By Eric Terrazas - Angelswin.com Columnist
As they gear up for the 2009 season, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfield will sport a mostly familiar look. Two major changes, however, took place during the offseason.
One of those changes was the departure of longtime left fielder Garret Anderson. After 14 plus seasons, the Angels bid adieu to Anderson, who holds club records in several categories, including hits (2,368), RBI (1,292) and games played (2,013).
The other significant change was the recent signing of veteran Bobby Abreu, who comes from the New York Yankees. The left-handed hitting Abreu, who batted .296 and collected 20 home runs and 100 RBI last year, should bolster the Angels lineup. Abreu, who stole 22 bases in 2008, will give the Angels some speed on the base paths, as well.
Abreu, who has played mostly right field in his 13-year big league career, is expected to play left field for the Angels. That might bring about an adjustment period for Abreu, who has played only 16 games in left. The last time Abreu played left field was in 1997 when he was a member of the Houston Astros. Abreu, a 2005 Gold Glove winner, made just two errors and recorded 10 assists last year.
Patrolling center field will be Torii Hunter, who will begin his second season with the Halos. Hunter did not miss a beat defensively in 2008, committing no errors and winning his eighth career Gold Glove.
Hunter, however, experienced an offensive dip last year. After batting .287 with 28 homers and a career-high 107 RBI with Minnesota in 2007, Hunter fell to .278, 21 HR and 78 RBI.
Another player looking to rebound offensively is right fielder Vladimir Guerrero, who batted .303 and collected 27 homers and 91 RBI last season. While those numbers would be good for most players, it represented somewhat of an off-season for the eight-time All-Star. For the first time since the 2003 season, Vlad missed out on both an All-Star selection and the 100-RBI mark.
An offensive recharge from both Hunter and Guerrero would make the Angels lineup that much more fearsome.
Juan Rivera also returns to the fold. Rivera, who recently signed a three-year, $12.75 million contract, will probably see time at both left and right field. He also figures to receive his share of DH at-bats. The Angels would love to see Rivera regain his 2006 form, when he contributed a .310 batting average, 23 homers and 85 RBI. Rivera, who missed most of the 2007 season with a broken leg, batted .246 and delivered 12 home runs and 45 RBI last year.
Gary Matthews Jr. and Reggie Willits are the two other returners. Matthews’ availability for the 2009 opener is in limbo after he underwent surgery in October to repair the patella tendon in his left knee. Matthews, who is entering the third year of a five-year, $50 million deal, batted .242 and recorded eight home runs and 46 RBI in 2008. He saw action at all three outfield positions last year, contributing six assists, but making eight errors. The Halos are hoping a healthier Matthews can make a difference.
Willits will also look to earn playing time. After enjoying a solid 2007 season (.293 batting average, 74 runs and 27 stolen bases), Willits got caught in a numbers game last year. In 82 games, he batted .194 in just 108 at-bats and finished with seven RBI and two stolen bases. Like Matthews, Willits saw time at all three outfield positions.
With Abreu adding to a talented cast, the Angels’ outfield figures to be one of baseball’s best. If this group of Angels stays healthy, they should cause plenty of problems for opponents.