03/10/09 9:20 PM ET
2009 season is test for Angels
Model franchise trying to extend dominance into October
The Angels have managed to reach the best of both possible personnel worlds. They have built a farm system that turns out first-rate players. They have made sizable investments on the free-agent market, but unlike some other organizations, their major investments have typically been money well spent.
And the Angels play an aggressive, alert, entertaining brand of baseball. Manager Mike Scioscia has developed a fundamental Angels approach that has by now become a basic part of this franchise's landscape.
With all that said, the 2009 season should be a serious, but fair test of this organization's worth. Los Angeles must replace at least three core performers and will also have to plug two young pitchers into its starting rotation, at least at the season's outset. And, this would be as good a time as any to stretch that role-model franchise status into October.
The Angels have won the American League West in four of the past five seasons, and the trend is not toward them easing up on the opposition. Last season was their most dominant campaign, with 100 victories and a 21-game margin over the second-place Texas Rangers.
But October has been a different and lesser story. Since winning the 2002 World Series, the Angels have won only one postseason series, a Division Series against the Yankees in '05. Overall, their four-season October record is 5-15. Their particular nemesis has been the Boston Red Sox, against whom the Angels are 1-9 in three Division Series: '04, '07 and '08.
Two completely different realities emerge here. The Angels were baseball's best team for six months in 2008. But in October, they were just somebody that the Red Sox could beat, again. The '07 postseason defeat could be rationalized -- the Angels were diminished by late-season injuries. But the '08 defeat, against a Boston club that subsequently lost in the ALCS to Tampa Bay, could not be easily explained away.
It would stand to reason that if the Angels keep winning this persistently in the regular season, at some point they would once again triumph in October. But at the moment, all of their regular-season success has meant only greater frustration with their postseason shortcomings.
One way or another, 2009 will challenge this team's depth and adaptability. The Angels must replace first baseman Mark Teixeira, who went to New York when the Yankees made him an offer he could not refuse. The Angels will replace him with Kendry Morales -- a Cuban defector, but also a product of the farm system. Morales, 25, is highly regarded, but he has only 377 big league at-bats, and he's replacing a player somebody thought was worth $180 million.
The Angels' record-setting closer, Francisco Rodriguez, also followed the money to New York, but to the Mets. Here, Los Angeles has a free-agent signing of its own with a considerable track record -- lefty Brian Fuentes. Fuentes hasn't had an unbroken line of success, but he was the only Colorado Rockies closer to record 30 saves in the more than one season. He should be a suitable solution as closer.
In left, the Angels lost a franchise staple, Garret Anderson, to free agency. But they didn't panic, waited for the market to settle, and obtained Bobby Abreu at a reasonable price. Anderson and Abreu both have had highly productive careers, but at this stage, Abreu is probably an upgrade from Anderson, and, if form is followed, a surer bet to remain in the lineup. Abreu has played in 150 or more games in 11 straight seasons. Anderson has not played in 150 or more games since 2003, and he is currently out of the lineup with the Atlanta Braves due to a calf strain.
The greatest test of an organization's depth frequently occurs in the most elemental, critical area -- pitching. Here, once again, the Angels seem to be covered.
In the rotation, Los Angeles lost another free-agent pitcher, Jon Garland. Ervin Santana is currently out with an elbow injury. Although the Angels expect Santana back in April, the team will have to find two more starters, at least for the beginning of the season. As usual, the Angels will have no shortage of viable candidates, in this case including Shane Loux, Dustin Moseley and Nick Adenhart.
"We talked about it in the offseason, coming into spring, you want that depth to establish in your rotation, and we're seeing it," Scioscia said on Tuesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium. "You're seeing a Nick Adenhart, who is much closer to the kid we saw two years ago than the kid we saw last year. That's going to be important to us. And you're seeing Shane Loux and Dustin Moseley throwing the ball to their capabilities. And we've haven't seen this kid [Anthony] Ortega, but in his bullpen sessions, this guy's legit, he's got great stuff.
"We're very comfortable with where our depth is going to be in our rotation. We might have to tap into it a little earlier until we see [Kelvim] Escobar back on the mound and see when Santana is going to get there. But we're comfortable with it. We think we're going to get guys who are going to give us a chance to win every night."
The Angels are anticipating the return of Escobar, who missed the 2008 season with a labrum tear in his right shoulder, after having a superb 2007 season (18-7, 3.40 ERA).
"It's just kind of penciled in right now, but he should be in the games within 10 days or so," Scioscia said. "And then we'll start to evaluate where he is and how quickly he can be stretched out to where he can be able to help us."
With all of the adjustments that must be made, the Angels still must be regarded as distinct favorites in the AL West. They still have better pitching than the competition. They should still be a well above average defensive team. And they should still be able to find a variety of ways to generate enough offense.
But expectations will continue to soar for this team. The Angels, in this way, are victims of their own success. When you win 100 games, when you win your division by 21 games, people will expect, fairly or not, that you ought to continue that kind of dominance all the way to Halloween.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.