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Angels Stun the Baseball World

Photo taken from Google Images

In what can only be described as stunning, the Angels shook the baseball world today in a way normally reserved only for earthquakes on Southern California’s notorious San Andreas Fault by announcing they have reached an agreement on a 10 year contract with first baseman Albert Pujols and a 5 year agreement with starting pitcher CJ Wilson. While the final numbers won’t be known for a few days, the Pujols deal is reported to be in excess of $254 million andWilson’s deal is reported to be worth in the neighborhood of $77 million. For a franchise that was advising GM candidates in interviews 6 weeks ago that they weren’t going to be major free agent players this year, this is earth shattering news. As an ardent MLB follower in multiple media forums (XM/Sirius Radio, ESPN, MLB Network, Twitter) I can tell you the Angels were mentioned as interested in Pujols, but never mentioned as serious players. Watching the reactions on the faces of people around MLB this morning – it appears this has really shocked most of the baseball world. If you’re an Angels fan you can’t help but love the wall to wall coverage the team is receiving by landing the best hitter on the planet. Only this kind of shocking news could have overshadowed the Miami Marlins spending spree (except perhaps the Marlins hideous new uniforms) this week at MLB’s winter meetings.

 

Perhaps an even bigger side to this is the fact that the Angels are reported to have only entered onto the Team Pujols radar as late as Tuesday. That means the Angels managed to close a deal for the best professional baseball hitter in under 48 hours. The Angels in recent years have been rebuffed by big name stars such as CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Carl Crawford. This time the Angels offered up the cash and terms needed to close the deal and got the guy they wanted as the anchor to their lineup and face of their franchise. By all appearances it appears the Angels offered at least $30 million more in cash than the Cardinals offered and the no trade clause that the Marlins refused to include.

 

The Angels also got CJ Wilson to sign at below market value for a lower dollar amount and fewer years than other offersWilsonwas said to have received. Interestingly Wilson (who is from Southern California and has a beach condo, a home inBeverly Hillsand grew up in near byHuntington Beach) said in a radio interview today that his first choice was the Dodgers, (more on that to follow) but they never even made an offer.Wilsonjoins an outstanding starting rotation that includes Jared Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana giving the Angels 4 starting pitchers who all pitched over 200 innings with ERA’s under 4.00 last season and should give them a chance to win in most every game in 2012.

 

Of lesser note is the Angels signing of LaTroy Hawkins to stabilize the back end of their bullpen. His presence and experience brings some stability to the later innings for the Angels bullpen. All the Angels appear to need is a dependable closer to meet their existing needs to make a run at the NL West and Texas Rangers 2 year hold on that division and the American League Pennant.

 

The question is where does all this leave the Angels as a baseball team and a competitor in theLos Angelesarea media and entertainment market? As a baseball team it sets the Angels up very well offensively with speedy players like Erik Aybar and Peter Bourjos hitting in front of Pujols. Mike Trumbo hit 29 home runs as a rookie and the Angels hope Kendrys Morales will be healthy after missing most of the past 2 seasons recovering from a broken ankle. Those 2 players combined with the presence of Pujols hitting in the 3 hole potentially gives the Angels formidable home run and RBI production in the middle of their lineup. In solid if unspectacular players like Howie Kendrick, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Vernon Wells the Angels now have a balanced lineup with people hitting in the correct lineup spots that maximize their talents and abilities. The only question mark today appears to be at closer where rookie Jordan Walden struggled with consistency in 2011. Hard to imagine the Angels would spend over $320 million for Pujols and Wilson and not address the need for a reliable closer. Then again they didn’t pursue Heath Bell before he signed with the Marlins either. They have interesting young pieces to offer in a trade (Trumbo, Mike Trout) for what they need and they have options via free agency in Ryan Madsen. Most experts place the addition ofWilsonat 5 wins above replacement (war) and Pujols war at 5 as well. That’s a composite of 10 games better than 2011 when the Angels won 86 games. 96 wins puts them in the playoffs, and with their outstanding rotation, solidified bullpen and diversified offense, the Angels become a very formidable team in the playoffs to be dealt with.

 

By all accounts the Angels have put together a dream team. In 2011 many thought the Boston Red Sox had done the same thing. I have a couple of thoughts to offer on that front. All of these players have excellent reputations as good clubhouse guys and hard workers. With Mike Scioscia as manager, don’t expect to hear things like Angels players running amuck eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games. The Angels appear to have invested in good, solid people as well as terrific players. LaTroy Hawkins was quoted today on Sirius/XM: “I’ll pitch whatever inning the team needs me to pitch to give us the chance to win ball games”. That’s heady stuff for a 35 year old veteran pitcher.

 

It appears the Angels positioned themselves for this spending spree and a serious run at the World Series after new revenues they received as a result of a new television deal with Fox. The Angels timing of these signings positions them perfectly to have several seasons of winning, competitive baseball and to take advantage of their main rival’s (Dodgers) current dreadful ownership situation. All this comes at a time when the Dodgers 2012 payroll is believed to not be above $90 million. This is notable as even the Minnesota Twins (yes the Twins in the 14th-15th largest media market) will have a payroll at or exceeding $100 million next season. As a lifelong resident ofSouthern California, the perception out here is that the Angels have always been the younger nagging sibling to the big brother bully Dodgers. These moves make it clear that Owner Arte Moreno is serious about establishing the Angels brand by winning now and the next several years. One look at the most recent moves made by the Dodgers are in stark contrast (Mark Ellis, Chris Capuano, Matt Treanor, Aaron Harang, Josh Bard, Jerry Hairston Jr, etc) to the moves the Angels have just completed. In the long term the Angels have positioned themselves to take over the greater LA media market and brand name recognition for quite some time. Signing a marquee, superstar player like Albert Pujols to be the face of their franchise secures that the Angels will be relevant for years into the future as he chases World Series titles and MLB records in his Hall of Fame career.

 

The downside ? Obviously the 10 year length of the offer will be measured at the middle to end of the 10 years as much as the first 3-4. For a player in his early 30’s, it is risky in the long term. But the potential upside rewards are also very high. One thing the Pujols and Wilson signings do is immediately change the MLB landscape and especially the AL West. One thing the Angels with Pujols won’t be is irrelevant for a long time.

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