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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chemistry Class

     By Ross Newhan 

     It was difficult to argue with Angel owner Arte Moreno when he explained in spring training that the basic reason for allowing John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero to leave as free agents was the length of their contract demands and not the money itself.

     Lackey ultimately received a five year, $82.5 million contract from the Boston Red Sox;  Figgins got four years and $36 million from the Seattle Mariners, and Guerrero received a one year, $6.5 million deal from the Texas Rangers with a $9 million mutual option for 2011, which appears to be a mutual lock since Guerrero is hitting .336, seemingly his knees sound and a kid again at 34.

     I still tend to think the Angels will win a still weak American League West division for the sixth time in the last seven years, but right now, six games under .500 as of Thursday morning and performing woefully in every category, they do not look like a winner and they do not look like the aggressive, fundamentally sound teams we have come to expect under Mike Scioscia.

    And now, in addition, one has to wonder a bit about the thinking of Moreno and general manager Tony Reagins in allowing Lackey, Figgins and Guerrero to leave all at once. Now one has to wonder if there hasn't been something of a chemistry blowup, a clubhouse and lineup leadership void created.

     Yes, the Angels still have Torii Hunter calling players only meetings, they still have Scioscia calling team meetings, they still have Bobby Abreau mentoring the younger Hispanics, but right now something is missing talent-wise and leadership-wise, and now it is hard not to believe that allowing three key players to leave in one clubhouse clearing swoop wasn't a very good move, no matter the reason.

     --Lackey was a rotation and clubhouse leader.

     --Figgins was the catalytic trigger of Scioscia's aggressive attack, and the evidence continues to mount that the long touted Brandon Wood is simply not a major league hitter, the latest clue being that the Angels are playing veteran nomad Kevin Frandsen ahead of him as third base becomes a major power void in a lineup that has not been producing much power anywhere else, the Wood's failure--and, yes, they would have lost him if put through waivers since he is out of options--being a critical and, perhaps, fatal blow unless Reagins can find help at the mid-summer trade deadline, a difficult process when other teams know how much the Angels are hurting at the position.

      --Guerrero was a quite leader among the Hispanics and a more menacing figure in the lineup than even Godzilla (Hideki Matsui) has proven to be, and it was Guerrero's mom who provided fellow Hispanics with a taste of home by often hosting dinner when the team was in Anaheim.

      The Angels may snap out of their current malaise, they still have division winning talent overall, but it will be intriguing to see if they do it.

       Ejecting Lackey, Figgins and Guerrero all at once is turning into a costly mistake rather than a move designed to save costs over the long term.

       Too damaging for even the annoying Rally Monkey to overcome?

       An awakening by Brandon Wood and Scott Kazmir and Brian Fuentes, among others, would be a more beneficial start.

       *

       We leave soon for a short trip. I have kissed the grandchildren, boarded the pug, turned on the alarm and locked the doors. I should be looking foward to a relaxing get-away, but I am already experiencing shakes that may be too much for even my clonazepam to overcome.

       I am not going to be able to check my fantasy baseball team twenty times a day as I do when we are home.

      Granted, I am leaving it in the capable hands of my partner, son in law Mike Wheaton.

     However, I just know that while touring landmarks I am going to be wondering if Aramis Ramirez will ever snap out of his season opening slump. If Chicago fans think Ramirez is killing the Cubs, what he is doing to our fantasy team is also a crime. Here is a guy who hits 30 to 40 home runs automatically, and he has three home runs while so far below the Mendoza Line that not even binoculars would help him find it.

     Then there is Zach Duke and Kyle Lohse. I know, I know. How could anyone who has covered baseball for more than 40 years end up with Duke and Lohse on his team? There is really no explanation. At least, we have already found a way to dump Duke. Now we have to find a way to lose Lohse.

     With all of that we are in second place in a 10 team National League only league, a vast improvement over our three previous seasons in which we finished in or near the bottom, a disgraceful gauge of my alleged baseball wisdom.

      Of course, if I had any wisdom I would know that it is a mistake to have even one Cub on my team to start with.

      I will keep you updated on our fantasy progress as the season continues.   I'm hitting the road soon and will be consumed by thoughts of trading Aramis Ramirez for Manny Ramirez.  

                                  

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