Angels’ offseason grade is an incomplete

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.

2010 record: 80-82
Finish: Third place, AL West
2010 final payroll: $123.5 million
Estimated 2011 opening day payroll: $140 million

Offseason action

Other than perhaps the New York Yankees, no team in baseball had a clearer winter strategy than the Angels. Painfully deficient defensively in left field, intent on whipping up their running game, and losing ground to the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics after six years of dominance in the West, they would sign Carl Crawford(notes), have themselves a franchise identifier well into this decade and resume their hold of the division.

Torii Hunter and the rest of the Angels have little to shout about after a poor offseason.
Associated Press

Crawford, of course, signed with the Boston Red Sox and six weeks later Angels owner Arte Moreno told reporters, “You start talking about $142 million, a guy has to be able to park cars, sell tickets, paint the stadium to generate that kind of revenue. It’s not going to happen.”

Moreno’s offseason has been widely painted as a failure, in part because he seemed to promise Angels fans something more than a couple left-handers for the bullpen and a salary dump for left field, and in part because other areas of concern – third base, leadoff man and closer – also went unaddressed.

The Vernon Wells(notes) acquisition (for Mike Napoli(notes), Juan Rivera(notes) and $5 million to put toward the $86 million remaining on Wells’ contract) was a clear winner for the Angels on the field. Yet, Angels left fielders ranked a respectable fifth in the American League in OPS. Where the Angels absolutely needed more production was at third base, where four players – Alberto Callaspo(notes), Brandon Wood(notes), Kevin Frandsen(notes) and Maicer Izturis(notes) – combined to finish last in the league in batting, home runs, RBIs and OPS. Eight home runs and 52 RBIs generally don’t get it done at the hot corner, unless the third baseman is Chone Figgins(notes) and he is having a career year getting on base and scoring runs, which he did in ‘09. The best free agent at the position, Adrian Beltre(notes), not only signed elsewhere, but with the Rangers.

Wells does make the Angels better on defense. And they’ll pay to learn whether 31 home runs last season meant his wrist was healthy again, and whether those home-road splits (.321 batting average and 20 homers at SkyDome, .227 average and 11 homers everywhere else) were legit.

The Angels passed on Rafael Soriano(notes), the only top-end closer on the market, in favor of lefties Scott Downs(notes) (three years, $15 million) and Hisanori Takahashi(notes) (two years, $8 million). Downs has some ninth-inning experience; he had nine saves for the Toronto Blue Jays two seasons ago. Hisanori was effective and versatile for the New York Mets last season, starting 12 games and finishing 21 others (with eight saves). Either could set up Fernando Rodney(notes) or, should Rodney open ’11 like he concluded ’10, become the closer.

Reality check

Mike Scioscia enters his 12th season as manager of the Angels. Unlike many of the previous 11, he is tasked with rebuilding the identity of a club that was uncharacteristically non-confrontational in 2010.

In a four-team division they’d won five times in six seasons (and by an average of nine games over the runner-up), the Angels in ‘10 were outscored by the Rangers, outpitched by the Rangers and A’s, and out-defended and outrun by the Rangers, A’s and Seattle Mariners.

Between 2009 and 2010, the Angels lost 202 runs and 44 stolen bases. They added 28 errors.

Sometimes the system works. Sometimes the system needs players.

To that end, a return to their usual game (and usual results) means Scioscia must rectify a handful of problem areas. Erick Aybar(notes) was a below average leadoff hitter. Third base was an offensive black hole. Catcher, with the departure of Napoli, threatens to be one. In a 51-game trial, Peter Bourjos(notes) was a gazelle in center field, and a bit kitten-ish at the plate. In a season-plus in Anaheim, left-hander Scott Kazmir(notes) has 17 losses, a 5.12 ERA and is fighting to regain his signature slider. Rodney blew seven save opportunities, four of them in September, after Brian Fuentes(notes) was traded to the Minnesota Twins.

Fortunately for Scioscia, some things right themselves.

Kendry Morales(notes), whose late-May, walk-off crash landing cost the Angels untold production, is believed to be recovered from a broken leg. A Bobby Abreu(notes)-Wells-Morales-Torii Hunter middle of the order could be formidable, though to make it work Wells still must prove he can hit below the international boundary.

Starters Jered Weaver(notes) (first in the AL in strikeouts and fifth in ERA), Dan Haren(notes), Ervin Santana(notes) (17 wins) and Joel Pineiro(notes) are a capable one through four.

And outfielder Mike Trout, the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball, could be in Anaheim a few weeks after he turns 20 on Aug. 7.

In their better seasons, the Angels always seemed slightly better than the sum of their parts. In a division with Texas and Oakland, they’ll have to be better than that.

Angels in haiku

Once it hooked Salmon
There’s other fish in the sea
Recast club lands Trout

Next: Cincinnati Reds

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Feb 1, 2011