Baseball BeatOctober 26, 2009
Los Angeles Angels: A Look Back and a Look Forward
By Rich Lederer

I'm looking forward to tonight. John Lackey vs. CC Sabathia in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

But wait...

The Yankees beat the Angels, 5-2, in Game 6 last night to win the AL pennant and advance to the World Series.

Darn. That lead-in was what I was hoping to write for today's Baseball Beat. However, it wasn't meant to be. Aside from the differences in payrolls, the Yankees won fair and square. The Bronx Bombers were the better team during the season and in the ALCS. They earned the home-field advantage and won all three games in New York. The Angels won two of three in Anaheim but it's impossible for a team in their position to win a best-of-seven series without taking at least one game on the road.

The Angels made a lot of mistakes in the field and on the basepaths during the series, but the idea that the team and its manager should be embarrassed is preposterous. Look, I'm as frustrated as the next fan, yet there's no shame in winning your division, beating the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, and losing to the Yankees in the ALCS. The last time I looked, only two teams go to the World Series and just one wins it all.

The bottom line is that the Angels played extremely well this year, although not quite up to the level of the Yankees. It's truly amazing what an extra 85 to 90 million dollars in payroll can do for your roster. Beating an All-Star team like that when it counts is no easy task.

Going forward, the Angels have a lot of decisions to make. Bobby Abreu, Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero, and John Lackey are all free agents. Furthermore, the farm system has little to offer for the immediate future.

According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Angels had an Opening Day payroll (salaries plus pro-rated signing bonuses) of $113,709,000. The team acquired Scott Kazmir in August and will be responsible for his $8 million contract in 2010 (as well as $12M in 2011 and a $13.5M club option or a $2.5M buyout in 2012). Kazmir's salary next year will be more than offset by the loss of Kelvim Escobar, who made $9.5M with little or nothing to show for it in 2009.

Abreu ($5M), Figgins ($5.775), Guerrero ($15M), and Lackey ($9M) totalled about $35 million in salary last season. Add in Darren Oliver ($3.665M) and Robb Quinlan ($1.1M) and the Angels could free up $40M next year.

Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, Howie Kendrick, Jeff Mathis, Mike Napoli, Joe Saunders, and Jered Weaver are all eligible for arbitration and will pull down more money in 2010 than 2009. By my estimations, these seven players could cost the team an additional $12 million next year. Juan Rivera and Ervin Santana have contracts that will jump their salaries by $1M and $2.2M, respectively, in 2010. These increases amount to approximately $13M (net of the Kazmir/Escobar commitments) and the run-offs $40M, meaning the Angels have roughly $27M to re-sign current players and/or pursue free agents without boosting payroll beyond the 2009 level.

If owner Arte Moreno is willing to get back to the 2008 total of nearly $120 million, then general manager Tony Reagins would have more than $32M to work with this off-season. Half of this available money will need to go to Lackey should the Angels wish to keep their ace starter. The other half could be split between Abreu and Figgins although both players are likely to seek more than $8M each.

Put me in charge and I would stick to the 2/$16M offer the Angels reportedly made Abreu earlier this month. Yes, he was a bargain this year but that was a function of the market and is neither here nor there as it relates to 2010. If that offer works, great. If not, I'm OK with letting him go. The Angels can redirect that money elsewhere.

Despite Figgy's value this past year, I'm not paying a soon-to-be 32-year old for peak offensive and defensive performance that is unlikely to hold up over a three- or four-year contract. I'd like to have him back but only at 3/$27M. If Figgins can get a better contract from, say, Kenny Williams and the Chicago White Sox (who may be re-thinking an aggressive offer after watching Chone implode during the postseason), then he should go for the riches. Anyway, I think it's high time that the Angels finally give Brandon Wood the opportunity to play everyday. Should Wood flop, then the Halos can turn to Maicer Izturis at the hot corner.

As for Guerrero, I would only be interested on a short-term deal and on the cheap. Call it a Bobby Abreu 1/$5M "take it or leave it" agreement. The fact that Vladdy can no longer run or play defense limits his options and it's my belief that the number of suitors will be few and far between.

If everybody agrees to these terms, that means the Angels would need to shell out about $38 million for their services in 2010. In the meantime, I would want to be in the hunt for Jason Bay or Matt Holliday, but I would not be willing to give the latter anywhere close to the Mark Teixeira-type contract that agent Scott Boras envisions. As was the case with Tex, Moreno is unlikely to get into a bidding war for Holliday and allow negotiations to drag on throughout the winter. I don't foresee the Angels offering Holliday more than a Torii Hunter 5/$90M type deal. Depending on the appetite of the St. Louis Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox, New York Mets, and perhaps the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants, that may or may not work.

Lastly, I would go after Nick Johnson if Guerrero leaves. He could serve as the club's designated hitter and backup first baseman. Johnson would give the Angels a younger version of Abreu. He is basically the same guy without the speed. Sure, the 31-year old has a history of being injury prone, but he was relatively healthy this past year. However, I wouldn't be as aggressive as Dave Cameron so it's quite possible that the Seattle Mariners or some other team would top my offer.

With respect to the lineup, if Figgins returns, he leads off. If not, I believe Aybar can step into that role and give the Angels the same pre-2009 production as Figgy. With Kendrick stepping up, he would be my full-time second baseman and No. 2 hitter should Abreu leave for greener pastures.

Assuming the Angels lose Figgins, Abreu, and Guerrero, the lineup could look like the following if the team was fortunate enough to land Holliday and Johnson.

Aybar, SS
Kendrick, 2B
Holliday, LF
Morales, 1B
Hunter, CF
Johnson, DH
Rivera, RF
Wood, 3B
Napoli/Mathis, C

Manager Mike Scioscia could flip flop Johnson and Rivera vs. LHP in deference to the latter even though Johnson hits lefties just fine.

