Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stoneman Should Take Page From Bavasi's Book

The Angels success in the 1980's and early 1990's could be directly attributed to a cadre of core players including Tim Salmon, Garrett Anderson, Jim Edmonds and Troy Percival. Former Halo GM Bill Bavasi has the good sense to sign these young players to long-term deals that ultimately proved to be of significant cost savings to the Angels. It also had the added benefit of keeping some great players together through some of the best years of their respective careers while at the same time building a fan base that grew to know and cherish the players. It was a special time in that the Angel farm system produced some remarkable talent and the front office had the presence of mind to think of the future and sign them long-term.

Now history has a chance to repeat itself with a current crop of key players including John Lackey, Scot Shields, Frankie Rodriguez and Chone Figgins who all have signed one-year deals to avoid arbitration this season. If Angel GM Bill Stoneman can sign these key players to long-term deals it will provide the Angels, as Stoneman pointed out to the LA Times, a way to "predict our expenses" while offering the players security in the form of "guaranteed money". There is risk on both sides as the players face the possiblity that the market will pass them by (see: Molina, Bengie) while the team assumes responsibility to pay the players' contract even if he does not perform (see: Finley, Steve) or is injured (see: Salmon, Tim). I for one would lock these guys up early in 2006 to 4 year deals. As Bavasi cemented an All-Star caliber outfield for years, Stoneman could bring the same stability to the bullpen and rotation. On the field the Angels will no doubt try to extend the deal of Vladimir Guerrero but all bets are off for the rest of the batters. In particular jeopardy are the jobs of current Angel infielders. Last season Troy Glaus was sent packing in favor of Dallas McPherson at third base and that job may fall to Chone Figgins in '06 if D-Mac can not return from hip surgery. Bengie Molina was replaced this year by Jeff Mathis behind the plate and Casey Kotchman finally moved Darin Erstad off first base (though his demise was delayed thanks to Steve Finley whose moribund play facilitated a trade to the Giants and a move from first to center field for Erstad). At second base Adam Kennedy now has young Howie Kendrick breathing down his neck and Orlando Cabrera should be feeling considerable heat to start hitting before Brandon Wood supplants him at short. By this time next year we could be looking at an Angel infield comprised entirely of Halo farm hands with an average age around 24. Beyond the infield the Angels have Kendry Morales who can play first or outfield and young pitchers like Ervin Santana, Stephen Shell, Jared Weaver and Chris Bootcheck who could all play pivotal roles on current and upcoming Angel teams.

This group of promising young hitters (and Santana) would represent the second wave of potential long-term contract candidates that could stabilize the Halo line-up for many years. Of course these players, like the current crop of pitchers fishing for long-term deals, would have to prove themselves at the major league level over several years (and likely become arbitration eligible) before Arte Moreno will hand out his hard earned cash. But by bringing groups of players up together the Angels will have a 'team' mentality already branded into them and potentially a longing to stay together that Stoneman can use to his advantage in negotiating long-term deals. With the circus of their name-change trial and their lack of activity in the free-agent market this year, the timing is ripe for the Halos to appease their fans by securing the future of current players with the club. After losing fan favorite Glaus, the Angel faithful are itchy for some certainty with their club. All those people who dropped $125 on Steve Finley jerseys last year want some assurances before they plunk down another C-Note+ for a replica John Lackey jersey and K-Rod bobblehead.

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