Moreno: “We should be a highly competitive team”

The countdown now stands at eight. In eight days, Angels pitchers and catchers are slated to report to the club’s Spring Training complex in Tempe, Ariz., and several important position players — well, at least Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo — will file in at about the same time.

The Angels have been quiet for a while, with the last big signing being the Howie Kendrick extension of early January, but this was probably already the most successful offseason in franchise history by Dec. 8, when a couple of guys you may have heard of signed on the dotted line.

What that means with regards to what happens in 2012 and beyond? Well, that remains to be seen.

And we’ll start finding out on Feb. 19.

“I really get excited about next week, pitchers and catchers, and players coming in,” Angels owner Arte Moreno said in a phone interview on Saturday. “Everybody’s in first place right now, undefeated.”

I spoke with Arte (he told me to call him that) for a feature on Jerry Dipoto that will run next week, as the last installment of our baseball-operations series, and was able to get into the upcoming season. Here’s what he said about the club …

On not knowing anything until games are played:  We won 86 [games] last year; we had a very good team. We didn’t finish some games off, and we didn’t score the runs, so what we tried to do was improve on what we have. But ultimately, we’re going to tell you what’s going on next October. Everybody’s trying to figure it out right now, but I think at the end of the day, we’re all going to see how our decision-making, our investments, etc., turned out by the end of the year. … Right now, everybody’s undefeated. But there should be a lot of optimism from everybody.

On the uber-competitive American League: On paper, I think we should be a highly competitive team. But you look at Detroit, and Detroit won their division comfortably last year, and they improved their team. With [Justin] Verlander on the front end, it’s always great. Prince [Fielder], he’s a hammer, with him and [Miguel] Cabrera. And then you look at the Yankees, maybe odds-on [favorites]. Boston, I know what happened last year, but Boston’s a very good ballclub. And Tampa, with that young pitching, and [Joe] Maddon, they play great. I’m probably missing a couple of teams, but I think it’s very competitive. You’re going to just have to play them. And I didn’t even talk about Texas, which was in the World Series the last two years. They obviously pound the ball, and they picked up the free-agent Japanese pitcher [Yu Darvish], and that’s always fun. And we get to see a lot of them in spring, which is great.

On the budding Rangers-Angels rivalry: Well, believe it or not, there are 28 other teams than the Rangers and ourselves. … But to me, you look and just say, ‘Right now, they have the brass ring, and it’s our job to try to grab it.’

On the makeup of this team: A lot of the players on our team are home grown. I’ve known a lot of them for a lot of years – in May it’ll be nine years for me – and a lot of these guys, [Kendrys] Morales and Howie Kendrick and [Erick] Aybar and [Alberto] Callaspo — even though he went away for a while, but he’s homegrown. You’ve got [Jered] Weaver and [Ervin] Santana and some of the young bullpen guys, and then [Peter] Bourjos, and we’ll see [Mike] Trout in the spring. And then [Dan] Haren and Weaver and C.J. [Wilson] all grew up in Orange County or close to Orange County.

On Kendrys Morales bouncing back: He’s a really nice young man. We signed him out of Cuba, so he’s always been one of our favorites. It’s always tough to see a kid go down on a walk-off grand slam. Holy mackerel. Game-winner. And he worked hard last year and didn’t get it done. He’s worked hard, so obviously we’d love to see him. A couple of years ago, he was vying for MVPs, so there’s a lot of power from both sides and he hits for average. That’s an important part. That was really the missing piece [last year], and Trumbo did a good job last year stepping in.

On what he expects from Kendrys:  You don’t know until guys go down for Spring Training and see how he feels. What you try to do is get everybody prepared. … I tell people all the time, the fun of it is getting prepared. Everybody thinks that somebody has some kind of special mind-reading ability or something like that. But the fun of baseball is that every day is a new day and you’ve got a new game and you’ve got a new season. It’s like running three marathons. We had two teams that got in [the playoffs] on the last day of the season last year, and one of them won the World Series. So, you can write it on the paper upside-down, sideways, whatever, it doesn’t matter.

Other stuff: 

* The Angels’ Top 20 prospects list was revealed today

* Angels assistant equipment manager Shane Demmitt will compete in Round 2 of MLB Network’s game show “Baseball IQ” on Wednesday at 6 p.m. PT, against Mariners special assistant to the GM Tony Blengino. More info can be found here

* Former Angels broadcasters Rex Hudler and Steve Physioc are joining the Royals. According to The Los Angeles Times, former baseball-operations manager Tory Hernandez is joining Scott Boras’ agency. 



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