How is it that owner Arte Moreno goes out and spends more money than anyone else in the baseball world two years running to pluck the best-hitting free agent on the market and his team gets worse?
Don’t you think he is sitting in the owner’s box quietly fuming, wondering just what the heck is going on with his sure-fire investments? Coup no. 1 was signing Albert Pujols for the 2012 season. Maybe he paid a little bit too much for too long, but did anyone believe that Albert wasn’t going to remain one of the premier hitters in the game for another four years or so? Well, it hasn’t worked that way, not yet at least.
Coup no. 2 was signing Josh Hamilton for the 2013 season. Once again it could be questioned whether Hamilton was paid too much for too long, but he was a stud hitter bound to produce big numbers for another three years, at least. Yet Hamilton has done nada.
And the scariest part of the whole shebang is that the Angels are fighting it out for the cellar of the American League West Division with the Houston Astros, not fighting it out for the division crown with the Texas Rangers. The Angels are two-and-a-half games ahead of the Astros and nine games behind the Rangers.
Now it is only mid-May, so all hope is not lost, especially given the way the Rangers forfeited its early-season lead last year. But after spending big and shaping what he thought might have been a World Series contender last year, Moreno couldn’t have been too happy to find himself as the boss of a team that missed the playoffs altogether. And the Angels are on the same grim path right now.
At the end of the baseball day Thursday Pujols was batting .238. He did have five home runs and 19 RBIs, which is OK, but his average is around his weight. Hamilton had four home runs and 11 runs batted in and was batting .213 and that’s primarily because he’s been on a hot streak lately. Each of these guys is earning around $25 million a year.
Now Pujols and Hamilton are perfectly capable of going on huge, month-long tears, where they do the Roy Hobbs-knock-the-cover-off-the-ball thing. Anyone who is a real baseball fan would like to see them break out of their slumps and get their numbers back into the stratosphere. This has nothing to do with being an Angels fan, though of course they are the most disappointed among the spectators.
From age 21 to 30, Pujols was being compared to the best players in the history of the game. Then, in 2011 he got stuck on 99 RBIs and a .299 batting average, the first time he missed out on 100 and .300 in his career. Last year he started very slowly, but ended up with 30 homers and 105 RBIs, but had the lowest average of his career at .285.
So what’s up with Pujols? There have been some injuries, but none that knocked him out for a season, or most of one. His on-base-percentage has sunk like the Titantic, over the last three seasons dropping from .366 in 2011 to .322 this season after a more normal .414 in 2010. Pujols is only 33, so he is not too old. But something is off, for sure.
As for Hamilton, for the last several years he has been the most feared slugger in the American League. He won a Most Valuable Player award. He won a batting title. Wherever he traveled he bashed dents into outfield walls with his line drives when his fly balls weren’t carrying over them.
Suddenly he can’t hit at all. Going into the weekend Hamilton had 41 strikeouts to eight walks. That’s the kind of flailing reserved for rookies who don’t recognize the curveball. Hamilton smacked 43 home runs with 128 RBIs last year and he is just 31.
It was considered very unlikely that the Angels would take a run at Hamilton after signing Pujols to a long-term deal the year before. It is almost impossble for the average fan to believe that both men lost their hitting stroke as soon as they moved to the West Coast.
And if baseball fans can’t fathom it, how do you think Arte Moreno feels? He thought he was hiring a modern-day Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig combo. So far he probably feels he ended up with Abbott and Costello instead.