October 2007

Anaheim, Azusa, and Rancho Cucamonga

An article in today’s Inland Valley Daily Bulletin discusses the origins of Rancho Cucamonga, the home of the Angels’ California League affiliate.

When Alta Loma, Cucamonga and Etiwanda pushed in 1976 to incorporate as one city, some backers wanted an all-inclusive name.

For instance? Altacucawanda. Really. Also: Cualtawanda and Etimonga. Or: Ace. This used the first letter of each name.

Those names were noted in a 1976 Ontario Daily Report story reprinted in "Founding the City of Rancho Cucamonga 1972-1978," a new tome by Catherine Bridge.

Bridge spoke at Wednesday’s Altacucawanda City Council meeting – sorry, I mean Rancho Cucamonga City Council meeting – to formally present copies of her tome to council members.

Cityhood was achieved in 1977, but it wasn’t a slam dunk, Bridge noted. Some in Alta Loma wanted to incorporate separately. And there was plenty of competition for names.

Others in contention: Red Hill, Red Hill City, Iamosa, Tricity, Tres Pueblos, Bennysville, Chaffey Hills and Cucamonga Rancho.

Bennysville was an homage to Jack Benny. The radio comic’s shows sometimes featured a train conductor calling out then-obscure stops on a nonexistent train line: "All aboard for Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga!"

The Bennysville name was probably offered in jest.

"I can just imagine these people being proud of being on the city council of Bennysville," Bridge quipped in the lobby afterward.

Because of Benny, who had made Cucamonga "an international joke," some cityhood organizers wanted to avoid the name, Bridge told me. Others embraced it.

"We couldn’t even begin to pay a good public relations man who could get as much free publicity as we already get because of that name," supporter Al Blessent told the Daily Report in 1976.

Later, three short streets to the Metrolink train station were named Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga and a statue of Benny was erected in the Epicenter ballpark.

The statue was moved in 2006 inside the Cultural Center at Victoria Gardens, where the bemused Benny, who has his own alcove, looks slightly more at home.

Rancho Cucamonga, the original Spanish land-grant name for the area, was the consensus choice for the new city.

Where does Bridge stand on Rancho Cucamonga?

"It’s the best name," Bridge assured me. "It’s a little long, but it’s the best."

She has given away the 75 copies of her self-published book, and for anyone who’d like to peruse a copy, there’s one at the library.

The Minor League Game of the Week


He’s a relief pitcher now, but in 2003 Warner Madrigal was an outfielder with the Provo Angels.

August 15, 2003 … The Provo Angels host the Missoula Osprey in a Pioneer League contest. Click Here to listen. You need Windows Media Player.

The recording has a few delays at the beginning. That’s due to Internet congestion during the original webcast. It clears up after a minute or two.

Three future major league Angels are in the lineup — Reggie Willits, Howie Kendrick and Matt Brown. Catcher Bobby Wilson, who was at Salt Lake this year and will be the next callup should Jeff Mathis or Mike Napoli falter, is the DH in the game.

A couple other players in this game are of interest.

Warner Madrigal, now a relief pitcher who was with the Cedar Rapids Kernels this year, was a young power hitter prospect back in 2003. He’s in the lineup for Provo, batting cleanup and playing right field. Warner was 5-for-5 in the game with a triple, double and three singles. In 2008, you’ll probably see him in the Rancho Cucamonga bullpen with his high-90s fastball.

The starting pitcher is Abel Moreno, who finished the year at 10-0 with a 2.38 ERA and was named the Pioneer League’s pitcher of the year. He disappeared from the Angels’ system after the 2004 system, unable to get a visa to leave the Dominican Republic. Abel ran into legal problems of a non-criminal nature, ending his career for the time being. But I just did a Google search and found he played this year in the fledgling Israel Baseball League where he was 1-3 with a 5.60 ERA in six starts.

Tony Reagins, the Day After

In Tuesday’s blog, I wrote that I wanted to see what the media reports had to say about why Tony Reagins got the job and not Ken Forsch.

Not much on that score, but the sportswriters seized on the Arte Moreno statement about manager Mike Scioscia having more input to conclude that Scioscia is now the real center of power in the organization.

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times wrote:

Bill Stoneman tearfully steps aside, Tony Reagins heartily takes over, but make no mistake.

Mike Scioscia is now in charge.

By hiring Reagins, a rookie who ran the minor league system, owner Arte Moreno is ensuring that the loudest voice in the room will belong to Scioscia.

