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Angels hope pieces are in place for a rebound

After underachieving last season, the club expects better results in 2011 thanks partly to an improved offense, bullpen and outfield defense.

March 30, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • The Angels hope the acquisition of outfielder Vernon Wells in combination with other offseason moves will help the team become a World Series contender.
The Angels hope the acquisition of outfielder Vernon Wells in combination… (Associated Press )

Finish 80-82 in Pittsburgh or Kansas City, and fans and team officials are doing cartwheels in the streets.

Finish 80-82 in Anaheim, as the Angels did last season, and fans are irate, the scouting director and head trainer are fired, and the owner is "angry, disappointed," and vows to "spend whatever it takes to return to the playoffs."

Most years before 2002, an 80-82 mark by the Angels would have been deemed a success, but the 2002 World Series championship and five American League West titles from 2004 to 2009 changed all that.

"We place high expectations on ourselves, so a season like last year is not acceptable," General Manager Tony Reagins said. "We feel we're better than last year."

This is exactly what Arte Moreno envisioned when he bought the Angels in 2003: a perennial contender on the field, a big-market spender off it, and high expectations everywhere.

"I think it's good that the culture has changed," Moreno said. "These fans want to be associated with a winner, not a loser."

The Angels made the playoffs three times in their first 40 years. They've reached the playoffs six times in nine years entering their 50th-anniversary season, which opens Thursday in Kansas City.

"We've invested heavily in our team, our minor league system," Moreno said. "When you invest, you're expected to perform."

They did not perform well in 2010, a season marred by Kendrys Morales' broken leg, well-below-par offensive years from most regulars and shaky defense.

The Angels ranked 27th among 30 major league teams with a .311 on-base percentage, scored 202 fewer runs than in 2009 and failed to make the playoffs for only the second time since 2004.

The Angels addressed three big needs — offense, bullpen and outfield defense — by trading for outfielder Vernon Wells, who hit 31 home runs for Toronto last season, and signing left-handed relievers Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi.

But the addition of Wells is offset at least temporarily by the loss of Morales, whose rehabilitation is going slower than expected. He probably won't return until May.

If Morales regains his 2009 form, when he hit .306 with 34 homers and 108 runs batted in, the Angels will have a solid middle of the order with Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, Morales and Wells.

Productive seasons by infielders Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis would add depth, and speedy center fielder Peter Bourjos seems poised for a breakout year.

The Angels have a solid rotation front four with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro, but No. 5 starter Scott Kazmir looked awful for most of the spring.

The back of the bullpen is also shaky with closer Fernando Rodney, but Downs could slide to the ninth inning, and 99-mph-throwing Jordan Walden is a closer-in-waiting.

Defensively, the outfield went from one of baseball's worst, with Abreu and Juan Rivera flanking Hunter, to one of the best, with Wells and Hunter, who have combined for 12 Gold Gloves, flanking the speedy Bourjos.

The Angels hope rookie first baseman Mark Trumbo, who had six homers and 20 RBIs this spring, and bounce-back years from several veterans can ease Morales' loss.

If not, the Angels will look outside for help, as they did over the winter, with their failed pursuits of free agents Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre and their acquisition of the pricey Wells ($81 million).

The Angels enter 2011 with a payroll of $140 million, "but if we need to add a piece or make a trade, we have the flexibility to do that," Reagins said. "We want to win a World Series, and we're going to do whatever it takes to accomplish our goal."

Texas and Oakland are substantial roadblocks. The Rangers can't match the Angels' rotation, but they have a superior lineup with Josh Hamilton, Beltre, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz and former Angels catcher Mike Napoli.

The Athletics don't appear as good offensively as the Angels, but they have a better pitching staff, led by young starters Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden.

The Angels haven't missed the playoffs in consecutive years since 2000-2001, but most publications pick them to finish third. So, they might benefit from a little chip-on-the-shoulder mentality.

"I see a determination," Reagins said. "What we're hearing from guys is, 'I'm going to show you last year is not the type of player I am.' "

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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