(AP Photo) The Angels celebrate after winning the AL West (2008).
By Chuck Richter - Angelswin.com Executive Editor
Well 2008 has come and gone and while it didn't end on a good note with another 1st round bounce from the Red Sox in the 1st round of the playoffs, there was some great moments and highlights of the '08 season.
The Angels won a franchise record 100 games, won the AL West for the 2nd straight season, former Angel Francisco Rodriguez broke the regular season saves record, the Angels acquired Mark Teixeira at the trading deadline (though could not retain him this offseason), Torii Hunter injected some much needed personality in the clubhouse to go along with his solid offense & defensive play in centerfield. Jose Arredondo, Kevin Jepsen, Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, Kendry Morales and Erick Aybar showed flashes of talent and why they'll be a significant part of the Angels success in 2009.
Down on the farm, the Angels were pleased to see kids like Pete Bourjos, Mark Trumbo, Trevor Reckling, Jordan Walden, Luis Jimenez, Ryan Mount and Hank Conger perform well in '08. They also had every level in the minors make it to the playoffs (Orem Owlz, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Arkansas Travelers and Salt Lake Bees) with the Arkansas Travelers winning the Texas League Championship led by Hank Conger and gang. Hank Conger's 13 RBI led all double-A or triple-A players during minor league playoffs.
The offseason thus far as we head into '09 has been anything but spectacular, but the Angels did fill Francisco Rodriguez shoes in the recent signing of Brian Fuentes. With fireballers Arredondo and Jepsen, combined with veteran relievers Scot Shields and Darren Oliver, the Angels should have the best bullpen in the majors if everyone stays healthy.
Losing Mark Teixeira was a big blow, but I'm confident in Kendry Morales ability given 500+ at bats, that he'll provide some of that power production lost by Teixiera. I believe Morales will provide a bit more offense than what we'd get from Casey Kotchman if we never made the trade.
Still, there remains some questions entering the 2009 season, so let's cover them.
Who will the Angels replace Jon Garland with? If it were me, I would make a play for Jake Peavy, but require the Padres to take Gary Matthews Jr. who could play centerfield for them, if they're to receive an Adenhart, Walden, Aybar or Wood type package of talent in the deal. If not go after Derek Lowe who induces a ton of ground balls and would be a nice top of the rotation starter behind Lackey and Santana for the Angels. Adding a top of the rotation starter would give the Angels perhaps the best rotation in Baseball to go along with a really good bullpen. By going this route there wouldn't be a lot of pressure on the offense to perform like they did in the 2nd half of '08.
If the Angels fail to sign or trade for a starting pitcher, in house options would be one of Dustin Moseley, Nick Adenhart, Shane Loux or Anthony Ortega who would battle it out in spring training for the 5th spot in the rotation.
Can Juan Rivera equal the production of Garret Anderson? The Angels made the right move in saying goodbye to one of my favorite Angels in Garret Anderson, giving Juan Rivera the starting LF job. While Juan Rivera may not hit .290 or better like GA did in '08, but he'll certainly provide more power at this stage of both players' careers. Juan Rivera's never been given full time at bats while with the Angels other than in the 2nd half of 2006 when he hit .335, with 17 doubles, 12 HR's and 49 RBI's. Totaling 23 HR's on the season. Rivera could have the best contract in Baseball at the end of this 3 year deal with the Angels.
Will the Angels sign or trade for bat for DH or 3B? There is nobody out there to be had via a trade that can equal the production we got from Teixiera. The Angels said they're not going to sign Manny Ramirez, a legit slugger that would not only replace Teixeira, but also destroy opposing pitcher's in October. So, we're left with some secondary choices who could provide the Angels with enough offense to go along with a solid starting 4 & bullpen going forward. Let's look at some possiblities for the DH spot or 3B position.
Here are some potential trade targets: Nick Swisher, Xavier Nady, Hideki Matsui, Jermaine Dye, Adrian Beltre, Hank Blalock, Willy Aybar, Jorge Cantu, Dallas McPherson, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mark Teahen, Chase Headley, Chad Tracy, Mark Reynolds, Jim Thome or Troy Glaus.
Here are some potential free agents available: Joe Crede, Adam Dunn, Ty Wigginton, Pat Burrell, Milton Bradley, Jason Giambi, Johnny Gomes and Bobby Abreu.
I believe the Angels will sign or trade for another arm and acquire either a 3B that can hit for more power, using Chone Figgins in a trade, or keep Figgins and sign or trade for a DH type, that can play either the outfield or firstbase.
Winning ingredients for 2009:
The Angels must get production from the middle of the order. A healthy Vladimir Guerrero equals a winning ingredient. Let's hope the knee surgery gets Vlad back on track. Leadoff man and third baseman Chone Figgins must provide #'s closer to his 2007 season at the plate, getting on base and creating havoc for opposing pitcher's and defenses on the base paths.
Mike Napoli needs to shore up his throws to the bases and gun down more would be base stealers. He was awful in this department in '08 and for a Mike Scioscia young grasshoppa, it's totally unacceptable.
A breakout season from one of the youngsters on offense, say Brandon Wood? could catapult the club into an offensive juggernaut in '09. Other teams' top prospects have performed well, providing a spark to the club during the season, such as Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder or BJ Upton in recent years. If not Brandon Wood, either Kendry Morales, Mike Napoli, Sean Rodriguez or Howie Kendrick would do.
The Angels need to stay healthy. We've been waiting to see what a full season of at bats would be like for Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales and Juan Rivera. 2009 is huge for these three players, let's hope they can stay healthy and live up to their potential.
While the starting pitching and bullpen avoided injury for the majority of the season, losing Escobar and Lackey in spring training forced us to go with the rookie Nick Adenhart and Dustin Moseley probably more than we should have.
Conclusion: Despite negative fan reaction to the lack of offseason acquisitions to date, I believe the Angels will be a strong ball club in 2009. I believe Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales will be productive offensively. We'll add another bat that will provide some pop and starting pitcher to replace Jon Garland, already boasting a solid 4 in the rotation and strong bullpen.
Happy New Year Angels fans. 2009 appears to be yet another successful year and Baseball season for the Angels -brought to you by Arte Moreno, Tony Reagins and the best Manager in the game, Mike Scioscia.