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Where Are The Angels Heading and What They Should Do

Dean ChabanContributor IJuly 12, 2009

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 1:  Pitcher Jered Weaver #36 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim reacts after giving up a homerun against Hank Blalock #9 of the Texas Rangers in the fourth inning at Rangers Ballpark July 1, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Along with many Angel fans over the Vlad years, I have been a proponnet of them doing something either in the off-season or at this time of year, the All Star Break.  By doing something, I mean either a top signing or a trade to fill in a hole. 

This year's surprising and late free agent signing was Bobby Abreu.

I liked this signing initially because I had been a fan of this classy and polished ball player.  I read differing accounts of what his signing could do for and against the team - his patience at the plate would help our younger hitters but his defensive liabilities would cost the team some games.

At this point, I think that it's safe to say that we have gotten all the positives of Abreu with minimal negatives.  His patience at the plate is a shining example to our younger hitters, especially Aybar and Itsuris, and helps Mickey Hatcher, our hitting coach, by showing them what patience at the plate truly means. 

On the other hand, his few defensive lapses combined with some gems have cancelled out the negatives that were laid at his feet in the off season that he would be a defensive liability. 

True, Vlad's injury let him go back to his more natural position of right field and that definitely helped him out, but the forecasts of his lack of defensive prowess has been proven to be wrong.

The expectations at the beginning of the season was that the division was the Angels to lose.  Almost universally the prognosticators gave the division to the Angels.  Their past performance combined with their depth, added experience for their young guys, and the Abreu signing all seemed to point that way.  Unfortunately, that's not what is happening.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Angels are getting a run for their money by not only the unexpected Mariners but the Texas Rangers.  The Mariners are only 4 games out at the time of this writing and the Rangers are a 1/2 game out. 

Will the Mariners improve and stand the test of a pennant race?  It's possible but not likely. 

The Rangers, under the new managment of that tough and wiley Texan, Nolan Ryan, however, could be the real deal after usually fading in the second half of seasons.

Ryan, the HOF pitcher, knows what it takes to pitch in the blistering Texas heat in the summertime.  He let the entire Ranger pitching staff know that their off season and in season conditioning is key for them to continue to contend in those hot July and August nights.  He won't abide excuses, he wants results and he commands the respect necessary to achieve these aims.  I don't think the Rangers are going to go away without a fight.

Okay, that leaves us, the LA Angels of Anaheim.  We all know whats gone right this season. 

We are hitting for average at a very unexpected, league leading rate of .280 right now and scoring runs in bunches.  We have overcome deficits and comeback to win games 26 times already this season. 

That's great, right?

You have to look at the other side to this coin though.  Why are we having to come back so many times?  Because our starting pitching is not what was expected.  This is the crux of the problem.

Our expected ace, John Lackey, who is in a contract year, went on the disabled list and was delayed starting his season.  Since he has come back he has been inconsistent at best and definitely not what one would consider a #1 pitcher on a staff to be.  He has not gone deep in games consistently.  His ERA is over 5 (5.14) and he has a losing record right now of three and four. 

Whether it's the pressure of a contract year or just trying to get through his spring training during the actual season is best left up to his manager and pitching coach.

Joe Saunders, our all star from last year, started out the year in all star form.  After getting rocked in a start nearly a month ago he has not been the same pitcher.  I am hoping this is just a temporary thing because he is our only lefty and I have always liked him.  Before last year, he was always coming up to get a spot start, would usually win it, and then be sent down. 

Saunders never complained and showed his class many times despite the feeling you got that he was better than guys that were in our rotation at the time.  It might take a little time, but I think he can right the ship in the second half of this season.

Ervin Santana, our second all star pitcher from last year, is also having an erratic season again.  Two years ago, he melted in mid season, was sent down to tripple A, and a lot of pundits thought his career was done.  The Angels, however, believed in him enough that when he was asked for in a possible trade for Miguel Cabrera, they said no. 

Last year, Santana was lights out and the Angels appeared vindicated.  This year, Santana reported shoulder issues in spring training and was delayed in his return to the majors, much like John Lackey.  Although similar to this year's Lackey in his delayed return to the lineup, his perfomance this year to date is much more similar to his efforts of 2 years ago.  He is 1 and 7 with and era of 7.81.

Jered Weaver, the lone starting pitching bright spot this year, has shown the maturity and improvement that has long been expected of him.  He is 10-3 with an era of 3.22.  He has definitely been the clear ace of the staff this year and has shown the consistancy that is expected of the title.

