Today we take an closer look at one of the Astros’ new division rivals. For the second straight offseason the Los Angeles Angels signed the biggest free agent on the open market and are considered by most as one of the favorites to represent the American League in the World Series. Will the addition of Josh Hamilton do for the Angels what last winter’s addition of Albert Pujols failed to do? Can the Angels go all the way this year?
We posed a few hard-hitting questions like these to Halo Hangout‘s Editor Travis Reitsma. Here’s a transcript of my Q & A session with Travis.
CTH: With the addition of Josh Hamilton the Angels now have three of the top hitters in the league. Owner Arte Moreno also added some depth to the rotation by adding Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas, and Joe Blanton. Expectations in Anaheim have to be at an all-time high. Will anything less than a World Series championship be a disappointment?
Travis: That’s hard to say. Putting expectations on a World Series win is a tough thing to do. There’s so much random luck and variation in baseball that predicting the outcome of a short series — such as the ALCS or World Series — is a fool’s errand. Even the worst team in baseball will beat the best team somewhere between 35-40% of the time.
Having said that, I think the expectations of ownership and the fanbase are very high. They were last year too after the team signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and they ended up missing the playoffs altogether. There’s no question that with Hamilton on board and the emergence of Mike Trout that reaching the playoffs is an absolute must — heads may roll if they miss them again (I’m looking at you, Mike Scioscia). Once the team makes the playoffs, anything can happen.
CTH: Pujols, Trout, Hamilton, and Weaver — everyone knows about those guys who are legitimate superstars. Is there another player on the team that is more of an unsung hero who does a great job day in and day out?
Erick Aybar is the unsung hero of the Angels (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports)
Travis: I think Erick Aybar is one of the most underrated players in the game — especially considering he plays shortstop where the majority of teams are struggling just to find an adequate everyday player. Since becoming the starting shortstop in 2009, Aybar has been judged by FanGraphs to be the eighth-most valuable shortstop in baseball ahead of such names as Jhonny Peralta, Rafael Furcal and J.J. Hardy.
He’s not an elite-level shortstop along the lines of Troy Tulowitzki or Jose Reyes, but considering the firepower in the rest of the lineup, Aybar’s production is one of the more under-heralded aspects of the Angels’ roster.
CTH: Ryan Madson was brought in to be the closer this season but he is behind schedule after Tommy John surgery last spring. Ernesto Frieri did a nice job for most of 2012 but struggled down the stretch. The Angels also have Scott Downs on the roster. Who do you think will get ninth inning duty to start the season? When will Madson be ready?
Travis: I think you’ll see Frieri in that role to begin the year. He was very good once he was traded over from the Padres last season, leading the American League in strikeout-rate among qualified relievers. But the Angels were smart to get some insurance in the form of Madson; Frieri’s high walk- and home run-rates suggest some regression in 2013 which could cause his numbers to elevate, and he never struck out batters in the minors like he did last season. Once the rest of the AL starts to figure him out, it could be trouble.
As for Madson, reports are that he’s been throwing bullpen sessions again and experienced no immediate pain. He’s likely to start the year on the DL with the most conservative estimates suggesting a late-April/ early-May return, but you just never know with recurring arm injuries. Any setback after Tommy John surgery has to be cause for alarm.
Still, between Frieri, Downs, Sean Burnett and Kevin Jepsen, the Angels have some options late in the game even if their depth is unimpressive overall.
CTH: Vernon Wells still has two years at $21 million per year on his ridiculous contract and it doesn’t look like he will be an everyday player. Is there any way the Angels will be able to unload him and are they trying to?
Travis: Aside from writing about the Angels, I’m also a massive Blue Jays’ fan. I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was the day that GM Alex Anthopoulos was able to unload that contract on former Angels’ GM Tony Reagins. Part of the reason Anthopoulos was able to do that was because Wells was actually coming off a pretty solid year for Toronto. Since coming to Anaheim, he’s been nothing short of terrible.
I’m sure new Angels GM Jerry DiPoto and his front office would love nothing more than to trade Wells, unfortunately they’d probably eat close to the entire contract to do so. Considering they’re going to have to pay him either way, I don’t imagine they’re shopping him all that aggressively. However, if a team gets desperate for corner outfield or DH help and is willing to part with a decent prospect, it might be worth biting the bullet on the $42-million bill.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
CTH: Speaking of contracts, in 2016 the team will owe a combined $57 million to Pujols (age 36 season) and Hamilton (age 35 season). The price tag goes up to $58 million in 2017. The Pujols contract will still have another four years at an even higher price tag. Are fans worried that those two contracts will cripple the organization and make it impossible to afford to keep guys like Mike Trout?
Travis: I don’t get the sense that fans are too worried about the impending cost of two declining players, mostly because Arte Moreno and the rest of the ownership group have some of the deepest pockets in baseball and appear totally willing to spend that money. Even with Pujols and Hamilton making serious dough, I expect the Angels will have plenty left over for Trout when the time comes.
Keep in mind, the entire core of this team (Pujols, Hamilton, Trout, Aybar, Kendrick, Weaver, Wilson) are locked up for at least a few more seasons if not longer. Cost certainty is a big plus and if the Angels were worried about Pujols and/or Hamilton becoming albatrosses, I doubt they would have signed them in the first place.
CTH: The Astros signed Bill Hall to a $3 million deal prior to the 2011 season and after failing to perform he was released before the All-Star break. Is this guy really going to make the Angels Opening Day roster?
Travis: A couple weeks ago, it looked really good. Hall’s only in on a minor-league deal and will make close to the league minimum if he ends up making the team, so there’s not much risk involved in bringing him west to start the year. The Angels are in need of a defensively flexible player with some hitting ability off the bench and Hall fits that profile. The problem is he’s now hurt and he has a clause in his contract that requires the Angels to put him on their 40-man roster by March 26 or else pay him an extra $100,000 to keep him on his minor-league deal. Either way, it’s relative pocket-change for the Angels so it all depends on how well he bounces back from his calf injury.
Thanks to Travis for climbing the hill with us and providing a bit of a crash course on the Angels. We’ll probably be talking again soon as the Astros first trip to Anaheim is on April 12. And I’ve got ten bucks that says Bill Hall is no longer with the team when the Angels come to Houston on May 7.