Happy Anniversary, Hammerin’ Hank Aaron – and other stuff…

The Rockies are going to play it safe with Troy Tulowitzki.  Tulo homered among three hits, made two great plays at short – and then left the game to protect a frail groin and deal with tightness in his leg.  [MLB]

It was a rough day in Tampa.  Ray starter Matt Moore left the game with an injury to his left elbow.  Later, Rays reliever Heath Bell drilled Royals infielder Omar Infante in the jaw with a pitch.  Infante left the game with a possible concussion and will have his jaw tested for a possible fracture.  [MLB/SI]

Tigers pitcher Evan Reed is wanted for questioning and likely will face a sexual assault complaint when the Tigers return to Detroit.  [SI]

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis is scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee for a meniscus tear.  He injured himself running the bases on Saturday.  It’s the second such surgery on the same knee in two years.  [SI]

Yankees closer David Robertson likely heads to the DL after straining a groin, hopefully his own, in an outing against Toronto.  An MRI revealed a grade one strain.  [ESPN]

Hurry Back!

KC placed reliever Tim Collins on the DL with a left elbow strain, and pitcher Francisley Bueno on the DL with a sprained middle finger.  Joining the roster are lefty Donnie Joseph and Michael Mariot.

Minnesota placed infielder Jason Bartlett on the DL with a sprained ankle.  The Twins recalled C Chris Herrmann to take Bartlett’s spot on the roster.

Texas placed starter Joe Saunders on the DL with a bruised left ankle.  Texas brings back RHP Daniel McCutchen.

Welcome Back!

Rockies pitcher Boone Logan, Oakland pitcher Ryan Cook, and Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco returned from the DL.

That Didn’t Last Long…

Boston sent Brock Holt back to the minors after having signed Ryan Roberts to a contract.

Transactions:

The Yankees worked out a trade that sends Eduardo Nunez to Minnesota for pitcher Miguel Sulbaran.

Cleveland traded pitcher Preston Guilmet to Baltimore for infielder Torsten Boss.

Baseball 365:

Arrivals:

(1859) Lady Baldwin

Had a short career in the 1880s, but for a couple of years was a very good lefty pitcher.  His nickname, Lady, came about because of his overly gentlemanly ways and his frequently demonstrating nervousness and fear in public situations.

(1915) Kirby Higbe

(1943) John Hiller

(1946) Jim “Catfish” Hunter

Five World Series teams, and the ace of the great As teams of the early 1970s.  Didn’t mess around, threw strikes, and got the job done.

(1954) Gary Carter

Like Hunter, left us way too soon.  Great catcher, always looked like he was having fun.

(1979) Jeremy Guthrie

(1983) Chris Ianetta

(1986) King Felix Hernandez, Carlos Santana

(1987) Yonder Alonso

Departures:

(1978) Former Commissioner Ford Frick

(2005) Eddie Miksis

Transactions:

(1963) The Tigers sign Denny McClain, who had been placed on waivers by the White Sox.

Events:

(1922) According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Cardinals debuted their new uniform, which includes two birds on a bat with the word Cardinals across the front in a pre-season exhibition game against the Browns.

(1969) Opening Day for four expansion teams – all winners.  Kansas City, Montreal, Seattle, and San Diego all open their first seasons happily…

(1974) Hank Aaron hits his 715th homer, passing Babe Ruth, off of Al Dowling in Atlanta. [MLB]

(1994) Kent Mercker fires a no-hitter as Atlanta tops the Dodgers.  It was Mercker’s first complete game.

Can you make a competitive team with your pick of the remaining free agents?

I was flipping through the list of remaining free agents (as of 1/16/2012) and tried to field the best team possible with those players still available.  Here’s what you can do…

Catcher:

The best hitting catcher is probably Ramon Castro, who I see as a DH but can catch some.  You have a couple of receivers with good defensive skills but a limited offensive outlook (Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Varitek) and a couple of catchers who have recently been regulars (Chris Snyder, Ronny Paulino).  If you took Castro and Rodriguez, at least you’d have someone who could work with the pitchers and throw, and you’d have a decent enough backup who could help put a few runs on the board.

