The Los Angeles Angels finished the 2011 season in 2nd place in the AL West, ten games behind the Texas Rangers. The Angels missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year in 2011. These shortcomings were a culture shock to the team formerly known as the Anaheim Angels, or the California Angels, that had won the AL West 5 of the previous 6 years from 2004 – 2009. Since the end of the 2011 season, the Angels have pressed hard to get back to their winning ways.
The most obvious examples of the Angels renewed commitment to winning in 2012 are the signings of Albert Pujols (story) and C.J. Wilson (story) for a combined $317.5 million (plus a $10 million personal services contract for Pujols after his 10-year deal expires). No other team in baseball spent more during the offseason between the 2011 and 2012 seasons. In addition to these non-organic acquisitions, Kendrys Morales is expected to be close to returning to a contributing role for the Angels, a left-handed bat that was desperately missed from their lineup in 2010 and 2011. Morales hit 34 HR with a .924 OPS in 2009 for Los Angeles.
The Angels have continued to ride the wave of positives from the offseason into Spring Training. Some of their key bats are already showing life, with Pujols hitting .545, Mark Trumbo has 2 HRs in 6 ABs, Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick both hitting above .500, and even Vernon Wells has hit a home run. The four horsemen (Wilson, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana) of the Angels starting rotation have come out of the gates strong, allowing just 1 ER in 11 IP.
The Angels even won the MLB Network baseball trivia game show “Baseball IQ”. The representative in the game was the Angels assistant equipment manager, who bested some of the top statheads from other organizations in a round-of-32 tournament. That is quite the display of organizational depth.
Despite a bounteous offseason and a rosy start to Spring Training, there are many question marks for the Angels in 2012. The Angels roster has created a logjam at the three outfield positions with Wells, Peter Bourjous, Torii Hunter, and Mike Trout all looking for a spot to play. The acquisition of Pujols has forced Trumbo to make the difficult transition from first base to third base. And the return of Morales puts a squeeze on the availability of DH at bats for Bobby Abreu, as well as Trumbo and Pujols.
This is not an Angels team that got younger in the 2012 offseason, and based on Kevin Goldstein’s organizational farm system rankings for Baseball Prospectus, which has Los Angeles at number 23, there is not going to be very much young help on the way. Goldstein’s system at a glance tagline for the Angels was: “Without Mike Trout, this would be a nightmare, and he won’t qualify anymore after his first big league game of the season.”
The 2012 version of the Los Angeles Angels appears to be set to be a much improved version from 2011. The starting rotation is among the best in baseball, and inserting Pujols into any lineup instantly increases its potency. The challenge ahead of the Angels is to not go the way of the 2011 Boston Red Sox, who “won” the offseason but still missed the playoffs. The pressure is on with an aging team and a large payroll to win, and to win now.
The Angels have done a lot of winning over the last 5 months, all of which makes a difference but doesn’t count as a win that moves them closer to returning to the playoffs. Only time will tell if the offseason success will translate into the kind of winning that counts, and the kind that can get the Angels back to the playoffs.