Back in the playoffs
Unwieldy new name, but they're
Favoured in the West
To discuss the re-re-rechristened Los Angeles Angels...of Anaheim, I was considering challenging myself by coming up with a catchy St. Patrick's Day limerick for each key player on the squad. Alas, the challenge proved too daunting, particularly in light of the dearth of clever-sounding words that rhyme with "Rodriguez." So it's back to senryu, which is a haiku-style reflection that does not specifically pay homage to nature.
I'll put my money where my mouth is about limericks: The best Angels-related limerick submitted by a reader or Roster member in the thread below will receive two Cheer Club tickets for the Jays-Angels extravaganza on Thursday, July 28, at my expense.
But I digress. On to the preview!
2004: A September Flourish, And Then A Fall
The Angels' division title last season did not come cheap, either literally or figuratively. After a major free-agent splash that landed them four of the most coveted players on the market, the Angels bounced back into contention in a division everyone knew would be tough. And despite the utter collapse of the Mariners, the AL West was indeed tough, as the A's weren't overtaken until the season's final week, while the surprising Rangers stayed in the mix until the very end themselves. When all was said and done, the Angels had made a 15-win improvement from their disappointing '03 campaign, and their 92-70 mark bested Oakland by one game and Texas by three.
The spending spree was clearly correlated to the team's leap forward. All Vladimir Guerrero did was win the league's Most Valuable Player award going away, while Kelvim Escobar began to shed the inconsistency and control problems that plagued him as a Blue Jay. Bartolo Colon disappointed but ate up precious innings down the stretch. Jose Guillen, when he played, was very productive at the plate and in the field...until a disciplinary issue with Mike Scioscia got him suspended for the remainder of the season and postseason. Jeff DaVanon took over in Guillen's place in the playoffs, and struggled.
In general, the club resembled the Angels squads that have taken the field in the Scioscia era. Offensively, the team ranked last in the AL in walks and tenth in slugging, yet sixth in on-base percentage and seventh in runs by leading the league in batting average and striking out less than any other Junior Circuit club. Empty .276 averages by Bengie Molina and David Eckstein held the club back. On the pitching side of the ledger, the club once again balance mediocre starting pitching (with Escobar the notable exception) with a brilliant bullpen.
At the gate, 2004 was another successful season for the Halos. The Angels will have over 26,000 season ticketholders in 2005, a franchise record.
The Offseason: Pick A Name And Go With It!
After dipping aggressively into the free-agent pool last year, Arte Moreno spent this winter battling less for talent on the market and more with the Dodgers and the City of Anaheim for the right to attach the potentially valuable "Los Angeles" appellation to the club. The club's compromise offer, the absurd split-the-baby "LAA of A" concoction, is being vigourously opposed by Orange County as a breach of the club's lease agreement. When a trial date of November 7 was set, it was widely assumed that at least the new name would at least survive the 2005 season. But the trial court has shifted the burden back to the club to demonstrate the "irreparable harm" that would be caused to the team's marketing efforts, and that hearing has been scheduled for March 28. So we may see "ANA" on the out-of-town scoreboards after all.
Back to on-the-field stuff, the club's roster won't be overhauled with high-priced stars, but there will be several changes. GM Bill Stoneman let the powerful but injury-prone longtime third baseman Troy Glaus walk, handing the keys to the hot corner to highly-touted Dallas McPherson. The Jose Guillen Era was productive but tumultuous in Southern California, and Stoneman sent the controversial outfielder to Washington for some decent swag in Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis. Steve Finley was signed to patrol centre and enable Garret Anderson to move back to his more comfortable position in left. He also replaced the popular but limited David Eckstein with the slick-fielding world champion shortstop, Orlando Cabrera.
On the pitching side of the ledger, Stoneman was expected to be a major player for the Matt Clements and Carl Pavanos of the world, but instead signed the cagey Paul Byrd. Anaheim fixture Troy Percival couldn't refuse $12 million of Michigan money, so he departed and Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez will take over from within. The perpetually disappointing Ramon Ortiz was shipped to Cincinnati for Dustin Moseley, who has had an excellent spring with the Halos. And Ben Weber is gone, which makes for one less reason to watch mopup time during Angels games.
