The Angels are coming off of their most successful season since 2005, 100-win regular seasons notwithstanding. They managed to stay afloat while dealing with the death of a teammate. They survived injuries to key players that would have decimated lesser clubs. And they finally beat the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs. All-in-all, it was a pretty good season even with the team flubbing and floundering their way through the ALCS and losing to the eventual champion Yankees. Hell, a ton of experts didn't even think the Halos would win the AL West. I'm guessing there will be even more predictions that they relinquish their stranglehold on the AL West in 2010. And maybe they will. Chances are, the Angels will not look like the same club they've been since 2004.
Continuity has been one of the club's primary characteristics over the last five or six seasons, that and baserunners going first to third on a single ("they play the game the right way, blah blah blah"). From year to year, you knew John Lackey would be leading the rotation, Chone Figgins would be leading off and creating havoc on the bases and Vlad Guerrero would be swinging at every pitch thrown in his general direction, hittable or not, and, until recently, carrying the club from an offensive standpoint. Sure, you'd get a Gary Matthews, Torii Hunter or Bobby Abreu here and there, but for the most part, you knew what the Angels would look like next season, pretty much the day the Red Sox ended whatever season you're talking about. Not the case this "next season."
The first three guys I mentioned above are all free agents, along with a few other bench guys and 40-year-old wonder Darren Oliver, who will hopefully give it another go before moving to Boca Raton, or wherever it is old people go. Seriously, dude's old. But he's left-handed and can still pitch. And there are plenty of Hometown Buffets in Southern California. Did I mention he was old? Anyway, a lot of teams are looking at more free agents than the Angels are, but few are looking at more free agents who are as key to the club's success as the Angels. Ace, leadoff hitter (and a nice glove at 3B) and cleanup hitter - all hitting the free agent market. Of course, Vlad is not the same Vlad that won the AL MVP in 2004, or even the same Vlad that hit 27 HRs in both 2007 and 2008. Vlad seemed to age 5 years in the 2008 off-season and is now perpetually injured or banged-up, even in a full-time DH role. Vlad may not be entirely "done," but for what the Angels need - a middle of the order bat - he is. It wouldn't surprise me if Vlad's in an Angels uni in 2010, and if he is, I hope he makes me and many other Angels fans eat our words. But it's probably best for the club to look elsewhere as far as a DH is concerned. There are a few serviceable FA's out there, and even giving Napoli the job and hitting him out of the 6 or 7-hole might be a better option than Vlad. Tough to say, but true. Probably.
Now to Lackey. Big John has been the Angels ace and one of the leaders of the team, not just the pitching staff, for a while now. We always hear about how much of a "bulldog" he is and how much "fire" and "heart" and "insert adjective here" he pitches with. But the bottom line is, he's been one of the most consistent pitchers in the AL over the last four or five seasons. He's had five straight seasons with an ERA under 4.00 and almost won a Cy Young Award in 2007, going 19-9 with a 3.01 ERA. He's been pretty durable, even though he's started the last two seasons on the DL and hasn't reached the 200-inning mark since '07. The last two seasons are a bit of a red flag, but they weren't major injuries and he rebounded to pitch well in both seasons and he really did have a nice postseason for the Halos in '09. Thing is, Big John's in a pretty good position, as far as Big John's concerned. He is the best free agent pitcher available in a pretty down year for FA starters. Some team's gonna pay him a lot of money to bring his fire and bulldoggedness to their club. Will the Angels pay to keep him? Should they? Tough call, really. Chances are, whoever signs him will be overpaying a bit and will probably only get 2 or 3 more seasons of the John Lackey we see now. Other pitchers are available via trade, ala Roy Halladay, but parting with young talent hasn't been the Angels M.O., as we all know. I just don't see Lackey in an Angels uniform for 2010.
But the hottest Angel on the FA market may not even be Lackey. It very well may be Chone Figgins. Desmond DeChone has become one of the premier leadoff hitters in baseball and is coming off his best season. His OBP percentage hovered around .400 all season, he walked 100 times, he scored 114 runs, he stole 42 bases. Figgy had a hell of a season. While he's held down 3B for the Halos the past few seasons, he can play anywhere, really, and if another team signs him, he'll probably end up playing LF or 2B. He's obviously not a prototypical third baseman and the Angels think they may have one waiting in the wings in Brandon Wood. Jury's still out on that. I wouldn't be surprised to see Figgy return to Anaheim. We don't exactly have a leadoff hitter in waiting (Aybar's not ready) and the organization may be ready to trade Wood in a deal to acquire pitching. We'll see, but this Angels fan wants Figgy back. Our offense would take a HUGE hit if he left, I'm afraid. But just like with Lackey, teams are going to throw some ridiculous jack at Chone. Not sure if the Angels will be one of them.