Los Angeles Angels 2010 preview

The Angels lost four mainstays while the rest of the division was adding players who figure to improve their new teams. But don’t count out the Angels yet. They still have the division’s deepest rotation, a fast-break offense and manager Mike Scioscia. They also have won three consecutive division titles. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said, "You can make a legitimate case for all four teams." But he knows the Angels remain the team to beat.

The Angels added Joel Pineiro in part to make up for the loss of John Lackey.
The Angels added Joel Pineiro in part to make up for the loss of John Lackey.

Three questions

1. Who will replace Chone Figgins?
The Angels lost Figgins, John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Darren Oliver in free agency. Figgins, their All-Star third baseman, will be the most difficult to replace. Figgins said he was ready to return to L.A. but thought the club had other ideas all along. "Brandon Wood has been in their eyes for a while now," Figgins said. "He’s one of those guys who’ve been in the organization awhile."

Wood will take over Figgins’ position in the field, but Erick Aybar will inherit the more difficult task of replacing Figgins in the leadoff role. Aybar, 26, is a speedy switch hitter like Figgins but strikes out less often. However, Aybar will need to walk more to boost his .353 on-base percentage into the neighborhood of Figgins’ .395. The Angels should give Maicer Izturis opportunities in the top spot, too.

2. Who will replace Lackey?
The Angels wanted no part of awarding their No. 1 starter a five-year deal after he spent time on the disabled list with arm trouble in each of the past two seasons. Instead, they signed 31-year-old righthander Joel Pineiro for two years and a lot less money. Pineiro, heeding the advice of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, relied on a sinker to have his best season (214 innings, 3.49 ERA) in 2009.

Although Pineiro will take Lackey’s spot in the rotation, it is uncertain whether someone will assume his ace status. Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders could become 1 and 1A. Weaver, a first-round pick in 2004, is coming off his best season, having finished in the top 10 in the AL in wins (16), innings (211) and ERA (3.75). Saunders went 16-7 but allowed the second-most homers (29) of any AL starter.

3. Who will replace Guerrero?
Guerrero spent six highly productive seasons in Anaheim, hitting .319 and averaging more than least 28 homers per season. He was limited by injuries in 2009 and the Angels — with a new focus on plate discipline — opted not to bring him back.

Instead, they signed World Series MVP Hideki Matsui, who fits their new, disciplined approach. About all Matsui has in common with Guerrero are declining skills in the outfield. Matsui, 35, is almost eight months older than Guerrero and knee injuries have limited him to DH duty. He still can hit, though. He has a career .370 on-base percentage and blasted 28 homers last season.

Projected lineup
1. SS Erick Aybar: Career bests in ’09: .312 AVG, .353 OBP.
2. RF Bobby Abreu: 96 runs were his fewest since ’98.
3. CF Torii Hunter: .299 AVG, .873 OPS were career bests.
4. 1B Kendry Morales: Led team with 34 HRs, 108 RBIs.
5. DH Hideki Matsui: 28 HRs were most since ’04.
6. LF Juan Rivera: Career bests in ’09: 25 HRs, 88 RBIs.
7. 2B Howie Kendrick: Team-best .358 AVG after break.
8. C Mike Napoli: 20 HRs in platoon with Jeff Mathis.
9. 3B Brandon Wood: .192 AVG in parts of 3 MLB seasons.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Jered Weaver: Surpassed 200 IP for first time in ’09.
2. LHP Joe Saunders: 33 wins over past 2 seasons (2nd in AL).
3. RHP Ervin Santana: 5.00-plus ERA in 2 of past 3 seasons.
4. LHP Scott Kazmir: 1.73 ERA in 6 starts after trade to Angels. 5. RHP Joel Pineiro: Led MLB in fewest walks, most grounders per 9 IP.

Projected closer
LHP Brian Fuentes: Career-high 48 saves in ’09; 3.93 ERA was highest since ’04.

Grades

Offense: A. The addition of Abreu last season resulted in a much more patient approach at the plate. After finishing 11th in the AL with a .330 on-base percentage in 2008, Los Angeles was third last season at .350. The Angels led the AL with a .285 batting average and finished second in runs (883). Expect more of the same this season with the continued development of Morales and Aybar.

Pitching: B. The return to health of Scot Shields and the arrival of Fernando Rodney should go a long way in offsetting Oliver’s loss in the bullpen. Kevin Jepsen also brings plenty of heat in relief. The rotation lacks a proven ace, but it is the deepest in the division.

Bench: B. The Angels want Wood to be the regular at third base so they can use Izturis at second, short and third. They are two deep at catcher, and Reggie Willits provides speed as the fourth outfielder.

Manager: A. There are plenty of reasons why Scioscia is the AL’s longest tenured manager. Two of them: The Angels are as well-trained in the fundamentals as any team in the majors, and his players have no doubt about who is in charge.

Sporting News prediction: The rest of the West is catching up, but the Angels’ advantage in starting pitching will be the difference. They will win their sixth division title in the past seven seasons.

