Friday, December 4, 2009

2010 Team Analysis: Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels:

2009 Record: 97-65

General Manager: Tony Reagins

Manager: Mike Scioscia

Organizational Philosophy: The Angels recently signed GM Tony Reagins to a long term extension. Reagins has shown, unlike former Angel GM Bill Stoneman, a willingness to pull off a trade involving their younger players.  With Reagins at the helm not much has changed in terms of acquiring talent geared towards speed and defense.  This offseason should be interesting with a few key figures set to test free agency

2010 Commitments:

Starting Rotation:
Jered Weaver ($465K; arb eligible)
Ervin Santana ($6M)
Joe Saunders ($475K; arb eligible)
Scott Kazmir ($8M)
Dustin Moseley ($435K)

I would expect the Angels to be serious in trying to retain John Lackey’s services due to the blow his absence would cause to this pitching staff. 

If the Angels fail to re-sign Lackey, they would have enough attractive pieces to land many top name starters rumored to be on the trading market including Roy Halladay. Of course acquiring the latter may involve a massive gutting of one’s farm system (I’m sure OF Peter Bourjos and SP Jordan Walden or SP Trevor Reckling would merely be the starting point!) but if they were to pursue Atlanta’s Javier Vasquez or Detroit’s Edwin Jackson a decent trade package could be cobbled together making both sides very happy.

The Angels have been named as possible suitors in the Aroldis Chapman sweepstakes. The 21 year old Cuban LHP should exceed bidding of $32M so I would be very surprised if the Angels were serious.

As the rotation stands the Angels lack a clear cut #1 starter.  Jerad Weaver has shown for the second season in a row to be durable enough to throw 200+ innings while keeping a decent K/BB rate.  His K rate may never be what it was in the minors but his above average changeup and slider combination does work to keep his slow fastball (averages out to 88 mph) and high frequency of FB's from getting him into too much trouble. 

Ervin Santana was my pick last offseason to win the Cy Young award.  After improving over the past few seasons prior to 2009, Santana went down with a sprained elbow ligament early last season.  The injury wasn't severe enough to require season ending surgery but it was a long road coming back to pitch 139 innings.  Looking over his 2009 stats we can see that his strikeouts were down (6.89) and his walks allowed were up (3.03) as well as a loss in average velocity (coming in at 92 mph, a few clicks below his career best of 94 mph in 2008).  But as this article over at Fangraphs states, the possibility of Santana returning to form could happen based on his increased command and velocity as the season came to a close. 


Brian Fuentes ($9M)
Jose Arredondo ($410K)
Sean O’Sullivan ($400K)
Kevin Jepsen ($400K)
Jason Bulger ($403K)
Rafeal Rodriguez ($400K)
Trevor Bell ($400K)
Scot Shields ($5.3M)
Rich Thompson ($400K)

Brian Fuentes’ troubles in the postseason should have the Angels looking to add another upper-tier reliever to possibly shadow and share closing duties with him next season. On paper, free agent Rafael Soriano would seem like an attractive piece – in ’09 his K/BB ratio was a dominating 3.78 and he was successful in keeping the ball in the park (0.71 HR/9). Soriano posted excellent numbers: 102 Ks in 75 IP an FIP of 2.54 but his history of arm problems (including some muscular discomfort behind his right shoulder in August) should temper a few teams from giving him a long term deal.

On the trade market, names like Pittsburgh’s Matt Capps, Florida’s Matt Lindstrom and San Diego’s Heath Bell have been popular fixtures and made available more on their salary than skill.

39 year old free agent set-up man Darren Oliver isn't expected back.  Last month the Angels chose not to offer him arbitration despite his status as a Type A free agent.  Since finding his slider three years ago, Oliver has been a serviceable pitcher out of the bullpen but his age will limit his market value.
Angel fans are hoping for a return to 2008 form for Jose Arredondo. In 2009, we saw an increase in his K/9 (from 8.11 to 9.40) but increases in BB/9 and HR/9 did spell him for a dramatic increase in his ERA. Looking at his strand rate (82.2%) and BABIP (.250) in 2008, Arredondo was very lucky in those 61 IP and it would have been a tall order for him to repeat it. In 2010, Arredondo will enter the season at the age of 27 and I’m expecting a season to fall somewhere in the middle of his past few seasons placing him as a good, but not spectacular, late inning reliever.

