2004 Anaheim Angels Preview

Wednesday, March 10 2004 @ 09:34 AM EST

Contributed by: Mike D

Feisty '02 team/
Lost mojo. Tried to recoup/
With pricey shopping

Welcome to tha' O.C.! Our 2004 Preview Series now turns to the suddenly free-spending Anaheim Angels.

Now that I've been enlightened about the finer points of Japanese-inspired poetry by my co-author Mick Doherty, I am proud to present not a haiku-inspired preview, but one that features my uniquely awkward stylings in senryu. So, as with my Marlins preview, 20 player-specific senryus are coming your way. As always, please feel free to submit your own player-related poetry.

On to the preview!

What Went Wrong in 2003? Did Anything Go Right?

Before the 2003 season began, there was no shortage of analysts willing to argue that the Angels, despite rampaging through the second half of 2002 and claiming their first World Championship, constructed a team sufficiently at odds with the "sabermetric model" that any success they enjoyed would necessarily be fluky. After all, a team whose on-base percentage was rooted primarily in high batting averages would necessarily be subject to the variance inherent in balls-in-play hits.

More measured critics acknowledged that the Angels succeeded because of their high level of play and good chemistry...but that many Halos enjoyed career years in 2002, so it was unwise for GM Bill Stoneman to passively stand pat with the roster in the offseason. Their argument underlined the Angels' shaky starting pitching and lack of offensive depth. When the lineup regressed to the mean, the argument went, the team would struggle to score enough runs to keep up with the runs allowed by their weak rotation.

Both groups of doubters probably felt somewhat vindicated in 2003, as most Angels took a step backward and the club stumbled to a poor third. But while Stoneman should have pursued the improvement of his roster in the '02-'03 offseason, things went worse for Anaheim than even the doubters envisioned. Troy Glaus and Darin Erstad suffered severe injuries, and David Eckstein battled nagging ones. All three players' offensive production declined sharply, as did that of the all-too-healthy Scott Spiezio.

While the Angels' bullpen -- arguably the story in the American League in 2002 -- was again excellent, all five starting pitchers were considerably worse than the competent lot that won the '02 wild card. Particularly unpleasant were the regressions by Jarrod Washburn and John Lackey, both of whom showed mental toughness and physical upside during the previous year's stretch run. And though the bullpen was a great strength, some of its stars were just a bit less dominant. Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez's shaky April seemed to infuse the whole club with a sense of mortality.

There was, however, one very significant silver lining to the Angels' disappointing 2003. By keeping its championship club together and aggressively marketing it, Moreno's team proved that it would not be another Southern California fad; for the first time in Anaheim, over three million paying customers flocked to the fan-friendly ballpark to see their '02 heroes. Once again, ticket sales are brisk for 2004.

In the short term, this windfall supplied the cash flow needed to go on the Angels' offseason shopping spree. In the longer term, the Angels are proving that they are more than a second-class citizen in the greater Los Angeles area; they're becoming a proud and important fixture in the community. Suffice it to say that the Dodgers have a lot work to do to regain baseball primacy in Southern California.

2003 By The Numbers

77 wins, 85 lossesRuns scored: 736, 11th in AL
Third, AL WestRuns allowed: 743, 5th in AL
19 games out of firstPythagorean W-L: 80-82

The Offseason: The Arte of the Deal

Buoyed by the post-championship revenue spike, Arte Moreno entered the free-agent pool aggressively, thus enhancing his opportunity to be the first owner to bring a World Series to Orange County and not wear a product-placed Mickey Mouse t-shirt when receiving the trophy. The Angels lost nobody they intended to keep, and made four potentially huge acquisitions.

First, the pitching: Stoneman managed to land Bartolo Colon to a four-year, eight-figure deal, after the workhorse failed to push the Expos and White Sox into the playoffs after blockbuster trades. Next, the mercurial Kelvim Escobar, erstwhile Jay, decided to accept the generous three-year, $18.75 million deal from the Halos after establishing himself as a legitimate starter in the second half of '03. Together, these two signings freed up Mike Scioscia to banish one of Aaron Sele, John Lackey and Ramon Ortiz to the bullpen.

