Where Do the L.A. Angels Go from Here?

Scott FenderCorrespondent IOctober 13, 2008

As a life-long Angel fan, I have come to know the top and the bottom of the A.L. West. Though only 20 years into fandom, I feel like I have cemented myself as supportive and critical at the same time. I always expect the best from my team. I also realize the best is sometimes finishing over .500.

This year, the best was a World Series Championship. But Angels fans know all too well what happened this year. This led me to forget about the rest of the season and look ahead. The Angels will be at a crossroads and major changes and overhauls could be in place.

Manager Mike Scioscia has stated that the Angels are built for the long haul. That is a bold statement. Scioscia does have some power in executive decisions, however the fact remains that it is Arte Moreno's final decision. Arte Moreno may be the best owner in baseball. While he is willing to spend money, he's also shrewd with it. He only spends money on good investments and likes homegrown talent over big-dollar free agents.

His style may be put to the test this offseason, however. The Angels are not built for the long haul yet. They are at a crossroads in their short dynasty over the A.L. West. The A.L. west will be much more competitive next season. I do not see the Mariners competing soon, but the Athletics will be better, as long as they do not trade away their entire team before the trading deadline, and the Rangers will be competitive if they get a pitching staff.

The Angels have the most important offseason of any other team. There are multiple club options, two unrestricted free agents that could be paid more than an entire third-world country, and a weak free-agent class that could cause for overpayment for role players.

The first challenge is figuring out what to do with the options. Vlad, GA, and Lackey all have options this season. More importantly, all three are leaders of the team and faces of the franchise. I believe that the Angels need to keep all three around.

This team is built around Vladimir Guerrero and his next contract, either by extension or free agent, will not be as lucrative as he has now. He is getting older and slower, he is becoming a liability in the field, and his bat is not as dangerous.

Granted, he is still a great player, but he is not the Guerrero of old. The old Montreal stadium deteriorated his body quicker than expected. His run is slow and awkward at times. He used to be a 20-20 player, who grew into a 30-20 player, but is now a 20-and-at-best-five player.

To me, Vlad reminds me of Barry Bonds more than anyone. Someone who became the face of a franchise and was the most exciting player to watch bat. One who used to steal a decent amount of bases and as time went on could still steal a bag but had ailing leg problems.

Also, both players would become a liability in the field when only a few years ago they were feared both on offense and defense.

Garret Anderson is the Tim Salmon of this team—a leader who plays the game the right way and who leads by example. A classy player who has stepped aside to let the younger players play more and taken a backseat as a role player. Anderson needs to finish his career as an Angel most fans believe.

The main reason for keeping Anderson around is because he is such a fan favorite, letting him go after a disappointing season will cast doubt on the management. People criticized the Orlando Cabrera trade but there was a tangible trade-off in the deal, and Garland proved his worth to some extent.

Also, the professional that Anderson is, he could be willing to restructure the contract to take some millions off his contract and allow more spending elsewhere. The Angels will not low-ball him, but they cannot pay him and Vlad the same way they have the last few years.

John Lackey needs to stay. Plain and simple. Of all three options, this one is the least likely to get terminated. Lackey is the anchor of this staff and provides the best chance to maintain the excellent staff the Angels have had the last few years.

The next step for Angels management is to look at the players they might lose. The list is Juan Rivera, Jon Garland, Mark Teixeira, Darren Oliver, and Francisco Rodriguez.

Mark and K-Rod will be making big bucks this next year and could set records for their position. The other three will be pursued greatly by more teams and will be harder to keep around.

First off is Juan Rivera. He has been a slight disappointment for the Angels. He was supposed to become a big home-run hitter and instead became a role player in a crowded outfield. The Angels should pursue him, but not heavily. I think he could benefit going to the N.L. and playing for the Pirates, Rockies, or staying in the A.L. and playing for the Royals.

I do not expect Rivera back, and I see him going to one of those teams to be an everyday player. Also, look for Rivera to potentially go within the division to Seattle or Texas. I see him going to the Royals though.

Jon Garland is next, and this one is up in the air for me. I am not sure if the Angels really need him, other than as a No. 4 or 5 starter. Especially if Kelvim Escobar comes back from surgery this year.