Let's see how the club looks for the upcoming season.
The Angels need a lot of things to go right to improve much on last year's 863 runs scored. They have, however, undeniably given their pitching staff a boost by significantly enhancing team defence.
Bengie Molina once again cracked double figures in homers last year, but did not have his best year defensively and deservedly lost his reign as Gold Glove catcher. He continues to be incapable of selectivity at the plate. His brother, Jose Molina, improved a great deal last season; it doesn't make him a great player, but it does make the Molinas less distinguishable. Jeff Mathis still impresses the heck out of Scioscia, but is still not ready for prime time. Josh Paul will be little more than a part-time third catcher and the team's player rep.
David Eckstein was a fan favourite and got the most out of his ability. Unfortunately, that ability was comparatively limited, as Eck played another season as a pesky but punchless hitter with limited range and a poor arm afield. Stoneman brought "O.C." to the O.C., as Colombia's other shortstop gets to strut his stuff at Angels Stadium. He's a remarkably gifted defensive player that will be a major, major defensive upgrade and should save the team runs. Offensively, the Angels don't think he has the right OBP profile to hit at the start of the lineup, where Scioscia will go with Figgins and Erstad. Cabrera will instead hit sixth or seventh, and the Halos will be hoping for a return of his deceptively powerful bat that managed to go yard as many as 17 times in Montreal.
Chone Figgins has gone from wide-eyed pinch-runner to do-everything utilityman, and all of baseball is surprised. Not only did Figgins impress with his gap power and triples speed, but he really worked hard on his all-around defensive game, such that he had weeks where he'd make diving stops at third and throw out baserunners from centre days later. As the second baseman pro tempore, he's shown some terrific middle-infield chemistry with Cabrera during the exhibition season.
Veteran Adam Kennedy, who played steady defence as always last season, will miss the first half of the season recovering from a major ACL injury. The loyal Scioscia insists that the job is Kennedy's when he returns, but count on the skipper to continue to get Figgins into the lineup.
Maicer Izturis, Cesar's half-brother who came over in the Guillen trade, shows tremendous defensive instincts and Luis Castillo-type upside at the plate. If nothing else, he should be a superior backup to the jettisoned Alfredo Amezaga. When Kennedy returns, though, Izturis will likely be optioned to the minors...assuming he makes the club in the first place. Lou Merloni has been invited to camp to try and play the utility role better than Shane Halter did last season. By definition, he ought to succeed. Meanwhile, the Angels are excited about Erick Aybar's future as a toolsy, talented middle infielder. The parade of young middle infield prospects don't stop there, either; Alberto Callaspo is very highly regarded, and John Sickels really likes the offensive game of the unheralded Howie Kendrick.
Darin Erstad, widely acknowledged as the team leader, actually developed a little patience at the plate last season, seeing more pitches and boosting his on-base percentage -- think Doug Mientkiewicz Lite, with speed. Of course, he remains an injury risk, and he'll have to play this entire season with a brace on his right leg after doctors determined that his spate of knee and hamstring injuries was due to structural problems with his knee ligaments. It remains to be seen whether it'll slow him down on the basepaths, where he picks his spots expertly. And as everyone knows, Erstad's hefty, untradeable $8M-per deal doesn't expire until after next season, so he'll play somewhere for the Angels. As shown with Eckstein, Stoneman won't pass up an opportunity to upgrade his club for the sake of sentimentality.
On the other corner, Dallas McPherson is currently suffering from a herniated disk, and has been very cautious in rehab; he won't even hit off a tee until this weekend. The Citadel grad, who no doubt understands the meaning of discipline, could nevertheless use some more of it at the plate, where he struck out 186 times last season across all levels. He does, however, have tremendous power potential; if he doesn't completely replace Glaus's bat this season, he will almost certainly do so in the near future. Defensively, the Angels have real concerns about his hands, but he pleasantly surprised the club with his error-free callup last season. Robb Quinlan, who raked in limited action last season, will start at third if McPherson can't start the season. Just as Quinlan was starting to get into a groove, he suffered a left oblique tear in August that knocked him out for the year. Of course, Figgins is an option at third, but Scioscia likes the idea of Figgins and Cabrera getting comfortable as a DP combo up the middle. Quinlan hopes to DH once McPherson returns to the lineup.