By hiring Reagins, a former publicity intern who never even played high school baseball, Moreno is ensuring that the final opinion of the night will belong to Scioscia.

With a wink and nudge, Moreno smartly paved the way for his most important baseball decisions to be made by his best baseball guy without costing him one of baseball’s best managers.

Scioscia’s vision. Our luck.

I don’t think it’s that simple. As I wrote on Tuesday, the model for how Reagins managed the minor leagues the last six seasons may be the model he’ll follow for the GM job — the baseball people take care of their business, he handles the administrative side, but in the end it’s his call.

The exception here is that Reagins will now answer directly to Moreno. Arte said many times over the years, in response to those criticizing Bill Stoneman, that he personally had intervened on personnel decisions. So there’s every reason to think Moreno will be just as imposing a force with Reagins.

Media reports seem to indicate Moreno himself made the decision to promote Reagins without interviewing anyone else, although he did discuss the transition with Stoneman. One reason why Forsch didn’t get the job might be that he’s only two years younger than Stoneman. If Bill is burned out at age 63, it’s not good for organizational stability to hire someone who might leave in another two years. Reagins at age 40 will have the energy to keep up with the demanding pace, and prides himself on being a hard worker.

The big question is whether Reagins is qualified for the job. He may not be now, but in the long run the intent may be to groom him so that in a few years he can go toe-to-toe with Scott Boras and other GMs.

If you’re looking for other examples of GMs who had no professional playing ability, the stathead poster boy Theo Epstein is the one. Epstein, who’ll turn 34 in December, was made the youngest GM in history when the Red Sox hired him at age 28 in 2002. No offense intended to Reagins, but Epstein had a brilliant mind proven by his graduating by Yale and his law degree at age 25. He didn’t inherit a crumbling operation and turn it around; he succeeded the well-respected Dan Duquette, who was dismissed in February 2002 when John Henry bought the team.

Unlike Epstein, Reagins isn’t a slave to sabermetrics. But that doesn’t mean he ignores statistics either. (Contrary to what some statheads claim on Angels fan sites, the Angels don’t ignore statistical analysis. It’s just that no one wrote a book about it.) In fact, the Angels recently promoted Tory Hernandez, a player performance analyst, to replace promoted Abe Flores to be the new Manager of Baseball Operations. But the Angels keep the statistics in context, realizing that there’s more than one way to win a ballgame, and winning starts with teaching players the right way to play the game.

Don’t expect Reagins to be witty or glib or a rumormongering chatterbox as some people on the fan boards seem to want. Stoneman was a quiet, private person and Reagins isn’t that much different. Unlike Kevin Malone, who joined the Dodgers in September 1998 and proclaimed he was "the new sheriff in town," Reagins at the press conference was sober and even a bit meek. He didn’t project confidence, he didn’t seem to be in charge, and that impression was reinforced when Moreno told the press that Scioscia would have more influence in personnel matters.

For the instant gratification crowd who think Stoneman’s departure means the Angels will back up the U-Haul and turn over their entire farm system to another team in exchange for some overly expensive fading star, get over your wet dream. It’s not going to happen.

What might happen is that a couple prospects could be traded for a star in his prime. Stoneman had no problem with such a deal, so long as it was equitable. As he told the press many times, it was foolish to trade the future for a short-term quick fix. It was foolish then, and it’s foolish now. If they can get a player in his prime who’s under contract for a few more years, or one who’s willing to negotiate a contract extension, sure, consider it. But shipping off Brandon Wood, Nick Adenhart and "WHATEVER IT TAKES!!!!!!!" to rent Johan Santana for year would be a pretty stupid thing to do.

I’m hoping the Angels stick to their guns and don’t give in to media pressure, or such loony ravings on fan boards. The worst thing imaginable would be to execute a "feel good" trade just to make a statement. I don’t think that will happen, but if it does you’ll know it was Arte’s decision. And that concerns me, because while Stoneman may have been a brake on Arte’s temptations, Reagins as the new guy may not feel it’s his place to question the boss. We can only hope that when Tony is negotiating with other GMs and free agents, he’s surrounded by more experienced colleagues. The problem with that, though, is that it will project Tony as a weak GM who isn’t his own man.

So for those who’ve been praying for Stoneman’s departure, you got what you wanted. Now you’ll have to face the consequences.

As an Angels fan, of course I want nothing but the best for the organization and hope Reagins is Stoneman’s equal. But the sharks will be circling, and right now Tony is the chum in the water.

