Sunday, March 26, 2006

New Beginnings, Part IV

We’re heading down the home stretch of Spring, where hope springs eternal until Willie Bloomquist is handed the starting job in center field. Thankfully, I don’t actually have to WATCH this team. Listening is painful enough.

We have previously looked at the offseason moves of the Mariners, as well as the Rangers and the Athletics. Last, but certainly not least, we shall consider the impact of the offseason in SoCal, where the Angels continue to sport a city affiliation that is equally as wrong as calling the Mariners the “Olympia Mariners of Seattle” would be. They also sport the last two division titles in the West, and on that basis should probably be thought of as the team to beat.

Major changes probably were not warranted (all except that owner Arte Moreno probably should have taken out a hit on “umpire” Doug Eddings), but some occurred for the Halos just the same. These changes do not individually seem all that damaging, but the Angels may well be in for a disaster just the same. Have a look:

They won 95 games last season while scoring 761 runs and allowing only 643. Part of that equation was the freakishly good season on the mound by free agent Jarrod Washburn, who cashed in his 3.20 ERA with the Mariners for 38…meeeeelion dollars. Taking Washburn’s place in the Anaheim rotation will be Jeff Weaver, picked up off the scrap heap of the offseason free agent market for a mere $8.325M, 1-year contract, with incentives limiting the deal to be worth less than $9 million overall. Frack.

Meanwhile, backstop Bengie Molina was allowed to leave as a free agent as well, amidst a lot of pouting on his part. His brother Jose, a defensive whiz who doesn’t hit much, will back up rookie Jeff Mathis in 2006. This will be the beginning of a trend over the next few seasons, as the Angels have one of the most powerfully stocked minor league systems in recent memory. The D-Backs and, to some extent, the Dodgers are right up there, but the Angels have a whole truckload of cheap young talent that will replace expensive old talent very soon for Anaheim. This could be a contending team for many, many years.

Otherwise, the only major change for Anaheim over the offseason was the decision to move fragile former Cornhusker punter Darin Erstad from first base (where he doesn’t hit enough to justify being in the field) back to center field (where he’s pretty much guaranteed to break something within a month). This makes room at first base for young Casey Kotchman. Juan Rivera may take over in left for aging Garret Anderson; the one not in the field can DH.

On the whole, a pretty stable offseason. Well, starter Paul Byrd left for Kansas City, to be replaced by young Ervin Santana, but that’s a wash at worst. The results?

Angels fans can hope that the results will include many runs scored, powered in part by an MVP season from Vladimir Guerrero, and in part by the good feelings coming from the Tim Salmon Experience; in numerical representation, this probably means only about 815 runs scored. Meanwhile, the pitching staff is just as effective than in 2005, surrendering a mere 650 runs. This team wins 99 games and wins their third straight AL West crown.

I just don’t see that happening. The problem with relying on sparkling young talent is that rookies don’t always perform up to their eventual potential in their first couple of seasons in the bigs. What the Angels will save in salary obligations as they promote Jeff Mathis, and eventually Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales, and Jered Weaver, they will lose in top-notch current major leaguers. Add to that the fact that the veterans on the team aren’t all that inspiring outside of Vlad the Impaler and closer K-Rod, and you get the worst-case scenario: despite no major injuries, the Angels just perform extremely poorly. They score around 740 runs, while their pitching staff allows about 800 runs to score for their opponents. Quick math shows this team to win only 75 games. Keep in mind that this downside requires no major injuries…if Vlad, or a starting pitcher, gets seriously hurt, then look out below.

There is no real catastrophic scenario for the Angels, though, because if they find themselves in a rebuilding cycle by July, then it’s time to bring up the kids and reload for 2007. Even if they trip this season, they can be prepared for a rapid return to prominence in a matter of a couple of seasons.

What’s that? Oh, I didn’t give you my actual prediction? OK, the Angels fall in between best- and worst-case scenarios, but disappoint their fans by going 82-80. Mike Scioscia is fired in August, but the team is too close to contention to bring up the kids. That is as close to catastrophe as I can imagine for LAAAAA, and I wish it upon them with gusto.


At 5:48 PM, Blogger Askinstoo said...

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At 5:58 PM, Blogger Askinstoo said...

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