Spring Postcard: Angels still need an ace to guide them
The last image that L.A. fans will have of
That's all very nice. But now the Angels will enter 2010 with five starters (
Not only because Figgins was the offense's lead-off-hitting sparkplug -- he ranked second in the AL in 2009 with 114 runs scored, first with 109 walks and third with 42 stolen bases -- but because he'll now be plying his trade with the arch-rival Mariners, whom the Angels will play 19 times. "You definitely have to keep your focus forward," says Scioscia, "and focus on filling the voids that are left when prominent guys leave your team." The Angels have successfully sustained free agent losses to their offense before --
"I'm going to tell you: the Angels, they will be good," said the Mariners'
Still, says Hunter, "The other teams in our division definitely look better. But we won the last couple years, and for me, the last time I checked we still have the title. It's premature to say we're going to lose. That's just a projection." The Angels remain one of the most admired, best-managed and best-run organizations in the majors, and even after enduring an annus horribilis in 2009, in which several key players (Lackey, Hunter, pitcher
That a team as fiscally careful as the Angels would give a two-year, $16 million free-agent contract -- the eighth largest of the off-season, in terms of total monetary value -- to a 31-year-old pitcher with a 87-79 record and a 4.39 ERA might seem to be a head-scratcher. But Pineiro was simply not the same pitcher in '09 as he was for the first nine seasons of his career. At the behest of renowned Cardinals pitching coach
Can he sustain that success on a new team, in a new league, and, perhaps most crucially, without Duncan's daily tutelage and the sure-handed catching of
Of course, Wood could have filled this spot in 2006 ... and 2007, 2008 and 2009. After he put up one of the more extraordinary seasons in minor league history in 2005, when he hit .321 with 43 home runs and 115 RBI at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga,
The departure of Figgins, though, means that Wood should finally have a full-time major league gig, at third base. The Angels aren't expecting him to put up offensive numbers anywhere near those of his '05 campaign, but they are counting on the former shortstop to play an elite hot corner. "We think he has the potential to be a Gold Glove-type third baseman," says Reagins. Hunter predicts that Wood will hit .260, with 20 homers and 70 RBI, and that for Wood would represent a fine -- if belated -- start.
On the heels of his World Series MVP swan song with the Yankees, the Angels signed the 35-year-old Matsui to a one-year, $6.5 million deal to fill the hole in their lineup left by
The 34-year-old Sheields is about to embark on his 10th season as an Angel, making him the club's longest-tenured member. He also might be its most quietly valuable. Shields was hampered by a partially torn left patellar tendon at the start of the year -- "My knee hurt every time I landed on it," he says -- and pitched his last game on May 26, before undergoing surgery in mid-June. It's no coincidence that the Angels' bullpen, traditionally one of the league's best, faltered last season (its 4.49 ERA in `09 ranked it 23rd in the majors, only the second time in the decade it finished out of the top ten) without his steady presence. Now, though, Shields (career ERA: 3.03) expects to be fully recovered by opening day, and he'll return to anchor a bullpen that will also feature free-agent signing
Scioscia, who expects more from his catchers that perhaps any other manager, intends to once again use