Power rankings: No. 1 Angels

Angels in fine position with hitting and pitching for something special

Pretty ordinary as a relief pitcher, Jerry DiPoto is a natural as a general manager.

Serving as an interim GM for the Diamondbacks in 2010, DiPoto flipped the switch on the rebuilding that led to an unexpected division title last season, adding Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders and advanced pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs in payroll-reducing trades. He proved an equally quick study after being hired to replace Tony Reagins with the Angels on Oct. 28.

    I have this moment once a year, sometimes twice. I’ll walk away from an interview or an event I just covered and won’t think about my deadline, how the article will turn out or what I could have done better, like I normally do. Instead, I’ll soak in what just happened and think to myself, “Oh, that’s right. I have kind of a cool job.”

    It usually involves something or someone I was a fan of when I was younger. Last year it was getting to go inside the Tumbler from “The Dark Knight” and revving the engine. This year? It was interviewing Goo Goo Dolls singer John Rzeznik. Yeah, I know they’re not Radiohead or Arcade Fire, but I was a fan back in the day. And while I don’t recommend meeting your favorite celebs (just trust me on this one), Rzeznik is an exception. He was incredibly friendly, likable and self-aware.

    So that’s my favorite celebrity interview of 2013. Here's what my Chicago media peers said when I asked for their favorite celebrity interviews of the year:

    Roe Conn, 89 WLS AM’s “Roe & Roeper”: Elton John. His reputation preceded him as a tough, sometimes prickly subject. He was exactly the opposite, warm and engaging with a superstar's charm for self-deprecation.”

    Eric Ferguson, 101.9 FM The Mix’s “Eric & Kathy Show”:Russell Brand. You never know what direction the conversation is going to go.”

    Christopher "Brotha' Fred" Frederick, 103.5 Kiss FM’s "Fred + Angi In The Morning": "Lady Gaga was unexpectedly energetic and forthcoming. In my past experience with her she was far more guarded and terse. I loved her passion for Chicago, sharing that she practically lives here these days, and the appreciation she showed for her local fans."

    Jamar “J Niice” McNeil, B96 96.3’s “The J Show”: “Lady Gaga embodies the true meaning of artist. Everything she does, as weird as it may seem, comes from somewhere. A place that is special to her. Whether we get it or not, she's emotionally invested in her art, her influence and her fans. She was a pleasure to talk to about her work and her personal life -- not to mention her love (for) Chicago. A highlight of my career is being able to get time with Lady Gaga.”

    Michelle “Showbiz Shelly” Menaker, B96 96.3’s “The J Show”: “The best interview of the year was Lady Gaga. She was so candid and open, talking about everything from working with R. Kelly on her new song to doing yoga here in Chicago. While we tend to always see Lady Gaga in some type of crazy get-up or costume, this interview really humanized her, and the passion she has for her fans really bled through.”

    Matt Pais, RedEye: “Sometimes, as with interviews this year with Mark Wahlberg and Alice Eve, a natural rapport is struck that leads to great answers. That wasn't the case with Jeff Garlin -- our time together tiptoed around feeling on edge until it became a heated debate I'll never forget and, more importantly, generated a fascinating and revealing discussion that I like to think taught us both a lesson.”

    Dean Richards, WGN-TV: "Oprah Winfrey was absolutely charming in my interview with her about the movie, ‘The Butler.’ It was interesting, warm and very friendly…something I was surprised by since I had been fairly critical of her many years ago about something that was on her old talk show. I’d interviewed her before and it was always very business-like. This time it was fun, touching and insightful, complete (with) 2-handed high-fives. She even stopped the PR person who was trying to wrap up the interview, saying that she wanted to continue the conversation with me. It was a great interview during which she teared up talking about the power of the film. I’ve been bragging that I made Oprah cry ever since."

    Jeanne Sparrow, WCIU, The U’s “You & Me This Morning”: “My favorite celebrity we interviewed in 2013 is Mario Batali. I could sum up why I loved him in just two words -- Eataly Chicago. But he was also funny, charming and a lot of fun to talk to. I also love that he shares his knowledge of Italian food and cooking in general to help everyday people who love to cook to take our own meals to the next level. Plus, he said we could have a sleepover at Eataly.”

    Ramblin’ Ray Stevens, US 99.5 FM’s "Lisa Dent & Ramblin' Ray Morning Show": "Believe it or not, Paris Hilton. She's an elite socialite and a cute little snob. But for some reason she loves our show and I can always make her laugh. Plus she always sends us a case of her perfume and some hotel robes."

