Sunday, February 27, 2011

California Dreamin' 2011 Part II

It seems that the fortunes of the two teams that play within the aura of the city of Angels have diminished. Where both the Angels and the Dodgers have been aggressive in the free-agent market in years past, this offseason marked one of muted activity for both teams. Stealing the headlines in Los Angeles was the impending divorce of the McCourts: Frank and Jamie, as well as the retiring of Joe Torre as manager of the Dodgers. In Anaheim, the headlines noted the inability of the Angels to sign or trade for one big name player for the second straight year. Both managers, 1st year skipper Don Mattingly of the Dodgers and veteran manager Mike Scioscia have their hands full with their respective teams. (For my views on the remaining California teams read the first part of my post California Dreamin' 2011 Part I)

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

After missing out of the Roy Halladay. Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee sweepstakes the last two seasons, the Angels are looking weaker, older and slower compared to division rivals the Oakland A's and Texas Rangers. The Angels' season was defined by the injury to first base slugger Kendry Morales due to landing wrong in a home plate celebration thereby breaking his leg. The team's offense was abysmal ranking 25th in batting average compared leading the league with a .285 batting average in 2009. The offense looks to be somewhat improved with the addition of outfielder Vernon Wells who came over to the Angels from the blue jays for Outfielder Juan Rivera and catcher Mike Napoli (who was then traded to the Texas Rangers). Where the trade made little fiscal sense for the Angels (the Angels are responsible for $81 million of the remaining $86-million dollars if Wells decides not to opt out after this season) on the field it improves the team. The outfield takes on a much more improved look with Rookie Peter Bourjos in center and veterans Torii Hunter and Wells in the corner. Bobby Abreu will now DH on a full-time basis replacing Hideki Matsui who signed in the offseason with the Oakland A's.

The main key for the Angels is the return of first baseman Kendry Morales. Morales anchors the infield of Howie Kendrick at second, Erick Aybar at shortstop and Alberto Callaspo at third. Catcher Jeff Mathis will play behind the plate until prospect Hank Conger is ready.

The strength of the Angels lies with their starting rotation. Jared Weaver, Ervin Santana. Dan Haren and Joel Piñeiro make up one of the best front four in the American League and can only get better if dissapointing left-hander Scott Kazmir can actually deliver on the hype of his potential.

Though the bullpen is weakened by the loss of Brian Fuentes to the rival Oakland A's and the departure of long time Angels reliever Scot Shields, the Angels made strides by signing Masanori Takahashi (formerly of the New York Mets) and Scott Downs (formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays). It seems like the team will open with hard throwing Fernando Rodney as the closer but if he fails to deliver, look for Scott Downs to step in.

Mike Trout is seen as the can't miss prospect for the Angels this year.

I believe the Angels can be a threat in the AL West if all of their pieces remain healthy and productive. As I said earlier, I believe the key will be how Kendry Morales recovers from his leg injury. The Angels have stated that they will start him slow this spring and see how he progresses.

The Los Angeles Dodgers

As much as I love Don Mattingly, I find it hard to believe that the Sporting News predicts that he'll win the National League Manager of the year award. This is a team that really hasn't improved much in the last two years since the splash made with the arrival of Mannywood to Dodger Stadium. The franchise is known more for the marital discord of it's co-owners and the retiring of legendary manager Joe Torre. Now I'm not saying Mattingly can't win manager of the year. But let him win a few games an stumble in a few others before we crown him NL manager of the year. The man has his hands full.

Offensively the team has issues. The biggest issues is whether or not franchise player Andre Ethier will bounce back from an injury plagued 2010. Ethier has admitted to coming back too soon from his pinky injury and it hurt the team rather than helped it. Fellow outfielder Matt Kemp is one of the brightest players in the game and needs to continue to improve his game to benefit the Dodgers. The signing of Tony Gwynn Jr., also helps Kemp since I believe Gwynn has better range in center possibly allowing Kemp to move to one of the corners. Jay Gibbons provides stability in the outfield off of the bench.

The biggest offensive move was the signing of free agent Juan "Bluribe" Uribe from the rival World Champion San Francisco Giants to a 3-year $21 million dollar deal. Uribe is slated to play second base but with an infield of older veterans like Casey Blake and injury prone Rafael Furcal, his versatility at playing multiple positions will be invaluable to the Dodgers. James Loney is somewhat of a disappointment since the power numbers that were expected of him have yet to develop though with 88 RBI he can drive his fair share of runs. 

Behind the plate, veteran Rod Barajas takes over full-time duties with Dionner Navarro returning to the Dodgers from Tampa.

The strength of the team lies in it's rotation. Joining Clayton Kershaw (who was picked by Sporting News to be the 2011 NL Cy Young Award Winner), Chad Billingsley and Hideki Kuroda (1-year $12 million dollar deal) will be mid season acquisition Ted Lilly (3-year $33 million dollar deal) and Jon Garland (1-year $5 million plus incentives). Vicente Padilla also returns as a possible sixth starter and/or long relief man though his status is in jeopardy due to a possible injury.

The bullpen is somewhat of a question mark for the team. I believe the key to the team's success lies with closer Jonathan Broxton, who needs to find his dominant form after struggling and losing his closing job to setup man Hong-Chi Kuo. Kuo provided a suitable replacement for Broxton but the team would benefit more by having a tandem of Kuo and Broxton at the top of their respective games. 

The big free agent relief signing for the Dodgers came in the form of Matt Guerrier (3-year $36 million dollars) who had four straight season with Minnesota of 70 or more appearances. He'll solidify a middle relief corps that consists of Carlos Monasterios, Ronnie Belsario (if he can ever straighten out his immigration/visa issues), Ronny Troncoso and rookie Kelly Jansen. 

I think the Dodgers have a chance to success in a very competitive division. Though I think they lack the proven pitching of the Giants and the offensive pop of the Rockies, if they stay healthy, the Dodgers might be able to make Mattingly's first season as manager a success. If not, they might not improve from the 80 wins they put up last year.


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