'Hart of the Order'
By Sean Hartnett
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Over the past few offseasons, the Los Angeles Angels and particularly their owner, Arte Moreno, grew frustrated as top free agents chose other destinations over playing in Anaheim. Since signing Torri Hunter to a five-year, $90 million dollar contract in November 2007, the Angels were ignored by free agent targets and failed to keep their own stars.
They watched helplessly as Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez headed east to sign for the Yankees and Mets respectively. Last winter, they failed to land top targets Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre. The Angels had become an afterthought to free agent talents that is until today.
Moreno was desperate to make a 'big splash' after so many failed attempts and made two major signings that shifted power in the American in the Angels' direction. The Angels struck gold by securing one of the biggest free agents in in recent market history -- they agreed with Albert Pujols on a ten-year, $254 million dollar deal. Lightning struck twice in a matter of hours as the Angels recruited C.J. Wilson shortly after on a 5-year pact worth about $75 million.
This pushes Los Angeles to the forefront of the American League contenders but does it make them overwhelming favorites to reach the 2012 World Series? I think not and I'll tell you why.
From top-to-bottom, the New York Yankees have a much stronger lineup than the Angels. Positionally, there's a huge difference between Alex Rodriguez and Maicer Izturis at third base, Robinson Cano and Howie Kendrick at second base and in center field, with MVP candidate Curtis Granderson easily more valuable than Peter Bourjos or the still developing Mike Trout. Vernon Wells hit rock-bottom in his first season with the Angels whereas Brett Gardner was the best overall defensive left fielder in all of baseball and supplied the Yankees with plenty of speed.
In right field, Torri Hunter and Nick Swisher are basically dead even. Same goes at catcher as Chris Iannetta numbers were similar to Russell Martin in 2011. It's just a matter if you prefer Iannetta's discipline at the plate or Martin's solid defense. Gold Glove-winning Erick Aybar beats out Derek Jeter because of his superior defense and Pujols is of course the most feared hitter in the game.
I won't compare designated hitters as the Angels' Kendrys Morales is recovering from ankle surgery and it's unclear whether Jesus Montero will get the majority of at-bats as the Yankees' 2012 DH. In Cano, A-Rod and Granderson, the Yankees clearly beat out the Angels at three positions. Los Angeles only has an obvious advantage at first base.
The Angels also are lacking in bullpen depth. Jordan Walden blew ten saves last season and is backed by a questionable cast of characters outside of dependable setup man Scott Downs. The Yankees on the other hand carry a loaded pen with David Robertson ready to step into the closer's role if Mariano Rivera were to miss time due to injury. Rafael Soriano should rebound after an injury-plagued 2011 and Cory Wade turned out to be a pleasant surprise as he registered a WHIP of 1.034 and ERA of 2.04 over 39.2 innings pitched.
Los Angeles has a deep rotation but it remains to be seen whether the Yankees will attempt to acquire a number two-type starter through trade or come away with a successful bid for Yu Darvish. At the moment, the Yankees are relying on Phil Hughes to bounce back without any recurring injury issues or diminished performance.
What is encouraging for Yankee fans is that even with a considerable list of injuries in 2011, they still managed to win 97 games even as Rodriguez was limited to just 99 games. 2011 also saw Teixeira at his absolute worst and he will likely raise his average and OBP in 2012.
As things stand right now, the Yankees and Angels are pretty even on paper and the Yankees are yet to make any big offseason moves.
How close are the Yankees and Angels? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.
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