Why We'll Win in '07, as is*
The following is a list of reasons as to why, in the current state of affairs, the 2007 Angels are the most capable team of winning the American League West:
1) No half-season of Jeff Weaver.
- Weaver was 3-10 in his half-season stint with us in 2006. It cannot be understated how much damage he did to the rotation in his time there. His replacement with a .500 pitcher for the first half would have been the difference between where we finished, and a tie for first place. Had he been replaced by nearly anybody in the Angels' system, we'd have had another division crown, and possibly a LOT more. It is no coincidence that in our first half with Jeff we were 43-45, and in the second half 46-28, without him.
2) Ervin Santana will continue to improve.
- Since this entry is being written with the assumption that we stand pat for the rest of the offseason, we'll assume Santana was not traded. In 2006, Santana's H/9, BB/9, WHIP, ERA, loss to start ratio, and pretty much every single pitching were improved over 2005. Another year of seasoning, and a second full year at the Major League level can only lead to improvement. There is no reason to assume anything but good about what he'll be capable of, come 2007.
3) A full season of Jered Weaver.
- Somewhat of an inverse of #1. Instead of screwing around with a winning formula, Jered will not be subject to the up-and-down treatment he received in 2006. Even if his numbers take a slight hit with the sophomore slump, he will certainly not be 3-10 during any stretch in the season. The same can be said to a slightly lesser degree for Joe Saunders as well. The stability and momentum that comes with a rotation capable of winning every day, or breaking the team out of a losing funk is an absolute key to success.
4) A full season of Howie Kendrick.
- Mike Scioscia can't give preference to a veteran he doesn't have, and last I checked Kennedy is now with the Cardinals. Even if Kendrick doesn't break out in 2007, if he simply puts up modest numbers in the .285/.340/.450 range (which is to ask very little of him), he's an improvement over the 2006 Adam Kennedy. Furthermore, second base is now his. His glove will finally be back at the position it belongs in, allowing him to not only be better on defense, but to also concentrate much more on his hitting, and much less on learning a new position.
5) Bartolo Colon will return
- Even if he's not 2005 Colon, he won't be 2006 Colon, either. Finding a middle ground in performance is little to ask, and if it's what we get, then it's an improvement over his DL-stricken, 1-5 record of 2006. I see two potential, basic scenarios playing out with 2007 Colon: He either is marginalized by a series of young, improving arms, and an already-five-deep-rotation, and he can become injured so he is irrelevant; or he could become an (at worst) marginally-above-average starter, capable of giving us a win every fifth game. Either scenario would be more favorable and beneficial than what we got in 2006.
6) The defense cannot be worse than last year
- It's really that simple. It can't be. Not out of stubborn denial, but almost out of statistical probability. The defensive unit for '06 was almost the exact same as '05, when it was a very solid group. The Angels defense last year was an anomaly of sorts, and perhaps cannot be explained. Vlad and G.A. spending less time in the outfield is an automatic plus, any way you cut it. Assuming Kotchman wins the job at first, Kendrick stays at his natural position, Matthews plays center like he is capable (league average, maybe slightly above), and Cabrera becomes...Cabrera again, then the Angels' defense can go right back to making plays and (if nothing else) not losing as many ball games as in '06.
7) We will not have the same injury luck in 2007 as in 2006.
- Watching Dallas McPherson go down was painful, but inevitably predictable. Watching Bartolo Colon go down was a fate we hoped to avoid, but didn't. Casey Kotchman catching mono is a textbook definition of "freak occurrence". If even one of them finds health (and there is no reason to assume Kotchman especially won't), it gives us more stability than we saw in all of 2006. If Kotchman and/or McPherson are in the lineup regularly, they are already making an impact by getting in their at-bats, and most likely producing in relation to some of their potential. We all know McPherson can absolutely crush pitchers, and could be a much needed power bat. Kotchman has a very good glove at first, and still has one of the sweetest strokes in professional baseball. We saw what he did when healthy at the end of 2005, and he's still currently 23 years old. He's playing ball internationally right now, and was a hit machine and top prospect in baseball only 2 years ago.
8) The loss of junk at-bats
- Whether we're ditching wasted at-bats by losing the player themself, or because the player will now be playing with some level of seasoning in 2007, we're going to see fewer at-bats wasted away in the season. Darin Erstad, Adam Kennedy, and Edgardo Alfonzo are just plain gone, and so are their stomach-churning at-bats. Jose Molina will most likely see even less playing time than in '06. Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Mike Napoli, Kendry Morales, and Howie Kendrick will all be swinging the bat next year without the pressure or intimidation of first-time Major League exposure on their shoulders. Kotchman and Mathis especially cannot be expected to be as bad next year.
9) Mike Napoli will find a middle ground.
