The Angels in 2008


Francisco Rodriguez will be a free agent after the 2008 season.

In the wake of the Angels’ sweep by Boston, the papers and fan boards are expectedly filled with knee-jerk opinions. The fan boards, well, it’s the usual "Fire EVERYONE!!" tirades you get from people with the emotional and/or physical maturity of a 12-year old. The papers pander to an extent to the mob mentality running rampant.

So allow me to be the one who goes against the grain and actually says something sober.

The "big bat" shibboleth has raised its ugly head again.

Funny how the pundits who insist the problem is the lack of a "big bat" behind Vlad Guerrero don’t mention that the team with the most homers in the AL, the Yankees, just got eliminated. The #2 team, the White Sox, finished 72-90. The #3 team, the Devil Rays, finished 66-96. The #4 team? The Rangers, who finished 75-87. Lots of big bats. And lots of big losses. You have to go to the #5 team, the Indians, to find a team still in the playoffs.

The Red Sox were #8 in homers with 166. The Angels had 123 — do the math and you find that Boston had one more homer than the Angels every 3.8 games.

As I wrote on October 7, the Yankees were better than Boston in slugging percentage (.463 vs. 444), on-base percentage (.366 vs. .362) and runs scored (968 vs. 867). But it did them no good against Cleveland.

The real reason can be found in the pitching stats.

Boston led the AL with a 3.87 team ERA. Cleveland was #3 at 4.05. The Angels were #5 at 4.23 and the Yankees were #8 at 4.49.

So in both series, the teams with the better pitching won.

In the Angels’ series, Boston won for two reasons: (1) superior starters, and (2) superior relievers.

In Game #1, Josh Beckett tossed a game for the ages, while John Lackey labored. Beckett might be bound for the Hall of Fame one day, but in any case it’s doubtful any lineup could have beaten him that night — even his own.

In Game #2, Kelvim Escobar faced Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Angels had Matsuzaka on the ropes but failed to put him away. The real sin, though, was Francisco Rodriguez’s failure to throw a pitch where Mike Napoli called it. The result? Manny Ramirez’s homer, and the Sox won. More on Rodriguez later.

In Game #3, a certain Hall of Famer, Curt Schilling, took the mound against young Jered Weaver. If the Angels had any chance, it was lost when Casey Kotchman was taken to the hospital for an intestinal illness and Garret Anderson exited due to bad eyesight. Coupled with Gary Matthews Jr.’s absence from the series due to a knee injury, and Juan Rivera a shadow of himself due to last winter’s broken leg, the Angels were missing four regular bats from their lineup.

Would it be nice if the Angels added a "big bat" this winter?

Sure.

There are 29 other teams thinking the same thing right now.

A lot of people are fantasizing about Alex Rodriguez, should he take his free agency from the Yankees. But I’ll tell you right now what I think will happen.

A-Rod won’t come to Anaheim.

He’ll sign with Boston.

Mike Lowell, the Red Sox’ third baseman, is a free agent this winter. He had a career year, but at age 34 next February I don’t think Boston is going to sign him — especially if A-Rod takes his free agency.

Imagine a lineup with Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Boston ownership, of course, would like nothing better than to tweak the Yankees’ collective noses. Adding A-Rod would do it.

The Angels shouldn’t take interest in Lowell either. Brandon Wood isn’t quite ready for prime time, but he’s close. My preference would be to give Brandon a full year in the majors at age 23.

Orlando Cabrera is a free agent after 2008. He’ll be 34 that winter, but I think he’ll be worth the investment if the Angels can sign him to a three or four year extension. He’s one of the smartest players in the game. I think he’ll be a big-league manager one day. I’d rather have him around.

In any case, Wood can always shift back to shortstop if Cabrera leaves. By then, we’ll have a handle on whether Dallas McPherson will return from his last-chance surgery.

Let’s be optimistic. How’s this for a 2009 infield:

  • 1B Casey Kotchman
  • 2B Howie Kendrick
  • SS Brandon Wood
  • 3B Dallas McPherson

Plenty of offense there.

But that’s not likely. The Angels can’t count on Dallas, as much as I would love to see him finally conquer his back problems.

Brandon Wood, though, has the potential to be the next Mike Schmidt, so it would be foolish to bury him or trade him.

So where would this "big bat" go?

