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2013 Team Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer
Hamilton (left), Trout (center), and Pujols (right) help form a dynamic lineup. (US Presswire)

Spring training coverage | Angels: Camp report | Likes, dislikes | Prospect watch

The Angels followed a familiar script this offseason: sign the best free-agent position player in hopes of getting back to the postseason. That plan didn't work last winter, when the addition of Albert Pujols resulted in a solid 89-73 record but a third-place finish in the competitive AL West. The Halos signed Josh Hamilton this winter and overhauled their pitching staff -- both the rotation and bullpen -- in hopes of passing the Rangers and Athletics.

Probable lineup
1. Mike Trout, LF
2. Erick Aybar, SS
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Josh Hamilton, RF
5. Mark Trumbo, DH
6. Howie Kendrick, 2B
7. Alberto Callaspo, 3B
8. Chris Iannetta, C
9. Peter Bourjos, CF

Probable rotation
1. Jered Weaver
2. C.J. Wilson
3. Tommy Hanson
4. Jason Vargas
5. Joe Blanton

Bullpen construction
Closer: Ernesto Frieri
Righties: Kevin Jepsen, Bobby Cassevah, Garrett Richards, Jerome Williams
Lefties: Scott Downs, Sean Burnett

The Angels signed right-hander Ryan Madson to serve as their closer, but he was recently shut down with soreness in his elbow. He's coming off Tommy John surgery and it remains to be seen if he will be ready in time for Opening Day. For now, let's be conservative and say he won't. Both Richards and Williams serve as rotation depth.

Notable bench players
OF Vernon Wells
IF Andrew Romine
UTIL Bill Hall
C Hank Conger

Under-the-radar offseason transaction
Mike Scioscia's team has a rock-solid but mostly unspectacular infield alignment outside of Pujols, and this offseason they lost Maicer Izturis as a free agent. The 32-year-old posted a serviceable 96 OPS+ with double-digit stolen base ability as the the club's utility infielder over the last eight years, plus he can more than capably play the three non-first base infield positions. Kendrick, Aybar, and Callaspo are fine starters, but the drop-off between them and their replacement is much bigger than it has been in the past. Izturis' versatility and effectiveness will be missed should injury strike.

Fantasy bust: Mark Trumbo
With 61 home runs over the last two seasons, there is no disputing that Trumbo can wallop a baseball. He can also drive in runs, but that just may be the extent of what Trumbo can do to help your Fantasy lineup. He's not especially prolific as a doubles or triples hitter, strikes out frequently, doesn't walk much and isn't much of a threat to steal. If Trumbo could strike out less often like he did in the minors, he could maintain or raise his batting average, but as last season wore on, he had more -- not less -- trouble making contact. Only a fluky-looking .299 batting average on grounders kept his overall average in the .260s. Trumbo may be more of a liability in the batting average and runs categories than you think, so don't reach for him prior to the middle rounds. -- Al Melchior [Angels fantasy preview]

Biggest strength
The Angels can flat out mash. Trout, Pujols, and Hamilton all have the ability to produce like the best player in the world for a prolonged stretch of time, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if all three hit .300+ with 30+ home runs in 2013. Only nine teams in history have had three players do that in one season -- three are the 1995-97 super-bandbox Coors Field Rockies -- with the 2004 Cardinals being the last. Add in Trumbo's power, Bourjos' speed, Callapso's contact ability, and Iannetta's patience, and you get baseball's most diverse and devastating lineup. There hasn't been a 900-run offense since the 2009 Yankees, but the 2013 Angels have a chance to top that mark.

Biggest weakness
Behind their bonafide No. 1 starter (Weaver), the Halos have some serious question marks in their rotation. Wilson is coming off offseason elbow surgery, Hanson's velocity drop is a huge red flag, Vargas was far more effective at home (in Safeco Field with the Mariners) than on the road last season, and Blanton hasn't produced a league-average ERA since 2009. Dan Haren (87 ERA+) and Ervin Santana (73 ERA+) weren't anything special last year, but none of their replacements is a sure thing. To their credit, GM Jerry Dipoto added a ton of rotation depth this winter, but it looks more like quantity than quality.

Best-case scenario
The best-case scenario for the Angels is very exciting as long as you don't root for one of the other 29 teams. If everything breaks right, Trout will be even better than he was in 2012, when he was the game's most jaw-droppingly fun player since Bo Jackson. Pujols will halt his decline, Hamilton will stay healthy (and swing at strikes), and Hanson will turn back into the guy he was from 2009-2010. These guys have all produced like stars in the not-too-distant past, so it's not outrageous to think they could play like that again. Getting all of them to do it at the same time this summer is another matter. It would be Anaheim's best-case scenario and good enough to win the division, if not much more.

Worst-case scenario
On the other hand, the worst-case scenario is quite ugly. It's hard to see Trout being anything less than an above-average player because he's so talented, but sophomore slumps do happen. Pujols could see his OPS+ decline for the fifth consecutive season and Hamilton could spend significant time on the DL. Hanson's velocity drop may be an indication that his shoulder is mush, Wilson's and Madson's elbows could continue to bark, and Trumbo's miserable second half (74 OPS+) could carry over into 2013. The Angels have some risky players on their roster, but at least they are very high-upside players.

Most-likely scenario
The Angels are a difficult team to peg because so many of their players have a wide range of possible outcomes. Pujols could be brilliant or he could continue to decline. Hamilton could dominate or spend the year hurt, and remember, they got a ton of production from Torii Hunter (132 OPS+) last year. It's not like Hamilton is replacing a scrub. I do expect Trout to be fantastic, but perhaps slightly less fantastic than he was a year ago. Alex Rodriguez had a monster first full season in 1996 and saw his performance take a step back in subsequent years, but he was still great. I can see something similar happening with Trout. A full year of Frieri and the addition of Burnett -- to say nothing of a potentially healthy Madson -- will help a bullpen that was downright ugly at times in 2012. There's little doubt the Angels will be good, but the club has some real warts.

Overall, the Angels improved their offense with the addition of Hamilton and added depth to a pitching staff that was underwhelming to start with. They needed rotation help, Hanson and Vargas are a little riskier than what I would have liked to see them target. Some mid-rotation stability was in order. I think the Halos could win anything from 85-95 games, which is really flaky on my part. Like I said, there is such a wide range of possible outcomes with this club. I do expect them to contend in the AL West and wouldn't be surprised if they won the division.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed and "like" us on Facebook. Also, individually interact with us on Twitter: @MattSnyder27, @daynperry and @mikeaxisa.

 
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