Swirling speculations about the Angels inability to keep their three aces intact and a growing disproportion between heightened payroll and team functionality cast serious clouds over sunny Anaheim this offseason.
It's not as if the Angels can afford losing one of their three best pitchers nor rely upon signing another big name this Winter.
With cornerstones Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick up for arbitration, team payroll could surge from $99 million to $121 million in 2012.
Tack on a Kendrys Morales' return and continued improvements from the youth brigade (Trumbo, Trout, Conger, Bourjos, Walden) and the team could be looking at multiple extensions in 2012.
The Darwinian like difficulty then lies in who to sign first?
Who is worthy of offers now? Who gives the team a future? Who if unrestricted will be most like John Lackey and bound for the Bronx or Beantown?
Precision from upper management will be of the essence if the Angels hope to retain their dominate pitching staff while improving on the offensive side of the ball.
Cuba Gooding said it best: "Show me the Money!" Arte, please oh please, show Ervin the money...someday.
As much as the 28-year-old is a poster child for critics bewilderment and a rollercoaster of rocky play, he's as important as nearly any player in the Angels' near future.
This season Ervin proved he's officially matured into a veteran with tremendous poise.
After an offensive 3-8 start to the season from April through June, Santana rounded into dominate form finishing 8-4 with a 2.88 ERA.
His 11-12 record hoodwinked most of baseball, but gives the Angels great leverage in locking him up long term.
Don't be fooled: a no-hit effort July 27th against the Indians proved the kid's gifted.
A dynamic slider and a mixed set of fastball/changeups, makes his arsenal devastating to opposing hitters.
With a club option for 2013, the Angels have room to work with Ervin. Perhaps allowing his contract to hold pat this offseason is the smartest decision from a long-term perspective?
It gives the Angels another year to gauge his health before officially buying in long term. It also allows the team to work out deals with Aybar and Kendrick and focus on trading for a much needed bat.
Like Santana, Dan Haren is not set to fly the coop.
The team has him locked up in 12' and have a $15.5 million club option for 13'. This is brilliant for numerous reasons.
At 31 years of age Haren is on that precipice that decides how valuable he'll be in a pitcher's latter years.
As good as he looked for most of the season, Haren showed signs of wearing down toward the end of the year. Starting 4-1 with a 1.23 ERA in April, Haren followed with a 4.45 ERA in the month of June.
If the Angels choose to proactively approach their staff this offseason, then locking up Ervin and his youth is most important.
But not to dismiss how dominate Haren made the team's staff. His money is due if he continues to win games. Next year will be the tell-all when it comes to his future in Anaheim.
The reason waiting on any deal for either Haren or Santana is smart is because of the team's needs NOW, and what the team can do in the future.
Bobby Abreu may be done when it comes to everyday use, but the future Hall of Famer is still a nice bench-utility option Scioscia can use to deepen the team in 2012.
Hunter is a starter, no question. A torrid month of September proved to the franchise the veteran one-of-a-kind web gem hero has fuel left to help anchor the lineup come next season.
Both Abreu and Hunter are fantastic locker room presences and mentors for the likes of Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos, who will be in the outfield for many, many years.
Adding consistency offensively is priority one come 2012.
Once the team improves on that front, and Hunter and Abreu's combined $27 million dollars come off the books, the Halos can lock up Santana and then go from there.
There is little to any wiggle room this winter.
After locking up Jered Weaver to an understandably enormous contract, there is little left to work with. And all the big stars up for paydays will be looking to cash in at astronomical levels.
Albert Pujols will stay with the Cardinals. With bats like Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman hitting around him and his team's emergence into a perennial power again in the NL, it's hard to imagine him elsewhere. Add in the fact that he is an active community member in St. Louis, the most celebrated athlete in the team's illustrious history and Pujols will forever be Mr. Cardinal.
Prince Fielder will not stay with the Brewers but will be looking for a 200-million plus contract, one the Angels could never dream nor afford. Most likely he will land in a large market with a need for a franchise face. The Angels already have a load at first base with Trumbo and Morales, and normally don't go after bright-light stars like Fielder in the Scioscia era.
