2009 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Same Old Division, Same Old Story

BaseballEvolution.com 2009 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 27, 2009

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Bobby Abreu OF
Brian Fuentes RP
Sean Tracey RP
Departed Pos.
Francisco Rodriguez RP
Mark Teixeira 1B
Jon Garland SP
Garrett Anderson LF

Different year, same story for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, and Seattle Mariners must all prove that they are capable of taking away the AL West from the Angels, and once again it doesn’t seem likely.

The Angels were one of the biggest over-achievers last season, winning 101 games with a Pythagorean Projection for 88 wins, but they have made some moves to improve upon last season’s run output. The key for the Angels will be health. No fewer than six Angels face injury issues headed for opening day, including Torii Hunter, who recently took an inside-the-park-homerun off the nose (don’t tell me he hasn’t lost a step).

So going into the 2009 season, the Angels are improved in many ways but have a lot of work to do as well to get consistent and to stay healthy.

Here is what I said about Catcher Mike Napoli in last year’s preview:

“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.”

Mike Napoli
Nailed it. Napoli is Angels fans' reward for having to endure the light-hitting but excellent defending Flying Molina Brothers all those years. Napoli hit 20 homeruns in 78 games last season, the type of performance that math tells us should put Napoli on pace for 40 this year, but that experience tells us will probably end up projecting from 25 to 30 homeruns. Napoli is the best kind of power hitter; he hits the homeruns, but he also hits doubles and gets on base. He is not the most adept at throwing out base runners, but boy is that offense exciting.

I’m not sure the Angels have had a catcher who could hit this well since Lance Parrish.

The Angels committed a real party foul at First Base last season when they sent Casey Kotchman to the Braves for Mark Teixeira but then didn’t re-sign Teixeira. Essentially, they just tossed a very good defensive (and John Olerud style offensive) first baseman in exchange for nothing. Presumably, the Angels felt free to do this because Kendry Morales, Kotchman/Teixeira’s replacement, hit .332 in the minors and has some power to go with it. We’ll see.

There is very little to dislike about Second Baseman Howie Kendrick. He strikes out too much, never walks, and is rarely healthy. Other than that, he seems to be a pure hitter of the most extraordinary type – unable to avoid hitting. I just hope he can stay healthy long enough to get consistent and truly develop into a more well rounded hitter. He could be Chase Utley, but he may just turn into Juan Samuel.

The Los Angeles Angels' Third Base position has been sort of hilarious for the last six years. Obviously, there was a time when Troy Glaus was going to be the next Mike Schmidt, but injuries kind of curtailed his rapid ascent around 2003. In 2004, without other options, the Angels put Chone Figgins at third base
Angels Fun Fact
After mercilous dogging by me for his ridiculous home-cookin’ pitching from 2005 to 2008 and being an average of three runs worse on the road before last season, Ervin Santana’s ERA was a run better on the road in 2008.
to fill in for the injured Glaus, and it worked great. Except, Chone Figgins is a black guy, a speedster, a basestealer, and a light hitter – not your prototypical third baseman. The Angels were palpably uncomfortable with this, so it was made clear in 2005 that Dallas McPherson was the next Angels third baseman – a sturdy white guy with power – and Chone Figgins was destined for the outfield. Only, McPherson never made it work in the majors, and so Figgins was back at third in 2005. Then, in 2006, Figgins was back in the outfield when Maicer Izturis emerged as the new third baseman of the future. But Izturis has yet to play a full season the majors, and since the Angels have suddenly decided to add a new free agent outfielder every season since 2005, Figgins has found himself back at third base.

This year, finally, the Angels seem to be embracing it – Figgans is now listed at the top of the third base depth chart. Still not a perfect solution, but it is the one that the baseball gods seem to have conferred upon the Angels. At least until third baseman of the future Brandon Wood is ready to take over. I hear this guy is the next Mike Schmidt.

The Angels have an infield filled with players who didn’t play a full season last year, and Shortstop Erick Aybar is no exception. He played 98 games, and had 96 hits, so that’s something. We’ll wait until he has a full season of action before judging his (light) offense and his (merely solid) defense.

A couple of years ago, in the wake of the acquisition of Gary Matthews Jr. for five years/$50 million, I chastised the Los Angeles Angels franchise for going from a team that develops its own players and makes wise moves to being a
Player to Watch for
Sean Rodriguez
Plays second base and shortstop and has an excellent bat; if Aybar and Kendrick don’t lock down their spots, they may lose them to this guy.
franchise that greedily and blindly buys up big-named-yet-questionable talent. It is definitely frustrating to see the Angels not re-sign Mark Teixeira, and I hate to think it has anything to do with the amazing amount of money the team has squandered on Garrett Anderson, Gary Matthews, and Torii Hunter in the last three years. It is not necessary to say Gary Matthews has been awful in two years with the Angels, because we all knew he would be. At this point, on the All-Gary team, he currently ranks behind Gary Ward, and just ahead of Gary Pettis, but I think I’d rather have Pettis’ defense, to tell you the truth. Frankly, with the Angels, he’s looked more like Gary DiSarcina or Gary Varsho – not worthy of playing time.
Pos '08 '09
C Mathis/Napoli Napoli/Mathis
1B Kotchman/Teix Morales
2B Kendrick Kendrick
3B Figgins Figgins
SS E Aybar E Aybar
LF Rivera Rivera
CF McLouth McLouth
RF Guerrero Guerrero
OF Matthews Matthews
DH Anderson Abreu

I think that Vlad Guerrero may have entered the second half of his career last season – the part of his career where he starts knocking down career milestone after career milestone, and the older guys tell the younger guys how amazing Vlad was in his youth. When you are a bad ball hitter like Vlad, and you don’t take walks, it can be hard to keep it up well into your thirties, and I don’t expect him to age gracefully, a la Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Chipper Jones, etc.

