We’ve seen renewed speculation over the past 24 hours that the Cardinals could make a run at Roy Oswalt now that Chris Carpenter is sidelined indefinitely due to nerve irritation in his shoulder. While that may still happen, it appears that a surprise team has entered the mix.
Jim Bowden of ESPN.com and MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM reported in the wee small hours of the morning that the Angels have “suddenly” emerged as the frontrunner for Oswalt’s services. He adds that the Red Sox are still in the picture while the Cardinals and Rangers have faded as possible landing spots.
The assumption all winter was that Oswalt preferred to pitch for St. Louis or Texas in order to be closer to his home in Mississippi, but it appears that he’s willing to broaden his scope with a midseason return in mind. As ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick recently noted, Oswalt’s kids will done with school in June, so he could bring his family with him wherever he goes.
The Angels have Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana leading their rotation, but they don’t have much in the way of quality depth beyond that. Jerome Williams entered spring training as the favorite for the fifth starter gig, but he is working his way back from a hamstring injury. Other possibilities include Garrett Richards, Trevor Bell, Brad Mills and Eric Hurley.
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: the Los Angeles Angels of Pujols.
The Big Question: Did the Angels buy themselves the A.L. West this winter?
The Angels made the biggest splashes of the offseason: Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. But there was more paper crossing Jerry Dipoto’s desk than just the Pujols and Wilson deals. The Angels signed Howie Kendrick to a four-year, $33.5 million extension. They also brought in Chris Iannetta to replace the woeful Jeff Mathis behind the plate. Add that to what is one of the best rotations in baseball and it’s hard not to see why so many people are dubbing the Angels “Yankees West.”
That said, this is an Angels team that still finished ten games back of the Rangers, and it’s not like the Rangers have taken a step back. Pujols will improve the offense, but it was still an offense that was 10th in the AL in runs scored last year. Upshot: this is a team that has improved a lot, but it’s a team that had to improve a lot to keep up with their division rival from Texas. Don’t crown them yet.
What else is going on?
- Sometimes I think that someone told Dipoto that the zombie apocalypse is coming and that the only defense is to stockpile 1B/LF/DH types. Between Pujols, Kendrys Morales, Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells and Mark Trumbo, the Halos have way too many corner guys. And that’s before you realize that some of them are blocking Mike Trout, who will start the season in Triple-A.
- All of that muscle aside, the real key to how the offense does may well be the table setters: Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar. Strong seasons from those two and Pujols will be coming to bat with men on base which, hopefully, will keep the opposition from just walking him.
- The rotation is clearly the strength of this team with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana going 1-4. There’s not a ton of starting pitching depth here, however. The fifth guy is probably Jerome Williams, and he would be followed up by guys like Garrett Richards, Trevor Bell, Brad Mills, and Eric Hurley. If the injury bug comes buzzing around the rotation, the Angels could be in trouble.
- How we feeling about the pen? Jordan Walden had some superficially good numbers as the closer last year — 32 saves, a 2.98 ERA, and 67 strikeouts in 60.1 innings — but he was inconsistent and blew ten saves. There is a lot of talent in the Angels bullpen, but if Walden gives Mike Scioscia headaches, it could all get shuffled around.
How are they gonna do?
Quite well, thanks. Like I said above: they have improved tremendously. But they are not as good an offensive team as the Rangers and are not as deep. I think the Pujols and Wilson additions pulled them close, but not ahead, and certainly not clearly ahead. This will likely be a bloodbath, and I expect the race between Texas and Anaheim to go down to the wire.
UPDATE: Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reports that Williams was diagnosed with a mild strain of his left hamstring.
It’s not clear when he’ll resume throwing, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia told Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com earlier today that Williams will still have plenty of time to get ready for the season, as the club won’t need a fifth starter for the first time until April 15 against the Yankees.
Friday, 9:30 PM: Jerome Williams enters spring training as the favorite for the Angels’ fifth starter job after posting a surprising 3.68 ERA and 28/15 K/BB ratio over 44 innings last season during his first stint in the big leagues since 2007. But his grip on an Opening Day roster spot may be in jeopardy after he strained his left hamstring during a defensive drill earlier today.
According to Mark DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, Williams will likely be sidelined for at least the next few days and is scheduled to be examined by team physician Dr. Lewis Yocum tomorrow.
The Angels can afford to take some chances with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana leading their rotation, but Williams is no sure thing to replicate his small sample of success last year. The 30-year-old right-hander likely has a battle on his hands even if he’s healthy, but right-handers Garrett Richards and Trevor Bell and left-hander Brad Mills would move up on the depth chart if he needs to miss significant time.