Big John and Bad Vlad

Fred Claire (yes, that Fred Claire, the former Dodger GM now apparently writing for has written an article suggesting that next off-season will be “thin” in regard to impactful free agents.

He reminds us that Angels John Lackey and Vladimir Guerrero will both be eligible for free agency after the 2009 season. The Angels could sign both to extensions or risk losing them to free agency after the 2009 season.

Guerrero, arguably the single-greatest Angel free-agent acquisition in club history (from either the standpoints of value or performance) will be interesting for the Angels. How he performs in 2009, coming off relatively minor knee surgery, from which he appears to be recovering ahead of schedule, will be the sole determinant of his free agent value. His awkward moments on the bases, and in the outfield, would suggest that he’s not aging gracefully.

With his slugging numbers, and extra-base hit totals, having decreased in each successive season with the Angels, 2009 will pointedly illustrate whether he’s officially on the decline or not. Vlad recovered nicely during 2008, putting together a solid second half to offset his dismal first half, but questions have arisen as to how well Vlad will age. If Vlad puts together a solid 2009, there are conceivably many teams that will be willing, in a sparse free agent season, to open the checkbook for him.

The Angels will face a confounding decision; will they spend the money necessary to keep their lineup’s only power bat, or will they be again out-bid by the Yankees or Red Sox? Or, if the team somehow slides out of contention during 2009, would they dare trade him to a contender before the deadline so as to avoid losing him to free agency? 2009 is an Angels season with many questions.

Lackey, of course, is younger and, theoretically, in his prime. Save for some minor biceps problems at the outset of the 2008 season, Lackey has been healthy and productive during his Angel career (though we’re not sure his interest in the WBC is best for him or the Angels). Another productive season in 2009 will put him solidly at the top of the free agent pitching class. He’s already stated openly, on numerous occasions, his disappointment in the Angels’ offense, even suggesting after the team’s 2008 exit from the playoffs that his next contract with the Angels will depend on the front office’s willingness to sign the bats necessary to compete. Behind the scenes, one would have to think that Lackey is bristling about the loss of Teixeira and, to an extent, Garret Anderson.

Will Lackey sign an extension before he reaches free agency? Well, from a business perspective he would probably a be a fool not to “test the waters” of free agency, especially in light of the fact that he will be the best free agent arm available next season. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how aggressively the Angels pursue an extension before and during this coming season.

But John Lackey’s a competitor who knows that he’s pitching for his first truly big, multi-year, contract, and that will probably help the Angels, if only for the 2009 season.

And if Guerrero feels like has something to prove, maybe, just maybe, he can repeat his 2004 MVP campaign.


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