They won 100 games last year but lost Teixeira, K-Rod, Garland, and Anderson. Yet they arguably replaced K-Rod with a closer of comparable, if not equal, ability in Fuentes, and replaced Garrett Anderson with a version, Abreu, who actually walks. Their starting pitching looks quite vulnerable right now, yet they figure to get one, two, or three excellent starters back during the season's first half. How will it all shake down?
Here's my take on what to expect from the Angels in 2009:
This is not a one-dimensional hitting team, in that along with Vlad the Angels have another very good hitter in Bobby Abreu, a decent hitter in Torii Hunter, a "hitting machine" in Howie Kendrick, some power in Mike Napoli, and some potential in Kendry Morales,
That being said, I am assessing the Angels' offense at "slightly below average." This is a unit that will not have a 30 HR guy, could easily not even have a 25 HR guy, and will sport a poor team OBP. I just don't see the Angels hitting a lot of HRs (though half the lineup will likely hit between 15-20 each) and I don't see them walking much. With a low team OPS, on an approximate "percentile scale" from 1-100 I give the Angels offense a 45 (B-).
This, I believe, could be the Angels' achilles heel. They will need to start at least one of Rivera and Abreu, and either the other or Vlad - and if they start Vlad in the OF he is likely either to break down or be little better than Rivera or Abreu in the field. Torii Hunter is no longer a great CFer; he is a decent one who will have to cover 1.5 times as much ground as he actually can.
The infield defense isn't a whole lot better, with Figgins at 3B and Kendrick at 2B being more liability than asset. If I were the Angels, I'd try to kill two defensive birds with one stone by putting Figgins back in the OF, thus improving the OF defense a lot while allowing a better defensive 3Bman to replace Rivera in the lineup. But as long as the Angels have the current alignments, I give the Angels defense a 35 (C). I think it is going to cost them.
As we saw last night, if you have good enough starting pitching you often can overcome the rest of your weaknesses on the back of one guy. Right now, the Angels' starting pitching is a mess with a rotation of Saunders, Weaver, Moseley, Adenhart, and Loux. However, Lackey, Escobar, and Santana are all due back at some point and each addition is worth a ton. With none of those guys, I give the current Angels rotation a 35 (C), but with one of them added I give them a 50 (B), with two of them added a 65 (B+/A-), and with all three back I give them an 80 (A-).
My guess is that one of the three will have a setback, while two will return sometime around May 15th, give or take a couple weeks. That means a 35 for 1/4 of the season, and about a 65 for 3/4 of the season. That puts the Angels at a 57.5 overall (B+).
This is a legitimate strength, with a solid closer in Fuentes, arguably the league's best set-up man in Shields, depth with Arredondo and Speier. Fuentes isn't infallible and Arredondo still has much to prove, but this crew will get the job done more often than not. Including the back end of the bullpen, which is less critical and also less impressive, I give them a 65 (B+/A-).