For a second consecutive offseason, the Angels made a splash in free agency by signing the top available hitter, inking Josh Hamilton for five seasons one year after signing Albert Pujols for ten. Last year's team was good, particularly after the arrival of Mike Trout from AAA Salt Lake City, but lost out on a playoff spot to the Rangers and A's within the division, and the Orioles for the other wild card. Poaching Hamilton from their division rivals (a year after also signing C.J. Wilson away from Texas) was a calculated move that could make this a dynamite team this year. In three years, I'm not sure that I want either Hamilton or Pujols at their current salaries. But right now? Sure.
RF Mike Trout (R): .325/.402/.564, 30 HR, 53 SB, 8.7 WAR
LF Josh Hamilton (L): .289/.356/.540, 35 HR, 3.9 WAR
1B Albert Pujols (R): .305/.394/.564, 38 HR, 5.1 WAR
DH Mark Trumbo (R): .266/.315/.495, 31 HR, 1.5 WAR
2B Howie Kendrick (R): .287/.327/.424, 12 HR, 14 SB, 3.1 WAR
3B Alberto Callaspo (R): .271/.337/.386, 8 HR, 2.3 WAR
C Chris Iannetta (R): .240/.352/.426, 16 HR, 2.2 WAR
CF Peter Bourjos (L): .262/.316/.411, 13 HR, 24 SB, 3.5 WAR
SS Erick Aybar (S): .278/.321/.389, 7 HR, 20 SB, 2.6 WAR
That, as I wrote back when the Angels signed Hamilton, is a frightening top of the order. Trout is merely the best all-around player in baseball; he led the AL in runs and steals despite missing 23 games because Angels management mistakenly thought that Vernon Wells had anything left in the tank. Trout has excellent power, gets on base at a terrific rate, and is the best baserunner in the game, swiping 49 bags against only five times being caught (and adding eight triples to boot). Also, he's just 21 years old. Hamilton's otherworldly power should play even in a pitchers' park like the Big A, but he has to work on his patience and try to avoid those month-long slumps (.177/.253/.354 last July), which fortunately are less frequent than his six-to-eight-week tears (.368/.415/.764 last April and May). Pujols struggled out of the gate in 2012, but by the end of the season had posted numbers equal to about 90% of any of his seasons in St. Louis. After those three, there's a big drop-off. Trumbo has light-tower power and next to no patience, an unfortunate characteristic shared with Kendrick, Callaspo, Bourjos, and Aybar. You never walk anywhere in Orange County, and I suppose that applies to the baseball players too. After Trumbo there is a power drop-off, with pretty much everyone capable of double-digit home runs but no more.
Defensively, the Angels should be solid all-around, and probably have the best defensive outfield in baseball. Bourjos might be the only better center fielder on Earth than Trout, and Hamilton (when focused) is an excellent corner outfielder as well. Playing next to these two guys, he shouldn't have to do too much, as Bourjos and Trout can practically cover the entire outfield by themselves. In the infield, Aybar is a terrific shortstop, and Kendrick and Callaspo are both capable. Pujols is no longer the best first baseman in baseball, but he's still very good with the glove. Iannetta, though experienced, is a little more of a question mark behind the plate, which might lead to reduced playing time; Angels fans are well aware of Mike Scioscia's preference for banjo-hitting Jeff Mathis (career line of .198/.256/.314) over Mike Napoli (.259/.356/.507). The strong defense will be necessary, particularly in the spacious fields of the American League West, with a very good, but not great, pitching staff.
RHP Jered Weaver: 220.0 IP, 187 K, 52 BB, 3.07 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 3.9 WAR
LHP C.J. Wilson: 198.0 IP, 176 K, 82 BB, 3.45 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 3.0 WAR
RHP Joe Blanton: 182.0 IP, 131 K, 35 BB, 4.10 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 2.4 WAR
LHP Jason Vargas: 205.0 IP, 135 K, 55 BB, 3.82 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 1.8 WAR
RHP Tommy Hanson: 160.0 IP, 156 K, 61 BB, 3.66 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 1.8 WAR
Weaver is the ace, a flyball pitcher who benefits from his home park and division and makes the most of it. He strikes out more batters than the average bear, but his 2010 season (when he led the league with 233) looks flukish when compared to the rest of his career. His batting average on balls in play has gotten better every year since 2007, which speaks to his ability to keep hitters off balance as well as to the defense behind him. Wilson actually struggled last year after the move from offense-rich Arlington to Anaheim, as his walks increased and his ERA spiked by nearly a run; he should settle in better in his second season. Blanton and Vargas are innings-eater types who won't wow anyone with their work; both are durable back-end starters. On talent, Hanson deserves to be the third starter, but there are major concerns about how durable his shoulder is and therefore how long he can last in the rotation without getting hurt. Scott Downs, Jerome Williams, or Barry Enright will likely get the call should Hanson or someone else go down or underwhelm.
Either Ernesto Frieri or Ryan Madson will be closing games for the Angels this year, with Kevin Jepsen and lefty Sean Burnett as the other principal setup men. The Angels are all of a sudden playing in a tough division, with both the Rangers and the A's coming off of playoff appearances. Fortunately for them, they also get a ton of games against the Mariners and the newly arrived Astros, neither of whom should be very good this year (except when King Felix takes the hill). There are some holes in this lineup, but none of them are glaring, and the Angels' three big bats, defense, and strong pitching should carry them past Texas and Oakland to the division title.