Monday, October 13, 2008

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

By David Saltzer - Columnist

After another heart-breaking exit in the first round, Angels fans everywhere have one question on their mind: where do we go from here?

While 2008 was supposed to be our year, it’s never too early to start wondering how we will ensure that 2009 is our year. Before the Hot Stove officially begins, here’s a stab at how the Angels can and should remake the lineup so that we will get deeper into October next year.

As part of developing our plan for the future, though, we first need to take a look throughout our minor leagues to determine which players are likely to have an impact at the Major League level and when we can expect to see them in the majors. We do not want to create future logjams or unsustainable financial burdens within the system unless an unbelievable opportunity presents itself.

As I see it, the key players who will have an impact in our organization in the next 2-3 years are:

Peter Bourjos, OF
.295/.326/.444 with 50 SBs

Hank Conger, C
. 303/.337/.517 with 13 HRs in 294 ABs

Estimated Time of Arrival: 2011

Sean O’Sullivan, RHP
16-8, 4.73 ERA with 111 Ks in 158 IPs 9-8

Jordan Walden, RHP
2.76 ERA with 141 Ks in 156.1 IPs

Estimated Time of Arrival: 2011-2012

There are other notable prospects, but, for reasons that will be discussed below, they may become blocked by moves made this offseason and therefore may be best used in trades. Additionally, players below Rancho were not considered as projecting their potential impact and timeline is much more difficult.

Looking at the list, though, we have a future leadoff hitter, a future catcher and two pitchers, all in development. But, unfortunately, most of the talent is 2-3 years away and so, we need to fill some bridges until we can get these players ready for the majors.

Looking at our major league roster, we have plenty of talent and not too many holes to fill. We can build for offense at 3B, LF and DH, and we need to fill 1 player in the starting rotation. Depending on our moves, changes may need to be made to our bullpen.

So, where do we go from here? Here are the 5 moves we need to make in order to field a better team in 2009.

1. Resign Teixeira. This is a no-brainer. Teixeira’s impact on our lineup was huge: Vlad went from an OPS of around 830 to an OPS of around 970—even though he was playing with more inuries after Teixeira got here. We cannot afford to lose what Teixeira brought to our offense and our defense. Not getting this move done forces us into a lot of difficult options that will result in fielding a worse team for 2009 and beyond.

2. It’s time to say some painful goodbyes. While some may disagree with some or all of these cuts, it’s time to recognize that we cannot hold onto everyone and need to free up some money to get some players to improve ourselves. Players who need to go include GA, K-Rod, John Garland, and Rob Quinlan.

The most painful goodbye for me will be GA. He is the last link to a lot of great memories with the Angels, but, alas, it is his time to go. If we keep him, aside from the monetary cost, GA will tie up at least 2 roster spots as we will need to have a ready backup as he continues to decline. This goes against the stability we need in the lineup and ties up 1 spot where we could actually pursue a player to improve the team.

As for Juan Rivera, while he does have power, we have a comparable player in Kendry Morales (whom I think is actually a better hitter) and who is signed for a few more years to a reasonable contract. I don’t believe that Juan Rivera will continually produce the way he did in July of 2006, especially with his injured leg. He will command more money and probably could get a better deal elsewhere. Either Kendry or Vlad needs to be in RF with the other being the primary DH. We need the stability in the OF and in the DH spot. We shouldn’t be using that spot for the walking wounded.

As for Frankie, I’m very worried about his loss of velocity, his increasing peripherals, and apparent salary demands to justify the investment in him. Some team will overpay for him. While we will probably lose a few games while Arredondo goes through his growing pains, we do have Shields as a fall-back option in the pen and other players who could be converted into closers. If Escobar comes back at some point next year, for example, he could go into the pen.

3. Make Brandon Wood the starting SS. We’ve held onto Brandon through many trade proposals and it appears that the payoff is finally here. With the changes that Brandon made to his swing during the All-Star Break, he finally became a major league hitter. While his defense is not as flashy as Aybar’s it is more reliable than Aybar’s. And, the offensive upgrade from Aybar to Wood is incomparable. Sure, Wood will have some growing pains, but, in the end, it will be worth it.

