12/26/12 10:00 AM ET
Expectations mark beginning, end of Angels' 2012
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
It began with the promise of World Series contention after the pricey offseason signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. And it ended very similarly, with the lofty expectations that came with the surprising acquisition of Josh Hamilton.
But in between -- amid Mike Trout's historic season, Jered Weaver's no-hitter, Torii Hunter's emphatic exit, Kendrys Morales' impressive comeback and Zack Greinke's cup of coffee -- was general disappointment. The Angels were never able to fully regain their footing after a rough start to the season and wound up falling short of the playoffs for a third straight year, despite their $160 million payroll.
"You can call it a rollercoaster," Pujols summarized. "There were great moments and bad moments. Up and down."
And for a retrospective look at 2012, here are the five most significant Angels moments of the year:
5. A forgetful, yet telling April
The Angels were feeling about as good as you can heading into Opening Day. The team was healthy and Pujols had already made his presence felt with a blistering spring, putting championship hopes at a premium as the calendar flipped to April.
Then the Angels -- to the collective shock of an entire baseball landscape -- fell flat.
Due to head-scratching offensive struggles and an unreliable bullpen, they began the season 6-14, tying the worst 20-game start in franchise history. They were tight, frustrated, seemingly crumbling under the weight of expectations. And at the center of it all was Pujols, who by May 5 was batting .194, had yet to go deep -- marking a career-high 27-game homerless streak -- and was being booed by his new fans.
The Angels, and Pujols, ultimately recovered. But not fully.
"Regardless of what we have on paper, we have to go out there and make it work," Weaver said. "We didn't make it work the first month of the season."
4. Trouble at the top?
Mike Scioscia's job status came under scrutiny like never before in 2012, even if most of the questions -- or perhaps all of them -- seemed to come from the outside world. The Angels' skipper has brought unrivaled success to the city of Anaheim, and in 2009, owner Arte Moreno rewarded him for that with a 10-year extension that has him signed through 2018.
But '12 was a year of change for the regimented Scioscia. In came rookie general manager Jerry Dipoto, who brought in his personally assembled front office and thus stripped many of the baseball-operations decisions Scioscia reportedly made under former GM Tony Reagins.
Change, naturally, required adjustments and came with growing pains. They also reportedly caused friction. Scioscia clearly disagreed with Dipoto's decision to dismiss his good friend and longtime hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, in mid-May. And when the Angels struggled again late in the second half, reports ran rampant about Scioscia's job being in jeopardy.
Moreno put that to rest on Sept. 23, guaranteeing that Scioscia and Dipoto would return in 2013. But what if the Angels fall short of the playoffs for a fourth straight season after another big-ticket signing? And what if Dipoto and Scioscia don't prove they can co-exist in Year 2?
Winning will be the only cure.
3. Trout steals the show
Everyone knew Trout was good. This good, this fast? No chance.
A nasty virus and shoulder tendinitis, not to mention a loaded big league roster, prompted Trout to start the 2012 season in Triple-A. But a .403 batting average in his first 20 Pacific Coast League games prompted the Angels to call up the 20-year-old Trout and release the 38-year-old Bobby Abreu on April 28.
The hope was that Trout would spark them. By the end, he became one of baseball's most riveting storylines.
Trout finished as the only player -- any age, any tenure -- to combine 45 steals with 125 runs and 30 homers, not to mention a .320-plus batting average. He robbed four home runs, graced the covers of ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated, posted the highest single-season Wins Above Replacement in 10 years, made the AL All-Star team, was the unanimous choice for the AL Rookie of the Year Award and turned heads on an almost-nightly basis.
"Coming into the year, getting the callup and playing every day," Trout said, "I had confidence in myself and I knew what my potential was."
Along the way, Trout spawned a contentious MVP debate, seemingly pinning new school vs. old school in a matchup against Miguel Cabrera and his Triple Crown. The vote, a surprisingly lopsided one, went in favor of Cabrera, denying Trout the honor of being baseball's youngest MVP.
But he should have more chances.
2. Lots of talent, too much inconsistency
Scan through the Angels' 2012 roster, and it only makes their playoff absence more befuddling.
Their dynamic offense -- with Trout and a surging Hunter at the top, followed by the power of Pujols, Morales and Mark Trumbo -- led the Majors in runs per game from the start of May to the end of the season. And when they traded for Greinke in late July -- adding him to a staff that already included Weaver, Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana -- they boasted five All-Stars in their rotation.
But the Angels proved to be too streaky.
For about a five-week stretch after the All-Star break, the star-studded rotation struggled mightily as a whole, posting a 5.50 ERA that ranked 28th in the Majors from July 13-Aug. 19. Throughout the whole year, a thin bullpen was mostly a hindrance, tying the AL lead with 22 blown saves and in the process halting momentum. And in between were numerous hard-to-swallow losses (see: Aug. 1 in Texas, Aug. 18 vs. Rays, Sept. 15 in Kansas City and -- the crushing one -- Sept. 30 in Texas).
"These stretches that we went through, early in the year and then just after the All-Star break," Haren said, "if we would've played just a little bit better, we wouldn't be on the outside looking in."
1. Another eventful offseason
Dipoto's second offseason as Angels GM has once again been eventful, with tough breakups and a shocking pairing.
The Angels couldn't agree on a deal with Hunter, prompting the emotional leader and fan favorite to sign a two-year, $26 million contract with the Tigers. Dipoto then traded away the home-grown Santana to the Royals, bought out Haren and watched Maicer Izturis leave to the Blue Jays.
But even with all that payroll flexibility, the Angels still didn't feel comfortable meeting Greinke's contractual demands. So, as Greinke negotiated an eventual $147 million deal with the free-spending Dodgers, Dipoto addressed his pitching staff moderately, adding two starters (Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton) and two relievers (Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson) at reasonable prices.
That put the 2013 payroll at roughly $140 million, which was just about the preset limit heading into the offseason and seemed to mean the Angels were done making big free-agent signings.
Except they weren't.
Moreno once again decided to, as he put it, "blow up the budget" by signing Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million deal on Dec. 13. Unbeknownst to anyone outside the organization, the former Rangers outfielder was the Angels' preference all offseason because of the dual impact it had, giving Scioscia one of baseball's deepest offenses while also providing Dipoto with the flexibility to trade Morales to the Mariners for starting pitcher Jason Vargas six days later, thus filling up his rotation.
"I started off with the Devil Rays," Hamilton said, "and now I'm an Angel."
Hamilton's career has come full circle.
So has the Angels' year.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.