- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Having lunch the other day with a scout who has seen the Los Angeles Angels frequently, I asked him to tell me the first thing that jumped out to him about this team.
His answer came a little more quickly than I expected.
"Lack of outfield depth," he said.
Sounds a bit trivial at first, doesn't it? It's the American League. How much depth do you need? Just run your best guys out there for 162 games, look up the standings in early October and find out if you're in the playoffs.
You rarely need a pinch hitter. You've got a few backups in case somebody gets hurt, needs a day off or can't play defense. That's about it.
Then you think about it a little more, and it starts to sink in: Did the Angels make a blunder by trading away Gary Matthews Jr. to the New York Mets in January? A few weeks ago, I would have been embarrassed to write that sentence.
But let's recap the Angels' spring for those who have day jobs. Torii Hunter, 34, missed a week of games with some discomfort in the groin muscle he had surgically repaired in November. Bobby Abreu, 36, has been out for a week because of a strained muscle in his rib-cage area.
Hideki Matsui, 35, has yet to play the outfield, and that quest is beginning to look like a goose chase. He's willing, but the man has a left knee that's twice been surgically repaired. There are 25 Japanese reporters here who can give you all the details.
Oh yeah, and the guy who was supposed to back all those 30-somethings up, Reggie Willits, is out for at least a week (and probably more) with a strained hamstring.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Matthews is batting .333 with three doubles and two home runs as he battles Angel Pagan to be the Mets' starting center fielder until Carlos Beltran comes back. Only one Angel, Howie Kendrick, has as many extra-base hits as Matthews this spring.
More important, Matthews plays all three outfield spots. In fact, he plays them better than two of the Angels' three starting outfielders.
Ah, but think of the money they're saving. Oh, really? The Angels are paying $10 million of Matthews' $11 million salary this year. If Willits makes the team, the Angels will pay him $625,000. In other words, they'll save $375,000 because they moved Matthews. These days, you can barely get a decent clubhouse attendant for that.
The player the Angels got for Matthews, Brian Stokes, isn't even a lock to make the roster. The Angels look like they have a pretty stocked bullpen, and Stokes might be battling Matt Palmer for the final chair in it.
Manager Mike Scioscia, ever the company man, isn't ready to admit the Angels are thinner than a Hollywood debutant when it comes to outfielders.
"Reggie's a little banged up. We still have to explore the feasibility of Matsui playing the outfield," Scioscia said. "If those two things are in place, we'll have enough to be able to rotate and cover some guys."
If Willits is healthy in a couple of weeks, the Angels will be one injury away from starting a guy who hit .213 last year and has never hit a home run in 663 major league at-bats. On the other hand, he's a capable outfielder and one of the Angels' fastest players.
If Willits isn't healthy to start the season, the Angels are looking at longtime minor leaguers like Terry Evans, 28, Michael Ryan, 32, or Cory Aldridge, 30. The other viable option, Chris Pettit, is out of the running after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.
The team could go out and sign one of the free agents floating around, but Jermaine Dye wants to play every day, Darin Erstad's production has been sapped by injuries and Wily Mo Pena hasn't been productive off the bench. The Angels might explore signing one of the young guys who was recently released, Elijah Dukes and Alex Romero, but they could have competition.
Something tells me there's a reason all those guys are out there, four weeks into spring training.
Probably the best argument against keeping Matthews involves chemistry. In October, after the Angels were beaten in the ALCS, he told reporters he wanted out. Do they really want somebody who doesn't want to be on their team? But did he really want to be there last year, when he was getting just 316 at-bats?
You would think paying a guy $11 million would give you the right to determine his duties. It's an old-fashioned notion, perhaps, but the team comes first. The Angels would be a better team with Matthews in camp.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.