This is one of a series of posts in which we eviscerate each team’s lambastable offseason blunders and laud their miraculous hot-stove coups.
The Angels again made the playoffs in 2007, and again were escorted to an early exit. Last year, the Anaheim squad did a great job of making the most of what they had—speed. Taking advantage of every opportunity to go first-to-third on a single, their aggressive baserunning served them well during the regular season when their small-ball style of play masked their lack of power hitting. But the injured Anaheim ballclub did not last long in October, and scarcely had the season ended when the Angels front office got to work.
In November, they acquired pitcher Jon Garland from the White Sox for Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera and cash. A few days later, they signed free agent center fielder Torii Hunter, one of the gems in an otherwise weak market. However, Hunter’s only an average fielder and is already 32. Plus, this gave the Angels a glut of outfielders: Hunter, Gary Matthews Jr., Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, Juan Rivera and Reggie Willits. (Could they have made a deal for Miguel Cabrera with the Marlins instead? The world will never know. On the one hand, the Angels’ farm system, though still good, isn’t what it once was—but on the other, the Marlins didn’t get nearly enough for Cabrera anyway. The two sides did some talking, but the deal fell apart.) Those of us expecting the Angels to continue their frenzy of activity with a move to exchange one of those outfielders for an infielder or a relief pitcher or, well, anything, were disappointed. If the Angels can’t find a way to get Reggie’s .391 OBP and speedy legs into the lineup somehow, they’ll be missing out on his productivity while also diminishing his trade value. I would rather see him start in left field over Gary Matthews, Jr. any day. (Well, any day except for when the Angels are playing the Red Sox, of course.)
So it is that the Angels will begin 2008 hoping that Erick Aybar can fill in for Orlando Cabrera. The 24-year old Aybar is the definition of a light-hitting infielder, though his offense should improve a bit once he’s getting regular at-bats. While he doesn’t have much experience at shortstop in the majors, it was his usual position through the minor leagues, so I don’t foresee a problem there. Plus, the Angels will be able to rotate their outfielders through the DH slot, keeping their bats in the lineup while giving their legs a rest. And Torii Hunter will provide the long-needed protection for Guerrero in the lineup. Finally, the addition of Jon Garland will give the Angels another solid arm behind staff ace John Lackey, which they’re no doubt doubly glad of now that 18-game winner Escobar has reported to camp with a sore shoulder.
Acquisitions: Torii Hunter, Jon Garland
Losses: Orlando Cabrera, Dallas McPherson, Bartolo Colon
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer:
1. 3B, Chone Figgins, .393 OBP, 41 SB
2. LF, Reggie Willits, .391 OBP, 27 SB
3. RF, Vladimir Guerrero, 27 HR, .403 OBP
4. CF, Torii Hunter, 28 HR, .287 AVG
5. DH, Garret Anderson, 16 HR, .297 AVG
6. 1B, Casey Kotchman, .372 OBP
7. 2B, Howie Kendrick, .322 AVG
8. C, Mike Napoli, 10 HR, .351 OBP
9. SS, Erick Aybar, 1 HR, .237 AVG
SP1 John Lackey, 3.01 ERA, 224.0 IP
SP2 Kelvim Escobar, 3.40 ERA, 195.2 IP
SP3 Jered Weaver, 3.91 ERA, 161.0 IP
SP4 Jon Garland, 4.23 ERA, 208.1 IP
SP5 Joe Saunders, 4.44 ERA, 107.1 IP
CL Francisco Rodriguez, 2.81 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
The Angels accomplished two major goals this offseason: acquiring a dependable starting pitcher and picking up a bat for the middle of their lineup. Their roster heading into 2008 is deep, with last year’s injuries having given some of their younger players and utility guys more experience. Their rotation looks solid—Weaver and Saunders are both young pitchers who should see a step-up in workload this year. Their lineup is stacked, too. My only reservation ist that Torii Hunter might not have been the best possible guy to get to protect Vladimir and, that by acquiring him, the team now has too many outfielders. But if the biggest problem a team has is too many good players, that’s an enviable problem to have. The Angels should make it to the playoffs again this year, and, if they stay healthy, have the roster to get a bit further this time.