So, parts 1 and 2 of this riveting series looked at the major pieces gained and lost by the team this off-season. A general consensus, or at least a widely held belief out there is that the Angels got significantly worse in these "exchanges." I'm not so sure. Now, I'm obviously an unapologetic Halo Homer, so take that into account when reading this. But also take into account that I'm really a fairly rational person who has NO problem criticizing the team he has rooted for since 1976. With that, let's take a gander at how the Angels lineup may look when they break Spring Training a month or so from now.
My projected lineup for the 2010 Season:
1. Erick Aybar SS
2. Bobby Abreu RF
3. Torii Hunter CF
4. Hideki Matsui DH
5. Juan Rivera LF
6. Kendry Morales 1B
7. Howie Kendrick 2B
8. Mike Napoli C
9. Brandon Wood 3B
While it's not the juggernaut the Yankees will field, it's a pretty solid group from 1 to 9. Plus, it costs about half of what the Yanks lineup will cost (ZING!). There are a couple of big question marks that jump out immediatley when looking at the configuration I have above, and they are the bookends. First, can Erick Aybar handle the lead-off role? I honestly have no clue. Not even a guess. What I'm hoping for is that E.A. has a similar type season to his 2009 season. Well, "duh," you might say, "he hit over .300." You might say that, but that's not really what I'm talking about. I'm talking more from an approach point-of-view. The ideal lead-off man works counts, takes walks, sees a bunch of pitches, i.e. Chone Figgins last season. I don't think Aybar is capable of making that change in his offensive approach just yet, and I don't want him to get all wrapped up in seeing five pitches every at-bat to the detriment of his other skills with the bat, like his extra-base potential, bunting ability, etc. Now, I'm also not saying that he should be the exact same free-swinger he's been the last few seasons. It's going to be a work in progress and it will take at least three or four seasons for E.A. to be an elite lead-off hitter, if it even happens. I just want to see him remain Erick Aybar. I'd be perfectly happy with a .290 average and a respectable .360 OBP for next season. If he can do that, he will easily top 100 runs scored, and that is what is most important.
A big plus in Aybar's favor is the number 2 hitter (Abreu, I'm assuming) is like another lead-off hitter. Let Aybar-be-Aybar and let Bobby Boy do his thing and I think the top of the order will be just fine without Chone Figgins. And if Aybar can't handle the role, move Bobby up. Leading off isn't just about speed, hell Aybar's not even anywhere near an accomplished base-stealer either. It'll be interesting to see how this shakes out, but I'm truly not worried about the top of the Angels' order.
Another thing I'm not worried about: Brandon Wood. Put the kid in the 9-spot and let him learn big league pitching. He will strikeout. He will hit home runs. But more importantly, he will LEARN. The Angels lineup doesn't need Woody to have a breakout season in order to be good. The team will score plenty of runs with or without production from Wood (hell, he's gonna hit 8 or 9 in the order). Give him the at-bats and let him struggle and eventually, find his way. He may not even hit .250 this year, but as long as he's showing progress and knocking one the hell out of the yard every now and then, leave Izturis on the bench and give the kid a chance to make good on his enormous potential.
If anyone even looks at this, anyone might say, "why the hell do you have Morales hitting 6th? He was the team's best hitter in '09." Well anyone, two reasons. That's where I think Scioscia will hit him, given the veteran bats the team has and Scioscia's affinity for veterans and their well-worn bats. And, that's kind of where he fits, at least heading into the season. In addition to veteran-ness, Scioscia, like most managers, likes to alternate the lineup with righties and lefties. I'm assuming Hunter and Matsui are locks for the 3 and 4 spots, so righty Rivera will follow, leaving Morales 6th. Even as a switch-hitter, Morales sees most of his ABs from the left side and Rivera's a better right-handed hitter than Kendry. Hence, Morales hits 6th and is still very productive.
Now, I wouldn't be shocked if Kendry ends the season as the team's 3 or 4 hitter. This could very well be the season he establishes himself as a legit middle-of-the-order guy. A hot start from Morales and slow start by Torii could bring about big changes in the batting order, but for now, let him prove last season was a sign of things to come and not an aberration. I'm not quite sold...yet.
OK, so at the beginning of this post I made mention of all the talk of this being the end of the Angels' stranglehold on the AL West due to the their off-season and the off-season of the Mariners and a healthy Rangers squad. I know most of these nay-sayers are looking at the starting rotation as the main reason for this. I'll examine that in part 4.