Springtime Storylines: Did the Angels lose too much blood this winter?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Los Angeles Angels


The
big question: Did the Angels los
e too much blood this winter?

Chone Figgins is in Seattle. John Lackey is in Boston. Vlad Guerrero is in Texas. The first two of those are more critical than the last one because, sadly, Vlad ain’t what he used to be, but they’re still significant losses. They were the kind of losses that had the chattering classes, um, chattering back in December and January about how the Angels won’t make the playoffs this year.

Since then, however, people have gotten a bit of a grip.  Even with Figgins’ OBP gone, the offense is still strong.  There are a lot of players on this team who need to hit for a high average to be truly productive, but there are fluky BA-dependent guys and legitimate BA-dependent guys, and I really don’t see a lot of flukes on this team. I expect them to regress a bit offensively, but I don’t think they’ll fall drastically off the pace that had them second in runs per game in baseball last year.

Same goes for the pitching staff.  Lackey will certainly be missed, but (a)the addition of Joel Pinero takes a lot of that sting away; and (b) it’s an open question whether Lackey’s performance in Anaheim really justified the exalted status of ace he realized as he headed into the free agent market. Good pitcher, no question, but one who missed a decent amount of time. So no, there’s no ace here, but was there really one here before? Regardless, from top-to-bottom I think the Angels rotation will be very solid, health permitting, as it must permit all teams who want to contend.

So what else is going on?

  • Adding Fernando Rodney as a setup man provides some insurance for the frequently shaky Brian Fuentes in much the same way that adding kerosene to your siding provides added fire safety to your home.  OK, that’s harsh. Rodney had a good season last year. But he really got lucky. He’s too wild to depend on consistently and I think he’s going to have a much worse 2010 than a lot of people realize. Between the uncertainly of Fuentes and Rodney and the loss of Darren Oliver, I think the bullpen will be the team’s biggest weakness. And an expensive weakness at that.
  • Something more specific on the offense: Kendry Morales, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Brandon Wood are all at
    an age where we can expect improvement or, at the very least, the
    maintenance of a solid status quo. Bobby Abreu’s primary skill —
    working the count — ages well. I think Matsui still has a solid couple
    of seasons left in the tank. After writing that intro above I stopped to ask myself if I’m being too optimistic about the offense. I really don’t think I am. If you think differently, please tell me why.
  • Deep thought: this may be
    the most disrespected three-time defending champion in baseball history. Discuss.
  • Pfun Pfact: The Angels have outperformed their Pythagorean Win Projection each of the last six
    years. Good luck? Real Angels in the outfield?  Mike Scioscia the best manager in baseball these days?  I’ll admit, I don’t know, mostly because I’ve probably seen fewer Angels games these past few years than I have seen games for any other contender. Now that I’m actually writing for a living I’m going to be (a) staying up later; and (b) watching a lot more games, so that will remedied.  I’m really looking forward to it.

 
So
how
are they gonna do?

Sure, Figgins is gone, but Brandon Wood could be better than many
think.  The rotation is still very strong from top to bottom.  There’s
every reason to believe that Hideki Matsui will be better in 2010 than
Vald Guerrero was in 2009.  And perhaps most importantly, the Mariners
— everyone’s offseason darlings — put off more light than heat in
their offseason moves.  I think the Angels are gonna win their fourth straight division crown.

Prediction: First place, AL West.  And yeah, they’ll probably once again match up poorly with whatever AL East team they run into, but let’s put that out of our minds until at least September, OK?

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.