First Baseman:

With Prince Fielder still available, you have the centerpiece of an offense – but you still have some competent backups.  Casey Kotchman seems to have found his hitting stroke, and Carlos Pena could help in a platoon role (can’t hit lefties, though).  If you weren’t willing to pony up $20 million per year for Fielder, a platoon of Pena and Derrek Lee might give you depth and a solid platoon.

Second Baseman:

Not a lot to choose from here…  The best player is probably Carlos Guillen, but he’s only going to play 40 games (not to be mean here, but his injury history is becoming problematic).  That leaves you with someone who can, at best, not embarrass you with the glove – Jeff Keppinger, for example – and even play a couple of positions since you may need some flexibility.

Third Baseman:

If you thought the pickings were thin at second, it’s even thinner at third base now.  Casey Blake has had a couple of good years, and Wilson Betemit can swing the bat.  After that, it’s guys who used to be able to play some (Eric Chavez, Alex Cora, Omar Vizquel).

Shortstop:

Three guys who can’t really cover the position anymore – Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and Miguel Tejada.  The best overall option is probably Cabrera – or letting him play second and moving Keppinger over to play short.

Outfielders:

There are still a few players here who could contribute, but most of these guys are past prime players and few have the wheels to cover center.  However, Johnny Damon could still play left, Cody Ross can play right or center (though he’s running out of years he’ll be able to cover center).  Kosuke Fukudome is a fantastic right fielder and can still bat leadoff.  Behind that you have a couple of guys who could be good fourth outfielders and pinch hitting types – Jonny Gomes, Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre.  If you needed a defensive guy, Joey Gathright is there.  And, if you want to take a real chance, you could go for Yoenis Cespedes.

A lineup as listed below would score some runs, and probably fight the defense to a draw.

Fukudome – RF
Damon – LF
Guillen – 2B
Fielder – 1B
Castro – C
Ross – CF
Blake – 3B
Keppinger – SS
(Pitcher – assuming a National League team)

Starting Pitchers:

A couple recent signings has killed off much of the top remaining pitchers, but you still have a few guys who can win games.  I see a rotation that includes the following as having some potential:

Roy Oswalt
Edwin Jackson
Jon Garland
Joe Saunders
Livan Hernandez

And I’d give a sixth spot to Rich Harden – pitch him until something breaks (which it will).  Or, you could take Harden’s stuff and make a closer out of him.  Your emergency arm might be Kevin Millwood – I just don’t know if he has one more year left.  I’d stash him in AAA until Rich Harden breaks down…  The staff is really missing an ace, but you have two guys who can win at the top and three guys who can give you 650 innings at the bottom, which helps the bullpen.

Relievers:

The signing of Ryan Madson takes away the best available closer, but you can do a bullpen by committee and hope someone takes charge.  I see the top six arms as follows:

Michael Gonzalez
Danys Baez
Francisco Cordero
Juan Cruz
Brad Lidge
Arthur Rhodes

Out of that list, you can give Lidge the last inning (if he’s healthy) and mix and match the rest to be reasonably effective.

I haven’t done the math on this, but a team with this roster could possibly make a run at 85 wins.

Yankees – Phillies on Wednesday as Angels Collapse…

It was over within minutes of the first gaffe, a baserunning blunder by Vlad Guerrero where he got caught off of first base on a shallow fly to right field.  Suddenly, Joe Saunders couldn’t get the same strike calls as Andy Pettitte – who really was great, by the way – and a few walks led to a Johnny Damon liner that put the Yankees ahead for good.  However, I still thought the Angels had a chance with Mariano Rivera out there for a six out save.  Los Angeles extended Mariano in the eighth inning and got a run to cut the lead to 3 – 2.  If the Angels and Scott Kazmir could have gotten a very quick 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the eighth, I would have bet on the Angels to force a game seven.  Instead, two errors on consecutive bunts finished off whatever life was in the Angels.  Rivera, now rested, easily dispatched three batters in the ninth and the Yankees are heading to the World Series.

