- Winter Preview----Los Angeles Angels:
The Angels are a machine and proved this year they're as mentally tough as they are smart and ballsy.
What they need: A third baseman; a power DH; a veteran, innings-eating starting pitcher; bullpen help.
Free agents: 3B/OF Chone Figgins; DH Vladimir Guerrero; RHP John Lackey; LHP Darren Oliver; INF/OF Robb Quinlan; RHP Kelvim Escobar
The Angels would like to keep Figgins, but more than any other club save perhaps the Red Sox, the Angels have shown the propensity to letting veteran stars go when they've outlived their usefulness. Figgins is in demand and wants a lot of money----more money than the Angels will be willing to pay for a third baseman with no power and whose speed game will be compromised as he ages. Figgins isn't young (he'll be 32 in January) and while there's a chance he could end up back with the Angels if the offers he receives aren't as lucrative as he expects, I think he's gone.
Guerrero's bat has slowed; his body's breaking down and he doesn't hit for enough power to stay as a full time DH. He's gone.
Lackey is in heavy demand for clubs that will pay far more money than the Angels will. The Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, White Sox and a few others will keep tabs on the gutty righty. It's highly unlikely he returns to the Angels.
Oliver has been an integral part of the Angels bullpen in recent years and while he likes living and playing in Anaheim, he should have some decent offers elsewhere. He's often talked of retirement and changed his mind; as long as he's effective and wanted, he'll continue to pitch. I'd be stunned if he leaves the Angels.
Quinlan's no great shakes as a utility player. Gone.
After fulfilling his massive potential in 2007 and winning 18 games, Escobar has pitched in one game in the past two seasons with shoulder problems. He could be back with the Angels on a minor league deal.
Players available via trade: LHP Brian Fuentes; OF Juan Rivera; C Jeff Mathis; OF Gary Matthews Jr; SS Brandon Wood
Fuentes led the league in saves, but it was a never-ending adventure with him and his frequent gack jobs in blowing one of the ALCS games and nearly blowing another could spur the Angels to strike quickly (one of their specialties) and replace Fuentes with an available closer in a market flush with intriguing alternatives. Fuentes is only guaranteed $9 million next year with a 2011 option, so he's movable.
Rivera had a solid year with 25 homers, but I get the impression the Angels would like an upgrade in the power/threat department. He's got $9.5 million guaranteed through 2011.
Mathis had a rotten year at the plate before turning into George Brett in the playoffs. He doesn't hit enough to play every day and is arbitration-eligible. The hot post-season could spur a team to deal for him and give back something useful.
Matthews Jr wants out of Anaheim so he can play more frequently; the Angels want out from under the $23 million Matthews Jr is still owed through 2011. The only way they move the contract is if they take back someone else's headache. It'd have to be a pretty big headache (Milton Bradley?). Don't count on it.
Wood's stock has fallen to almost nothing. Is he the wrecking machine he was in the minors? Or is he a "4-A" player a la Russ Morman who can demolish Triple A pitching, but can't hit in the majors? Someone will take a chance on Wood if the Angels really want to move him in a deal for a bat or an arm.
Non-tender candidates: OF Reggie Willits
I doubt they'll non-tender Willits, but he's arbitration-eligible.
Players to pursue:
Via free agency: LHP Mike Gonzalez (Braves); RHP Rafael Soriano (Braves); LHP Doug Davis (Diamondbacks); OF Jason Bay (Red Sox); OF Jermaine Dye (White Sox); RHP Octavio Dotel (White Sox); RHP Jason Marquis (Rockies); 1B Nick Johnson (Marlins); SS/3B Miguel Tejada (Astros); DH Jim Thome (Dodgers); 1B/DH Carlos Delgado (Mets); RHP J.J. Putz (Mets); LF Johnny Damon (Yankees); DH Hideki Matsui (Yankees); 3B Pedro Feliz (Phillies); INF/OF Mark DeRosa (Cardinals); OF Matt Holliday (Cardinals); 3B Troy Glaus (Cardinals); RHP Joel Piniero (Cardinals); 3B/1B Hank Blalock (Rangers); RHP Juan Cruz (Royals)
The Angels have historically played their cards close to the vest and made lightning-like quick strikes on what had heretofore been clear days. (They've also made said strikes right around Thanksgiving, so keep your eyes open.)
The way manager Mike Scioscia manages relies on a deep bullpen and Gonzalez or Soriano would function as excellent set-up men. I'd prefer Gonzalez, but Soriano would be cheaper.
