Friday, August 8, 2008

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

By Jacob Kagi - Columnist

The Angels claim to be taking one game at a time. That is perfectly fine for them, but with such a key offseason ahead of them, it is only natural for the fans to do their best Tony Reagins impersonation and work out what they would do with the team once the last pitch has been thrown for 2008.

The Angels have two big players about to hit free agency. Mark Teixeira must be re-signed by the team, while Francisco Rodriguez will likely be allowed to walk with the amount of money he will ask for. Perhaps just as important, the Angels must make some tough decisions in the outfield, with Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson both entering club option years. Guerrero’s option will almost certainly be picked up, but debate amongst Angels fans has been fierce when discussing what to do with Anderson.

Anderson, one of the best hitters in franchise history, has a club option in his contract for next year worth $14 million, with a $3 million buyout if the club decides not to pick it up. Many fans have been arguing whether Anderson would be worth such a large amount of money, especially with so much money committed to fellow outfielders Guerrero, Torii Hunter and Gary Matthews Jr. As this season has progressed the answer to the debate has become far more apparent; the Angels must re-sign Garret.

Despite seemingly endless unfair criticism directed at Anderson for being “lazy”, at age 36 he has put together a year that warrants at least one more season with the Angels. Among Angels with more than 50 at-bats, GA is second in batting average, fifth in slugging percentage, third in total bases, second in runs batted in, fourth in home runs and perhaps most remarkably, tied for first in at-bats.

Entering this year the biggest question about Anderson was whether he could stay healthy for a full season. So far he has proven that he can, and has been one of the best Angel hitters in the process. His performances have been overlooked recently because of the acquisition of Teixeira and the hot-streaks of Hunter and Guerrero, but it must be noted that Anderson has had a very nice season.

It is unfair to say that Anderson must be re-signed without looking at other options though. Kendry Morales is an intriguing prospect, but for a team with an offense that can be fragile at times, it is too big of a risk to give him a starting job entering a season. Reggie Willits is another who could fill the void, although his production has been sporadic since the midway point of last season. Sean Rodriguez could play in left field as well, but his excellent defense as a middle infielder (as well as great offensive potential) will likely see him win a starting job there within a year or two.

With Guerrero, Hunter, Anderson and free agent to be Juan Rivera (who may actually prove difficult to keep, but is an important piece of the puzzle nonetheless), the Angels have one of the best outfield/DH combination's in the American League. It is vitally important that the Angels keep this group together while they still can. Halo fans have had enough of getting to the postseason and lacking the offense to seriously challenge. If this group of four is added to Teixeira, Howie Kendrick and Chone Figgins for beyond this season, the Angels will continue to be one of the best offensive teams in baseball. However if they were to lose a key piece of that (for example, Teixeira, Rivera or Anderson), the offense could well return to its often weak and fragile ways. GA may not be the star player that he once was, but he is still solid and could be an important part of an excellent team.

Besides 2002 & 2004 the Angels have struggled to put together an offense capable of bringing home a World Series, now that they have the O and one of the best pitching staffs in the league, they must ensure they bring back all of the parts next year, no matter what happens in postseason this year. That must include keeping Garret Anderson as a regular in the lineup for 2009, giving one of the best Angels hitters’ lifetime a farewell tour and proper send off.
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