No room in the outfield. Garret Anderson is a 10-5 man so he has no-trade protection. Gary Matthews, Jr. has a no-trade clause through 2009. Vlad isn’t going anywhere.

Designated hitter? The Angels need that slot to give Anderson and Guerrero days off while keeping their bats in the lineup.

Some have suggested the Angels pursue free agents Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones. But where do you play them? And they’re likely to be expensive, as was Matthews, because the free agent market this year is mighty slim when it comes to top talent. Demand exceeds supply, which drives up the price.

With a full season under their belts, and hopefully a 2008 without injury, both Kotchman and Kendrick should increase their offense numbers. A healthy Juan Rivera, who would alternate with Anderson and Guerrero at DH and the corner outfield slots, would also add more offense.

Placing Wood at 3B puts Chone Figgins’ future in question, but it always seems one injury or another to a teammate creates a place for him.

Not to be cold about it, but maybe Chone is one player to dangle in a potential trade. He’ll be 30 in January, he’s coming off a career year, and won’t be a free agent until after 2009.

The other guy I’d dangle? Francisco Rodriguez.

As I wrote on October 6, Rodriguez has become increasingly unreliable. His numbers with runners in scoring position are abysmal. With the bases empty, his ERA this year was 0.57 and his WHIP was 1.15. With RISP, those numbers leap to 9.31 and 1.66.

Frankie has long had a reputation for stubbornness back to his earliest days in the minor leagues. He was moved to the bullpen at Double-A Arkansas to start 2002 because he refused to smooth out his mechanics and work on his secondary stuff. Fate just happened to work out because in the bullpen he didn’t have to worry about a game plan, didn’t have to worry about off-speed pitches. He could just come in for one or two innings and throw hard.

Reality is catching up with him. As his mechanics get worse and worse, so does his control. The pitch Ramirez hit was supposed to be a fastball down and away. Rodriguez grooved it in the strike zone, slightly up and in.

Frankie told the press afterward that he wanted to challenge Manny. He had "no game plan" — his words. He also said he viewed the results as a "50-50" proposition, meaning in his mind he was giving Ramirez a .500 batting average then and there.

In short, Rodriguez didn’t care about the results. He just wanted to test his manhood.

Frankie will be eligible for free agency after 2008, turning 27 in January 2009. Even though he’s entering his prime, he’s just not reliable. He may grow up one day, but how much longer do we have to suffer through his antics?

So I’d move him too.

Here’s one possible suitor — the Yankees.

Mariano Rivera will be a free agent this winter. He turns 38 in November, so he’s obviously a risk as a long-term investment. But he had a 3.15 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and struck out 74 in 71 1/3 IP while walking only 12. So he’s still got gas in the tank.

If he takes his free agency, the Yankees will be looking for a quick-fix. My instincts tell me Frankie’s ego would lead him to sign next winter with the Yankees anyway, so make him part of a deal that might include Figgins.

With Frankie gone, who would be the closer?

Well, we’d want to pursue Rivera, but we should also consider open auditions. I could live with Justin Speier or even Scot Shields, as Scotty should work out his mechanical problems over the winter.

If they move up, the bullpen becomes a bit thin. Interestingly, Troy Percival, who unretired and joined the Cardinals mid-season, is also a free agent. He’ll be 39 next August, but a one-year deal to work setup relief might be enough. He posted a 1.80 ERA in 34 IP, a 36:10 SO:BB ratio, and a 0.85 WHIP. I’m not so delusional as to think he’d repeat those numbers over a full 2008 season, but he might be enough to add some stability to a bullpen which will start to integrate youngsters like Chris Resop, Jason Bulger and Rich Thompson.

Let’s not overlook Resop. He was starting to come around and had just been called up when he was shut down due to bone chips in his elbow. Chris should be ready to go for spring training, and might be the big surprise of 2008 if his mechanical problems are a thing of the past.

So if we’re shopping Rodriguez and Figgins, who do we get?

I’d like to find a veteran pitcher. We need the equivalent of a Curt Schilling, a veteran who can stabilize a young rotation. That was Bartolo Colon’s job, but he was injured most of the year and probably won’t be signed to a new contract. Lackey, Weaver and Saunders will continue to mature. Kelvim Escobar, in my opinion, is the ace of the staff and in his prime. Right now, though, the #5 pitcher would be Ervin Santana or Dustin Moseley. Santana still has plenty of potential if he can be mechanically consistent. But if the Angels move Rodriguez, Santana could go to the bullpen where he was successful in two late-season relief appearances. He’s better off in the rotation, but the bullpen is a worst-case scenario.

