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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Sunday, January 11, 2004
The signing of Vlad Guerrero caps off a huge offseason’s magical mystery tour for the Anaheim Angels.
There?s nothing like waking up on a Sunday morning and finding that your favorite team has just added Vlad Guerrero to the team. O what a beautiful morning, indeed! New Anaheim Angels owner Artie Moreno, a last-second entry into the bidding war, offered Guerrero what the Mets and Orioles wouldn?t: a contract that guaranteed every penny of a 5 year, $70 million contract.
Since buying the Angels in the middle of last year, Moreno has given GM Bill Stoneman easy access to his considerable bank account and Stoneman immediately went shopping uptown. The additions of Bartolo Colon (4 years, $51M), Kelvim Escobar (3 years, $18.75M), Jose Guillen (2 years, $6M), and extension to Adam Kennedy (3 years, $9M), along with Guerrero, have cost the Angels ? lemme see ? $145.75M in long-term contracts. Assuming Guerrero passes his physical this week, it also immediately makes the Angels a playoff contender.
However, it?s not just the big money acquisitions that have improved the team. The Angels should be given credit for cutting bait with Kevin Appier, realizing that paying cash for releasing him was better that paying the same amount of cash to have him pitch for them every five days. The refusal to resign fan favorite Scott Spiezio was not a popular move, but there was no question that the Angels needed to improve their offense, and Spiezio wasn?t going to be any better than he already is.
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It?s been a hectic winter for Bill Stoneman, even before the Guerrero signing. The acquisition of Escobar in late November was an early indication of how aggressive Stoneman was prepared to be, and adding Colon two weeks later showed how aggressive Moreno was prepared to be as well. While the Red Sox, Yankees and Texas were futilely wrangling with the Alex Rodriguez/Manny Ramirez/Nomar Garciaparra deal, the Angels quietly slipped into the mix by preparing to deal for Garciaparra. Jarrod Washburn, Ramon Ortiz, David Eckstein, Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus and Troy Percival all found themselves mentioned in trade talks of one sort or another.
Stoneman?s aggressiveness is a sharp departure from last winter?s do-nothing philosophy, which predictably doomed the 2003 season even before it began. This new aggressiveness may pay off very quickly for the Angels. While no realistic fan would have predicted a return to the World Series last season, the real disappointment of 2003 was rooted in season-ending injuries to Glaus, Erstad, Brad Fullmer, and the inability of the pitching staff to repeat their 2002 success.
2003 Actual Performances:
2004 ZIPS Projections:
Replacing the likes of Appier and Aaron Sele with Colon and Escobar is an unquestionable and substantial upgrade. Of course, this new aggressiveness could also backfire in an ugly way. Colon?s breakdown has been predicted more often that the Big Quake of Southern California, and like the Big One, if it happens it would be devastating, given the size of his contract. At age 31, though, he?s past the stage where every high-pitch outing should trigger outrage from statheads. Moreover, the Angels? excellent bullpen should contribute to keeping a durable horse like Colon healthy. Of course, yaneverknow.
Of far greater concern is Vlad Guerrero?s back injury?a herniated disk?which was enough of an issue that the Mets wouldn’t risk guaranteeing more than three years and $30M. There?s a pretty good chance that this injury will lead to chronic back problems for Guerrero. On the other hand, Guerrero?s injury did not require surgery, and he did return to play in 62 of the last 64 games of the season for the Expos, posting a .353/.436/.661 line in 218 at-bats. Other players of note, such as Barry Bonds and Randy Johnson, have certainly had some measure of success while regularly treating their own chronic back issues.
While the starting pitching took a step back, the principal reason last year?s Angels fell off as far as they did from 2002 was a lack of offense. Much of that could be attributed to gravity; half the offense hit near their peak seasons in 2002. Glaus, Erstad and Fullmer were lost for a majority of the season, and Eckstein stumbled badly due to injuries. The return of Glaus, Erstad and Eckstein, and the addition of Guerrero should turn that slide around.
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There are already noises being made about Darin Erstad playing first base, and the Angels having to use Jose Guillen in the lineup, or trading Garret Anderson while the getting?s good.
I?m not one of those noisemakers. That the Angels are going to keep Erstad is a lock, so if moving him to first base keeps him healthier and makes him somewhat more productive, so be it. There are two important points to be made on this issue, though, and everybody knows what they are:
That being said, these points only detract from what?s really important: Erstad was going to be in the lineup because the Angels believe in him ? they certainly weren?t going to “Appier” him. Regardless of how poorly Erstad might hit at first base, does anyone doubt that a healthier Erstad is going to hit better than he did last season? Perhaps just as important, a healthy outfield means less Jeff DaVanon, who had a 1.128 OPS in 63 at-bats last June, but otherwise hit like a fourth outfielder. And there?s nothing to stop the Angels from moving Erstad back into centerfield if Jose Guillen is absolutely stinking up the joint (a distinct possibility).
As part of the “Make Room for Vlad” extravaganza, Tim Salmon is being shifted to the DH slot, which should keep him healthier and away from the myriad of nagging injuries Salmon has had to deal with as he?s gotten older. Anderson, in the recent past, had been more than capable of manning centerfield, and while he?s not Erstad, he shouldn?t have a problem doing it again. A lineup that boasts Guerrero, Anderson, Glaus, and Salmon in the middle is plenty formidable.
Forget about Erstad playing first. Forget about Guillen everyday, or Anderson?s low walk totals. There?s only one thing to focus on today: Vladimir Guerrero is going to play for the Anaheim Angels, and that means Angels are going to be a force to be reckon with.
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