Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Burned By the Hot Stove?

Let's take stock of what we've seen from the Angels so far this off-season, both positive and negative:
  1. Matt Brown, Jose Arredondo, and Dustin Mosely were non-tendered.
  2. Kelvim Escobar signed a minor league deal elsewhere.
  3. Chone Figgins signed with the Mariners.
  4. John Lackey signed with the Red Sox.
  5. The Angels re-upped with Bobby Abreu for two more seasons.
  6. The Angels signed Hideki Matsui for one year at a decent number.
The Non-Tenders

The only one that surprised me somewhat was Dustin Mosely, especially with the impending loss of Lackey at the time. He was capable, when healthy, of providing league average innings, and I figured that would make him at least a candidate in spring training for a fifth starter job, now that one appears available. But there may be more to his injury than we know, and with Matt Palmer, Trevor Bell, Sean O'Sullivan, and possibly Trevor Reckling in the mix, I'm assuming the Angels were comfortable with their options.

Matt Brown looked like a AAAA type that could take over the Robb Quinlan role, but those guys aren't particularly hard to come by. Not a back-breaking loss.

Jose Arredondo looked like he had figured things out in 2008 when he tossed 61 innings with an ERA of 1.62. Arm problems held him back in 2009, and he was set to undergo Tommy John surgery in the off-season. But his real problem was that he never got his head screwed on straight. Asked to go to Arizona to stay fresh in case he was needed as a post-season replacement, he defied the organization and went home to the Dominican, effectively punching his ticket out of Anaheim. All in all, these non-tenders, as well as the loss of Escobar, will have a negligible effect on the 2010 Angels.

Chone Figgins

I can't say I'm surprised by Figgins decision to sign elsewhere, and Seattle is a logical destination, what with the loss of Adrian Beltre. It will be difficult to see Figgins in another uniform, especially one within the division, but this was the right move by both teams. From Figgins' standpoint, he needed to take the best deal he could get, and while the Angels would have taken him back at their price, he did better than he would have done in Anaheim. When he was a pinch runner in 2002, I doubt too many of us thought that we'd get production from him that we saw over his Angels career. But he's not getting any younger, his stolen base success was down last year, and honestly, he's probably more valuable as a guy who plays every day, but plays three positions per week. The Mariners won't use him that way (the Angels wouldn't either). We'll have to wait and see if his 2009 was a case of a guy exploding in a contract year. I don't think it was, actually. I think he'll have a couple really good seasons in Seattle, then decline. I think it's a good deal for both player and team.

But the Angels have got to do something with Brandon Wood, and they appear ready to give him the shot that he's earned in AAA. Wood hasn't shown much at the major league level, but he's never been in a sink or swim situation. He was either up for the purpose of giving guys random days off, or because injuries necessitated it. His major league power numbers through his age aren't all that different from Kendry Morales, and if he continues to improve his discipline, even a little bit, he can be a productive power hitter who plays very good defense at third base. I think he got screwed by the organization in some ways last year, and it took him a while to get it rolling, but if he puts up another spring like he did in 2009, there will be no question that the job is his, and we'll finally see if he's been worth waiting for. It will be worth it for the closure alone.

John Lackey

Tony Granato played six seasons for the Los Angels Kings. He went to a Stanley Cup finals with the Kings. His gritty style and attitude made him a fan favorite of Kings fans for his entire tenure in L.A. Kings fans stuck by him when he took a two handed slash to the head of Neil Wilkinson. We stuck by him when he missed a lot of time due to a brain tumor. To this day, I remember being at a Kings game while he was recovering, and when they flashed his picture on the jumbotron, everyone in the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Then, in 1996, he turned down a comparable offer from the Kings to sign with the San Jose Sharks, arguably my most hated franchise at the time (still is, really, tied with the Ducks). To this day, I hate Tony Granato. That's how I feel about John Lackey.