With David Eckstein's poor year, most observers expected the Angels to go after Miguel Tejada, Kaz Matsui or even Nomar Garciaparra to shore up their disappointing attack. But to the surprise of the baseball world, Stoneman instead landed right fielder Vladimir Guerrero -- merely the prize in baseball's free agent crop. With the additional acquisition of Jose Guillen, the Angels were able to shuffle the aging Tim Salmon to DH, keep Jeff DaVanon in the fourth outfielder's role, and move Erstad to first to replace the departing Spiezio. Meanwhile, the (s)crappy Eckstein keeps his starting job at shortstop, with one final chance to prove he deserves to drop the parentheses around the letter "s."

Players AcquiredPlayers Lost
OF Jose Guillen (FA-Oak)1B/3B Scott Spiezio (FA-Sea)
RF Vladimir Guerrero (FA-Mtl)1B Shawn Wooten (FA-Phi)
SP Bartolo Colon (FA-CWS)1B/DH Brad Fullmer (FA-Tex)
SP Kelvim Escobar (FA-Tor)UT Benji Gil (NRI-Col)
UT Shane Halter (NRI-Det)SP/RP Gary Glover (NRI-ChC)
C Josh Paul (NRI-ChC)RP Rich Rodriguez (Ret)

The Lineup
The Angels' offence should be better than '03 this season, but their '04 lineup pales in comparison with what's to come in 2006.

Bengie Molina, forecast by many to be a "Hacking MASS" All-Star, has developed into a useful player behind the plate. Utterly impatient at the plate, Bengie nevertheless makes enough contact and hits for enough power to do some bottom-of-the-order damage on mistake pitches. The Angels will gladly take 14 longballs again. Meanwhile, the agile Bengie is an expert pitch- and plate-blocker, an quick-footed fielder on nubbers in front of the plate, and a significant deterrent to would-be basestealers. He's won the last two AL Gold Gloves, and finished a close second to Ramon Hernandez in defensive Win Shares for catchers despite only appearing in 119 games. Jose Molina is the vastly inferior Molina in all respects, and was positively insipid at the plate last season. Jeff Mathis remains probably a year away, but his power bat and advanced ability to receive pitches and call a game have earned raves from Mike Scioscia, who ought to know.

The infield is, frankly, a question mark. In this season's best-case scenario, the infield would play efficient defence and make life difficult for opposing hurlers and set the table for the Angels' outfield sluggers. In the worst-case scenario, the Angels could have three offensive non-entities and serious glove issues on the left side.

Up the middle, the Angels return tiny David Eckstein and surly Adam Kennedy. Eckstein earned a multitude of fans, most notably Barry Bonds, with his hard-nosed approach to overcoming his physical limitations during his excellent 2002 season. After-school special or no, Eck simply has to play much better this season. Unwilling to walk but reasonably skilled when handling the bat, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher is drilling Eckstein on working the count and making pitchers throw more pitches to him than he saw in '03. Eckstein says he's completely healthy after battling a painful nerve irritation in his right leg last year. Defensively, Eck is just so lovable with his muster-all-his-strength heaves to first that it's easy to overlook that his arm is both weaker and more erratic than it should be. Without Spiezio, an outstanding receiver at first, Eckstein's poor throwing might be exposed this season. Eckstein has good hands, but very limited range. He remains a pesky baserunner who picks his spots intelligently.

Bitter about losing at-bats to Benji Gil (wouldn't you be?), 2003 ALCS hero Kennedy sulked and slumped offensively. When he finally began to start against lefties and play every day, Kennedy's production improved; he went .293/.371/.473 after the All-Star Break. Kennedy is excellent defensively, with outstanding range, an accurate throwing arm and toughness when turning the pivot. He's also a smart and aggressive baserunner, despite not being lightning-fast. Alfredo Amezaga will back up the middle infield, with a tremendous all-around defensive game and no bat whatsoever. Utilityman Shane Halter, despite my disparaging senryu, might make a useful contribution as an across-the-board fill-in with occasional pop. If he gets 250 at-bats, though, the Angels will be in trouble.

