Angels' frustration lingers
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Angels were carrying around a lot of dead weight this season, and that's not a good thing when you're trying to run the bases.
Of all the ugly offensive numbers that helped drag down their 2010 season -- leaving them at home for the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and only the second time since they won the World Series -- one stands out. It's not the number of runs scored (681), which ranks ninth in the American League; or the batting average (.248), which ranks 12th or the on-base percentage (.311) which was 13th.
It's 67 percent. That's the rate at which the Angels stole bases this season, an awful percentage that placed them dead last in the AL. The Angels, who typically are at or near the top of the league in stolen bases, made it safely just two-thirds of the time.
They went to a new, lumbering offensive model in 2010 and it was an unqualified disaster. Perhaps the enduring image of this season will be Torii Hunter or Juan Rivera out by five feet trying to steal.
The Angels banked on power and it never arrived with any consistency. In part because their on-base percentage was so low, their 155 home runs and 276 doubles didn't produce much. That's why the No. 1 buzz word to come out of their organizational meetings a few weeks ago was "catalyst." The Angels are looking to infuse speed and athleticism into their offense and defense.
It appears to be the missing compound in their offensive formula, particularly since cleanup hitter Kendry Morales -- out since May 29 after breaking his ankle -- will immediately inject power when he returns next spring.
"I don't think the gap is that big for us to bridge to get back to being what we hoped to be, an elite team in our league," manager Mike Scioscia said Monday. "We feel we can get back to that."
Step one was promoting speedster Peter Bourjos and anointing him the everyday center fielder. His results were mixed. He batted just .204 and had a puny .237 on-base percentage, but he played dazzling center field and gave much-needed support to an Angels pitching staff that grew tired of fly balls dying in the grass. He also hit with surprising pop, smacking six home runs in just 181 at-bats. If Bourjos gradually learns to hit, he'll help -- at least marginally.
Step two will be trickier. The Angels not only have to out-bid the Boston Red Sox -- and probably a handful of other teams -- for outfielder Carl Crawford, they have to come up with the wherewithal to extend their payroll beyond where it has ever gone. With nine players eligible for arbitration this winter, the Angels can expect their payroll to begin at $115 million before they make any additions. Adding Crawford likely would put it in the $135 million range, about $14 million higher than it was this season.
If owner Arte Moreno does write that check, it would be a considerable leap of faith. A baseball source said earlier this month that the Angels expected to lose $10 million in 2010. Moreno might be competitive enough to give it a shot. It was not a happy season for him, by all accounts. The Angels finished two games under .500 with the sixth-highest payroll in MLB.
Moreno hasn't spoken to reporters since the All-Star game, but he's talked to Scioscia and general manager Tony Reagins plenty.
"Arte's very on top of things. He's got a passion for this game," Scioscia said. "He's given us a lot to work with. We didn't meet our expectations. Without speaking for Arte, because I don't want to speak for anybody, I know the same level of frustration we feel and the same level of disappointment we have in not meeting expectations, Arte feels."
Scioscia wouldn't rule out the possibility of the team bringing back designated hitter Hideki Matsui, a free agent. "I can't say that," Scioscia said.
He probably doesn't have to. The last time the Angels were in the heat of the division race -- in late July -- Matsui was still batting .255. The fact he got hot near the end of the season, adding nearly 20 points to his batting average as the Angels foundered in third place, probably isn't going to convince them to bring him back. Besides, they just might need to set aside the designated hitter role for aging outfielder Bobby Abreu.
Matsui said he has no idea where he'll be playing next season. If nothing else, the Angels will miss his easy-going personality in the clubhouse. Matsui expressed remorse for his play this year.
"The Angels signed me this season with expectations to help the team win," Matsui said through his interpreter. "Personally, I don't feel I really lived up to those expectations."
Kazmir in trouble?
The Angels appear to be running out of patience with pitcher Scott Kazmir, who went 9-15 with a 5.94 ERA in 150 innings. Scioscia said the team isn't quite ready to shuffle Kazmir off to the bullpen, but he challenged Kazmir to learn to pitch with his diminished stuff.
"He had a poor season. He knows it and we know it," Scioscia said. "There's more in him. I think [pitching coach] Mike Butcher has pulled out whatever hair he has left trying to figure out what Scott needs. The challenge is very clear for Scott. There's no sugarcoating it. He needs to pitch at a higher level."
If the Angels decide to part ways with Kazmir this winter, it could cost them nearly $15 million. Kazmir is signed for $12 million next season and he has a $2.5 million buyout for 2012.Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.