Free Agency Report: American League, Part IV
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels were the best team in baseball in 2008, reaching 100 wins for the first time in franchise history, but when the games really counted, once again they could not defeat their nemesis, getting eliminated in the postseason by the Boston Red Sox for the third time in the past five years.
I really thought this would be the year the Halos could get past their Boston hump, considering how soundly they dominated the Sox in the regular season, taking eight of nine. However, the defense – traditionally a strength of this club – let it down come playoff time, and it was another fall failure for LA.
The bullpen – led by record-setting closer Francisco Rodriguez – continued to be the backbone of this team, but it’s a relief corps that could have a very different look next season. Where the Angels need to step things up is in their on-base skills. A collective OBP of just .330 ranked 11th of 14 teams in American League. That’s not going to cut it for a contender.
So while the Angels are coming off their finest season, with six free agents – many of whom are vital components of the team – the squad will likely have a very different vibe come 2009.
Garret Anderson, OF: Well, Anderson stayed moderately healthy last season, but his power is on the wane, and he’s never been much of an OBP machine. Clearly, his best days are behind him, and he’s no longer a must-own fantasy outfielder. A Type B free agent (meaning if a team signs him, the Angels get a sandwich pick), Anderson had his option declined by the Halos, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to bring him back at a lower salary. Another possibility is the Cubs (who could use a new right fielder, although Anderson hasn’t manned that position since 2000). I can’t see anyone giving him a long-term deal, but someone will buy his “name” and likely give him more than he’s worth.
Jon Garland, RHP: With free agency looming, Garland picked a lousy time to suffer through his worst season since he was a rookie. His K rate – already awful – has dropped further the past two seasons, making him a joke in 5×5 leagues. Interestingly, he trended far more towards being a groundball pitcher than ever before, but clearly it didn’t help. I’ll give him this – the dude is durable. A Type B free agent, this sinkerballer makes too many mistakes to be considered a difference maker, so I can’t see him going in the first wave of signings. More likely, after the better starting pitchers are off the market, some team will get desperate and reach for Garland. There’s a reason the Angels didn’t include him in their post-season rotation, after all.
Darren Oliver, LHP: Oliver did a good job keeping the ball in the park, and was able to overcome a sharp decline in his K rate by vastly improving his control. He was solid enough to offer value in a deeper AL-only league. Oliver is a Type A free agent, meaning that whoever signs him will surrender their first round pick (depending on how they finished in the standings last season) plus the team losing him will also get a supplemental first rounder. Detroit, a bullpen disaster last season, has already contacted him, as it will be seeking inexpensive solutions to help shore up its relief corps. However, don’t bet against Oliver re-signing with the Angels; I doubt LA wants to lose both its top righty (K-Rod) and lefty relievers.
Juan Rivera, OF: Rivera has never really been the same since busting his leg a couple of offseasons ago, although his power started to re-emerge in the second half (nine homers in 170 at bats). He could still be a productive player given the right situation, but I’m not sold on Rivera as a legitimate full timer any more. However, there’s talk that if defending World Champion Philadelphia can’t re-sign Pat Burrell, it will peg Rivera as his replacement. I just can’t imagine Rivera coming anywhere near Burrell’s offensive numbers. Another option is the Mets, who would like to add some corner OF depth.
Francisco Rodriguez, RHP: How can you argue with the bottom line results, including a record 62 saves and a sterling 2.24 ERA? However, K-Rod’s K/9 has dropped four straight years, his command has slipped the past two, and his BAA has steadily risen since his rookie year, all of which concerns me. Still, there’s a reason why he’s an AL MVP candidate and will get a serious boatload of cash this winter. Rodriguez’s agent has said that he’s had calls from four teams so far, but we know that he won’t be going back to the Angels after owner Arte Moreno virtually slammed that door shut. Assumedly, the Mets are one of those teams, as they need to replace Billy Wagner, who will miss the entire season after Tommy John surgery. There’s a report that K-Rod, a Type A free agent, has already traveled to New York to meet with Met GM Omar Minaya, but both parties have denied this rumour.
Mark Teixeira, 1B: After a mid-season trade sent him to the Angels, Teixeira played the best ball of his career, putting up a .358/.449/.632 line in 54 games with 39 runs and 43 RBI – perfect timing for him to cash in with a huge deal. Many have assumed that the BoSox plan to go hot and heavy after Tex, but so far, they are remaining tight lipped about it. Of course, Boston would then probably have to deal Mike Lowell to make room so it could shift Kevin Youkilis over to third, where he played so well in the playoffs. The Yanks are another team that has considered Teixeira, but are now said to be more interested in improving their rotation, so they won’t be in there to help push the bidding up. The Mets are also not in the running here, and Toronto – while it needs a monster bat – can’t pony up that kind of cash, especially considering Teixeria is represented by Scott Boras, the notorious cash gouger. The Angels will probably make a play to keep him, and if they can, that may help them entice C.C. Sabathia to Anaheim as well. One surprise suitor might be the Washington Nationals, who are talking about spending some real cash this winter. They’d have to be considered a real darkhorse here, however.
Okay, so we’re now halfway through the American League. Woo hoo! Next up, we’ll take a look at the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees.