Tough to find fault with Reagins' Angels
TEMPE, Ariz. -- This time of year is usually filled with more questions than answers.
Questions about ability. Can a player develop into what the team hopes? Will he?
Questions about consistency. Will the players in the clubhouse on the final day of spring training stand the test of the season?
Questions about needs. Does this team have every piece that it needs to win?
Most general managers are happy if they come out of spring training feeling pretty good about 60 percent of those issues.
But as he surveyed the still-crowded clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium on this rare, soggy Sunday morning in Arizona, Angels general manager Tony Reagins wore a contented smile.
"We feel really good about this team and the position we're in,'' Reagins said. "We think we're in a position to do some special things again.
"We have to take it one day at a time and play 162 games, but at the end of it we feel good that we'll be where we want to be.''
Letting those players go via free agency after distinguished careers with the franchise was not easy, and they will be missed in more ways than one, but as so often happens in these parts, the plans for filling in what's been lost have been well thought out, and in some cases, well laid out several years in advance.
Figgins' departure clears room for talented third baseman Brandon Wood, who has been almost-major-league ready for a few years now but still needed some seasoning before handed the third base job for good.
The quintet of established No. 2 starters with the potential to be No. 1s -- Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Scott Kazmir and Joel Pineiro -- is arguably the deepest five-man rotation in the majors.
And Japanese giant Hideki Matsui should ably fill the rapidly aging Guerrero's shoes as a designated hitter.
"If you're able to develop players and keep them rotating through the system, then you'll have a bunch of home-grown players that understand how we play, so that when players reach free agency and decide to go elsewhere, we can just have a player step right in and do his thing,'' Reagins said when asked to explain the organizational philosophy of knowing how and when to move on from free agents and decide to hand the reins over to younger prospects.
"What you have to determine is whether the economics and the production [of a free agent] balance. If they don't balance, you have to make the decision on whether you want to stay with that player or move on.
"We had interest in all those players [Lackey, Figgins, Vlad] but we got to a level where we felt like it didn't make sense for us and our future, so we had to make those decisions.''
Each of those decisions were hard, Reagins admitted. And each of those decisions is subject for review this year and in the future. But he seemed genuinely at peace with the direction the team took on all of them and sure in himself and the decisions.
"You're going to make mistakes, but the objective is to be right more than you're wrong,'' Reagins said. "If you're right more than wrong, you can have longevity and consistency. That's what we've tried to do here.''
The results largely back him up, which means that systemically, the Angels seem to be doing things right.
Of the high-profile players who left the team when they hit free agency -- like Francisco Rodriguez, Jarrod Washburn, Garret Anderson, Adam Kennedy and Troy Percival -- very few have gone on to exceed what they did with the Angels.
The exceptions are relatively minor. Bengie Molina's power numbers have gone up since he left after the 2005 season; he's averaged 18.5 homers a season after never hitting more than 15 for the Angels. David Eckstein famously won a World Series in St. Louis and Troy Glaus hit 75 home runs in his first two seasons after leaving the Angels after the 2004 season.
But for the most part, the Angels have been pretty savvy about knowing when to hold 'em or fold 'em.
That's not to say the Angels shy away from 30-something players. They handed 32-year-old Torii Hunter a $90 million contract in 2007 and offered shorter-but-still-lucrative offers to Bobby Abreu and Matsui in the last two seasons.
"When they go get guys, they know what they're doing,'' Hunter said. "It's like they screen guys. When I came over here, I could tell right off it was my style of play. Play hard, play great defense, get a guy over from first to third if I have to ...
"I think they came and got me because they know I play the game just like Mike Scioscia and this organization wants it to be played.''
Reagins said the organization has long admired Matsui's talent, but the deciding factor in signing him this offseason was his consistency.
"You know what you're going to get when you have him in the lineup,'' Reagins said. "He's got power to all fields, he hits righties and lefties equally well, and he's consistent. That's the most important thing.''
If there are questions following the team this spring, most of them revolve around the ace-less pitching staff. Deep as the rotation is, Lackey's departure leaves a hole at the top of the rotation that may or may not be filled internally.
"We don't have a bona fide No. 1 probably, but we do have five bona fide No. 2s,'' Saunders said. "I'll take that over 1-2-3-4-5 any day. I think we'll match up one through five [with] the best in baseball.''Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.