My feelings regarding Lackey are almost completely opposite to those of Figgins. Granted, he took a lot more money than the Angels were probably willing to offer, and more money than he's worth, but I have nothing but antipathy for players who leave as free agents and sign with their longtime fanbase's most hated franchise (which I think the Red Sox are for Angels fans). I may be rationalizing, but over the last couple years, I don't think Lackey was an Angels warrior. I think he was a warrior who happened to pitch for the Angels, but I don't think he had much, if any, loyalty towards the franchise. He badmouthed his teammates at times, he had issues with his manager, and I think we all knew that when he blew up at Scioscia in the ALCS, he had thrown his last pitch as an Angel.

I will not root for John Lackey the way I rooted for Garret Anderson in Atlanta. I will not crack a tiny smile when I see that he's had a good performance, like I will for Chone Figgins. I will not celebrate a John Lackey day at Anaheim Stadium like I did for Chuck Finley. I won't wish him any physical harm (then again, I won't shed any tears if he shreds his elbow), but I will root for him to get lit up every single time he takes the mound, and I would love to see "Red Sox Nation" turn on him 10 starts into his Red Sox career. His is this decade's Jim Edmonds in terms of how much I'll root for him to fail (and hopefully he won't still succeed like Edmonds did).

Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu

The Abreu deal is a month old, and we already know what he bring to the table. I don't have much to disagree with there, and all I would say is that I hope he takes Erick Aybar under his wing and teaches him to be patient and the advantages that come from it. I think Aybar matured a lot this season, and I think with another year studying under Abreu, if he can learn to take a few more walks, he could replace Chone Figgins as a quality lead-off hitter.

I like the Matsui deal as well, though it likely means that Vladimir Guerrero is done as an Angel. It's only one year, and it's not for very much money. When it comes to free agent deals gone bad, it's almost never the dollars that kill a team, it's the years. Gary Matthews would have been palatable (though still overpaid) at $10MM per for two years. It's the third, fourth, and fifth years that made that deal awful. Even if Matsui blows up in the Angels' faces, it's just a minor blemish. He only missed 20 games last year, and had OPS+ of 131 with 28 homers. Those number are almost identical to Vlad's 2008. I'll gladly take that for $6.5MM for one year.

The Future

So where do the Angels go from here? They'll likely make some sort of play for another pitcher, or Jason Bay, or both. Hopefully the rumored deal of Juan Rivera for Derek Lowe is not close to reality, as it would be a horrible deal for the Angels. Lowe had a very subpar season last year, with his peripherals down across the board. You could expect a bounce back year from a 31 or 32 year old, but I wouldn't expect one from a 37 year old. Worse yet, he's got three years at $15MM per left on his deal. That's not the type of acquisition we've seen Tony Reagins go in for (see Abreu and Matsui). Reagins' only big splash has been for Torii Hunter, younger and more productive than Lowe. Honestly, I'm more confident handing the fifth starter job over to Matt Palmer than I am giving it to Derek Lowe.

So the starting staff, assuming no major injuries, looks to be Weaver, Saunders, Kazmir, Santana, and one of Palmer, O'Sullivan, Reckling, or Bell. I'd expect Saunders to put together a better overall season. Weaver may regress a bit, but not much. Kazmir will be an upgrade over what they got from the third spot last year, and Santana looks like he has regained his form. I honestly don't see a major drop off. If Shields can come back healthy, the bullpen won't be any worse (not a very high bar).

I see the offense as probably being down a bit. The projectors will say that Kendry Morales will regress, but I see him as just as likely to improve on last season, and if I were a betting man, I'd bet on similar production to what he did in 2009. I have pretty high hopes for Kendrick. I see Aybar dropping the average a bit, but hopefully picking up a few walks to balance out the OBP. Wood, obviously, is a question mark. Angel fans have reason to be optimistic after seeing what Morales could do with a full season of at bats, but I wouldn't pencil the kid in for a .300 average and 30 homers. I'll be happy if he just holds down the starting job for the whole year. In the outfield, I think we can expect similar production to what we saw last year, with maybe more from Matsui at the DH than we got out of Vlad.

If the Angels make no more moves right now, I think they'll be picked second by most of the media, with the Mariners looking like the trendy pick. And as always, it's baseball, so anything can happen. Guys blow up, guys fall off cliffs, and guys get hurt. So I think it's safe to say that the division is wide open, but I still expect (however irrationally) the Angels to win it.

It's a long way to April, though, and what happens between now and then could make this entire analysis moot.