The bench would include Izturis as the super sub and possible third baseman if Wood doesn't live up to his promise. A combination of Gary Matthews Jr. (when does his contract run out?), Reggie Willits, and Chris Pettit would serve as the fourth and fifth outfielders. Freddy Sandoval could become the utility infielder. Pop in a cheap veteran who can pinch hit and cover for Johnson as a DH, if necessary.

With Lackey, the starting rotation would be about as formidable as any fivesome in the majors.

Lackey, RHP
Weaver, RHP
Kazmir, LHP
Santana, RHP
Saunders, LHP

The bullpen should be little changed, although consideration must be given to Kevin Jepsen as the closer. A healthy Scot Shields could add much-needed depth to a bullpen that was thin at times.

Jepsen, RHP
Fuentes, LHP
Bulger, RHP
Shields, RHP
Arredondo, RHP

Trevor Bell, Matt Palmer, and Sean O'Sullivan could fill the role of the sixth and seventh starters and bullpen insurance over the course of the long season.

I believe the aforementioned roster would win the AL West once again and have an even better shot at the World Series in 2010, all at a cost of approximately $125 million.

* * *

Update (10/27/09): Gary Matthews Jr. has no desire to return to the Angels in 2010.

"I don't expect to be back; it's time to move on," outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. said as he packed his belongings in the team's Angel Stadium clubhouse today. "I'm ready to play for an organization that wants me to play every day. This organization has other plans, and that's OK."

Matthews has two years and $23 million remaining on the five-year, $50-million contract he signed in November 2006. However, the reality is that the 35-year old outfielder is worth no more than about $1.5M-$2.5M on the open market right now, which means the Angels would have to eat roughly $10M in each of the next two seasons if Matthews were to be paid in full.

More realistically, I would expect GMJ and the Angels will wind up restructuring his contract in a manner similar to what the Dodgers and Andruw Jones agreed to last January. As part of the agreement, look for the Angels to trade or release him before the start of spring training. He'll wind up getting the $23M owed to him but it will be spread out over 5-10 years without interest. The new team will be responsible for paying him the MLB minimum of about $400,000 only. Meanwhile, the Angels will "save" approximately $7M-$9M over each of the next two years and this money could be applied toward Abreu, Figgins, Guerrero, Lackey, and possibly someone like Holliday. A win-win-win for everybody concerned.


sounds real good though it would be real nice to keep Abreu if possible- Cheaper option than Holiday and just as good IMHO- I agree about keeping the 2/16 M offer on the table for Abreu and no more- he may not get anything better anyway and end up re-signing the the Angels -

Considering how well he did in Oakland and how well he did the moment he was in St Louis, I doubt Holliday has any interest in signing in the AL anytime soon for any amount of money.

Although I can see Nick Johnson becoming an Angel and I think he'd be a great fit there.

It's sad that a team as good as the Angels, in what might've been their last hurrah before a minor dismantling, played such bad defense in the ALCS (it really cost them 2 games and besides that they already had 2 wins!!)

That being said, I'm glad the Yankees will be facing the Phillies

I like it let's find out about Wood. Guerrero is only useful in limited role, could Abreu maintain this years' production level much longer? He's getting thick-bodied,losing flexibility. A lot of teams find going young does bring dividends, they cannot outspend the Yanks.

Speaking of free agents and contracts, this is going to be a very interesting offseason. The drunken sailor mentality of the past is dead in this economy.

Not in Boston and NY, Al.

I think the angels should take a shot at bay, considering the money they would make from getting rid of GMJ and also the fact that Holliday has proven he can't hit AL pitching

I don't mean to inject facts into the discussion of Matt Holliday--whom I don't wish for the Angels to sign, by the way--but in the month before he left Oakland he was hitting everything which was thrown his way. He made an adjustment in his batting stance and it paid huge dividends. The notion that he "couldn't hit AL pitching" simply is an oft-repeated fallacy. In the last 30 days in Oakland before the trade, he hit .330/.398/.543, which is remarkable considering the Smurfs who were hitting behind him in that Oakland lineup. What seemed reasonable with an expected return of Chavez and a reinvigorated Giambi instead became Holliday and nobody to protect him.

Again, I don't think the Angels would benefit from signing him (in relation to the expected cost) and I don't think Arte Moreno is up for another 45-to-60-day negotiation with Scott Boras, but it is only fair to set the record straight on Holliday.

Nice analysis, Rich.

I think they really want Abreu back for clubhouse/lead-by-example reasons, and will pay as much as 2/20 for it. I also think -- and hope -- that they see him as a DH, and see their aging outfield as a source of alarm, one that would be less troubling if you had a Holliday in LF.

As for Howie in the two-hole, I think that helped mess with his mind this year, so I'd be cautious. If Abreu's back, put him there; if the lineup is as you've sketched out, I'd slot Nick Johnson.

And I for one am hoping we can flip GMJ for Milton Bradley, who would at least give us decent production before the inevitable blow-up.

Thanks, Matt. You know that I respect your views as well.

I'm not crazy about upping the ante on Abreu, but I might be flexible depending on market conditions and how everything else plays out.

You may be right on Howie and the two-hole. Kendrick may be better suited to hitting lower in the lineup for now, although I think he has the potential to bat second or even third as he matures and sharpens his batting eye and plate discipline. Based on his second half and postseason work, I think he is close now.

I would back the GMJ for Bradley swap. Trading like contracts would allow the Angels to accommodate Matthews and the Cubs to rid themselves of their problem. However, I'm not sure Chicago would go for it as it is my belief that another team may be willing to take on Bradley for close to half of his contract, which would prove to be a more advantageous deal for the Cubs.