GM Tony Reagins says his Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could still make a move or two this offseason, noting the team’s lingering need for a fifth starting pitcher and a utility man off the bench.
Like most of what he and his predecessor Bill Stoneman say, this sounds like another half truth.
The Angels do indeed need have a few holes to fill in their lineup. But by now, there are fewer players left to fill those holes in any substantive way. Those who might, like Ben Sheets, have already been dismissed by Reagins.
In all likelihood, the starting 2010 Angels have already been scouted, signed, and allotted parking spaces at the Big A.
The only thing left for Reagins and the rest of the staff to do is put those Angels in order.
For that reason, I humbly present to you, dear reader, my ideal batting order for the 2010 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
3B Maicer Izturis
We’ve only hit the lead-off spot and right off the bat, we’ve got our first controversy.
With the departure of Chone Figgins, it seems most cannot wait to crown Brandon Wood the next Troy Glaus. I, on the other hand, can’t wait for Wood to be bench after he reveals himself to be the next Dallas McPherson.
The sooner manager Mike Scioscia starts Izturis, the better. And it shouldn’t take more than a month or two before Wood’s poor play forces the Angels’ hand.
Those who have read my past work will know I am an ardent anti-Wood activist. He is a strikeout machine with a looping and only a decent glove. His skills, or lack thereof, belong in Salt Lake, not Anaheim.
Izturis, on the other hand, is as steady at the plate as he is in the field. His graceful athleticism will serve him and the Angels just fine at the hot corner, while his careful eye and switch-hitting bat make him an ideal candidate for the lead-off spot.
Make no mistake, whether or not Wood breaks camp as a starter, Izzy will take over the job by summer at the latest.
RF Bobby Abreu
No surprise here. Abreu proved the biggest free agent steal of the decade last season, batting .293 and finishing second on the team with 103 RBI and 30 stolen bases.
A veteran with a little age on him, his first home run didn’t come until almost two months into the season. But when all was said and done, Abreu had smacked 15 big flies out of the two-hole, a bit under his career average, but not so much that you’d notice.
Both his keen ability to provide offense without much power and his left-handed bat in the second spot in the order helped balance the Angels’ lineup and became an invaluable part of their success in 2009.
However, the 35-year-old’s greatest asset turned out to be his ability to mentor younger players like Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, teaching them the finer points of working counts and getting better pitches to hit.
For his efforts, the Angels rewarded Abreu this offseason with a new two-year deal, including a club option for 2012.
CF Torii Hunter
The No. 3 spot in the Angels’ order had been filled by the sizable bat of Vladimir Guerrero for the last five seasons. With him gone, it’s time a new veteran right-hander took his place.
Unlike Big Daddy, Hunter brings power to the lineup but with a calm demeanor and a far more disciplined sense of the strike zone.
Torii’s story last season was one of career highs and crushing lows. The unquestioned MVP of the American League through the first half of the season, he was well on his way to career highs in every major offense category.
But playing the game as hard as he does eventually takes its toll. After two major collisions with outfield walls (in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and San Francisco facing the Giants), Hunter was forced to miss nearly all of July with a strained muscle in his abdomen.
Hunter finished the year with solid numbers across the board, including a career-high .299 batting average, and helped lead the Angels to a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS when he belted a three-run homer in Game 1 halfway up the rock pile in center field.
Some might feel his place in the order should go to a younger or more prolific bat. I say his veteran leadership and consistent offensive abilities make him the perfect choice to bat third in 2010.
Besides, he should see plenty of good pitches batting in front of…
1B Kendry Morales
If Abreu was the best deal to go down for the Angels last year, then Mark Teixeira was the best to fall through.
Tex had a great season for the New York Yankees and was an integral part of their World Series run. But out West, Morales made every Angels fan scratch their heads and ask, “Tex who?”
Although not technically a rookie, Morales went from up-and-coming prospect to legitimate big league star in 2009, when he lead the Angels with 34 home runs, 108 RBI, and finished second to Aybar with a .306 batting average.
The switch-hitting Cuban’s status as an offensive force to be reckoned with was crystallized on Aug. 28, when he lead his squad to a tremendous come-from-behind victory against the Oakland A’s with five base hits, including two home runs, two doubles, and six RBI.
That month, Morales belted 10 homers and drove in an astonishing 33 runs, making himself a real contender for the AL MVP.
He eventually finished fifth in the voting, losing out to Twins catcher Joe Mauer.
Batting clean-up behind Hunter, Morales will be primed to make his first All-Star game—coincidentally being held in Anaheim—and should be the subject of MVP talks for years to come.
DH Hideki Matsui
Following on the heels of Abreu’s success, the Angels took a chance on another 35-year-old power hitter this offseason, signing Matsui to a one-year deal.
Matsui, the World Series MVP for the Yankees in 2009, has been hampered by knee injuries in recent years and is no longer able to play the outfield. As a full-time designated hitter, the Angels hope to keep Godzilla roaring healthy.
In New York last season, he batted a respectable .274 and showed resurgent power, popping 28 homers and driving in 90 runs while playing in 142 games.
Now, his age and his health are all factors that will play a part in determining how much power Matsui ultimately displays for the Angels, but none will have a greater impact than the change of venue.
