PLAYER TO WATCH
The A's have one (Ben Sheets). The Rangers have one (Rich Harden). The Mariners have two (Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee). In an AL West suddenly stacked with aces, the Angels, after the departure of free agent John Lackey, are the only club that lacks a true No. 1 starter. But they do have five above-average ones in righthanders Joel Pi√±eiro, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver and lefties Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders. And if anyone is poised to fill the void left by Lackey, it might be the 27-year-old Santana.
In 2008 he went 16--7 with 214 strikeouts, pitched in the All-Star Game and finished sixth in the American League Cy Young voting. But last season he was hampered by a strained elbow ligament that sapped his velocity—his fastball dropped from an average of 94.4 mph to 92.3—and his ERA jumped from 3.49 to 5.03. "My elbow was terrible," says Santana, who skipped pitching in the Dominican winter league this year to give his arm a chance to rest. In spring training his fastball was back up to the 94- to 95-mph range. "Now, it's back in business," he says. "Believe it."
The Angels do. "You become an ace when you start to dominate the opposition every time out," says general manager Tony Reagins. "Stuffwise, I think he has the ability to pitch at a high level. But an ace brings his A game each time out. If he does that, we'll be talking about him as one of the leaders in the game."
Angels hitters who had at least 50 RBIs in 2009, the most ever on one major league team. The team scored a franchise-record 883 runs, second most in the AL, thanks to the league's third-highest OBP (.350) and its top average with runners in scoring position (.297).
There's no way around it: The Angels will miss Chone Figgins. His .395 OBP was a huge part of their offense in '09, and replacing him at third base with Brandon Wood fills the position with a player who brings power but not batting average or plate discipline. Finding a new leadoff hitter will be harder, as the Angels have few players projected for the high OBP you need in the number 1 slot. In fact, their best choice is Bobby Abreu, who had a .390 OBP, including 94 walks, last year, and has been an on-base machine his entire career. Abreu doesn't have much power left, but he has the speed that helps him take extra bases and steal them with efficiency (he had 30 stolen bases in 38 attempts last year), and moving him up from the two spot minimizes his tendency to ground into DPs. He'd be a good leadoff fit on many teams; he's the only fit on the Angels.
WITH 2009 STATISTICS
Manager Mike Scioscia
11TH SEASON WITH ANGELS
JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES (SANTANA)
ACE IN THE HOLE If Santana pitches as he did in 2008, the void atop the Angels' rotation will be filled.
BRAD MANGIN (ABREU)