Pujols, Wilson and All the Unanswered Questions

Such big news for the Angels today as they add both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.  But amidst all this excitement there are also so many questions to be answered about how these shocking moves came to be and what they will mean going forward.  Don’t worry, I’m not here to harsh your buzz, just here to help put everything in perspective.

Question #1 – WTF?  Or, how did the Angels decide to make these crazy moves?

I’ll be the first to admit, up until this morning I was certain that Pujols was going to re-sign with the Cardinals.  I was also shocked when the Angels even emerged as serious bidders.  Literally everything about signing Pujols flies in the face of what Arte Moreno said after they lost out on Carl Crawford last off-season.  I could see how they might be able to pinch some pennies and fit Pujols in for $26 million per year, but never thought he would go for a ten year deal.  And in my wildest dreams I never thought he would double down on the move by signing C.J. Wilson too.

The only conclusions I can draw are that Moreno got fed up with two years of no playoffs and also realized he had a chance to really steal some of the LA and national baseball market by landing a marquee player like Pujols.  Moreno has always made winning a priority, but has always been hesitant to do so at the cost of being profitable.  But he also has been dead serious since he bought the team about turning the Angels into a team with a national following, which is why he changed the name from Anaheim to Los Angeles in the first place.  While he chickened out with Crawford, an excellent player, but one who is not a household name to casual fans, he saw a golden opportunity to get close to his goal by signing Pujols.

Also, Jerry Dipoto must be one hell of a convincing guy.  Forget that he talked Pujols and Wilson into signing, but more that he talked Moreno into doing what he seemed irrationally scared of doing this time last year.  The fact that Dipoto got Arte to sign off on both players speaks to what a sell job it must’ve been.  If Moreno was trying to play it somewhat safe, he would have just grabbed Pujols and then asked Dipoto to find ways to slash payroll elsewhere.  But no, Jerry convinced him that they had to go big on this or not go at all.  In fact, I hope that is the team slogan this year “GO BIG.”

Ultimately though, I am convinced this spending spree is about two words:  World Series.  Let’s face it, the Angels have been going backwards the last few seasons.  It has been frustrating to the fans, the coaches, the players and you know it had to be killing Arte Moreno, especially when the Rangers got to come to Anaheim to do an AL West victory lap.  Sure, maybe this move finally puts the Angels in front of the Dodgers in LA, but that is really just gravy for the Halos.  They did this to win championships.  Plural.  That is what will really help Moreno accomplish his goals for this franchise.

Question #2 – How is Arte going to pay for all of this?

Oh, right, that.  I have no idea.  Some money is bound to come from Pujols’ mere presence.  The Angels will draw more in ticket sales and merchandise sales, but since they already do so well there, it won’t nearly cover the costs.  As much as he might begrudge doing it, Arte might have to renege on his promise from last off-season to not raise ticket prices.  I just don’t see anyway he can go what is looking like at least $25 million over their payroll from last season without trying to pass some of that back onto the fan.  But again, that won’t cover it all.

What you will hear a lot about is the Angels next TV contract.  They were already headed for a big windfall there, but having Pujols locked up for so long should only sweeten that pot more.  The added revenue from that deal will definitely help cover a lot of this additional payroll, but it also won’t kick in until 2015 (I think).  Maybe Arte will just accept that he will operate at a loss until the TV deal kicks in or maybe he will still have Dipoto look for a way to dump Bobby Abreu’s money (and maybe Wells too, but that is a pipe dream).

There is also the assumption that the Angels will carry this big of a payroll going forward.  Don’t forget, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu both come off the books at the end of the season, which will save some money.  But also, Howie Kendrick, Chris Iannetta, Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar will hit free agency.  Will the Halos keep the payroll at sky high levels to keep them?  If so, which ones?  That will be a very interesting subplot to track this off-season.

Question #3 – So when do we get to start hating Albert’s contract?

Ah, yes, the elephant in the room.  From what I have seen on Twitter, the answer for some people to this question is “now.”  If you ask me, that seems a bit extreme.  Obviously the big spending isn’t hurting the Angels right now as they were able to bring in Wilson.  But a few years from now it could be an albatross.  But before we delve to far into this, let me remind you of one thing:

ALBERT PUJOLS IS THE BEST PLAYER OF HIS GENERATION!!!!!!!!

Thanks, had to get that out, because not everyone seems to be aware of that.  I don’t totally blame them though, this contract has mistake written all over it.  But it isn’t going to be an immediate mistake.  Pujols is still putting up MVP numbers and there is little reason to believe he can’t continue to do so for at least three more years.  That, of course, leaves seven years to worry about.  Even the most optimistic amongst us has to realize that it is highly unlikely Pujols will be worth the money by year eight of his deal.

There are a few mitigating circumstance here though.  For one, we don’t know how the money is distributed yet.  It could be front-loaded, it could be back-loaded.  That will make a difference in how and when this contract will become a killer.  There is also that question about his “real” age. 

Maybe folks are caught up in the Obama birther aftermath, but this topic has taken on new life this off-season.  Rumors of Pujols lying about his age have always dogged him, but nobody has ever had proof to say he is lying other than he looks older.  There is though lots of evidence that support him being honest. First, he never dominated the minors like a guy who was several years amongst his age level.  Then in the majors, his career progression has matched with his reported age.  Also, let’s not forget that Pujols is a very religious man.  That doesn’t wash with a guy perpetuating what is essentially fraud by lying about his age since he was in high school all so he could get more money.

