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Inbox: Can Angels hang with Rangers?

Inbox: Can Angels hang with Rangers?

Inbox: Can Angels hang with Rangers?
No blindfold or cigarette, thank you. Blast away, firing squad.

I would hate seeing Adrian Beltre in Texas, as rumored. One can hope for a Rangers swoon, but that lineup with Beltre joining Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and Vladimir Guerrero (assuming he comes back) would rival any -- maybe even the old Yankees. How can the Angels compete with that?
-- Ed L., Peoria, Ill.

That lineup would be formidable, indeed. The Angels would have to rely on a more complete game -- pitching, defense, restoring their ability to manufacture runs -- to remain on par with the defending American League West-champion Rangers. It's one reason why I floated the idea of bringing back Guerrero, to serve the dual purpose of stripping a weapon from Texas while returning some force to the Angels' lineup.

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Frankly, I'm surprised the Rangers would focus on Beltre rather than free-agent closer Rafael Soriano. He's the guy I'd fear most moving to Texas if I'm an Angels fan. Signing Soriano would free Texas to return Neftali Feliz to a starting role, where he could evolve into a bigger version of Pedro Martinez, his hero.

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It would take a year or two for him to regain his endurance and get deep in games, but Feliz has ace potential -- and right now, that's the Angels' biggest advantage over the Rangers: two legitimate No. 1 starters in Jered Weaver and Dan Haren fronting a potentially lethal rotation with Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir behind them. Texas can't match up with the depth and quality of that rotation.

As for Beltre, Texas already has a third baseman with All-Star credentials in Young, its acknowledged clubhouse leader. Beltre is a superb player, no doubt, but it seems the Rangers' needs are elsewhere. Investing more than $30 million a year in these two players would appear to be a luxury. Maybe Texas is convinced Brandon Webb will return to form as an ace, but it's always iffy when a pitcher has lost as much time as he has.

What are the chances that Mike Napoli will be traded this season?
-- Nick H., Norco, Calif.

That's hard to gauge right now. We have to wait and see how the catchers perform this spring. It would appear that the starting job is wide open, and that manager Mike Scioscia will be open-minded before determining who deserves the most playing time among the four candidates: Napoli, Jeff Mathis, Hank Conger and Bobby Wilson.

Scioscia thinks Napoli can rebound and, with a full commitment, become a solid defensive catcher after a disappointing performance behind the plate in 2010. Napoli's play at first last year should raise his stock in the market. He's a guy clearly capable of exceeding 30 home runs and driving in close to 100 runs if he plays every day. A club in need of a first baseman with power would be wise to consider him a possibility.

Why no interest in free agent Scott Podsednik, before he goes somewhere else, like Cincinnati? There's still a big hole in left field and at the leadoff spot, and he's relatively cheap. Why do you prefer Johnny Damon to Podsednik?
-- Tom S., Moreno Valley, Calif.

Podsednik is a fine player with solid credentials, but Damon has surpassed him across the board in terms of career performance. While either player would fill the leadoff void nicely, Damon, for the Angels' immediate needs, seems the clear choice. Bobby Abreu would be fine settling in as the everyday left fielder with Juan Rivera and Damon spelling him.

Damon, at 37, is two years older than Podsednik, whose stronger arm makes him a better defender. Damon had a solid 2009 in Detroit, playing 145 games, primarily as a designated hitter, and continuing to produce. Dividing time between the Royals and Dodgers, Podsednik has a higher batting average than Damon but a lower on-base percentage.

Damon has 2,571 career hits with a lifetime OBP of .355, exactly what he delivered last season. Podsednik has 1,036 career hits and a .340 OBP. Damon has scored 90 or more runs in a season 12 times; Podsednik has done it once. While he isn't running as frequently as in the past, Damon has stolen 23 bases in 24 attempts the past two seasons and has an 80 percent success rate in his career. Podsednik has stolen a total of 65 bags the past two seasons but with a 70 percent success rate. He has been successful 75 percent of the time in career steals.

I don't see Fernando Rodney being a dominant closer -- scary at best! What is the backup plan?
-- Gary S., Flint, Mich.

Rodney certainly warrants the first shot at the job, based on his 37-for-38 performance in save situations for the Tigers in 2009. Granted, he was wildly inconsistent with the Angels last season, but he had stretches where he looked confident and dominant.

If Rodney doesn't hold his command, Scioscia won't hesitate to go young with Kevin Jepsen or Jordan Walden. Both have superior stuff. Few pitchers alive throw as hard as Walden, who hit 100 mph consistently down the stretch. The new lefties, Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi, also provide ninth-inning protection.

I don't see this as the pressing issue others do, but everyone knows I view the game through rose-tinted glasses. I was covering the Dodgers when Steve Howe came out of nowhere -- Double-A, actually -- to emerge as a dominant closer, and I've seen it happen a number of times since then. Jepsen and Walden have the ability to do that.

Do you think the Angels might consider bringing back Troy Glaus on a one-year deal if they fail to land Beltre? Glaus would be more productive than any of our other third base candidates, and he could really influence Brandon Wood, who had a very similar path to the big leagues.
-- Jeremy O., Riverside, Calif.

Glaus played only one game at third in 2010 for the Braves; he's a first baseman/DH now, and I don't see the Angels feeling there's a need there with Kendry Morales coming back and Napoli having shown he's a solid first baseman.

Napoli, in fact, was much better defensively at first last season than behind the plate. All the numbers bear that out. Scioscia has no interest in moving Morales to the outfield, however, so don't expect Napoli to see a lot of time at first.

Why aren't the Angles really trying to contend? They are relying on prospects who are not panning out. They should try to trade for someone like Evan Longoria. I know it won't happen, but that is what the team needs, proven young players.
-- Ed R., Orange, Calif.

Rest assured, if Longoria or someone of his stature, such as Hanley Ramirez, became available, the Angels would do everything short of dealing Mike Trout to make it happen. Great young talent just doesn't materialize unless you're willing to trade established players or three of your best prospects, as the Red Sox did to acquire Adrian Gonzalez.

Something to keep in mind is that the team that meets in February isn't necessarily the one that will open the season, or be on the roster in August. The Angels have a recent history of seeing where they are around midseason and making a move on the missing piece. Given this team's exceptional pitching depth and anticipated improvement from a number of offensive sources, I can't see it falling out of contention at any point in the 2011 season.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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