Over the past couple seasons the Los Angeles Angels have undergone a makeover that will be accelerated by further personnel changes this year. Instead of the go-go Angels, always manufacturing runs, they've turned into an offense built on muscle. Their leadoff man and chief basestealer, Chone Figgins is now with division rival Seattle. On the free agent market, the team went out and added Hideki Matsui, fresh off his World Series MVP performance in New York. The move from speed to power will be even more pronounced this year, even if the Angels have finally cut ties with fading Vlad Guerrero, also with a divison rival in Texas.
Kendry Morales is the new muscle man in southern California, and was more than able to fill the shoes of departed free agent Mark Texeira, htting 34 home runs and slugging .569, while being a steady on-base threat. He's supported
in the offense by Matsui, whose knees must stay healthy, Tori Hunter and Juan Rivera. The latter had his best year since 2006, slugging .476 and being another reason for the power resurgence in Anaheim.
The "old Angels" were heavily built on defense, but that is no longer a team strength. The zone rating stat, which measures range and number of plays made based on opportunities, rather than simply the avoidance of errors, grades this club out as below average up the middle. Hunter has a reputation in center that outstrips his actual production. Howie Kendrick at second and Erick Aybar at short are each respectable hitters, especially for a middle infielder, but each are below average in the field--especially for a middle infielder.
And we haven't even gotten to the biggest personnel loss yet--starting pitcher John Lackey, the ace of the staff since 2002, who got a five-year contract to go to Boston. His departure thrusts Jered Wever into
the role of ace. That's manageable for the talented Wever, but Steve Kazmir now must find the form he flashed with Tampa Bay that once made him one of the stud lefthanders in the game. He's now #2 man and can't have the inconsistent year he had in 2009 with both the Rays and Angels. Nor can he have the kind of meltdown he pulled in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Yankees, when his team was realistically playing for its season. The rest of the rotation is manageable, albeit not special, with Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders and Joel Piniero.
The bullpen is like the bottom of the rotation--manageable, but not spectacular, a ways removed from the days when K-Rod was closing the door here. Brian Fuentes piles up the saves, but the ERA is not great and he was exposed in the playoffs against the Yankees.
Changeover from speed to power. Figgins gone. Matsui is in. Vlad Guerrero has moved on. Kendry Morales is the man. Mike Scoscia has imported
Fernando Rodney from Detroit to try and help the setup crew, and a return to health from the once-great Scot Shields would be a boon.
I've sounded more pessimistic about the Angels than I really am. It's hard not to focus on the players that have been lost, especially Figgins and Lackey, while Seattle and Texas have gotten bold to improve themselves. But if you look at the names that are still here--Morales, Hunter, Matsui, Wever, Kazmir, and the catching duo of Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli, there's enough talent to compete and win. Mike Scoscia's always found a way to do just that. Betting against him would be foolish, but it would be also naive to suggest this isn't the biggest challenge he's had in several years.
Up Next: New York Mets tomorrow
Final AL West Picks & Preview: April 3
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