Tony Reagins Named the Angels’ GM


Tony Reagins succeeds Bill Stoneman as the Angels’ general manager.

Twenty-four hours ago, when the news broke that Bill Stoneman would retire today as the Angels’ general manager, the early speculation was split on his successor. The likely candidate was assistant general manager Ken Forsch, a former major leaguer, although some media reported rumors that farm director Tony Reagins would get the job.

I figured it would be Forsch, since he has such a long and impressive career — he played in the major leagues, he ran the farm system at one time, and he’s been Stoneman’s right-hand man for eight years.

It turned out to be Reagins.

As I wrote in yesterday’s blog, Forsch has the far superior resumé. So I’m looking forward to the newspaper reports which might explain why Reagins got the offer.

The press conference was streamed on the MLB.com web site. A tearful Stoneman was overcome by emotion many times. Reagins then came to the stage, apparently moved by Stoneman’s breakdown, and commented, "This is a family."

Reagins thanked those who’d helped him along the way, said that Forsch and special assistant Gary Sutherland would remain, and then the media asked a few questions.

When asked when he was first approached about the job, Tony said it was a week ago. Moreno contacted him to talk about the position. Left unsaid was whether others were interviewed or even considered.

One reporter asked Moreno whether this move meant manager Mike Scioscia would have more say on player personnel decisions. Arte said yes, a surprising answer, because the expected answer would be that Reagins is in charge.

It may be that they’re going to a model similar to how the farm system was run the last few years. Although Reagins was nominally the decision-maker, in reality he relied heavily on field coordinator Bruce Hines, his roving instructors, his manager and coaches. Reagins never played the game professionally, has no more than a little scouting experience, made no draft-day decisions (that was Eddie Bane’s department) and to my knowledge has never even spent time in a dugout during a regular season game. He may have managed the farm system, but he didn’t teach. That was left to the professionals.

So Reagins may be leaning heavily on Scioscia, Forsch, Sutherland, a consulting Stoneman, and everyone else on the Baseball Operations side of the business.

Don’t expect the organizational philosophy to change. They’re not going to be tricked into buying the Moneyball snake oil. They’re not going to flush the farm system for a quick fix. They’re not going to blow the payroll to spend "whatever it takes" to get Alex Rodriguez.

The unknown in my mind is when Reagins is across the table from other GMs or agents like Scott Boras. Stoneman showed the patience and discipline not to give in to tempation and instant gratification. Without a strong background, Reagins may feel he needs to make a splash with some sort of spectacular move that gets him headlines for a few days but in the long run may harm the organization’s long-term interests.

Despite what a few nuts are claiming on fan boards, this organization from top to bottom is in the best shape of its 47-year existence. It doesn’t need to fixed, much less overhauled. The Colorado Rockies have proven how stupid it would be to flush the farm or blow the budget. (More on that in a later blog entry.) Reagins may need to be no more than a caretaker for the next few years and reap the harvest from the player development system he’d managed since 2002.

Bill Stoneman to Retire as Angels GM


Media outlets are reporting that Bill Stoneman will announce his retirement at a Tuesday press conference.

The loonies are already falsely claiming on various fan boards that he was fired, but the truth is that Bill Stoneman appears to be exercising his option to take his retirement after the 2007 season.

It’s been reported all year long that Stoneman had an option in his contract to take a consulting position after the season, or extend his contract into 2008. Angels owner Arte Moreno said many times the decision was Stoneman’s. Bill turns 64 next April, and as a former banking executive has no doubt planned well for his retirement, so why not check out now and enjoy the good life while we can.

Rumors are already circulating about his replacement. I’ve seen some posts on fan boards claiming Stoneman was sacked so the Angels could sign recently deposed Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty, but that’s just their self-inflicted delusion talking. The Angels are likely to promote from within, a philosophy they’ve had ever since Stoneman came in as GM in November 1999, and continued under Moreno’s ownership.

CBS Sportsline reports that farm system director Tony Reagins will get the job, while Fox reported on tonight’s Red Sox – Indians telecast that assistant general manager Ken Forsch will be promoted.

It seems far more logical to me that Forsch would get the job. He’s been groomed for it, and unlike Reagins has experience as a professional player. Ken played for 16 years in the major leagues, including five seasons with the Angels. He was one of the few front-office executives to survive the 1999 post-season purge that led to Stoneman’s appointment. Forsch was named the Assistant GM in February 1998, when Bill Bavasi still ran the show, so he’s been the heir apparent for ten years. According to the 2007 Angels Media Guide, Forsch "is mainly responsible for assisting general manager Bill Stoneman with contract negotiations, player development and waiver and rule compliance."