Coming Wednesday: Rangers preview

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

The Angels lost four mainstays while the rest of the division was adding players who figure to improve their new teams. But don’t count out the Angels yet. They still have the division’s deepest rotation, a fast-break offense and manager Mike Scioscia. They also have won three consecutive division titles. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said, "You can make a legitimate case for all four teams." But he knows the Angels remain the team to beat.

The Angels added Joel Pineiro in part to make up for the loss of John Lackey.
The Angels added Joel Pineiro in part to make up for the loss of John Lackey.

Three questions

1. Who will replace Chone Figgins?
The Angels lost Figgins, John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Darren Oliver in free agency. Figgins, their All-Star third baseman, will be the most difficult to replace. Figgins said he was ready to return to L.A. but thought the club had other ideas all along. "Brandon Wood has been in their eyes for a while now," Figgins said. "He’s one of those guys who’ve been in the organization awhile."

Wood will take over Figgins’ position in the field, but Erick Aybar will inherit the more difficult task of replacing Figgins in the leadoff role. Aybar, 26, is a speedy switch hitter like Figgins but strikes out less often. However, Aybar will need to walk more to boost his .353 on-base percentage into the neighborhood of Figgins’ .395. The Angels should give Maicer Izturis opportunities in the top spot, too.

2. Who will replace Lackey?
The Angels wanted no part of awarding their No. 1 starter a five-year deal after he spent time on the disabled list with arm trouble in each of the past two seasons. Instead, they signed 31-year-old righthander Joel Pineiro for two years and a lot less money. Pineiro, heeding the advice of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, relied on a sinker to have his best season (214 innings, 3.49 ERA) in 2009.

Although Pineiro will take Lackey’s spot in the rotation, it is uncertain whether someone will assume his ace status. Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders could become 1 and 1A. Weaver, a first-round pick in 2004, is coming off his best season, having finished in the top 10 in the AL in wins (16), innings (211) and ERA (3.75). Saunders went 16-7 but allowed the second-most homers (29) of any AL starter.

3. Who will replace Guerrero?
Guerrero spent six highly productive seasons in Anaheim, hitting .319 and averaging more than least 28 homers per season. He was limited by injuries in 2009 and the Angels — with a new focus on plate discipline — opted not to bring him back.

Instead, they signed World Series MVP Hideki Matsui, who fits their new, disciplined approach. About all Matsui has in common with Guerrero are declining skills in the outfield. Matsui, 35, is almost eight months older than Guerrero and knee injuries have limited him to DH duty. He still can hit, though. He has a career .370 on-base percentage and blasted 28 homers last season.

Projected lineup
1. SS Erick Aybar: Career bests in ’09: .312 AVG, .353 OBP.
2. RF Bobby Abreu: 96 runs were his fewest since ’98.
3. CF Torii Hunter: .299 AVG, .873 OPS were career bests.
4. 1B Kendry Morales: Led team with 34 HRs, 108 RBIs.
5. DH Hideki Matsui: 28 HRs were most since ’04.
6. LF Juan Rivera: Career bests in ’09: 25 HRs, 88 RBIs.
7. 2B Howie Kendrick: Team-best .358 AVG after break.
8. C Mike Napoli: 20 HRs in platoon with Jeff Mathis.
9. 3B Brandon Wood: .192 AVG in parts of 3 MLB seasons.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Jered Weaver: Surpassed 200 IP for first time in ’09.
2. LHP Joe Saunders: 33 wins over past 2 seasons (2nd in AL).
3. RHP Ervin Santana: 5.00-plus ERA in 2 of past 3 seasons.
4. LHP Scott Kazmir: 1.73 ERA in 6 starts after trade to Angels. 5. RHP Joel Pineiro: Led MLB in fewest walks, most grounders per 9 IP.

Projected closer
LHP Brian Fuentes: Career-high 48 saves in ’09; 3.93 ERA was highest since ’04.

Grades

Offense: A. The addition of Abreu last season resulted in a much more patient approach at the plate. After finishing 11th in the AL with a .330 on-base percentage in 2008, Los Angeles was third last season at .350. The Angels led the AL with a .285 batting average and finished second in runs (883). Expect more of the same this season with the continued development of Morales and Aybar.

Pitching: B. The return to health of Scot Shields and the arrival of Fernando Rodney should go a long way in offsetting Oliver’s loss in the bullpen. Kevin Jepsen also brings plenty of heat in relief. The rotation lacks a proven ace, but it is the deepest in the division.

Bench: B. The Angels want Wood to be the regular at third base so they can use Izturis at second, short and third. They are two deep at catcher, and Reggie Willits provides speed as the fourth outfielder.

Manager: A. There are plenty of reasons why Scioscia is the AL’s longest tenured manager. Two of them: The Angels are as well-trained in the fundamentals as any team in the majors, and his players have no doubt about who is in charge.

Sporting News prediction: The rest of the West is catching up, but the Angels’ advantage in starting pitching will be the difference. They will win their sixth division title in the past seven seasons.

Coming Wednesday: Rangers preview

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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