Scioscia looks to fill void left by Torii

Scioscia looks to fill void left by Torii

Scioscia looks to fill void left by Torii
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The offseason loss of outfielder Torii Hunter, who signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the Tigers in the early stages of free agency, is a big one for the Angels. Hunter wasn't just a very productive two-way player, but a leader, and in many ways the heart and soul of the team.

Manager Mike Scioscia knows that. But he's happy with an outfield alignment that will mostly have Mike Trout in left field, Peter Bourjos in center, Mark Trumbo in right and Vernon Wells in reserve. And he's confident that a veteran clubhouse, with Albert Pujols and Jered Weaver at the center, can sustain the void of even a presence like Hunter's.

His biggest concern over Hunter's loss resides in his lineup, in the spot nestled between Trout and Pujols.

"I think what we have to carve out is that No. 2 spot that Torii just fit like a glove," Scioscia said of Hunter, who hit .343 with an .854 OPS in 85 starts in the two-hole. "He took that role and he just ran with it and got back to his roots of being a young player coming up and getting into a situational game and played at a high level for us. That's what we have to, I think, be able to replicate. And hopefully we will."

Two candidates Scioscia mentioned were his two middle infielders, Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick. Aybar seems like a natural fit because he's a switch-hitter and can bunt well, but he has a history for getting off to slow starts. Kendrick seemed like an ideal fit there last year, but as the season progressed, it was obvious that the Angels' second baseman was more comfortable hitting fifth or sixth.

Speaking from the Gaylord Opryland Hotel on Wednesday, on the third and final full day of the Winter Meetings, Scioscia also floated the idea of Trout hitting lower in the lineup so he can have more opportunities to drive in runs.

"He fell right into the leadoff hole and was just a natural [last year], but you certainly want to set the table for Mike," said Scioscia, speaking a few hours before the Angels agreed to two-year deals with starter Joe Blanton and reliever Sean Burnett. "As a leadoff hitter, there's certainly an argument to saying, 'How much are your eight and nine guys getting on for Mike to justify putting him in that spot?' He might be suited to hit second in your lineup if you have the right combination.

"I think there's a lot of lineups you can roll around right now. The one thing with Mike that was incredible was really the amount of RBIs he had [83] for really not getting maybe as many opportunities as some guys. That's something you would definitely explore when you're putting lineups together."

Other notes ...
• Scioscia hasn't met with free-agent starter Zack Greinke this offseason. He spoke with him at the end of the regular season and said, "The dialogue is really going to be between Jerry and his agent."

• Scioscia did speak with Wells, who will go into the season with a limited role in much of the same way as Bobby Abreu did last year.

"It's been frustrating not only for Vernon, but for us as a staff because of the talent," the Angels' skipper said. "You still see the bat speed there. You see a guy that can play at a higher level, and you know, we'll see where Vernon is. But he's been very frustrated, also."

• Lefty Nick Maronde, who pitched well in relief as a late callup, will be invited to Spring Training and be given a chance to compete for a bullpen spot. But with Burnett on board, Maronde is likely to go back to starting in Double-A.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.