Whatever his age is, the Halos best hope he ages well.  He did get hurt last season, but that was a fluke injury.  And he seems to be capable of superhuman physical feats, so there is a chance that he just is a special human being who will continue to crush baseballs until the day he dies.  Moving to DH once his legs start to go won’t hurt either.

To make a long answer short though, the over/under on when this contract becomes unarguably disdainful is probably 2018.

Question #4 – Why are Rangers fans laughing at us?

OK, time to talk about C.J. Wilson, after all, he is a big part of this too.

Maybe it is just sour grapes, but Ranger fans seem to be uniformly mocking the Halos for signing Wilson even though the general baseball media is in agreement that the money and years for him is perfectly sensible.

This worries me.  Texas fans know C.J. better than anyone and might have good cause to believe he is wildly overrated.  I’ve long equated this to when the Angels let John Lackey go and then scoffed at the Red Sox for giving him so much money.  The Angels proved right there and maybe the Rangers will prove right here.  One thing that seems to be in the Angels’ favor is that Wilson doesn’t have health red flags like Lackey did.  If anything, it just appears to be based around Wilson performing poorly in the post-season.  Again, sour grapes.

Part of it might also be Wilson’s personality.  He is a different cat who isn’t afraid to speak his mind and express non-mainstream opinions.  That kind of stuff doesn’t really fly in the very red state of Texas.  But in the very blue state of California, he should fit in just fine.  And with so many strong leaders in the Angel clubhouse, especially with Pujols now added, everyone is sure to make sure Wilson’s unique personality doesn’t become a distraction.

Question #5 – Trumbo is gone now right?

That is the early assumption, but I don’t think it is going to be the case, at least not right away.  Those assuming Trumbo is going to be traded tend to also be assuming Kendrys Morales will be coming back too.  Therein lies the rub.

The Halos have stated they aren’t counting on Kendrys, and frankly, I think the Pujols addition strongly suggests they know Morales won’t ever be the same.  So if Kendrys can’t comeback, then the Angels need a DH.  They could call up Trout and have Wells and Abreu DH, but they could also just keep Trout in Triple-A, Wells in left and let Trumbo DH with a bit of Abreu mixed in.  The need to keep Trumbo, who by the way is dirt cheap for the next few years which is a major reason to keep him now, is very much based on preserving depth.  That goes for beyond this season too.  With Hunter and Abreu likely gone, there is most definitely a role for Trumbo in 2013 and beyond.

Now, if Morales does come all the way back, the Halos can talk about trading Trumbo at mid-season.  That seems like the most likely scenario.  Trumbo is plenty valuable enough to bring back whatever the Angels feel they need to push them over the top, assuming they aren’t already there.

And based on the way Dipoto is talking since announcing the signings, he wants to keep Trumbo and he has made a lot of allusions to moving him to third base on more than just a part-time basis.  I still don’t think that is practical, but it would be a creative way to maximize the value of the current roster and Dipoto is most certainly a creative guy.

Question #6 – Who is the secret big winner of this trade?

Vernon Wells, no doubt.

Just think about it, all the pressure was on him to perform in 2011.  He even admitted that pressure got to him.  But in 2012… no pressure.  At all. 

All eyes will be on Pujols.  Whatever Wells does, good or bad, will barely register on the radar with Angel fans now.  If that doesn’t free him up to relax and perform to his full capacity, I don’t know what will.  I also don’t know what his full capacity is anymore, but there aren’t any obstacles to him attaining that now.

Question #7 – Do the Angels have anything else up their sleeves?

I can’t imagine it is much.  Maybe they add some very minor bench and bullpen help, but it is hard to see them making any more major moves.

The biggest thing they might do is dump salary.  These additions have taken the Angels close to the luxury tax line and one would think they will try and avoid paying that if they can.  Maybe that means finding someone to take on part of Abreu’s contract, but that is about it.

For all the speculation of Ervin Santana being moved now that Wilson is on board, that isn’t going to happen.  It is now quite obvious that the Angels plan is to ride a Pujols and a stacked rotation to a championship.  Trading Santana makes no sense under that plan.

Question #8 – Finally, does this make the Angels the favorites in the AL West?  The American League?  All of baseball?

These additions most definitely make the Angels real World Series contenders, maybe not the favorites, but they will most certainly be mentioned in the first group of teams that people think will win it all in 2012.  The funny part is that one of those other teams will also be the Texas Rangers, which means that it is possible that the Angels still might not even be favorites in the AL West.

My thoughts on that are that everyone agrees that Texas had a big talent advantage over the Angels and it took them until the final week of the season to clinch the division.  Now, the teams are pretty close to even in talent and I’m sure both sides can make arguments that one team has more talent than the other, but the difference is not great.  The thing with Texas is that their lineup is still stacked and still probably a good bit better than the Angels’ lineup.  The Texas rotation is a big question mark after losing Wilson, but they are adding Feliz to it and could add Yu Darvish or maybe Roy Oswalt.  If all of their pitchers have career years again, their rotation might not be far behind the Halos’ rotation.

Let’s just go ahead and call them co-favorites.

Question #9 – Who is your new favorite Angel?

Most people are going to say Pujols, but I’m going with Jerry Dipoto.  Not enough can be said about what he accomplished in these Winter Meetings.  He basically reversed an entire 50 years of Angels history in one morning.  That isn’t easy to do.  I’ve never been more happy to have Tony Reagins gone.

Garrett Wilson

About Garrett Wilson

Garrett Wilson is the Supreme Overlord of Monkeywithahalo.com and editor at The Outside Corner. He's an Ivy League graduate, but not from one of the impressive ones. You shouldn't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he is angry.

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