Reagins comes from a Marketing background. He began his Angels career as an intern in both Baseball Operations and Marketing, but spent much of the 1990s in "various marketing advertising sales capacities" according to the Media Guide. He moved over to Baseball Operations in 1998 and succeeded Darrell Miller as the farm director in the fall of 2001.

My guess is that Forsch will move up to GM, and then several candidates will be evaluated for the Assistant GM job. In addition to Reagins, the other candidates would be Abe Flores and Gary Sutherland. Flores is currently the Manager of Baseball Operations, handling all administrative duties relating to scouting and player development. Sutherland is currently a special assistant to the GM, whose main responsibility is the coordination of professional scouting (i.e. scouting other organizations).

Another possibility would be to see long-time minor league managers Bruce Hines and Tom Kotchman get a shot at a front-office job. Hines is currently the minor league field coordinator, basically coordinating all the minor league player development for Reagins. He currently lives in Arizona, although he grew up in La Verne. Kotchman is a brilliant baseball mind — if I owned a baseball franchise, I’d start by offering Kotch any baseball job he wanted — but he lives in Florida and his wife is a grade school principal there so it’s unlikely they’d be inclined to relocate.

My educated guess? Forsch will become the GM, with Reagins or Flores stepping into the Assistant GM job with the other running the farm system. The only reason Forsch, 51, wouldn’t get the job is if he’s moving on, which seems unlikely.


UPDATE October 15, 2007 7:15 PM PDT — The Los Angeles Times reports that Tony Reagins is the likely successor, to be mentored by Stoneman.

As I wrote above, I think Forsch is more qualified.

UPDATE October 15, 2007 8:15 PM PDT — MLB.com reports that "Assistant GM Ken Forsch is the most likely candidate to replace Stoneman."

UPDATE October 15, 2007 8:30 PM PDT — Ken Rosenthal at FoxSports.com reports “Major league sources say Tony Reagins, the Angels’ director of player development, will become the new GM.”

Arkansas Travelers Photos Now On-Line

It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally finished processing the photos I shot last June when i visited the Arkansas Travelers. Click Here to visit the FutureAngels.com Digital Photo Gallery. Look up your favorite players by last name.

When you go to the above link, also take a look at some of the categories under MISCELLANEOUS. Arkansas Travelers photos are miscellaneous photos, group shots or stadium photos or other nifty stuff. Baseball Gear photos are my favorite; you’ll find artistic depictions of gear and equipment exactly as I found them, nothing is staged. Also look at the Youth Baseball photos; kids always look interesting at a ball game, but not at other sports. Why, I’ve no idea, but they make interesting photographic subjects.

Next assignment is to process the photos I shot last April of the three-games series between the Salt Lake Bees and the Las Vegas 51s in Nevada. For those of you in SoCal, you’ll see plenty photos not just Angels prospects but also future Dodgers like James Loney, Andy LaRoche and Tony Abreu.

After that, I have plenty Rancho Cucamonga Quakes photos still awaiting processing, and finally the photos I shot last month at fall instructional league.

I have no life.

Anyway, below are a few samples of the Arkansas photos.


Nick Adenhart

Miguel Gonzalez

Nick Green

Bobby Wilson

Greg Porter

Sean Rodriguez

Ryan Leahy keeps the hitting chart

Deep inside Bobby Wilson’s gear bag

Freddy Sandoval signs autographs for Little Leaguers

A rare shot from right-center field

The Return of the Minor League Game of the Week


Casey Kotchman homered to help Scottsdale overcome a ten-run deficit.

Today marks the return of the Minor League Game of the Week webcasts on FutureAngels.com. Each week from now through Opening Day 2008, I’ll post on the site a recording of a minor league webcast involving one of the Angels’ minor league affiliates.

Click Here to listen to this week’s game, a 2003 Arizona Fall League contest between the Peoria Javelinas and the Scottsdale Scorpions. Angels players on the Scottsdale roster included Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson, and Nick Gorneault. Former Angels farmhand Tim Bittner was the starting pitcher, and current Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher was the Scottsdale pitching coach that fall.

