Angels back in the saddle

Fifteen games.

That's how many games better the Angels have to be (as opposed to win) in 2004 if they're going to win a spot in the World Series derby.

My math goes like this ...

Looking at runs scored and allowed, in 2003 the Athletics were a 95-win team (they actually won 96) and the Mariners were a 99-win team (though they actually won only 93 games; no American League team did worse relative to run differential). If we assume 1) the Athletics will hold steady because their offseason additions have balanced their losses, and 2) the Mariners will decline by four games because they lost Mike Cameron and two of their best players are on the wrong side of 40, then we might guess that 95 wins is the baseline figure for winning the division title.

The Angels won only 77 games in 2003 -- yes, immediately after winning the 2002 World Series, they finished a whopping 19 games out of first place -- but the Angels' run differential was typical of an 80-win team.

So if you're running the Angels, that's your offseason goal: by luck or (preferably) by pluck and bucks, add 15 wins. And today, they took a big step in that direction by reaching a multiyear deal with Vladimir Guerrero.

With Darin Erstad moving from center field to first base and Tim Salmon moving from right field to DH, essentially Guerrero and recently signed Jose Guillen are replacing the plate appearances that last season went to Scott Spiezio, Jeff DaVanon, Shawn Wooten, and Brad Fullmer.

Breaking this down further (and somewhat simplistically), let's give DaVanon's, Wooten's and Fullmer's at-bats -- none of them were full-timers all season -- to Guillen. That's a wash (or close to it), because while Wooten added very little in 2003, both DaVanon and Fullmer were productive when they played. Granted, if Guillen again hits .311 with 31 home runs he'll be a big plus ... but considering his entire career, he's more likely to hit .285 with 25 home runs (in more at-bats than last season). Guillen probably is a plus, but just a small one.

So the real change is Guerrero for Spiezio. How many extra wins can the Angels expect from this "trade"? Let's look at Bill James' Win Shares for Guerrero over the last six seasons: 29, 28, 29, 23, 29, 18.

Guerrero played only 112 games last season, which of course is why he racked up only 18 Win Shares. Remember (or learn for the first time), a Win Share is one-third of a win. If we project 27 Win Shares for Guerrero -- and everything falls apart if Guerrero's not healthy enough to play nearly every day -- that's nine wins attributable to him alone.

And Spiezio? Twelve Win Shares last season, which translates to four wins. Nine minus four equals five wins, which might not seem like a lot but is.

Adding five wins, however, still leaves the Angels 10 short of 95. Have they added 10 wins elsewhere? Aside from Guillen and Guerrero, the Angels have added only two other players this offseason: pitchers Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar. Those two will replace, in large part, the 57 starts that last season went to Aaron Sele (7-11, 5.77 ERA), Kevin Appier (7-7, 5.63), and Scot Shields (4-6, 3.89 as starter).

It's difficult to figure, even approximately, how many runs Colon and Escobar will save, because if they pitch better than Sele, Appier and Shields, they'll also pitch more (because they'll last longer in their starts). A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, however, suggests that Colon and Escobar improve the Angels by somewhere between 30 and 50 runs, or three to five wins.

Using the upper end of that range, we add five wins to the five represented by the addition of Guerrero, and now we're at 10 extra wins ... which pushes the Angels to 90. Contenders? Yes. Favorites? No, at least not based on just their four offseason acquisitions.

Ah, but that's not the whole story, is it? The real key to the Angels' 2004 is simple: at least two of their three holdover starting pitchers must do better in '04 than they did in '03. If Jarrod Washburn, John Lackey, and Ramon Ortiz pitch as well as they can pitch, the Angels will indeed have a solid shot at 95 wins. And just as it did in 2002, the American League West will rank as baseball's best division.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes three columns per week during baseball's offseason. Next spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-authored with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.