Tuesday, May 25, 2010

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By David Saltzer - AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

Let’s face it; the Angels are not playing the way they are supposed to. The team is struggling and has lots of problems. The front office knows this, and needs to find a solution fast. Rather than sitting around complaining about the poor play, its time to don the GM hat and come up with a workable solution for the Angels.

First, some ground rules. I don’t believe in scapegoating, so, I’m not going to advocate firing the coaches for the poor performance of the players. As popular as the sentiment is, it’s a total knee-jerk reaction that will have no bearing on the field. If there are reasons to fire a coach or manager, then fire the person(s) for those reasons, but don’t fire them because the players aren’t performing to their ability.

Second, any decision made has to make sense not only for this year, but, for years beyond now. We don’t have the luxury to buy our way into the post-season every year, so, we can’t make moves that will hamper the team for years just to try and win it all now.

Finally, there are some limitations on the budget. So, we can’t take on unlimited contracts. Although I will argue for expanding the payroll some this year, I don’t believe that the Reagins ability to write checks is unlimited.

My first move would be to release Scot Shields.

While Shields may be the last link to the 2002 team, he isn’t helping the team anymore. In fact, he’s hurting the team while Scioscia tries to figure things out with him. The problem is that Shields’ arm may never recover. Shields has logged a lot of innings as an Angel. But, more importantly, as a college pitcher, he threw a lot of pitches. Once he threw 16 innings, and an estimated 261 pitches in one game. While that kind of stress on his arm, it’s not surprising that he’s rapidly losing command and control of his pitches. It’s time to recognize that right now, he’s dead weight on the team. While we may have to pay him, we don’t have to play him.

My second move would be to make Napoli the primary DH when Mathis returns.

I know the story about Matsui last year. He hit horribly through June of last year (posting a .902 OPS in April, a .778 OPS in May and a .755 OPS in June) only to finish the year with a .876 OPS for the year. While that trend mirrors his start this year, the numbers are way off. This year, he has an .827 OPS for April and a .467 OPS for May. Since those numbers are well below last year’s lows, it seems likely that if Matsui improves, his improvement will still be below last year’s improvements. We can’t afford that low production out of our DH spot.

Moving Napoli out of the catcher’s spot will improve the pitching. At this point, it’s pretty clear that our starters perform better with Mathis. Whether there is a psychological reason or a physical one, our pitchers perform better with Mathis than with Napoli. For a pitching-first team like the Angels, keeping the pitchers happy is more important than the offensive production from any particular position. Napoli should get about 75-80% of the starts as the DH, with no more than 10% of his playing time coming from behind the plate. Matsui could be a bat off the bench, but, he should not be a regular starter, nor should he see time in the outfield.

I would trade Santana, Trumbo, Walden and Amarista for Roy Oswalt.

Houston needs to rebuild. And, they need to get young. Santana is signed to a team friendly contract, and would give them the bridge to cover the years that they will lose with Oswalt. In Houston, Trumbo would become a 40 HR threat. While he might not post a stellar OB%, he could take over 1B from Berkman and would fit in well with their redevelopment plans. Walden is a future closer for them, and Amarista is a talented middle infielder. That would be a talented haul for Oswalt—one that was greater than what we gave up for Kazmir and what the White Sox gave up for Peavy.

Getting Oswalt would require an increase in the payroll this year. But, it would go a long way to protect the team’s investment in this year and would improve us for the future. If Reagins could convince Oswalt to waive his no-trade clause to come here, he would send a strong message to the fans that the team really is committed to winning both now and in the future. Having Oswalt and Weaver as the top of a rotation for the post-season would make for a very dynamic duo that would stack up with the best of the league. And, it would give players like Trevor Reckling time to develop for a full year or more in Triple-A.

I would trade Juan Rivera for help in the bullpen, preferably left-handed help.

I’m not a Juan Rivera fan. He doesn’t excel in any area, and, frankly puts up meaningless offensive numbers. To use the vernacular, he’s not “clutch”. His defense is below average, and, that means that Hunter has to cover more territory in left field instead of helping out with right field. Improving our outfield defense would help the pitching, and, getting rid of Rivera won’t cost us much in meaningful offense.

In the offseason, I would sign Carl Crawford and reevaluate third base.

I know that the Yankees are going to go after him. But, he’s the guy we can’t let slip away. We need a leadoff hitter, and we need one now. Trout may become a future leadoff hitter for us, but, he’s still a few years away. If the Rays make him available at the deadline (which I highly doubt with their performance so far this year), then I would jump after him just to have the chance to sign him early. But, unlike negotiating with Teixeira, I wouldn’t just make one take-it-or-leave-it offer. Going after Crawford will require both financial commitment and savvy to get the deal done.

As for third base, I’m not prepared to call Brandon Wood a total failure. If we can fix him, it would be the best solution. I would have to see how he responds to his injury, and, how he performs in a rehab stint.

Unfortunately, the Angels don’t have much in the way from the farm that will help in the short term. Although Kohn and Aldridge are at Triple-A Salt Lake and could by ready by mid-July, the majority of the team’s talent is at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga and Single-A Cedar Rapids. That means that the Angels are going to have to look externally for some solutions to their present woes.

The biggest problem with this team, though, is that it is too passive. It lacks the killer instinct to finish off opponents when they are on the rope and to continue to pressure the opposition at all times. It lacks the ability to get the job done at critical moments, and fails to pile it on when given the chance. Too many of the players seem to be going through the motions to collect a paycheck. One game at a time needs to get some sense of urgency before the team digs itself too deep a hole and before the culture of failure takes over.

Some of the moves that I would do as the GM, such as cutting Scot Shields and trading Juan Rivera, are designed to send a message. Some of the moves, such as trading for Oswalt, are designed to bring in players who have the passion to win it all. And, some of the moves are designed to improve glaring weaknesses.

With the combination of these three moves, I believe I would make the team better overall for 2010 and beyond.

What do you think?

What would you do as the GM (vote on our AngelsWin.com forum)

1) Cut Scot Shields
2) Move Napoli to the DH spot
3) Trade Santana, Trumbo, Walden and Amarista for Oswalt
4) Trade Juan Rivera for bullpen help
5) Other (add your own option here).
Love to hear what you think!

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