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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Offseason Prospectus #2: The Los Angeles Angels

Angels fanatic, True Grich, made some early predictions regarding Anaheim's free agents. Well, so far he's one-for-one. Within 24 hours of the official end of the season, the Angels resigned Bobby Abreu for two years and $19 Million. Not quite the bargain basement price they got last spring ($5 Mil.) before Abreu drove in over a hundred runs for his seventh consecutive season and became a clubhouse leader and de facto batting instructor, helping several of his teammates in the pursuit of career highs.

During the ALDS against the Red Sox, Torii Hunter described Bobby Abreu as "my favorite player." Over the course of a single season, Abreu became so popular among fans and teammates that the Angels appear to have prioritized his contract over those of long time Halos like John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero, and Chone Figgins. And, it's hard to fault them.

According to FanGraphs, Abreu was worth over $11 Million in 2009, for just his on-the-field production during the regular season, and has been worth at least that much in ten of his last eleven seasons, so when you factor in potential playoff production and intangibles like leadership, Abreu will likely well exceed the approximately $9 Million he'll get in each of the next two seasons (Abreu's contract also includes a $9 Mil. option for 2012, with a $1 Mil. buyout). The bad news for the Angels is that they still have a lot of work to do this offseason.

Free Agents:

Kelvim Escobar (33) RHSP
Chone Figgins (31) 3B
Vladimir Guerrero (35) DH/RF
John Lackey (31) RHSP
Darren Oliver (38) LHRP
Robb Quinlan (32) 3B/1B

Arbitration Eligible:

Erick Aybar (25) SS
Maicer Izturis (28) 2B/SS
Howie Kendrick (25) 2B
Jeff Mathis (26) C
Mike Napoli (27) C
Joe Saunders (28) LHSP
Jered Weaver (26) RHSP
Reggie Willits (28) OF

ETA 2010?:

Trevor Bell (23) RHSP
Hank Conger (22) C
Freddy Sandoval (27) 3B
Brandon Wood (24) 3B/SS

Unfortunately for the Angels, because it is a rather thin free agent class in 2010, Lackey and Figgins will both be among the five most-coveted players on the market, driving up the price of their services. And, as you can see, the Angels not only face potentially expensive free agent decisions, but also have a number of very good young players who are due for sizable raises in arbitration. It may be the winter for them to consider multi-year deals for guys like Weaver, Saunders, and Aybar.

The Angels are not a team that is reluctant to spend money, but they usually budget for one or two major free agents, not three or four. To make matters worse, for the first time in years they face some serious competition in their own division. Both the Rangers and Mariners were among 2009's most pleasant surprises, finishing with 87 and 85 wins respectively, and there is no reason to expect either will be any worse in 2010. There is no room for stepping backward if the Angels want to return to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year and the sixth time in seven seasons.

The good news for Angels fans is that they won't have to wait long to get a sense of their team's intentions. The Abreu signing is one in a long line of Angels moves made very early in the "hot stove" season. In the next couple weeks, I expect the Angels will also make reasonable offers to Lackey and Figgins, maybe others as well, and if those are rejected, will start looking elsewhere very quickly.

Vladimir Guerrero is one of the most popular (and best) players in Angels history, but his marked decline over the last two seasons, due in part to injuries, combined with the bevy of corner-outfield and DH-type players in the Angels system, may signal the end of Vladdy era. If he wants to stay in southern California, it will almost certainly require a dramatic paycut, perhaps as part of an incentive and option laden contract. Guerrero is a very proud player and he may, instead, choose to auction his services to the highest bidder, and their will be interested parties. The Angels worst nightmare is seeing the 35-year-old have a resurgent season as the DH for the Mariners (1089 career OPS @ Safeco) or Rangers (1175 career OPS @ Arlington).

Figgins is also a popular player, a career Angel with ties to the community. He is also among the best leadoff hitters in the game, in a year that several big-market teams (Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Astros, etc.) could be looking for a top-of-the-order hitter. Figgins has settled at third base over his last couple seasons in Anaheim, but if he were willing to consider the super-utility role he excelled at earlier in his career, his flexibility would probably be worth millions of dollars to some franchises.

The likelihood of a Figgins exodus is increased by the fact that the Angels have several potential replacements already in-house. Brandon Wood has been waiting awhile for the chance at an everyday job. He has slugged 20+ HR in the minors for five straight seasons (homering approximately once in every eighteen plate appearances), so it's clear there's not much left for him to prove at AAA. The Angels also have Freddy Sandoval, who was injured for much of '09, but hit .335 at Salt Lake in '08. And, they could probably work Maicer Izturis into the third base rotation, if they decide to give Howie Kendrick more at-bats against right-handed pitching.

John Lackey represents the most difficult quandary for the Angels brass. He is their undeniable Ace, yet he hasn't made thirty starts since '07 and (surprisingly) he's won more than fourteen games only once in his career. He's only 31-years-old, so his best years could still be in front of him (ala Jon Lieber), although his struggles with "fitness" could make him more like Bartolo Colon, who had his last good season at the age of 32. Because he is clearly the best free agent pitcher on the market, somebody is going to give Lackey a long-term, big-money deal, regardless of the risk. If it isn't the Angels, they will probably choose to sign a back-end innings-eater (perhaps a Jarrod Washburn renaissance?) and hope that an true Ace emerges from the trio of Weaver, Ervin Santana, and Scott Kazmir, each of whom have the talent to rise to the occasion.

Rumors that the Angels have been exploring a Milton Bradley for Gary Matthews Jr. swap, though probably unfounded (remember how well Mike Scioscia got along with Jose Guillen?), do suggest that the Angels front office will be willing to explore creative solutions this winter. They have always valued their prospects very highly, and have been rewarded for their patience with players like Santana, Juan Rivera, and Kendry Morales, but the Abreu signing and the Kazmir trade, combined with the fact that they don't have a single player signed beyond 2012, may suggest that Los Angeles is embracing a "win now" mentality.

Projected 2010 Opening Day Roster (Revised 1/1):

SS Erick Aybar (S)
RF Bobby Abreu (L)
CF Torii Hunter (R)
1B Kendry Morales (S)
DH Hideki Matsui (L)
RF Juan Rivera (R)
2B Howie Kendrick (R)
C Mike Napoli (R)
3B Maicer Izturis (S)

SP Scott Kazmir (L)
SP Jared Weaver (R)
SP Joe Saunders (L)
SP Ervin Santana (R)
SP Trevor Bell (R)

CL Brian Fuentes (L)
SU Kevin Jepsen (R)
SU Fernando Rodney (R)
MR Scot Shields (R)
MR Jason Bulger (R)
LOOGY Brian Shouse (L) FA
SWING Matt Palmer (R)

C Jeff Mathis (R)
IF Brandon Wood (R)
IF Freddy Sandoval (S)
OF Gary Matthews Jr. (S)


James said...

I'd love to hear predictions about what you think the Angels will do.

Hippeaux said...

Like I said, the Angels face some really tough decisions. A lot will ride on whether either Lackey, Chone, or Vlad desperately want to stay. If that's the case, the Angels will undoubtedly pony up very good money for them. But they won't be the winner in any bidding wars. There's a very high likelihood that Abreu and Darren Oliver are the only free agents who resign. If I had to bet, I'd say Vlad accepts an incentive-laden deal to say (he's already made his money, after all), but Lackey and Chone go elsewhere. The Angels will go with in-house options at 3B and pursue a B-level starting pitcher (Randy Wolf? Joel Pineiro?). I do trust the Halo brass, so I think they'll explore every possibility. I also wouldn't be surprised if Brian Fuentes is no longer the closer come Opening Day.