By David Saltzer - AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
By now you know the story. After circling the bases for a walk-off grand slam, Kendry Morales, the best and most productive hitter on the Angels team this year, landed wrong on home plate breaking his ankle. In all likelihood, Kendry has been lost for the season (though they're saying 10-12 weeks). This is an epic moment in failure for the Angels.
For those who think that this was an isolated moment in a difficult season, they are wrong. This moment was a long-time in coming. This moment was the result of numerous underachieving members of the team and poor execution on the field.
At the start of the season, it looked like the Angels had every reason to be confident. Coming off of a 97-win season, one where they came within 2 games of going back to the World Series, the Angels appeared to be poised to win another A.L. West Division title.
While they lost a few key players, on paper, they had picked up more than adequate replacements. They kept Bobby Abreu—one of the key players from the 2009 season. He showed the team the importance of patience, and, by keeping him, the Angels hoped that he would continue to improve the their overall plate discipline.
To replace Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels acquired Hideki Matsui, the hero from the 2009 World Series. On paper, that amounted to an offensive improvement since Vladdy missed a good portion of the 2009 season for the Angels. Plus, as a lefty, the Angels figured that Matsui would bring more balance to the team.
To replace John Lackey, the Angels acquired Joel Pineiro. Again, on paper it looked to be a good match. Pineiro was coming off a 15-win season which saw him sport a lower ERA than the one posted by John Lackey. Pineiro, a sinkerball pitcher, would excel even more with our stellar infield defense.
To replace Figgins, the Angels went with a rookie with power. They thought that they could bury him deep in their lineup so as to gently expose him to Major League pitching. On paper, teams have to have transitions, and, with the projected lineup, it appeared that they could afford to do so this season. After all, Aybar appeared to be ready to leadoff for the team and the rest of the lineup seemed more than capable of scoring runs.
But, unfortunately, the games aren’t played on paper. They are played on the field. And this season did not go as planned.
The Angels’ stellar infield defense fell apart. The outfield defense became unbearable to watch at both corners. Our patience at the plate evaporated. The starting rotation played Jeckyll and Hyde. And the bullpen, which had been an anchor during the second half of 2009, nearly drowned the entire team in 2010.
I get why the team celebrated each win at home plate. They needed to. And I get why with each win the celebration became more exuberant, more juvenile. It was the only way to keep the team together. With just 24 wins and 27 disappointing losses, this team needed to let their emotions fly. For most of this season, the team seemed lethargic and frankly, uninspired. Several players seemed to be going through the motions rather than playing with passion. With each win, the team needed to come together as a team to have catharsis for the poor season.
The problem with catharsis is that it typically comes after tragedy. Today, the Angels got their tragedy—they lost Kendry Morales, and quite possibly, the 2010 season.
Right now, Tony Reagins and Arte Moreno need to have a very frank and honest discussion in which they answer two basic questions: 1) are the Angels going to risk it all for this season; and, 2) what will be the long term consequences if they don’t make the appearance of risking it all for this season?
If the Angels are going to go for it all this season, then they need to make a big and bold move to compensate the loss sustained on the field today. They need to target Oswalt and Berkman, and make a major trade.
Right now, the A.L. West is up for grabs. Even with all the horrid play, the Angels are only 3.5 games out of first place. No one is running away with this division, and, if the Angels win the division, they have a chance of getting hot and making another epic run in the post season.
The cost, though, in doing this, will be a lot for Arte Moreno to swallow. Making this move will require Arte Moreno to take on about $20 million in payroll for this year. In all likelihood, that will result in a financial loss for the season. Even if the Angels do go deep into October, the team would still lose $5 million or more on the year.
In terms of prospects, though, by taking on so much salary, the Angels won’t have to give up nearly as much talent as if they were going after either one individually or if they were pursuing other players. Houston needs to rebuild and needs to shed money. The toughest barrier to making this deal may be that both Berkman and Oswalt have no-trade clauses and may not want to come to the West Coast or the American League.
But, in looking at the second question, the Angels need to realize that they can lose a lot more if they don’t make a bold move now, the Angels could end up losing a lot more. A good portion of the Angels’ revenue comes from advertising and TV revenue. Advertising and TV revenue results from advertisers getting their message in front of people—butts in the seats and on the couches in front of the TV.
Right now, most fans are waking up and figuring that this year is over for the Angels. If so, they won’t go to the stadium or tune into games. If the Angels fall below 3 million fans in the stadium, then they won’t be able to sell as many locations or charge as much for advertising in the stadium next year. A major drop in attendance and ratings will result in lost revenue over the next few years that could far exceed the potential $5 million loss for a trade this season.
Most likely, fans going to the stadium today will see Rob Quinlan’s name in the lineup at first base. That’s hardly an offensive replacement for Morales. The struggles that this team has had to date will most likely get worse with someone like Quinlan manning first base, especially if he platoons at the position. Hopefully, though, this will only be a temporary move.
If the Angels decide not to make the bold move, then at least they should make the right move. The right move is to promote Mark Trumbo and see what he can do.
While normally I don’t advocate rushing players, the Angels really need to know once and for all if Trumbo will be part of their future plans. If the surgeons find out that Kendry’s injuries are more extensive than estimated, then, the Angels need to know if they can count on Trumbo to step up in 2011 to take over first base while Kendry continues to recover or gets moved into the DH spot. And, if Kendry does recover, the Angels need to know if Trumbo can hit Major League pitching well enough to justify moving him to right field for 2011. If this year is truly lost for the Angels, they might as well start planning and playing for next year.
Today’s step onto home plate by Kendry was a giant leap into disaster for the Angels. It will be interesting to see if the team that overcame Nick Adenhart’s death can overcome the loss Kendry Morales.
Last year the Angels managed to play well even though they lost Vlad and Hunter to the disabled list for prolonged periods. Whether this year’s Angels can overcome a similar monumental loss remains to be seen.