On the corners, the Angels are hoping Troy Glaus has recovered from his rotator-cuff injury while welcoming back Darin Erstad to first base. Erstad, bothered by right hamstring troubles all last season, was a virtual zero offensively last year. Popular in the clubhouse, the Angels hope he can bring Doug Mientkiewicz-type production to first. As the lively debate here at Batter's Box shows, the decision to shift a slick-fielding, light-hitting centre fielder to first base has been controversial, to put it mildly. The Angels are confident, though, that they can preserve the ex-punter's body in the infield, and thus return him to his more productive days (even if his 2000 season will never be duplicated). When healthy, he can handle the bat to the tune of .290/.340/.450 and execute the "small ball" Scioscia likes to employ, while supplying a good glove. Of course, the Angels could have tried to simply acquire a heavy-hitting first baseman. But the Halos are stuck with Erstad, somewhere on the roster; he's owed $24 million over the next three years, and his contract is a millstone that few teams can simply ignore. Casey Kotchman has a sweet stroke, but he's not ready yet; the Angels offered him an NRI this spring, just in case. Robb Quinlan will spell Erstad, but disappointed when given an opportunity last season.

Glaus, meanwhile, was bothered by multiple injuries that affected him both with the glove and at bat. Always willing to draw a walk, Glaus made even less contact and struck out even more than usual after he injured his shoulder in a July game, tearing his rotator cuff. When healthy, Glaus is a prodigious power bat and plays a steady defensive third base, easily capable of a .350 OBP and .475 slugging. When unhealthy, Glaus can be overpowered at the plate and becomes a tentative, erratic fielder. The pressure's on for Glaus to produce this season, since Dallas McPherson is waiting in the wings, with tremendous power potential.

The Angels' outfield/DH quartet, on the other hand, should be the most productive in baseball. Garret Anderson has continued to defy the skeptics by making consistent, hard contact year after year, despite practically being allergic to walks. It's hard to think of a player more likely to stay healthy while putting up a .290 average and 25 home runs -- think a lefthanded Vernon Wells at the plate without the upside, year-in and year-out. Hardworking and classy, G.A. made himself an excellent left fielder, taking good routes to balls and positioning himself properly. Expect steady defence in centre field, where he'll lack Erstad's range but will require it less, as he's flanked by two outstanding athletes.

Even though the injury bug bit last season, Vladimir Guerrero seems to be a can't-miss superstar in the American League. Guerrero's herniated disc seemed to be a yellow flag for his near-term future, but he absolutely raked when he came off the DL last summer. Anecdotally, I used to believe that Nomar hit line drives the hardest of any hitter I had seen in person, but that was before I saw Vladdy at the Dome. The ball rockets off his bat, whether the pitch is eye-high, on his shoetops, or basically anyplace else -- and he's not above taking a pitch when he recognizes that the opposition is pitching around him. Defensively, he's one of the toolsiest outfielders in recent memory -- he can run down misjudged flyballs and throw brilliantly, even off his back foot. Guerrero is also a fast, if reckless, baserunner that ran a lot less when his disc bothered him last season.

Jose Guillen gets the starting nod in left. He was a virtual poster boy for park effects last season, tearing up the Great American Small Park but considerably less effective after Billy Beane rented him for the A's -- although he played through a painful fracture in his hamate bone (see also, e.g., Eric Hinske). Anaheim's another pitcher's park, so it remains to be seen what he can do. He's a powerful hitter who makes hard contact, but is undisciplined at the plate. In addition, his discipline away from the plate has been questioned, as this will be his fifth organization in the last four seasons. Guillen insists he's matured greatly, but his outburst against Ken Macha for sitting him out -- after the A's had clinched the division -- didn't impress observers. Defensively, he has outstanding range for a left fielder and a very good throwing arm. Unfortunately, gappers can be somewhat adventurous, as Guillen lacks both sure hands and sure footwork.

Jeff DaVanon brought a Sparky-like dusty-guy-with-high-socks approach, to considerable success, last season; he provides valuable depth at any of the three outfield spots. Chone Figgins' blazing speed helps him run the bases and run down fly balls, but zero homers is not the ticket to playing time in the American League. Figgins has added muscle this offseason in an attempt to infuse his bat with a bit more power.