Cuban defector Kendry Morales offers more flexibility at the corners, but he's trapped in visa hell at the moment and playing ball in the Dominican Republic until his work permission is arranged. He will certainly not be on the Opening Day roster; the Halos need to see what they have here.
Is that the "ageless Steve Finley" in centre? Well, the Angels sure hope so. If -- if -- he continues to play great ball in his age-40 season, he'll substantially upgrade the team defence with great range and even better positioning. Offensively, he can still hit the long ball -- hey, just ask the Giants -- but there's just something lacking in his offensive game; it's pretty tough to go deep 36 times and post an OPS+ of only 110, just four points better than ex-teammate Shea Hillenbrand (who hit just 15 homers and supposedly can't get on base). He doesn't quite have enough contact ability to walk 60 times over a 162-game season and post a good OBP. I actually think he could be a disappointment this year in Anaheim. Or Los Angeles, of Anaheim. Or whatever.
Garret Anderson returns to left field, where he should benefit tremendously from the presence of Finley. As always, he will hit for power, hit for average, never walk, and play intelligent defence. G.A. has declared himself free from the worrisome arthritic symptoms that caused him to uncharacteristically miss playing time last season.
There's not much to say that hasn't been said about Guerrero, the reigning MVP. He hits rockets off his shoetops and rockets off eye-high heat, and he can throw like nobody's business. He's so incredibly skilled as a hitter that he's virtually immune to slumps; his .298/.358/.479 July was by far his worst month at the plate. And with the savvy Angels, he picked his spots on the basepaths better, dramatically cutting down his caught stealings. And he's topped 154 games played in six of his last seven seasons.
Jeff DaVanon is more than serviceable as a fourth outfielder, as he is a tough out at the plate, a steady and versatile glove, and an outstanding baserunner. He wasn't the likeliest Angels hitter to hit for the cycle in 2004, but he's the one who did it. Meanwhile, a trimmer Juan Rivera played quite well in Montreal last year away from the high expectations of the Bronx. He won't be a defensive upgrade for anybody, but he's a very viable option at DH and a useful bat off the bench.
Like the famously taxidermized parrot, Tim Salmon is not dead, but resting. Refusing to retire, "Fish" underwent major shoulder and knee surgeries and hopes to make a Glaus-like late-summer return. It's unclear if he'll succeed.
Bottom line: Better defence, but a likely holding pattern on offence. Let's see how the pitchers look after some senryus.
Meet the Angels offence:C: #1 Bengie Molina
Confused by Angels'
Too Many Molinas? Well,
He's the one with pop
1B: #17 Darin Erstad
.295/.346/.400, 79 R, 7 HR, 69 RBI, 37 BB, 74 K, 16-for-17 SB, 125 G
BSLF: 2000 -- .355/.409/.541, 121 R, 25 HR, 100 RBI, 64 BB, 82 K, 28-for-36 SB, 157 G
Age: 31 in June
And, sadly, a bad contract.
Can still steal a bag
2B: #9 Chone Figgins
.296/.350/.419, 83 R, 5 HR, 60 RBI, 49 BB, 94 K, 34-for-47 SB, 148 G
Age: 27 as of January
Speed and contact plus
A triple machine
SS: #18 Orlando Cabrera
.264/.306/.383, 74 R, 10 HR, 62 RBI, 39 BB, 54 K, 16-for-20 SB, 161 Gwith Expos and Red Sox
BSLF: 2003 with Expos -- .297/.347/.460, 95 R, 17 HR, 52 BB in 162 G
Age: 29 as of January
ReplacingDavid Eckstein(.276/.339/.332, 92 R, 2 HR, 35 RBI, 42 BB, 49 K, 16-for-21 SB in 142 G)
Ex-Expo got paid
For things Eckstein couldn't do.
