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Rotation is key to success for Angels

Will they be able to get Roy Halladay or re-sign John Lackey? And who will bat leadoff?

December 07, 2009
  • John Lackey has a 102-71 career record and a 3.81 earned-run average in 233 starts, all with the Angels.
John Lackey has a 102-71 career record and a 3.81 earned-run average in 233… (Christine Cotter / Los Angeles…)

Staff writer Mike DiGiovanna examines five issues facing the Angels as they head into the winter meetings, which begin today in Indianapolis. (Keys in boldface correspond to boldface in lineup):

Ace in the hole

The top priority is to fill the void at the front of the rotation, at the top of the team's list are John Lackey, the free-agent right-hander who has been an Angels mainstay since 2003, and Roy Halladay, the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander who has been a trade target since last July.

If the Angels re-sign Lackey, who is seeking a deal comparable to the one A.J. Burnett got from the Yankees -- five years, $82.5 million last winter -- they would have a deep and experienced rotation.

If the Angels trade for Halladay, who has a 148-76 career record and 3.43 earned run average in 12 seasons and won the 2003 American League Cy Young Award, it will probably cost them one of their three young starting pitchers, Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver or Ervin Santana.

In that case, the Angels would be stronger at the top of the rotation with Halladay, who is more dominant and durable than Lackey, but a little weaker at the back, which would be Matt Palmer, Sean O'Sullivan or Dustin Moseley.

Big bat theory

With the possible departure of slugger Vladimir Guerrero looming, the Angels could find themselves one bat short of World Series-caliber.

They're pursuing free-agent outfielder Jason Bay, who averaged 33 home runs and 110 RBIs the last two seasons. If they get him, he would play left field, with Juan Rivera moving to a right-field time-share with Bobby Abreu.

With Bay, Abreu, Rivera and Torii Hunter, Manager Mike Scioscia could rotate the four outfielders through the designated hitter spot.

Another candidate is catcher Mike Napoli, who hit .359 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 64 at-bats as a DH last season. But Napoli slumped badly in the second half and finished with a .272 average, 20 homers and 56 RBIs.

That move would require the Angels to carry Bobby Wilson as a third catcher.

Leading off

It appears the Angels will lose free-agent third baseman Chone Figgins, and they'll miss his .395 on-base percentage, 114 runs and league-leading 101 walks last season in the leadoff spot. According to multiple reports, Figgins is on the verge of signing a four-year, $36-milion deal with the Mariners and is expected to be in Seattle today for a physical.

Maicer Izturis is probably the best in-house candidate to replace him, but the versatile switch-hitter is a utility infielder and Scioscia would prefer to have continuity at the top of the order.

The next-best candidate is probably shortstop Erick Aybar, a switch-hitter who batted .312 with a .353 on-base percentage, 23 doubles, nine triples and 58 runs batted in.

Wood stock

It looks as if Brandon Wood, the team's top position-playing prospect for several years, will open 2010 as the third baseman.

Wood, a first-round pick in 2003, will be 25 next spring and he is out of options, meaning the Angels risk losing him to a waiver claim if they try to send him back to triple-A Salt Lake, where he has spent most of the last three seasons.

Wood, who also plays

shortstop and first base,

appears capable of playing big league-caliber defense, and if he continues to develop plate discipline and cut down on

his strikeouts, his power could be a nice addition to the lineup.

Lean to the left

The Angels did not offer veteran left-hander Darren Oliver arbitration, and if they lose the dependable reliever, who went 15-3 with a 3.09 ERA in three years in Anaheim, they might enter 2010 with all right-handers in front of left-handed closer Brian Fuentes.

The return of a healthy Scot Shields, who underwent season-ending knee surgery in June, could provide a huge boost.

The veteran right-hander has held lefties to a .218 average in eight seasons, and his return to the setup role would ease the burden on young right-hander Kevin Jepsen, whom lefties hit .373 against last season.

There is also a chance right-hander Kelvim Escobar, who flourished in a relief role in 2005 but missed virtually all of the last two seasons because of a shoulder injury, could return on a low-cost, one-year deal and give the bullpen a boost.

The Angels' projected lineup, based on current roster. (Keys in boldface correspond to boldface in story):

BATTING ORDERPLAYERPOSITION1. Erick Aybarshortstop2. Bobby Abreuright field3. Torii Huntercenter field4. Kendry Moralesfirst base5. Juan Riveraleft field6. Howie Kendricksecond base7. Mike Napolidesignated hitter 8. Jeff Mathiscatcher9. Brandon Woodthird base

STARTING ROTATIONPLAYERTHROWS1. Jered Weaverright-handed2. Joe Sandersleft-handed3. Ervin Santanaright-handed 4. Scott Kazmirleft-handed5. Matt Palmerright-handed

BULLPENPLAYERTHROWSBrian Fuentes (closer)left-handedScott Shields (setup)right-handedKevin Jepsenright-handedJason Bulgerright-handed

BEST OF THE BENCHPLAYERPOSITIONMaicer IzturisinfieldGary MatthewsoutfieldReggie Willitsoutfield

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