-- Alex W., Modesto, Calif.
My gut feeling is that the bullpen will return to the form of past seasons, with high-quality depth and balance. This is based on my belief that Shields will return to prime setup form -- he was moving well on his reconstructed knee when he visited the clubhouse late in the season -- and free-agent lefty Darren Oliver resumes his role as the valued all-purpose glue. Oliver is getting better with age, and the year off should restore life to Shields' valuable arm.
Arredondo also figures to be better after elbow issues were a bigger problem, I believe, than he let on last season. The guy showed in '08 what he can do. Durable (and vastly underrated) Jason Bulger was the team's most effective pitcher with runners on base last season, holding hitters to a .175 batting average with runners aboard and .153 (sixth in the AL) with runners in scoring position.
Jepsen showed the power arm and demeanor of a potential closer, and Matt Palmer was invaluable in multiple roles. Fuentes -- if you can forgive him for one fastball to Alex Rodriguez in October -- was everything the Angels could have anticipated, with an MLB-best 48 saves. Fuentes had a higher saves percentage (.873) than his predecessor, Francisco Rodriguez, put together for the Mets. If all the pieces hold together, this could be one of the game's deepest and best bullpens.
Like you, Lyle, I am a huge Brandon Wood fan. I believe this guy has all the tools to be a star in the Majors, so why don't the Angels do what they did with Kendry Morales and put this kid out there and see what he can do?
-- Vincent M., Upland, Calif.
The time has come for Wood. If Chone Figgins departs as a free agent, Wood needs to be given every opportunity to prove he deserves third base -- and I'm convinced he'll do that and become a highly productive player.
If Figgins returns to play third base, the Angels need to see which clubs value Wood most and move him for the best merchandise they can acquire in exchange. At this stage of his career, he needs to play every day -- if not in Anaheim, then somewhere. His swing doesn't lend itself to part-time service. One of the Angels players who went through the farm system with him assured me that "Woody will blow up" if he ever gets the security of a full-time job. He's solid defensively with a quick, explosive stroke that will produce power numbers.
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If you're an Angels fan, you'd like to see that happen in Anaheim. If you're a Wood fan, you want to see it happen, period.
What do you think about a possible trade of Juan Rivera for Curtis Granderson? The Tigers are trying to cut payroll, and if Figgins signs elsewhere, the Angels could be short one leadoff man. I think Granderson would flourish in left and would be a huge improvement on the basepaths from Rivera. Is this a good trade for both sides, and is it possible?
-- Justin F., Spanish Fork, Utah
For whatever reasons, Granderson's vitals as a leadoff man -- .249 batting average, .327 on-base percentage -- were way down in '09. It appears, with his 30 homers, that he was swinging for the fences rather than focusing on getting on base. He is a quality player, for sure, but I'm not convinced this would be a big enough upgrade to justify the salary difference. Rivera was a highly productive, underrated player for the Angels last season -- and played solid left field.
If the Angels and Gary Matthews Jr. want to part company, why can't his contract be reworked so he can be appealing to a new team?
-- Geoff G., Huntington Beach, Calif.
The Angels could elect to pick up part of the $23 million owed Matthews for the next two seasons, or they could try to acquire another high-priced player -- a starting pitcher, perhaps -- another club would unload for a quality center fielder with the versatility to hit anywhere in the lineup.
The Angels have never reached deep into their pockets for quality starting pitchers. Do you see them making a run at Roy Halladay or Ben Sheets, or are we going to watch the Yankees and Red Sox pick up all the top free agents again this year?
-- Michael S., Gillette, Wyo.
If the Angels could work a mutually satisfying deal for Halladay, I believe they would do it. But they can't give up what Toronto figures to demand unless they would be able to work out a contract extension, given that Halladay is eligible for free agency after the 2010 season and has a shot at breaking the bank in the CC Sabathia mold. That's a big obstacle. As for Sheets, his injury history makes him a risk unless he takes a contract heavily loaded with incentives.
With the Angels having so many players who are out of options -- Wood, Bobby Wilson, Terry Evans, Matt Brown -- do you foresee a large trade that might include some of those players? A Matthews trade would make room for Figgins in left field and create a spot for Wood at third. As for starting pitchers, how about a deal for Arizona's Dan Haren?
-- Kurt J., Springville, Calif.
The Angels do have decisions to make on Wood, Wilson, Evans and Brown. They either have to be on the 25-man roster or made available to other clubs. Wood is the big name, obviously, but Evans, Wilson and Brown all have shown Major League talent in limited opportunities and have big Triple-A numbers, even though Brown struggled last season after a brilliant spring. As for Haren, he's very close to Halladay's level and would command a major package -- probably out of the Angels' reach, but perhaps not. He's a name that could surface prominently in July.
Would it be a good idea if the Angels go after Joel Pineiro if they don't sign John Lackey?
-- Dhillon B., Hawthorne, Calif.
Pineiro had his best year at age 30 for the Cardinals in 2009, and it came right on time with free agency on the horizon. There are concerns that he happened to put it all together under pitching coach Dave Duncan and might not duplicate it, but he does have a good arm and had some solid seasons in Seattle.
I always try to prepare for the worst, and after the way we lost Mark Teixeira last year I have given thought to what to do if we can't resign Lackey. What about Sheets? He seems like a great fit in our rotation as a big-game pitcher like Scott Kazmir. Do you think the Angels might sign him?
-- Nicholas L., Covina, Calif.
Sheets is one of the best when he's healthy. Trouble is, he has made it through only one of the past four seasons and didn't pitch at all last year. At 31, he's in the same position as Kelvim Escobar, one of the Angels' six free agents. Sheets must prove he's sound physically in order to reestablish himself as a dependable pitcher.
Realistically, how good would the Angels be next year without Lackey, Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero? Would they still be championship caliber?
-- Kevin H., Lakewood, Wash.
That's the $64 million question, isn't it? My feeling is that they'll still be highly competitive, given their extraordinary depth and the remarkable knack manager Mike Scioscia has of making everything work. Championship caliber? They'd need career years from some players, a sound pitching staff and the emergence of potential bombers such as Wood and Mike Napoli as full-scale run producers, with Napoli as the primary DH and Jeff Mathis handling most of the catching duties.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.