Inbox: Are Halos in pursuit of leadoff man?
Beat reporter Lyle Spencer fields Angels fans' questions
We keep reading and hearing that the Angels will sign a free-agent leadoff man, but nothing yet. Do you think it will happen? And why do you prefer Johnny Damon over Scott Podsednik? I personally think Podsednik is a better fit.
-- Jimmy G., Irvine, Calif.
I do believe the Angels will sign a leadoff man, and my guess is that it will be Podsednik, a proven player who would bring speed and energy to the top of the order. Why do I prefer Damon? Because I think he has consistently performed at a higher level than Podsednik and brings loads of intangibles.
Admittedly, I'm more familiar with Damon, based on his longevity and having played in high-profile locales (Boston, Bronx), and I've heard nothing but good things about Podsednik as a clubhouse presence. Podsednik will cost less, is two years younger and is a more effective defender than Damon, so I can understand his appeal. I just think Damon is a guy who can take you to another level offensively and shoot off daily sparks on a club filled with quiet, laid-back personalities. Things are heating up with Damon, and it doesn't appear that the Angels are in play.
There's a side element to this. Reeling in Damon would send a positive message to a doubting public that the Angels can work out a meaningful free-agent deal with super-agent Scott Boras. Apart from Mike Trout with his phenomenal upside, there is no player in the organization as important to the Angels' long-term plans as Jered Weaver and Kendry Morales. Both are represented by Boras. The two camps need to mend whatever fences, real or imagined, that might exist if the Angels are to keep Weaver and Morales beyond their six years of Major League service time.
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Manny Ramirez seems like an intriguing option for the Angels. A reporter from ESPN Deportes said the Angels have inquired about him, but is it a realistic option for the Angels? Last time he was a free agent, I remember hearing the Angels say he wasn't a fit for the team, but that can change in a matter of two years.
-- Jeremy O., Riverside, Calif.
Contrary to popular opinion, Ramirez generally is highly respected by peers. The Angels players talk about his talent with something bordering on awe, and his performance under pressure is without equal among contemporary position players. He has not delivered a full season of work since 2008, but a motivated Ramirez, with something to prove and an incentives-loaded contract, still could be a force.
A safer choice, obviously, would be Vladimir Guerrero. Vlad is coming off a big year and also would be highly motivated, just as he was this season, to prove that his former club (the Rangers in this case) made a mistake letting him go. I love the idea of Guerrero coming back. To know the guy is to love him.
What do you think will happen with the catching situation? Will someone get traded, and if so, who?
-- Abel G., La Puente, Calif.
This will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the spring. The Angels have four qualified candidates for two, perhaps three, openings behind the plate. They probably can carry three catchers only if they decide Mike Napoli can be squeezed into the designated-hitter role on a fairly regular basis, but that appears doubtful at this point.
Manager Mike Scioscia will work diligently to bring Napoli and Jeff Mathis back to their former performance levels defensively. Napoli, moving between catcher and first base last year after Morales' injury, was inconsistent defensively. Mathis -- ranked the best defensive catcher in the Majors by stat guru Bill James after the 2009 season -- developed some bad habits as he tried to come back from a fractured right wrist suffered two weeks into the season.
Bobby Wilson is a solid backup in every respect, and he could be more than that given the opportunity. With his solid defensive skills and underrated bat, he'd be an upgrade on some clubs. But his difficulty in breaking in with the more established Napoli and Mathis in front of him remains a source of frustration.
Hank Conger, with his offensive potential a major plus, has given every indication that he is moving toward becoming a quality everyday receiver, having improved measurably the past two seasons. His work in September was an eye-opener. The one possible roadblock is how few games he has caught in the Minor Leagues. Scioscia is a big believer that this is one position where a player needs to be fully prepared before taking on its multiple responsibilities.
As for the most likely to be dealt, it remains Napoli. He is due a sizable raise as an arbitration-eligible player, and if he doesn't nail down the regular job with a solid spring defensively, he could be a candidate to be moved. He'll be making too much money to play a couple of times a week. A deal involving fourth outfielder Juan Rivera could open up the DH role for Napoli, however, and keep him in Anaheim if he doesn't emerge as the clear No. 1 receiver.
Adrian Beltre, at six years and $96 million, was too big a risk in my opinion. I say let's stick with what we have at third base and retool later if necessary. I really believe Brandon Wood is going to break out in 2011, and I would rather see him do it with the Halos and not kick ourselves later for it.
-- Robert L., Temecula, Calif.
With Beltre in Texas, third base is back in the hands of the holdovers -- Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis and Wood -- and that might not be as bad as so many fans believe. Callaspo is the favorite to get the most playing time heading into the spring, but Izturis is the club's best leadoff option and is just as good as Callaspo at third defensively, if not better. The issue with Izzy is keeping him on the field.
It should play to Wood's advantage that he does not feel the pressure to live up to all the expectations this spring. Hopefully, he'll come in with the attitude that he can just play the game and see where his substantial talents can take him. From a purely personal standpoint, I'd love to see him have a great spring and put himself back in contention to claim the job. He's respected as a good teammate with real offensive talent and a steady glove; I know this is a broken record, but he's not the first young hitter with a big swing who struggled in his early years in the Majors. If he ever puts it all together and breaks out, the Angels and their fans will be amazed and what he can do.
Are you serious when you say the Angels can contend in the American League West with what they have now?
-- Earl C., Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Yes, I am. The Angels have the pitching depth, both in the rotation and bullpen, to stay in the hunt with a return to form by just a few of the many position players coming off down years. In mid-July, assuming they're alive and kicking, they can explore the market and shore up an area of need. They have done this with Mark Teixeira, Scott Kazmir and Dan Haren in recent seasons, and there's no reason to believe they can't or won't do it again.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.