De-Fense, De-Fense…

With the Angels reportedly so intent on good defense as to preclude them from signing players capable of improving their weakened offense, it seems ironic that they should have so many defensive question marks headed into the 2009 season.

Mike Scioscia, a noted defensive specialist of years gone by, finds himself managing a team devoid of a strong defensive catcher, for starters. Sure, Jeff Mathis has shown flashes of amazing athleticism but, more often than not, he’s proven inept at throwing out opposing base-stealers. While Angel pitchers don’t do a particularly good job of holding base runners, that’s really no excuse for Mathis, who seems to believe that second base is located somewhere in shallow centerfield. Add to these struggles the fact that Mathis is a career .195 hitter, and we’re increasingly curious about Bobby Wilson (okay, we exaggerate a bit).

Napoli, meanwhile, a husky Italian catcher with the name of Mike, resembles Scioscia in name, culture, and physical stature only; where Scioscia was a good-field-no-hit type of catcher, Napoli is proving to be just the opposite….a good-hit-no-field guy. Whether Napoli’s off-season shoulder surgery improves his defense remains to be seen but, given the Angels’ underwhelming offense, his bat absolutely must be in the 2009 lineup as often as possible, defense be damned.

At first base, in 2009, the Angels will be breaking in Kendry Morales. While his defense is said to be improving, he’ll no doubt disappoint relative to Mark Teixeira, Casey Kotchman, and Darin Erstad, who have spoiled Angel fans in recent years with consistent Gold Glove caliber defense.

In rightfield, Vladimir Guerrero continues to get worse. Maybe his off-season knee surgery will return some of his supposed defensive prowess, but, really, most Angel fans realize that Vlad’s defense has been sub-standard for at least a few seasons. If you’re looking for a guy who can coil up for thirty minutes and then throw the ball high above any cut-off man, Vladimir might be your guy. If, however, you’d prefer a rightfielder who can keep control of his appendages and play solid defense, well, Vlad’s most definitely not your guy.

In leftfield, it seems apparent that Juan Rivera will be the Angels’ starting leftfielder. Now, we don’t want to be the ones to call Juan Rivera slow but we have been wondering lately what might be the outcome of a foot race involving Rivera and Bengie Molina. Rivera has a strong and accurate throwing arm, to be sure, but he has considerable difficulties getting to the ball in the first place, combining terrible routes with slow foot speed to leave many wondering what kind of tent will be constructed in left field for the 2009 season. The Angels won’t make it too far into the 2009 season before fans are asking just how much worse Adam Dunn’s defense could have possibly been.

Spelling Rivera in left field, and Vladimir in right, will be Gary Matthews Jr. Not only is “GMJ” disgustingly overpaid, but he’s also tremendously overrated on defense. He’ll make the occasional spectacular play for his team but he’ll just as easily make a fool of himself on the routine ones. Oh, and did we mention that he, too, is coming off of off-season surgery (and won’t be ready for opening day)?

Hmmm. It seems odd that a team built around pitching and defense should be weak at catcher, first base, and both corner outfield spots. Oh, they’ll apparently be lacking a decent fifth starter as well.

The Angels are going through an identity crisis of sorts. Are they a pitching and defense, “National League style” team? Or are they simply a potentially bad defensive team with an anemic offense and an imcomplete pitching staff?

The onus is on Tony Reagins to determine this team’s identity.

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