Angels open camp with plenty of questions

For just the third time in 11 years under Mike Scioscia, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim failed to finish a season with a winning record. Let down by a faulty bullpen and decimated with injuries all throughout their lineup, the Halos struggled to find any consistency.

As frustrating as the regular season was in Orange County, the off-season was enough to get the normally mild-mannered Angel fans in quite a lather. Last season, the Rangers snatched control of the division away from the Angels, then proceeded to improve an already potent offense by adding the big bat of Adrian Beltre. All the while, Los Angeles stood pat. When the Halos finally made a move, it was to add a player with a big salary at an already loaded position.

The franchise has scored one victory this off-season, winning an arbitration hearing against ace Jered Weaver. Although it was surprising that the two sides went to arbitration over a difference of $1.4 million. It also leaves open the question of whether that will come back to bite them when it’s time to negotiate a new long-term deal with Weaver’s agent, Scott Boras. Weaver says he has no hard feelings with the club and wants to remain an Angel, but we know how those things go sometimes.

In the meantime, Scioscia has done a great job of making magic in the Magic Kingdom, but unless he can find a way to shore up these areas during the spring, the Angels could be thinking about next year awfully early.

1. Kendry Morales – After Morales was hurt in a freakish accident last season celebrating a walk-off grand slam, the Angels offense went south. The Halos finished with just 681 runs, their lowest single-season total since 2001. The team hopes the addition of Vernon Wells can add the power the team lacked last year, but Morales is still the key for the Angels this season. Already there’s bad news – Morales told reporters on Monday that he’s not sure if he’ll be ready for Opening Day. The team is optimistic, but after years of tough luck, pardon Angel fans if they’re a little gun shy.

2. Leadoff spot – Erick Aybar was a failure in the leadoff spot last season. There’s no other way to describe a table-setter who hit .253, had a .306 OBP and walked just 35 times in 534 at-bats. The problem is that you can count the viable replacements on one hand…and still have five fingers left. Last year, Mike Scioscia tried seven different guys in the top spot, including Maicer Izturis, Peter Bourjos, Alberto Callaspo and Bobby Abreu. Expect those names and possibly more to cycle through the leadoff spot during Spring Training. Regardless of who ends up winning the job, he will have to produce if the Halos plan on scoring more than they did last year.

3. Closer – Gone is Brian Fuentes, although there aren’t too many in Orange County who are shedding any tears over it. Enter Fernando Rodney, who didn’t exactly endear himself to Halo Nation with a final month in which he went 0-2 with a 5.65 ERA and blew four saves in 11 chances. But right now, he’s the only experienced closer they’ve got. Michael Kohn and Bobby Cassevah both had a chance to close out games at AAA Salt Lake City and reported to the big club in Tempe, but are a pretty longshot to see any significant ninth innings in Anaheim this year.

4. Catcher – As one of the great defensive catchers of any era, it’s no surprise that Scioscia chose to stick with the defensive minded Jeff Mathis over the big (but inconsistent) bat of Mike Napoli this winter. But now the Angels are looking at a platoon of Mathis and Bobby Wilson who hit a combined .206 last year. The organization has been pleased by the faster-than-expected development of prospect Hank Conger, but he’s expected to start the year at Salt Lake in order to get consistent at-bats. Don’t be surprised if he’s putting on the gear in Anaheim before the summer’s out.

5. Third Base – Angel fans wanted Beltre. The Angels didn’t. Or at least they acted like they didn’t. Management made a half-hearted run at the free agent third baseman, who eventually signed with division rival Texas. (Owner Arte Moreno and general manager Tony Reagins gave the impression that Beltre’s salary demands were too rich for their blood. Which made it all the more baffling when they tradee for high-priced Vernon Wells to add to an already crowded outfield.) All of that might have been overlooked if Brandon Wood was living up to expectations. Wood was given the chance to fill Chone Figgins’ spot at third, but after failing to get north of the Mendoza Line after the first two months of the season he was sent to Salt Lake to figure some things out. It means the Angels have to spend the spring figuring out if Maicer Izturis or Alberto Callaspo is going to be the answer at the hot corner.

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