Bay and Holliday are the hot free agent names and while the Angels have appeared reluctant and outright denied interest in Holliday (they're not fans of Scott Boras after the Mark Teixeira negotiations when awry), don't be stunned to see a big splash. They're in play for Bay and there's a real good chance he winds up an Angel, and fast.
Thome is still the old-school, two-fisted slugger he's always been and would come on a short-term deal for a chance at a World Series title.
Dye would fit right in with the solid citizens that permeate the Angels clubhouse and he can still hit.
Tejada and Glaus (a former Angel) would be short-term solutions for third base; DeRosa would be an all-too-perfect replacement for Figgins----he'll be cheaper and he's a better hitter.
Davis, Piniero or Marquis would fill the need for a mid-rotation starter who'd benefit from the Angels solid defense.
Via trade: OF Carl Crawford (Rays); RHP Roy Halladay (Blue Jays); 1B Lyle Overbay (Blue Jays); OF/DH Luke Scott (Orioles); RHP Edwin Jackson (Tigers); INF/OF Brandon Inge (Tigers); OF Curtis Granderson (Tigers); 1B Paul Konerko (White Sox); RHP Gil Meche (Royals); RHP Kevin Millwood (Rangers); RHP Brandon Morrow (Mariners); OF Cody Ross (Marlins); RHP Matt Lindstrom (Marlins); RHP Josh Johnson (Marlins); 3B/1B Jorge Cantu (Marlins); 2B Dan Uggla (Marlins); C John Baker (Marlins); RHP Derek Lowe (Braves); RHP Francisco Cordero (Brewers); 3B Garrett Atkins (Rockies); 1B Adrian Gonzalez (Padres); RHP Chris Young (Padres)
Crawford is going to be available; the Angels and Rays have a trading relationship after the Scott Kazmir deal; the Angels have the money to pay for Crawford's extension; and he's a perfect fit.
The Angels are in on Halladay and his acquisition would make them World Series favorites immediately.
The Tigers payroll slash could benefit the Angels in several ways. What if the Angels said to the Tigers they'd give them Brandon Wood, Jose Arredondo and Gary Matthews Jr (salary dump) for Inge, Granderson and Nate Robertson? Granderson could play left and the sheer speed of him and Torii Hunter would make the left side of the Angels outfield defense the place where triples go to die.
Konerko has long been an object of the Angels affections, but the discussed three-way deal that would sent Konerko to Anaheim, Adrian Gonzalez to the White Sox, and prospects to the Padres might be better for the Angels if they just tried to get Gonzalez themselves.
Meche and Millwood are pricey, but would serve the purpose as mid-rotation starters with big upside and they could get them by just agreeing to take the contracts.
The Marlins fire sale would benefit the Angels greatly. Uggla would be a great fit. Cantu fills the third base hole if Figgins leaves.
Trading for Lowe (who the Braves are desperate to move) could get Matthews Jr's contract out of Anaheim; and he'd be an innings-eater for the rotation to replace Lackey. Lowe's post-season pedigree is a big plus.
Atkins is being shopped by the Rockies and he too would fill the third base hole left by Figgins.
- The comedy that is the Pirates:
Much like two years ago when the Pirates traded Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte; or when they signed Ramon Vazquez and Eric Hinske as if they were acquiring the last pieces to a championship puzzle; and then turned around at mid-season 2009 and cleaned out the house of their remaining veterans----Nate McLouth; Adam LaRoche; Nyjer Morgan; Jack Wilson----while getting middling return on the 2008 and 2009 trades, they're now making moves that don't even qualify as head-scratching; they qualify as the basis to have someone committed.
After trading a young power arm in Jesse Chavez to the Rays for Akinori Iwamura, they're now said to be interested in Rangers free agent Hank Blalock and Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel.
No. I don't know why.
With each passing moment and bewildering maneuver, it becomes abundantly clear that there's not even a loony plan in place in Pittsburgh----like the Joker (and me), they just do things. The Joker and I have an excuse----we're agents of chaos. What's the Pirates' excuse?
With little more than ineptitude from the puppet GM Neal Huntington and the pomposity of team president Frank Coonelly, the new regime has done the near-impossible. And no, I don't mean make the Pirates into a viable franchise with a chance to compete; I mean they've made the previous regime of Kevin McClatchy and Dave Littlefield look good in comparison.
The Siberia of baseball is far too kind to describe them. Going to the Pirates is more like going to Mars, except the air quality and chance of survival are worse when putting on a Pirates uniform. Far worse.
There's no hope for them.None.