Thursday, February 11, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What a ridiculous name. Let's get right to it.

2009 Record: 97-65. Won the AL West, swept Boston in the first round of the ALDS (a glorious moment, to be sure), lost in six to the Yankees in the ALCS (even more glorious).

Key Departures: No one, really. Unless you consider your #1 SP, John Lackey, your starting 3B, Chone Figgins and your cleanup hitter, Vlad Guerrero, to be key. I would. But I'm not running a professional baseball team. The Angels also dealt Gary Matthews Jr, the most expensive 5th OFer in the world, to the Mets and agreed to pay roughly 21M of the remaining 23M left on his contract.

Key Additions: The Angels signed Joel Piniero to a two year deal worth $16M. It remains to be seen if Piniero can excel outside of the tutelage of St. Louis' pitching coach, Dave Duncan. They also signed Hideki Matsui to a 1 year, 6.5M deal. He will mostly DH, but the Angels have apparently promised him that he can spend time at LF. I watched at least 120 Yankees games last year. Matsui could barely run the bases without getting his knees drained. How they plan on using him in the OF, I have no idea. Continuing their pattern of signing overrated closers to expensive deals, the Angels also locked down Fernando Rodney with a 2 year, 11M deal. Because, you know, if you can sign a dude with a 1.42 career WHIP, you MUST DO THAT DEAL.

This seems like a good time to stop and link this, which was awesome. And while I'm at it, I'll embed this, which is also awesome:

As you can see, I am still basking in the World Series glow.

Talent En Route: Well, it appears that Brandon Wood will at long last get a shot at an MLB starting position. Wood will be 25 on Opening Day, and boasts a career .286/.354/.541 tripleslash in seven seasons of Minor League work. He's no late bloomer, though. As a 22 year old, he put up a .272/.338/.497 in AAA; the next year, as a 23 year old, you went for .296/.375/.595, showing a tremendous improvement in both OBP and SLG. Finally, last year, he went for .293/.353/.557. It's clearly time for Wood to get a shot. I would expect a decent regression off the high numbers he put in AAA, but he should hit for power and manage to get on-base at a decent clip.

Other than Wood, the Angels boast no 5-star prospects by Baseball Prospectus' rankings. BP lists their #1 prospect as Mike Trout, an OFer from NJ who slid down in the draft. While watching the draft, I was hoping Trout would fall a few more slots and that the Yankees would be able to pop him, but alas. Trout put up a .360/.418/.506 line as a 19 year old in 39G in Rookie Ball, which is fantastic. He'll begin 2010 in Low-A ball, and he is definitely one to watch.

Hank Conger, C, and Jordan Walden, RHP, are the other two top prospects by BP's reckoning. They are both at least a year off. The Angels are gonna be dancing with the ones that brung 'em in 2010. Or something.

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook
The Angels resisted the urge to re-up John Lackey, and let him leave to the Red Sox via free agency. Their team now consists of a mix between veterans signed to short-term, relatively inexpensive deals (Abreu and Matsui), young, inexpensive players that are pre-arb or arbitration-eligible (Mathis, Napoli, Saunders, Weaver, Aybar and Izturis), and veterans signed to more expensive deals (Hunter, Rodney, Santana, Piniero, Kazmir and Fuentes). The Angels are a perpetual tease in free agency. Last year they were linked to Sabathia and Teixeira, but failed to make a competitive offer. This year, they were linked to Lackey, for obvious reasons, but never seemed to come close to making a sustained effort to keep him. LA is a big market, and the Angels don't have any giant contracts like the Yankees or the Red Sox that will constrain them from signing any big FAs. They just don't seem to have any interest in doing so.

Looking ahead to 2011, it is hard to see any good free agent targets for Anaheim. In the OF, Rivera, Hunter and Abreu are all signed through 2011. Wood will be coming off his first season as an MLB regular, and Aybar, Mathis, Napoli, Morales and Kendrick will all still be very cheap. On the pitching side, they will still own the rights to all five of their current top 5 SPs - Kazmir, Weaver, Santana, Saunders and Piniero.

At this point, I can't see the Angels being major players for any of the major FA in the 2011 bumper crop.

The Future of the Angels: Honestly, until I did this preview, I had no idea that the Angels were locked in on as many players as they are. If the Angels don't win the AL West in 2010, what sorts of improvements could they make? Could they deal a MI or CI and attempt to sign a FA? Could they move Saunders or Santana and try to sign someone like Josh Beckett? No clue. I'm bearish on the Angels. I think Seattle, Oakland and Texas have gotten a lot smarter, leaner and stronger, and I think this year will be LA's toughest in recent memory.