Wednesday, May 25, 2005

I only caught the last inning of last night's game live, and the result was such that I didn't go back and watch the rest of the game. I really could have done with either Joel Peralta or Jake Woods in the game instead of Yan, who has to be considered a last resort under all circumstances.

So, it looks like Colon pitched well, and once again the Angel starters on a good streak, the highlight of which was certainly the Ervin Santana game. After his first game, I mentioned that he needed to have three pitches working to make it as a starter ... watching him the other night, it was clear that he did have a functioning slider and change, both of which hover around 83 MPH but have slightly different movement. That has to be tough to pick up for the batter, especially on the heels of a 94-MPH fastball. Ervin was great on hitting the corners, was not goofing off with breaking stuff up in the zone, and only threw a few bad pitches, most of which he got away with (thank you, Carl Everett, for your useless foul-offs of belt-high fastballs).

The possibility that the return of a healthy Kelvim Escobar would give the Angels one more good starter than they need sends beat writers' hearts a-flutter, and today Mike DiGiovanna checks in with Ace Washburn and the possibility he could be traded for the likes of Mike Sweeney or Aubrey Huff.

Would such a move be worthwhile? Just looking at the guys we might get, the answer is positive. Sweeney and Huff both project as guys that should have OPS+'s in the 120-125 range, which is a substantial improvement over Jeff DaVanon (who you would expect to be around 105) and Juan Rivera (who had a career-high 118 last season). Sweeney has started the season hot while Huff has struggled, but it is essential to note that Huff has been rather durable in the past while Sweeney has played in less than 110 games in each of the last two seasons. Also, Huff can play first and the corner oufield positions, not to mention (nominally) third base. Sweeney is a DH/1B exclusively.

But you're betting a lot on the continued health of Escobar and the young arm of Santana to cough up Washburn. And Washburn wouldn't likely be the only piece of such a trade; the trading partner would certainly request a top prospect, and though Kendry Morales might end up making Casey Kotchman expendable, it might be too early to make that determination -- especially for a GM as cautious as Bill Stoneman.

Another question to ask is if Juan Rivera can win the DH job while filling in for Vlad. He certainly can of course ... he's raised his AVG/OBP/SLG line from 238/273/333 before he took over for Vlad to 250/277/400, going 5 for 17 (a .294 average) with 2 HR (but no walks) in that period. A continued resurgence from Rivera might make acquiring a DH superfluous.

What would acquiring a full-time DH -- or giving Rivera the job -- do to Legs Figgins? He would still get plenty of time spotting third and/or second against tough lefties, and filling in in the outfield. He's not tearing up the ball at the plate so far this year, but his line -- 267/315/382 -- is basically 30 points of batting average off his line last year (296/350/419). That's only a difference of about five hits, a difference that can certainly be made up to return Chone to his regular offensive levels.

Should the Angels look to acquire Sweeney or his ilk? It's clear that the offense is in a dire place, even if Vlad returns at full force. But can the offense be expected to improve on its own merits, without making changes?

I believe that Kennedy, Cabrera, Figgins, and Bengie will all sort out to their expected performances, which for Kennedy and Figgins is just above average and for the others is acceptable in combination with their defense. So those guys aren't the source of the problem.

Darin Erstad will likely get a little better, but still fall short of good. Garret may or may not improve, depending on his health. Finley has no choice but to improve, and you'd think DaVanon and Rivera would with more at-bats.

The problem is, like last year, this is pretty much a middle-of-the-road offense even with everyone playing to expectations. Having a DH combo (Figgins and DaVanon) whose combined offense is only 2-5% better than average is a big opportunity missed. If Rivera can't step up to show he deserves more time in the DH slot, it's a spot ripe for improvement.

But how much can the position be improved? The difference between Mike Sweeney and a roughly league-average hitter for the next 400 plate appearances of the season is about 12 runs, or just about a win. As we witnessed last season, one win can be huge in the AL West.

But would gaining such a hitter cost too much? Not just in salary -- Sweeney is owed quite a bit, though KC would likely pick up some of it to rid themselves the entire burden -- but in players. Is Sweeney or Huff worth Wash and Kotch? How about Wash and Mathis? Wash and Mike Napoli? Washburn at all? How about getting one of those guys for just prospects. Kotch and Reggie Willits? Where is the line drawn?

Because if you gain a win by weakening the rotation and losing a win there, well, you haven't gained anything at all. So whether or not we should actively pursue one of these guys depends a lot on the next couple of weeks. Can Kelvim get healthy? Can Santana excel consistently? Can Rivera make a drive at DH? Can McPherson get things going, or will the club decide they need to Win Now and dispatch him to the minors, putting The Legs at third and opening a big door at DH (not that I consider that likely, I'm just sayin')? Will Morales produce in such a way as to get moved aggressively up the pipeline and make Kotchman redundant?

Will such a trade happen? Given that it's Bill Stoneman, I doubt it. The Angels have too many internal options, and he holds onto his prospects with the tightest vise. But the next few weeks should be very telling about what direction the team needs to take to get to the next level.

McPherson won't get going this year; I think he'll take a whole year to really start to gel at the major league level, more or less the same as Glaus (and maybe longer considering the increase in strikeouts that has accompanied him at every advance).

Good piece, by the way.
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