Tim Salmon is obviously not getting any younger, but he remains a feared bat and a good clubhouse presence. The Angels are hoping that his intelligent approach to hitting rubs off on Guillen, and that his inevitable decline will be slowed by relieving him of his defensive responsibilities. In a perfect world where the Angels' outfield corps stays healthy, the Halos plan to spot start Salmon in left and rest the streaky Guillen against unfavourable matchups. In spring training, however, Salmon has struggled with reading the play in left -- a position he hasn't played in a decade.

Bottom line: By plugging in Guerrero and Guillen, deleting Spiezio and relegating DaVanon to utility status, the Angels' offence should get a huge boost. Anaheim is both more potent and better equipped to deal with injuries and slumps this season -- which should mean more run support and more wins for their upgraded pitching staff. But in 2006, with Guerrero and Anderson still productive, and Kotchman, Mathis and McPherson finding their bearings...

Meet the Angels offence:

C: #1 Bengie Molina
.281/.304/.443, 37 R, 14 HR, 71 RBI, 13 BB, 31 K, 1-for-2 SB, 119 G
Best season in last five ("BSLF"): 2000 -- 59 R, 71 RBI in 130 G
Age: 30 in July

Brings some great defence
And a little pop; still, they're
Waiting on Mathis

1B: #17 Darin Erstad
.252/.309/.333, 35 R, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 18 BB, 40 K, 9-for-10 SB, 67 G
BSLF: 2000 -- .355/.409/.541, 121 R, 25 HR, 100 RBI, 64 BB, 82 K, 28-for-36 SB, 157 G
Age: 30 in June
Replacing Scott Spiezio (.265/.326/.453, 69 R, 16 HR, 83 RBI, 46 BB, 66 K, 6-for-9 SB, 158 G)

Much-maligned move
Weak bat and a waste of glove?
Or will he wake up?

2B: #2 Adam Kennedy
.269/.344/.399, 71 R, 13 HR, 49 RBI, 45 BB, 73 K, 22-for-31 SB, 143 G
BSLF: 2002 -- .312/.345/.449, 52 RBI in 144 G
Age: 28 as of January

Sounds presidential
But in fact, his name's obscene
To Minnesotans

SS: #22 David Eckstein
.252/.325/.325, 59 R, 3 HR, 31 RBI, 36 BB, 45 K, 16-for-21 SB, 120 G
BSLF: 2002 -- .293/.363/.388, 107 R, 8 HR, 63 RBI in 152 G
Age: 29 as of January

Aptly plays "short"stop
Pint-sized production last year
Take more pitches, Eck

3B: #25 Troy Glaus
.248/.343/.464, 53 R, 16 HR, 50 RBI, 46 BB, 73 K, 7-for-9 SB, 91 G
BSLF: 2000 -- .284/.404/.604, 120 R, 47 HR, 112 BB in 159 G
Age: 28 in August

Bad rotator cuff
Fitting end to lousy year.
Will mash if he's fine

LF: #6 Jose Guillen
.311/.359/.569, 77 R, 31 HR, 86 RBI, 24 BB, 95 K, 1-for-4 SB, 136 G with Reds and Athletics
BSLF: 2003
Age: 28 in May
Replacing Garret Anderson -- see CF

Impressed Beane last year
But was his breakout merely

CF: #16 Garret Anderson
.315/.345/.541, 80 R, 29 HR, 116 RBI, 31 BB, 83 K, 6-for-9 SB, 159 G
BSLF: 2003
Age: 32 in June
Replacing Darin Erstad -- see 1B

Durable, classy
You know what to expect from
This steady All-Star

RF: #27 Vladimir Guerrero
.330/.426/.586, 71 R, 25 HR, 79 RBI, 63 BB, 53 K, 9-for-14 SB, 112 G with Expos
BSLF: 2000 with Expos -- .345 BA, .664 SLG, 11 triples, 44 HR in 154 G
Age: 28 as of February
Replacing Jeff DaVanon -- see Bench

Montrealers know
That Vladdy can do it all.
If healthy, look out!