Tomorrow or Wednesday, we’ll take a few minutes to break it down – but long and short, the two best teams in each league are meeting to decide it all.  And that’s cool.  To make the Indians feel worse, it’ll be Cliff Lee against C.C. Sabathia in the opener on Wednesday night…

Mike Scioscia was generally complimentary of the Yankees, but he did bag MLB for catering to Fox TV wishes and adding a number of off days between the end of the season and the playoffs, between each round of the playoffs, and even adding off days within the playoffs.  He’s right, you know.  The Yankees and Angels, after playing 162 games in 180 days during the regular season, only played eight games in the last 20.  Suddenly the fall classic is forced into playing World Series games in November.  [ESPN]

Other news…

Steve Phillips didn’t survive his latest sex scandal and now will have to hope for a book deal after he completes a recovery program at a treatment facility for an undisclosed problem.  ESPN fired the Baseball Tonight analyst because his reputation was “irreparably damaged.”  [ESPN]

Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves are discussing a three-year deal that would replace his one-year $12 million option for 2010.  Hudson looked good following Tommy John surgery and is potentially a free agent.  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday!

Two very patient hitters of the 70s and 80s celebrate today – Toby Harrah (1948) ad Mike Hargrove (1949).  Others celebrating include:  Frank Selee (1859), William (Kid) Gleason (1866), Lee Tannehill (1880), Harry Camnitz (1884), Snuffy Stirnweis (1918), Elio Chacon (1936), Steve Rogers (1949), Wayne Garland (1950), Mark Sweeney (1969), and Francisco Liriano (1983)

Yankees – Angels Game Six Tonight – and Other News…

On the hill tonight?  Joe Saunders and Andy Pettitte, one a relative newcomer to the big stage facing one who has not only been here before, but has a full season’s worth of postseason appearances for New York (and, in case you had forgotten, Houston in 2005).

Heading into 2009’s postseason, Pettitte made 35 starts, good for 218.1 innings and a 14 – 9 record.  A lot of starters would LOVE a season like that – and Andy Pettitte has done that in the PLAYOFFS and WORLD SERIES, against good and great teams in big moments on the biggest stage. That’s flat out impressive.

One day we’ll have to see if Pettitte deserves to be considered as one of the all-time greats, or just a pretty good pitcher who has happened to be in the right place for his career.  If he had been drafted by, say, the Texas Rangers, would he have been this revered?  Even if he did use HGH…  For two days.

Meanwhile, MLB announced that for the first time in more than a dozen years, only experienced umpires will work the World Series…  You know, some of the most experienced umps have been the ones blowing calls in the playoffs now.  [FoxSports]

The Best Team Money Can Buy…

The Yankees spent a lot of money on the team, which has yet to show any cracks in the armor.  They also spent a lot of money (much of it public funds) on the new stadium – which apparently DOES have cracks in some of the ramps.  A spokesperson says that the cracks are superficial, but investigations into the company who designed the concrete have revealed that some of the tests that were supposed to have been done during the construction process either failed or were not done.  [FoxSports]

Managerial Carousel

Cleveland is taking a chance that Manny Acta’s poor managerial record is due to his spending time in Washington.  Acta gets a three-year managerial contract with an option in 2013.  Let’s hope for the Indians’ sake that Cleveland can get healthy and compete in the AL Central the way they should have the last three years.  (Meanwhile, former Indians aces may face each other in game one of the World Series.  Ugh.)  The Indians like the way Acta helped bring along some of the young talent when with the Nationals.   I would rather have had Don Mattingly.  [ESPN]

Those sticking their fingers in the wind and making pronouncements suggest that Tony LaRussa will sign another two-year deal to remain at the helm of the Cardinals.  LaRussa is three years away from passing John McGraw for second on the all-time managerial win list.  [MLB]

I don’t know where to file this, so I’ll add it to the managerial carousel notes…  Frank McCourt fired his (soon to be ex) wife, Jamie, who was an executive with the Dodgers.  Management claims that the family squabble at the top is not affecting the team – which, of course, isn’t playing but will soon have to sign free agents and get other players under contract and all that stuff.  [FoxSports]

Prospects

Jarrod Parker is scheduled for Tommy John surgery, which means the Arizona Diamondbacks lose someone who looked like a contender for a fourth or fifth rotation slot.   The ninth pick of the 2007 draft, Parker showed signs of progress in moving from A (Visalia) to AA (Mobile), and has a 17 – 11 minor league record with 212 Ks in 215 innings and good control (3:1 K/W ratio).

