For the second year in a row, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim* have come out of Anaheim nowhere to sign the biggest name on the free agent market, inking former MVP Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract. Everyone's shocked, including Jon Daniels and Torii Hunter.
[ * – Note: For real? We're still doing this?]
First of all … I'd be interested to think out the expected offensive upgrade here. Hunter and Mike Trout had career seasons last year … Albert Pujols might improve … carry the one … yeah, I think that the Angels will probably hit again next year. It may not be a 2012 offensive explosion, but the likelihood of that was pretty tiny anyways. Adding Hamilton will definitely defray some of the hurt from losing Torii Hunter's bat and the fact that Mike Trout might actually be human next season.
As far as defense goes, well, I don't know. Hamilton won't be playing center field, so he'll probably be okay if he stays on the field. In fact, I think he's a bit above-average in left. If Peter Bourjos is the third outfielder, that defense will be great. If Mark Trumbo is, well, good thing Mike Trout can cover a lot of ground.
But then there's the pitching staff. After missing out on Zack Greinke, the Angels are left with a rotation of Weaver / Wilson / Blanton / Hanson / Richards? for 2013, which doesn't exactly strike fear into anyone's heart. I actually liked the Blanton deal, but this is still a team that could use another starter. And I wouldn't be filled with confidence upon hitting a playoff series. But it's not awful, either. Just okay-ish.
So yeah, the Angels still have holes, and they added a player who doesn't *really* fill a hole, but he's Josh Hamilton, so let's all freak out. Hamilton is a serious performance risk (he swings at everything, and has moved to a less-friendly home park), but he could still hit a bunch of homers and knock in a bunch of runs. Your mileage may vary.
The actual interesting thing here is how the Angels are spending their money. After clearing the Ervin Santana and Dan Haren contracts, the Angels were expected to make a big run at starting pitching. The starting pitching option #1 fell through, so they moved on to spending big money somewhere else. It's surprising, but not ridiculous.
Once thing that the Angels probably did do here, is overpay for Mr. Hamilton. While Josh is a heck of a hitter, he might not be a heck of a hitter for much longer. He's 31. He swings as just about everything, with one of the worst sets of plate discipline numbers in baseball. And he has proven to be a bit injury-prone, making him unlikely to play 150 games in any given season. Paying a player like this $25 million per year, in my opinion, is a very real overpay. Doing it for five years is a very big risk. Chances are, by the end of his contract, he'll be a DH with availability issues, and maybe not a very good one.
So yeah, 2017 looks like it could be a terrible year for the Angels. Mike Trout could be looking at greener pastures, or more likely he'll be expensive as hell, but locked in to a long-term deal. Albert Pujols, who isn't exactly getting bettter, might be in a serious decline phase too. And who knows where the pitching staff will be down the line? Jered Weaver could be in Mexico, for all we know about projecting starting pitcher health and performance five years down the line.
Yeah, in 2017 Angel Stadium could be a brutal hellscape, a place where Mike Trout toils in torment while the ghosts of C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, and Albert Pujols flail him with bats that more closely resemble whips and flails, because they are so weak and ineffectual.
But I doubt it.
No, I think the "hell" that Angel Stadium will become will not be for Mike Trout, or for Angel fans, but rather for opposing franchises. And also opposing general managers looking to sign free agents. I think what we're seeing here is a shift, not in the balance of power, but rather in the balance of money. The Angels, like their cross-town (in name, at least) brethren are showing they are not afraid to throw gobs and gobs of money at their perceived problems. They appear to be taking a 00's Yankees approach to free agent spending, which is a pricey, but effective, way to fill out a roster.
For 2013, the Angels are probably going to be an offensive force to be reckoned with. A potential Trout – Kendrick – Pujols – Hamilton – Morales – Trumbo – Iannetta – Callaspo – Aybar lineup is just raw and opposing starters are going to be exhausted by inning 4. I mean, once I got past Trout, I wouldn't throw a damn thing anywhere in the vicinity of the plate, but that's more tiring that throwing strikes, right? And if the Angels manage to convince their free-swinging sluggers to try and wait for their pitch, perhaps the team will win a zillion* games by the score of 10-6 and everyone else in the AL will just kind of give up until October. Actually, on paper this team looks more than a little like the 2012 Yankees, and that's not a disaster.
[* Note: This is a sabermetric term.]
I think that what we thought we knew about the Angels was wrong, even after last year's spending spree. I'm not willing to concede the AL to this team yet, or even the AL West. But this is a team that does not appear to be overly concerned with payroll issues, or likely age-related declines, or third base. That *really* sounds like the Yankees, actually.
It's a little like synchronicity that highly-religious, highly-visible players like Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton wound up on a team that's named the "Angels." Just don't be too surprised if the other MLB teams are yelling different, more unflattering epithets in Arte Moreno and Jerry Dipoto's general direction, as long as the money keeps flowing.