As the Angels get set to kick off the second half of their season it is vitally important that they do so with a sound plan of attack for making their team better so that they can erase their 4.5 game deficit to the Texas Rangers. Fortunately, I’ve got a foolproof plan for the Angels to follow that will guarantee that their reign of supremacy in the AL West continues for another season.
This time the monkey is going to have to conjure up a second half rally.
Step 1 – Ditch Paul McAnulty for Carlos Delgado
Management needs to send the team a message right out of the gates. Tony Reagins must show his veterans that he isn’t just going to sit idly by and keep calling up scrubs from the minors and hope that he eventually strikes gold. McAnulty is a perfect guy to jettison because he isn’t a real prospect and frankly he has been awful, so it is no great loss for the team. If anything it is addition by subtraction since Mike Scioscia can’t seem to stop himself from playing him all the time. Giving his roster spot to Carlos Delgado may not amount to a whole lot more production since he is coming off a major hip injury, but at least he is a respected veteran who actually has a track record of success. In a best case scenario, Delgado ends up acting as a back-up first baseman (and I’ll explain that in a minute), part-time DH and power bat off the bench. Even if he is a shadow of his former self, he would still be an asset as someone who can pinch-hit for light hitting guys like Jeff Mathis, Brandon Wood and Kevin Frandsen (sorry Frandsen fans, he can hit for contact, but he has shown no power so far) late in games.
Back-up plan: If Delgado can’t be ready for action soon enough, Halo management should give Hank Blalock a shot. He didn’t do much with the Rays earlier in the year, but he is veteran with proven power who can bring a lot of the same things to the table as Delgado, only with less of a ceiling.
Step 2 – Tell Scott Kazmir his elbow is bothering him
This might be a little hard since Mike Scioscia said that Kaz was perfectly healthy, but they need to get him out of the rotation for awhile and build up some confidence down in the minors. He just has been so bad lately that the Angels are going to have no choice but to resort to desperate measures to salvage him as he really could be a crucial piece of their World Series puzzle. While he is gone, the Halos can try and replace him with Trevor Bell or Sean O’Sullivan knowing full well that they can’t possibly be any worse than Kazmir has been.
Back-up plan: None. Kazmir has to go and he has to go now. Skipping him in the rotation once isn’t going to give him enough time to get himself right and the Angels can’t afford to have him trying to figure out his issues in the middle of a playoff race.
Step 3- Get Napoli off of first base
Mike Napoli had a shot at taking over for Kendry Morales, but his bat has proven too inconsistent to handle the job on an everyday basis and his defense will always be a liability. The Angels would be best served moving him back into platoon role with Jeff Mathis while occasionally mixing him in at DH when his bat is hot enough to merit it. I think part of Naps’ struggles at the plate are related to him focusing too much effort on learning his new defensive position and not enough on what he has to do to get the job done at the plate.
Back-up plan: Keep Napoli at first, on a part-time basis but only if they can’t find someone to take over the job in our next step.
Step 4 – Trade for a new first baseman right away and no rentals!
This is where the plan starts getting tricky. The Angel offense needs help immediately, so they need to pull the trigger on a trade as soon as humanly possible to add a potent bat before their showdowns with the Rangers. The only real place to slot that bat is at first base, something I think nobody will object to. Now, I know I just said to add Carlos Delgado, but that move is more for depth and DH insurance. This move is to make sure that one of the premier powere positions on the field isn’t going to waste for the Angels.
Their are plenty of options out there, but Tony Reagins should only be looking at guys who are under contract for next year as well. The Angel farm system is still kind of weak, so if they are going to move some of their better prospects they need to be sure to get more than a few months worth of return (and let me just say now the Prince Fielder is out of the question here because the Angels just don’t have the prospects to make that deal happen). It would also behoove the Angels to have another viable first base option on the roster next season just in case Kendry Morales doesn’t recover as quickly as hoped. If Kendry does come back at 100%, no problem, either Morales or the new guy takes over at DH (because we all know Hideki Matsui isn’t coming back). So who is the guy? I say swing for the fences and go with Lance Berkman. He isn’t an MVP caliber player anymore, but he still brings a lot to the table as a savvy veteran with solid power, a great eye and leadership skills. The fact that he is a switch-hitter is a bonus as well since the Angels simultaneously need some reliable pop from the left side but also can’t get saddled down by having too many southpaws in the middle of the order. Berkman though carries a heavy price tag in terms of salary this year and next, so the Angels should be very cautious with him since they shouldn’t have to give up a treasure trove of prospects for a high-priced veteran on the downside of his career.
