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Why the Angels could Re-Sign nobody and Still Improve

Although, at first glance it might not be obvious, the Angels are in a very similar situation this offseason as they were a year ago. Last offseason arguably two of the top three free agents on the market were Angels, Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez. The Angels made an effort to sign both (although to a lesser extent with Rodriguez) but ultimately they both took the money and ran to New York clubs. Although Angels lost in six games rather handily to the Yankees in the ALCS, it is clear to anybody that had watched the Halos this season that we were not seeing the Angels at their best. Had the Angels lineup hit anywhere near the way they did in June, July and August the Yankees would have had a tough time advancing. No need to whine though, because that is what the Post-Season is about, identifying the best team right now and it is clear that the two best two teams right now are playing for the World Series title. Had the Angels bats not gone flat over the last 2 weeks of the season we would be looking at an Angels/Phillies series saying the same thing.

This offseason will be like last years with the majority of the top named free agents coming from the Angels. General Managers are salivating at the thought of signing John Lackey (SP), Chone Figgins (3B), Bobby Abreu (RF) and Vladimir Guerrero (DH). The Angels have a penchant for developing young talent in their farm system and that is why they were able to be successful this year despite not re-signing Teixeira or Rodriguez. Kendry Morales, who batted .306 with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in, filled the vacancy Teixeira left at first base nicely. Compare that to Teixeira’s numbers (.296 with 39 home runs and 122 runs batted in) and consider that for the money they saved the Angels paid for both Fuentes and Abreu and it’s hard to say the Angels made a mistake. A player’s value during free agency is always determined by who else is out there and since this is a relatively weak free agent class the Angels players hitting the market are going to command top dollar.

Lackey figures to be the best starting pitcher on the market and raised his stock after a gutty performance in game 5 of the ALCS. He will get interest from, among others, big spenders like the Dodgers and Rangers who would both fit perfectly for Lackey who has said that he likes playing in Southern California but is also a season ticket holder for the Dallas Cowboys and lives in Texas. With Lackey and other starters hurt this year the Angels were able to test out different guys in the rotation, finding some success with Matt Palmer, Sean O’Sullivan and Shane Loux and may give one of them the opportunity to claim the number five starter position next year. Also they acquired Scott Kazmir late in the season, who at times with the Tampa Bay Rays, has looked like he has the talent to be a club’s ace. I am comfortable starting next season with a rotation of Weaver, Saunders, Santana, Kazmir and trying to deal for a number one during the season. Don’t rule out the Angels trying to get back on the phone with the Toronto Blue Jays who were reportedly very close to dealing Roy Halladay to the Halos at the trade deadline last year.

Figgins emerged as one of the top five leadoff men in the game this year and teams are starting to realize the importance of the number one spot in the lineup. The main value that Figgins brings to free agency is his versatility on defense; he played an all-star caliber third base this year for the Angels but can also play second base or left field. Expect the Yankees to look at Figgins to replace Johnny Damon (LF), who will be a free agent at the end of the series. Just as Kendry Morales had been waiting for first base to open up to get his shot, Brandon Wood has been waiting for third base and will get his shot this year. The Angels front office and Mike Scioscia have been talking very highly of Wood for a couple years now and usually their hunches pan out.

Bobby Abreu was called the MVP of the Angels this year by Scioscia which is high praise considering the years that Torii Hunter, Morales and Weaver all had. I think of all of the free agents leaving the Angels, the front office is most concentrated on Abreu, not only for his on the field benefits but also for his off the field mentoring he has provided as well. If the Angels sign Abreu and let go of Vlad, it is very possible that Scioscia would give Abreu the same type of schedule of RF/DH duties that he gave Vladdy in ’07-’08. The market is full of corner outfielders and the Angels might take a stab at Jason Bay (Boston) or Matt Holliday (St. Louis) but I think they would sign Abreu if they were willing to spend money to fill the hole. Just like last year I think the Angels will wait it out and see what outfielders are left once the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Cubs are done overbidding for players and find somebody solid defensively to help Hunter out in the field.

Lastly, and closest to my heart, is Vlad. It’s hard not to love this guy, he hits everything and will very likely become the Angels first Hall of Famer. Not to mention that in the ALCS when almost everybody was slumping at the plate Vladdy stepped up and delivered some clutch base hits. Many people are writing him off and it is true that he is going to look for money based on his name and ability to sell tickets and not for his age and abilities now, but there is some left in the tank. It is clear that Vlad is done playing RF and will be a DH for the remainder of his career and just knowing that could improve his health and mentality going in to spring training. Texas will probably make a run at him and some of the smaller market AL teams will look to add a big name to satisfy their fan bases, but don’t underestimate the love that Arte Moreno (Angels Owner) has for Vlad and the love that Vlad has for the OC community. He does not like big market areas, they don’t fit in to his personality and has found Anaheim to be a perfect fit. He also came too late to win a ring with the Angels and you could tell this postseason that he is hungry for a ring. If he leaves, then he does so in my mind as the greatest hitter in Angels history, and if he stays then we know we have a solid clean-up hitter for the next couple years.

At the end of the day, the Angels will survive even if they sign none of the big named free agents I have listed, with Scioscia managing and the farm system the front office has put in place, the Angels will stay at the top of the AL West for the foreseeable future. So the key, as it is every year, is to find the right group to peak in October, and if we can do that, we will be sitting here next year popping champagne.