What’s the Plan in Anaheim?

Torri Hunter just agreed to a contract with the Angels for 5 years and $90 million. While Hunter is a nice player, $18 million seems like a pretty high annual salary for a player of Hunter’s skills. Hunter is a decent hitter, but doesn’t get on base very much (.334 OBP last year, .337 career high). He has power, but not tremendous power (28 HRs last year, 31 career high). He has speed, but not great speed (18 SB last year, 23 career high). Hunter has won a ton of Gold Gloves, but is not the defensive player he used to be. His range is maybe a bit above average, and while he is adept at the highlight reel homerun steal, his arm is probably a bit below average.

All of this adds up to a nice complementary player. However, this contract will take Hunter through the 2012 season, when he will turn 37. He has likely already completed his best seasons, though it is reasonable to expect that he will be at his current level for the next 2-3 seasons.

This deal would make loads of sense if the Angels were a CF away from a championship ballclub: swoop in and overpay for a decent CF who fits their system and try to win the title. However, the Angels actually already did that. Last year. Remember Gary Mathews Jr, he of the 5 year $50 million contract signed last offseason?

Mathews, as expected, did not play well last season (OPS+ of 93) and Hunter would certainly be an upgrade (OPS+ of 122). But now supposedly Mathews will be moved to LF, where his bat is not nearly enough. His only worthwhile skill is his decent CF defense and that will now be wasted. Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson will rotate between RF and DH, which is a reasonable arrangement (though Anderson isn’t a particularly good player right now, he is still making a lot of money and pretty much has to play).

So now what becomes of Reggie Willits and Juan Rivera? Rivera in particular is certainly a better hitter than Mathews. Is having an OF of Hunter, Mathews, and Vlad really that much of an improvement over Rivera, Mathews, Vlad? Certainly not $18 million worth of improvement.

The Angels also recently acquired Jon Garland for Orlando Cabrera. This is actually a good trade for them talent-wise, despite the common argument that you “can’t trade a gold-glove SS who hits for a #4 starter.” Garland will pitch better outside of Chicago’s bandbox and Cabrera really isn’t much of a hitter (he has batted .300 once and doesn’t get on base or hit for power) and his defense isn’t as good as people think.

But now Garland will slot in with Lackey, Escobar, Weaver, and Saunders, pushing Ervin Santana to a relief role. While Santana was inconsistent last year, using him as a long-man will kill his trade value.

So ultimately the Angels took the 2 positions in which they did not need help (SP and OF) and added to them. And while Hunter may marginally improve the outfield and Garland will likely be more consistent than Santana, the cost will not nearly match the improvement.

For these moves to make sense, the Angels must be planning a subsequent move. Perhaps Willits, Santana, and a prospect for Scott Rolen. Or a few more prospects to get involved in Miguel Cabrera talks.

A few media people have mentioned this move making the Angels a World Series contender. The Angels already were World Series contenders (remember last year, when they won 94 games?). With this team they will likely still contend, but not because of these moves.

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