Joey Votto is a Red at least for another two years. Despite the media's love for conjuring stories and spinning things into their webs of gossip, nothing of solidity has come of it. Reds GM Walt Jocketty continues to shout shut up! We're keeping him.
Jose Reyes who? Why would the team go after another speedy small-ball hitter when the larger issue is power? Despite Reyes love of Anaheim, he and his desire for 200-million is way off the Angels' radar. Think again Jose. Think smaller.
The difficulty of having little signing room, might lead to the making of a trade.
Rumors persisting of a possible movement of David Wright, opens doors for the Angels who all last season lacked at third base.
It is a good time to buy on the NL's version of Evan Longoria. Wright, a longtime fan favorite, is coming off the worst season of his career, one in which he missed 60 games and hit a career low .254.
Why is this a positive?
It allows the Angels to get him cheap with tons of upside remaining for the 28-year-old who's a lifetime .300 hitter.
His $16 million dollars is not cheap, but a nice mix of moves, including players like Izturis (considering Reyes could walk) and perhaps Hunter's waning contract, could be enough to equalize his salary size.
Most importantly, Wright's ability to opt out after 2012 could be a very positive thing as well. If his season is similar to the one he had in 2011, the Angels can wipe their hands clean of him.
So why not rent him for a year to see if they can win now, while possibly building a better future as well?
The BIG looming IF.
If Kendrys Morales stays healthy, will he accept a DH role? Will the youngster still have an upside?
IF is a scary reality for any team, but this season there will be a healthy measure of that in Anaheim. Because IF Morales can stay healthy, accept a DH role and round back into form, the Angels' offensive woes are suddenly answered.
Imagining a lineup with a switch-hitting Morales and a maturing Trumbo is a scary one-two combo in the middle of any batting order.
Add in hopefully a renewed Vernon Wells and the speed of Bourjous and Aybar, and the Angels are back to scoring a lot more runs than they did in 2011.
Being able to move on with a healthy Morales, their youth and perhaps a bat like Wright, eases up the cap room, and increases the possibility of locking up both Santana and Haren in the years to come.
IF the dominoes fall correctly, right?
I suspect Peter Bourjos as the better of the Angels' prospects, the others being Trout and Conger. He has solidified himself as a speedy center fielder with a .280 average and an ability to steal bases.
Mike Trout is called up and splits time with Hunter in the outfield. Trout is given a gem in Hunter as a mentor. Trout also becomes a tremendous glove in the outfield and continues to improve his plate discipline.
As for Conger? Conger will go through some of the blues of being called up too early in my opinion. But this isn't to say he's not a step up from Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson. His arm is much better and he shows encouraging signs at the plate.
Torii Hunter surges in his final season with Anaheim. This is to prove he can play out another one or two-year deal elsewhere for a contender. I suspect he'll retire, but would not be surprised to see him in another uniform come 2013.
Bobby Abreu hangs it up as quietly one of the most unsung stars of his generation.
Mark Trumbo starts at first base and continues to rise as the Angels' franchise face on offense. Trumbo sits in the middle of the lineup and learns to hit with average. He also surpasses 30 home runs and 100 RBI.
So much of me wants to say Trumbo's improvements are related to the health of Morales. But we'll see. He is as much a mystery to me as he probably is to you.
I don't think both Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick will be with the team in 2012. Something in me believes the Angels will package either Aybar or Kendrick in a deal for a player like David Wright.
The improvements at third base will be the main reason Trumbo improves. But I hope I'm wrong once again and that improvement is due to Morales being healthy.
I believe the Angels will get better offensively as they learn to gel and players like Vernon Wells bounce back. This improved run support means an even greater dominance from their big three: Weaver, Haren and Santana.
Haren will show he can pitch for a few more years and Santana toys with his first 20-win season of his career. The Angels lock up Santana in 2012 and as for Haren, it will depend upon his asking price.