It all changed on May 29th.
Following a stellar 2009 season (34 HR, 108 RBI, .306 BA, .569 SLG), first baseman Kendry Morales was on pace to put up similar, if not better numbers despite being in a lineup of then struggling bats. After going 1 for 3 in his previous at bats on May 29th, Morales came up to bat with the bases juiced, facing off against right handed pitcher Brandon League in the bottom of the ninth inning. With one swing of the bat the game was over. Walk off grand slam. Unfortunately Kendry Morales would not be walking of the field or back onto it for the remainder of the season. With what can be summarized as one the strangest injuries in recent years, the LA Angels would lose their first baseman to a fractured lower left leg.
After that joyful then deflating moment, many Angel fans wondered if their team would have a strong enough lineup to overcome their western rivals.
As the season continued, their questions were answered with a big no. While some can point to the loss of Kendry Morales as the result of the Angels downfall, the truth is the reigning AL West Champions collapsed as a result of multiple struggling bats and questionable defense.
Players who excelled with the bat in 2009 quickly became average or below average hitters:
- Erick Aybar
- .312 AVG .353 OBP
- 2010 (as of 9/25)
- .254 AVG .306 OBP
- Bobby Abreu
- .293 AVG 103 RBI
- 2010 (as of 9/25)
- .256 AVG 76 RBI
- Juan Rivera
- .287 AVG 25 HR 88 RBI
- 2010 (as of 9/25)
- .251 AVG 13 HR 50 RBI
With the season happily coming to a close for Angel fans, the hopes and expectations for the 2011 season are just as high as they were coming into the 2010 season. Another pennant is expected and another World Series is craved for. But before we get to the 2011 season we must first cross the 2010-2011 off season.
While big names such as Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth and Cliff Lee will circulate the potential free agent pool, this off season's free agent list is slightly underwhelming when compared to the previous and following free agent years. This gives the Angels little room for mistake when attempting to revive their currently dormant team.
Obvious fits for the Angels would begin with the names of Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. Both have shown that they can play any outfield position and finding room for them in the Angels roster would not be a problem, or would it? Currently the Angels hold six Major League ready outfielders on their 25-man roster (Hunter, Rivera, Abreu, Bourjous, Matsui and Willits). With Matsui expected to depart at seasons end, the Angels will still be crowded in the outfield.
There is no arguing that the Halos could use a good speed/leadoff man in Carl Crawford or another power bat in Jayson Werth to protect K-Mo. But first they would have to make room for them. One solution to this problem would be dealing Juan Rivera to a team searching for a power outfielder. You could then move Abreu to full time DH thus giving you a spot to fill in left field.
There is also another solution which I believe could work for the Angels. I will first put it out there and then explain so stick with me. During the off season I think that the Angels should attempt to deal not Rivera but Willits and/or Abreu. In return they should seek prospects to refuel the farm system. I propose this because Rivera has shown that he can play both first and third base in the past and could operate as a backup for Kendry (we don't know how well that leg will heal) and any outfield spot. Not to mention that Juan has a high upside as shown in 2009 and any pieces that would come back for him would be minimal following his 2010 statistics and his below average defense. Abreu on the other hand still offers speed, power and a high on base percentage. Willits' speed and plus defense would be an asset to any team.
At quick glance the Angels may look solid in the infield but further observations would suggest that there is indeed room for improvement. On July 22nd the Angels acquired infielder Alberto Callaspo to fill the gaping hole left by the underwhelming performance of previous top prospect Brandon Wood. While this was a boost to both infield defense and offense, it was not the solution the Angels were seeking to set the team into overdrive. All around the infield, there were questions. How are we to replace Morales? When is Howie going to have the .300 season we are expecting? What happened to Aybar? Why is Brandon Wood still in the lineup?
With nearly every infielder under contract for at least the next few years, there is no easy way to improve the infield without dealing current infielders to other teams. Some say we should deal Aybar, other say Wood should go, then there are the Mike Napoli rumors. As we know, slugging catchers are hard to find, especially ones that are fan favorites. Despite my own admiration for watching Napoli hit homers in an Angels uniform, I believe it is best for both sides that Napoli depart to another team. Next season he will crave more playing time which will not be available when catchers like Mathis, Wilson, Budde and Conger are all major league ready. By trading Napoli, the Angels could bring in a veteran bullpen arm and make room for Hank Conger on the major league roster.
I also believe that the Angels should deal Maicer Izturis. He is a highly coveted utility man that could potentially bring in some decent pieces. By doing this the Angels could then name Callaspo as the utility man and free up space for a power hitting third baseman. Someone like Adrian Beltre or Aramis Ramirez. Other fits include resurgent Aubrey Huff who has experience at third as well as Miguel Tejada, Ty Wigginton, Troy Glaus, and Adam LaRoche or Jhonny Peralta should their options be declined.
In a surprising move, the Angels acquired veteran ace Dan Haren on July 25th. The 2010 season also saw the rise of Jered Weaver as an ace as he is currently posting an ERA of 2.99 (as of 9/25) and a career high 220 strikeouts (as of 9/25). The Halos also got good numbers out of both Joel Pineiro and Ervin Santana but got disappointing results out of lefty Scott Kazmir. A bullpen that was once one of the best, quickly became one of the worst. All season long Angel relievers struggled to hold leads or prevent runs from scoring.
In order to have a strong team in 2011 the Los Angeles Angels must look at their bullpen and make some changes. While young arms like Michael Kohn and Jordan Walden have come up from the minors and wowed coaches and fans alike, it isn't likely that the Angels will use only internal options to fix the pen nor should they.
I believe that the Angels will need a reliable left handed pitcher. All-Star Veteran Arthur Rhodes is a very good choice. Having posted sub 3.00 ERAs in each of the past three seasons he has shown that age is not a factor for him. Another option would be to move Kazmir to the pen and use the recently well pitched Trevor Bell as the fifth starter.
Nonetheless there are numerous relievers most of whom are veterans. Should the Angels hope to get a young reliever it will likely have to come in the form of a trade.
Throughout this blog I have laid out a few facts and suggestions as to how the Angels can improve themselves during the 2010-2011 off season. Below I will list a few things that I think will actually occur during the off season:
- The Angels Sign Carl Crawford to a 7 year $118 mil contract
- The Angels Deal Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera for minor league prospects and relief pitching
- The Angels Sign Adrian Beltre to a 3 year $37 mil contract
- The Angels Sign Multiple Relief Pitchers While saying goodbye to RHP Kevin Jepsen
- The Angels say goodbye to infielder Kevin Frandsen and catcher Jeff Mathis.