March 24, 2004
Team Health Reports
Money can't buy you love, happiness, or apparently, the Montreal Expos (unless you have a taxpayer-funded stadium thrown in), but it can buy you instant respect. One would think that just two seasons after a World Championship, the Angels would have respect around baseball, but they quickly saw the "fluke" tag dropped on them as they faded in 2003. The playoffs may be a crapshoot, but the regular season is where the best teams prove themselves.
The Angels faded despite having what Bill Stoneman described as "a whole lot of same. I wish we had more sameness here." Injuries to David Eckstein and Troy Glaus combined with another poor season to overpaid Darin Erstad and some regression to the mean by the rest of the team did them in. New owner Arte Moreno wasn't having any sameness, though. He's got a checkbook and he knows how to use it, so after dropping beer prices, he immediately went to the George Steinbrenner playbook.
Anyone can spend money, but buying smartly is what we preach here. The Angels can look up the road and point the finger at the Dodgers for contracts like the ones they gave Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort.
For a boatload of cash, the Angels bought an ace, a pitcher who's never settled into a role, an outfielder with one good season, and Vlad. In a division inhabited by the Mariners and A's, will that be enough? More appropriately to this column, will any of that money stay between the lines?
The biggest question mark on the Angels' postseason hopes is the back of Vladimir Guerrero. He's the new poster boy for trunk and core strengthening, coming out of a specialized program to counteract the effects of a disc problem. Like Ivan Rodriguez before him, Guerrero worked hard and showed no signs of any recurrence. He's been wearing a brace throughout spring training, but it's merely precautionary. The worst-case scenario is a recurrence which could be treated through similar conservative therapy or surgery. The downside given his value isn't that great.
The biggest actual concern is Troy Glaus. His shoulder, repaired in the off-season, might force him across the diamond. That slot is now held down by Erstad, who's better off in center according to pretty much everyone not employed by the Angels. For now, Garret Anderson, who has a bum right shoulder, takes center field and faces a situation similar to Bernie Williams' last season. The injury causes Anderson trouble both throwing and extending his arms and could eat into his power slightly. Anderson moved over to make room for Guerrero and Guillen. Yes, Virginia, it is possible to have too much talent sometimes.
Barry Bonds' sidekick, David Eckstein seems healthier this spring after a full off-season of rest and recovery. Eckstein's a high-impact player, all flailing arms and dirty uniform, so he's susceptible to the bumps and bruises that style inflicts. Tim Salmon's red light is based on age, but sticking to just DHing should keep him safe from most of his leg problems. Mike Scioscia would be smart to note how Edgar Martinez is used.
The pitching staff looks to be in better shape. Ramon Ortiz is the most worrisome of the bunch, but at the back of the rotation, he shouldn't be asked to shoulder as much of the workload. Scot Shields makes for a good backup as well. Troy Percival gets his yellow on injury history and increasing age. Escobar comes up just short of a yellow light, but he should be helped by a set role. Relievers tend not to age well, but the Angels' pen is deep and frighteningly good. In case of injury or even just a need for extra rest, pitching coach Bud Black can make adjustments on the fly.
Just what has money bought the Angels? It will take a full season to tell, but it's telling to note that when they were healthy in 2002, they won a World Championship. When they fell prey to just a few injuries in 2003, they were just another team. No one is naming Lewis Yocum or Ned Bergert team MVP, but let's hope they get their share of the credit if the Angels stay near the top of the division.