If we make the moves below, we will be in the best situation to let Wood develop. We could start him off much like Jhonny Peralta, who started off low in the lineup and move him higher up as he develops. But, if Wood develops like Peralta, the Angels will be much better off with him than with Aybar.

4. Sign C. C. Sabathia. We need a starter, and there is none better out there than him. Signing Sabathia gets us that bridge to our next pair of dominant pitchers and makes Adenhart expendable. Arte has said that he is willing to go over his budget for the right player. Sabathia is that player. He’s durable, reliable and local. We might be able to get him to sign with us for less than top dollar. While he may want to continue to bat, he might also want the chance to pitch in the post season on a regular basis close to home and would have that opportunity here.

5. Trade for a new 3B and move Figgins to LF. Extend Figgins for 3 years. While there are 2 notable LF FAs available (Dunn and Burrell), they will not come cheaply and would block Bourjos, who should become our future leadoff hitter. We need Figgins in our lineup to leadoff, as we don’t have a better option until Bourjos is ready. Therefore, extending Figgins through 2011 gives us that bridge to Bourjos and gives us a guaranteed salary schedule.

Assuming we can sign Teixeira and Sabathia, we can still boost the offense by making a prudent trade for 3B. Luckily, there are a few who may be available due the budget constraints of other teams. Two in particular, Uggla and Zimmerman would make a lot of sense for us, as they are young and powerful. In order to win in the post season, we need more players with power potential who can make game-altering hits to help us advance. Both Uggla and Zimmerman fit those requirements.

In order to trade for these players, we could offer a combination of players that includes Adenhart, Trumbo, Rodriguez, and Aybar. For budget conscious teams, those players offer huge upsides for relatively low cost. And, for us, they are all blocked: Adenhart would be blocked by Sabathia; Trumbo by Teixeira, Rodriguez by Kendrick; and, Aybar by Wood and Izturis as our primary backup. All of those players would be top-5 talent in any organization and should be able to net us a young and powerful player for 3B.

With these 5 moves, we would have a substantially upgraded offense, and much improved rotation and a weaker bullpen. Our defense would be about the same overall, but, the stability in the lineup would be greatly improved. Barring injuries, we would see far fewer platoons and lineup shifts, and Scioscia might be able to use under 100 different lineups in a season for the first time since 2002.

Our new lineup would be:

1. Figgins, LF (S)
2. Kendrick, 2B (R)
3. Vlad, RF/DH (R)
4. Teixeira, 1B, (S)
5. Hunter, CF (R)
6. Uggla/Zimmerman 3B (R)
7. Morales, DH/RF (S)
8. Napoli/Mathis, C, (R)
9. Wood, SS (R)

Our new rotation would be:

1. Lackey, RHP
2. Sabathia, LHP
3. Santana, RHP
4. Saunders, LHP
5. Weaver, RHP

Our bullpen would be:

1. Arredondo, RHP
2. Shields, RHP
3. Oliver, LHP (he needs to be resigned)
4. Jepsen, RHP
5. Speier, RHP
6. Loux, RHP (or another long-term reliever)

The payroll for this team is sustainable. Assuming the cuts above are made, we would only be increasing the payroll about $4-5 million for 2009. In 2010, Escobar’s contract comes off the books and Figgins becomes a FA. By then we should know if Bourjos will be our replacement leadoff hitter or if we need to find another solution. By 2011 we could trade a SP to make room for O’Sullivan and to keep our payroll within reasonable limits. By 2012, we could do the something similar to make room for Walden.

With 4 division titles in the past 5 years, we’ve achieved Moreno’s promise to make the Angels perennial champions. What the fans want now is to become perennial contenders for the championship. Making these moves would go a long way to bringing another championship to Anaheim in 2009 and beyond.

Reagins, get it done!
Love to hear what you think!

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