We have had several spot starters who have filled in for the above mentioned pitchers with varying success.  Matt Palmer, a 30 year old journeyman pitcher, was clearly the best of the lot.  Palmer started off 6-0, and was amazing by being able to eat up innings and kept the team in ballgames.  After his stunning start he started to have some issues.  That, combined with the return of Santana from his injury pushed him to the bullpen.

Sean O'Sullivan was another spot starter who came up and went 2-0, was sent down to triple A immediately after each start.  He then was hurt in tripleA and is now trying to regain his winning form.

Others that were expected to contribute at the beginning of the season have not been available for various reasons.  Dustin Moseley, a pitcher for any occasion - a spot starter, a longer than spot starter, a long reliever, a short reliever, etc. was hurt early on and placed on IR.  Shane Loux, a spot starter in the Sean O'Sullivan mold, has shown flashes of good potential and is just coming back from injury.  Can he help?  I don't know.

We all know the tragic story of Nick Adenhart and it hurts too much to recount it so I won't.  What I do want to point out, though, is now one can see how much he was counted on in the Angels future and current plans. 

In spring training he was originally fighting for the 5th spot in the rotation.  When injuries struck in the spring, the 5th spot was his.  He left not just a hole in the rotation, but a hole in the hearts of his teammates and his fans. 

How the Angels have even managed to play on and then play well enough to challenge for the division speaks well of the organization as a whole, from Arte Moreno to Tony Reagins, to Mike Sciosia, to the leaders in the clubhouse, to the fans and their outpouring of love, and to all of us touched by this tragedy. 

I know that personally, I couldn't talk for days and walked around like a zombie.  I never knew or met Mr. Adenhart but from what I had learned about him as an Angel fan over the years, I had high hopes for him but also respected him for his courage and perseverance.

Getting back to the topic of the article.  The last piece of the puzzle is the bullpen.  Initially, they started of shakey from top to bottom.  The Brian Fuentes experiment didn't look like it was going to be successful initially.  But after a shakey start, Fuentes has come back strong.  He has a Major League leading 25 saves and has reduced his ERA from over 7 back in May to 3.34 currently. 

By the way, the guy he replaced, K-Rod, has 22 saves, which is 6 places behind Fuentes, with an ERA of 1.73.  Both have blown 3 save opportunities at this point of the season.  Fuentes came early in the season, Frankies have come recently. 

The rest of the 'pen has had it's problems, most notably losing their stalwart 8th inning set up man, Scot Shields.  Most of the rest of the bullpen has had their problems but have been coming around as of late with occasional lapses.  Darren Oliver has pitched noticibly well and Kevin Jepsen, after learning a 3rd pitch recently, has looked much better than he did earlier. 

Jose Arredondo, last year's phenom and closer heir apparent, was inconsistent early in the season and sent down to tripple A.  He has since been hurt and is on the disabled list.

So, where do we go from here and what do we need?  Well, when you are the league leader in hitting average and have been scoring runs like crazy lately (even with your two most feared hitters out of the lineup) then I don't think it's a bat that is needed.

With the bullpen finally coming around, albeit slowly, I don't think that is the problem either.  A solid arm would always be welcome but I don't think that really is the issue.  On any given night, the bullpen can seem dominating and then another night they are disappointing.  With Fuentes closing and most of the others starting to round into shape, they are not my priority.

Starting pitching is the problem.  Inconsistency, injuries, confidence, even mechanics, seem to be the problem with this group.  So, this brings the question, what do we do?  A lot of people want us to join the Roy Halladay sweepstakes.  Halladay is a 32 year old pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays with a year and a half left on his contract.  He is 10-3 with a 2.85 ERA right now.

Is he the answer to our woes?  Would he be the guy to get us over the hump this year and possibly next year?  What would he bring and what would we lose to get him?  What is the long term plan that the Angels have in place?

First, let me address the Halladay situation.  The rumored cost would be at least one starting pitcher and quite possibly two.  Jered Weaver's name has been most prominently mentioned as the pitcher possibly involved or Joe Saunders.  Also, the rumor states that it would cost us an everyday player or two depending on the number of pitchers involved.  For example, if we traded one pitcher then we would need to include two everyday players at the Major League level.  The names mentioned here are Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Mike Napoli. On top of this, the story continues that we would have to give up 2-3 top prospects.  The names here vary but the name most prominently mentioned are Brandon Woods and a top pitching prospect such as Jordan Walden or Trevor Reckling.  So, we're talking 3 major leaguers and 2 prospects for one pitcher.

