And the man protecting Pujols is …
That’s the question. One of the biggest questions the Angels will face heading into the 2012 season. There sure seem to be a lot of candidates for that cleanup spot behind Albert Pujols, and, well, that’s the problem. Because there isn’t really one candidate who sticks out as that legit middle-of-the-order threat that will ensure Pujols gets pitches to hit.
In St. Louis, Pujols, of course, had Matt Holliday, who averaged a .319 clip with 28 homers and 104 RBIs the last six years. Even with Holliday batting behind him the last two seasons, Pujols drew 164 walks (11th most in the Majors) and was intentionally walked 53 times (third-most in the Majors in that span). Imagine how many times he’ll walk as a member of the Angels if he doesn’t have a productive cleanup hitter behind him.
Mike Scioscia will try to ensure that’s not the case.
So he’ll have to pick the right man out of these candidates …
Mark Trumbo: This would seem to be the most logical fit. Trumbo basically came out of nowhere last season to put up solid power numbers, with 29 homers and 87 RBIs. But the batting average (.254) and OPS (.768) weren’t particularly good — though that OPS did rise to .861 when hitting with runners in scoring position. Is Trumbo, turning 26 in January, ready to be the man protecting baseball’s best hitter in his second year in the Majors? We’ll see. First, the Angels have to find him a position.
Kendrys Morales: In an ideal world, Morales would return to his 2009 form and — as basically the only one who can bring power from the left side of the plate — would be the man batting behind Pujols. But, right now, that’s a pipe dream. Morales hasn’t been on the field since he broke his left ankle on May 29, 2010, and will have to prove he can run at full speed in Spring Training — never mind be able to produce at an All-Star level throughout the season. The Angels, at least, kept their options open with Morales and tendered him a contract prior to the deadline.
Torii Hunter: Hunter hit fourth more than any other Angels player in 2011, batting .267 with 17 homers and 60 RBIs in 96 games at the cleanup spot (a solid sample size of 367 at-bats). But Hunter, of course, isn’t the player he used to be. His .765 OPS this past season was his lowest since 2003, and he’ll be entering his age-37 — and perhaps final — season. One positive: Hunter is a career .280 hitter with runners in scoring position.
Vernon Wells: Well, his contract — one that will pay him $21 million for each of the next three seasons — certainly suggests that he should be the Angels’ cleanup hitter. His 2011 numbers, however, certainly do not. Wells managed to hit 25 homers and drive in 66 runs, but his slash line of .218/.248/.412 was flat-out horrific. Wells previously said he got away from himself, saying: ”I was trying to hit the ball 500 feet, when you don’t have to do that. I never thought of myself as a home run hitter, but I got caught up in home runs.” If he can revert to even the player of 2010 — one who batted .273 with 31 homers and 88 RBIs — maybe there’s a very slight chance of him batting fourth.
Bobby Abreu: The bigger question, of course, is whether he’ll even be an Angel in 2012. Abreu may be the odd-man out with Pujols in the mix, though his $9 million salary may be tough to move without eating up some money. Abreu has barely ever hit fourth, even when he was at his prime, so there’s little reason to believe he’d be deemed even a part-time cleanup hitter with the 2012 Halos. Two positives: He hits left-handed, and he still works the count as good as anybody. Two bigger negatives: He turns 38 in March, and he hit eight home runs with a .717 OPS last season.