Thursday, July 29, 2010

Brent Hubbard - Senior Columnist

With a .500 record on July 29th, the Angels certainly do not look like contenders. The Angels have played three more games than Texas, and stand 7 wins behind the Rangers but also 10 losses behind, makes them 8.5 games out.

I’ve always been a glass-half full kind of guy, an optimist, especially when it comes to sports. Yet even I have to realize that this weekend represents the last stand for the Angels, for this season anyway.

On this an Angels off day, before this critical three game series at home, the Rangers play Oakland. Who also stands ahead of the Angels in the AL West. The Angels have won more games, but also lost three more, having played four more than the Athletics.

Which means that they’ll start their last stand weekend series tomorrow at 9 games back if the Rangers win today, and 8 if they lose. That’s not an insurmountable deficit with 58 games left, especially when 10 of which are against the team they are chasing. If they sweep this weekend, they’ll be 5 or 6 back, but still at least 6 in the loss column. If they get swept, they’ll be 11 or 12 back, as many as 13 games behind in the loss column.

It can be done. It has been done.

24 of the next 58 games are against teams further out in their respective races than the Angels, and of the other 34, 10 are against the Rangers, with 2 series at home and one away. The other 18 are against the Rays (3 at Home and 3 Away), A’s (3 at home and 3 away), The Tigers in Detroit (3), the White Sox at Home (3), and Twins in Minnesota (3).

Yet with Pinero and Kazmir out, the rotation is only three deep, even if the three is a heck of a rotation. Kazmir is not expected back soon, and Pinero for 6-8 weeks. This is a problem for a contender. Trevor Bell was sent to AAA following Sunday’s loss, I don’t believe he can be called up to replace Pinero for his next start, let-alone Kazmir. Luckily because the Angels have a day off on Monday, they can skip the #4 spot in the rotation, and instead jump to the #5 spot. I don’t believe Bell can take that spot, but he can take the next time #4 comes around.

The Angels have 8 off days, so they can go to a shorter rotation if necessary without overtaxing their bullpen or front three starters.

Yet they will need two new guys from the minors to pick up the slack for as many as 21 starts down the stretch depending on the health of Kazmir and Pinero. Bell will likely be in that mix, other names that would likely be under consideration for these starts would be Matt Palmer, former major leaguer Daniel Cabrera or AAA starter Daniel Davidson.

The starting pitching is just one troubling issue that faces the Angels, as their bullpen is not very good, and their offense has been very streaky or rather hot and cold.

So the team has really two options: Wave the white flag for 2010 and reload for 2011, or rally the troops and try to get back into contention. While most see the white flag on the horizon, I’m not so sure, as the moves for Haren and Callaspo, and rumored trade for the Cubs’ Derek Lee made me believe they were going for it. Yet they are also on a 1-6 stretch, after losing three games each to the Red Sox and Rangers.

But does the team have two completely different options in which to go? Would playing the kids and trading veterans really mean that they’ve waved the white flag? Or just shaken up the roster in order to rally the troops? Are the two mutually exclusive? I’d say no.

If the team waves the white flag, I’d expect them to:

1) Trade Macier Izturis or Alberto Callaspo. The team also has Kevin Frandsen, but the former two guys are affordable and productive, and would be useful to a team needing infield help which is a solid contender. The Padres or Phillies both need some sort of help while their regulars at 2nd recover from injury. It’s also possible they could move Howie Kendrick, but I don’t see that happening, as he is not locked up, instead an arbitration eligible guy, and that means his salary could be much higher in 2011 and 2012 than either Izturis or Callaspo. The infield FA crop is also very thin in the off-season.

2) Try to trade Juan Rivera and Hideki Matsui, even if they have to pick up money, in order to get a mid-level or decent prospect or two. Possibly try to trade Bobby Abreu if they can’t get a taker for the other two guys.

3) Try to trade Brian Fuentes, to get something back in return. He has value as a lefty specialist, and his trade would ensure the fact the Angels won’t get stuck with his option for 2011.

4) Call up both Peter Borjous and Mike Trumbo and play them regularly. Borjous speed will help mitigate the running that Torrii Hunter has to do, and Trumbo could help with the power the team has been missing either at 1st or more likely in the OF.

5) Play Brandon Wood regularly at 1st or 3rd or Both. They have to see what they have here and if he can be counted on in 2011.

And then in the offseason, I’d expect them to:

1) Look to move one of their catchers in the off-season. I believe in Mathis and in Napoli, and believe they can share the job, with Napoli getting more AB’s in other places when possible, and when he is hot. But the crop of FA Catchers is thin for 2011, and this could lead to getting better prospects in return for one or the other. They also have Bobby Wilson and Hank Conger close to being ready for some more duty in the majors.

2) Try to sign Carl Crawford in the off-season if they can, especially if they can rid themselves of financial obligation to Rivera or Abreu at the deadline, or in the off-season.

3) Sign or acquire an effective reliever for the pen. Possibly even two or a closer, for which there are quite a few attractive options.

If the Angels are contenders, and want to rally the troops, I’d still look to do some of these things. They’d need to acquire a bat, preferably one who won’t cost a lot in 2011, but calling up Borjous and Trumbo could be a catalyst to make this team back into a contender. Maybe they’d call up Evans or Ryan instead, and they could be the catalyst, I’m not sure. But they should still shake things up.

They could still trade one of their infielders, especially if they lost future payroll and gained flexibility by including someone like Matsui or Rivera, giving playing time to the kids and possibly help to the rotation or pen.

Adam Dunn or Prince Fielder aren’t going to make this team immensely better if they were acquired, so even as a contender, I’d still shake up the team to see if they could respond.

Bottom line is simple, if they can win, they should, and if they can’t, they should do things that make them better for 2011 and 2012. Fortunately, some of these things are the same.

Love to hear what you think!

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