first_imgTEMPE, Ariz. – The Angels’ offseason could best be described as a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full situation. The optimists will point to the various reviews that say the Angels might possess the best bullpen in the American League, if not in all of baseball. Francisco Rodriguez might be a notch behind the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera for the title of best closer, but the Angels’ right-hander probably has more value considering that at age 25, he is 12 years younger than Rivera. Rodriguez’s 92 saves over the past two seasons are the most in baseball, and his 312 strikeouts over the past three seasons are the most over that span for a reliever. With Colon on the mend, Lackey inherits the role as staff ace. His mastery of the Oakland Athletics last season (3-1 with a 2.10 ERA in five starts) will be counted on again. Colon wants to be back for Opening Day, but his recent injury history suggests a more patient timetable. Adding free-agent Justin Speier while trading Brendan Donnelly to the Boston Red Sox effectively strengthened the middle relief corps, which leads into set-up man Scot Shields. CATCHER It will be a wide-open race for the Opening Day slot between Jose Molina, Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis. The veteran Molina might be playing with some fire this season after missing out on a lucrative bonus in September. Molina was relegated to the bench in the final few days of the season, costing him a games-played incentive. Napoli has the inside track at a roster spot over Mathis and anything close to his torrid stretch last June (six home runs, 17 RBI) will net him the starting spot. Mathis would have the most to prove after making the Opening Day roster last season and lasting only a month before he was sent back to Triple-A Salt Lake. Much of Mathis’ struggles last April were on the defensive side but he got his game back together at Salt Lake to earn his third organization defensive player of the year award. A strong spring from the trio could lead to a three-catcher system to start the season. Mathis would also enhance his trade value with a strong spring. INFIELD Things are set up the middle with Orlando Cabrera at shortstop and Howie Kendrick taking over for the departed Adam Kennedy at second. The biggest battle of the spring likely will take place at first where Casey Kotchman, Kendry Morales and Shea Hillenbrand will fight it out for the starting spot. Morales appeared to have the edge with some impressive power numbers in winter ball, but he ended up with a sore knee. He isn’t expected to miss much time this spring. Kotchman, who has the best defensive skills of the bunch, also played winter ball after missing most of last season with mononucleosis. Third base belongs to Chone Figgins, whose lackluster on-base percentage will force him to move to the No. 9 spot in the lineup. Matthews will take over at leadoff. Maicer Izturis, Robb Quinlan and Hillenbrand could see significant time at third if Figgins falters. Even if he doesn’t end up at first or third, Hillenbrand still could see significant time in the designated-hitter role. OUTFIELD Say what you want about Matthews’ $50 million deal but the signing instantly made the Angels better defensively. Remember, it was defense that was a big part of the team’s slow start and ultimate undoing last season. But even the best defense isn’t enough to justify $10 million per season. Matthews will be looked upon to deliver, at minimum, his 19 home runs and 79 RBI from last season. The team will be just fine with his .313 batting average and .371 on-base percentage from last year as well. Losing Juan Rivera to a broken leg in winter ball was costly. His status still is unknown with an optimistic return date set for the all-star break. With Rivera out, Reggie Willits and Tommy Murphy will be in line for a backup role. A healthy Anderson will be vital. The sore foot that plagued him all last season started a year ago next month in Cactus League action. The injury could be blamed for his reduced production, but Anderson’s .280 batting average last season with 17 home runs and 85 RBI, was not much different from his 2005 numbers (.283, 17, 95). 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Now for the pessimists. Not only did the Angels not add the impact bat they desired, owner Arte Moreno essentially reneged on a boast to enhance the roster with an impact acquisition. It can’t be a good sign that management grossly underestimated the free-agent market. The Angels also have received an abundance of criticism for committing $50 million over five years to Matthews, who will try to build off his breakout season in 2006 at age 32. First base and third base remain question marks. When pitchers and catchers report for spring training today in anticipation of their first workout Thursday, that pitching staff might want to do some early weight lifting, just to feel what it would be like to carry the weight of the team on its shoulders. Angels personnel breaks down as follows: PITCHER Not only will one of the top rotations start things off, one of the best closers will be counted on to finish things. center_img The starting staff is first-rate with John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar and Joe Saunders, with Bartolo Colon possibly coming back by May, if not sooner. Even more upbeat news is that the outfield of Garret Anderson, Gary Matthews Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero is now considered by some as the best in the business. Nobody dared to make such a boast last season. last_img

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