DH: #15 Tim Salmon
.275/.374/.464, 79 R, 19 HR, 72 RBI, 77 BB, 93 K, 3-for-4 SB, 148 G
BSLF: 2000 -- .290/.404/.540, 108 R, 34 HR, 97 RBI, 104 BB in 158 G
Age: 36 in August

Lifelong Angels vet
Time's tides have not yet washed up
The man they call "Fish"

OF #55 Jeff DaVanon
.282/.360/.445, 56 R, 12 HR, 43 RBI, 42 BB, 59 K, 17-for-22 SB, 123 G
BSLF: 2003
Age: 31 in December

Classic 4-A guy?
Intelligence and effort
Made Jeff a surprise

UT # 18 Shane Halter
.217/.269/.342, 33 R, 12 HR, 30 RBI, 27 BB, 77 K, 2-for-5 SB, 114 G with Tigers
BSLF: 2001 with Tigers -- .284/.344/.467, 53 R, 12 HR, 65 RBI in 136 G
Age: 35 in November

Tigersthought he stunk
Why would the Halos want him?
Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

1B #39 Robb Quinlan
.287/.330/.372, 13 R, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 6 BB, 16 K, 1-for-3 SB, 38 G
BSLF: 2003
Age: 27 in March

Lacklustre debut;
Erstad's fragility might
Put pressure on him

C #28 Jose Molina
.184/.210/.219, 12 R, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 26 K, 0-for-0 SB, 53 G
BSLF: 2003 (first time over 30 G)
Age: 29 in June

UT #9 Chone Figgins
.296/.345/.367, 34 R, 0 HR, 27 RBI, 20 BB, 38 K, 13-for-20 SB, 71 G
BSLF: 2003
Age: 26 as of January

Also In The Mix: C Josh Paul, SS/3B Alfredo Amezaga, C Tom Gregorio

The Pitching Staff
As discussed in the offseason recap above, all of the Angels' starters -- Washburn, Appier, Lackey, Ortiz and Sele -- underperformed in 2003. Mediocre strikeout totals and obscene opposition home run totals made the Angels rotation a poor one, especially since Angels Stadium (formerly Edison International Field) played as a pitcher's park last season.

The Angels are counting on their rotation to be much better. To that end, they're hoping for any three of their four returning starters to revert to their superior 2002 form, and they've added two talented if inconsistent arms.

Bartolo Colon was the rotation's big-ticket acquisition, and he logged an impressive 242 innings pitched as the White Sox workhorse. Even though his 240+ pounds are distributed less athletically than the girth of Clemens or Pettitte, his body is similar in that it generates a lot of power from the lower half. Colon's been durable, but he's not as efficient as, say, Doc Halladay in amassing innings -- so he's not necessarily a sure thing to log superhuman innings this season. Sure, it's only spring, but against a patient A's squad that he'll face a bunch of times this year, Colon burned up 41 pitches in just two-thirds of an inning this week. Colon can still bring the heat, although he's got to keep it down; 30 homers is not a great sign for a staff that was ridiculously susceptible to homers last year.

By all indications, it seemed like Jarrod Washburn would be the Angels' ace for years to come after he broke out in 2002. But Washburn was nagged by injuries from spring training through the entire season, and the diminished oomph behind his fastball made his flyball tendencies a major liability. If Washburn stays healthy, expect him to chop 10 home runs off of his ugly '03 total of 34.

Faithful Bauxites have typed up a storm on the enigmatic Kelvim Escobar before. Blessed with very good movement, Escobar's biggest challenge is to harness his body above the neck. When Kelvim starts to nibble, his team is usually in for a long day; his confidence and control are both prone to flagging. But when he's on, he can shut down the strongest of lineups. The Angels might get a bargain or a bust with Escobar -- predictions welcome.

Rounding out the rotation, John Lackey seemed like a sky's-the-limit starting pitcher after his gutsy stretch drive and postseason in 2002 (there's that year again!) Lackey's walk rate was good, but his control within the strike zone was not, and he got tattooed when he left the ball out over the plate. Poor run support for the young righty didn't help. Meanwhile, Aaron Sele and Ramon Ortiz, who were both dismal last season, will battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, with the loser mopping up in the bullpen. The early odds are on Ortiz, who disconcertingly complained of a "dead arm" at times last season. Control freak Ervin Santana and nearly-out-of-control flamethrower Bobby Jenks are not yet ready to make an impact.

If the questionable rotation can just hold the fort, the Angels get a huge leg up on their American League competition with their outstanding and deep bullpen. The Angels might be hoping to be the first club since 1910 to win the World Series without a single lefty arm in the bullpen, but don't read too much into this. They've got enough tough-on-lefty arms in the 'pen, thank you very much.

Troy Percival isn't quite as dominating as he once was, but he remains an elite closer at the back of the bullpen. Hampered by hip difficulties, Percy lowered his leg kick but still popped the radar gun. One distinctive feature of the fireman will be missing this year: Laser surgery in the offseason means that Percival's slightly discomfiting squint will no longer be visible to squirming batters. Brendan Donnelly followed up his shocking rookie season (age 31) with an even more sensational sophomore campaign (age 32). Donnelly has fantastic downward movement on three pitches; like Derek Lowe when he's on his game, Donnelly is hard to hit and harder to hit hard.

K-Rod, whose electric '02 postseason was likely made possible by an improper roster move, battled wildness early in '03, and his sluggish start may have set the tone for the entire disappointing season for Anaheim. Once he harnessed his control in late May, though, his unhittable slider again became one of the most feared pitches in baseball. Ben Weber remains one of the most entertaining athletes to watch in action, in any sport. Provided he doesn't go completely postal with intensity, his herky-jerky delivery and good control should make him another quality short man. By the way, have there ever been two players on the same club to both start their career after age 30, and contribute as effectively, as Donnelly and Weber?

The embarrassment of riches doesn't stop there. Scot Shields pitched admirably in every role he was asked to fill last season, and he remains an excellent long man/swingman. He's among the best control pitchers in a bullpen that already sharply limits its walks allowed. Derrick Turnbow is a versatile reliever that unfortunately bears the infamy of being the first ballplayer to test positive for a performance-enhancing substance; his use of an over-the-counter supplement similar to "andro" got him busted as he tried out for the ill-fated US Olympic squad.

Without further ado, the pitchers:

SP #21 Bartolo Colon
15-13, 3.87, 242 IP, 223 H, 30 HR, 67 BB, 173 K, LH .250, RH .246, 34 GS with White Sox
BSLF: 2002 with Tribe and Expos -- 20-8, 2.93
Age: 31 in May
Replacing Aaron Sele -- see Bullpen

Concerns about weight
Eased by his workhorse workload
Year in and year out

SP #56 Jarrod Washburn
10-15, 4.43, 207.1 IP, 205 H, 34 HR, 54 BB, 118 K, LH .230, RH .264, 32 GS
BSLF: 2002 -- 18-6, 3.15, 206 IP, 183 H, 139 K, .235 BAA
Age: 30 in August

Good competitor
Tough on lefties not named Bonds.
Watch those gopher balls!

SP #47 Kelvim Escobar
13-9, 4.29, 180.1 IP, 189 H, 15 HR, 78 BB, 159 K, LH .233, RH .308, 41 G, 26 GS with Blue Jays
BSLF: 2001 as setup man with Blue Jays -- 3.50 ERA, 126 IP, 93 H, .204 BAA
Age: 28 in April
Replacing Kevin Appier (7-7, 5.63, 92.2 IP, 105 H, 17 HR, 36 BB, 50 K, LH .253, RH .289, 19 GS)

Good Kelvim? Nasty.
Bad Kelvim? Too many walks.
Worth the big contract?

SP #41 John Lackey
10-16, 4.63, 204 IP, 223 H, 31 HR, 66 BB, 151 K, LH .286, RH .269, 33 GS
BSLF: 2002 -- 9-4, 3.66
Age: 26 in October

Game Seven starter
Last year's horrid April made
John, um, "Lack" value

SP #45 Ramon Ortiz
16-13, 5.20, 180 IP, 209 H, 28 HR, 63 BB, 94 K, LH .291, RH .282, 32 GS
BSLF: 2002 -- 15-9, 3.77, 217.1 IP, 183 H, 162 K, .230 BAA
Age: 31 in May

"Little Pedro"? Nope.
His comps suggest he's more like
A "Little Pavlik"

CL #40 Troy Percival
0-5, 33-for-37 Sv, 3.47, 49.1 IP, 33 H, 7 HR, 23 BB, 48 K, LH .165, RH .205, 52 G
BSLF: 2002 -- 40 Sv, 1.92 ERA, 56.1 IP, 68 K
Age: 35 in August

