Sunday, December 9, 2007

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Vladimir Guerrero won the HR derby in '07, but finished with just 27 Hr's
By Brent Hubbard - Angelswin.com Columnist

Your 2008 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are going to feature quite a different look from the 2007 AL West winning club. As of now, at least two 2007 Angels will be back, and in this writer’s opinion, there are more changes coming. There are at least two new Angels in the fold and again, I expect more changes to come.

Earlier in the off-season there were rumblings that the 2008 Angels could feature a Cabrera at both positions on the left side of the infield. With the trade of Orlando Cabrera, the Angels Gold-Glove winning shortstop, to the Chicago White Sox for workhorse starter Jon Garland, that was not in the cards.

Last week’s Winter Meetings at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville were supposed to bring a lot of movement from around the league. They did not. The Angels missed out on acquiring 24-yr old slugger Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins, watching him be traded instead to Detroit. General Manager Tony Reagins apparently decided the price was apparently too high to pay for even the four-time All-Star and tremendous talent that Cabrera is. There were a few signings and a few small trades at the meetings - yet only the one major move was made; leaving many to still believe that the best is yet to come.

The Angels then will go into 2008 with no Cabrera’s in the infield, and the left side remains unsettled. Chone Figgins looks to be back at 3rd, but that could change if a trade were to occur or a free agent signed. There are no impact bats left on the market, however. Figgins will at least get some playing time at the corner, and while his 2007 campaign was a very good one, he is not the prototypical power hitting slugger at third base.

As the Los Angeles Times points out in their recent article, the Angels do remain on the prowl for that elusive slugger. Recent reports suggest that Figgins will go into the spring with the third base job, if the Angels do not acquire one via trade. Slick-fielding prospect SS Erick Aybar has the inside track on that job, leaving the left side of the infield quite powerless.

While Figgins most likely will leadoff, skipper Mike Scioscia recently stated that OF Gary Matthews Jr. will hit in the #1 or #2 spot, leaving one to assume that in whatever order, these two will be the first two batters in the lineup.

The #3 spot is probably still filled by former AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero, and to the distaste of some, the #4 spot is probably filled as usual by long time Angels OF Garret Anderson. Anderson has seen his power decline in the last few years, but still remains an RBI machine, as evidenced by his 65 RBI in the second half. New acquisition CF Torii Hunter will likely hit fifth, followed by incumbents 1B Casey Kotchman and 2B Howie Kendrick. The 8th spot will be likely filled by the catcher of the day, either Mike Napoli or Jeff Mathis. And the 9 spot goes to Erick Aybar.

That lineup does not have any single huge power threat (Hunter had 28 in '07, 1 more than Guerrero) though most of the hitters are capable of at least 15-20 HR, with the exception of Aybar and Figgins.

So where will the power come from?

As the Times also pointed out the Angels do have at least one power hitting potential third baseman in the fold, former top prospect Dallas McPherson.

McPherson is three years older than Miguel Cabrera, and he has never lived up to the perennial 40 home run threat that he was touted to be after the 2004 Season. He has hit just 18 major league home runs, over parts of three seasons.

Yet now fully healed from back surgery in January, he presents an intriguing option for the Angels at the hot corner. Most fans have probably written him off, but the Angels, while not counting on him, have not lost hope that he can turn into that HR threat. He will be in Major League camp in February, and if he hits and fields well, and looks to be healthy, he could take the third base job. If he does, or even simply gets to play off the bench, the Angels will have one power threat.

Aybar quite possibly will match recently departed shortstop Orlando Cabrera’s fielding stats. His fielding prowess, like Cabrera’s, is well above average. It is very unlikely though, even with Aybar’s very good minor league stats, that he will equal Cabrera’s 2007 numbers at the plate.

Yet, although there are many public statements endorsing Aybar for the job, I feel the organization sees Aybar’s star has slipped a bit, and is only looking to inflate his trade value. Aybar is quite a prospect, but the Angels have a wealth of prospects at SS; some quite similar to Aybar in makeup such as Hainley Statia or PJ Phillips. And they also have their shortstop of the future in Brandon Wood.

I feel the Angels shortstop of the future should also be their shortstop of the present. He may not be the defensive whiz that Aybar is, but he is by many accounts a major league ready fielder at either shortstop or third. If he can handle the glove, then he should be given the opportunity to see what he can do at the plate.

Adding an effective Wood and resurgent McPherson to the starting lineup will allow the Angels to have a much increased power presence from their currently projected one. Add this to a likely increase in power output from the other side of the infield, and the Angels will be set for many years to come.

And they will do this cheaply as this entire infield will make less over the next two years than the cost for one year of Miguel Cabrera.

Stoneman has placed very high value on these prospects, and Reagins seems to share that sentiment. The best solution in 2008 is a simple one.

Let the kids play.

Oh and they should trade for Johan Santana. Even without Wood, Kendrick, or Kotchman in the deal, the Angels depth allows them to easily trump any deal that the Red Sox or Yankees or Mets have been rumored to have offered.
Love to hear what you think!

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