December 18, 2009

Don't blink

These are anxious times for Angel fans. The not-so-wild American League West landscape has changed. Seattle has improved (well up until they added Milton Bradley anyway). Texas continues to get better and Oakland… well, let’s just say they’ve still got a ways to go. Actually, let’s just say they're horrible. I mean why bother trying to sugar coat it?

So where was I (you have to forgive me, I can bash the A’s all day long)? Oh yeah, the dynamics of the AL West…

It all seemed to change in the blink of an eye. You know the saying about how some people watch things happen, others make things happen and some wonder out loud… hey, what just happened? Well, right now, I feel like the Angels are scratching their heads and wondering how in the heck, they ended up focusing on plan B, C or even D.

Gone off the Angles’ 2009 40-man roster are John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero, Robb Quinlan, Matt Brown, Dustin Moseley, and Jose Arredondo.

Speaking of Arredondo, his year has gone from bad to crazy. First he learned he would have to have elbow surgery, then he was non-tendered by the Angels and then reports came out that he was stabbed. That’s on top of a bad season and the tragic loss of his mentor Preston Gomez. I mean the only guy who might have it worse right now is that golfer dude… what’s his name?

Anyway, back to the Angels’ status report.

The Angels are still up in the air about Darren Oliver who is a free agent (more on him in a bit).

They also have decisions to make regarding Terry Evans, Bobby Wilson, and Brandon Wood. All three will either make the 25 man roster come opening day or head off to other teams as free agents. Sending them to the minor leagues is no longer a viable option because they’re out of options. Hopefully this situation will sort itself out in the spring.

Inbound for the Angles is Hideki Matsui (more on him in a bit too).

To say the Angels have a lot of work to do is like saying that golfer dude is in a little bit of trouble. Duh. Right now the Angels are looking a little vulnerable.

There are serious question marks. Will this pitching staff perform to expectations? If each manages to pitch to their potential or some semblance of that, they should be fine; however, they still need a fifth starter, preferably a top of the rotation guy. That’s a tall task to tackle, especially with Roy Halladay off the market.

The other pieces in place at the moment don’t seem to fit together very well. Bobby Abreu would be better served if he could spend some time at DH; however, that role figures to be occupied by Hideki Matsui. The big question and it’s really key, is whether or not Matsui can spend some time in the outfield, allowing Mike Scioscia to rotate some guys through the DH spot. Abreu (who will be 36 next season), Torii Hunter (who is 35) and even 31 year old Juan Rivera could really benefit from a bit of a rest from time to time.

Right now there are simply too many outfielders. Hunter, Rivera, Abreu, Gary Matthews, Jr., Reggie Willits and Terry Evans are all in house. Throw Matsui into that mix and there are seven guys in the outfield. I mean is this a casting call for an “Angels in the Outfield” sequel? Ideally only five (six if Matsui can’t play the OF) will be on the 25 man roster.

The infield could be solid with Kendry Morales, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Brandon Wood and Maicer Izturis, but it suddenly lacks depth. Who’s going to replace Quinlan and serve as a back up to Morales and/or Wood? As I said in an earlier posting, the answer could come in the form of Chad Tracy, who can play first, third and left field. He would essentially replace Quinlan and in my opinion be a slight upgrade. He does have some risk attached to him because of injuries, but the upside looks pretty good.

What’s going to happen with the Mathis/Napoli tandem? Mathis seemed to separate himself from Napoli with his post season performance, but is that something the Angels can bank on? Is it time to move Napoli in a trade in order to fill a hole and can Bobby Wilson perform as a serviceable back up? The arrival of Matsui may have a huge impact on Napoli, who many believe would be best served as a DH. Matsui hits lefties better than he does right handed pitchers, so a platoon with Napoli is highly unlikely. If Napoli’s bat isn’t going to be in the lineup, there really isn’t much use for him.

The bull pen needs some serious work, especially if Oliver is not re-signed. Brian Fuentes, Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger will be back and Scot Shields will attempt to return to form after sitting out the season following knee surgery. At least Shields’ arm should be fine and given all the innings he’s logged over the years, it might have been a benefit to have him rest it for a year. The Angels need to find at least two more pitchers for the bull pen. Will that come by the way of Sean O’Sullivan and/or Trevor Bell? Or perhaps it will be Matt Palmer, if he isn’t asked to fill a rotation spot.

Clearly, the Angels would be better off (or at least more comfortable) with a proven veteran or two rather than a couple of question marks. In my opinion, Oliver is a must sign and the Angels may regret not offering him arbitration. Losing him could have serious ramifications. I don’t understand the money issue here. It’s as if Oliver is being punished for the bad contract the Angels game Matthews.

Tony Reagins is playing it cool right now, claiming he’d be comfortable going into 2010 with the team as is. At the same time he admitted during the Matsui press conference that the team has “some work to do.” I am hoping he’s thinking the latter.

Other than Wood there aren’t any players in their system that are ready to step up and contribute on a regular basis. None. Zilch. That’s kind of scary. The list of candidates are too old (by prospect standards) and unproven. Freddy Sandoval (a 27 year old switch hitter) is the most likely candidate to get a shot, if anyone does at all.

Let’s face it the Angels have been living off the success of the Vlad Guerrero contract for some time now. They were fortunate to sign Vlad for what was considered a below the market price tag in 2004. They got a deal last year in Abreu, but they over spent on Matthews. The GMJ contract was so bad; Bob Barker would have laughed at that bid and probably would have even suggested the GM be neutered.

They are getting great value and production out of Torii Hunter, but Dustin Speier was a bust and so was Jeff Weaver before him. Let’s not forget the debacles that were Shea Hillenbrand or Steve Finley either. In a world where people ask “what have you done for me lately?” the Angels haven’t been the smartest shoppers of late. They continually seem to get out bid for key players and are even getting beat to the punch in trade opportunities.

The Angels, whose domain is supposedly all of Los Angeles, are acting like a small market team. They seem a little too relaxed right now and I don’t see a sense of urgency. There was a time when the Angels were willing to take some risks and when they had to eat a bad contract they just did it and chalked it up to a “bad investment.” Apparently, they’re not looking to get burned again (who can blame them?) and are a little more gun shy these days.

I’m usually very optimistic and I almost always give the front office the benefit of the doubt, but I have concerns. Some fans, radio talk show hosts, etc. keep saying it’s only December and to look at the Angels track record. Heck, I may have even said some things along those lines myself at one time or another, but this off season has a totally different feel to it. I’m getting a sense of complacency from the team and that’s not good.

For a team that came very close to getting back to the World Series, they feel miles away from attempting that again. Sure, they appear to be good enough to win the west, but that won’t be easy and going beyond the ALDS or ALCS looks to be harder than before at this point in time.

In the mean time, buckle up you never know what’s going to happen (good or bad) next. Don’t even blink because if you do, you may find that the world that is the AL West looking very different.

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