2008 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
So, You Wanted a Challenge?

BaseballEvolution.com 2008 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 21, 2008

We live in an imperfect world, and like the world, Major League Baseball is also imperfect. Part of the imperfection of the MLB is the fact that the majors leagues are currently composed of 30 teams, which cannot be divided into two even leagues. The bearers of the burden of this imperfection reside in the National League Central, whose teams have to compete against five other teams for a chance to go to the playoffs. And the beneficiaries of this imperfection reside in the American League West, where a team must only best three others to win the division.

The Angels have taken particular advantage of this imperfection for the better part of this decade, going to playoffs four times in six years, and winning a World Series to boot. For the last couple of the years, the cards have been stacked in the Angels favor to a greater extent, as the Oakland A's have battled their small market issues, the Texas Rangers have essentially been run by idiots, and the Seattle Mariners have spent the last five years as a dysfunctional mess.

None of this takes anything away from the quality of the Angels franchise, which has produced home-grown talent at virtually every position, employs one of the finest managers in all of baseball, and has not generally used its market advantage to sign big-name free agent busts likes other teams in the upper echelon of money makers (a Gary Matthews here and there notwithstanding).

The Angels are one of the best-run franchises in baseball, and they have had an easy go of it the last few years. Indeed, in 2007 all the Angels had to do to win the AL West was show up and not get hurt. But 2008 will provide new challenges to this team. This spring, the team has already incurred significant injuries to its pitching staff, and if one of their division mates can get off to a hot start, the Angels could be out of it before they can even get their A-team together and healthy.
Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Torii Hunter CF
Jon Garland SP
Departed Pos.
Bartolo Colon RHP
Orlando Cabrera SS

2007 Starter    Mike Napoli
Projected 2008 Starter   Mike Napoli

I wish I had written this preview before my Fantasy draft, because if I had, I would have drafted Mike Napoli as my catcher. This guy was what we call in latin studia majora in the minors. The fact that I forgot about him in my draft is indicative of the fact that he has been very forgettable during his time in the big leagues. Indeed, he has yet to put together the types of seasons that he did in the minors, when he hit 60 homeruns in two seasons. Nevertheless, Napoli has shown an ability to get on base in the majors, and in his third year at the age of 26 could make a run at being an elite offensive catcher.

First Base
2007 Starter   Casey Kotchman
Projected 2008 Starter   Casey Kotchman

New Nickname
Ervin "No Business" Santana
Because Ervin Santana has no business being a major league rotation.
Surprise Candidate
Mike Napoli
He's got the power, and he can push his OBP 80-100 over his average.
Casey Kotchman is an excellent hitter in the Mark Grace/John Olerud mold. It would be tempting to wish Kotchman had more power, but that is not the type of player Kotchman is at this point. His 37 doubles in 137 games last season were impressive, and his 43 strikeouts are elite. At 25, Kotchman probably at least one or two batting titles in his future. Additonally, Kotchman appears to be a very good fielder, finishing at the top of the majors in ESPN's calculation of zone rating.

Second Base
2007 Starter Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, Chone Figgins
Projected 2008 Starter Howie Kendrick

Last year was supposed to be Kendrick's breakout year, but he got hurt. So, 2008 is his do-over. Kendrick is 24 this year, and coming off a hugely impressive minor league career. To this point, his major league career has been good news/bad news. The good news is that he has hit a remarkable 45 doubles and has a .306 average in 160 major league games. The bad news is that he has an absurd 18/105 BB/K ratio, has hit into 20 double plays, and the early returns indicate that he is not a great defender. Kendrick may ultimately prove to be the type of hitter whose counting stats distract from the things he does that hurt his team, and the type of second baseman whose offense distracts from how much his defense undermines his pitchers. The Angels hope this is not the case.

Third Base
2007 Starter   Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis
Projected 2008 Starter   Chone Figgins

Chone Figgins
Chone Figgins may be the most unconventional third baseman in the last fifty years of major league baseball. Fact is, Figgins has been an invaluable asset to the Angels for four-plus years because of his ability to play every position on the field (other than pitcher and catcher) and because the Angels' outfield has been crowded while a couple of their third base prospects have fizzled during Figgins' time in the majors. Last year, Figgins missed about 40 games, but enjoyed his best offensive season from a per-at-bat perspective. In truth, Figgins probably should have been put in centerfield the day he was brought up to the big club and left there forever, as putting Figgins at third doesn't help the team much on defense. Nevertheless, Figgins is a fun, exciting, and at times valuable offensive player, and playing only one position should help him stabilize his game all around.

2007 Starter   Orlando Cabrera
Projected 2008 Starter   Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis

Most Improved Candidate
Jered Weaver
Did not live up to the hype of his rookie year, but looks good this spring.
MVP Candidate
Vladimir Guerrero
And this season, the sky will be blue.
The Angels moved Orlando Cabrera this off-season to get Jon Garland, which was very good decision. Cabrera had a pretty good year for the Angels, but at the age of 33 one has to wonder how many more good years he has left. In his stead, unfortunately, the Angels will be featuring a platoon of Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis, which creates instability in an infield which is not terrific defensively. Aybar has not looked good at all in very limited major league action, and has the dubious distinction of once having been caught stealing 36 times in 136 games in a single minor league season. Izuturis has had more offensive success at the major league level - in addition to having more experience period - and should see the majority of the playing time at shortstop.

