Evaluating the Angels Off-Season


While it is still only early February, enough significant moves have been made this off-season that we can piece together a pretty fair picture of how the Angels fared, and what we have to look forward to (or dread) during the coming season. When Chan Ho Park, Jarrod Washburn, and Felipe Lopez are among ESPN’s top 10 free agents left on the market, it’s safe to say the truly significant signings are behind us now. With that in mind, we can look to who the Angels gained, who they lost, and what this off-season means for the 2010 baseball season.

Unfortunately, the major story of the Angels’ off-season was the subtractions from a team that already was unable to make it past the Yankees in the ALCS. Players like Jose Arredondo and Dustin Moseley are not significant losses, but their departure is also not going to do much to help a bullpen that last year ranked 11th in the AL in ERA and 6th in FIP. On top of that, the man who may’ve been the rock of that pen, leading it in innings pitched, tied for 1st in ERA, and 3rd in FIP has departed as well. It wouldn’t be fair to say the Angels bullpen has been decimated by these moves (Moseley wasn’t terribly effective, and Arredondo is on the shelf this season with Tommy John surgery), but losing Oliver definitely hurts a group that was already far removed from their dominant ways only a few years ago.

Ordinarily, Angels fans would still be able to hang their hats on the starting pitching, which has been anywhere from really good (5th in the AL in ERA and 6th in FIP in 2008) to pretty solid (4th in ERA, but dropping to 10th in FIP for 2009) over the last couple years. Repeating either of those seasons became significantly harder in December, when John Lackey signed with the Red Sox for $85 million over five years, ending his eight year career with the Angels. During that time, there was no question that he evolved into the team’s ace, outperforming younger newcomers like Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, and Joe Saunders. While he had health problems in recent seasons that caused him to miss the start of both 2008 and 2009, he still maintained a pattern of success, which eluded both Santana and Saunders. Losing him, despite the mid-season acquisition of Scott Kazmir, leaves some large questions lingering about the quality of the rotation. Ervin Santana has only had one truly good season, surrounded by both injuries and less than effective pitching. Joe Saunders was the poster boy for regression in 2009, and I see no reason to expect him to return to his 2008 level again. Jered Weaver has been a fairly consistent #2 for us, but it’s hard to imagine anyone anointing him our new ace with any confidence that he’ll deliver ace-like results. Scott Kazmir has had numerous health problems, and questions linger over whether they’ve taken a toll on his ability to return to the once-dominant pitcher he used to be. The performance of the rotation without Lackey may be the most interesting story about the Angels this season, and while I wish I could be optimistic about what we’ll get, I’m just not seeing it.

If that was the worst of it all, it may be fair to say that the Angels had a bad, but not terrible off-season. Instead, along with the hits to the bullpen and rotation, the offense and defense also suffered a major subtraction with the loss of Chone Figgins. Not only did Figgins lead the team in hits, walks, stolen bases, and OBP, but he also led in UZR and overall WAR. He even added value with his base running skills.  In short, Chone Figgins was the single most valuable player the Angels had last season, and by a pretty fair margin. To say his loss could be significant is to put it mildly. None of the candidates to replace him in the leadoff spot have shown an ability to get on base at much more than a .350 pace, which just doesn’t cut it for a hitter that will get more Plate Appearances than anyone else on the team. His defense may be even harder to replace, with Brandon Wood being a question mark at best and Maicer Izturis never showing more than average defense at his limited time manning the hot corner.

Also gone is the man that was the face of the franchise since Arte Moreno took over, Vladimir Guerrero. The reasons for letting him go are likely not terribly complicated, as he’s had injury problems lately and is clearly entering his decline phase. It is my belief that, when healthy, he can still be a very effective hitter, and watching him next season is going to be quite interesting. If he produces like he did in 2008, and especially with the division rival Rangers, it would not be surprising to see some backlash from fans angry at watching a favorite player put up good numbers in a different uniform. For Angel fans, it’s likely to be one of the most compelling storylines within the division.

Much of the blow of losing these players could’ve been cushioned with only a couple of moves, and as the off-season progressed Angel fans sat waiting for word: We signed Matt Holliday. We traded for Roy Halladay. We traded for Cliff Lee. We signed Adrian Beltre. We signed Jason Bay. We signed Joel Pineiro. Wait. What?

On top of the significant losses on every side of the ball the Angels faced, the replacements brought in leave much to be desired. Signed to replace Lackey is Joel Pineiro, a pitcher that had his best season ten years after first debuting in the majors. If Joe Saunders was 2009’s poster boy for regression, Joel Pineiro’s may be 2010’s. He doesn’t have the stuff to strike guys out, averaging only 4.42 K/9 last season, while hitters made contact with 87.7% of his pitches that they swung at. Or to put it simply, the guy does not miss many bats. While he benefited from a pretty solid infield defense in St. Louis, the loss of Figgins and the uncertainty of who will be handling second for the Angels, along with almost certain regression in 2010, could spell doom for Pineiro’s hopes of repeating 2009.

To replace Oliver, the Angels convinced Fernando Rodney to take $11 million over two years in exchange for a high walk rate and a declining strikeout rate. Many will point to Rodney’s save percentage with Detroit as proof of his skill as a pitcher, but Angel fans learned the hard way watching Brian Fuentes pitch last season that saves are not a very good reflection of a pitcher’s skill. A setup/closer combination of Rodney and Fuentes will certainly be an adventure in 2010, but much like Willy Wonka’s little boat, it may be one people don’t want to spend a lot of time on.

Finally, the Angels replaced Guerrero with free agent OF/DH Hideki Matsui, in a move that is at least somewhat interesting. Guerrero has been the better hitter than Matsui over their careers, but with Guerrero on the decline and Matsui fresh off winning the World Series MVP award, the front office felt that the time was right to switch. Matsui is likely to continue being a productive hitter moving forward, and will probably be a more than adequate replacement for the production Guerrero provided in 2009. The gamble the Angels are taking is that Guerrero will not surpass that and produce more on a 2008 level. If it happens, then replacing Guerrero with Matsui will prove to be a mistake. At this point in their careers, neither player should see any more time in the field. Both age and injury problems have taken their toll on the fielding abilities of both players, which will make comparing them and their production much more simple going forward as we will only have to look at their hitting. My gut tells me switching Matsui for Guerrero will end up being a wash, with the Angels basically breaking even in the deal, with their contracts even ending up almost identical to each other.

So where does this leave the Angels? Figgins is gone, and along with Cliff Lee, Eric Bedard, and former Angel Casey Kotchman he’s moved north to rival Seattle. Vladimir Guerrero and Darrin Oliver have both moved south, to divisional foe Texas. John Lackey went to the bane of the Angels’ postseason existence in Boston, making an already very good rotation even better. Unfortunately, the Angels didn’t do a lot to minimize those losses, much less improve the team over the 2009 version. The AL West has turned into a very interesting division to watch this season, and were I to guess where the teams will finish, I’m afraid I’d have to put Seattle in the top spot, with the Angels and Texas a close two and three. As with any baseball season, injuries and mid-season trades could change the entire dynamic of a division, but looking at where everyone stands at this time, it’s hard for me not to like the moves Seattle is making. The only thing left for us to do is cross our fingers and hope Mike Scioscia can find a way to get this team back to October baseball.

Agree? Disagree? Leave comments and let me know what you think!

(Nate Proctor is the lead writer for Halo Hangout.  You can stay up to date on all of Nate’s work by following him on TwitterFacebook, or by way of the Halo Hangout RSS feed.)