An 18-year-old Japanese kid with a 96 MPH fastball is going to stay in Japan, though he was drawing interest from this side of the Pacific.  Yusei Kikuchi may well be the top pick in the Japanese draft.  [MLB]

Detroit Tigers 2B prospect, Scott Sizemore, broke his ankle in an Arizona Fall League game.  Sizemore had planted his foot when turning a doubleplay and a runner slid into him.  An MRI hopes to show that the injury is a simple break and that Sizemore will be ready by spring training.  If Placido Polanco is allowed to leave, Sizemore likely becomes the second sacker for Detroit in 2010.  [FreePress]

The Mets announced that a member of their Venezuelan program, 18-year-old Rafael Castro, died of an apparent heart attack.  Castro had been with their academy for two years as a pitcher having been signed out of his native Columbia.  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday!

58 years ago, he was the hero of the 1951 NL Playoff between the Giants and Dodgers.  Today, Bobby Thomson turns 86.  A hero for this World Series, maybe, Pedro Martinez turns 38 today.

Others being remembered with cake and cards include: Dirty Jack Doyle (1869) and Weldon Henley (1880), who were teammates of Rube Waddell many moons ago.  Doyle was with the 1901 Cubs, while Henley was with the early Philadelphia A’s.   Smokey Joe Wood was born on this day in 1889, Lee MacPhail was born on this day in 1917, joining Roy Hartsfield (1925), Al Cowens (1951), Rowland Office and Roy Smalley (1952), Tito Landrum (1954), Danny Darwin (1955), Kelly Downs (1960), Mike Harkey (1966), and Joe Nelson (1974) on the list.

Every now and then I would see Mike Harkey working with Marlins pitchers at spring training and I would remember him with the Cubs and how his career got away from him.  He was a winner – but his body wouldn’t support it.

Can Improv Theater Save Matt Murton? Calling Todd Stashwick!!! And Other Baseball News…

The Phillies tried Ryan Madson as the closer last night (Lidge had pitched in four consecutive games and wasn’t available as it was) and blew the save anyway…  No worries – Lidge will keep his job until his arm or knee falls off.  [Multiple Sources]

A little good news earlier in the broadcast…  Hiroki Kuroda threw a successful bullpen session and is closer to returning to the Dodgers.  He is expected to throw a simulated game in a few days, then a rehab start.  Kuroda is healing quickly after suffering a concussion when nailed in the side of the head by a drive off the bat of Rusty Ryal a couple of weeks ago.  [MLB]

Brad Penny asked for, and received, his release from the Boston Red Sox – surrendering his roster spot to Billy Wagner.  Penny will start looking for a team that wants a healthy but disappointing pitcher.  I always liked him – works fast, threw strikes.  He needs Dave Duncan – but the Marlin fan in me wouldn’t mind letting him find his routine as a long reliever back home in Florida where it started for him  [ESPN]

With no fear that this was going to get any better for him, Milton Bradley says he feels “hatred” from Cub fans – fans who are disappointed that the usually dependable hitter (if undependable personality) had struggled through most of his first season in Chicago.  Bradley says the only place he feels any love is at home with his family, and apparently gets booed in more places than just Wrigley – like restaurants, bars, grocery stores, gas stations, and knitting clubs.  Do you think that many people recognize Milton Bradley at first glance?  Or is he just paranoid?  [ESPN]

Moving across town, newly acquired White Sox starter Jake Peavy’s start on Saturday will be postponed.  His elbow is still sore and swollen, the effects of being hit by a line drive in his last rehab start.  [ESPN]

Speaking of sore elbows, Detroit starter Armando Gallaraga goes to AAA for rest (and not the DL?), giving his sore throwing elbow a break.  To replace him, Nate Robertson gets the call.  Robertson has been on the DL with an elbow injury himself…  [ESPN]

Yankee catcher Jorge Posada will miss a few games after taking a foul ball squarely on his left ring finger Wednesday night; the finger is swollen but not broken.  [ESPN]

