Angels Look to Conquer AL West With Pujols and Wilson

December 10, 2011

Anaheim, CA -- In front of thousands of cheering fans lined up six rows deep to get a glimpse of Southern California's two newest stars, the Angels introduced their latest high-profile acquisitions, slugger Albert Pujols and ace C.J. Wilson.

The signings not only put the Halos in a position to win the AL West and the World Series, but also could finally help them win their battle with the Dodgers for the hearts and minds of Southland baseball fans.

But first to Pujols.  A nine-time All-Star and three-time MVP, Pujols is the best hitter of his generation and instantly fills the team's need for a big bat in their lineup.

A career .328 hitter with 445 blasts and 1,329 RBIs, Pujols is also the only player in MLB history to hit 30 homers in each of his first 11 seasons.

When asked if the departure of St. Louis manager Tony La Russa affected his decision, Pujols flatly stated, "not at all."  He explained that leaving the Cardinals was a "tough decision," and that he and his wife "prayed about it."

Although he is coming off a slightly down year by his impeccable standards (.299, 37 homers), his three-home run performance in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series should dispel any notion that his skills might rapidly erode.

Pujols is 31, and has been inked to a 10-year deal reportedly in the $254 million range. Nevertheless, the age issue should be mitigated somewhat in the back half of the deal because he will be able to play as a DH later in his career.

More importantly, Pujols provides the Angels lineup with a much-needed facelift.

Not only does he have the type of stick that can carry a club when he gets hot, but he also should improve the hitters around him.  His presence instantly will make an otherwise average group into a potent unit, as players such as Torii Hunter and Mark Trumbo will be allowed to hit in their more natural spots in the batting order.

Throw a healthy Kendrys Morales into the mix, and suddenly the Angels might have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to pop in the lineup.

Meanwhile, Wilson, 31, was the premiere free-agent arm on the market, posting a 16-7 record in 2011 with 206 K's and a 2.94 ERA. His deal was for five years and a reported $77.5 million.

The lefty starter boosts the Angels Weaver-Haren-Santana rotation to perhaps the second-best in all of baseball, behind only the Phillies. In addition, his acquisition weakens division rival Texas, removing a vital part of their starting rotation.

Wilson, a local Orange County product, appeared thrilled to be coming home, stating that the Angels are "a first class organization. There's no better manager than Mike Scioscia. And no better rotation."

Also in attendance at Saturday's press conference were ace Jered Weaver and veteran outfielder Torii Hunter.

Hunter seemed positively thrilled at the Pujols signing, saying that when he heard the news "I fell over."

Hunter plans to observe Pujols "in the cage. You're never too old to learn."  He also noted that everyone in the lineup will "now get some better pitches to hit because nobody will want to face" Pujols.

For Weaver the signings were particularly gratifying, considering that he gave the team a discount on his contract in the hope that the money saved would be allocated toward a premiere free agent.

When he heard the news about Pujols, Weaver claimed that "he ran around the house screaming like a kid."

The signing of Pujols and Wilson finally puts the Angels on the map as a true big market franchise comparable to the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies.

Long seen as the red-headed stepchild of the Los Angeles market -- and for good reason -- the combination of the Angels' stability under Arte Moreno, and the Dodgers fall into hostage status under Frank McCourt's incompetence, has nearly evened the playing field for local fans.

Now for the first time in Southern California's history, the Angels may be taking the lead in the hearts and minds war.

So while the Dodgers add a bunch of journeymen and utility players to their roster, the Angels have added two legit stars.  And as McCourt struggles with Fox in bankruptcy court and looks for a buyer for his debt-ridden franchise, Arte Moreno is simply looking to bring another championship to Anaheim.

As the press conference came to a close Saturday afternoon, Arte Moreno was surrounded by a cluster of reporters near the stadium's Diamond Club restaurant entrance.

Moreno pointed out that there was more work to do and that the team was "still trying to trade for a reliever."

Man, things really have changed in Southern California.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for The Daily Sports Herald

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