Hot Stove Daily: Los Angeles Angels
Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Los Angeles Angels.
2008 record: 100-62
Finish: Won American League West, lost to Boston Red Sox in AL Division Series.
2008 Opening-day payroll: $119.2 million
2009 estimated Opening-day payroll: Between $105 million and $115 million
Gone are their $180 million first baseman, their record-setting closer, their longest-tenured player and a starter from their rotation that won more games than any other last season. How the Angels have weathered such a barrage of hits – Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez gone to New York for its riches, Garret Anderson and Jon Garland on the way out – and remained favorites in their division is as much a testament to just how good they were last year as to the AL West’s weakness.
Yes, the Angels still are the best team in the division, thanks significantly more to their pitching than their lineup. Brian Fuentes, a free-agent bargain, replaces Rodriguez, allowing Jose Arredondo and Scot Shields to stay in their setup roles. John Lackey – with, the Angels hope, a contract extension in tow – returns to anchor the rotation with 2008 breakouts Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders.
Losing Garland hurts like losing a fingernail that got caught in a door jamb: painful initially, better in the long run. The onus falls on Jered Weaver in the rotation’s fourth slot and either Dustin Moseley, Nick Adenhart or a mystery candidate to fill out the fifth role.
Unless the January bargain bin yields a respectable candidate, the Angels will focus their leftover Teixeira money on a bat to bolster a lineup that without him looks vulnerable. Manny Ramirez might make more sense if the Angels hadn’t re-signed Juan Rivera to play alongside Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and the Debilitating Contract Formerly Known As Gary Matthews Jr. Then again, general manager Tony Reagins said absolutely, unequivocally no Manny, for what that’s worth.
So that leaves Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn – the leftovers from the shriveled corner-outfield market. Each seems a worthwhile fit, though perhaps Dunn more than the others, his power and on-base combination appealing, his ability to play first base – play being a relative term – valuable as well.
Another key move was to extend the contract of manager Mike Scioscia well into the foreseeable future. The even-keeled former catcher is respected by his players and his influence is felt deep into the Angels’ farm system. Knowing that the rock-solid Scioscia will be calling the shots for many years is a major plus.
If the Angels want to do more than win a bad division, it’s imperative they spend. Unlike in years past, they don’t have the top prospects to go out and acquire players. They’ve got a gaping hole at first base with Kendry Morales and Robb Quinlan, questions at shortstop with the Erick Aybar/Maicer Izturis/Brandon Wood triangle of unevenness, and lingering concerns that Guerrero’s legs could limit him to almost full-time DH duty.
For a team that won 100 games last season, the Angels are likewise one in transition. Potentially gone at the end of next year are Guerrero, Kelvim Escobar and Chone Figgins, a combined $30 million-plus in salaries. Moving into necessary production roles are the winner of the shortstop competition, second baseman Howie Kendrick (if he can just stay healthy) and perhaps Morales, if the Angels show they’re inclined to give him a chance after a few look-sees with minimal success.
Losing Teixeira hurt. He was one player, yes, but a great one. Teixeira fortified the Angels lineup when he arrived from Atlanta, wedged himself into the No. 3 spot and played an antique painting on the wall whose beauty goes unappreciated because it’s so effortless. Angels owner Arte Moreno tried not to take Teixeira for granted, offering $160 million over eight years. When it was evident that would not be enough, the Angels publicly yanked themselves out of the bidding and went home happy to get a pair of draft picks.
And yet a sour taste remains in the Angels’ mouths this winter, something a highball of Scope couldn’t cure. Even though Fuentes is capable and Garland inconsistent and Anderson not aging gracefully – even though contracts of Teixeira’s size don’t always work out well – this isn’t the same team that won 100 games.
Who knows? Maybe it’s better.
Next: New York Mets