As the Angels sift through what's left of the 2011 free agent class, this is the topic certain to be occupying the organization's best minds in the offices on Katella and State College, down the road from Disneyland.
What does the club need most to activate an offense that crumbled in 2010? A top-of-the-order fire-starter, or a middle-of-the-order thumper in the designated hitter role?
At least eight out of 10 Angels fans reflexively would call for the elusive "big bat," but the greater need, based on statistical data, seems to be the catalyst. The Angels fell off the map last season in manufacturing runs, a category defining little ball that they had dominated in previous years along with the Twins.
"I think we definitely need on-base percentage -- that's very clear," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Independent of Kendry [Morales] coming back, we need some guys that are going to get on base and make some things happen.
"If it becomes more of a get on base and put guys in motion offense, as opposed to an offense that has more relied on just batter's box offense, that remains to be seen. But we need more on-base percentage. Obviously, some guys that maybe can maybe add a little different dimension to our offense are going to be considered."
Studying the list of available bats, the catalysts are headed by Johnny Damon and Scott Podsednik, leadoff artists of proven quality. The list of available bashers is even more impressive, featuring potential Hall of Famers Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez along with Jim Edmonds.
Guerrero, given his history with the club and on the heels of a big comeback season with Texas, would be the choice of most fans, followed closely by Edmonds, the other former Angels star. Thome and Ramirez also have their appeal as sluggers of legend, still dangerous in their twilight years.
If the Angels opt for the table-setter, it would be understandable. Only Seattle in the American League had a lower team on-base percentage than the Angels, who were 10th in slugging and seventh in home runs. According to the calculations in the 2011 Bill James Handbook, after leading the Majors with 221 manufactured runs in 2009, Scioscia's outfit ran eighth in the AL with 163.
Stealing the Angels' playbook -- and thunder -- the AL champion Rangers led the Majors with 230 manufactured runs.
Looking to jump-start the attack, Damon or Podsednik would supply juice atop the Angels order while relieving younger athletes of the burden.
Damon is within reach of 3,000 hits, coming off a season in Detroit that might not have been up to his standards but was productive nonetheless. His .355 on-base percentage was right on his career mark, higher by far than any of the Angels attempting to handle Chone Figgins' old role managed to put together.
Damon, at 37, doesn't run as often as he once did, but he's highly efficient. He has been thrown out just once in 23 stolen-base attempts the past two seasons and owns a career 80 percent success rate with 385 steals. He's a .287 lifetime hitter with 215 home runs among his 2,571 hits.
Podsednik, spending 2010 with the Royals and Dodgers, batted .297 with a .342 OBP. He stole 35 bases in 50 attempts (70 percent). At 35, he's a better defender than Damon, who would spell Bobby Abreu in left while Podsednik would play more often in the field.
Podsednik, with 41 career homers and a .381 slugging mark, does not provide the power of Damon.
If the Angels decide they can get satisfaction out of their assembly of leadoff candidates -- Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar, Bobby Abreu, Alberto Callaspo, Howard Kendrick, Reggie Willits, Peter Bourjos -- they can focus on that thumper to drop in the heart of the order to protect Morales.
Guerrero and Ramirez from the right side and Thome and Edmonds from the left are intriguing names, to say the least. The trick is determining which of the well-aged quartet is most likely to maintain production -- and at what cost?
Guerrero, who turns 36 on Feb. 9, finished 11th in the AL Most Valuable Player balloting. Serving as Texas' primary DH, he batted .300 with a .345 OBP and .496 slugging mark for an OPS of .841. He hit .320 with runners in scoring position, and his 152 games played were his most since 2006.
Ramirez, who will be 39 on May 30, had a slash line of .298/.409/.460/.870 while playing a total of 90 games for the Dodgers and White Sox last season. He hit .310 with runners in scoring position. His history as one of the greatest postseason hitters ever is well documented, along with his unpredictable personal style.
Thome's 2010 performance for the Twins wasn't quite as good as Guerrero's, but it was close. In 108 games as a DH, he unloaded 25 homers with 59 RBIs, putting together an impressive stat line of .283/.412/.627/1.039. He was 18th in the MVP race. Thome, who hit .261 with runners in scoring position, is 11 homers away from 600 and turns 41 on Aug. 27.
After two offseasons and a year away from the game, Edmonds returned with a productive 2010 for the Brewers before joining the Reds for the stretch. His slash line was .276/.342/.504/.846 in 86 games, but he hit only .185 with runners in scoring position. An Angels star for six seasons before departing in 2000, he's seven homers away from 400 in his career. He'll be 41 on June 27.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.