WHEN TORII HUNTERfiled for free agency in October, he had no idea which team would sign him. ButHunter thought he knew which team would not come after him. "TheAngels," he says. "There was no chance they would call me. They alreadyhad way too many outfielders."
If the Angelsenjoyed a surplus before, they have an embarrassment of talented outfieldersnow: Hunter, a seven-time Gold Glove winner whom they signed to a five-year,$90¬†million contract; Gary Matthews¬†Jr., whom they signed to afive-year, $50¬†million deal in 2006; Garret Anderson, one of the mostaccomplished hitters in franchise history; Vladimir Guerrero, one of the game'smost dangerous hitters; Reggie Willits, who at the midpoint of last season wasan AL Rookie of the Year candidate; and Juan Rivera, who two years ago was theteam's second-best hitter. Los Angeles could fill two starting outfields.
Instead, theywill put Hunter in center and have everyone else make room for him. Guerrero,Anderson and Matthews¬†Jr. will rotate at the corner spots, with the oddman out serving as designated hitter. Willits could be the most overqualifiedpinch runner in the league, Rivera the most overqualified pinch hitter. "Iworry about it," says Rivera, who also worked out at first base in springtraining. "They've got to do something."
Then again,judging by last fall, they need the insurance. On Sept. 20 the Angels had thebest record in the majors, but there were signs of trouble everywhere. Matthewssuffered from patellar tendinitis in his left knee, which would keep him offthe playoff roster. Guerrero was hampered by an inflamed right triceps.Anderson came down with a nasty infection in his right eye. Rivera was stillcoming back from a broken leg, Willits from a two-month slump. L.A. was sweptby the Red Sox in the divisional series, scoring four runs and batting acollective .192.
March 30, 2008
"To play aswell as we did, as long as we did, and then not be able to do it in theplayoffs--it was really hard," says Matthews, who as a free agent signedwith the Angels thinking he would be the starting centerfielder for severalyears.
The Rangers,Royals and White Sox went after Hunter, enamored of his speed and grace in thefield. The Angels, who ranked second in the AL in stolen bases in 2007 andboasted a solid outfield defense, appeared a less likely suitor. However, LosAngeles--which was particularly adept at putting balls into play (fourth-loweststrikeout total in the AL) but not out of the ballpark (tied for third-lowesthome run total)--was intrigued by Hunter's power, which has held up very wellinto his 30s. The last two seasons Hunter, 32, averaged 30¬†homers and103¬†RBIs. Those numbers are almost certain to slip over the back half ofHunter's contract; for now, though, he provides the middle-of-the-lineup threatneeded to thump it out with the AL's other elite teams.
In March 2000 theAngels had a similarly crowded outfield that included Anderson, Jim Edmonds,Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon. Then, as now, everyone wanted to play and no onewanted to be the designated hitter. Ten days before the start of the season theclub shipped Edmonds to St. Louis, sparing itself a lot of uncomfortabledecisions.
Anybody who needsa centerfielder should call the Angels--again. Although Hunter and Matthews saythey can coexist, it is hard for born-and-bred centerfielders to defer. Theyare taught that every ball is theirs. Three years ago the Mets signed CarlosBeltran to play centerfield and moved Mike Cameron, who had won two Gold Glovesat that position, to right. It wasn't a particularly successful experiment, onethat came to a gory end when Beltran and Cameron had a head-to-head collisionin San Diego that broke facial bones in both players.
The Angels shouldboast one of the best outfields in baseball, and certainly the deepest,provided they keep out of each other's way.--Lee Jenkins
CONSIDER THIS amodest proposal ...
The Angels willneed to be patient with shortstop Brandon Wood, 23, who's struck out in morethan 27% of his professional at bats. He's the sort of prospect who couldsuffer if he's yanked in and out of the lineup, because batters with longswings, like Wood's, are particularly vulnerable to slumps when they don't getconsistent playing time. But rather than getting Wood (left) that playing timein Triple A, where he'll start the season, the Angels should commit to him asthe big league starter. The club has one of the softer schedules in baseball,which allows a wider berth for experimentation. Woods's power is undeniable(he's averaged 30 home runs over his last three seasons in the minors), and heoffers more upside than the light-hitting Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis as theAngels gear up for the stiffer competition they will face in October.
Combined wins ofAngels starters Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey, tied for the second-highesttotal by two teammates in 2007, after the Indians' C.C. Sabathia and FaustoCarmona (38). The Los Angeles duo won't match that total in '08, however,because both will start the season on the DL. Escobar has a sore right shoulderthat will sideline him for four to six weeks, and Lackey will miss up to eightweeks with a strained right triceps.
PROJECTED ROSTERWITH 2007 STATISTICS
MANAGER MIKESCIOSCIA NINTH SEASONWITH LOS¬†ANGELES
|GARY MATTHEWS JR.||LF|
|TORII HUNTER (New Aquisition)||¬†||CF|
|RH||Jon Garland (New Aquisition)||42||10||13||4.2||1.32||4.23|
New acquisitionB-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plushits per inning pitched
PVR: Player ValueRanking (explanation on page 62)
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EXCERPTED FROM SI
JUNE 13, 1983
CAREW IS a steadfast, hit-'em-where-they-ain'tdisciple in an era that rewards the long ball, patiently lining his artisticlittle shots to all fields, only occasionally muscling up for a home¬†run.When asked to describe Carew's hitting, Gene Mauch, his manager both inMinnesota and California, once remarked with rare humility, "It would bepresumptuous of me to describe what an artist does. It would be like asking anart student how Michelangelo paints." --Ron Fimrite
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