It seemed to get as bad as it could with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2013. 78-84 was completely unacceptable for a team that was expecting more success, even in a very competitive division. However, many in the baseball world were happy to see the Angels struggle since they signed 1B Albert Pujols to a 10 year, $240 million contract and last off season adding OF Josh Hamilton on a 5 year, $125 million deal. Unless you are a fan of the particular team, people draw hatred very quickly for a team that spends a lot of money. The Angels, as expected, fought off some ire for their spending habits. That was the least of their concerns as they prepare themselves for 2014 with expectations that are as high as they were each of the past two seasons.
Of course, the team has the best player in all of MLB in Mike Trout (.323, 27, 97, .988 OPS). The Angels most most notable power hitter in 2013 was Mark Trumbo (.234, 34, 100, 30 2Bs in 159 games), who was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three way deal that brought the team LH pitchers Hector Santiago (4-9, 3.56, 34 games, 23 starts, 137 Ks in 149 IP) and 22 year old Tyler Skaggs. The team traded OF Peter Bourjos (.274, 3, 12 in 55 games) for 3B David Freese (.262, 9, 60 in 138 games). They signed RHP Joe Smith (6-2, 2.29 in 70 games for Cleveland last season) to give more of a late inning presence in the bullpen and added DH Raul Ibanez (.242, 19, 65). In my opinion, all four of these moves will improve the team immediately.
The key for the season will be what can be had from Pujols (.258, 17, 64, .767 OPS in a career low 99 games). Injuries held Albert back last season, but when he was on the field it took him a long time to get it going at the plate. The .321 career hitter with a 1.008 OPS was nowhere near his career numbers but has looked healthy and sharp in spring training. Having Trout in the middle of the order helps as well. The middle infield is quietly one of the longest tenured in regards to playing next to one another, with Howie Kendrick (.297, 13, 54) and Erick Aybar (.271, 6, 54) coming off of injuries of their own in 2013. Chris Iannetta (.225, 11, 39) will get the majority of the time behind the plate with Hank Conger (.249, 7, 21) backing him up. 26 year old RF Cole Calhoun has hit offensively in all levels in the minors and should be a .280, 20, 80 guy for the Angels. I'd line up the Angels like this: Aybar SS, Calhoun RF, Trout CF, Pujols 1B, Hamilton LF, Freese 3B, Ibanez DH, Kendrick 2B, Iannetta/ Conger C. The bench is led by OFs Collin Cowgill, JB Schuck and maybe Brennan Boesch as well as 3B Ian Stewart and possibly the ageless John McDonald.
One of the keys for the Angels this season will be its starting rotation led by ace Jared Weaver (11-8, 3.27 in 24 starts) and LHP CJ Wilson (17-7, 3.39 in 33 starts). The rest of the rotation has been overhauled with RHPs Jerome Williams, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson as well as LHP Jason Vargas all out. LHPs Santiago and Skaggs come from Chicago and Arizona respectively, and will immediately join the rotation. One time highly touting arm Garrett Richards (7-8, 4.16, 47 games, 17 starts) returns to the rotation and is expected to pitch between Santiago and Skaggs. LHP Wade LaBlanc is a pitcher to watch as well as RHP Jose Alvarez are two to watch as far as filling in for a starting pitcher. Weaver is recovered from his injury woes and that will make the starting pitching much better in itself. To me, the Angels are leaps and bounds above their starting pitching of a year ago.
The Angels have one of the more underrated closers in the game in Ernesto Frieri (2-4, 3.80, 37 saves in 60 games). Those numbers do not tell the story as Frieri struck out 98 batters in 68 2/3 innings last season and his ERA was a reflection of a bad stretch of outings in late July and early August where he was 0-3, giving up 12 ER in 4 2/3 innings over the course of 7 outings. Smith comes over from Cleveland and solidifies the 8th inning. LHP Sean Burnett is expected to return to the pen this season after only pitching in 13 games last year. RHP Dane DeLaRosa (6-1, 2.86, 75 games) was possibly the team's most dependable middle reliever and he will miss a little time to start the season. The four in the pen should be solid, but if RHPs Fernando Salas and Brandon Lyon can help out, particularly at the start of the season, the team should reap some benefits.
I think the Angels can be a playoff team because guys like Pujols and Weaver will be back and I feel they have at least a couple big seasons left (in Pujols case, the hope is there are many big seasons left). Freese gives them stability at 3B and Calhoun will be a staple in the OF. Plus I like the fact that some of the pressure is off the Angels. It is assumed that teams like Texas and Oakland and maybe even Seattle have surpassed them. There is too much talent on this team for them to finish where they did last year. Vegas has Mike Scioscia's team with a 86.5 O/U and once again, I see them being right on with the Angels finishing at 87-75, 2nd place in the AL West. That will be just good enough to edge out the Tigers for the second wild card spot in the AL.