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Halos' offseason holds big decisions
Big decisions loom for Halos
By Lyle Spencer
ANAHEIM -- When it comes to revealing where they stand on personnel matters, the Angels' decision-makers don't play it close to the vest.
They play it inside the vest. That's where you'll find their hands and cards.
An offseason of intrigue is on the horizon, with six of the 25 men who formed the postseason roster for manager Mike Scioscia's American League West champions eligible for free agency.
That doesn't include Kelvim Escobar, a former front-line starter whose future is clouded after basically two lost seasons with shoulder problems.
Up in the air in the wake of their ouster by the Yankees in six games in the AL Championship Series after a rousing three-game sweep of the Red Sox in the AL Division Series are the dynamic duo atop the batting order and the tower of power atop the rotation, along with a man many consider the greatest talent in franchise history.
Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, John Lackey and Vladimir Guerrero form that formidable quartet. Nobody outside the Angels' tight inner circle, including the athletes themselves at this point, can offer anything more than a guesstimate of where they'll be employed when camps open next spring.
Joining the big four on the open market, Darren Oliver and Robb Quinlan are respected veterans who have brought stability and versatility to Scioscia's outfit.
Here is one scribe's early-line speculation on the likelihood of these seven players returning to the Angels:
Seven players on the Angels are eligible for free agency after the World Series ends. Here are their 2009 regular-season stats.
Abreu and Oliver: 50 percent.
Figgins: 40 percent.
Lackey: 30 percent.
Guerrero: 25 percent.
Escobar: 10 percent.
Quinlan: 2 percent.
The Angels' extraordinary depth has paid off in three consecutive division titles and five in six seasons. It's been a great run, and there are young athletes poised to expand roles if opportunity arises.
The critical judgment management must make is whether it has gone as far as it can with this group of players. If that window has closed, new doors will be opened to usher in new talent. It's the nature of the game.
"I'd love to come back with the same players next year and see what we can do," Jered Weaver said as the Angels were preparing to depart Yankee Stadium on Sunday night. "We had a great year, and it's a bummer we fell short. But we have nothing to hang our heads over."
It was a season of profound heartache and soaring achievement for Weaver and his friends.
Nick Adenhart, a popular and gifted starter with star potential, was killed in a car crash that claimed two companions and severely injured another in the season's opening week.
Mourning, trying to find their moorings, the Angels found themselves at 29-29 on June 11. Facing a crossroads, they could have packed it in, written it off.
They took flight, driven by inspired leadership both in the clubhouse and from the manager's office. They won 97 games, swept Boston and then forced New York to a Game 6.
Only the Yankees were better, and it took them six memorable ALCS games to prove it.
Weaver turned promise into performance, elevating his stature. He'll be back in February, determined to take it up another notch.
"It's going to be an interesting winter."
-- Jered Weaver
It remains to be seen if his buddy and mentor, Lackey, will be lead dog in the rotation. That's a drama that will play out, along with those of Guerrero, Figgins and Abreu, over the next three months.
"I'm not going there," Lackey said, refusing to offer any insights into his mindset on the threshold of his first venture into free agency. "This season just ended."
Lackey, as the premier starting pitcher in the market, improved his standing with top-shelf postseason work. The Angels would love to have him back, but it seems doubtful they'll go as high as the price figures to rise, into the $80 million range across five seasons.
They'll still have four quality starters in Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir. A fifth wheel could be acquired via free agency or trade.
Figgins, whose brilliant season leading off and at third base made him a legitimate Most Valuable Player candidate along with Abreu, also will be in demand despite his unproductive postseason.
Figgins is on the short list of exciting catalysts availabe this offseason. He's in his prime at 31 with the added value of being able to handle at a high level five defensive roles - all three outfield positions as well as third and second.
If both New York and Chicago teams get actively involved with Figgins, as rumored, it could drive his price tag beyond the Angels' reach, into the $10 million-per-year range.
The time has come for a decision on Brandon Wood. Find him a steady job or deal him for pitching. He'll never flourish as a part-timer with his long swing.
Wood could slide in at third, a job Maicer Izturis also could handle capably.
Abreu, at 35, gave the Angels maximum value for his $6 million free-agency tag. A positive presence whose clubhouse impact as a mentor was matched only by Torii Hunter, Abreu reestablished his value as a top-tier offensive player.
If the Angels decide Figgins is too expensive, they'll need a leadoff man. Abreu could serve that role nicely until Erick Aybar is deemed ready. But it won't be an easy signing.
Contenders are expected to recognize the errors of their ways last offseason and come after Abreu, with both Chicago clubs believed to have interest. The White Sox or Cubs could keep Figgins and Abreu together.
Guerrero played only 100 regular-season games, showing slippage at 35, yet proved in a highly productive postseason that he's still a force.
Guerrero made it clear on Sunday night he wants to prove he can still play right field after a season spent confined to DH duties because of leg ailments and a torn chest muscle.
Guerrero's market value is impossible to gauge. He has family in New York and could be a fit with the Yankees. The Mets are in dire need of offense and a marquee name to compete with the royalty in the Bronx for New York's attention -- and dollars.
Guerrero's mother is content in Southern California, and her well-being is Vlad's main concern. He might accept less to stay, but he is a prideful man who wants to play right field, not DH.
If the Angels don't think Guerrero can still play in the field, they should seriously consider Mike Napoli as their primary DH, installing Jeff Mathis as their full-time catcher with Bobby Wilson in reserve. That's an idea whose time has come.
Oliver, durable and dependable, held the Halos' staff together along with Weaver, Brian Fuentes, Matt Palmer and Jason Bulger for a chunk of the season while other arms mended.
Oliver said he'll talk it over with his wife, and they'll decide if he should continue pitching or slide comfortably into retirement, a full-time dad.
Quinlan, whose role has diminished the past few seasons, is looking for a place where his versatility and bat can have a greater impact. The National League is clearly more suited to his talents, unless his hometown Twins decide he'd be a good fit.
Escobar, the wild card, must show this offseason he has something left in his right arm. An incentive-laden contract is a possibility, if the Angels decide his upside makes him a worthwhile gamble.
"Obviously," Weaver said, "it's going to be an interesting winter."
That would qualify as an understatement, 100 percent.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.