Jason Bulger has always posted gaudy strikeout numbers despite a fastball that averages between 92 and 93 mph. In his first full season in the bullpen, Bulger fanned 68 batters in 65 IP but unsustainable numbers in his BABIP (.250), strand rate (76%) and LD% (14%) should point to a regression next season.

Now, Kevin Jepsen is a very intriguing piece in this bullpen. He has a four-seam fastball and a cutter that both rate above-average and compared to the “luck” Bulger experienced – Jepsen posted a high BABIP (.365) and a strand rate lower than average (61.9%) for relievers. In 2009, Jepsen displayed better control (2.53 K/BB) along with an increase in GB’s (from 47% to 57%) which should translate into better seasons for this 26 year old.

Kelvim Escobar was another free agent not offered arbitration.  Here is another project that will be 33 years old at the start of the season.  After having labrum surgery in 2008, he has struggled to make a full comeback.  The Red Sox have expressed some interest but his return to another 18 win season looks like a longshot.

Scot Shields had knee surgery over the offseason and should be ready as he attempts to regain his role as one of the top Angel set-up men.

On the field:

C: Mike Napoli ($2M; arb eligible)
C: Jeff Mathis ($450K; arb eligible)
1B: Kendry Morales ($1.2M)
2B: Howie Kendrick ($465K; arb eligible)
2B: Maicer Izturis ($1.6M)
SS: Erick Aybar ($460K; arb eligible)
3B: Brandon Wood ($405K)
LF: Juan Rivera ($3.25M)
LF: Gary Mathews Jr. ($11.4M)
CF: Torii Hunter ($18.5M)
CF: Reggie Willits ($450K)
RF: Bobby Abreu ($9M)
RF: Terry Evans ($400K)

Howie Kendrick has all the makings to be an above average 2B, the only question is his health.  Durability has been an issue for the past few seasons as hamstring issues have creeped up now and then.  Kendrick may have fallen out of favor with manager Scioscia as Macier Izturis has gotten more frequent starts.  It would be a mistake to keep Kendrick on the bench as his bat would fit nicely in this lineup.

SS Erick Aybar had a mini-breakout last season coming in with a batting average of .312.  Like Kendrick, he doesn't walk much (5.6% last season) which keeps him from being an ideal leadoff hitter but his incredibly low percentage of strikeouts (10.6%) doesn't seem out of line with his 2008 stats but he does swing at an above average number of balls out of the strikezone (36.3% last year; suggesting he could just be a good bad ball hitter but also componding the fact that his BB% won't be rising anytime soon).  Aybar will be 26 at the start of next season and should enjoy a few more seasons of his slash and run style of play.

Chone Figgins is another key player set to test the free agent market. The Angels will be in talks since a lot has been made about Figgins posting his highest OBP (at the age of 31, Figgins has shown improvement in drawing walks and making contact). Figgins has also shown a lot of value with his speed (which shows no sign of slowing down) and improved defense which according to UZR/150 scores which ranks him among the top 3B in 2009.

As of now, Brandon Wood is currently penciled in as starting at 3B.  The Angels top prospect from 2005 never really shook off his tag as being strikeout-prone.  Since his rise as a 20 year old SS who ripped through the lower levels with a .600+ slugging percentage, I'm sure the organization was split on how talented Wood really was. 