The game was noteworthy for many reasons, one being that Scottsdale rallied from a 14-4 deficit in the bottom of the 7th to win 15-14. You’ll hear a couple current major leaguers from other organizations play in the game, including the Dodgers’ James Loney and Seattle’s Cha Seung Baek (he starts for Peoria). A tragic aspect is the presence in the lineup of Cincinnati outfielder Dernell Stenson, who was murdered a week later.

Minor league webcasts started in the late 1990s. The first I recall was the Durham Bulls, who archived their radiocasts for later playback. A few minor league teams invested in setting up their own webcasts, but it was only in the last couple years that most teams have added a webcast option. A big difference is that Minor League Baseball’s web site MiLB.com offers to webcast games for free, a big savings for the teams as they usually had to pay some Internet service provider to do it for them.

I started archiving our minor league webcasts in 2003. I use a product called Total Recorder from High Criteria which basically captures anything coming over a computer’s sound card. The professional version has a timer feature that will go to a specific URL, which allows me to program recordings overnight and during the day while I’m at work. Since all five Angels affiliates now webcast through MiLB.com, it’s a matter of setting Total Recorder to go to the URL for the last night’s webcasts and saving them to an MP3 file.

At season’s end, I send CD-ROMs with the MP3 files to the broadcasters at each affiliate so they have them for their archives. I keep an archival set myself. They now go back five seasons to 2003.

The first few games this off-season will be "classic" games from prior seasons, but by December we’ll be listening to 2007 games. Part of the idea when I started these archives was to play in future years memorable games featuring players who went on to the big leagues. So in future years, we’ll do more "classic" games, maybe in parallel with current season replays.

These recordings are a great way to keep your baseball flame burning during the off-season. Many times during the dead of winter I turn up the volume on my computer and fill the house with a "classic" game called by one of our many talented broadcasters. There’s nothing like listening to John Rodgers, Phil Elson or Steve Klauke describing a humid July pitchers’ duel when outside it’s a dreary Sunday afternoon.

So enjoy, and please feel free to post a comment about these games. I know people listen to them because I see the hits in my site’s logs. I’m just curious to know what are your experiences with these webcasts.

Much Ado About Nothing

I’m not sure what this means, other than it means nothing, but here’s a table showing how the A.L. playoff teams performed against each other in 2007:

TEAM vs. LAA vs. BOS vs. CLE vs. NYY TOTAL
LAA 4-6 5-5 6-3 15-14
BOS 6-4 5-2 8-10 19-16
CLE 5-5 2-5 0-6 7-16
NYY 3-6 10-8 6-0 19-14

If any conclusions can be drawn, perhaps it’s these:

  • A best-of-five playoff series is not an accurate measurement of seasonal performance.  (In other words, don’t claim the Angels are awful just because of one post-season series loss when they were handicapped by injury.)
  • The regular-season head-to-head record is not an accurate measurement for post-season head-to-head (otherwise explain Cleveland losing six straight during the regular season to the Yankees, then beating them 3-of-4 in the ALDS).
  • The unbalanced divisional schedule is patently unfair. The Red Sox played 35 games against the other playoff teams, the Yankees 33, the Angels 29 and the Indians just 23. I wish MLB would go back to the days when each team played the other an equal number of games, but that won’t happen. (One reason being it would result in creating three leagues of ten teams, and the leagues wouldn’t play each other until the post-season, which would drive down revenue, and professional baseball is all about making a buck.)

It is interesting to note that the Red Sox did okay against the other three despite having the most number of games, although eighteen of those games were against division rival New York who they didn’t face in the post-season. Maybe that means they have more experience in pressure games. Or not.

Put a Dent in the Ball!


A closeup view apparently shows the bat indenting the ball.


Sean Danielson homers for Springfield at Arkansas on June 11, 2007.

I’ve been working on editing and processing the photos I shot at Arkansas last June, when the Travelers hosted first the Wichita Wranglers and then the Springfield Cardinals.

I’m currently working on the last game, June 11, so they’ll be done soon. Tonight I came across the photo to the right and wanted to share it with you.

The photo was taken for Springfield outfielder Sean Danielson hitting a home run. Luckily the camera caught the ball striking the bat.

When we crop the photo and zoom in on the ball striking the bat, it appears that the bat is indenting the ball.

Is it an optical illusion?

I can see a bit of blue where the bat strikes the ball. That might be the Minor League Baseball logo (which looks a lot like the Major League Baseball logo). The blue might be blurring with the black of the bat, creating the illusion. But the curve of the ball along the bat’s surface, even with some blue mixed in, certainly seems evident.

Your thoughts?

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.

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