If Orlando Cabrera should forget where the baseball world has left him after a whirlwind 12 months, it would be perfectly understandable. In that span he has been a member of three teams, been honored by two presidents and signed a $32 million contract with a club that would baffle even Rand McNally: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But the shortstop need only check the back of his spikes, which feature an embroidered O on the left shoe and a C on the right, for a reminder of his new locale.
Cabrera is no fan of the Fox hit television show The O.C., but he immediately fell into the Orange County groove of the Angels' clubhouse, where rightfielder Vladimir Guerrero, his good friend from their days in Montreal, lockers next to him and manager Mike Scioscia maintains a loose but professional tone.
Scioscia holds team meetings before each spring training workout, though they have become known more for their levity than their gravity. He once allowed an ostrich to be brought into the room. This year he had a piano wheeled into the clubhouse, whereupon nonroster outfielder Chris Prieto displayed his considerable musical range.
"I love it here," says Cabrera. "People expect to win, but instead of looking at the season or a series, they look at it game by game. That's what the Red Sox did."
Cabrera was hitting .246 with the Expos in the walk year of his contract when Boston acquired him at the July 31 trade deadline in a four-team deal that sent shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs. With Cabrera in the lineup the Red Sox went 44--17 and won their first world title in 86 years. When Cabrera returned to his hometown of Cartagena, Colombia, he was surprised at the airport by hundreds of fans who organized a parade to the mayor's home for a reception. He later met with President Bush and Colombian president Alvaro Uribe when Bush visited the South American country.
Cabrera, who hit .294 with Boston, parlayed the late-season run and the postseason visibility into a four-year contract with the Angels, who were looking to replace the gritty but limited David Eckstein. Says Scioscia, "Orlando loves the game and everything about it. He loves the practice, loves the work. You can see why he's such a terrific shortstop."
Boston replaced Cabrera with fellow Colombian Edgar Renteria, who was signed to his first pro contract, with the Marlins in 1991, by Cabrera's late father, Jolbert. "Edgar may be more popular than I am in Colombia," says Cabrera of the former Cardinals shortstop. "In Montreal we didn't have a TV contract. But when I went to Boston, people in Colombia got to see me play every day."
Cabrera could very well find himself getting more international television exposure in October. The Angels are unconventionally good--their hitters don't walk, their pitching staff is filled with righthanders, and their rotation is underwhelming--but last year when they won the AL West, it all worked.
Anaheim has the most aggressive offense in baseball, with a lineup packed with powerful free swingers such as Guerrero, leftfielder Garret Anderson and centerfielder Steve Finley. They are just as aggressive on the base paths. Only Colorado advanced from first to third more often than the Angels, and no club stole more bases.
A power-throwing bullpen, which has had the league's best ERA three years running, compensates for the ordinary rotation. But for the first time in nine years Troy Percival will not be the team's closer. The Angels allowed him to leave as a free agent so Francisco Rodriguez, 23, could step into the role. As a setup man last year K-Rod set the franchise record for strikeouts by a reliever (123), led the league in strikeouts per nine innings (13.2) and finished off hitters with an uncommon ruthlessness. Opponents were 16 for 186 (.086) with 123 strikeouts in all two-strike counts, including 1 for 73 (.014) at 0 and 2.
Still, Scioscia needs Brendan Donnelly, Scot Shields and Esteban Yan (all righthanders, of course) to pick up the crucial seventh- and eighth-inning outs that Rodriguez regularly secured last year. If they do, beating out the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, as much of a mouthful as they are, will be much easier said than done. --Tom Verducci
After earning two Gold Gloves as an outfielder, Darin Erstad won one as a first baseman last season. He is the only player to win the award as an infielder and an outfielder.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Angels
THEY SHOULDN'T have any problem scoring runs, but there's a huge question mark at third base. Dallas McPherson is their guy for the future, but he's got a long, loopy swing, and I'm not sold on him. Defensively, both he and Robb Quinlan scare me.... Garret Anderson is going to have a big year. He's in good health, and moving from centerfield to left has made him more relaxed. Steve Finley is like the Energizer Bunny--he keeps going and going. He's a streaky guy, though--can he keep up the success he had last year? With Anderson, Finley and Vlad Guerrero, I'd challenge you to find a better outfield.... The bullpen is solid. Frankie Rodriguez is in midseason form and making hitters look silly out there. Scot Shields should be a very good setup man.... Jarrod Washburn has been pitching well this spring and has looked confident and aggressive. Bartolo Colon always looks like he's out of shape, and maybe it's his weight that makes endurance an issue with him. You wonder how he can hold up over the course of a season.... If this team stays healthy, there's no doubt that they should win the division.
projected roster with 2004 statistics
1st in AL West
sixth season with the franchise
C B. Molina
STEVE FINLEY [New acquisition]
ORLANDO CABRERA [New acquisition]
DALLAS MCPHERSON (R)
JUAN RIVERA [New acquisition]
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)