To me, Brandon Wood will always represent the Bill Stoneman era; a period where prospects were hoarded without determining on where one would exactly fit on this team.  Dallas McPherson and Casey Kotchman are two other (former) positional prospects that seemed to languish on the bench after hitting the ceiling in terms of development in the minors.  I have a feeling GM Tony Reagins will take a more decisive approach when it comes to evaluating minor league talent but he did inherit the Brandon Wood situation.  Entering this season, Wood will be 24 and he has seen a drop in his K% during the last three years in AAA.  On paper and based on his stats in the minors (which can be skewed since it has been stated that his AAA home, Salt Lake City, is notorious for being a hitters park) Wood may only be lacking in both confidence and the inability to find his rhythm in the pros.  Wood is still a few years from his peak and since the power is there (something this team can definitely use) it's now up to the decision makers to either let him play or cut bait and see how much value they can get from him as a trade (in which case they may run the risk of selling low).

The Angels saw an offensive improvement from LF Juan Rivera.  He doesn't exactly strike fear into his opponents eyes but Rivera has quietly developed into a very capable hitter.  Age may not be on his side since he turns 33 during the mid-season but his improvements in his approach (he improved on swings outside the strikezone from a high 30% the season before to 25% in 2009) did translate into someone who strikeout very rarely (10.8%) while still displaying decent power (.478 SLG).  There was some talk this offseason about the Angels pursuing LF's Matt Holiday and Jason Bay as a free agent but with their main priority to sign Lackey.  I doubt they will pursue one of these expensive pieces since the last thing they need is another logjam in this outfield.

RF Bobby Abreu, as expected, returned to the Angels for the next 2 seasons with an option for a third and seems to have a lock on the #2 spot.

Free agent Vlad Guerrero is an interesting case, I’m sure the Angels are looking forward to free up the money he made and his spot on the team but the team did elect not to offer him arbitration since it’s probable that any money offered would be accepted. Vlad will have to compete in a market saturated with DH-only players like Thome, Matsui, and Sheffield. Since the Angels didn't offer Guerrero arb, I would expect his signability to go up a bit since he still has a little bit of power left and could conceiveably DH for a team like the Rays or Rangers.

It’s no secret that Gary Mathews Jr. wants out and the money he is set to receive makes him one of the most expensive 4th outfielders in baseball. The Angels could look to swap him out with another team looking to dump off another bad contract but Matthews limited ability and age makes this virtually impossible (the only possible trade I can see would be to ship Matthews off to Atlanta in exchange for Derek Lowe, The Angels would absorbing another year and a little more money but this would be classified as a salary dump requiring both teams to take pause).

Peter Bourjos is an intriguing OF prospect and I mentioned him as a probable piece in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes. His speed is legit and in AA this past season he finally brought his BB% to a respectable 10.1% while seeing his K% decrease the past three seasons. Bourjos will be 23 at the start of the 2010 season and does project as a prototypical leadoff hitter but I think he is still a year away.

Next Season’s Forecast: As of this writing, the Angels have close to $80 million committed next season without taking arbitration into account. I’m expecting the Angels to pursue one high profile free agent and look to the trade market to fill in other spots. With question marks at 3B and SP as well as holes in the leadoff and #5 spot in the batting order, the Angels will need to be creative if they want to upgrade while still keeping a reasonable budget.

One of the keys next season for the Angels is for Ervin Santana to be healthy and strong enough to pitch at a level close to his 2008 season. If that happens, this rotation could be stabilized (with or without Lackey) and should keep them in solid contention next season.

The other necessity is injecting this lineup with a little more power.  I know a decision has to be made about Brandon Wood but if this team feels as though he isn't ready to handle the #5 spot (he isn't).  Then signing Adrian Beltre to a 3 year deal with a 4th year club option would be the best option (based on this interview, Beltre seems to be quite aware of the current economic climate and is willing to make himself an affordable piece in any playoff contending team). 

Beltre would cover the hole left by Chone Figgins in terms of defense while satisfying this team's need for a legitimate #5 hitter.  Of course, Figgins' absence will leave the team scrambling for a leadoff hitter (something I'm sure Aybar will be asked to fill until Bourjos is ready to be a fulltime player), but it's a route that I feel has benefits in both the long and short term.

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