Garland will be pursued by many teams since he could be a relatively cheap option for many teams to make into a second or third starter. That draw could send him away. The Angels need a veteran arm in that spot more than Garland, and I see the Angels letting Garland go, which could be upsetting, seeing as he was the only player the Angels got in the Cabrera trade.

Darren Oliver needs to be re-signed. No going around this one, the Angels need Darren. He was the best lefty out of the 'pen last year and one of the only ones the Angels have. Oliver is a staple in that bullpen and the left-handed relievers this year are fairly weak. Oliver should be picked back up and re-signed.

This is where some controversy will happen, so all of you that disagree, I expect numerous comments on how stupid I am and how I am the worst writer ever, but this is the truth people. It's the one that makes the most sense.

Mark Teixeira should be signed to whatever Boras wants. Francisco Rodriguez should be let go. I said it. Let me break it down now.

Marky Mark is a switch-hitting, power first baseman with a Gold Glove. A huge upgrade over Kotchman. I love Kotchman, but the best chance to win resides in Marky Mark. He put up better numbers than Manny Ramirez as a Dodger, single-handedly kept the Angels competitive in every game against the Sox, and management took a gamble with him in the trade and the other option is Kendry Morales.

Not the best way to break things down, but Yahoo! Fantasy Sports has Mark being the 18th best player all of last year and the 13th best offensive player. He was sixth in RBI and had only five errors all year. He is an offensive and defensive powerhouse. And he should be paid by the Angels to keep him around.

K-Rod just set the record for saves. Woohoo! Good for him. But I say that is an arbitrary stat. Saves have long been regarded as the most overrated statistic, not just in baseball but all of sports.

Francisco wants to be paid like a starter, and he just does not deserve it. He is not even the most dominant closer in baseball. If anyone needs a reminder of how a closer can be the best one season and a bust next season, they only need to look at the tale of Eric Gagne. Rodriguez is not a necessary piece in the "Championship Puzzle" the Angels are putting together.

Many believe the Angels will sign Teixeira or Rodriguez, but not both. The question is which one do they sign? I am strongly desiring the Angels sign Mark Teixeira. Mark brings a bat and glove to every game, while K-Rod pitches only in the lead when the Angels fought for that lead or in extra innings.

Starters at least pitch every five or six days and are supposed to pitch an average of six innings. If a closer pitches in three straight games for one inning at a time, he is given a day off because he is supposedly being "overworked." That is one reason the Angels should not pay him.

The other being that Mark is a leader in the clubhouse and is seemingly more professional than K-Rod. I do not know either personally, but I think players and fans alike see that Mark Teixeira is a leader in the clubhouse and the field. I feel that for the money that will be invested in these guys, Mark is the best return.

Plenty of guys each year can become the instant closer guy. Kevin Gregg was a starter for the Angels and was released by them. He is now the shutdown closer for the Marlins. A closer can be any pitcher who gels into the role. Mark will be much harder to replace than K-Rod.

Now, it's speculation time for free agents. These players should be targeted by the Angels: A.J. Burnett (has a player option), Greg Maddux, Matt Morris (Team Option), Jeremy Affeldt, Brandon Lyon, Damaso Marte (Club Option), Ken Griffey Jr. (Club Option), Raul Ibanez, and Tomohiro Nioka

If A.J. Burnett bolts from the Blue Jays, then the Angels need to jump in on the bidding. He is a player who has played solid for years on the Blue Jays and has had little press. He is a solid pitcher who would benefit from being moved out of Toronto.

He has great talent and is a strikeout pitcher. He lead the A.L. in strikeouts last year and won 18 games. The alarming stat is ERA, which is at 4.07. Not bad, but not worth the millions he may be getting. He has the potential to wind that down a bit, and I see him as a 3.5 ERA guy which puts teams in great chances to win.

Whether or not A.J. signs with the Angels, Greg Maddux needs serious consideration. The Mad Dog is a future Hall-of-Famer and possibly the smartest pitcher in the history of the game. Read this ESPN article to fully understand.

