There isn't a whole lot of intrigue in Angels camp this year. The lineup, the rotation and most of the bullpen spots are pretty much already spoken for. Really the only unsettled part of the roster is the bench. Unlike past years, the Angels actually have a good kind of bench problem in that they have a number of players that they'd like to carry, but not enough spots as opposed to when they kept Brendan Harris because, well, they had to have someone on the bench who could play the infield.
There is a lot of spring left for Scioscia and Dipoto to figure out who and what will constitute their bench, but it is never too early for us to speculate on what they might decide. Why? Because we need something to speculate about that doesn't involve Mike Trout's contract extension. Let's take a look, shall we?
The only certainty we know is that one spot will go to the back-up catcher. Whether you want call that Chris Iannetta or Hank Conger or just whoever happens to not be in Scioscia's doghouse that day, that's one spot. That leaves three openings for as many as ten players to compete for.
The original assumption was that one of those spots would automatically go to the winner of the Andrew Romine-John McDonald death match. That makes sense because those two are the only guys that can provide coverage at second, third and short, but mostly short. Neither of them can hit, but they can both field. Romine runs better and is younger, so he should have the edge, but McDonald might best him due to his "clubhouse leader" label.
Now I mention that this was the "original assumption" because the Angels threw a monkeywrench into the equation by auditioning Grant Green at shortstop the other day. By all accounts, Green was a defensive disaster at shortstop during his early years in the minors but Scioscia recently talked him up as making defensive progress over the winter. Take that for what it is worth.
The real attraction of Green is that he, at least in theory, can hit. Maybe even hit enough to be the DH platoon partner of Raul Ibanez. Defense will be an issue wherever he plays, but if you think about, that may not matter all that much. So long as everyone stays healthy, they shouldn't need Green to play shortstop very much at all. If Aybar does hit the DL, they can always call someone up to take his spot. The only issue there is that because McDonald has suggested he will retire if he doesn't make the team and that Romine is out of options, there is a very good chance neither guy will be around to be called up, leaving the cupboard pretty bare. As such, we once again fall back to one of those two being a virtual lock to get a spot on the bench.
That doesn't mean Green is out of luck though. There has also been some talk that Green could work some in the outfield this year too. That would give him a shot at making the team as a superutility player. They'd still have to pair him with someone who is more of a sure thing in the outfield though, just to be safe since he has so little outfield experience. That would most likely be Shuck, who the team knows and trusts despite his limitations. It could also be Brennan Boesch though as he has some real offensive upside though he is a poor defender. Matt Long could also work his way into the equation with a strong spring. Collin Cowgill is a consideration as well, but he would be at a disadvantage since he is right-handed, just like Green.
The big problem with the Green-plus-lefty outfielder arrangement is that it leaves the Angels without good coverage at first base. Right now they have Kole Calhoun, who has very limited experience, and Raul Ibanez, who hasn't played first in years and is ancient, as back-up to Albert Pujols. Out of all the players in the regular lineup, Pujols is the one guy that figures to need a lot of time at DH, so having a good back-up first baseman seems critical.
Enter Carlos Pena. He is a good defender and was a decent hitter not so long ago. Plus he has a good reputation as a team chemistry guy, which would be extra important if Romine beats out McDonald. In fact, I think with the obvious effort Dipoto made to add bench leaders that one of Pena or McDonald would make the roster solely for that reason. Chad Tracy could potentially factor in at first base as well, but he is a lesser defender, hitter and leader compared to Pena, although his ability to moonlight at third base is a plus.
Carrying Pena (or Tracy) isn't without problems either. It again mandates that an outfielder be carried. It does also creates a need to have a capable right-handed bat on the bench. That's a problem because the only player that can be trusted in the outfield and swing from the right side is Collin Cowgill. Cowgill can certainly field the position, but he has done nothing in the majors to suggest his bat is an asset, even solely against left-handed pitching.
If Cowgill doesn't get the gig, J.B. Shuck is the next best option. Heck, he might be a better option regardless. Shuck may be left-handed, but his platoon splits are almost dead even, so he might as well be right-handed. He is a much worse defender, but he is useful as a pinch-runner and could be a quality pinch-hitter since the one above average skill he possesses is making contract.
In all of this, there is one name I haven't mentioned who at least deserves some kind of consideration, Luis Jimenez. Lucho is probably ready for a bench job, but he seems like a lesser version of Grant Green at this point. He can definitely play a quality third base but he has little experience at other positions. There is a plan for him to start working at other positions, especially first base, but it might be premature to thrust him into that role in the majors so quickly. His ability to contribute with the bat is in question as well, so he is a real longshot to make the roster.
As if this wasn't confusing enough already, the Angels floated the idea of only going with a three-man bench the first part of the season so that they could carry a long reliever. This is a terrible idea, but we need to account for it. If they pursue this option, it makes it even more of a lock that Romine/McDonald get one spot. The other job would absolutely have to go to an outfielder. But since there is the idea that this 3-man bench is temporary, they need to be careful about who they choose so they have flexibility later. This is where Shuck having options left works against him. The Halos could keep Boesch in this scenario to make sure they have some offense off the bench and then just call up Shuck later if Boesch doesn't work out. If he does, they can call up Green or Lucho or whoever they think best suits their needs at that point in time.
Lord, what a mess. Fortunately, the Angels have time to work this all out. Over the next few weeks some players will perform their way out of the equation while others will boost their case. My guess right now is that they really want Green to win a job, but that he needs to prove his defensive chops across the diamond first. From there they can let Shuck, Boesch and Long duke it out to be the left-handed outfielder to round out the bench with Shuck having a major edge. I think they really want to carry Pena as well, but just can't see how they can make it work with both of them unless Green really steps up to be able to provide coverage at shortstop. That'd be the perfect alignment for the bench, but I don't think the chips will fall the way they want, leaving them to have to decide between Pena and Green when camp breaks.
Now watch them go and make trade to get a legit bench guy and make this whole post obsolete.