The Angels are spending $50 million of their $140 million payroll on three players who are -- to put it kindly -- beyond the pinnacles of their careers: Bobby Abreu ($9 million, 37), Torii Hunter ($18 million, 35) and Vernon Wells ($23 million, 32).
The easiest way to fix an aging core is from below.
For the Angels to remain competitive in the short and long term, they need to do a better job drafting and developing position players. This is a big season for that process. If they don't see progress from the likes of Hank Conger, Mark Trumbo and, down the line, Mike Trout, Angels fans will have reason to worry about this organization's direction.
When the team fired scouting director Eddie Bane in October, it was obvious they were looking for better results from the farm system. Most of the highly touted hitters Bane drafted had been flops (eg., Brandon Wood) or mild disappointments (Howie Kendrick). It's hard to fault the job Bane did with pitching. Two of the Angels' five starters and five of the likely Opening Day relievers either were drafted by the Angels or acquired while in the minor leagues.
It takes a mix of eager youngsters and knowledgeable veterans to make a championship run. Mostly, it takes talent. The San Francisco Giants did a nice job of blending last year when they brought in Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe and Pat Burrell to work with their brilliant young core of pitching. The Angels need to do the opposite. They need Conger, Trumbo and Peter Bourjos to complement their veterans' contributions.
Bourjos is in a good spot, with ex-center fielders flanking him on both sides of the outfield and available to him in the clubhouse. He's 10-of-29 with nine runs scored this spring, but those numbers won't mean anything in a couple of weeks. A key to the early season is for Bourjos to get off to a productive start in the batter's box, so the Angels can keep his remarkable glove in their outfield.
It looks like Conger will begin the season at Triple-A Salt Lake, but catchers are more susceptible to injury than any other position, so it's likely he'll be called on at some point to help the major-league team. Conger is probably the Angels' best-hitting catcher right now, but Mike Scioscia isn't going to play him regularly until he's comfortable with his defense. The Angels insist he's getting better behind the plate. Conger didn't allow a passed ball last season.
Trumbo might have an unexpected path unrolling in front of him. Kendry Morales probably will begin the season on the disabled list, according to the latest reports from Arizona, opening an everyday opportunity to the Angels' most powerful prospect. Trumbo has been on a hot streak since November. He hit .336 with five home runs in Venezuelan winter ball and leads the majors with 36 total bases this spring.
The three young guys on the threshold need to cross it. If Trumbo, Conger and Bourjos produce in 2011, the Angels might not be the has-beens everybody seems to be taking them for.