Monday, October 09, 2006

A couple of weeks ago I discussed the Angel infield; let's look to the outfield and designated hitter.

What was supposed to happen: Garret would stay healthy and bounce back a bit, Darin Erstad would play great defense and ground out to second for a few weeks before getting injured and being replaced by Legs Figgins, and Vlad would be Vlad. Juan Rivera would see time at DH and covering the corners, and even fill in some in center against lefty pitchers.

What happened: Garret stayed dinged up and mediocre, Figgins hit 30 points less than his career average, Vlad did his Vlad thing, and Rivera had a career year.

Where we go from here: Look, we're basically stuck with Garret in left field and/or DH. Mike Scioscia finally began to warm up to the idea that Juan Rivera is a better defender than Garret, and has a better arm. Sure, Garret is more surehanded (he didn't make an error last year), but Rivera gets to more balls (.854 to .844 in zone rating last year, .917 to .864 the year before) and has a better arm (Rivera had 7 assists from left last year to Garret's 1, playing in only around 60% of the innings of his senior). Garret's contract will preclude him from being moved anywhere, to he's all ours.

You're also going to have to get used to having Vlad in the lineup. I know that will be hard for us, but such is life. The only real flaw in his game, last year, anyway, was his defense; Vlad committed 11 errors, mostly the result of lapses of concentration. Mike Scioscia believes that he was dropping balls because of gimpy knees, making it hard to see the ball well while running. There is probably truth to this, and Vlad should be seeing more time at DH to give his body a break. Despite his bad instincts, his athleticism has made him average defender in years past, so I would expect something of a bounce-back in this regard in 2007.

Center field, of course, brings us big questions, and is intimately tied to the third base situation. It doesn't seem unlikely that the Angels will get either a third baseman or center fielder and install The Legs at the complementary position.

The options at center field, at this time, are questionable. Torii Hunter has a good shot at being a free agent, but he's on the wrong side of 30, is starting to suffer the attendant decline in defense, and his offense is solid but unspectacular. He's coming off his best offensive season since 2002, but there is little reason to believe his next four years will be as good as his last four. He'll likely demand a contract in the $10M per year range, which may be too much.

There is, theoretically, the possibility of trading for Vernon Wells. Wells has one year left on his contract with Toronto, so is financially cheap. He's a solid defensive player, though his offense is also something of a question mark; he was terrific in 2003 and 2006, but just a bit above average in the two years in between.

Of course, the Blue Jays, coming off a second-place finish and looking at two perennial giants who seem to be teetering on chaos in New York and Boston, may not be too thrilled with the idea of trading one of their key players. However, Alexis Rios, who had a breakthrough season with the bat last season, could be a candidate to be moved to center if Wells were dispatched. Juan Rivera might be an essential piece of such a trade so as to replace Rios, though the Jays would likely require a prospect as well. Their middle infield situation is a bit sticky (Aaron Hill can play second or short), so maybe Erick Aybar would sweeten the pot, though I worry that might be too much, so perhaps the Jays would throw in a lower-level prospect to even things up.

Otherwise, we may see Aramis Ramirez signed at third base. Other alleged third base candidates would come via trade, such as Joe Crede (pass), Mark Teahen (intriguing), Miguel Tejada (any talk of moving The OC to third to accommodate him, however, is utter madness), and even A-Rod (a great idea, in a vacuum).

It's difficult to evaluate any potential move without knowing the costs, so I will not do so here. Alex Rodriguez, for example, would be a great addition, but with his salary and the players that might be demanded of us to get him, would he be a good acquisition? That's an entirely different question.

If the Jays are willing to move him, I think the most exciting possibility is Vernon Wells. If not, I think we'd be best-served to upgrade the third base position. Of course, things will change as the off-season progresses.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

At the end of the day, there are a lot worse things than going 89-73.

That doesn't mean the team should settle -- and all indications are that they will not -- and they woulda shoulda coulda been better, but we hung in the race until the last week, and finished with a better record than three National League playoff teams. At the end of the day we had the seventh-best record in baseball, and did so playing in the tougher league.

While doing this, the Angels established Jered Weaver and Howie Kendrick as major leaguers and possibly did so from Mike Napoli (assuming the streakiness is just part of the package, and that the slump isn't his true level of ability) and Joe Saunders (inconsistent and rarely dominant, he did show definite signs that he could contribute in the future). Doing that while remaining competitive ain't too shabby.

Most exciting, perhaps, was the performance of Tim Salmon. His making the team wasn't out of sentiment; he hit 265/361/450 in a reserve role, which is a nice little package off the bench. The Fish might not have gone out on top, but he went out on his own terms, contributing all the way -- he even hit 294/429/471 in his farewell weekend. It might not seem like a lot, but those are 200 at-bats that will have to somewhere next year. At this point, they're probably Juan Rivera's, but Timmy brought something real to this team.

I'll be continuing my discussion of what went wrong and what we can and should do about it this week. But as we examine what went wrong, we should also appreciate that quite a bit went right. The organization -- celebrating its first third consecutive winning season -- is in strong shape.


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