Don't get me wrong.  At first I had barely heard of Roy Halladay.  When I looked at his career stats I was amazed.  In an average year he wins twice as many games as he loses and his career ERA is 3.47 for an 11 year career.  At this point he is 10-3 with an ERA of 2.72.  To be honest, his stats are roughly comparable to Jered Weaver's right now  BUT, is he worth it?

I don't think so.  Let's look at the big picture.  First of all the guy is 32 and has pitched for 11 years already.  What does he have left and how much longer can he pitch at this level?  Most pitchers tend to have to change their style of pitching once they hit their mid 30's.  I don't know Halladay's repertoire of pitches and what he relies on but I'm just going on what is usual and what the Angels would have to give up.

In just a straight up trade of Weaver for Halladay, how many more wins will Halladay give you in a year than Weaver.  This year it's possible that the answer might be zero considering they have the same record right now. 

After next year Halladay will be a free agent.  As we saw with Mark Teixieria, their is no guarantee in signing him to another contract or a contract extension.  Right now, Halliday is scheduled to make over 15 million dollars next year.  In this economy, will Arte Moreno spend what it would take to sign Halladay to a long term deal and would Halladay perform up to his contract?  Look at Vlad this year.  He is in the final year of his deal and he seems to be breaking down right and left.

This is also part of the equation.  What do we do with Vlad after this year?  Do we sign him but will he take less due to his decline and his possibly being older than we all thought?  If not, do we replace him in house or sign a big name free agent?  These are all part of the Halladay equation.

We all know that Mr. Moreno is an excellent businessman.  We all know he made a reasonable offer to Tex after the year.  Supposedly though, it came down to the fact that Tex wanted to be close to his family on the east coast, along with the better offer from the Yankees.  Is he willing to risk a possible similar outcome with Halladay at a greater price with a year longer on his current contract?

By giving up a young starter, we give up his future.  True, you never know what can happen.  Either pitcher could sustain a career ending injury and it would be catastrophic for the Angels.  I would rather keep Weaver and Saunders considering what they've done in the past, what they cost currently, what they will cost over the next few years, and their possible stellar futures.

By giving up any of the other MLB players mentioned, we are just seeing the potential they have.  Napoli has already passed expectations in relation to his offensive potential.  He has 11 homers this year already along with 33 RBIs and a .294 batting average in only 60 games, not the 80+ that have already been played.  Add about 20% more production if he had played in those 20 other games.  We'd be looking at 14-15 total homers and about 41 RBI.  Not bad for a young guy coming into his prime.

Erick Aybar is also another young prospect who is coming into his own.  In 67 games, he is batting .292, has scored 32 runs and recorded 27 RBI's.  He is a table setter that usually bats in the lower part of the order.  He is a speedster and versatile player that can play either 2nd base, shortstop, and 3rd base in a pinch.

Howie Kendrick batted over .300 his first 2 seasons in the majors and appeared ready to improve on that in 2009.  The only knock on him was that he appeared to be injury prone.  That didn't happen this year but his usual offensive prowess took such a significant dip this year that he was demoted to tripple A until he got his stroke back consistently.  He was recently brought back but has been not shown the consistent stroke that he's shown in the past.  His defensive prowess, though, is unquestioned.  Will he get the stroke back that he's shown at every level he's ever played at throughout his career.  I think the answer has to be an emphatic yes.  Maybe not this year, but by next season for sure.  It's just unlikely that a guy who has consistently batted well over .300 everywhere he's played just lost it overnight without it being some kind of physical ailment.

Now we come to the future of a player the club has been waiting on for the last 3 years.  A former minor league player of the year with tremendous power who has been the hope of fans waiting these many years, Brandon Wood.  Ever since the loss of Troy Glaus, 3rd base has not been the traditional root of a power player.  Chone Figgins, a player who is a fan favorite, bats well over .300 every season, was a super sub until settling at 3rd base after the Dallas MacPherson experiment failed.