Another Mets pitcher is heading to surgery…  Oliver Perez’s sore knee requires a scalpel and sutures to repair his right patella tendon.  Look for Pat Misch or Lance Broadway to get his starts.  (I know – Broadway in New York…  Broadway was picked up in May for backup catcher Ramon Castro in a trade with the White Sox.)  If you were counting, this is 14 Met players on the DL.  [ESPN]

FoxSports is reporting that LaTroy Hawkins was placed on waivers, but claimed by someone.  So, Houston recalled Hawkins’ name from the list and now cannot be traded until after the season.  [FoxSports]

For the second time in five years, the Cleveland Indians bus was involved in an accident or incident on the way to Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City.  The driver of the car hitting the bus was injured, but the Indians won the game anyway…  [SI]

A Federal Appeals court ruled that federal investigators were wrong for seizing the list of players who had tested positive in the now infamous “sampling” tests done in 2003 to determine if baseball needed a stronger anti-PED policy.  Prosecutors wanted information about ten players involved in the BALCO investigation and wound up with 104 players instead…  The leaks are more famous than the list itself.  The Fed was asked to return the list, but one wonders if this means that the leaks will end.  [SI]

In an odd twist, three umpires worked home plate in last night’s Toronto/Tampa game.  Jerry Crawford left with back spasms.  His replacement, Tom Hallion, took a Scott Kazmir fastball in the chest (Travis Snider swung and missed, and Greg Zaun had no idea Kazmir was throwing a fastball and missed, too).  Hallion chose to stay out there – but moved to third base instead, meaning that Brian O’Nora had to finish the game.  I’m betting that hasn’t happened before.  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back! Justin Upton returned to Arizona, Juan Rincon returned to Colorado, Joe Saunders is back with the Angels, and Tim Wakefield is back with Boston – all four coming back from DL stints.  Brett Carroll is back with the Marlins with Nick Johnson heading to the DL.  Carroll is the best fifth outfielder they have…  Drew Macias made his seventeenth trip between Portland and San Diego this week…  I’ll root for him forever now.

Is it Over? I sure hope not.  Matt Murton was designated for assignment by Colorado.  The kid could hit, but never keep a job.  Murton isn’t Russell Branyan – a power hitter without a home because he never gets more than 100 at bats in a month to get his groove on.  He’s more of a .280 – .300 hitter with middling power type.  If he could pinch hit or tell jokes or dance during the seventh inning stretch, he’d be Jay Johnstone and hang around on benches forever.  Todd Stashwick (my favorite actor) – you probably don’t read my blog, but if you could teach him to be more clever and work on his impromtu humor so he could be a guest on pregame, postgame, and rain delay shows, Matt Murton could stay in the majors.

Hurry Back! Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens heads to the DL with a strained back.  Shane Loux (Angels), Daniel Schlereth (D-Backs), and Collin Balester (Nationals) are heading back to AAA.

Afterthoughts… Is it me, or do ESPN Radio hosts get more vacation time than anyone?  Mike and Mike in the Morning should be renamed “Maybe Mike and Mike, but probably Erik Kuselius in for one of them, in the Morning”…  And nobody’s show is less frequently hosted by the named star than the afternoon drive show of Doug Gottlieb.  He is NEVER on his own show.  In fact, I’m used to the radio bump “You’re Listening to the Doug Gottlieb Show…  In for Doug, Ryan Racillo.”  Does somebody keep stats on this???

Weekend Update: Aaron Boone’s Got Heart – an Amazing Comeback!

In what would be the greatest comeback that I can think of in recent history, Aaron Boone is getting ready to make a run at returning to the Astros.  Boone’s career and life was put on hold to have open heart surgery to repair a defective valve in March.  He’ll play for two weeks in AA Corpus Christi, spend some time at AAA Round Rock, and hopefully return to the Astros by the end of the year.  God Speed, Mr. Boone.  [MLB]

Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano’s back is bad enough to require a DL stint.  He left his start about a week ago after three innings, and didn’t make a run at his last start.  [FoxSports]

Aaron Cook missed his start with a jammed toe, out of fear that it will mess with his mechanics.

