SB NATION A.L. West Roundtable Day 4:
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The American League West gets analyzed right here, right now - and the team is under the microscope of the four Sports Blog Nation bloggers who follow this division closely:
Jeff from Lookout Landing (Seattle Mariners Blog),
Blez from Athletics Nation (Oakland A's Blog),
Adam from Lonestar Ball (Texas Rangers Blog),
and yours truly to set things straight... along with our moderator Marc Normandin, who came up with the questions.
Marc Normandin from Beyond the Box Score: The Angels were relatively quiet this offseason, letting many of their free agents walk. Detail the best and worst moves of the winter for the Halos.
Blez from Athletics Nation ... The best move for the Angels was to give some of the kids a chance. Being an A's fan, I realize the impact that young guys can have on a team and it seems like Stoneman was resigned to giving MacPherson and Kotchman a chance to be regulars. It takes cojones to finally give the kids a chance and I applaud that move.
That being said, I don't like the move to pick up Weaver. It's only a one-year deal, but I feel the same way about him that Angel fans feel about Loaiza. I don't think he's going to thrive back in the American League. I do think the Angels did make a smart move in letting go of Washburn, but Weaver won't match Washburn's performance from last year. Or Byrd's.
Adam from Lone Star Ball: You know, the hard thing about talking about the Angels' best and worst moves is that, really, they made almost no moves this offseason. It is like the 2002-03 offseason, where basically they brought the team back intact... This year, they let Byrd and Washburn leave, along with Jody Reed...I mean, Bengie Molina...And they threw the dead cat that is Steve Finley in the Giants' backyard, in exchange for the desiccated remains of Edgardo Alfonzo's career.
But what is weird is, it seemed like, all offseason, they were in the middle of a bunch of "non-deals". Ramirez was going to go to Anaheim. Tejada, I think, was talked about as ending up in Anaheim. It seemed like there was a lot of things that were up in the air with the Angels that never materialized...And they ended up bringing the same basic team back, not really by design, but because nothing else panned out. Getting Kotchman into the everyday lineup was a good move, and the Weaver signing was a decent low risk move, and of course the Carrasco deal made no sense... But really, the biggest mistake they made this offseason was not getting a lefthanded bat to DH or play left field when Garret Anderson inevitably gets hurt, or just continues to suck. The Angels really, really needed someone like (amongst the guys on the market) Manny Ramirez, or Gary Sheffield, or Carlos Delgado, or even a Frank Thomas...But instead, they are stuck with Juan Rivera as their DH and Garret Anderson in LF, which almost cancels out what Vlad brings to the table. So I guess that's the worst move, the non-move in not getting a legitimate power hitter to plug into LF or at the DH slot.
Jeff from Lookout Landing: The Angels made moves? I hardly noticed. The best move has to be the Weaver deal - I didn't really like the way the rotation was shaping up, and I love one-year contracts. If not on Weaver, that money probably wasn't going to get spent on the roster anyway, so there's no real downside here. 220 innings of an ERA around 4.20 has value, particularly to a team previously entertaining the idea of giving a lot of said innings to Hector Carrasco.
Speaking of Hector Carrasco, it's not hard to figure out my least favorite move. I mean, what? $6.1 million dollars for a 36 year old middle reliever coming off his first good season since forever? Stoneman might as well have just dumped that money into the center field fountain and gotten an early bedtime.
Reverend Halofan: They made a lot of moves. They ditched Washburn and Bengie Molina, both have peaked. BYE BYE. They dropped the ball on Paul Byrd, but '06 Weaver will be as good or better than '06 Byrd. They replace Finley in CF with Erstad. OPS+ 89 replaces OPS+ 73 for you statisitically-inclined...That looks like quite an improvement. They replace Erstad at 1B with Casey Kotchman. The best move of all was NOT signing Paul Konerko, and the only who gets credit for that is Paul Konerko himself. The Angels saved a boatload of cash and retain a ridiculously deep and flexible roster.
I would match their depth chart up with any team's - injuries and slumps will be absorbed by this team as good as any club. So the non-moves of the offseason make for a prepared regular season
Marc Normandin from Beyond the Box Score: The Angels have four of the better infield prospects in baseball in their system with Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales all expected to contribute at the major league level. Take a look into whatever futuristic time telling device you prefer, and tell me what you see in store for this group, and how soon (or late) you would bring them up and given them jobs.
Blez: I think Wood and Kendrick are patrolling the Angels infield in 2007 after the team finishes behind the Rangers for third place in 2006. Aybar and Kendry get dealt for whatever the Angels might need. Wood is the best of the lot. And will have the best MLB career.
Adam: Great collection of prospects...But then, 5 years ago, we were anticipating intra-Illinois World Serieses for years to come, because the ChiSox and Cubs had such strong farm systems... And I remember the more gloomy of Rangers fans saying in 2000 or 2001 that Texas should give up trying to compete for years to come, because Seattle's incredible collection of young talent -- particularly dominant pitchers -- would rule the AL West for years to come... The Angels seem to be vulnerable to the trap the Twins got into the past few years... Developing solid prospects, not wanting to trade them, but also not getting the vets out of the way to make room for them either.