At first, his defense was suspect but now he should be in Gold Glove consideration.  Because he doesn't hit for power, though, he is not considered a "typical" 3rd baseman.  He is a perenial and perfect leadoff hitter - patient, high average, steals a lot of bases, is marvelous in the hit and run, runs from first to third or second to home at the drop of the hat.  He can play nearly any position on the field except for maybe catcher and first base, although I wouldn't put it past him to do so if he so desired.

If it wasn't for Figgins, Wood would probably already be up in Major Leagues.  Woods major weakness, as with most power hitters, was his strikeouts, but he has worked on that and reduced his K's the last two years.  The other knock on him was his defense but his has worked on that too and is considered to be at least an average 3rd baseman.  With further work, I have no doubt he would advance to a "plus" 3rd baseman.

The other prospects, the pitchers, are good but unproven as is usual for prospects.  But, even if one of them becomes an average starter, would it be worth trading them? 

Assuming we don't resign Vlad next year, Woods and Napoli would go a long way to make up for Vlad's power numbers.  I don't know if we try to resign Abreu next year or let him go because of the crowd on the roster and the fact that Brandon Woods needs to start playing in the Majors next year at the latest. 

Some fans feel that Scoisia is holding Woods back for some reason.  I don't know.  I do know that Woods was in the lineup yesterday and hit a homer.  If Scoisia keeps Woods in the lineup while Torii and Vlad are out and he produces, I don't see how he can keep him out when they return.

The Angels, under Scoisia and Moreno have navigated the turbulant waters through this very trying year.  What they do between now and next year will really determine the course of this organization for quite awhile.  If Vlad is not here next year, we need Napoli, Woods, Saunders, and Weaver to make up for Vlad and to keep consistancy in the rotation.  We even need the prospects to make up for the loss off quality pitching prospects that are obviously lacking right now. 

I believe that with patience we will see where we stand this year and will be better off making quality assessments coolly in the offseason than in the heat of midseason.  If Lackey leaves in the offseason, which I think is unlikely given what he has done this year and the state of the economy, then we will have to find someone to make up for that.  If Halladay is still with the Jays, he will be cheaper because he will have less time on his contract.

If Vlad goes, which I think is likely unless he is willing to accept quite a bit less than what he is making now, I believe the Angels will need Figgins, Woods, Napoli, and Aybar to help make up for his production when he was good.  Napoli and Woods bring power and Aybar and Figgins set the table for them.

The Angels could look significantly different in 2010 than they do now, or are supposed to look.  Rivera is turning out to be the bargain they thought he would be when they signed him to that 3 year contract and would play left field still.  Hunter would still be in center.  Right field will be a question mark.  Do they keep Vlad?  Do they keep Abreu?  Or do they move Figgins out to right and put Woods at 3rd?  Or do they sign Abreu, move Figgins to 2nd (the position he played throughout the minor and some in the majors) and still bring Woods into the lineup at 3rd?

Kendry Morales has played much better than expected at first and looks like he could break the 30 homer, 100 RBI mark either this year or next.  Itzuris and Aybar can platoon at short and be utility infield guys as they are doing this year.  The question will be what to do and how to fit in the pieces they have.

With an infield of Morales/Figgins or Kendrick/Itzuris, Aybar/ and Woods would give them at least a decent defensive infield, if not better than decent.  Offensively, adding Woods' power along with Morales' improvement and the high averages of the other infielders, it would insure that the Angels would still be potent offensively.

With an outfield of Rivera (another possible 30/100 guy)/Hunter (another 30/100)/ and then either Figgins or Abreu, would give them a potent offense and a very good defense.

With Napoli at DH, who is also looking like a 30/100 guy and Mathis behind the plate, the Angels seems set to offer good value at all positions.

Next year, if the Angels don't resign Vlad and if Kelvim Escobar is still not healthy, that will be 25 million in salaries off the books.  If they don't resign Abreu, that's another 6 million.  Their payroll could drop significantly from the 115 million it is now. Of course, their will be other players who have escalators in their salaries that will raise it some but not significantly.  These two players have barely contributed if they have contributed at all (Escobar).

It would also gives them the flexibility to sign a top of the rotation guy in the off season.  They could probably resign Abreu if they wanted considering the economy to another inexpensive contract.  If they really wanted to they could also sign another Vlad like player, if available.  Someone on the upside of his career - a Tex like player.

I know this has been a long article but their was a lot to think about.  In my opinion, their is no way that one pitcher is worth giving up the quality of the people that are being talked about at this point.

Now that I've had my say, what do you think?  

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