So if it were up to me, I wouldn’t turn a blind eye to a "big bat" if the right offer came along, but I don’t think it will. The answer won’t come via free agency, either. Unless more unforeseeable injuries occur, the offense in 2008 should improve as the youngsters continue to mature and gain experience.

I’d prefer to restructure the pitching staff — add a veteran pitcher, maybe trade Francisco Rodriguez in return, and if the deal isn’t insane sign Mariano Rivera and Troy Percival to shore up the bullpen.

Of course, the way things go with the Angels Curse (real or imaginary), we’ll sign A-Rod and a scorpion will bite him in spring training resulting in the amputation of his right foot.

4 Comments

I think Stephen is onto something here. The teams with the best team pitching moved on in the playoffs. The other two went home. So, this is the area that needs to be addressed first (although I wouldn’t mind that proverbial “right deal” coming along). Angels pitching was just plain nerve-wracking in the second half.

Following the template set out in this article interests me and is one I had not considered. Stephen, you know the Angels minors’ better than any of us and I assume this plan indicates a lack of upcoming younger pitchers to stock the bullpen. I’ll have to go along with your assessment here.

Where do they need to clear out some upcoming personnel logjams? Are there some younger players that could/should be sent off for other help? St Louis, for example, needs two new middle infielders. Do they have anything the Angels need? I don’t want to upset the delicate balance of the Angels farm system, they often need to have players ready to step in and help the big club but can they get decent return somewhere and also help the next generation of upcoming players? Just a thought.

Regarding the Cardinals … The first problem is that with Walt Jocketty gone there’s no one to engineer a transaction. That’ll change.

Since I feel our primary need is a veteran starting pitcher, I’d consider Mark Mulder. Yes, he just went through two shoulder surgeries, but the last article I can find says he should be okay for spring training. He’ll be a reclamation project, though, so the Angels would have to think of him as a second-half pitcher. According to one site, Mulder is due $6.5 million in 2008 and the club has an $11 million option for 2009, otherwise he’s a free agent. On the other hand, he turned 30 last August so he’s certainly young enough to have some gas left in the tank. It depends on whether the Cardinals are in a rebuilding mode or looking to “win now” which will dictate any trade demands.

As for the Angels’ bullpen, I think there’s some internal depth. Chris Resop had cleaned up his mechanics and was pitching quite well before he was shut down due to elbow chips and surgery. It’s too soon for Rich Thompson, whose “plus” pitch is a curve ball, but it’s time for Jason Bulger to step forward and translate his Triple-A success into major league success.

My bullpen concerns are short-term. As I wrote, I think Frankie Rodriguez will take his free agency after 2008. Given his current issues, I’d rather get something now, maybe add Rivera and Percival short-term, then let the farm take care of 2009 and beyond.

R U *** KIDDING ME!

ASK ANY MANAGER IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES WHAT infield they would rather have!

1B Casey Kotchman

2B Howie Kendrick

SS Brandon Wood

3B Dallas McPherson

OR

1B Casey Kotchman

2B Maicer Izturis or Howie Kendrick

SS Orlando Cabrera (After he stays)

3B ALEDX RODRIGUEZ

Are u freakin kidding me bro thats the most ***** thing I’ve ever heard! Plenty of offense of that first list thats preposterous! They had there chance a few years ago and had one good month and that was it. Whom ever says that the angels have plenty of offence is *****! Alex rodrigues is the most talented baseball player to walk on this planet and that is EXACTLY what the angels need! If only they could drop Anderson who is a Lop of **** baseball player and get Arod in that 3 spot with vlad behind him! U r ***** for saying that dude! Absolutely *****!

[Blogger’s Note: The above post was edited to remove profanity and personal attacks. Such behavior is not permitted by MLB Media or by me. — Stephen]

I like your assessment and hope Dallas can make it back. If he doesn’t, I wouldn’t mind seeing Brandon there (give him a full year in 2008) and Sean Rodriguez at short in 2009!

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