There really isn’t a trading deadline – is there?  David Weathers snuck through waivers and was sent from Cincinnati to Milwaukee for a PTNL.  Weathers is just a season away from 1000 lifetime games.  For those of us who saw him in Florida a long time ago, this seems amazing.  For those of us in Florida wondering if we can get an extra arm in the bullpen, this is disappointing that Milwaukee can do this but Florida cannot. [ESPN]

Stop me if you heard this before…  Houston’s Mike Hampton had to leave his start Saturday with a knee injury and is considered day-to-day (start to start?). [MLB]

 Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook can’t recover from his elbow injury because even his rehab starts get halted due to elbow pain.  A visit to Dr. Yokum is forthcoming.  [MLB]

A rested Gil Meche is expected to start for Kansas City on Thursday…  Meche is a very, very good pitcher and the Royals need him.

Welcome Back!  Eric Stults returns to the Dodgers from Albuquerque.  Except for the occasional injury trip, he should have never left.  Ronald Belisario returns to the Dodgers from the DL.  Yorman Bazardo returns to the Astros from AAA.

Hurry Back!  Angel starter Joe Saunders heads to the DL with shoulder soreness.  Boston SS Jed Lowrie has ulnar neuritis in his balky left wrist and heads to the DL.

Bye – and stay out!  Luis Ayala was sent to AAA by the Marlins.  I didn’t like that they signed him.  Good riddance.

2009 Season Forecast: Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
100 – 62 (1st Place – AL West)
Runs Scored: 765
Runs Allowed: 697

2008 Season Summary:

Pretty simple, actually.  The Angels got off to a solid April, going 18 – 10, kept a winning record through May and June, then ran away with the division with a 19 – 6 July.  With a weak division, strong pitching, a closer having a record season, and just enough hitting, the Angels never had a losing month.

You know what’s really odd about the season?  They weren’t that good – rather, they weren’t as good as their record.  Based on the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed, you would expect them to win 90 games – still good, but not 100 wins good.

Four teams allowed fewer runs – one of them was Oakland – and nine teams scored more.  So, they weren’t blowing teams away.  When they got a lead, though, nobody could get past that bullpen – featuring the 62 saves of Francisco Rodriguez.  Heck, in close games Jose Arredondo won 10 and lost 2.  Five starters won 10 or more – that doesn’t happen very often at all.

What they were was a broadly talented team with few superstars having a bit more pitching than everyone else, and the ability to shut down games after the sixth inning.

How About That Offense:

The outfielders weren’t half bad.  Vlad Guerrero missed a little time, but still delivered punch, with 27 homers and a .303 average.  Torii Hunter, added from Minnesota, was just ordinary good – above average power and speed.  Garrett Anderson remains slightly above average offensively even as he ages.  The power numbers are down, but his batting average remains decent.  As always, he just doesn’t do anything else to get on base.  Backups Juan Rivera and Gary Matthews were okay, but actually below average offensive performers.

The infield was also a hair above ordinary.  Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar were a notch below average while Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchman were a hair above average.  Until Mark Teixeira arrived, there were no bangers in the infield.  For all the talk about the two months that Manny Ramirez gave Los Angeles, was it that much better than what Tex did?  Teixeira batted .358, slugged .632, and drove in 43 runs in just 54 games.  Backups Robb Quinlan, Brandon Wood, and Macier Izturis were tolerable backups.

The combined performance of the catching was impressive – 29 homers, 91 RBI.  Of course, only Mike Napoli was really good.  Jeff Mathis hit .194, but with 42 RBI, so the few hits he had were important.

Tell Me About the Defense:

Defensively, the catching was tolerable – Mathis being the better of the two against the run (Napoli only caught 11 of 52 runners), far more mobile, though slightly more mistake prone.

The infield defense was above average – anchored by two good glovemen at first (Kotchman and Teixeira).  Howie Kendrick is slightly above average (1 play per 800 balls in play) and doesn’t hurt you on the double play or in making errors.  Erick Aybar is a gold glove candidate, while Chone Figgins is the best option at third (though Wood has more range).  Figgins was – 5 in terms of range, but doesn’t make mistakes, and so he doesn’t hurt you too much.