Like make throws to first
3B: #23 Dallas McPherson
.225/.279/.475, 5 R, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 3 BB, 17 K, 1-for-1 SB, 16 G
Age: 25 in July
ReplacingTroy Glaus(.251/.355/.575, 47 R, 18 HR, 42 RBI, 31 BB, 52 K, 2-for-5 SB in 58 G)
Club hopes he's ready
To hit big-league breaking stuff
Can go yard, often
LF: #16 Garret Anderson
.301/.343/.446, 57 R, 14 HR, 75 RBI, 29 BB, 75 K, 2-for-3 SB, 112 G
BSLF: 2003 -- .315/.345/.541, 80 R, 29 HR, 116 RBI, 31 BB, 83 K, 6-for-9 SB, 159 G
Age: 33 in June
Once again, G.A.'s
Playing left, where he belongs
Book it: .300
CF: #12 Steve Finley
.271/.333/.490, 92 R, 36 HR, 94 RBI, 61 BB, 82 K, 9-for-16 SB, 162 G with Diamondbacks and Dodgers
BSLF: 2000 with Diamondbacks -- .280/.361/.544, 100 R in 152 G
Age: 40 as of March
Replacing Jose Guillen(.294/.352/.497, 88 R, 27 HR, 104 RBI, 37 BB, 92 K, 5-for-9 SB, 148 G
Age decline may hurt
Both at bat and with the glove.
40 in centre?
RF: #27 Vladimir Guerrero
.337/.391/.598, 124 R, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 52 BB, 74 K, 15-for-18 SB, 156 G
BSLF: 2000 with Expos -- .345 BA, .664 SLG, 11 triples, 44 HR in 154 G
Age: 29 as of February
MVP for this
Complete, dominant player.
Somewhere, Youppi! smiles
DH: #39 Robb Quinlan
.344/.401/.525, 23 R, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 14 BB, 26 K, 3-for-4 SB, 56 G
Age: 28 as of March
Quinlan's time is now
To earn some steady P.T.
Will play some at third
OF #55 Jeff DaVanon
.277/.372/.418, 41 R, 7 HR, 34 RBI, 46 BB, 54 K, 18-for-21 SB, 108 G
BSLF: 2003 -- .282 BA, 56 R, 12 HR, 43 RBI in 123 G
Age: 32 in December
Plenty of hustle
Means Jeff will be, again, an
OF # 20 Juan Rivera
.307/.364/.465, 48 R, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 34 BB, 45 K, 6-for-8 SB, 134 G with Expos
Age: 27 in July
Ho-hum with Yankees
Really showed Expos something...
Now in better shape
2B #2 Adam Kennedy
.278/.351/.406, 70 R, 10 HR, 48 RBI, 41 BB, 92 K, 15-for-20 SB, 144 G
BSLF: 2002 -- .312/.345/.449, 52 RBI in 144 G
Age: 29 as of January
C #28 Jose Molina
.261/.296/.374, 26 R, 3 HR, 25 RBI, 10 BB, 52 K, 4-for-5 SB, 73 G
Age: 30 in June
1B #35 Casey Kotchman
.224/.289/.276, 7 R, 0 HR, 15 RBI, 7 BB, 11 K, 3-for-3 SB, 38 G
Age: 22 as of February
Also In The Mix: 1B Kendry Morales, UT Lou Merloni, UT Maicer Izturis
The Pitching Staff
The Angels won without a dominant rotation in 2004, and evidently hope to do so again in '05.
Colon was widely viewed as a disappointment last season, but it really was a tale of two halves for the portly righty. Pre-All-Star, Colon posted a 6-8, 6.38 line with 27 (!!!) home runs allowed before the break, with his walk rates way up. After the break, though, he posted a more customary 12-4, 3.63 line while only being taken deep 11 times. Clearly, he's got to improve his location this season straight out of the gate. Lately, Colon missed a start from a stiff back caused by, of all things, a bus trip. Not a good sign, but Colon insists that he's physically OK.
Game lefty Jarrod Washburn cut down his walks, hits and homers allowed. That's good! But only because he missed time with a strained rib cage. That's bad. Still searching for that elusive third pitch, he's been working this spring on both a slider and a changeup, and he's hoping one of them will stick. Perhaps he can borrow a pitch or two from El Artista.
Old friend Kelvim Escobar really did settle down and pitch well last season, despite a criminal lack of run support. His 191 strikeouts was easily a career high, and he pitched especially well down the stretch in his first pennant race. Only once did Kelvim fail to escape the fifth inning, and he only gave up five or more runs five times all season. He did, unfortunately, save his worst performance for the playoffs. As for this year, the sharp movement on his pitches will continue to give him a chance against anyone.