2007 Starters   Gary Matthews, Jr., Garrett Anderson, Reggie Willits, Vlad Guerrero,
Projected 2008 Starters   Gary Matthews, Jr., Torii Hunter, Vlad Guerrero

If I were to question the Angels organization, it would be with respect to the management of their outfield over the last ten years. This is a team that produced Garrett Anderson, Darin Erstad, Tim Salmon, and Jim Edmonds all around the same time, and chose to keep all but Edmonds. The only area in which the Angels have chosen to make major free agent acquisitions over the last few years has been outfield, which worked brilliantly when they brought in Vlad Guerrero. But the Angels followed that up with what was one of the worst free agent deals of all time by signing Gary Matthews, Jr. to a monster deal.

This off-season, the Angels signed Torii Hunter, an aging defensive wizard coming off his best offensive season, to a big five year deal. In a vacuum, this was a good deal - the Angels have a big ballpark, and having a perenniel Gold Glover patrolling centerfield is good news. But the Angels are over-loaded with outfielders, and now Reggie Willits - a speedster who last year produced a .391 on-base percentage - has to fight for a spot on the roster, and Chone Figgins is now locked in at third base.

The Angels outfield will certainly be very good in 2008, and the defense will excellent. It just seems like the Angels could have had a very good outfield if they had simply relied on Vlad Guerrero and the home-grown products, and might have been able to benefit the other areas of the team with all the money they would have saved.

Angels Fun Fact
In 2005, hot-shot prospect Brandon Wood had 101 extra base hits in 134 games in the minors.

2007 Crew Kendry Morales, Reggie Willits, Robb Quinlan, Jeff Mathis, Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar
Projected 2008 Bench Brandon Wood, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera, Reggie Willits, Robb Quinlan, Jeff Mathis

The Angels continue to be a deep team. Unfortunately, it appears at the moment as if this team is deepest in the outfield, which is also where the team had the most stability. However, nine different players saw time in right field, the home of Vlad Guerrero, last season, indicating that the Angels star was used at DH and taken out of games late, so the extra outfielders may be of use. Juan Rivera looked to have emerged in 2006 at the age of 27, but injuries limited him in 2007 and the window may have shut on his career as a major league starter. Brandon Wood should get some action this season as the Angels have high hopes for him after a torrid minor league career.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Bartolo Colon, Joe Saunders, Dustin Moseley.
Projected 2008 Starters John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Jon Garland, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Nick Adenhart, Dustin Moseley.

Jered Weaver

And the problems begin. On paper, the Angels have the best top-to-bottom rotation in the American League, and maybe all of major league baseball. Lackey and Escobar were dominant last season, Jered Weaver is a young high-upside guy, Jon Garland is an inning eater whom any team would be thrilled to have as their fourth starter, and the combination of Joe Saunders, Nick Adenhart, and Dustin Moseley is virtually guaranteed to produce one or two starters ready for the big show.

But that is just on paper.

In reality, Lackey and Escobar are both injured and won't be ready until mid-May, which is a disaster for this team if for no other reason than it means Ervin Santana, whom the Angels would like to put out to pasture, will have to be counted on yet again this season. It also means that Garland is now the established veteran of the group, which is fine, but not exactly a best-case scenario. And finally, it means that in the early going, the Angels will not have the luxury of waiting to see which pitcher of Saunders, Adenhart, and Moseley is ready to go - two of the three will be pitching in April whether they are ready or not.

The Angels will have to hope that mid-May means mid-May, and not late-June as can happen with injuries to pitchers. In all likelihood, Lackey and Escobar will not be contributing to the club until at least June, and may take until July to get back into form.

Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, Darren Oliver, Chris Bootcheck, Justin Speier
Projected 2008 Relievers Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, Darren Oliver, Chris Bootcheck, Justin Speier

The bullpen had been one of the most stable and successful elements of the Angels team the last few years, with the 2007 edition being weaker than the 2006 version, but still performing quite well. Francisco Rodriguez continues to be one of the elite closers in all of baseball, and posted 40 saves for the third year in a row in 2007. Shields remains one of the preeminent setup men in the game, but struggled with his control a bit last year as his K/BB ratio finished closer to 2:1 than 3:1.

However, like the starting rotation, the bullpen will also be beset with injuries in the early going, as Bootcheck is out until May and Shields may begin the season on the DL. The Angels will have to hope fireballer Jason Bulger is ready for some primetime action in April, because this team really doesn't want to have to rely on Darren Oliver as one of its primary setup guys for very long.

Outlook for the Season

The Angels as a team and an organization remain one of the classiest acts in all of baseball, but 2008 will provide some challenges, especially in the early going. On paper, this is the best team in the AL West, but if they are going to win the division again in 2008, they will have to survive April and May, and then have all their components in place and ready to perform at peak levels in the second half of the season. This team will not likely be in first place at the All-Star Break, but look for the Angels to be the team of the second half.

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