LOS ANGELES ANGELS (AL WEST)
2013 record: 78-84 (third, 18 GB)
Projected 2014: 88 wins
World Series odds: 15/1
Key additions: David Freese, Raul Ibanez
X factor: Albert Pulols
Projected starting lineup: Infield: C – C. Iannetta; 1B – A. Pujols; 2B – H. Kendrick; 3B D. Freese; SS – E. Aybar. Outfield: LF –K. Calhoun; CF –M. Trout; RF – J. Hamilton.
Designated hitter: R. Ibanez.
Starting rotation: J. Weaver; C.J. Wilson; G. Richards; T. Skaggs; H. Santiago.
Closer: E. Frieri
Arguably the biggest disappointment of 2013, the Angels could have baseball’s best record through the first 12 games.
How about 5 with Seattle, 4 with Houston and 3 with the New York Mets! Granted seven of those 12 are on the road, but we’re not talking Murderer’s Row here. LAA, on the other hand, could be.
Just check that lineup – Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and DH Raul Ibanez packed in the middle. Add Howie Kendrick and past World Series MVP David Freese and this figures to be a big turnaround from a year ago.
With relatively conservative expectations from LVH of 88 wins and 15/1 to capture the World Series, we’re salivating. Surely, things can’t be as bad as they went down in 2013.
Between Trout, Pujols, Hamilton, Ibanez, Kendrick plus ace pitchers Jared Weaver and CJ Wilson, the payroll this season is well over $70 million. And it is going to get a whole lot higher soon when Trout isn’t making a bargain $550,000.
No, when Trout’s contract comes up he is sure to be baseball’s highest priced player, much as Pujols and Hamilton were when their free agent tickets were punched. The difference is Trout is only 22 and everything LAA expected, while Pujols and Hamilton are 30-plus with only injuries and subpar numbers between them.
If there is a concern besides health, it’s the back end of the starting rotation and the bullpen – especially closer Ernesto Frieri, who fell off from his late 2012 form.
The amazing Oakland A’s and GM Billy Beane continue to flaunt “Moneyball” in the face of the high-priced Angels after winning the West a year ago and making the postseason again. So the pressure is clearly on Mike Scioscia, who really for the first time in his brilliant career in Anaheim began to draw the wrath of the fans.
Another season out of the playoffs and Iron Mike may have to change his address. Of course he won’t be unemployed very long if that happens. It just won’t be for the Angels.
The Angels didn’t really add a lot, nor did they have to. But Freese is a sneaky good pickup after his stock dropped in St. Louis off a brutal 2013 playoffs after hitting .397 in 2011 when the Cards won the world title.
Ibanez is a marvel at age 41, coming off a 29-homer season in his second go-around at Seattle. He should be able to counter the loss of Mark Trumbo and his 34 homers as the DH.
Pujols and Hamilton are the big question marks. Albert was pedestrian (17 HR, 64 RBI, .258 BA) for a man who has a career .321 batting average and just short of 500 homers.
Hamilton did play in over 150 games, but lefty pitchers continued to victimize him on big breaking curveballs. Josh had his moments, but .250 BA, 21 HR and 79 RBI just won’t due at his salary.
Bottom line: Again, the start is critical. The division isn’t won in 12 games, but it could be lost. Anything less than 8-4 and the natives will be restless again.
On deck: Los Angeles Dodgers
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].