John Lackey, however, remains maddeningly inconsistent, and some in the organization whisper that he's the pitcher whose job is the most vulnerable to the younger likes of Kevin Gregg. Lackey seldom struggles with walks, but often struggles with leaving pitches way too close to the middle of the plate.
Paul Byrd had typically excellent control last season, in his respectable return from Tommy John surgery. Byrd vows to be much more effective this season, however, as his reconstructed elbow has finally gotten a clean bill of health such that he can throw sinkers again. Like a moth to the flame, burned by the fire...Even if his sinker isn't effective, Byrd says he's added 5 mph to his fastball. A solid season is certainly possible for the heady veteran.
Once again, the role of the starters will be 6-7 innings with the club not out of it, since the Angels' pen remains rock-solid despite the loss of their longtime closer.
K-Rod will be the man in the Angels bullpen after the departure of the declining Percival, and it's almost certain that he'll also be "da man," with his ferocious fastball and slick slider. What's particularly frightening for the rest of the AL is that the young Rodriguez is learning how to pitch as well as throw. He cut down on his homers allowed from 12 in 2003 to a miniscule 2 in 2004.
Supporting the Venezuelan will be the Angels' usual array of hard-throwing, where-did-they-find-that-guy righthanders. Brendan Donnelly is back, healthy and throwing his heavy fastball after his embarrassing nose injury while attempting to shag flies in the outfield. Scot Shields is enormously valuable for his ability to both spot start and get that one tough hitter in high-leverage innings. He struck out more than a batter per inning last year. Kevin Gregg has a terrific fastball and is still only 26, and Esteban Yan offers yet another power arm, although he doesn't threaten triple digits on the gun as he did with the Devil Rays.
Matt Hensley, who showed some promise in middle relief, has a fatigued right shoulder and won't break camp with the club. His spot will go to either young righty swingman Chris Bootcheck or lefty Jake Woods, who would become the only lefty in the 'pen. Finesse righty Dustin Moseley, the booty from the casting off of Ramon Ortiz, has also impressed in camp and may also sneak his way onto the Opening Day roster. The Angels are very high on Ervin Santana, but he'll likely start at Class AA.
Meanwhile, Angels fans are very high on Jered Weaver, who remains very much unsigned by the Angels. Stoneman et al. have been sharply criticized on call-in shows for playing financial hardball with the talented but Boras-affiliated Weaver, and the club-issued "ultimatum" of $5.25M over five years was unsurprisingly rejected by the floppy-haired brother of Jeff. Stoneman vows to not resume negotiations; we'll see. Meanwhile, the Nuke LaLoosh-esque Bobby Jenks was finally waived by the exasperated Angels. The White Sox will take the next turn at trying to refine the wild (in many ways) righthander.
Without further ado, the pitchers:
SP #21 Bartolo Colon
18-12, 5.01, 208.1 IP, 215 H, 38 HR, 71 BB, 158 K, LH .273, RH .256, 34 GS
BSLF: 2002 with Tribe and Expos -- 20-8, 2.93
Age: 32 in May
Better second half
Makes the Halos' worries weigh
Less, um, heavily
SP #47 Kelvim Escobar
11-12, 3.93, 208.1 IP, 192 H, 21 HR, 76 BB, 191 K, LH .252, RH .236, 33 GS
Age: 29 in April
As an Angel, he
Was typically "Good Kelvim."
Our man's growing up.
SP #56 Jarrod Washburn
11-8, 4.64, 149.1 IP, 159 H, 20 HR, 40 BB, 86 K, LH .225, RH .283, 25 GS
BSLF: 2002 -- 18-6, 3.15, 206 IP, 183 H, 139 K, .235 BAA
Age: 31 in August
Declining for this lefty
Can Jarrod bounce back?
SP #41 John Lackey
14-13, 4.67, 198.1 IP, 215 H, 22 HR, 60 BB, 144 K, LH .303, RH .248, 32 GS
BSLF: 2002 -- 9-4, 3.66
Age: 27 in October
Flash in the pan? Hmm...
