Palm Springs, Calif.
Despite the fact that they are the defending champions in the American League West, the California Angels are not a set ball club. Yet this could easily be considered a positive situation, since teams that stand pat rarely win the second time around.
Over the winter Angel's general manager Buzzie Bavasi signed two free agents (Kansas City shortstop Fred Patek and Pittsburgh pitcher Bruce Kison) and traded with the Royals for outfielder Al Cowens and infielder Todd Cruz.
In return Bavasi gave the Royals out-fielder-first baseman Willie Mays Aikens , a left-handed power hitter who drove in 81 runs last season, plus shortstop Rance Mulliniks. California also signed with the Houston Astros as a free agent.
Patek is supposed to solve the Angels' shortstop problem, where last year manager Jim Fregosi used a relay team of Mulliniks, Bert Campaneris, and Jim Anderson, the latter now with Seattle.
Although the 5 ft. 4 in. Patek 4 in. Patek has twice (1976 and '78) made the American League all-star squad, 1979 was a down year for Freddie, who lost his starting job to U.L. Washington, was accused of feigning injuries, and hit only .252. His age (35) doesn't seem to bother the Angels, but they have asked him to take off weight.
The remainder of Fregosi's infield is set, with Rod Carew at first base; Bobby Grich at second; and Carney Lansford at third.
Carew, because of some physical problems, had an off year for him last season , dropping from 188 hits in 1978 to 130 in 1979. But that is not expected to happen again.
Grich, coming off a super year in which he had 30 homers and 101 RBIs, also improved in the field. Lansford, perhaps the best young third baseman in baseball, is just beginning to peel away the top layer of his potential.
Brian Downing, the AL's top right-handed hitter last year with a .326 average , is back to do the bulk of the catching. His replacement will be Tom Donohue.
Hopefully the Angels' great musical chairs outfield of last season will have become a permanent trio by the end of spring training. Fregosi, who likes a lot of hitting, has plans to play Dan Ford in center, Joe Rudi in left, and Al Cowens in right.
For this to happen, Ford (normally a right fielder) must prove steady enough to handle center and Rudi must come back from injuries that limited him to 25 extra-base hits in 1979.
If Ford doesn't pan out in center, Rick Miller, one of the best defensive outfielders in the AL, will get the job and Ford will return to right. Cowens might then be used as trade bait to get the left-handed starting pitcher Fregosi thinks he needs to complete the staff.
Designated hitter Don Baylor, the league's MVP a year ago, will be given enough time in left to keep him happy.
Right now the Angels are planning on a five-man rotation of Frank Tanana, Dave Frost, Bruce Kison, Chris Knapp, and Don Aase, with Mark Clear, Dave LaRoche, John Montague, and Jim Barr in the bullpen.
It is not a staff with a lot of stoppers, although it has miles and miles of heart. Tanana, once the best power left-hander in the AL, now pitches more with his head than his arm and won only seven games last year. Frost won 16; Kison 13; Knapp 5; and Aase 9.
If Tanana, Knapp, and Aase all got into double figures on the plus side, Fregosi probably wouldn't be too badly off with the kind of experienced bullpen he has. And if any of Jim's starters should get away poorly, he does have an instant replacement in Barr.
What you have to remember about California is its offense, which produced 866 runs last season (an average of 5.3 per game) while hitting the .282 as a team. The Angels can start six players (Baylor, Ford, Grich, Downing, Lansford, and Cowens) who drove in 73 or more runs a year ago and three players (Baylor, Grich , and Ford) who drove in more than 100.
Then there is fregosi himself -- a driver who seems to have a sixth sense about when to yank pitchers and went to stay with them. Jim is rarely outmanaged, and if his players aren't aggressive enough to suit him, he makes them that way.