|LOS ANGELES ANGELS
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If you want an easy favorite for who winds up as the last man on the Angels‘ bench, despite signing at this late date, Quinlan may well be it. In part, that’s out of familiarity, but there also aren’t a ton of experienced competitors who will be in camp. The infield’s pretty well set: Brandon Wood‘s big chance at third base is now, Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales are locked in at short and first, and Maicer Izturis and Howie Kendrick will split second while Izturis backs up Aybar and Wood. That’s five. The two catchers, Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis, and DH Hideki Matsui get us to eight. The starting outfield of Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, and Juan Rivera‘s settled, putting us at 11. From there, things get interesting, with at least two places in play.
There’s the possibility that Napoli will get most of whatever DH starts Godzilla doesn’t, and that Mike Scioscia retains Bobby Wilson or even Ryan Budde as a third catcher; it isn’t really very likely, but Wilson is out of options, so to keep their best fall-back option (at present) behind the plate, it’s possible. However, they do also have Budde, and Hank Conger has already reached Double-A, so they might be able afford to risk trying to move Wilson off of the 40-man at the end of spring training. However, the options issue looms large, because it automatically sets up the Angels for some overlapping choices.
Setting Wilson aside, these two spots seem more likely to come down to at least one outfielder, and then something else. The fight for the fourth outfielder should be Reggie Willits‘ to win, but he’ll be fighting with Terry Evans for the fourth outfielder’s spot. Chris Pettit might be in there as well, but for two factors*: Evans and Willits are two more players who are out of options. Given that Hunter, Abreu, and Rivera should get the vast majority of outfield starts (say, 130 apiece, health permitting), in the abstract that means perhaps 100 outfield starts in play, plus perhaps a handful of DH starts that don’t go to Matsui or Napoli.
In the battle between the play to stay outfielders, Willits’ perceived greater defensive value in center and his baserunning speed makes for an interesting contrast to Evans’ power and strong arm in right (and speed, since he’s no slouch on the bases, swiping 28 bags in 33 attempts last year). Salt Lake overstated Evans’ power by a good 50 points of slugging, and there’s the question of how well a free swinger of his sort will or won’t adapt to being a big-league bench player. Willits has plenty of experience in a reserve role, although his performance over the last two years has been something less than good. It’s quite possible that Scioscia keeps both, Evans as a defensive replacement for Abreu and spot starter against lefties, while Willits pinch-runs for the catchers and Matsui, and spots Hunter a couple of times per month.
Which is where Quinlan comes in, in case they don’t keep both outfielders, and decide to keep someone who can still man all four corners, and who they happen to be familiar with. He’s been generally employed as a platoon bat, and he’s generally fulfilled modest expectations, hitting lefties at a .299/.340/.456 clip on his career, although he’s become significantly less productive in recent seasons. In general, he’s a right-handed person who can paste a few singles, a few more against lefties, and man first or third, and less frequently either outfield corner. That might be interesting enough to retain, but even those odds get longer still, as he’ll have to show he’s a better option than already rostered Freddy Sandoval, who’s lighter on his feet and a switch-hitter to boot.
Considering the likely scenario that Wood solidifies his hold on third, the presence of Izturis should make it easy to look past Quinlan and favor retaining both outfielders, and/or perhaps a third catcher. Going for a 14th position player might seem like an obvious way to avoid losing more than one hitter on waivers, except that Brian Stokes, the prize from the Little Sarge send-off, is also out of options, which suggests at least two players will have to come off of the 40-man before the end of camp.
*: Well, three factors, the other being that Pettit’s uses are somewhat limited, given that he’s a left fielder with modest (at best) power and speed, and someone whose ISO away from the Utah bandbox last season was .120 in the hitter-friendly PCL.
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Opportunities for Sweeney might seem slight now that they’ve added Ryan Garko to play some first base and DH (and perhaps catch a little). Certainly, beyond Garko’s bench role, the overlapping trio of Milton Bradley, Eric Byrnes, and Ken Griffey Jr. for left field and DH at-bats doesn’t seem to allow for a lot of roster space in which to fit Sweeney in as well, and that’s before we get into other potential rivals, like Michael Saunders or Ryan Langerhans. However, Sweeney was seen as a popular addition last season, and managed to run the non-roster gauntlet last season to wind up a Mariner. If he’s OK with spending a few months in Tacoma, it’s quite likely that he could hang around until whenever it is that any of the other veteran options wind up on the DL; he could earn his keep, but whether he does or doesn’t, he’s exactly the sort of player you can risk designating for assignment to ship back to Tacoma; if someone claims him, it’s not a major setback, and if he opts for free agency, wish him well and send him on his way.