A look at the Angels' own published depth chart can be a saddening experience going into the offseason. What once appeared to be depth now appears to be overpriced roadblocks on the free agent highway. For every one of the key free agents out there, a starting Angel signed for the 2011 season stands in his way.
CARL CRAWFORD and/or JASON WERTH
Signing an outfielder of the caliber of Carl Crawford and/or Jason Werth spells the end of two of these Angel careers: Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, Reggie Willits, Peter Bourjos - or it holds Bourjos hostage on the bench or at AAA. The logical step would be: dumping Rivera, putting Willits on the bench as the fourth outfielder and making Abreu the full-time designated hitter.
Suddenly though, Abreu as DH blocks Mike Napoli from anywhere but catcher assuming that Kendry Morales returns healthy to first base ... and it might be nice to give Kendry a weekly two games at DH for the beginning of the year to see how his foot holds up. And if this prescription is followed, is Hank Conger back in AAA or rotting on the bench?
What clogs up the machine for the Angels in signing any outfielder is that Bobby Abreu is guaranteed $9 million for next season if he meets some pretty easy extension triggers in 2011. An aging Torii Hunter could use a few days (if not more) each month at DH as well. And so signing either of Crawford or Werth will definitely mean trading or cutting Juan Rivera and almost certainly mean trading Bobby Abreu and eating a lot of his 2011 and 2012 salary in the process.
The Angels have a great pitching staff, but would be sublime with Cliff Lee as the Ace. While this does not address the team's need for offense, one could imagine Joel Pineiro's $8 million, one-year deal bringing some kind of bat L.A. of Anaheim's way in a trade. Lee as a Halo might complicate dealing with Jered Weaver's post 2012 free agency, but if the team is in a win-now mode, they can win lots of 1-0 and 2-1 games with Lee on the hill in 2011 and 2012 and deal with Scott Boras and Weaver's rings later.
The Angels have a glut of middle infielders, but unlike the outfield situation, there is nobody like Bourjos who deserves the playing time based solely on an irreplaceable glove. Sure, there are good gloves there, but not great ones. Signing Adrian Beltre would mean moving some familiar faces, but it would not create much of a logjam anywhere else once a post-signing move or two was made. Howie Kendrick probably has the most trade value between himself, Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Brandon Wood. Izturis making over $3 million in 2011 and a history of nagging injuries makes him untradeable. Wood's future is as clouded as anyone's in baseball. The lack of an overpriced Abreu here makes trading Kendrick and ending the Wood era a tenable position to house Beltre. With Aybar/Callaspo/Izturis rotating at shortstop and second base, the Angels infield would feature plus defense and the built-in rest of that rotating trio in two positions could bring about a bounce back season in any one or all of them.
This power hitting free agent only makes sense as an Angels signing if Morales, Abreu or Napoli are not in the picture for 2011. If this is the case, Adam Dunn makes a perfect designated hitter/first baseman, with the only questions centered around whether he is the type of payer who would gel with a Mike Scioscia clubhouse.
To bring in a great closer like Rafael Soriano and push Fernando Rodney back to setup man would be the shot the Angels bullpen has needed for the past two seasons. Jordan Walden could assume the Scot Shields role of high-leverage setup man and Rodney could be further challenged to deserve a spot in the pen better than seventh inning/game-tied late arm. A three year contract with Soriano would give Walden more time to mature without having to develop the closer personality that most of baseball assumes is needed in a ninth inning arm.
These are really the only free agents that would make a dramatic difference in what the Angels would be able to produce on the field with what they have now and what they have waiting on the farm. Look for Tony Reagins to be active in the trade market as well, but much of that may come in January, after he has signed one or more of these key free agents.
Of any of the above, Adrian Beltre and Rafael Soriano would make the biggest impact on the Angels we know. But the 2011 team is not obligated to resemble the 2010 team in appearance. Making us forget the 2010 Angels, though, should be the top priority, familiar faces on the roster or not.