Maddux still has a year or two or maybe more left in him. He could be designated to fourth or fifth in the rotation and be able to help out the young guys and help mature Nick Adenhart. Also, Maddux can steal a base or two with nine in his career. That may not be a lot, but he stole one last year, so he can still get up and move. Not as important in the A.L. but still an impressive stat nevertheless.

Matt Morris is another solid player on a team that gets no press. Morris is just a great player who has hit rough spots the last few years. He was a 22-game winner in 2001 and can still play the game. He may have lost a bit since he is going to be 34, but he still can fill in when needed. Also, he saved four games as a Cardinal one year and could be signed to close and preserve the career. A wild thought, but one that is possible.

Jeremy Affeldt will get signed by a team with little fan fare. He is a middle reliever and the only time they get anybody caring about them is if they are doing amazing or horrible. Affeldt is a reliever who could fit well in the bullpen and has gotten better the past three years. At only 29, he can still get better and smarter.

Brandon Lyon could be a cheaper solution to the K-Rod problem. However, Lyon is a better reliever or set-up man than a closer. He seems much more comfortable at reliever than closer, and that is where I would want him.

Move Jose Arredondo up to closer to see how he does, and let Lyon be the seventh or eighth-inning guy. Arredondo and Spieir can battle for the closer spot, but Shields needs to stay in the set-up or seventh-inning spot.

Damaso Marte is a great lefty specialist. He could fit in well with Darren or replace him if the Angels let Darren go. In 2003, he was lights out with a 1.73 ERA but has struggled a bit recently. Last season, he had trouble getting people out, but I think it was just a funk, and he could do a great job in Anaheim.

Ken Griffey Jr. is just a dream option. I grew up watching him and rooting for him as did most kids of the 1990 baseball era. He is a delight to play with and watch and would go perfect in our battered and aging outfield. This is more a dream and joke than anything, but the name alone attracts hope and he would play with a sense of urgency knowing time is running out on him.

He has yet to win a world Series, let alone a playoff series. If the club drops him, he will be looking for a contender, and if Rivera is gone, this would be a perfect scenario for him so he could DH a bit. Plus he could play Seattle a lot. Also, if he does play the field, he is still capable of making the plays and would give us three of the best defensive outfielders in the game.

Raul Ibanez is a better version of Juan Rivera. At age 36 this past year he played all 162 games. He does not get injured much and can still hit the long ball. He will not be returning to Seattle, I do not think, and the Angels should make a move for him. The age is a concern and he should not be pursued too seriously.

Tomohiro Nioka plays shortstop for the Giants. The Yumiuri Giants, that is. He will be 32 and have played nine seasons. He may be average at best though, and Arte, Scioscia, and Reagins seem committed to our current shortstops, so I do not see this coming into fruition, but Nioka is one of the best shortstops in Japan right now.

A career .285 hitter with not much power though, but more than Aybar or Izturis. He has been compared to Michael Young or Edgar Renteria in the Japan league and was second in the league defensively last year (fewest errors committed).

The Angels have never been too interested in Japanese talent, however, and the draw of a 32-year old shortstop from there may not be appealing to the front office. (For more information on Japanese baseball free agents, read here.)

On the flip-side, I do not want the Angels to entertain thoughts of signing CC Sabathia. He is a good pitcher but needs to stay in the N.L. to be dominant. Plus, he likes it over there, I heard, since he gets to bat.

I do not want the Angels to sign him because I am a bit unsure of the innings he added on at the end of the year. It could have worn him down a bit quicker than normal and a bit injury prone in the future.

This is also a reality issue. Signing Teixeira will cost the Angels a small fortune and signing both of these guys would be like hitting the jackpot in Vegas, but it is unlikely. If the Angels do sign him, I will be happy, but I feel we could spend the money elsewhere or next year.

It is a sad thing to say goodbye to this year, and it has left a bitter taste in my mouth. I have yet to watch a single inning of the Championship Series Games, but I am rooting for the Phillies and Rays of course.

I cannot wait to see what we do this offseason. I am already wishing for next season to come. If you have any ideas on what we should do, let me know. I would love to speculate, hope, and dream


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