The season itself was a great one for the Halos, they hit a franchise record 100 wins on the last day of the season, they clinched a playoff berth earlier than any other team and had the best record in baseball. They also had a reliever break the 19 year old saves record. Most teams would kill for a season like the one the Angels just finished.
Most teams aren't the Angels.
This season we had a $123 million payroll, that's good for sixth highest in the majors. Out of the top 10 aggregate salaries on opening day, only half made the playoffs, and not a single one of the top 3 did (Yankees, Tigers, Mets). Owner Arte Moreno has said publically that he wants to keep the payroll about the same next season, and the Angels have quite a few players eligible for free agency. They are:
- Mark Teixeira 1B - Acquired just before the trade deadline for Casey Kotchman and a minor leaguer. Tex is the absolute must sign of the group, he was a monster in his time with the Halos and really played his heart out in his first post-season experience. His agent is the infamous Scott Boras though, so signing him will be costly, as he's looking at a bump from his $15 million salary in 2008, plus he'll be looking for a long-term deal. Be that as it may, it makes great business sense to sign this guy, since he'll be a perrenial All-Star and is in his prime. If the Angels somehow don't sign Tex, there are some young guys on the roster who can take his place, but then the trade of Kotchman will hurt just a bit more.
- Francisco Rodriguez P - The Halos closer just set a major league record for most saves in a single season, and wants to test the free-agent market. That's fine, since down the stretch he seemed to lose his consistency, and actually blew quite a few saves this season. He also single handedly lost game 2 for the Angels in the ALDS, and fans aren't going to forget that one. He lost in arbitration before the 2008 season started, as he was looking for $12.5 million and the Angels ended up giving him $10 million. Fortunately the bullpen is stocked and there are several options that pitching coach Mike Butcher has to work with.
- Juan Rivera OF - Rivera is an important backup at the moment, and could become even more valuable in the next season or two. He's got great power and is solid in the field, and he's also inexpensive. He made just over $2 million in '08, and even a modest increase wouldn't put him out of the Halos price-range. Even though he'll be attractive to other clubs, hopefully he'll re-sign for under $5 million.
- Garrett Anderson OF - GA has played his entire career for the Halos, and I for one would like to see him retire as an Angel. He's played long enough to have earned his spot in the Angels HOF, and it would be a shame to let him leave. The Angels do have a club option for $14 Million for 2009, or a $3 Million buyout. Let's hope that they re-sign and extend him for the rest of his career. I can see him becoming a valuable coach for us after retirement. Arte and Tony Reagans should treat him right.
- Jon Garland P - Acquired in the off-season via a trade with the White-Sox, Garland was kind of a lame-duck pitcher in his final contract year. His 14 wins this year was the second highest in his career, but not close to his two 18-win seasons in '05 and '06 for the Sox. He made $12 Million this year and will be a hot commodity this off-season. If he walks it won't be quite as bad a hit as it seems, since Kelvim Escobar should be back next season taking his spot in the rotation. If he DOES re-sign though, the Halos will have a tough decision since they'll have six or seven guys fighting to get into a five-man rotation.
- Darren Oliver P - Reliver who's been with the Angels for awhile, and isn't making big dough even though he's in his 13th season. I wouldn't expect the Angels to offer him much of a salary increase, and if he leaves it won't be the end of the world. Still, he's a valued member of the bullpen and brings a veteran attitude to the young pitchers. Guys like Bulger and Jepsen can really learn from Oliver.
- Vladimir Guerrero OF - For the sake of completion, we have to list Vladdy, since his contract is up this year, but the Angels have a club option for 2009. The only way they wouldn't exercise that option would be if the sky fell down, so expect to see Vlad in Halo red for at least another season.
In addition to those guys, the Angels will certainly be in the C. C. Sabathia sweepstakes, unless by some miracle they sign Frankie and Tex, and there are a ton of other great free-agents out there. This will be an interesting off-season to see if the country's economic slow-down has any effect on baseball at all.
Hockey starts in a few days, so there's still hope that the Kings will make the playoffs. Their first game is October 11, so my guess is that they'll be out of contention by the end of October.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still a fan of the L.A. Kings, it's just that the last several years have brought too much heart-ache and disappointment for me to really care that much about them. First, they haven't made the playoffs since 2002, which is the longest they've gone without making the post-season. Second, they traded my second favorite player on the roster Michael Cammalieri, and even though he wasn't performing up to standards, he was gritty and brought a great attitude to the game. Third and definitely the most important, the ownership of the Kings, AEG Group, has no intention of paying the money it requires to put a winner on the ice, yet they'll pay an astronomic amount to some English guy to play half a season for the Galaxy.
I've attended at least one Kings game every season since I moved back to Los Angeles in September of 1998, and I even attended one last season, though that was a gift. I cannot seriously see myself buying tickets to a Kings game this season unless they really turn it around and become contenders for a playoff-spot right away. This is what happens in the fourth-most popular sport when your ownership doesn't care anymore. They can hype up the season all they want, but in the end, unless they pay to put a quality product on the ice, it won't matter.
I will say this though, the Kings are very, very young, and full of talent. Plus they still have Alexander Frolov, who is my favorite player on the ice, and Anze Kopitar who has tons of raw talent and potential. Due to the fact that they've sucked on ice for several seasons in a row the Kings have gotten great draft-picks, so now it's time to see if they're worth the hype.