2005 MLB Baseball AL WEST Preview
American League West
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
CHANGES THAT FIT: Getting veteran Steve Finley to sign a two-year deal could be a stroke of genius. Finley is a Gold Glove center fielder who allows LF Garret Anderson to return to the position he’s most comfortable in. Finley also is willing to play Mike Scioscia’s brand of situational offense and will provide the pop the team lost when it traded Jose Guillen. RHP Paul Byrd will step in and give the Angels stability on the back end of the starting rotation that it didn’t have with RHP Aaron Sele or RHP Ramon Ortiz last year. Byrd works quickly and is pitch-efficient, something the other Angels starters need to observe and try to emulate.
CHANGE THAT DOESN’T FIT: Letting closer Troy Percival and 3B Troy Glaus walk to free agency were huge gambles that might not pay off the way the Angels expect them to. RHP Francisco Rodriguez has the stuff to be a great closer, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the maturity or mound smarts of Percival. The Angels might have to wait out his growing pains, which is something that could hurt them from time to time in crucial situations. The same goes for new 3B Dallas McPherson, who has the potential to be a slugger like Glaus but is a defensive project and strikes out too much.
TO-DO LIST: The Angels need to take spring training to make sure RHP Bartolo Colon is in better condition than he was last year, when he staggered out of the gate and cost the team game after game while he was finding his old form. The Angels also need to firm up their designated hitter role. They can choose between Robb Quinlan, Juan Rivera and perhaps even switch-hitting wild card Kendry Morales for the job, but they’d prefer to have it settled for opening day
Expect RHP Joe Blanton and LHP Dan Meyer to be a part of Oakland’s starting rotation this year, but don’t expect to see both of them in the big leagues right away. The A’s have a cost-saving history of keeping their top prospects in the minors early in the season to prevent their service-time clocks from starting. In short, it extends the time the team controls a player before the arbitration stage of his career kicks in.
Manager Ken Macha and his staff will put an emphasis on bat control this spring, particularly with two strikes, in hopes of putting more runners in motion.
If OFs Charles Thomas and Bobby Kielty have big springs, the A’s could move Eric Byrnes and his $2 million salary; Thomas and Kielty will make slightly more than half of that combined, and G.M. Billy Beane likes to have some extra cash on hand for the trade deadline.
The A’s of recent vintage have been short on righthanded power, and the departure of Jermaine Dye puts this year’s club at a particular disadvantage. That’s good news for Keith Ginter, who hit 19 homers in 113 games with the Brewers last season. Ginter will battle Mark Ellis for the starting job at second base, but Ellis missed all of 2004 with a shoulder injury, and the A’s are hoping Ginter can develop into a middle-of-the-order threat from the right side.
The time has come for young catcher Miguel Olivo to take his stance behind home plate and assume command of the pitching staff. Olivo spent much of the offseason working with minor league catching coach Roger Hansen, and the results of their sessions in Arizona and Seattle could show up as early as the Cactus League season. Virtually everyone in the organization believes Olivo has the potential to become an All-Star catcher. It’s now up to Olivo to show that the front office isn’t dealing in blind faith.
Lefthanded closer Eddie Guardado has been given a clean bill of health for spring training, but with a small tear in his left rotator cuff, new manager Mike Hargrove will err on the side of caution this spring. It is unlikely that Guardado will pitch three consecutive games, something he would do at least once leading into the regular season.
There will be nine pitchers competing for five starting rotation spots this spring, and none of them won more than nine games at the MLB level last season. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the competition could be furious. Among the goals Hargrove has this spring, he said putting together a solid rotation is one of the top priorities. Righthander Gil Meche, a former first-round draft choice, has the kind of stuff to be No. 1 on the staff, and his confidence is high following a superb second half last season. Ryan Franklin, another righthander, could become a big winner with some offensive support. And righthander Joel Pineiro is a star waiting to happen.
The offseason signing of veteran catcher Sandy Alomar gives the Rangers improved depth at a demanding position. With Rod Barajas, Alomar and Gerald Laird cast as the top three catchers in the organization, Texas won’t be in a vulnerable spot offensively if one of the catchers gets injured. Last year, when Laird missed significant time because of a thumb injury, Texas had to go with light-hitting Ken Huckaby as the No. 2 catcher.
Rangers’ pitchers should take comfort in the notion that not many baserunners will try to go first-to-third or second to home on hits to right field, thanks to Richard Hidalgo’s plus arm. That could inspire an aggressive brand of pitching.
The Rangers have many questions regarding the starting rotation. Kenny Rogers and Ryan Drese worked over 200 innings last year, but nobody else on the staff reached 105 innings. Veteran Pedro Astacio, who has been signed to an incentive-laden contract, could be a difference maker if he stays healthy and shows the form that once made him a standout for the Colorado Rockies. The Rangers also need to see a significant return on the free agent investment they made in Chan Ho Park following the 2001 season. If Astacio and Park perform well to go with Rogers and Drese, the Rangers would have the makings of a solid rotation. If not, they could be in for another trial-and-error approach with regards to the starting rotation.