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With seven free agents, change coming for Angels

Oct 26, 2009, 4:48 PM EDT

The Angels made the right calls a year ago in declining to ante up for Mark Teixeira and turning instead to Kendry Morales and Bobby Abreu to round out their lineup. Factoring into the decision was that GM Tony Reagins knew Teixeira’s $20 million salary would make it very difficult to keep the team together starting in 2010. The Angels have seven free agents this winter, and those players combined to make more than $50 million in 2009. For that reason, Reagins is going to be faced with as many difficult decisions as any GM in the game.
Let’s run down the list (rankings taken from our Top 111 Free Agents):
Robb Quinlan (not rated) – Quinlan has been pretty worthless coming off the bench for three straight years now, finishing with OPSs of 652, 637 and 614. If the Angels want to continue carrying a right-handed reserve for first and third, then minor leaguer Matt Brown could prove to be an upgrade.
Kelvim Escobar (No. 104) – Escobar, who made $9.5 million this year, pitched a total of five innings over the last two years because of shoulder problems. If he’s re-signed, it would be to a one-year deal with a minimal guarantee and plenty of incentives.
Darren Oliver (No. 77) – Oliver accepted arbitration as a free agent after last season and ended up taking a one-year, $3.665 million contract. Something similar could happen this winter. Oliver would probably draw a couple of two-year offers if he shopped himself around, but he’s talked about just pitching one more season anyway and he’d likely prefer to do it in Anaheim.
Vladimir Guerrero (No. 17) - It’s been assumed for months that Guerrero wasn’t in the Angels’ plans for 2010, but the excellent postseason will add to the sentiment for keeping him. He hit .378/.425/.541 with seven RBI in nine games against the Red Sox and Yankees. Guerrero would surely prefer to stay in the area, and he’s a favorite of owner Arte Moreno. Odds are that he’s a goner, but perhaps if the Angels can’t get anything done with the next person on the list, they’ll reach back out to him.
Bobby Abreu (No. 16) – Abreu expected two-year offers in the $30 million range after last season, only to eventually have to settle for $5 million over one year from the Angels. Now that’s bounced back defensively and he can benefit from a free-agent market that’s short on left-handed-hitting outfielders — he and Johnny Damon are clearly the best — he shouldn’t have much difficulty landing a multiyear pact. The Angels reportedly offered him $16 million for two years earlier this month, only to have it turned down. A two-year, $20 million deal would be fair for both parties.
Chone Figgins (No. 5) – Another ugly postseason won’t help Figgins, but it’s probably not going to hurt too much, either. The 31-year-old was an exceptional player until October, hitting .298 and leading the AL with 101 walks. Versatility also works in his favor. Not only is he arguably the best third baseman on the market, but he’s probably the best center fielder as well. Since that will increase his number of suitors, he could land a four-year deal worth $12 million per season. The Angels have Brandon Wood ready to take over at third base if they lose him.
John Lackey (No. 3) – There’s no replacing the ace, though. The Angels still have Jared Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir under control, giving them a fine regular-season rotation in the event of Lackey’s departure. But who from that group is going to start Game 1 against the Yankees or Red Sox? Lackey is the one free agent the Angels simply must keep, and there should be more than enough money to make it happen.
The Angels are expected to dabble in the Matt Holliday sweepstakes, but it’d make a lot more sense to keep Lackey and Abreu than it would to pay even more for Holliday and Randy Wolf. If the Angels retain those two and Oliver, they shouldn’t have a lot of difficulty filling the other gaps. Wood is ready to take over at third, and Erick Aybar is an option to replace Figgins in the leadoff spot. The Angels will also look at potential leadoff-hitting left fielders, with the idea that they can give Juan Rivera more DH time.
In the end, there’s really no way Reagins can play it badly enough for the Angels to enter 2010 as anything less than the AL West favorites. However, the division is improving as quickly as any in baseball. If the Angels don’t get start getting younger, they might find themselves poorly set up for 2011 and beyond.

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