So here we go—my bold suggestions:
1) Trade, release, or make Gary Matthews Jr. a bench option behind Reggie Willits.
This is, of course, much easier said than done, but I believe it's a crucial and necessary move. I don't know if Matthews has much trade value, but I know there are teams in need of a center fielder (Phillies, White Sox, Twins). Where there is a need, there should be a way.
Matthews Jr. wasn't a great signing, as evidenced by how little interest there has been in him in spite of so many teams needing CF help. His signing was mostly based upon one career year at his age 31 season. Previously he'd been a bench player for the lowly Rangers.
He now becomes excess to requirements with Torii Hunter, and a more talented young player like Juan Rivera should not lose playing time to Matthews, big contract and all. It's the right move from a baseball standpoint, even if it hurts the Angels front office.
The important thing is he shouldn't take at-bats away from Rivera or even Reggie Willits for that matter, simply because he is not as good. He's not a bad player at all, he's just not a better hitter than Rivera now or for the next four years, or a better table-setter than Willits. He doesn't have the on-base ability of Willits or the natural gifts of Rivera, even though Matthews looks like a dynamic hitter at the plate.
The numbers tell the story. In 2007 he posted a .252 average, hitting 18 HR (admittedly valuable home runs and second on the team), driving in 72 runs, and scoring 79. More importantly, Matthews Jr. posted a so-so .323 OBP (a full 68 points lower than Willits), and his slugging percentage was nothing special at .419, adding up to an OPS of .742. On-base percentage is the most important offensive stat for a potential leadoff man, and in case you were wondering that OBP ranked 15th out of 20 listed major league centerfielders.
The Angels would be wise to move on and let Matthews Jr. pursue his career elsewhere. They need impact bats in the lineup if they ever want to compete with the Sox, Yankees, Indians, and Tigers. Matthews, though a nice player, just isn't that and he's not a better option than what the Angels already had before signing him.
Preferably someone would take him in a trade, but I would not consider a release an extreme move, given the Angels logjam of current and potentially future OF options (Terry Evans).
2) Offer Barry Bonds a heavily incentive-laden contract for the 2008 season.
Before people start calling for my head on a platter, consider the following:
In 2007, a season in which Bonds had to play left field and take a lot of time off, he posted a VORP of 55.2, good for 19th best in baseball, and only seven runs behind Vladimir Guerrero. Once you consider his VORP was kept artificially low due to a lower number of plate appearances than other players, you can see that Bonds is still at or near the top of all major league hitters.
His plate discipline is second to none and that's something the Angels strongly lack. The team could learn a thing or two from watching Bonds' approach to hitting on a nightly basis because, despite his shenanigans, he is the best hitter of our time. His combination of pitch selection, patience, power, high contact rate, low strikeout rate, and insane walk rate make him a sabermetrician's dream.
I have to say it and you can disagree with me if you want, but I'm concerned with what the Angels' ballplayers get done on the field and, more specifically, at the plate. The fact that Bonds has been linked to the steroid controversy means little to me because even before he allegedly started taking performance enhancing drugs he was a first ballot Hall-of-Fame talent. No one can argue with that fact.
Bonds is an incredible bat more because of his plate discipline and approach to hitting than potential steroids usage. (If you don't believe me, give a professional wrestler a bat and 600 plate appearances and let me know how he does.)
The Angels need an impact bat to make up for the Miguel Cabrera debacle and gain ground on the heavy hitting AL teams. Barry Bonds certainly qualifies as an impact bat and a game changer.
On top of all this, the Angels need to make more $$$ to pay the insane contracts they've been handing out, so the extra revenue generated by having Bonds playing can help offset any bad press the team gets. People will come just to see the circus. It has to be said—the Angels have won nothing significant in the last few years without Barry, so they can't be worse with him. They would have a far better lineup with him in it.
Besides, there's no such thing as bad publicity. The Angels need the 1.000+ OPS Barry will bring, not to mention the 30+ homers he could hit by accident if he was to DH 145 games a year. I'm not going to bother going into the specifics of how his .475 OBP and .575 slugging will dramatically improve the Angels' chances of winning a playoff series because that's obvious. He would immediately become their best and most dangerous hitter (even though Vladimir is fantastic, Barry is more valuable as a hitter, just look at OBP, slugging, or any stat you want really, minus average).
I will also say that a 3-4-5 of Bonds, Guerrero, and Hunter looks pretty good (though a 3-4-5 of Bonds, Guerrero, and Miguel Cabrera would have looked better), even if it's an aging group that won't be together for long. The Angels are clearly concerned with winning now, given the long-term deals they are handing out to ensure they will get their targets. Bonds will give the Angels a much better chance of winning now and he can also play a little left-field when Guerrero needs a day off to DH.
I don't think this will happen, but I would pursue it if I were the Angels GM. It makes the team better now and it would be a one-year experiment at worst. It would work well and the Angels' legal team should be able to draw up a contract that could protect the Angels if Bonds were to experience legal dilemmas.
Once again, if there's a will, there's a way.
More to come in Part III...