Monday, October 29, 2007

By Brent Hubbard - Columnist

As I begin to write this article, the Red Sox have a 3-0 lead in the 4th game of the 102nd World Series. Runners on 1st and 2nd, 2 out in the top of the fifth and a 2-0 lead, Ellsbury at the plate… and he strikes out. Bottom of the fifth coming up.

Certainly not the most exciting of World Series, nothing in comparison to the 02 Series, which concluded five years ago today. Every game was close in that Series, in contrast, few if any have been close since the Indians held a 3-1 ALCS lead over the “Team of Destiny” the hated Boston Red Sox. And I do hate them. I hate their obnoxious fans with their ridiculous accents, their exaggerated sense of entitlement, the stupid stadium dimensions, and their beloved duo of ManRam and Big Poppi. Truly, they are the new Evil Empire.

Cool, a base hit for the Rockies pitcher. Awesome.

As I look at the Red Sox lineup, and their team as a whole, I see a balanced team, not without weakness, but one that seems to be built for the Postseason. And built for success in the long term as well.

Damnit. Ground Out. End of the Inning.

I thought the same about the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, as well. But as the Off-Season is about to begin, I wonder what it holds. I wonder if the Angels have the same type of success planned for the next decade the way the Sox seem to. They seemed overmatched earlier this postseason facing these hated Sox, as they seemed overmatched all of the 2006 season, and in the ALCS of 2005.

I hate this stupid Jack-in-the-box Commercial.

The 2008 Angels have a new GM at the helm, recently promoted Tony Reagins, but will likely have a similar team to the AL West Championship club of 2007.

As I begin to ponder what changes are in store for the Angels my attention turns first to the Free Agents. The Angels have no internal Free Agents of any significance. But they do have a overemphasized lack of power dwelled upon by the national media.

One of the most obvious places to improve is 3rd base, and two very attractive Free Agents reside at this position. And one of them just hit a Home Run for the Sox.

I do not believe the Angels will go into the 2008 season with Chone Figgins at 3rd, and Mike Lowell does offer a very good defensive option, as well as a pretty good bat. He has thrived in 2007 because he hits very well in the confines of Fenway Park. Although he seemed a throw in, expendable in the pre-2006 offseason trade that brought Josh Beckett to Boston he has become a very valuable member of the 2007 Red Sox lineup. And as the Sox have only one other Free Agent of any significance, starting pitcher Curt Schilling, I do not expect the Sox will allow him to go anywhere.

The other Free Agent candidate at third makes a lot of sense for the Angels. The problem is that he isn’t quite a Free Agent. After the end of the World Series, Alex Rodriguez has 10 days to decide if he wants to opt out of his record setting 10-year $252 Million dollar contract. I expect him to do so. He just isn’t a good fit in the Bronx, despite two MVP awards. (I’m assuming he wins this year, as his stats dwarf anyone else in contention).

When he hits the market, I expect him to be a hot commodity, despite his extremely large contract demands. I do not know if he is worth the salary, but he is a wonderful fit at 3rd for the Angels, and one that is quite feasible. Several teams will be in on the mix, from the Dodgers to the Cubs, to the Red Sox and the Giants. But the Angels should be the frontrunner if they decide to get in on the bidding.

But enough has been written about this possibility elsewhere. I wonder what else is out there that makes sense on the Free Agent front.

There are intriguing names to help the struggling Angels offense, such as Japan’s Kosuke Fukudome and Tomohiro Noika. Center fielders available include Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter and Aaron Rowand. Yet the Angels are set at Center Field unless Matthews is suspended. The aging slugger route includes Mike Sweeney, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, and the elephant in the room: Barry Bonds.

Other head cases Milton Bradley and Jose Guillen are among the most effective hitters available, but I do not expect the Angels to go this route, having learned their lesson the first time but there aren’t that many options.

Brad Hawpe just hit a HR to put the Rockies on the board. Maybe my offseason preview is being typed a bit too soon.

I digress. The Elephant in the room sits awaiting discussion. Outside of A-Rod, no one hitter would bring such a powerful bat to Angels Stadium. But is he worth the distraction. Mr. Bonds is precisely what the Angels need, a game changing hitter. Only he and A-Rod would provide such.

Many dislike him on principle, as he is the poster boy for all that is wrong with steroids in Baseball. Yet if his attitude were kept in check, and the team first concept was drilled firmly into his head, I do not expect it to be long before the fans in Anaheim accepted him whole heartedly. It would take quite a few homeruns, but luckily that is Mr. Bonds specialty.

Other Free Agents of note are bullpen arms such as Scott Linebrink, Eric Gagne, and Mariano Rivera. I expect the Angels to pass on this trifecta and instead focus on two other names. Jeremy Affeldt has had a quiet, but quite good season in Colorado’s pen, and Angel hero Troy Percival did as well in Saint Louis. I would look at adding both to a pen that already is among the leagues best with Scot Shields, Justin Speier, and Frankie Rodriguez. Both make sense. Especially adding a 2nd lefty in Affeldt. He and Oliver are both versatile lefties.

Damnit! Bobby Kielty goes deep. 4-1 Sox! Looking like the end for the Rockies is about two innings away.

There are many different trade targets, from Johan Santana to Coco Crisp, to Rocco Baldelli, to Miguel Tejada. The Angels have a loaded farm, so the assets to get these guys are there. Erick Aybar is most certainly trade bait, as I believe are Reggie Willits and possibly Kendry Morales.

The one guy I don’t want to see traded, besides the big names, is Terry Evans. I think he can have a similar impact to the 2008 Angels as Willits did to the 2007 team, but he won’t get the chance if Willits is around.

Ken Rosenthal just reported that A-Rod is going to opt out of his contract with the Yanks. If this is true…is he an Angel? Only time will tell. Screw the Red Sox! Bring on the offseason!

The Red Sox won the World Series and the offseason is finally upon us! For Baseball fans, especially Angels’ fans in the Arte era, it’s time to start our offseason wish lists and assemble our sick-lineups! Have at it fanatics!

Love to hear what you think!


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