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Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on February 18, 2010
The Angels have a lot of young talent and maybe that allowed them to believe that they could afford to shed some payroll and let some big name free agents walk away.Â Some experts have crucified them for that, but the truth is that it may have been a really smart move.Â That is especially true from a financial point of view as the Angels are still the cream of the AL West and adding much in the way of payroll would have necessitated an increase in ticket prices at a time when many in the Los Angeles area are struggling.Â Perhaps a bigger point however is that the Angels kept money in their pockets in what was largely hailed as a mediocre crop of free agents.
That will leave the team more flexibility for in-season deals and even for the next crop of free agents.Â Sure it hurt a lot to watch talented guys like Chone Figgins, John Lackey and Vladimir Guerrero walk away but of the three the one who'll most sorely be missed is Lackey.
The Angels will be replacing him with Joel Pineiro, a righty who'll be largely dismissed as a minor piece by the brigade of pundits who confuse fantasy value with on-field value to a team.Â Pineiro for most of his career hasn't exactly been a gem, but that was before a couple of surgeries and his recent reinvention of himself as a sinkerball pitcher.Â That's a strength which plays very well in the West and neutralized a lot of offense especially in places like Texas and Anaheim, but will be even better in the pitcher friendly parks in Oakland and Seattle.
The other big loss to the Angels might well be Figgins.Â After all Figgins has averaged 39 stolen bases a year over the last three seasons and hit .298 for the team last year.Â But the truth is that the 32 year old Figgins came up with what came close to a career year last season - the first year of the last three where he actually played more than 116 games.Â So while last year's .298-5-55-114-42 looks great, those might be hard numbers to come close to especially if he returns to his injury prone ways.
And the Angels believe that Erick Aybar can step into that leadoff spot.Â However he's not a flawless replacement by any means.Â No one doubts his skill as a contact hitter, nor his speed, but the guy doesn't know how to take a walk, and has managed just 54 walks in over 1000 at bats.Â Of course having Bobby Abreu available to hit behind him in the No. 2 slot should alleviate a lot of the team's worry about getting runners on base before the middle of the lineup comes into play.
That could be where the Angels miss Vladimir Guerrero.Â But this isn't the Vlad Guerrero of old.Â That Vlad was the terror of the Major Leagues, one of the best pure hitters in the game and one that could hurt you with any aspect of his game, from his power, to his speed, to his ability to put even the worst pitch thrown into play.
At age 36 Vlad isn't quite the same player.Â His speed has faded to a shadow of what it once was, his power has faded from the 30 and 40 home run range down to the mid 20s and his ability to stay healthy for a whole season has come more and more into question.Â That being said he still was the heart of the Angels order last season, but his relevance was clearly fading for a team that has so much young talent on the rise.
Kendry Morales is the man most likely to be slotted into Vlad's spot in the lineup.Â After a .306-34-108 campaign in his first full season, the 26-year-old Morales is entering the prime of his career and has a degree of upside which Vlad just no longer offered.Â Throw in the addition of Hideki Matsui whose power number compare favorably with Guerrero's and the loss of Guerrero's bat doesn't seem half as bad as it did at face value.
So maybe the Angels moves, while seemingly devastating on the surface are not as big a downgrade as a number of sources have suggested, especially with players like Aybar and Morales on the rise while youngsters like Brandon Wood have yet to show us just what they can do at the big league level.Â Until proven otherwise the Angels still figure to finish at the top of the Western heap.