- Even if he's not the .286/11/27 hitter in 140ABs that he was before the All-Star break, he certainly won't be the .164/5/15 hitter in 128ABs that he was afterwards, either. If he just flat out crushes the ball like he can, he'll be a fine addition to the lineup as a probable every-other-day catcher.
10) Money aside, the Gary Matthews Jr. signing does not ruin the '07 team
- That's right, now that the period of immediate disgust has passed, we can perhaps look more objectively at the signing. He's a veteran presence with a solid glove and more than likely non-objectionable bat. Are Reggie Willits and Tommy Murphy cheaper? Exponentially. Would they play as well as Matthews in '07 if given the chance? Probably not. We may like to think so, but the fact is they most likely won't. Neither is really a top-shelf Angels prospect, and the lineup has enough slap hitters. Both guys are incredibly gifted athletes, but their capabilities in the batter's box is both relatively untested, and lacking in the upside that Matthews presents. Matthews will likely not produce his '06 again, but will be capable of achieving success in a clubhouse that is many-fold greater than Texas', and with the absence of stress that he previously had in not knowing if he'd have a starting job.
11) What have the other teams done?
- The Athletics have already lost Frank Thomas. They will lose Barry Zito. Both were key to the team's '06 success. Esteban Loaiza will almost definitely not be the post-break freak that he was, and Jay Payton's production will not be instantly replaced. In their best case scenario, they have twice as many question marks as the Angels do. The Rangers will be absent Carlos Lee, and are still essentially bankrupt in pitching. They'll likely have the best offense in the division once again, but we stole their leadoff hitter who had a career year for them last year, and cannot pitch alongside anyone in this division. The Mariners, to use a cop-out, are the Mariners. They may flirt with .500 if Felix Hernandez pitches to his potential in 2007, but will likely be in last once more in the division. Speaking of the Mariners, we can also expect them to at least slightly improve over their 2-17 mark against the Athletics last year. A very poor showing of 6-13 would still have turned the division into a tie for the Angels.
12) No more messing around with Juan Rivera
- We all know what he does when he's in the lineup on a regular basis, and it's exactly what we need. The only thing standing between Juan Rivera and a .300/30/100 season is playing time. His consistency and run production when in the lineup everyday is on par, or greater than, some of the power bats (read: Joe Crede) that we'd potentially insert for a power boost. It's time that Juan was removed from the 3.5th outfielder spot, and into everyday playing time. The man can hit. Period.
13) No more of the "rookie revolving door"
- I count 12 rookies getting playing time last year, not counting, of course, the inexperienced Kotchman and McPherson. There is no way that many players with that little experience crack into the system this year, and if they do, they'll at least come with a little seasoning.
- Alot of this comes with the Justin Speier and Gary Matthews Jr. signings. Okay, I can understand not being in love with the Matthews signing, but combine that with the Speier signing, and it puts us in great shape for 2007. If we assume that SOMEHOW, points 1-13 all manage to completely, totally, and utterly fail, these two signings do more for us than just bring us the services of two capable individuals. Matthews helps to absorb the loss of any tradeable outfielder (primarily Figgins, but also Murphy and Willits or, against all wishes, Juan Rivera), and Speier does the same for any tradeable bullpen arm (Shields). Our 6-deep starting rotation is potentially the best in the entire Majors. We already have a handful of super-subs (Izturis, Quinlan, Willits, Murphy), and more than likely an incredibly talented, yet expendable first baseman (Kotchman, Morales). We have surplus middle-infield (Cabrera, Izturis, Aybar). And most teams carry 2 catchers, so why have 3 (Mathis, Napoli, and Molina)? What does this equate to? A ton of trade bait, come deadline time, if everything else somehow just doesn't work out for us in 2007. Kotchman, Morales, McPherson, Willits, Murphy, Aybar, Santana, Saunders, Shields, Figgins, Mathis, Napoli, and Molina. That's alot of talented individuals who could be packaged together in a set of 2 or 3 in big trades, without even going near the Minor league stud prospects we have in Wood, Adenhardt, Conger, Arredondo, Arredondo 2, or Mendoza.
Keep in mind we lost the division in 2006 by a mere 4 games. If you can't find 4 games gained in that entire explanation, then you're not going to find it anywhere. Not only would just a small handful of these points going our way turn the Angels into a division winner, but it would also put us again in position to compete for a world title. The talent and the tools are absolutely in our hands at this moment to achieve that goal.
*I'd like to note that, although this whole scenario is played out as if the Angels did not make another move for the rest of the 2006/07 offseason, that is not to be construed as my condoning of doing so. I would very much like to see the Angels land another big bat this offseason at a reasonable price, and would gladly take it over what we have. The above is simply a rational explanation as to why we're going to be a better team, regardless of whether or not that big bat ever does come our way.
Well, that was long as hell, but it's something I really wanted to do. Hope you enjoyed the read.