Angels report for duty
TEMPE, Ariz. – The Angels’ off-season 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. Now for the pessimists. Owner Arte Moreno essentially reneged on a boast to enhance the roster with an impact acquisition. It can’t be a good sign for Angels fans that management grossly underestimated the free-agent market. The Angels also have received an abundance of criticism for committing $50 million to Matthews, who will try to build off his breakout season in 2006 at age 32. First base and third base remain question marks. Pitchers and catchers report to camp today. That pitching staff might want to do some early weightlifting, just to feel what it’s like to carry the weight of the team on its shoulders. The Angels personnel breaks down as follows: The starting rotation is first-rate, consisting of John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Kel- vim Escobar and Joe Saunders. In addition, former Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon could be back by May if not sooner. Even more upbeat news is that the outfield of Garret Anderson, Gary Matthews Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero is considered top-notch. Nobody dared to make such a boast last season. PITCHERS: Not only will one of the top rotations start things off, one of the best closers will be counted on to finish them. 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’s 12 years younger than Rivera. Rodriguez’s 92 saves over the past two seasons are the most in baseball. 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. Adding free-agent Justin Speier strengthened the middle relief corps, which leads into set-up man Scot Shields. CATCHERS: 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 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 RBIs) will net him the starting spot. Mathis made the Opening Day roster last season but lasted only a month before being sent back to the minors. INFIELD: Things are set up the middle with Orlando Cabrera at shortstop and Howie Kendrick taking over for Adam Kennedy at second. The biggest battle will take place at first, where Casey Kotchman, Kendry Morales and Shea Hillenbrand will fight it out. Third base belongs to Chone Figgins, whose lackluster on-base percentage will force him to move to the No. 9 spot in the lineup. 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 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 RBIs from last season. 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. [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2731 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!