Hot stove season is upon us once again, and with the success of the Los Angeles-based baseball teams this past year, it seems like the perfect time for both the Dodgers and the Angels to build for future success.
The Dodgers came into last season with Yankee legend Joe Torre running the ship. However, his impact was not fully realized until a trade deadline move that brought disgruntled and controversial former Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez to the Big Blue. Ramirez’s impact was felt almost immediately.
In 53 games as a member of the Dodgers, Ramirez batted .396 with 17 homeruns and 53 RBI. Those numbers were staggering enough to not only thrust the Dodgers into the thick of the playoffs, but also to get them into the National League Championship Series for the first time since 1988.
Ramirez also brought out the best in many of the Dodgers younger players.
Now Ramirez, along with 14-game winner Derek Lowe, fan favorite shortstop Rafael Furcal, and former pitching ace Brad Penny, are all free agents available to sign with any team they want. Throw in a bevy of talent available on the open market the only question is, what are the moves the Dodgers should make?
They have already been trying to sign the 36-year-old Ramirez to one of the richest contracts in baseball history, as far as dollars per year. However, Ramirez is looking for a six-year contract, while the Dodgers are offering three to four years.
I think the deal, whatever it is, makes sense for both sides. The Dodgers need a slugger and Ramirez brought in such a baseball fever like L.A. has not seen since Fernando-mania in the ’80s.
The other move that makes sense for the Dodgers is stud pitcher CC Sabathia. Sabathia was another trade deadline player who led his team to the playoffs. Sabathia is a Bay Area native and has expressed interest in returning to California. He has also said he prefers to go to a National League team, so that points to either the Dodgers or the Giants.
The Yankees have already offered Sabathia a six-year $140- million contract.
It would be difficult for any team if they decided to get into a bidding war with the Yankees, but the Dodgers have a rare window of opportunity to win. There is enough young talent on the team to compete for a championship. Management just needs to show more willingness.
Now on the American League side of things, down in Southern L.A., also called Orange County, the Angels have quietly become one of the top three organizations in all of baseball.
Former Dodger player Mike Scioscia has been the manager of the Angels since 1999. He is easily one of the longest tenured managers in the majors, and he has proven that he is also one of the best.
Scioscia led a young Angels team to the first World Series in franchise history in 2002. Since then, the Angels have won four of the last six American League East crowns.
The young “Halos” of 2002 have grown up, and for the most part, moved on. Star pitcher John Lackey, utility man Chone Figgins, super-closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez, setup man Scot Shields, and franchise great Garret Anderson were the only contributors from 2002 to play on the 2008 version of the Angels.
This year K-Rod shattered the all-time saves record for one season of 57 set by Bobby Thigpen in 1990. K-Rod finished with 62 saves.
However, K-Rod also played his final season for the Angels this year. Management decided it was best to let K-Rod go to another team instead of paying what would likely be a $75 million contract.
The reason they wanted to save that money was for the team’s number one off-season priority, Mark Teixeira. Tex, as Teixeira is known, was acquired by the Angels before the trade deadline and had a similar impact as Ramirez did for the Dodgers.
Tex is the big batter that the Angels have needed for about the last three seasons. He gets on base a lot and drives in a lot of runs. He is a great compliment to the middle of the Angels lineup, Vladimir Guerrero and Torri Hunter.
The Angels have not made an offer yet to Tex because they are waiting to give him a “knockout offer” and basically blow all of his other offers away. If they can sign Tex and play with him for an entire season, it is easy to believe that the Angels could finish with the best record in baseball for a second straight season.
However, there are a few more question marks around the team. Second baseman Howie Kendrick completely disappeared in the playoffs and was a major reason they were unable to get past the Rex Sox.
The closer role will ultimately go to Shields, who has been a great player for the Halos for a long time. But Shields is not K-Rod. Hands down. There will be a lot of frustration there this year.
Finally, there are a few younger players from the minor leagues that could potentially play big roles for the Halos this year. Shortstop Brandon Wood has been compared to Cal Ripken Jr. for almost his entire life but has failed to live up to expectations so far. Then again, he is only 23 and needs more at-bats to show what type of commodity he is.
Both the Dodgers and the Angels have their work cut out for them over the next few months, and if there is anything I have learned in all of my years following baseball, it’s that spring training is always closer that you think it is.