Friday, September 3, 2010

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By Rob MacDonald - AngelsWin.com Contributor

Pitching

Can we sign Weaver to a long term deal?

Do we go with the kids in the pen?

Who is the 2011 number five pitcher?

Jered Weaver is under team control through the end of the 2012 season which is the good news. The bad news is this off season will is the second of his three arbitration years and Scott Boras aka Satan is his agent. Weaver is making $4, 265, 00 this year. After establishing himself as the staff ace, it is unlikely that Boras will let him earn less than Santana’s $8 million and possibly Haren’s $12 million. I doubt Boras will let Weaver sign a long term deal even if the Angels offer ace money. The Angels front office need to keep the 2011 salary within reason until the Gary Matthews Jr. contract comes off the books. With any luck the Angels will buy out the arbitration years with a 2011 contract of $9 million and 2012 contract that exceeds Haren’s, say $15 million.

I posed the Weaver question first because this will drive the budget decisions for Tony Reagins. He will need to conserve budget somewhere and I see the Fuentes trade as a sign that the bullpen will be one area where this happens. Rodney at $5.5M will be the most expensive piece of the bullpen. Bulger, Jepsen, Walden, Kohn, and Francisco Rodriguez II could be the pen. Cassevah, Mosebach, Palmer, and Thompson are waiting in the wings if any of the kids stumble.

Bell is starting to show promise as a starting pitcher but he has not pushed Kazmir out of the five slot, yet. The chances of trading Kaz are slim unless we swap bad contracts. I don’t think the AFO shops him very hard. Trading Kazmir creates a depth issue if one or more of the starting five go on the disabled list. Trevor Reckling’s step back this year leaves the Angels thin for MLB ready starters in triple A with just Bell and Palmer. Bell spends one more year in Salt Lake waiting for a call. If Butcher can fix Kazmir, the team might make a midseason trade, off load half the $12 million and let Trevor begin his career in earnest.


Catching

Is Conger ready?

Should the Angels trade Napoli?

Who is the primary catcher in 2011?

All three questions have to be answered at the same time. Hank Conger is definitely hitting well in Salt Lake. The bigger question is can Conger handle the pitching staff. The Angels standard for catching defense is well known and Conger has spent a quarter of his games as a DH. At 22, Conger can spend another season at Salt Lake perfecting his craft behind the plate and proving he can make it through a season without injury. Without Conger, we still have Napoli, Mathis, Wilson, and Budde to choose from. The recent article about Scioscia's liking Napoli’s defense behind the plate is the first praise we have heard for a long time. Napoli’s dedication to improving as a receiver is the key to the last two questions. Napoli has to show Scioscia that his recent improvement is permanent otherwise his playing time evaporates when Kendry returns. If Napoli isn’t the primary catcher, then the Angels should trade him for equal value. That may mean signing another catcher, say John Buck, to avoid another season of Mathis. Bobby Wilson has earned a spot as the backup. Budde can renew the lease on his Salt Lake apartment.


Infield

Dead Wood, what do the Angels do with Brandon?

Is Callaspo our answer at 3B?

Keep or shop Kendrick?

What do we do with Trumbo?

Traditional power hitting third basemen are hard to come by which is why Angels fans pinned so many hopes on Brandon Wood. Wood got his shot and missed. When that potential did not turn into the numbers the team was looking for, something had to be done. Alberto Callaspo has not given us the power we have been missing since Troy Glaus’ departure but he has hit and handled the hot corner well. Unless we trade for a premium third baseman like Wright or Zimmerman at a heavy cost, trade for a slugging prospect, or grow our own in a hurry, Callaspo is answer at third for the Angels in 2011. It is really up to Brandon to resolve his issues and push Callaspo off of third otherwise it’s the pine for Wood.

Keeping Callaspo at third changes the hot stove dynamic when it comes to Howie Kendrick. Like Napoli, I think Howie is running out of time to prove his worth. Alexi Amarista, doing well in a small sample size at Salt Lake, is the obvious challenger to Howie but not until the middle of 2011 or 2012. Unless the Angels get overwhelmed with an offer, Scioscia and Reagins won’t risk installing the oft injured Izturis at second until they are sure Alexi is ready. Note to Kendrick, you have one more season to put it together maybe less if the kid keeps it up.

That brings us to Trumbo. A good number of board members have watched the numbers Trumbo has put up at Salt Lake and begged the Angels front office to promote the Anaheim native. Mark is primarily a first baseman spending 91 of his 134 games in 2010 at first. With only 23 games in the outfield, you have to wonder if the Trumbo to the outfield experiment is over. Comments from various sources are mixed and there is no guarantee that Trumbo wouldn’t be a liability in the outfield. This makes Trumbo the second best trade chip the Angels have after Napoli. If the Angels don’t call Trumbo up or play him in September it may be to keep his value at its highest. His absence or presence the September line ups will be telling.


