With very little competition in the division following the trade deadline, the Angels were able to run away with the AL West, setting the record for earliest date to clinch the Al West, by doing so on September 10th. The 2009 season won't be as easy for the team that can't seem to figure out which city it wants to be linked to. With some superstars and franchise legends moving onto greener pastures, the Angels will have a difficult task in filling the voids created with the losses of Mark Teixera, Francisco Rodriguez, Jon Garland, and Garrett Anderson. With a strong farm system, the Halos can definitely get it done, but will this season feature growing pains, or the plugging of many holes with maturing talent?
Only time will tell, but let us take a look at the potential challenges and likely solutions the Angels will face in the upcoming season.
Bobby Abreu (OF), Brian Fuentes (CL)
Key Subtractions:Mark Teixera (1B), Garrett Anderson (OF), Francisco Rodriguez (CL), Jon Garland (SP)
1. 3B Chone Figgins
2. 2B Howie Kendrick
3. DH Vladimir Guerrero
4. CF Torii Hunter
5. LF Bobby Abreu
6. 1B Kendry Morales
7. RF Gary Matthews Jr.
8. C Mike Napoli
9. SS Erick Aybar
1. RH John Lackey (out until late April)
2. LH Joe Saunders
3. RH Ervin Santana (out until May)
4. RH Jered Weaver
5. RH Dustin Moseley
While the Angels continue to have many strengths, recent free agent departures make the obvious positive for the team going into 2009 as pitching. Despite many minor injuries, the Halos boast one of the best and youngest 5 man rotations in all of the Major Leagues. Once John Lackey comes back in late April (elbow strain) and Ervin Santana returns in early May (also an elbow strain) the Angels should be good to go, barring any chance that the injuries haven't dug them in any holes.
In addition to pitching, the Angels can also boast power throughout the lineup with the likes of Vlad Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Gary Matthews Jr., and Mike Napoli, all guys with 25-30 Home Run power. The Angels can also play small ball, utilizing Howie Kendrick and Chone Figgins on the basepaths. The dangerous combination of power and speed are two tools that many teams could only dream to have.
At this point in time, the biggest weaknesses on the Angels are a top heavy lineup, and the injury bug. Can the young talent fill in for the departed stars? Will the age and talent gap between the stars in the lineup and the fill-ins mesh well in the clubhouse? With Mike Scioscia running the show down in Anaheim (not Los Angeles), these are minor problems that will be of little consequence, but they are things to look at. If the Angels can escape the injury bug around the trade deadline, they will continue to move forward with what they, but any injury and they are capable of making a big move, as shown last season when they traded for Mike Teixera for a group of prospects. Only time will tell, but the Angels should at least be in contention for much, if not all, of the season.
Players to Watch:
Kendry Morales (First base): Morales will finally get his chance to show his stuff in the Big Leagues after spending four years tuning up his game in the Minors. At 25 years of age, Morales is among the younger players on the team, but should be able to seamlessly make the transition to the Majors with a good combination of patience and the ability to make contact with the ball. While his power numbers may not be stellar, Morales has enough pop to change some games, and if he can build off of his very strong Spring campaign, he will allow the Angels to forget about Teixera a lot more sooner than later.
Jose Arredondo (Relief Pitcher): While attempting to replace 62 saves is a pretty impossible task left for newly acquired Closer Brian Fuentes, Arredondo will have the chance to solidify the usually strong bullpen down in Anaheim. Arredondo possesses great closer stuff, but has been relegated to the setup man role with the signing of Brian Fuentes. With Fuentes being more of a quick fix, Arredondo may get some save opportunities over the course of the season just to give the team a chance to see what exactly they have. With Troy Percival closing games early in the decade, the Angels had Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) waiting in the wings, so the potential repeat of that scenario with Fuentes and Arredondo is nothing out of the ordinary. With definite strikeout ability and very solid peripherals, Arredondo will have the opportunity to wow some people while he grows into a solid role in the bullpen.
With the AL West being deeper than it has been in the least ten years, the Angels will have a tougher time in the division, let alone in running away with it again. It would be safe to say 92-96 wins would take the Al West in '09, but the Angels will begin the season with many key pitchers injured or recovering from injury. On paper, the Angels have lost a lot of talent and the A's have added a lot of stop gaps to make a push this season. While the game isn't played on paper, the Angels could falter down the stretch as the A's did a year ago and lost the division in the final series with Oakland. Worst case scenario, the Halos finish in 2nd place in an increasingly deep and talented division.