Matsui is one of the many left-handed hitters who not only benefited from Yankee Stadium’s notoriously short right field porch, but also its ridiculous jet stream that seemed to aid so many balls over the wall in right-center.
By contrast, Angels Stadium is historically more of a pitcher’s park, and its 18-foot wall in right field might limit Matsui’s home run total in 2010.
Be that as it may, though, Matsui is a talented veteran who can still drive the ball, bringing home the table-setters and big bats in front of him, and he is not afraid to work counts or take walks.
LF Juan Rivera
Poor Rivera, his must feel a little like Rodney Dangerfield this offseason: He never gets no respect, no respect at all.
After batting .287 and posting career highs in home runs (25) and RBI (88) in his first year as a starter with the Angels, Rivera has been the subject of multiple trade rumors, most notably with the Atlanta Braves in exchange for starting pitcher Derek Lowe.
Nevertheless, he remains in Anaheim. It would seem the reports of his imminent trade are greatly exaggerated, but the fact that they exist at all is indicative of his status in the Major Leagues.
Rivera is a solid and serviceable player, not a dynamic star like Hunter but not a bust either. He led the team in grounding into double plays with 19—not the kind of statistic players usually want to excel at—but performed admirably in most other categories.
His offensive statistics are neither shocking nor easily dismissed, and he should be able to continue that steady pace of driving in runs from the sixth spot in the order, cleaning up whatever the bats in front of him might miss.
C Mike Napoli
Since his first Major League at-bat against Detroit in 2006, when he left lofted a high fly ball just beyond the reach of Curtis Granderson, Napoli has been a power-hitter.
The problem has been sustaining that power.
It was difficult to know exactly where to place Napoli in this mock lineup. He has enough power to hit higher in the order, but his stunningly inconsistent efforts at the plate force his name down to No. 7.
Napoli can look red hot for weeks on end, driving in runs like he’s playing with a beach ball and a tennis racket. Then suddenly and without warning, all of that talent simply disappears and he is left flailing around like a newborn baby.
Personally, I think his bat is a manic depressive.
Still, Napoli should continue to earn more starts than his light-hitting counterpart Jeff Mathis, who has never finished a season with a batting average higher than .211.
Inconsistently good is better than consistently bad.
For all his highs and lows throughout the year, Nap has produced nearly identical back-to-back seasons with 20 home runs, around 50 RBI, and a batting average just above .270.
If the Angels give him another 110-120 starts, 2010 should be no different.
2B Howard Kendrick
Like Napoli, Kendrick also suffered from a dramatic swing in offensive production in 2009. But unlike the power-hitting catcher, Howie’s inconsistencies were fairly…well, consistent.
Through the first half of the season, Kendrick struggled mightily at the plate and was less than impressive in the field. The same could be said for the rest of the Angels squad.
By June 11, Scioscia had seen enough.
Following a passionate and fiery players-only meeting in which he threatened firings and demotions all around unless the team improved, Sosh sent Kendrick back to the minors to work on his swing.
Whether he actually worked on his swing or Abreu’s lessons finally sunk in—or the sudden demotion simply scared him straight—when he rejoined the Angels nearly a month later, Kendrick was a changed man.
He went on to hit .387 in July, .328 in August, and .391 in September, raising his lowly season average by 60 points to a formidable .291.
It’s tough to know which Howie will show up in 2010. Will we see the talented youngster with the quick bat who can drive balls the opposite direction? Or are we in for another season of injuries and poor performances?
No one can say, and it is for that reason that he remains eighth in the batting order, the final righty in the only streak of batters in my lineup who swing from the same side of the plate.
In the future, Kendrick might be best suited as a No. 2 hitter, or even as a lead-off man. For now though, there are too many questions surrounding his consistency and too many bats in front of him.
SS Erick Aybar
No Angel improved as drastically from one year to the next as Aybar did in 2009.
He reached career highs in every single offensive category, including triples (9), doubles (23), and RBI (54), all while batting a team-leading, career-high .312.
Just like Kendrick, the start to his season was forgettable to say the least. But, through new found patience at the plate—thanks in large part to Abreu’s tutelage—Aybar became a dynamic force in the Angels’ lineup.
Most have the little switch-hitter batting lead-off in 2010, and they may ultimately be proven correct. Scioscia clearly loves having a speedy, versatile player at the top of his lineup who can get on base and create havoc. And, at least to start, Izturis will probably be backing up Wood at third base before he replaces him entirely, so Izzy won’t be in every game.
To my mind, though, it is better to have a player like Izturis to lead off, someone who is smooth as silk with a bat and cooler than the other side of the pillow in pressure.
A better rally starter, you’ll never find.
Aybar, on the other hand, can actually be more exciting than Izzy, but has never been able to maintain that spark.
Even after studying at Abreu U, he might still be more effective and less damaging at the end of the order, where his missteps are more easily hidden and he can still serve as a dual lead-off threat with Izturis hitting behind him, so to speak.
So there you have it, perhaps not the names some of us were hoping to see in the lineup, but in an effective order that should produce runs and cause nightmares for poor fielders and pitchers alike.