Albert Pujols. It’s fitting that this piece starts with his name, because the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will rely on King Albert from start to finish. The year of 2002 seems like yesterday for Angels fans, but that memory should be a distant one if the Angels organization achieves what it hoped to when it signed Pujols for 10 years, $240 million. As a matter of fact, if the Angels do not win a World Series in the next four years, then it should be considered an extreme disappointment.
Every MLB team knew it would take a large amount to steer Pujols away from St. Louis. Before free agency even started, numbers like eight and nine were being thrown around for how long a team would have to commit to Pujols. That seems ludicrous considering Pujols is 32 and will be 42 by the end of that contract. But that is just the way the market has played out over the last few years. Would you have ever guessed that A.J. Burnett and his 4.10 career ERA would get paid $82.5 million for five years? How about Gary Matthews Jr. and his $50 million for five years? You want talent? Get ready to pay for it.
The Angels opened up the pocket books this offseason, spending nearly $320 million alone on Pujols and C.J. Wilson. This organization knows that it was never going to win a World Series title with Torii Hunter batting cleanup and without a viable #4 starter. The moves were spot on, but because of King Albert’s age, there is a small time frame to win. Just like the Lakers only have three or four years to win with Kobe Bryant in his prime, the Angels only have three or four years before Pujols starts showing his age. The pressure on the Angels to win is immense not only because of the small window you have to take advantage of Pujols’s talent, but also because there is a team over in Texas that is stock piling talent.
The Rangers are coming off back-to-back World Series losses and are only going to get better. There is no doubt that Wilson leaving Texas for Anaheim was a huge blow to the Rangers, but Nolan Ryan and company wasted no time in replacing Wilson with Yu Darvish. The Rangers are not a one-hit wonder, and as a matter of fact, this team could find itself in the World Series more than the Angels in the next decade. The talent level in the minor leagues is outstanding, and the major league talent is clearly impressive. The young talent paired with the Rangers willingness to spend should scare everyone in a red and white jersey.
The Rangers aren’t the only team that should worry Angels fans, because there are two teams over on the east coast that have their fair share of World Series experience. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will spend and spend and spend some more until they get the talent that will bring them a World Series. Luckily for the Angels, both of these teams are going through a major, albeit short, rough patch. The Red Sox are coming off a year in which they blew a nine-game lead to cost themselves a playoff spot and the Yankees are starting to realize that it takes more than a powerful lineup to win a seven-game series.
The backlash was enormous in Boston, with Theo Epstein and Terry Francona forced to leave Boston to save their reputations. Francona quickly found a job in an ESPN booth, while Epstein decided to take on the challenge of trying to bring a World Series to Chicago for the first time since 1908. There are still concerns about the lack of focus in Beantown, but everyone around baseball knows that the Red Sox new GM, Ben Cherington, will right the ship.
The Yankees are a step ahead of Boston with a solid manager and GM in place, but the ownership still seems a little disorganized with Hal Steinbrenner in charge. However, Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman finally realized this winter that the Yankees need pitching to win a World Series. The first move was trading away prized catching prospect Jesus Montero for a rising ace in Michael Pineda. A day later came the signing of former Dodgers stud Hiroki Kuroda.
The last two World Series champs have featured teams that had solid offenses, but were able to out pitch their opponents. The Rangers know this, the Yankees are starting to learn and the Red Sox will figure that out very soon. The Angels were lucky enough to have the pitching in place, but didn’t have the hitting. Like the Yankees have shown, all you need is a few hundred million dollars to throw at a couple hitters and those worries will melt away. Bringing Pujols to Anaheim was an absolute home run signing, but those home runs that Pujols hits will start to decline in a couple years. These next few years, the Angels should have a consistent lineup featuring Pujols, Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and up and coming prospect, Mike Trout. Pair those hitters with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and C.J. Wilson and the Angels have no excuse to not bring home a World Series title to Anaheim. If they win, then one man should get a great deal of credit. Albert Pujols.