The Angels are in transition mode

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series is in reverse order of team quality and continues at No. 12 with the Los Angeles Angels.

2009 record: 97-65
Finish: First place, AL West
2009 final payroll: $113.7 million
Estimated 2010 opening-day payroll: $113 million

OFFSEASON ACTION

Los Angeles Angels management watched John Lackey(notes) nurse a sore elbow early in another season, watched Vladimir Guerrero(notes) limp around for a few more months, watched Chone Figgins(notes) launch a career year in time for free agency … and then watched them all walk.

The three players were, in many ways, the faces of the organization. Lackey won the most important game in the history of the franchise. Guerrero could wear its cap into the Hall of Fame. Figgins embodied manager Mike Scioscia’s very image of the game.

Leery of evaluations written by their hearts, however, the Angels barely put up a fight as Lackey signed with Boston, Figgins with Seattle and Guerrero with Texas. In their places, GM Tony Reagins signed right-hander Joel Pineiro(notes) (who reconnected with his sinker in St. Louis and won 15 games) and Hideki Matsui(notes) (who was MVP of the World Series), and finally appears willing to give a job to third baseman Brandon Wood(notes).

The Angels do love Juan Rivera(notes), whose decent power and production convinced them to stay out of the bidding for left fielders Matt Holliday(notes) and Jason Bay(notes). After unloading Gary Matthews Jr.(notes) on the Mets, however, the Angels could be back in the market for a backup outfielder.

REALITY CHECK

Since 2004, two years after their only World Series, the Angels have won the West five times in six seasons. In that time, they’ve averaged more than 94 wins per year.

Still, for all the talk about Scioscia being a great manager (he is) and Arte Moreno being an ideal owner (he is) and the Angels being a model organization (it is), the Angels haven’t been to a World Series since Disney owned the club.

Now they’re in transition. In Lackey, the rotation has lost its ace and the clubhouse has lost one of the few pitchers with the personality and standing to be a team leader. Likewise, Guerrero was a big brother figure to the Angels’ young Latin players. And Figgins was their relentless energy.

So, Abreu gets a year older in right field, and Matsui doesn’t move much better than Guerrero (and won’t have to as the DH).

One of the more critical elements of the Angels’ season will be Wood, who will be 25 in March. In parts of three big league seasons, he has batted .192, struck out in about a third of his at-bats and walked seven times in 236 plate appearances. Scouts adore his ability, however, and can’t believe it has taken the Angels this long to give him a real shot, now after more than 3,300 minor league plate appearances.

Next: Texas Rangers

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 Sunday, Jan 31, 2010