Torii Hunter will continue to win Gold Gloves for as long as he plays full time and hits twenty homeruns.

Juan Rivera joins the pantheon of players with average skills who work really hard but just can’t complete with the players who have supernatural skills and don’t have to work really hard. On many teams, or for many players, the 23 homeruns in 448 at-bats that Rivera hit in 2006 would have gotten him a starting job. But the Angels have acquired three outfielders via free agency since that season. Gotta feel for the guy, but I think the window is closing.

Humorously, though, since Matthews can't be counted on as an everyday player, it appears as though Matthews, Rivera, and Abreu will do a round robin between left field and designated hitter, as needed.

Look for Rivera to hit 30-plus homeruns at the age of 35 in a journeyman season spent in Colorado five years from now.
Angels Team Capsule

Now that the Angels have Bobby Abreu to play full time Designated Hitter, they have two of this era’s three most famously underrated players – let’s see if they can add Brian Giles to Abreu and Guerrero before the season is over.

All the problems that the Angels face, the truly season-threatening problems, can be found in their Starting Rotation. On paper, things look good – Jon Lackey is a major league ace, Kelvim Escobar should be ready to return after missing 2008, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders each had breakout years in 2008, Jered Weaver looks to be developing but legit, and Dustin Moseley and Nick Adenhart look primed to adequately fill the fifth spot in the rotation which shouldn’t even be open.

This is where the needle on the record scratches off and everyone looks at the jukebox in bewilderment.

Ervin Santana
Off the top, Escobar isn’t back until May, Santana has an elbow issue and will be out until at least late April, and now Lackey has tightness in his elbow and may not be ready for opening day. Weaver’s numbers have declined in his two subsequent seasons in the league since his huge breakout 2006 season, and his ERA this spring is up in the sevens. Moseley and Adenhart, who should be battling for a fourth or fifth spot, will now almost certainly be the third and fourth pitchers at the start of the season behind Weaver and Saunders. And Saunders had his best season of professional baseball last season, meaning he is due for a slight decline himself.

Throw in the fact that all the injuries have led to the sudden appearance of some guy named "Shane Loux" on the depth chart, and there is trouble a-brewin’ in Los Angeles of Anaheim. Loux was a minor league starter from 1997 to 2004, missed all of 2005, came back as a reliever in 2006, missed all of 2007, then came back as a starter again in 2007. Now 29 years old, he pitched well in 16 innings of relief work in 2008, but that was his only major league action since 2003. And he is currently on the depth chart.

Pos '08 '09
SP Santana Santana
SP Saunders Saunders
SP Lackey Lackey
SP Weaver Weaver
SP Garland Escobar
SP Moseley Moseley
CL K-Rod Fuentes
LP Oliver Oliver
RP Shields Shields
RP Arredondo Arredondo
RP Speier Speier
RP O'Day Bulger
Just like last season, the Angels must weather the early injuries if they have a shot at being around when everyone returns.

The Angels have all those problems, and we haven’t even gotten to the biggest question mark of the season, which is the Bullpen. Since 1996, the Angels have had two closers, Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez, who are two of the all time greats. In 2009, on the heels of K-Rod obliterating the single-season saves record, the Angels turn to Brian Fuentes, the long-time Rockies closer. I’ll say this for Fuentes and nothing more – if you can pitch in Coors Field, you can pitch anywhere.

The good news for Fuentes is that the Angels' set-up crew is the same as it was been for last year – Scot Shields, Jose Arredondo, Darren Oliver, and Justin Speier. This has arguably been the key to the Angels success in this decade, consistent excellence in the bullpen, and this year should be no different. Only Speier got roughed up last year, and it was his first bad year since 1999, so not much need to worry there.

Ironically, the Angels have another Francisco Rodiguez who is a relief pitcher in the minors. He is technically on their depth chart for 2009, but he is roughly the twentieth pitcher on it. Still, kinda humorous. Reminds me of the Greg A. Harris/Greg W. Harris days.

Outlook for the Season

Not much to say – if they are healthy and consistent, this division is theirs to win. But they have so many players slated to start in 2009 that didn’t play full seasons in 2008 – the entire infield including catcher – and they have so many injured players that they need to get healthy, including their top three starting pitchers. Then Bobby Abreu, Vlad Guerrero, and Torii Hunter need to all play like younger versions of themselves Lots of ifs, but frankly, I don’t see anybody else making a run in this division, despite the fact that the A’s are always full of surprises. The Angels are in "if the wheels don't fall off the cart" territory now.

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