Many fans are worried--and rightly so--that the Angels are a possible destination for Uber-free-agent Paul Konerko. Konerko wants to sign with a team that trains in Arizona, and he wants the kind of money most teams won't pay. Those two considerations alone narrow the field considerably, leaving the Angels as strong contenders for his services.
But before you panic--or even put it on your calendar to panic later--I have a question: If all three players were under contract, would you trade Jarrod Washburn and Bengie Molina for Paul Konerko? I'm thinking probably not. In Washburn, you have a solid #2-#3 starter who, despite battling some injuries this season, has averaged about 12 wins and 200 innings, and a 3.81 ERA, over the last 5 seasons. In Molina, you have a hitter who appears to have legitimately risen to the level of a "plus-offensive player," while maintaining his status as one of baseball's elite defensive catchers.
So if the Angels were to lose Washburn and Molina, both of whom are free agents, then even if they signed Konerko they might not be improved at all. Certainly, while upgrading a middle-of-the-order spot, they would not add to the number of "plus-hitters" in their lineup, and they would lose a front-end starter. To improve overall, the Angels are going to have to address their main problem.
The Angels' main problem--and it will be interesting to see if and how they will try to solve it--is that they have 3 "shells" (players who are only shells of their former selves) out of 9 players in their every day lineup. Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, and Steve Finley have all had outstanding major league careers, but their declines have been swift and steep.
Anderson's chronic pains have cost him power and the ability to wait as long on pitches, making him no longer a guy you pitch around or fear. Erstad is still an excellent defensive player, but when Al Leiter can consistently make you look bad...well, that speaks for itself, doesn't it? Finley's bad shoulder certainly affected his swing in 2005, and normally you would look for a "bounce back" season, but he'll be 41 next year and 41 year olds tend to be "done" following injury-plagued seasons more often than they tend to bounce back.
Now, perhaps the Angels will push hard to sign Konerko and re-sign Washburn and/or Molina. Or perhaps they will sign more than one key free agent, and will adequately replace their losses. Or perhaps their well-stocked farm system will start to pay dividends in 2006--though in 2005, beyond Ervin Santana their young players were really more "bust" than "boast".
All of these possibilities are real, meaning the Angels could remain the "team to beat" in the AL West in 2006. But as things stand right now, what the Angels stand to lose is as much, or more, than what they are rumored, maybe, to gain. Plus, everyone's a year older next year and that's good for the young A's...and not so good for the not-so-young Angels.