The Los Angeles Angels had an easy ride to the American League West title in 2008. The Angels won 100 games, posting the best winning percentage (.617) in Major League Baseball.
Los Angeles reached the postseason again due to its strong run prevention efforts, relying on an above-average defense, strong starting rotation and excellent bullpen. Playing in a weak four-team division certainly made things easier as well.
The Angels’ offense, however, left a lot to be desired, ranking seventh on the circuit in batting average, ninth in slugging percentage, 10th in OPS and 11th in on-base percentage. Not coincidentally, the club finished 10th in the league in runs scored (765) and runs per game (4.72), batting .268/.330/.413 overall.
These totals were inflated by the incredible second-half performance of Mark Teixeira. Teixeira posted a ridiculous line of .358/.449/.632 with a 180 OPS+ after coming over from the Atlanta Braves in a trade deadline blockbuster.
For those who have not heard yet, the prize rental chose to sign elsewhere this offseason.
This is a major concern, because outside of Teixeira, there were few individual offensive bright spots at Angel Stadium.
Vladimir Guerrero was again solid in the middle of the order, hitting .303/.365/.521 with 27 home runs and a 130 OPS+. Guerrero is getting older, however, and his knees have taken a beating over the years; it is probably in his best interest to DH more.
Torii Hunter was solid, though he did not live up to his $16.5 million paycheck, according to his FanGraphs page. Hunter was still the only other Angels regular to post an OPS+ above 100, the barometer for league average.
Gary Matthews Jr. was arguably the least productive regular in the league, which did not help matters. Matthews Jr., who was seemingly overpaid based off of his legendary catch and one allegedly PED-enhanced breakout single-season performance with the Texas Rangers in 2006, put up a 77 OPS+. FanGraphs pegged him at -0.6 value wins overall, suggesting that he cost the Angels $2.7-million; L.A. would have been better off with a replacement-level player receiving his plate appearances.
Los Angeles did receive some contributions from some offensive weapons, including catcher Mike Napoli. In a limited role, Napoli flourished, batting .273/.374/.586 in 274 plate appearances.
Also, there are several candidates who are likely to bounce back or emerge in 2009. Second baseman Howie Kendrick needs to improve his plate discipline, but he has the potential and tools to turn into a plus second baseman if can finally stay healthy and make some adjustments as a hitter. Injuries limited Kendrick in 2008. Chone Figgins, penciled in to bat leadoff and start at third base, is a solid player as well.
On paper, though, the offense again appears to be a potential area of weakness. The Angels are planning on replacing Teixeira at first base with Kendry Morales, who has yet to log 200-plus at-bats at the major league level. Morales was productive at Triple-A Salt Lake City, but his numbers there were inflated by his home park and do not translate nearly as well at the highest level. Marcels projects him to hit .260/.273/.393, for a .666 OPS in ’09, which is clearly not adequate at a corner infield position.
Banking on Morales to fill in a position where teams normally rely on heavy production seems like a trap.
Teixeira is not the only potential loss to the offense. Veteran Garret Anderson—though his poor on-base skills are a weakness, he is still a consistent hitter and a decent defender—is still unsigned and unlikely to return.
Despite these glaring needs, management has done nothing to bring in that much-needed impact bat to solidify the middle of a mediocre projected batting order. The Angels’ biggest offseason move, offensively, was re-signing injury-prone outfielder/DH Juan Rivera. Rivera, locked up to a three-year deal earlier this winter, can be productive when healthy, but staying on the field is a big if on its own for him, and he is not exactly a stud run producer.
Luckily, even with pitchers and catchers less than two weeks away, there are a few logical solutions out there on the free agent market who could help solve these issues. In a buyers’ market, L.A. can upgrade at an affordable price, too.
A perfect storm of factors, from the economy to the surplus of talented hitters available, has caused prices on even star players to drop daily. Front offices across the league, it seems, are finally properly valuing the importance of defense (a run is a run, right?) and holding onto draft picks.
Essentially, everything is working in the Angels’ favor if they wish to upgrade.
Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn and some guy named Manny Ramirez are ripe for the taking.
All three of these players could be a perfect fit to DH in Anaheim, pushing Rivera to left field (which would make Matthews Jr., a sunk cost at this point, the highest-paid fourth outfielder this side of Juan Pierre).
Abreu, looking for a multi-year contract entering the offseason, is a terrible defensive outfielder at this stage of his career; he had a -25.2 UZR rating this past season, costing his teams nearly as many runs as his offensive contributions provided. He is still productive on the other side of the ball, though, and would be a nice addition, at the right price, for a team willing to put his glove on the shelf permanently. He hit .296/.371/.471 with 20 home runs, 100 RBIs and a 120 OPS+ in his final 609 at-bats in Pinstripes. He is durable as well, having played in 150-plus games every year since 1998. A grinder who is always a tough out, he would be a nice addition. Abreu is reportedly seeking a one-year deal just under $9-million, and, since the New York Yankees declined to offer him arbitration, he will not cost a draft pick.
Dunn is also a liability out in left field—though he could see time at first base—and has some major flaws, with his low batting average and high strike out totals. While he has some deficiencies in his skill set, though, he is a consistent and productive offensive performer. The big left-handed slugger has hit exactly 40 home runs in four consecutive seasons, posting OPS+ totals of 141, 114, 136, 129, respectively, during that time span. A Three True Outcome hitter, he is a safe bet to slug around 35-plus homers while drawing 100 walks.
Since the Arizona Diamondbacks also chose not to offer him arbitration, Dunn comes without any draft pick baggage as well. He could be a nice offensive weapon who could come at a reduced price, in a low-risk situation; at this point, he would be better off putting up big numbers to re-enter the market when the economic climate (and a less impressive supply of hitters) is expected to work more in his favor next offseason.
Ramirez seems likely headed back to the other L.A. team, the Dodgers. Plus, the Angels are on record as saying that they do not have any serious interest in him. Looking at this more, he seems like a good match, anyway. He could single-handedly transform the Angels’ offense from middling to dynamic. Scott Boras is great at establishing a false sense of demand for his clients, and successfully pulled out a surprise team for Teixeira. Could he do the same with his other top client, and could that team be the Angels?
Ramirez would be worth it, if the terms are reasonable, as the production exceeds any potential baggage that comes from his Manny-Being-Manny antics.
The AL West is likely to be more competitive, and the Angels, whose Pythag record (based off their minimal run differential) pegged them at an 88-win team in ’08, appear to have taken a step backwards. With some offensive question marks and a potential regression on a run prevention front a possibility, a repeat division championship does not seem like such a sure thing.
The franchise has money to spend, though, and the timing is perfect to make a move, with several options available. L.A. should act now.
To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.