Somber day as Angels clear lockers
Club has many offseason decisions to deal with
ANAHEIM -- It was a tough day for Angels players on Tuesday as they cleaned out their lockers at Angel Stadium just two days after being eliminated by the Yankees in six games in the American League Championship Series.
Left-hander Joe Saunders called it the "toughest day of the year" but also said it was "bittersweet" because they at least swept the Red Sox to get past the American League Division Series for the first time since 2005.
Still, it was a difficult day knowing that they didn't reach their goal of winning the World Series.
"Every time is worse," Torii Hunter said of cleaning out his locker after the season. "When you're in the downfall of your career you really want to get to the World Series. I was close this time but it just didn't work out. It's difficult to clean out your locker because every piece you pick up reminds you of the season."
So while players were reminded of their season, Angels manager Mike Scioscia looked ahead to next year as the team faces several big question marks this offseason with six of the 25 players who formed the postseason roster eligible for free agency.
Designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, right fielder Bobby Abreu, right-hander John Lackey, reliever Darren Oliver, third baseman Chone Figgins and utility man Robb Quinlan are eligible to file for free agency.
So unlike last year, when Mark Teixeira was the team's clear-cut No. 1 priority, this offseason the Angels have several priorities.
"We think we have four or five No.1 priorities out there," Scioscia said. "I think all those guys are a huge part of what we accomplished the last four or five seasons and a few of those guys go back to 2002."
Lackey and Figgins are the two who date back to 2002 when the team won its first and only World Series title, and figure to be top priorities heading into 2010.
Lackey, who has a career record of 102-71 along with a 3.81 ERA, has also shown himself to be quite an asset during the postseason -- evidenced by a career ERA of 3.12 in playoff games.
His teammates certainly want him back as he has cemented his position as staff ace of a group that includes the impressive quartet of Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir.
"It's very important [he comes back]," Kazmir said. "You saw what he did in the playoffs. He's a bulldog. He's a guy you definitely want to have on your team."
But if for some reason Lackey doesn't sign with the Angels, Scioscia is confident that his rotation will still be solid and a young starter such as Trevor Bell, Sean O'Sullivan or Trevor Reckling to fill the fifth spot.
"Needless to say, John is a high-profile guy we want to see in this uniform for a long time, but if nothing is worked out we'll move forward with a rotation that'll still be good," Scioscia said.
Scioscia has the same mentality at third base if Figgins decides to leave the team. Brandon Wood is out of options and would likely be the team's starter there if Figgins departs. Wood is just a career .192 hitter in 224 Major League at-bats but is a career .286 hitter in the Minors with plus power.
"He's absolutely ready for the opportunity much like Kendry Morales was ready for the opportunity," Scioscia said. "I'm not saying he's going to put up Kendry's numbers, but him playing in the Minors right now isn't going to help him in the Majors. He's ready for that challenge."
Scioscia is similarly confident in his team's bullpen, especially with the way young relievers Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen performed alongside closer Brian Fuentes and setup man Oliver. Oliver is still contemplating retiring but Scioscia said he hasn't heard anything from Oliver quite yet.
Scioscia also feels like he'll get a valuable piece back in his bullpen next year when Scot Shields returns from knee surgery that forced him to miss most of 2009.
"I think you don't notice somebody until they're not there like Scot Shields this year," Scioscia said. "He's going to give us an incredible boost next season. I think it's critical to how our bullpen shapes out."
The Angels, though, will have difficult decisions to make regarding two aging stars in Guerrero and Abreu.
Abreu proved he can still produce at age 35 as evidenced by his .293 batting average, 15 home runs, 103 RBIs and 96 runs scored, but is expected to ask for more than the $6 million he made last season.
And Guerrero, 34, showed he could still hit by batting .295 in 100 games during the regular season while also batting .378 in the postseason.
Both have expressed interest in returning to the Angels next season but, as Scioscia noted, it's impossible to predict what will happen with any of the free agents.
"Obviously there are guys in this room that want to come back and we want them to be back, but sometimes it doesn't lead to them coming back," Scioscia said. "So we'll have to see how things unfold."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.