'02 Series surprise is
SP #36 Paul Byrd
8-7, 3.94, 114.1 IP, 123 H, 18 HR, 19 BB, 79 K, LH .329, RH .219, 19 GS
BSLF: 2002 with Royals -- 17-11, 3.90, 228.1 IP, 224 H, 129 K in 33 GS
Age: 35 in December
Low-walk free agent
Could be helpful, now that his
Elbow's feeling good
CL #57 Francisco Rodriguez
4-1, 12-for-19 Sv, 1.82, 84 IP, 51 H, 2 HR, 33 BB, 123 K, LH .213, RH .127, 69 G
Age: 23 as of January
Few pitches are as
Damn near unhittable as
K-Rod's sharp slider
SU #53 Brendan Donnelly
5-2, 3.00, 42 IP, 34 H, 5 HR, 15 BB, 56 K, LH .211, RH .237, 40 G
BSLF: 2003 -- 1.58, 74 IP, 79 K
Age: 34 in July
Tough start last year, as
Freak injuries sidelined him.
Still a power arm
RP/SP #62 Scot Shields
8-2, 4-for-7 Sv, 3.33, 105.1 IP, 97 H, 6 HR, 40 BB, 109 K, LH .235, RH .242, 60 G
BSLF: 2003 -- 2.85, 148.1 IP, 111 K
Age: 30 in July
Very good swingman
Yet another Angel arm
That can bring the heat
RP #63 Kevin Gregg
5-2, 4.21, 87.2 IP, 86 H, 6 HR, 28 BB, 84 K, LH .260, RH .250, 55 G
Age: 27 in June
First full big-league year
Was really quite effective
Capable of more
RP #52 Matt Hensley
0-2, 4.88, 27.2 IP, 32 H, 5 HR, 7 BB, 30 K, LH .333, RH .259, 16 G
Age: 27 in August
RP #59 Esteban Yan
3-6, 7-for-17 Sv, 3.83, 87 IP, 92 H, 8 HR, 32 BB, 69 K, LH .255, RH .292, 69 G with Tigers
Age: 30 in June
Also In The Mix: RP Scott Dunn, RP/SP Chris Bootcheck, RP Jake Woods
You know what you get with Mike Scioscia: an aggressive, free-swinging club and an authoritarian presence in the dugout. Scioscia recently explained that while he understands the importance of on-base percentage, "there are other ways to get it" than by walking; expect another last-place finish in walks. He obviously loves the contact -- for the third straight season, the Angels struck out less often than any other AL club. The Angels run often, but shrewdly; the club led the league in steals and were successful 76% of the time. His pitchers don't walk hitters, and get yanked when they do. Whatever the merits of Scioscia's strategy, the club enjoys playing for him and knows where they stand.
The clubhouse reaction to the Jose Guillen situation was telling. After Guillen reportedly flung a helmet in Scioscia's direction after being lifted for a pinch-runner, Scioscia took the extraordinary step of suspending the talented outfielder for the duration of the pennant race and, if applicable, playoffs -- a stunning decision to punish insubordination at the expense of production. Although the initial reaction in the locker room was shock at Guillen's abrupt dismissal, the club quickly rallied around their manager, and defend the decision to this day. Players understand that the team will be run Scioscia's way.
MGR Mike SciosciaRecord since taking over: 425-385 (11-8 postseason)
You know what you'll get:
His team will run the bases
And won't take pitches.
Outlook: Where's The Competition?
So the A's cast away two of the big three, and the Rangers don't add pitching. What's not to like from the Angels' perspective?
Well, for one thing, the starting rotation remains unsettled, and none of the starters can be reasonably expected to put up ace-like numbers. For another, the lineup figures to count on players that are old (Finley), hobbling (Erstad), young (McPherson), unproven (Quinlan) and coming off surprising career years (Figgins).
Nevertheless, the Vlad-fueled middle of the lineup and the tough bullpen guarantee, in my view, at least contention for the Angels. I think the AL West will be tougher than many pundits project...but put me down for a one-win decline, a 91-71 record, and another razor-thin AL West flag for the Los Angeles/California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, of Anaheim.
Pending court approval, of course.