    Kelli Zink, Celebtv.com: Stephen Amell from ‘Arrow.’ CelebTV has a partnership with The CW network and we cover the stars closely. Stephen was even more dynamic in person, and he told me he loves the videos we do on him. It also doesn’t hurt that I have a major crush on him and he’s even more handsome in person.”

    Look for "Chicago media members name their least favorite celeb interviews of 2013" on the blog Friday.

    lgomez@tribune.com | Twitter @TribLuis

    For more celebrity news and sightings in Chicago, go to chicagotribune.com/luis

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DiPoto had been on the job a little more than a month when he pulled off two moves at the winter meetings that shook up the balance of power in the American League West and beyond.

With Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson on a team that already had elite starting pitching, the Angels have given themselves a chance to play the role of favorite 10 years after they announced their presence with a victory over the Giants in the 2002 World Series.

You can quibble about the contract terms, sure. But DiPoto could not have made two better moves for the immediate future than signing Pujols and Wilson.

In doing so, he struck blows that dazed members of the Rangers' front office and got the attention of those working for the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Tigers, as well. Imagine, a middle-innings guy like DiPoto buzzing Nolan Ryan's tower. This was quite a development.

Most analysts thought Pujols would return to the Cardinals. But that wasn't going to happen without owner Bill DeWitt Jr. significantly raising the offer that failed to get a deal with Pujols last spring, and DeWitt had gone as far as he felt his resources would take him. Pujols was there for the taking, and DiPoto took him.

He got the best hitter of the last decade — the best right-handed hitter since Frank Thomas — and all it cost him was $240 million over 10 years and the 19th pick overall in the 2012 draft. That's a lot, but Pujols has been good for at least 32 home runs and 99 RBIs in each of his 10 seasons.

The Angels had a feared lineup in 2009 when they finished second to the Yankees in scoring. But they lost their bite after the Rangers raided them for Vladimir Guerrero two years ago, and things got worse after Kendrys Morales broke his leg and Reagins and manager Mike Scioscia got tired of Mike Napoli, who was traded to the Blue Jays (for Vernon Wells — yuk!) and four days later was moved on to the Rangers. Fans serenaded him at Rangers Ballpark last October.

Thanks in part to Guerrero (in 2010) and Napoli (in 2011), the Rangers outscored the Angels by 282 runs the last two seasons, winning the West and rolling to ALCS victories over the Yankees and Tigers. Pujols, 20-year-old center fielder Mike Trout and catcher Chris Iannetta (acquired from the Rockies) should go a long way toward making up the 141-runs-a-year deficit.

Wilson might be an even bigger upgrade, however.

Jered Weaver (second in Cy Young voting last year, fifth in 2010), Dan Haren and Ervin Santana gave the Angels one of the best trios of starting pitchers in the majors, with a lack of fanfare the biggest difference between them and the guys working for the Giants and Phillies. Wilson, who had emerged as the Rangers' ace, provides a huge upgrade over Joel Piniero, who was the Angels' No. 4 starter last year. He joins Weaver, Haren and Santana to give Scioscia four starters who averaged 232 innings with a 2.97 ERA last year.

The Rangers made a splashier move in winning the Yu Darvish sweepstakes but few expect him to provide more in his rookie season than Wilson did a year ago. For the Rangers to improve, Neftali Feliz will have to thrive as a starter with import Joe Nathan solidly filling the closer's role.

In time, the Angels could regret signing the 32-year-old Pujols for 10 years, and (even more likely) the 31-year-old Wilson for five years. But in 2012, they are the ingredients that make this baseball's richest stew.

And furthermore

•Pujols' arrival softens the spotlight that falls on Trout, who is arguably baseball's best prospect. He has blinding speed, enough power to hit 20-plus home runs and Tony Gwynn-like hit tools, which have allowed him to compile a .422 on-base percentage in 266 minor-league games.

•Peter Bourjos, the incumbent center fielder at 24, isn't chopped liver either. For Scioscia to play Trout, Bourjos and Torii Hunter in the same outfield, he would have to find a way to shoehorn Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu and Morales into the DH spot. This logjam could send Trout to Triple-A to start the season but will be eased at some point by a trade or the departure after the season of Hunter and Abreu as free agents. Wells, who will cost the Angels $63 million over the next three years, hit .218 with a career-low .660 OPS last season.

•Mark Trumbo, who had 29 home runs but only 25 walks as a rookie, will try to take third base away from Alberto Callaspo but could be traded to reinforce a bullpen that appears to be the Angels' greatest weakness.

•Scioscia's influence with owner Arte Moreno scared away some candidates in the GM search that led to DiPoto. Scioscia is signed through 2018.

•In addition to Wilson, DiPoto hired assistant GM Scott Servais away from the Rangers.
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