This is part of a series of posts wherein we belittle teams for their offseason blunders, or else begrudgingly praise them for the occasional wily move.
As the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close it looks like the end of an era for the Angels. Over the past 10 years, the Angels have been a model of consistency on the diamond, making the playoffs 6 times. They were also a model of consistency in the front office, retaining the same manager (Mike Sciocia) for the entire decade and almost never trading away any of their players.
But time never stands still and certainly not in baseball, where free agency waits for no team. With the free agent departures of Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, and Chone Figgins, the Angels lost the last remaining vestiges of their 2002 World Series squad, other than reliever Scot Shields, who is trying to come back this season after being out with arm surgery last year.
So what did the Angels do this offseason, as they look to try to carry their success over into the second decade of the century? Well, they largely stood pat. Faced with the free agency of four key players (the three mentioned above, plus rightfielder Bobby Abreu), the Angels took different paths in each case, but in every case the Angels simply looked to replace what they had before as nearly as possible, without looking to upgrade or seriously reconsider the overall constitution of the team.
The worst approach was what they did with Abreu, doubling down by giving him a 2-year, $19 million dollar deal which just about doubled his salary. While the Angels looked like geniuses when they got Abreu for only $5 million last season, given that Abreu is *already* 36 years old as we speak, the Halos are almost certain to look like fools when Abreu is earning $9 million to play horrible defense and diminished offense in his age-39 season once his easily achieved vesting third year kicks in.
Showing Abreu the money meant that the Angels had to cut back else where, which is why they looked to replace the other three players with nearly identical, but cheaper facsimiles. To replace Lackey in the rotation, they brought in Joel Pinero on a 2-year, $16 million deal. Pinero certainly had an ace-like season last year for the Cardinals, but he doesn’t have Lackey’s proven track record of sustained success, and there are also the inevitable questions regarding whether his success in St. Louis may have been just another mirage produced by Dave Duncan’s wizard-like pitching coachery.
To offset the loss of Guerrero at DH, the Halos brought in 2009 World Series MVP and Yankees castoff Hideki Matsui, who will be a reasonably close approximation, although probably not quite as good. While Guerrero has had plenty of injury woes of his own in recent years, Matsui has two bum legs and could probably be classified as “legally crippled” in at least 12 states, is a year older than Vlad, and was never as good as Vlad was in their primes.
Finally, to replace Figgins at third, the Angels will finally give a major league job to Brandon Wood. It seems like Wood has been one of the Angels’ top prospects FOREVER, and has been constantly mentioned in trade rumors for at least the past five years, as Wood first made it to triple-A (and was good enough to stick there) way back in 2005, and despite putting up solid numbers was never given a shot at the major league level. Finally out of options all these years later, Wood will get his shot at third, where he certainly won’t match the career-year numbers Figgins put up last season, but might be able to vaguely resemble earlier incarnations of Figgins, at least in terms of overall value, if not in exact profile (Wood lacks Figgins’ blazing speed, but has more pop).
Otherwise, the Angels did not do much of anything else this offseason, in keeping with their traditional minimalist approach. They did bring in free agent reliever Fernando Rodney on a 2-year, $11 million deal to be a set-up man for closer Brian Fuentes, apparently too dazzled by Rodney’s 37 saves last year to notice his disconcerting peripherals.
The team also finally did close the books on the disastrous Gary Matthews Jr. fiasco, amazing the baseball world (except, perhaps, anyone who follows Omar Minaya closely), by getting anything at all for the worthless former star, in the form of serviceable reliever Brian Stokes, although they did have to pay the Mets Matthews’s entire 2010 salary of $21.5 million.
All told, getting something for nothing in the Matthews deal was probably the most cagey move of the offseason for the Angels. Otherwise, they were just replacing big-name brand name pieces with the baseball equivalent of buying the store brand. Sometimes the store brand actually turns out to be better than the brand name, and it’s certainly cheaper, so the Angels will certainly still be in contention this year, and you can never count out a team managed by Mike Scioscia, let alone one that still has a strong core, like this one.
But on the whole it was not a very inspired or inspiring offseason for Angels fans.
Acquisitions: DH Hideki Matsui, SP Joel Pinero, RP Fernando Rodney, RP Brian Stokes
Losses: DH Vladimir Guerrero, SP John Lackey, 3B Chone Figgins, OF Gary Matthews Jr., SP Kelvim Escobar
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer
C – Mike Napoli
1B – Kendry Morales
2B – Howie Kendrick
3B – Brandon Wood
SS – Erick Aybar
LF – Juan Rivera
CF – Torii Hunter
RF – Bobby Abreu
DH – Hideki Matsui
SP1 – Jared Weaver
SP2 – Scott Kazmir
SP3 – Joel Pinero
SP4 – Joe Saunders
SP5 – Ervin Santana
CL – Brian Fuentes