Back-up plan A: If Berkman proves too expensive either in terms of salary or prospects (a very real possibility since Houston ownership is known to overvalue their guys), the Angels should make a run at Dan Uggla. Right now it appears he is on the verge of being moved to their Rockies in exchange for Chris Iannetta and I see no reason why the Halos can’t try and trump that offer with either Jeff Mathis or, more likely, Mike Napoli. Uggla strikes out a lot, but he also has unquestionable 30-homer power. The wrinkle, and it is a big wrinkle, with him is that he plays second base, however, many feel he could transition to either corner infield position without too much of a hassle. That would be great for the Angels since they might prefer having the option to use him at third base on occasion, especially if they follow step 1 above and sign Carlos Delgado.
Back-up plan B: Next on the list for the Angels should be Josh Willingham. He is an outfielder by trade, but he has (very) limited experience at first base and is a converted catcher as well (and you know how Scioscia loves collecting catchers). Willingham has taken his game to the next level this year proving that not only is he a legitimate middle of the order bat, but that he can more than hold his own against lefties as well. Washington might be loathe to let Willingham go though since he is under team control for another season, but if the price is right the Angels should move fast.
Back-up plan C: If all else fails, talk Seattle into giving up recently acquired Russell Branyan. Branyan is a limited player, but he has real power and should be relatively cheap. His average leaves a lot to be desired, but for the salary he makes, that is something the Angels can live with. Plus, handing over Branyan is the least Seattle could do for the Angels after they handed Cliff Lee to the Rangers.
Step 5 – Get a good, reliable (emphasis on “reliable”) reliever
All the attention has been on the flailing Angel offense of late and it is almost like everyone forgot that the bullpen is being held together by scotch tape and bubble gum right now. With Fernando Rodney slumping and Jason Bulger seemingly far off from being healthy again, the Angels need to acquire the kind of relief arm that can give the pen some real stability. It also wouldn’t hurt if they got some flexibility as well by way of acquiring a southpaw for the pen since Mike Scioscia stubbornly refuses to use Brian Fuentes as anything but an inept closer. In this scenario, all signs point to Scott Downs. Since he pitches for Toronto, few people realize that Downs has actually been one of the best lefty middle relievers in baseball the last few years. And make no mistake, he isn’t a glorified LOOGY, he can get righties out with ease as well. The Jays will want a nice package for him since he is a Type A free agent (most likely) but he would definitely be worth the price.
Back-up plan: If Downs is too expensive, the Angels should just go for the best reasonably priced arm available and in my estimation that is Octavio Dotel. His overall numbers don’t look pretty, but that was all because he had a rough first month of the season. Since then, he has been virtually lights out. Dotel would be a great addition to any playoff team since he has been to the post-season and served in a variety of capacities including closer, set-up man and middle reliever, so however the Angels decide to use him, he isn’t likely to have trouble adjusting to the role. Besides, the Pirates generally seem to be inept, so I have little doubt that Tony Reagins could fleece their front office on such a deal without much effort.
Step 6 – Call up Peter Bourjos
OK, this one is a little out of left field, I admit. But it just so happens that it is literally out of left field as well. To put it lightly, Juan Rivera has sucked donkey ass this year and really let the Angels down. This move is really more about him than it is Bourjos. I’ve always felt that Rivera has a little too much Garret Anderson in him (lackadaisical and constantly hitting into ill-timed double plays), but he might be able to be cured of that if he were given some legit competition for his starting job. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Rivera has regressed in his first season without some other outfielder on the roster trying to steal his at-bats (turns out Gary Matthews was good for something).
Bourjos probably isn’t ready for the majors just yet, but he is close enough that his mere presence should light a fire under Rivera can get him clicking in the second half. And who knows, Bourjos might just hit the ground running and become a lethal speedster who could serve as a sort of second leadoff man in the bottom of the order. Plus, Bourjos is an amazing fielder that would really upgrade what has been a generally lousy defensive outfield for the Angels thus far in 2010.
Back-up plan: The Angels may not want to throw Bourjos into the playoff race fire just yet and understandably so. In that case, they need to dig a little deeper to find someone who can give Rivera more of a scare than lame old Cory Aldridge. At the same time, the Angels can’t really afford to cough up more prospects via trade if they are already going to add a first baseman and a reliever. That leaves only the free agency route, or at least the illusion of it. Starting now, the Angels should begin publicly courting Jermaine Dye. Dye seems to want too much in terms of money and playing time promises, but if the Angels can just flirt with him enough to let Rivera know that they are seriously considering replacing him, then he might just find his missing focus and start putting up the numbers we all know he can.