12/14/12 8:57 AM ET
Don't be to too quick to crown the Angels
As last winter shows, offseason mega-deals don't always translate to wins
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
Very recent history suggests that anointing a team as a sure thing based on offseason acquisitions is not a particularly productive endeavor.
So, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are to be congratulated for the daily double of adding the immensely talented Josh Hamilton, and simultaneously removing the possibility that Hamilton would return to the rival Texas Rangers. But at the same time, this five-year, $125-million signing might also require accompaniment by a cautionary tale.
The Angels were thought to have "won the offseason" last winter, too. They signed the most prominent free agent in years, Albert Pujols, and they grabbed another prominent Ranger, in that case, lefthander C.J. Wilson. For many people, the only question was when, not if, as in when the Angels would clinch the American League West title.
But then the games had to be played. Pujols had a miserable start to the 2012 season. He rebounded to finish with what would be a career year for most players, but for him was the least productive season of his 12-year career. Wilson, in total, was not far from ordinary. The can't-miss Angels finished third in the AL West.
The reaction to Hamilton's signing is like a replay of the Pujols/Wilson excitement. Yes, Hamilton was the premier position player available on the free-agent market. Yes, on a given day he can be the best player in the game. His combination of skills, when operating at peak capacity, makes him one of the most compelling figures in the entire sport.
But, but, but. Hamilton's history of substance abuse should be, by this time, a very marginal part of the discussion. His injury history is, at this point, more troubling. He has played more than 150 games in a regular season once in his career. Yes, he gets hurt running into walls, but some of his ailments have bordered on the inexplicable.
And, when the Rangers were losing a late lead to the Oakland Athletics, and losing the AL West in the process, Hamilton was part of the problem, not the solution. He struck out 16 times in his last 35 regular season at-bats.
But, planning on the best -- and this is implicitly what happens when a man receives a contract guaranteeing him $125 million -- a healthy Hamilton will help to give the Angels a monster lineup. With Pujols and Hamilton and Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, etc., this group should be extremely difficult to stop, or even slow down for a few at-bats.
What about the other half of the innings? The Angels have fortified their relief corps, with Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett, but their starting rotation, factoring in the departure of Zack Greinke, does not appear to be particularly improved.
It could be that the Angels are not done shopping. Or, with a crowd gathering in the outfield, they could move an outfielder in exchange for pitching. Peter Bourjos may be the best defensive outfielder in the game, but with Hamilton's addition, he could turn into a valuable trading commodity.
The other reason that argues against immediately getting into formation for the Angels' victory parade would be the quality of the remainder of their division, apart from the rebuilding newcomers from Houston.
By the numbers, the AL West was the best division in baseball in 2012. The Rangers may have difficulty replacing Hamilton's impact, but that doesn't mean they'll evaporate. They have pitching in quality and quantity and a strong farm system. They didn't win two AL pennants in a row by chance.
The A's, division winners last season, shocked plenty of people, but when you examined the quality of their pitching, their success was not quite as surprising as it initially seemed. They aren't going to disappear from the face of the planet, either. And the Mariners showed plenty of tangible signs of improvement over the course of the 2012 season.
Overall, the Angels helped themselves and hurt the Rangers with the signing of Josh Hamilton. They have added the free agent with the biggest potential to have the most impact on any given game. And they have spared no expense in doing so.
The Angels' all out effort to get back into the postseason after a three-year absence must be applauded. But the victory celebrations, just as they were last winter, are a bit on the premature side.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.