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2012 AL West Previews: Albert Pujols, Los Angels Angels Are Contenders

After signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the Angels are primed to give the Rangers a run for their money in the AL West.

Mar. 27, 2012; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols (5) grounds out during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE
Mar. 27, 2012; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols (5) grounds out during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Coming into the offseason, the Los Angeles Angels weren't expected to make a huge splash in free agency. Thanks to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson agreeing to backload their contracts, with Pujols set to earn $12 million in 2012 and Wilson set to earn $10 million, the Angels were able to fit both of them into their budget, and sign them both to long-term deals.

Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreo knew the Angels had to make changes in order to dethrone the two-time defending American League, and AL West, champion Texas Rangers.

Last year, the Angels finished in second place behind the Rangers, and kind-of-almost-sort-of gave them a run for their money last August and September, but not quite. This is despite having a Cy Young quality season form Jered Weaver and an excellent campaign from Dan Haren.

Los Angeles' problem last year was on offense, where the Angels finished 10th in the American League in OPS, with only the White Sox, A's, Twins and Mariners finishing worse in OPS. Even worse, the Angels finished 11th in team OBP.

So how did they go about solving this? Well, signing one of the best hitters in baseball history sure helps. Yeah, the Albert Pujols signing won't look so great in five years, when there's another five years left to go on the contract, but Pujols will help a lot in the immediate future.

Los Angeles' lineup will also get a boost from Kendry Morales, who has missed the better part of the last two years due to a broken leg he suffered when celebrating a walk off homer. If Morales is hitting anything like he was in 2009 or 2010 before he was injured, he'll certainly be a pretty welcome addition to Los Angeles' lineup.

Is the Angels' offense scary? No, not at all. Vernon Wells is not a good hitter. Torii Hunter is fairly mediocre. Chris Iannetta posted a .172/.321/.266 line away from Coors Field last year. Small sample size? OK, sure, how about his three year split away from Coors: .171/.308/.300.

Still, if Pujols is Pujols, then everybody around him will be better. If Mike Scioscia can handle benching Wells, the Angels will likely get a boost midway through the year if and when uber-prospect Mike Trout is promoted.

Defensively, the Angels are pretty sound. Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick and Pujols are all varying degrees of good to excellent in the infield, and Peter Bourjos is maybe the best defensive centerfielder in baseball. Vernon Wells was abysmal in 2011 in left field, and there's no reason to think he'll progress. Mark Trumbo likely isn't going to be stellar at third base, but it's unknown how often he's going to start there.

It's not exactly a secret where Los Angeles' strength is. After signing C.J. Wilson over the winter, Los Angeles' rotation is now pretty excellent, with Weaver, Haren, Wilson and Ervin Santana. Either Jerome Williams or Garrett Richards will man the fifth spot. Still, that's four top of the rotation caliber starters, and the Angels will have an excellent chance to win each time those four take the mound.

Los Angeles' bullpen, though, isn't that sound. Jordan Walden is the closer, and while he's good, he's certainly not dominant, and was much more hittable after the All-Star break last year.

Scott Downs, though, should remain an excellent set up man, and he certainly excels at getting lefties out. Having to rely on LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Isringhausen or Hisanori Takahashi as a righty set up man isn't a good thing, but that's something the Angels can address as the season goes on should they falter.

So what do the offseason media darlings add up to? A pretty good baseball team, with an excellent staff and an offense anchored by one of the best hitters of all-time. Are the Angels a lock for the playoffs? Nope, but they're sure a good bet to reach the playoffs in some capacity.

Ron Washington's Rangers will certainly be given a run for their money in the AL West, and it should be a pretty great race between Texas and Los Angeles all the way through the season.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.