Outfield

Who plays left?

Dump Rivera?

Sign Crawford or Werth?

Trade Abreu?

Is Bourjos the CF of the future?

Trade Torii in a rebuilding?

If Trumbo isn’t an answer in left field, then the Angels have a hole to fill. Juan Rivera has been a disappointment this year and the prospect of him underperforming in left at a rate of $5.25 million is depressing. Juan has been alternating productive with non-productive years but I would hate to take that chance. It is unlikely the Angels will be able trade Rivera except in a “bag of balls” or “pay the contract” trade. Reggie Willits is quietly approaching career highs in plate appearances and batting average but I don’t see him as anything more than the 2010 version of Orlando Palmiero / Alex Ochoa. No one wants to see Bobby with a glove unless he is carrying it to the guy who made the last out of the inning. If Abreu is on the roster, it has to be as the DH. There isn’t much on the farm either. Chris Pettit has to prove he has recovered from a torn labrum. Terry Evans will need to reach a new level to earn a starting spot on the roster. Tyson Auer shows promise but needs some time in Salt Lake. Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth head a thin free agent class. It will be interesting to see how the affect of the economy and the dearth of available talent play out on their salaries. With $93 million committed before arbitration including Weaver’s case, Crawford may be too expensive for the Angels. If Werth’s agents are smart, they will wait out the Crawford negotiations and court the remaining teams for a contract valued above his ability. It may come to a Napoli or Trumbo trade to give us the piece we need.

Besides getting Weaver’s contract settled for 2011, the next highest priority for Tony Reagins in the offseason is to trade Bobby Abreu. Bobby’s contract has a vesting option that is guaranteed with 550 plate appearances in 2011 or 1,100 plate appearances in 2010-11. That option is almost certain to vest with Abreu as the primary DH. The Angels can’t risk a repeat of 2010 for the next two years, especially at $9M a year.

Peter Bourjos is continuing to improve and quickly becoming an AngelsWin.com favorite. As long as he continues on his current path, he has centerfield locked up until Trout is ready. That is good news for Torii who was getting worn down covering for the slow corners.

One option that Tony Reagins should be open to is trading Torii Hunter. This does not mean actively shop Torii but it does mean that Hunter is not untouchable when another general manager calls. The trade would likely come late in the hot stove after Crawford and Werth have new contracts. The players the Angels get back would need to fill the roster holes immediately and the receiving team would need to assume all of the contract commitments. It would be a difficult trade to make and justify to the fan base but may help the Angels return to the perennial playoff team that we have grown accustomed.


General

Where is the depth?

Who is ready for the bigs?

Are there any free agents worth signing?

What will the Angels look like in February?

One of the most troubling issues for the Angels is the lack of depth at the top end of the organization. A good part of the Salt Lake roster contains players who are there to fill holes until the lower level prospects are ready. The Fuentes trade brought back a questionable prospect whose upside hype may have been a pun or a promise.

Trumbo appears ready for his shot in the majors but not many more are there with him. Conger’s bat is ready but if the organization wants him to be a catcher in the majors, he has some growing to do before he joins the Angels. Alexi Amarista hasn’t been in AAA long enough to know if he is ready for prime time although we should know by the end of June. Tyson Auer is being described as a major league outfielder but like Amarista needs some more time in Salt Lake.

Adam Dunn has been a board favorite for acquisition but I think Dunn takes the Angels farther away from the brand of baseball that has been successful in the past. Adrian Beltre is available but his resurgence could be Fenway phenomena and his demands will be high. Like I said good third baseman are hard to come by and this free agent class demonstrates that. One interesting possibility from the list of available catchers is Victor Martinez. The budget, Red Sox attempts to re-sign Martinez, and Conger waiting in the wings, this is highly unlikely but a fun option to consider. Unless we trade Kazmir, I don’t see the Angels in the market for a starting pitcher. The relieving corp. may be supplemented with a free agent but that decision won’t be made until much later in the year.

With all that said, I expect the Angels to look very much the same as in 2011. Napoli and Trumbo may bring some pieces. Shields and Matsui will say good by to the team. At most I see a trade and a free agent signing. The remainder of budget and energy will be spent on arbitration cases. It will be a frustrating hot stove this winter but the Angels will be better in 2011 than in 2010 simply because Kendry will be back in the line up.
Love to hear what you think!

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