The outfield was average all the way around.  The best fielder is Gary Matthews, but he’s just everyone’s backup.  It’s time to admit that Torii Hunter is no longer the centerfielder he was five years ago – he just looks smooth.  Per 800 balls in play, Hunter is just one play better than average.  Matthews, by the way, was +10 – much better than Hunter, though in just 221 innings.  Garrett Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero were better than expected at this point by being league average.

Now Pitching:

The most complete rotation in the majors.  Ervin Santana was 24 runs better than the average pitcher and gave the Angels 219 innings.  Joe Saunders surprised everyone with 198 innings, won 17 games, and was 20 runs better than average.  John Lackey missed ten starts and still was 13 runs better than average.  Jered Weaver hasn’t blossomed into an ace, but he’s still slightly above average, too.  Only Jon Garland, who still went 14 – 8, was below the bar – 15 runs below average, but over 196.2 innings.  Dustin Mosely and Nick Adenhart picked up the missing 13 starts and weren’t ready yet but showed promise.

The bullpen was amazing, led by Rodriguez and the 14 runs he saved the team.  However, Arredondo was 17 runs to the good (42 hits in 61 innings), Scot Shields remained dependable, and Darren Oliver kicked in 72 solid innings.  Only the mop up guy, Justin Speier, was below average in any way.  Only Philadelphia had more bullpen weapons.

Looking Ahead to 2009:

The front four members of the rotation stay, and the lone weak spot (Garland) was allowed to leave.  Nick Adenhart or Dustin Moseley can be as good as Garland – at least not worse.

The bullpen lost Rodriguez and signed Brian Fuentes from Colorado – who, I am sure, is happy to be here.  I don’t buy that Arredondo can repeat his performance, and Joe Saunders might take a step back.  Darren Oliver won’t be 15 runs better than league average again.  I think it’s probably going to cost the Angels about 25 runs.

Defensively, Matthews is going to be a step up (it would be even better if he played center and moved Hunter to left or right).  Getting Vlad to the DH position and letting Juan Rivera play right isn’t going to be an improvement – so the net change will be balanced out.  And, the infield lost Teixeira to the Yankees – so the infield defense may lose 10 to 15 runs – maybe more – by playing Kendry Morales.

So – instead of allowing 697 runs, it might be more like 735.

Offensively, Matthews isn’t as good as Anderson, who is in Atlanta.  Hunter and Vlad may step a bit back.  The infield loses the big bat of Tex, but Morales will be better than Kotchman.  Still, the net loss will be another 30 runs.  So, the net runs scored will be around 735.

That puts Los Angeles at .500 – 81 and 81, and might not win the division.  My take on it is a disappointing second place.

Down on the Farm:

For the last three seasons, Baseball America has been calling Nick Adenhart one of the top two prospects in the chain.  Adenhart has been okay in AA and AAA, finishing 2008 with a 9 – 13 record in 26 starts, with less than promising command.  In fact, it’s gotten worse with each season in the minors.  I know people hit a ton in the PCL, but 75 walks in 145.1 innings should be a concern.  In his favor is his age – he’s just 22.  In fact, it’s hard to see who the prospect is at Salt Lake City.  Dustin Moseley got starts with the Angels but had a 6.94 ERA there.  Shane Loux was 12 – 6, doesn’t strike a ton of guys out, and is 28.  If Adenhart is a prospect, so is Nick Green, who had comparable numbers, is 23, and went 8 – 8.

Brandon Wood gets shots with the parent club and has real power, but the best hitter will be new first baseman Kendry Morales, who hit .341 at SLC with some power, makes great contact – but could be a little more selective at the plate.  Sean Rodriguez, a second baseman with power and discipline hit .306 with a .645 slugging percentage and a .397 OBP.  He won’t do that in the majors, but he can play.

No hitters at AA impressed me, but 23 year old Kevin Jepsen had a 1.42 ERA for Arkansas – a power pitcher who could work on his control a bit.  Steve Marek fanned 57 in just 46.2 innings and may be a reliever of the future.

Rancho Cucamonga (A+) featured several young arms, of which Sean O’Sullivan and Amalio Diaz stood out.  20 year old Alexander Torres will also get a long look in a couple of years.  He had nice strikeout numbers in ten starts.  Catcher HanK Conger is 20, hit .303 for the Quakes, and might be a long term Angel in 2012.