two-year, $8 million deal -- with sage southpaw Scott Downs, and the Angels boast two go-to lefties in the back end of their bullpen. Not a lot of teams can say that. The Angels believe Burnett was the best lefty reliever available in the free-agent market, and his 2.85 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over the last four years help support that. Like Wilson, Burnett had bone spurs removed from his left elbow this offseason, but it was a minor procedure that hardly even interrupted his throwing program.
Prospects to watch
3B Kaleb Cowart: Coming off a season in which he batted .276 with 16 homers, 103 RBIs and 14 steals at both Class A affiliates, Cowart gets his first invite to Angels Spring Training. The 20-year-old switch-hitter has vaulted himself to No. 1 in the Angels' system and is ranked 67th overall by MLB.com. In 2013, he will play his first season of Double-A. The hope is that he is ready to man third base at the Major League level by the start of 2015, when Alberto Callaspo's recently signed contract expires.
LH Nick Maronde: Maronde really made a name for himself in 2012, first by posting a 2.26 ERA as a starter at three levels, then by giving up one run in six relief appearances as a September callup. With two lefties already in the bullpen, and Garrett Richards a favorite to nab the final bullpen spot, the 23-year-old Maronde will probably go back to being a starter in the Minors. But his future in the big leagues, scouts will tell you, comes as a reliever.
INF Andrew Romine: Romine, ranked eighth in the Angels' system, has a chance to compete for the reserve infield spot vacated by Maicer Izturis, who signed a three-year deal with the Blue Jays this offseason. Romine bats left-handed and is a natural shortstop, with limited experience at second and third base. But he will have some competition from a handful of veterans obtained on either Minor League deals or waiver claims this offseason -- Luis Rodriguez, Tommy Field, Brendan Harris and Bill Hall.
OF Kole Calhoun: Like Maronde, Calhoun rose quickly through the Angels' system, going from rookie ball in 2011, his first full season, to Class A and the Majors in 2012. Calhoun, a scrappy left-handed hitter who can play all three outfield spots and even first base, will have a chance to land the Angels' final roster spot. But, like Romine, he will face plenty of competition in camp -- from the likes of Scott Cousins, Trent Oeltjen, J.B. Shuck and Matt Young.
3B Luis Jimenez: The 25-year-old put together a solid season at Triple-A last year, batting .309 with 16 homers and 17 steals, and played well for the Dominican Republic in winter ball and the Caribbean Series. But he does not have a clear path to the big leagues. The Angels want more versatility out of their backup-infield spot than Jimenez provides, and they want Cowart to eventually take over at third base. So Jimenez, ranked ninth in the Angels' system, will just have to bide his time for now.
On the rebound
CF Peter Bourjos: The speedy right-handed hitter is the most uncertain member of the Angels' lineup this season, simply because he did not get enough reps in 2012. A slow April, coupled by Trout's callup, relegated Bourjos to bench duty for most of the season and just nine combined plate appearances in August and September. Can Bourjos repeat his 2011 numbers -- which included a .327 on-base percentage with 12 homers, 11 triples and 22 stolen bases -- or perhaps do even better after a year in storage?
CL Ryan Madson: The new Angels closer is looking to bounce back from Tommy John surgery, which knocked him out for all of 2012. If he can revert to his 2011 form in Philadelphia, the pieces will fall in place to give the Angels a deeper bullpen than they have had in years. If he struggles, they will scramble in much of the same way they did last season.
SP C.J. Wilson: The Angels need more out of Wilson, who struggled with protecting leads, throwing strikes and getting deep into games after the All-Star break last year, posting a 5.54 ERA in 16 starts. The 32-year-old left-hander is convinced that cleaning up his elbow will bring him back to his 2010-11 form when, with the Rangers, he won 31 games and had a 3.14 ERA. He needs to, because he is now the Angels' No. 2 starter behind Jered Weaver.
SP Tommy Hanson: The Angels' rotation is suddenly not all that big of a question mark if Hanson reverts to his early-2011 form. Is his velocity drop and concurring struggles in 2012 merely a one-year lull, or is it a sign that he has developed into a different pitcher, as Braves GM Frank Wren suggested shortly after the trade? You would like to think not, given that he is only 26.
