L.A. Angels struggling despite star power
By: Dustin Dietz
During the baseball winter meetings last December in Dallas, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim spent over $300 million dollars in one day by signing star first baseman Albert Pujols, and former Rangers pitching ‘ace’ C.J. Wilson.
The signing of C.J. Wilson came as no surprise to many fans in DFW because we knew the Ceej preferred the laid back California lifestyle where he can write scripts and dee-jay various celebrity shindigs.
However, the Pujols signing came as a shock to not just fans in DFW, but to everyone who covers the game of baseball. Pujols had long been rumored to be resigning with the team he had led to two World Series victories, the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Miami Marlins were also said to have been interested in Pujols.
Pujols spurned the Cardinals and agreed to a contract worth over $240 million dollars over ten years with the Angels. In addition to the exorbitant amount of money guaranteed in Pujols’ contract, Pujols also receives a hotel suite on road trips, a luxury suite at the ballpark for the Pujols Foundation and his charitable group for 10 home games a year, and the right to buy a luxury suite between first base and third base for all home games. Pujols’ extra incentives appear to make him look like a team player with no sense of self-importance.
In case one is wondering, my last statement was me displaying sarcasm. Pujols had been deified in St. Louis, and was every little boy’s hero there. Pujols had just led the Cardinals to an arduous playoff run culminating with an improbable World Series victory over our beloved Texas Rangers. The Cardinals were said to have offered Pujols over $200 million dollars to keep the slugger in St. Louis. Pujols displayed his lack of loyalty and signed for more money with the Angels.
The signing of Pujols was greeted with rampant admiration and approval by Angels fans. Shortly after the signing of Pujols and the Ceej, the team held a celebration outside Angels Stadium to allow the fans a chance to see Pujols don an Angels jersey. Sound similar to another celebration a franchise once held after landing big name free agents? Hint, the Mavs defeated this team in the NBA Finals last season.
By adding Pujols to a lineup which finished in the bottom half of the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging in 2011, and putting Wilson in an already formidable starting pitching staff, the Angels became many experts picks to win the 2012 World Series. Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jon Heyman even tweeted in Spring Training, “The Angels are the first team to have too many good players.”
Despite the expert’s wide appraisal, the signing of Pujols made very little sense from a pure baseball standpoint. Angels talented and youthful first baseman Mark Trumbo had just won the 2011 American League Rookie Of The Year, and the Angels already had tons of money invested in declining outfielders Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter. A more prudent owner and general manager would have invested his money in other areas of need, and not just tried to sign a big name. However, one assumes new Angels GM Jerry Dipoto wanted to make a big splash in his first off season with the franchise.
Thing started well for the Angels as they sported the third best record in the Cactus League with a 19-12 record, while the Rangers finished with the second worst record at 12-17. Albert Pujols was destroying the baseball, and Ceej posted an ERA Greg Maddux would have been envious of. Then, the real season began.
The Rangers had their second most successful April in franchise history by starting the regular season 17-6, and are currently 6.5 games in front of….Oakland and Seattle. The Los Angeles Angels sit dead last in the American League West at 8-15, 9 games back. Yes, the Angels spent over $300 million dollars in the off season, and are behind the indomitable foes Oakland and Seattle in the standings.
Rangers Center Fielder Josh Hamilton is having another MVP type season, and the pitching staff led by The Lumberjack Colby Lewis if off to a dazzling start. The Rangers offense is first in the American League in all major offensive categories, except home runs, where they rank second. The only category the pitching staff ranks outside of the top three in is innings pitched, where they rank fourth.
General manager Jon Daniels did what intelligent general managers do and fortified his team by addressing areas of need, not by spending an incredible amount of money in areas where your team is already strong. Daniels signed former Twins closer Joe Nathan with the intention of moving former closer Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation. While Nathan has been shaky at times, the deal has worked so far. Nathan has improved the Rangers bullpen, and is beginning to look like the dominant Joe Nathan American League hitters once feared.
Instead of resigning the straight edge C.J. Wilson, the Rangers chose to pursue Japanese ace Yu Darvish. The Rangers won the posting of Darvish with a bid north of $50 million dollars, and then signed him to a very reasonable six year deal worth $60 million dollars. The Yu deal is actually cheaper per year than Wilson’s deal, and Darvish is seven years younger than Ceej. Darvish is currently 4-0 with an ERA of 2.18, while C.J. is 3-2 with an ERA of 2.70. While Wilson has pitched well, Darvish has pitched exceptionally.
Daniels also signed veteran players Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and manager Ron Washington to contract extensions. The Rangers are rumored to be seeking extensions with fan favorites Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton.
So far, the Angels season has been a complete disaster. The Angels were only able to win one series in April, one. The Rangers lost one series in April, this past weekend against the Rays.
The vaunted Angels lineup has been worse with Pujols in it. Pujols had the worst statistical month of his fantastic career as he was unable to hit a single home run, and only tallied four RBI’s in April. Pujols’ batting average is a putrid .217, and his on-base percentage is a pathetic .265. The following is a list of players who, as of this writing, have more home runs than Albert Pujols: Craig (Kitten Face) Gentry, Elvis Andrus, Brandon Inge and Shelley Duncan. Not exactly the kind of production Angels’ owner Arte Moreno thought he was paying for.
Before the Angels April 30th home game against the Minnesota Twins, Albert Pujols stood up in front of his teammates and vowed he would begin to hit better than he has, personally taking responsibility for the team’s dreadful start.
Later that day, the very polite Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher informed the media of what Pujols said. Pujols did not appreciate Hatcher going to the media with what should be perceived as harmless information. Pujols getting upset with Mickey Hatcher over something as miniscule as this further displays the enormous amount of self-importance and arrogance Pujols has. A player like Pujols would never fit-in in Texas, which is why Ceej is now playing in Los Angeles.
Pujols will begin to mash the baseball. We all know he will. But, what if he does not begin to generate the kind of numbers he did in the past? What if Pujols is declining before our very eyes? The experts all consider Pujols and the Angels’ slow start as an aberration. What if this start becomes the trend? How far behind can the Angels fall before experts begin to dismiss them? What if Pujols and the Angels fail to even make the playoffs? I realize the season is just beginning, and there is a long way to go, but people should not just assume the Angels are going to turn things around.
If Pujols is beginning to decline, like all players do at some point, his contract will go down as the worst contract in the history of professional sports. The Angels have bundles of money due to a rich television contract they now have, but taking a financial hit as large as Pujols’ contract can put even the wealthiest of teams in financial peril. Remember A-Rod and the Rangers?
No matter what happens this season and beyond to the Angels, this writer is enjoying every second of the team with too many good players failing. General Manager Jerry Dipoto and Owner Arte Moreno have to be sweating bullets in their luxurious suites right now. If the Angels and Rangers continue to play at their current rates, the Rangers have a chance to bury the Angels when they begin a three game series in Arlington on May 11th.
Follow Dustin Dietz on Twitter @DustinDietz18