Deep offense gives Angels confidence
Talented lineup could feature at least 20 homers in six spots
Time heals, and quickly in some cases. Angels manager Mike Scioscia already appears to have gotten past the disappointment of losing first baseman Mark Teixeira to the Yankees in free agency.
"There's been a lot of talk on the offensive side about guys we didn't get, like Teixeira," Scioscia said. "But we're very confident we're going to push it on the offensive side and have a productive lineup. We have guys who have shown what they can do."
Embarking on his 10th season as manager, Sciosica feels the club will surprise critics with a deep, multidimensional offense that could feature at least 20 home runs from as many as six spots in the batting order.
Despite the widespread belief that the club is a loud left-handed bat shy of approaching its Major League-high 100 wins of 2008 -- and with Garret Anderson, Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu available in free agency -- Scioscia and upper management appear content with the cast now in place.
"We are going to continue to look at other opportunities," general manager Tony Reagins said, "but this could be our team."
There is also the possibility they could get into the season and make a move to upgrade the offense, as they did with Teixeira last July.
Switch-hitter Kendry Morales gets first crack at Teixeira's job. In the second half of the 2007 season, given more consistent at-bats than at any time in his brief career, the Cuba-born Morales showed that he has the potential to be a force. He batted .294 with a .479 slugging percentage for the year in 119 at-bats.
"He killed the ball in the Dominican [Republic Winter League], and he's made great strides defensively," Scioscia said of Morales, who batted .404 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 26 games for Gigantes de Cibao.
The physical condition of four valuable members of the cast also should be improved.
Vladimir Guerrero (knee), Mike Napoli (shoulder), Gary Matthews Jr. (knee) and Maicer Izturis (thumb) are all expected to be back, healthy and productive after surgeries. Reggie Willits also should be back in form after an injury-riddled sophomore year.
Matthews' return probably won't come until the season is under way, but Guerrero, Napoli and Izturis are raring to go, judging by the club's reports.
"We have a lot of confidence in not only the nucleus, with veteran leadership from guys like Vladdy, Torii [Hunter] and Chone Figgins emerging, but also in young players who we feel are ready to perform at a high level," Scioscia said.
"You look at our youth, and you see Howie Kendrick, if he stays healthy, ready to fulfill his potential. You see Erick Aybar, Kendry Morales, Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, all young guys who all have tremendous upside.
"We have Juan Rivera back, and we're excited to see what he can do with 500, 600 at-bats. Vlad, Nap and Gary have shown what they can do when they're healthy, and Izzy and Reggie also can help us. We're encouraged about all of them coming back."
Rivera, fully recovered from a broken leg and signed to a three-year deal, could be a pivotal figure along with Morales. Rivera is intent on returning to his 2006 form when he batted .310 with 23 homers and 85 RBIs in 124 games.
In his 2009 Handbook, statistical maven Bill James lends support to Scioscia's optimism with the following projections for the upcoming season:
Guerrero, .314 batting average, 31 homers, 111 RBIs, .536 slugging percentage.
Napoli, .252 average, 31 homers, 85 RBIs, .512 slugging.
Hunter, .268 average, 25 homers, 93 RBIs.
Kendrick, .317 average, 11 homers, 82 RBIs, 154 games.
Figgins, .287 average, .361 on-base percentage, 101 runs, 43 steals, 153 games.
Aybar, .268 average, 143 games.
Izturis, .280 average, 119 games.
Morales, .291 average, 19 homers, 79 RBIs.
Rivera, .281 average, 13 homers, 52 RBIs, 99 games.
Wood, .253, 23 homers, 67 RBI, 123 games.
Matthews, .256 average, 11 homers, 60 runs, 125 games.
Willits, .282 average, .383 on-base percentage.
Robb Quinlan, .281 average.
Rodriguez, .257 average, nine homers, 210 at-bats.
Jeff Mathis, .218 average.
If James' calculations are reasonably accurate, the Angels will, indeed, showcase the lively, productive offense envisioned by Sciosica and Reagins.
"You hear a lot about the [missing] big bat," Reagins said, "but we feel we can get production from a lot of guys throughout the lineup.
"I remember the year [2000, Scioscia's first as manager] when we had three guys with 30 or more homers [Mo Vaughn, Troy Glaus and Anderson] and didn't have a great season [finishing 82-80]. There are a lot of ways to create offense besides having a few guys hitting home runs."
Losing Teixeira and, most likely, Anderson to free agency has made the Angels tilt heavily to the right side offensively. Switch-hitters Figgins, Morales, Aybar, Izturis, Matthews and Willits are the only left-handed bats on the projected roster.
Another switch-hitter, infielder Freddy Sandoval, will bid to crack the roster after a big year at Triple-A Salt Lake, along with Team USA Olympic star Matt Brown at a corner infield spot, Terry Evans in the outfield and Bobby Wilson behind the plate.
Mitigating what would appear to be a vulnerability to right-handed pitching, only Hunter, Mathis, and Willits have delivered notably higher career numbers against lefties.
Kendrick, Morales, Figgins, Izturis, Wood and Rodriguez all have fared better against righties than southpaws. Guerrero, Napoli, Rivera, Matthews and Aybar are fairly neutral, with similar numbers against all pitchers.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.