Morales isn't going to have anywhere to play, and you've got the bad history of Cuban defectors in general anyway, so I'd deal him to someone if I could... Kendrick is a nice player, although as with any player whose value is so heavily average-dependent, he'll be subject to dramatic swings year to year... And he'll have to show he can continue to make contact against major league pitchers, but I'd probably pencil him in at 2B in 2007 and plan on him being there the next 6 years, if I'm Stoneman... But with those two, Wood and Aybar, they've got a very good group of blue-chippers, and they probably should look to move one or two of them (which they can afford to do without decimating the system) now rather than later.
Jeff: Kendry Morales is the oldest player in this group, at 23. Eric Aybar had the worst season of the four, putting up a .303/.350/.445 line in AA Arkansas. Put those two together and you still have at least a B-grade prospect infielder. In some respects, being in the same division as these guys isn't fair. Morales still has some work to do, since he needs at bats more than anything else, and I'm not thrilled about Aybar's plate discipline, but you'd be hard-pressed to find two better infield prospects than Wood and Kendrick.
If I'm not mistaken, PECOTA projects Kendrick to be the best second baseman in the AL this year, and he only has a half-season of experience above A-ball. That's incredible. I probably don't let either of them see time in the Majors until September, since I'd prefer to watch how they respond to more advanced pitching before anything else, but there's little preventing these two from being real good for a real long time.
The Rev: I see Morales as a DH at best in 07, or 1B/DH in 08 if he can get his act together with the glove at all. The Angel logjam is in the infield now, but it will be at DH in the coming years. Kendrick is ready now, blocked only by Adam Kennedy, Wood needs another season in the minors. Aybar is trade bait on July 31 if we need anything - and we have the budget to dangle him for, say, someone's hefty pitching contract, otherwise Erick is in the 2007 mix. It is an embarrassment of riches, really
Marc Normandin from Beyond the Box Score: Darin Erstad is moving to centerfield, with Casey Kotchman taking over at first base. How will this move affect the Angels lineup? Will Erstad stay healthy, and is Kotchman capable of playing everyday?
Adam: Erstad probably won't stay healthy, but he's not that good anyway, and given his age and lack of time spent in CF the past few years, I question how good he'll be out there anyway, defensively. Do you realize, incidentally, that Erstad has played less than 3 full seasons in CF? He has 427 games out there...408.2 Adjusted Games... Anyway, having Chone Figgins around will make the inevitable Erstad injury easier to survive... And the Angels can put Dallas McPherson at 3B to replace Chone...ultimately, that may be an overall upgrade anyway.
As for Kotchman, he can hit, and the Angels need him healthy and in the lineup. In a postseason full of dumb decisions, giving Casey Kotchman so few ABs in the playoffs was one of the dumbest. Kotchman was the team's second-best hitter, and yet, Scioscia just did not want to play him...
Jeff: It doesn't really affect the lineup that much - it just means that Kotchman is getting the at bats that went to Jeff DaVanon (and a host of others) last summer. Anyway, the short answer is no, I don't see Erstad staying healthy all year long. If you have to move a 29 year old away from CF because he keeps getting hurt, and then you move him back at 32, why should things be better? It's the right idea, because Erstad's defense is probably still going to be in the upper half of the league, but it's a textbook picture of a risk/reward tradeoff. The good news is that neither Erstad's bat nor glove will be critical to Anaheim's success, and he can probably still be every bit as gritty and scruffy and experienced from a wheelchair.
As for Kotchman, he played in 141 games a year ago (between AAA and the majors), so he's got that going for him. I'm still not real high on his ability to hit lefties, as he has the kind of swing that southpaws just drool over, but his power finally showed up, and that should balance things out going forward. Besides, the Angels are nothing if not a perennially deep organization capable of masking things like severe platoon splits. He (and they) will be fine.
Blez: I think Kotchman will be one of the best Angels offensively this year, so I think it is ultimately a good move. But I don't think Erstad will remain healthy. He was moved to first base for a reason and that's because he doesn't know how to play center field without destroying himself. He's also two years older now. In that sense, it could really hurt the Angels. At the same time, anything is an improvement over Finley last season, even a half a season of Erstad.
The Rev: Agree completely with Adam about the moronic decision to withhold Kotchman from the playoffs. All of Erstad's major injuries have been baserunning hamstring pulls that happened after sharp turns around the bases on close plays. An average Darin Erstad season at the plate will top Steve Finley's pathetic '05 campaign, so we improve at two positions. An Erstad injury is minor, I mean, big whoop, maybe even a blessing. Figgins goes to Center, McPherson goes to 3rd and Rivera DH, even spells Anderson in Left more often. I am putting all of my eggs in the Casey Kotchman basket. If Casey starts 150 games this season, the Angels cruise to the West title. I like that Stoneman has basically tied Scioscia's hands from his bad habit of erring with the veteran in the lineup - must be a Dodger thing he and Dusty Baker picked up.
It was fun to get together with the other guys and talk about the Division. If you pickup the new Sports Illustrated with Adam Morrison on the cover, Blez is featured in their hatchet job aimed at bloggers - and Mister B appears in perhaps the most perfect iconic sports blogging image ever taken. Check it out.