OF Vernon Wells: Remember him, the maligned outfielder who is owed $42 million and is no more than a reserve? For the first time in his career, the 34-year-old Wells goes into the season without any concrete role. Admittedly, he earned that right after posting a .222/.258/.409 line through 208 games in Anaheim the last two years. But if Bourjos struggles out of the gate, and Wells catches fire, then Wells may get more playing time than expected.
SS Erick Aybar: The switch-hitting shortstop, who frequently plays winter ball in his native country, will represent the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic for the first time. Aybar looks to be Jose Reyes' backup on a loaded team that has Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Fernando Rodney, Nelson Cruz and Edinson Volquez. Pool play begins March 7 in Puerto Rico, and the championship, taking place at AT&T Park in San Francisco, is March 19.
RF Torii Hunter: After five very successful years with the Angels, which saw him post a .286/.352/.462 slash line, Hunter was not offered much to stay and instead signed a two-year, $26 million contract with the defending AL-champion Tigers. The Angels replaced his production with Hamilton, but Hunter's leadership, poise and character will be missed.
SP Zack Greinke: Acquired from the Brewers for three prospects -- Jean Segura, Ariel Pena and John Hellweg -- Greinke was as advertised in his two-month stint with the Angels, going 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts. But on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings, when Greinke's agent talked specifics regarding the contractual demands, Dipoto turned his attention to Hamilton, paving the way for Greinke to sign with the cross-town Dodgers for $147 million.
SP Dan Haren: Acquired in a trade that involved Joe Saunders, Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin in July 2010 -- orchestrated by Dipoto, who was serving as the D-backs' interim GM -- Haren formed a dynamic pairing with Weaver at the top of the rotation. But further drops in velocity and a lower-back injury caused Haren to struggle for the first time in a long time in 2012, going 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA. The Angels bought out his 2013 option, and Haren joined the Nats via a $13 million deal.
SP Ervin Santana: The homegrown Santana was an enigma during his eight-year tenure with the Angels. From 2005-07, he compiled a 4.84 ERA. In '08, he finished sixth in Cy Young voting. In '09, he had an ERA over 5.00 and threw less than 140 innings. From 2010-11, he went 28-22 with a 3.65 ERA in 66 starts. And in 2012, he struggled again, going 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA and giving up a Major League-leading 39 homers.
DH Kendrys Morales: The Cuban power hitter made a case for AL Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2012. Not only did he return from a severe leg injury that caused him to miss almost two full seasons; he returned to something very close to his MVP form of '09, batting .273 with 22 homers and 73 RBIs before getting dealt for Vargas.
INF Maicer Izturis: The longest-tenured Angels player just before leaving, Izturis was a reliable, versatile player in his eight-year career in Anaheim, posting a .276/.339/.384 line while readily filling in at second base, third base and shortstop. Rather than re-sign him, though, the Angels will go either with internal guys or cheap veteran acquisitions for their backup infield spot.
RP Jordan Walden: The hard-throwing right-hander couldn't repeat his successful 2011 season, which he finished with a 2.98 ERA and 32 saves. In 2012, he lost his closer's job in April, was limited to 39 innings and saw his ERA jump to 3.46. The following November, he was dealt to the Braves for Hanson.
RP LaTroy Hawkins: The 40-year-old right-hander posted a 3.64 ERA in 48 appearances last season, in many ways serving as a mentor to the young relievers in the staff. This offseason, Hawkins continued his career by signing a Minor League deal with the Mets. If he makes the Majors, he will be doing so with his 10th team.
RP Jason Isringhausen: Isringhausen was not even sure if he was going to pitch in 2012, but he gave it a shot, signed with the Angels during Spring Training, barely made the team and, in the end, gave them more than many would have expected, making 50 appearances and finishing with a 4.14 ERA. The 40-year-old righty, a product of three Tommy John procedures, is still unsigned and may be done pitching.
C Bobby Wilson: Wilson appeared in 172 games as mainly the Angels' backup catcher from 2010-12. Shortly after the season, he was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays, then non-tendered and signed by the Yankees to a Minor League deal.