Angels look to future with promise

Angels look to future with promise

Call it the calm after the storm.

Waving adios to franchise centerpieces John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins made for a turbulent winter, and no small measure of despair from partisans.

But in the wake of all the change, the Angels come into focus as a club with a rock-solid foundation for the future.

Each member of the starting rotation is locked up for at least two years. The five infielders who figure to handle the lion's share of playing time are under club control for at least three seasons apiece.

Catchers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis also are contractually bound for three more years, and the outfield -- the one area showing some age -- should be intact for at least two more seasons.

After dealing with seven free agents this winter and retaining only Bobby Abreu, and after watching Garret Anderson, Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez depart the previous winter, the Angels will have only Scot Shields and Hideki Matsui as potential free agents next winter.

Brian Fuentes could make it a threesome if his 2011 option doesn't vest with 55 or more games finished in 2010.

Knowing how essential it was to keep the young nucleus intact, with the arbitration process bringing significant raises to one-third of the roster, the Angels decided to bite the bullet and let Lackey, Figgins and Guerrero walk to Boston, Seattle and Texas, respectively.

Also departing was valued middle reliever Darren Oliver (Texas) and former frontline starter Kelvim Escobar (Mets), with Robb Quinlan seeking employment as an all-purpose right-handed bat off the bench.

Lackey, Figgins, Guerrero, Oliver and Escobar attracted a combined $129.75 million for 12 guaranteed years -- Lackey's five-year, $82.5 million deal accounting for almost half of those totals.

That final dollar figure could swell with all but Escobar holding options for another year on their new deals.

The Angels essentially replaced these five players with free agents Joel Pineiro, Fernando Rodney and Matsui, with Brian Stokes coming aboard in a deal sending Gary Matthews (and $21.5 million) to the Mets.

Figgins will be replaced internally at third base by the tandem of Brandon Wood and Maicer Izturis.

Total value of the Pineiro, Rodney, Matsui, Stokes, Wood and Izturis contracts: $44 million over a total of 10 guaranteed seasons, three to Izturis (buying out two free-agency years) and two apiece to Pineiro and Rodney.

For $8 million more than the Mariners gave Figgins across four years, the Angels have six players who could make valuable contributions in their bid for a fourth consecutive American League West title.

When the final two arbitration cases with shortstop Erick Aybar and Mathis are resolved, and factoring in the $15.75 million distributed to Matthews and Justin Speier, the Angels figure to land right around $120 million in payroll for 2010. That would be about $6 million more than they spent last season.

A look at how the club stacks up contractually with estimates by departments for 2010:

Starting pitching ($29.965 million): Pineiro and Scott Kazmir, $8 million each; Ervin Santana, $6 million; Weaver, $4.265 million; Joe Saunders, $3.7 million.

Weaver and Saunders are under club control for three more years each. Santana has three years with a club option for 2013. Kazmir has two years with a club option for 2012, while Pineiro is signed through 2011.

Bullpen ($21.85 million): Fuentes, $9 million; Rodney, $5.5 million; Shields, $5.35 million; Matt Palmer, Stokes, Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger (estimated $500,000 each).

It's likely one of the relievers won't make the 25-man roster, unless manager Mike Scioscia elects to go with 12 pitchers to open the season.

With closing experience, Rodney (two years, $11 million) provides a cushion for 2011 if Fuentes doesn't finish 55 or more games and his option doesn't vest. Jepsen is seen as a future closer, while Bulger has closer-type stuff as well. They offer back-end protection if Shields doesn't return for 2011.

Catchers: ($4.6 million): Napoli, $3.6 million; Mathis, seeking $1.3 million in arbitration, offered $700,000.

This is great bang for your buck, and both players are committed to the club for three more years before they can become free agents.

The disparity in their salaries, given the fairly even overall contributions of Napoli and Mathis while they've shared the job the past 2 1/2 seasons, underscores how arbitration tilts heavily toward offensive numbers. Napoli's power production separates him, but Mathis is clearly a superior defender. Bobby Wilson, at an estimated $450,000, could factor in here as well as a third catcher.

Infield ($9.2 million): Izturis, $3.1 million (with $500,000 signing bonus); Aybar, asking for $2.75 million, offered $1.8 million; Howard Kendrick, $1.75 million; Kendry Morales, $1.1 million; Wood ($450,000 estimated); Freddy Sandoval ($400,000 estimated).

This is amazing talent and production for the cost. If Wood is the real deal, this infield could be together for almost as long as the Dodgers' great quartet of the '70s. Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey hung together for eight years.

Middle infielders Aybar, Izturis and Kendrick are under club control through 2012, Morales through 2013, Wood through 2014. These manageable contracts enable the club to fortify the one area that hasn't been productive in the system -- the outfield.

Outfield ($38.275 million): Torii Hunter, $18 million; Abreu, $9 million; Matsui, $6 million; Juan Rivera, $4.25 million; Reggie Willits, $625,000; Terry Evans or Chris Pettit, $400,000 estimated.

Hunter and Abreu, the heart and soul of the club now, each figure to be around for three more seasons. Hunter's three years are part of a five-year deal, while Abreu has a vesting option for 2012 on his new contract. Rivera is signed through 2011. Matsui, who figures to occupy the designated hitter role, is signed for one year.

By the time a youthful infusion in the outfield is in order, heralded prospects such as Peter Bourjos, Mike Trout and Randal Grichuk and possibly Mark Trumbo figure to be ready to contribute.

The beat goes on.

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