Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Baseball Preview, Part 1: The Halos...

We’re about two weeks away from opening day of baseball season. It can’t come soon enough! I’m already dialed in with my MLB Extra Innings package. I realize it makes me sound like a dweeb and a no-life loser, but the first thought I have at the start of every season is that I’ll have something to do for the next six months. ...Today I’ll touch on what I expect to see from the Angels in 2011. I’ll preview the Mets in the next few days, and then try to get in an overview of the league as a whole before the games begin...

The Angels will be mediocre in 2011. They should remain within pissing distance of first place deep into the season, but I doubt they'll have the horses to close the gap. ...Angels GM Tony Reagins and owner Arte Moreno really fucked up this offseason, showing themselves to be overmatched little boys in a man’s world. They added outfielder Vernon Wells in a head scatchingly confusing trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Mike Napoli, a useful, cost controlled power bat who was then flipped over to the Texas Rangers, where he will undoubtedly haunt the Angels and have a career year. Acquiring Wells was an act of sheer desperation after Reagins showed up late to the winter meetings and failed to land either Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth or Adrian Beltre, the three major offensive producers in the free agent market. Wells, who has one of the absolute worst contracts in the history of the game, is a serviceable right handed bat who can hit for some power, but he has a fairly pedestrian lifetime career line of .280/.329/.475, with 25.6 WAR over 12 seasons in the bigs, good for an average of about 2 wins per season. If he plays to this average in 2011 - and keep in mind that he's no spring chicken at 32 and has probably already begun his age related decline - the Angels will be paying him approximately $10 million per win, not an especially efficient deployment of funds. And with the onset of decline, Wells has become no better than an average defender in the outfield. There are even some advanced defensive statistics that show him to be a below league-average outfielder at this point in his career. Several commentators have pointed out that the best thing about the Angels getting Wells is that it means they won’t have to trot Bobby Abreu out into the field anymore. Abreu, now 37 years old, will DH, and the Angels’ outfield will be Wells in left, the speedy youngster Peter Bourjos in center, and Torii Hunter in right. So there's some worrisome age at the corner outfield spots. It may not be as bad as last season with Juan Rivera and Abreu at the corners, but Father Time spares no one, so I don't see the revamped outfield this year as a much of an improvement.

The Angels also picked up Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi in the offseason, two versatile lefties who should bolster what was a shaky bullpen last year. But the club still lacks a go-to, lights-out closer. The job is likely to be Fernando Rodney’s to lose, though I’d rather see Kevin Jepsen or even Jordan Walden get the job, both of whom throw harder than Rodney, which is what you want from a closer, a guy who can take the rock in the ninth and blow batters away. I could see Rodney getting booed out of town if he starts to blow games. He gets easily rattled and walks the bases loaded with alarming regularity. Should he struggle early on, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Scioscia goes with a closer-by-committee approach until somebody emerges as the trusted guy to finish out games.

The infield will be a little bit (but not much) improved with Kendry Morales coming back from injury after missing most of 2010. But you never know how a guy is gonna come back from an injury like the one he sustained being an ass clown last season. It’ll be interesting to watch what kind of start Morales gets off to. …Second base and shortstop will be Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, two replacement-level players, more or less, and switch hitters Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo are likely to split duties at third base until or unless one of them wins the everyday job. Neither of them inspires too much excitement, and they both seem like they’d be better suited as guys providing bench depth. Perhaps Brandon Wood can work his way back into the lineup this year and show that he can hit major league pitching. It would be a real gift if he panned out and gave the Angels the kind of power they really need out of a third baseman.

If the Halos are to have any shot whatsoever at winning the AL West this year, the starting pitching will have to pick up an otherwise middling squad. The club should have one of the more solid rotations in the game. Jered Weaver has emerged as the face of the franchise and the ace of the staff. With his deceptive mechanics and killer changeup, Weave has evolved from a finesse pitcher to one of the top strikeout artists in the game. Monterey Park's own Dan Haren is almost like a co-ace, and the Angels will get a big boost having him for the whole year. Ervin Santana is a solid number 3, even if there are times when he seems to lose focus and mental toughness. Joel Pinero is about as good a number 4 as you can hope for. He throws strikes, eats innings, and keeps his team in the game. He is also playing for a new contract in 2012, so don’t be surprised to see him bring a little something extra to his starts this year. Scott Kazmir, the only lefty in the rotation, may be washed up at 27. Isn’t that sad? Nice Jewish boy. There was a time when he had dominant stuff and was a dude opposing batters didn’t want to face. It seems like ages ago. If/when he falters, Michael Kohn or Matt Palmer can hopefully fill in competently.

Several rookies could have an impact. Hank Conger is battling it out with Bobby Wilson this spring for the second catcher spot behind Jeff Mathis. Mathis, for reasons known only to manager Mike Scioscia, was tendered an offer at the conclusion of last season, even though his career line in six seasons with the Angels is .199/.265/.311, with a -2.3 WAR. You’d be better off bringing Bob Boone out of retirement than having Mathis behind the plate every night, but Sosh seems to think he’s a good defensive backstop, so he’ll be the guy going into the season, at least. I’d really like to see Conger make the team. He seems like a good guy, and sooner or later he'll probably be the everyday catcher, unless the Angels trade him for some 37-year-old worn-out veteran with a horrible contract, which is sadly a distinct possibility. …First base prospect Mark Trumbo is having a good spring and there’s a chance he’ll start the season at the major league level since Kendry Morales is not fully recovered from his leg injury. If Trumbo turns out to be something good, he could be made into an outfielder, giving Wells and Hunter rest periodically and coming off the bench, or Morales could be turned into an outfielder if Trumbo shows a good glove at first base. But the guy everybody’s talking about is 19-year-old phenom Mike Trout, who was recently voted the best prospect in all of baseball. He’s a five-tool player, and an outfield with both Bourjos and Trout would prevent a lot of runs from scoring on the basis of speed alone. The Angels are very conservative when it comes to bringing up rookies, so I don’t expect to see Trout at the major-league level this year unless the team gets hit with a lot of injuries or is badly out of contention. Maybe we’ll see him as a September call-up, who knows?

I think the Angels are about three wins better than they were last year. That’s pretty disappointing given the money they're throwing at Vernon Wells. What makes the Wells trade all the more frustrating is that his contract is likely to hamstring the ballclub over the next few seasons in terms of acquiring the kind of high priced talent they'll need to improve. In any case, your 2011 Halos will finish the season at 83-79, six games back of the Oakland A’s, who will pull an upset and beat out the Texas Rangers for the division crown, possibly by one game. This is based on the admittedly dicey assumption that neither the A’s nor the Rangers will be seriously affected this season by injuries, which is why they actually have to play the games. But if it comes down to the last week of the season, the Angels play their last six games at home against Oakland and Texas. Even if we don’t have much of a shot at the division this year, it’ll be nice to get a chance to play the spoiler. I most emphatically do not want to see either of those ballclubs celebrating on our field...

No comments:

Post a Comment