December 2010

If not Beltre, why not a reunion?

For argument’s sake, let’s say agent Scott Boras pulls another Jayson Werth out of his hat and convinces somebody – the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers — that Adrian Beltre is worth more than the $70 million across five seasons reportedly offered by the Angels.

Where does Team Moreno go from there? Is there a legitimate Plan B moving forward?

At the risk of once again alienating my growing anti-fan base, I have an idea that makes sense to me. Why not make a creative effort to bring back the 2009 Angels offense? You remember that attack, how it mauled opponents from top (Chone Figgins) to bottom (Erick Aybar) with speed and power. The amazing thing is that they continued to roll through the summer with their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, sidelined together for an extended period of time.

Figgins is now in Seattle, having endured a frustrating debut season with the Mariners, while Guerrero is a free agent after a blockbuster season in Texas, his big body healed after the multiple injury disruptions of ’09.

I could be wrong – it’s happened before – but it seems plausible that the Angels and Mariners could work out a mutually beneficial deal involving Figgins. It also is possible that Guerrero could be lured back to Anaheim with the two-year deal he is seeking that the Rangers don’t seem to have prepared for the man who made life much nicer for Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Co. with his presence.

With a need for power, Seattle could acquire power-hitting left fielder Juan Rivera and Alberto Callaspo, a versatile infielder, in exchange for the leadoff catalyst who was missed so badly by the Angels. Yes, Figgins is costly — $26 million guaranteed for three more years, with a vesting option for 2014. And there doubtless are some residual hard feelings that would need smoothed over in the Figgins camp over his exit in the afterglow of a career year in ’09. But couples reunite all the time, and if it serves to benefit everyone involved . . . why not?

If Figgins doesn’t reach 600 plate appearances in 2013, the $9 million vesting option for ’14 does not kick in. That’s a lot of at-bats; to get there, Figgy would have to remain healthy and productive.

Now, on to Guerrero. What would it take to bring him back? Perhaps something in thle $20 million range for two years. Given what he meant to the Angels, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. His return would quiet a lot of fans who are spewing invective these days.

Yes, Guerrero clearly benefitted from the comforts of Rangers Ballpark, and his second half wasn’t nearly as productive as the first. But a .300 batting average with 29 homers and 115 RBIs is a healthy season under any measure. During the American League Division Series against the Rays, Vlad told me his knees felt better than they have in four years, and it showed in the way he ran the bases.

Guerrero’s understated leadership qualities should not be overlooked. He had a lot to do with the emergence of Aybar, who clearly missed his big brother figure. It should be noted that Beltre, much like Guerrero, is a highly regarded clubhouse presence for his calm, easy manner and certainly is capable of filling that leadership role if he comes aboard.

A Beltre signing would be cause for celebration — even if it’s hardly a unanimous sentiment among disgruntled Angels followers who seemingly won’t be satisfied until the club reunites the 2002 offense or acquires Evan Longoria, Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols.

Beltre can play. Boston fans fell in love with him in 2010, but they realize that Adrian Gonzalez is younger with more upside and that Kevin Youkilis is now a third baseman. Otherwise, they’d be incensed in Beantown over Beltre’s departure after a brilliant season.

Much is made of Beltre’s perceived struggles in Seattle after his mammoth season with the Dodgers in 2004, but he didn’t perform that badly considering Safeco Field is notoriously rough on right-handed batters. Fewer home runs were hit there by righties (61) than in any park in 2010, and that’s a fairly consistent stat.

The Angels’ reported proposal for Beltre, at 32, seems more than reasonable. If it’s not enough, so be it. But landing Figgins and Guerrero for a total of five contract years at roughly $46 million – or six years and $55 million if the Figgins option vests - seems to be a viable alternative to five years and $70 million for Beltre.

I’m not saying it’s going to happen or even can happen. It’s just an innocent thought from someone who would like to see some much-needed holiday cheer extending into a new season. – Lyle Spencer

Angels need Beltre — and Damon

The Angels have lost their sizzle. They’ve made a few nice splashes in the bullpen with lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi bringing balance, but that’s not going to appease the disenfranchised fandom. They’re craving some big-name recognition.

The Angels have to do everything possible to make a bold move in the wake of losing Carl Crawford to the Red Sox. The obvious target is Adrian Beltre, a gem defensively with a lively bat. He’s a tough sign, of course, with Scott Boras running the show, but this is important. The Angels need to make a statement, not only to their fans but to their own players. Beltre would do that.

But I wouldn’t stop there. I’d go get Johnny Damon.

Sitting out there in free-agent land, virtually unnoticed, is one of the game’s acknowledged winners and sparkling personalities. Yes, he’s getting up in years, and some Angels fanatics are weary of importing former Yankees in their sunset years. But Damon can still play. He had a solid season in Detroit – 36 doubles, .355 on-base percentage – and would solve the leadoff issue, at last.

Give Damon a one-year deal at fair market value and let him keep left field warm for Mike Trout along with Bobby Abreu, the two former teammates in the Bronx sharing left and the DH role. Damon is not a great defender, but he’s good enough – and, like Torii Hunter, he’d be enormously helpful to Peter Bourjos.

For a team in need of a personality implant, Damon has few peers. He’s universally respected and liked throughout the game as a standup guy, a winner. He’s tough and he’s smart. He would also give Hunter some breathing room in an Angels clubhouse that is not exactly brimming with exciting, articulate leaders.

There’s a reason why a dozen or so reporters mill around Hunter’s locker space for 162 games every year. He has something to say and doesn’t mind saying it. The Angels have some terrific performers, notably in the starting rotation, but they’re not exactly quote machines. They prefer low profiles.

Johnny Damon is high profile, and affordable. I say go get him while you’re busy trying to figure out how to land Beltre. I’ve heard Damon could be on his way to Tampa Bay, but he has to see how difficult and dreary it could be in the Trop this season with no Crawford, no Rafael Soriano, no Carlos Pena, a bullpen that needs reconstructed.

Come on out west, Johnny D. And bring that bright light that follows you around. This team needs to come in out of the darkness. It could use one of the most endearing “Idiots” ever to pass through a Major League clubhouse. – Lyle Spencer
 

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