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Abreu adds to Angels' chances to be deeper and stronger

They start spring training without Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez. But if veterans and young players all come through, Scioscia sees a solid team from top to bottom.

February 14, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

TEMPE, ARIZ. — They lack the big-time thumper to pair with Vladimir Guerrero, a luxury the Angels enjoyed for all of two months in 2008 before Mark Teixeira spurned their eight-year, $160-million offer for an even richer ($180 million) New York Yankees bid in December.

And even with the eleventh-hour addition of free-agent outfielder Bobby Abreu, the Angels don't appear to match up offensively with the Yankees, Boston Red Sox and defending American League-champion Tampa Bay Rays.

But can a lineup that projects Howie Kendrick, a career .306 hitter in 2 1/2 big-league seasons, to bat eighth be all that bad?

"No," said Manager Mike Scioscia, who today will preside over the Angels' first spring-training workout for pitchers and catchers. "On paper, our lineup looks as deep as it has been in a while, and if some of these kids stay healthy and play to their potential, we should have a consistent offense that can pressure teams."

Too often last season, especially before Teixeira arrived in a July 29 trade from Atlanta, the Angels' lineup tailed off from the sixth spot down. The 2009 Angels appear more balanced, with one superstar (Guerrero), solid secondary power threats in Torii Hunter, Juan Rivera, Abreu, Mike Napoli and, potentially, Kendry Morales, and blazing speed (Chone Figgins, Erick Aybar) in spots.

And fewer easy outs.

"It doesn't matter how good your three-four hitters are if you don't have a deep lineup that spins back to the top of order," Scioscia said. "There were times last year when we were looking to pressure teams every third or fourth inning. We want to make things happen every inning, and we're much closer to that now."

Who would have thought a free-agent pickup two days before the start of camp could make such a difference?

Abreu's price tag plummeted because of the sagging economy and glut of left-handed bats on the market, and the Angels signed him Thursday for $5 million -- a bargain price for a player with a career .300 average and .405 on-base percentage who hit .296 with 20 home runs, 100 runs batted in, 73 walks and 22 stolen bases for the Yankees in 2008.

The Angels have also received encouraging reports from the Dominican Republic on Guerrero, who is said to be in better shape after undergoing knee surgery and should be more agile and durable. The right fielder has gone 11 straight seasons with at least a .300 average and 25 homers.

Hunter (21 homers, 78 RBIs in 2008), Napoli (20 homers in only 78 games) and Rivera, who has been productive when healthy, should provide pop, and Kendrick, if he avoids extended stints on the disabled list, is a solid hitter.

"Any time you get a guy who knocks in 100 runs and scores 100, that's huge piece of the puzzle," Scioscia said, referring to Abreu.

An even bigger piece of the puzzle: pitching.

The Angels' rotation includes four top-notch starters in ace John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders -- both All-Stars in 2008 -- and Jered Weaver.

The bullpen, despite the loss of record-setting closer Francisco Rodriguez, might be even better with new closer Brian Fuentes, who went 1-5 with a career-low 2.73 earned-run average and 30 saves for Colorado last season, veteran setup man Scot Shields, hard-throwing right-handers Jose Arredondo and Kevin Jepsen, and veteran left-hander Darren Oliver.

"It sounds contradictory to say that Frankie is gone and the bullpen is deeper, but that's what we're looking at," Scioscia said. "In Arredondo and Jepsen, we have two young power arms who will have a major impact on the club.

"Add Shields and Fuentes, and we have guys who can get the last six outs. And we have more balance with Oliver and Fuentes from the left side."

Asked if the Angels are good enough to win a World Series, Scioscia didn't waver.

"We feel we are," he said. "If you look at the strength of the club, what will drive any team toward that final goal is going to be how the pitching performs and holds up. We have guys who have pitched deep into seasons and done well, guys who have gone into tough parks and pitched well."

The team's fortunes could swing on Rivera, Kendrick and Morales. If Rivera, who missed most of 2007 because of a broken leg, and Kendrick, limited by hamstring injuries to 92 games last season, remain sound, and Morales hits big league pitching on a consistent basis, the Angels could win 90 to 95 games.

If any of the three suffers a major injury or fails to perform up to expectations, the Angels could be more of an 85-win team that struggles to win a weak division.

"We don't need exceptional years from everyone," Scioscia said, "but any team needs young players to come up and play well. Boston has done a terrific job with that, the Yankees and Rays have. We need our young guys to play to their potential."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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