Friday, December 14, 2012

Hamilton Cashes In With the Halos

         Hamilton will be joining forces with Pujols and the big money Angels next year

New York, Boston, and sometimes Philadelphia have been the big spenders in the last decade or so, but the city of Los Angeles has been the place were the big stars have been going the last couple of years. Earlier this week, the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a record contract for a right handed pitcher. The Angels were trying to re-sign Greinke after trading for him midseason. Since they lost out on Greinke, they moved in on the biggest name out there, Josh Hamilton. Surprisingly, Hamilton signed a deal with the Rangers archrival for 5 years and $125 million.

The feeling in Texas has to be as bad or worse as it was in St. Louis last year when Albert Pujols left for Anaheim. Even worse for Rangers fans, they have to see Hamilton 18 times a year whereas Cardinal fans only see Pujols every few years. The Rangers weren't willing to give Hamilton more than a three years, but it was thought that Hamilton would get 6 or 7. He ended up getting 5, but will make more per year on average than Pujols will.

Hamilton is a great player when healthy, but is injury prone. Last year, Hamilton played in 148 games, the second highest total in his career. Two seasons he's been limited to under 100 games in 2007 and 2009. Hamilton's  MVP season in 2010, he only played in 133 games. Hamilton set a career high with 43 home runs last year, but fell into a deep slump later in the year. There are also concerns about Hamilton re-lapsing, and  his mental makeup. Hamilton played lackadaisical in the stretch run last year, dropping a flyball during a pivotal game against Oakland.

Still, a team with Pujols, Hamilton, and Mike Trout is a team to be reckoned with. Pujols is a three time MVP, and Hamilton won it in 2010. Trout finished 2nd this year and will certainly be a perennial MVP candidate. They also will feature Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick in their lineup. They finished 3rd in the American League in runs scored last year, and are a good bet to lead the league next year.

 The Angels outfield is crowded now with Hamilton, Trout, Trumbo, Vernon Wells, and Peter Bourjos in it. Wells came over in a trade from the Blue Jays a couple years back and has been awful with the Halos. In two seasons, Wells has a .222 batting average and a .258 on base percentage. Wells is owed $21 million for the next two seasons, and the Angels are likely stuck with him. However, he's blocking younger, better players. It's also a albratross of a contract and it's unlikely they will release him.

Wells will likely play some DH, but Kendrys Morales is their regular DH and a better hitter. Bourjos is a terrific defensive outfielder, and led the league in triples in 2011. Bourjos won't be playing center since Trout is there, and that leaves the corner OF spots. Those are occupied by Hamilton and Trumbo, with Wells also getting some of the playing time. Bourjos was relegated to defensive replacement and pinch runner last season, and could be traded. It's also possible that Trumbo is moved to third base, although he's shaky defensively there. Alberto Callaspo was their primary 3B last year, but is average at best offensively and could be moved to a utility role.

Most likely, the Angels will trade either Trumbo or Bourjos. They could be traded for a third baseman or a starting pitcher. I have a hard time believing they will part with Trumbo. Trumbo hit 32 home runs last year, and the Angels now have 4 guys who hit over 30 last year(Trumbo, Trout, Pujols, Hamilton). Here's a look at the Angels projected lineup next year, assuming they don't make anymore moves.

CF Mike Trout
2B Howie Kendrick
1B Albert Pujols
RF Josh Hamilton
3B Mark Trumbo
DH Kendrys Morales
LF Vernon Wells
C Chris Ianetta/Hank Conger
SS Erick Aybar

Maicer Izturis
Alberto Callaspo
Peter Bourjos

We know that the Angels will score a lot of runs next year, but how will their pitching be? They had a shaky bullpen, and they led the AL with 47 blown saves the past two seasons. They have also traded Ervin Santana, declined Dan Haren's option, and lost Greinke to free agency. However, they have added four pitchers this offseason. They traded reliever Jordan Walden to the Braves for starter Tommy Hanson, and added starter Joe Blanton, lefty reliever Sean Burnett, and closer Ryan Madson via free agency. These guys aren't stars, but they are solid pitchers.

Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson head the Angels rotation, and will be followed by Hanson, Blanton, and probably Garret Richards. Weaver won 20 games last year, and is one of the best pitchers in baseball. In the bullpen, they retain Ernesto Freiri, Scott Downs, and Kevin Jepsen. Burnett adds a second lefty, and Madson ends the bullen by committee approach of last year.

With the Rangers late season collapse and with Los Angeles signing Hamilton away from them, the Angels are the likely favorites in the AL West next year. That was the case this time last year, but the small budget Oakland Athletics ended up beating out both Texas and LA. The Angels have an impressive team on paper, but they still have to play the games. I wouldn't start printing out World Series tickets just yet. There will be a lot of pressure on this team to perform and manager Mike Scioscia knows it. If they miss the playoffs again next year, Scioscia and GM Jerry DiPoto might lose their jobs.

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