Slipped -- but just slightly
Legendary heater is
Still triple digits

SU #53 Brendan Donnelly
2-2, 3-for-5 Sv, 1.58, 74 IP, 55 H, 2 HR, 24 BB, 79 K, LH .199, RH .202, 63 G
BSLF: 2003
Age: 33 in July

Classic feel-good tale
From bookish journeyman to
Nasty bullpen ace

SU #57 Francisco Rodriguez
8-3, 2-for-6 Sv, 3.03, 86 IP, 50 H, 12 HR, 35 BB, 95 K, LH .186, RH .156, 59 G
BSLF: 2003 (if we don't count the 2002 postseason)
Age: 22 as of January

Inhuman playoffs
More mortal (and wild) last year.
Slider is still sick

RP #77 Ben Weber
5-1, 2.69, 80.1 IP, 84 H, 7 HR, 22 BB, 46 K, LH .268, RH .282, 62 G
BSLF: 2002 -- 7-2, 7 Sv, 2.54, 78 IP, 70 H, .249 BAA
Age: 35 in November

Ex-Blue Jay draftee
Now known for his extremely
Weird, intense windup

Other Arms
RP/SP #62 Scot Shields
5-6, 1-for-1 Sv, 2.85, 148.1 IP, 138 H, 12 HR, 38 BB, 111 K, LH .229, RH .264, 44 G
BSLF: 2003 (previous high: 49 IP)
Age: 29 in July

SP/RP #34 Aaron Sele
7-11, 5.77, 121.2 IP, 135 H, 17 HR, 58 BB, 53 K, LH .252, RH .322, 25 GS
BSLF: 2001 with Mariners -- 15-5, 3.60, 215 IP
Age: 34 in June

RP #54 Derrick Turnbow
2-0, 0.59, 15.1 IP, 7 H, 0 HR, 3 BB, 15 K, LH .167, RH .115, 11 G
BSLF: 2003
Age: 26 as of January

Also In The Mix: RP Greg Jones, SP Chris Bootcheck, SP/RP Kevin Gregg

The Skipper

Mike Scioscia's clubhouse went from the Camelot of a title to a more fractious, LBJ-cabinet-type environment last season as players played through injuries and griped about playing time. Scioscia's been handed a more talented team; his preference for veterans will sit well with the Halos' new arrivals but might inhibit the growth of some of the fantastic talent coming up through the Anaheim organization. As an in-game strategist, Mike plays one-run strategies too early in the game, but when his club is healthy, it's a beauty to watch. Sluggish efforts are never tolerated, which might make Scioscia the right guy to get the most out of Guillen and Escobar. Scioscia manages pitchers well and trusts his entire bullpen.

MGR Mike Scioscia
Record since taking over: 333-315 (11-5 postseason)

Likes to keep things loose
But lost the clubhouse last year
Can he patch it up?

Outlook: Return of the Monkey?

In the big picture, the outlook is bright for the Angels in sunny Southern California. Ticket sales have been brisk, and the likable squad of Anderson, Salmon, Percival, Donnelly & Co. won't lose many fans with off-field troubles or poor efforts. The farm system is plentiful, and Seattle appears to be on a downward curve in the AL West.

For this season, there are no sure things with this lineup. It's possible that Erstad, Molina, Eckstein and Guillen will all regress (or continue to regress). It's also possible that any -- or several -- of Lackey, Washburn, Escobar and Ortiz might struggle in the early going. If that happens, reports indicate that Moreno is unlikely to try and spend his way out of early-season struggles; the Angels are as likely to cut bait as fish if they scuffle for a prolonged period.

Still, with their four big-name infusions of talent, the Angels have upgraded their talent significantly enough to virtually ensure that they will be competitive this season. The Halos have enough production up and down their lineup to endure the slumps and injuries that crippled their offence last season, and their starting pitching should be at least adequate. With Anaheim in contention through the season, Moreno will likely be amenable to a rent-a-player acquisition, such as a better-hitting shortstop or a power source to play first. I see the Angels winning 91 games this season, not enough to make the playoffs but easily enough to play meaningful baseball in September.