One more top pitcher and the Angels say they're in
Palm Springs, Calif.
The California Angels figure they are only one starting pitcher the quality of Baltimore's Steve Stone or New York's Ron Guidy away from replacing Kansas City as the best team in the American League West in 1981. On paper they already have all the hitting and defense they need.
The way General Manager Buzzie Bavasi plans to acquire that super arm is to offer the power bats of either Don Baylor or Jason Thompson in a trade, plus whatever else it takes in young players to complete the deal.
The Angels look like a team that can afford such a move, too, now that they've added Fred Lynn, Rick Burleson, and Butch Hobson to the already potent lineup that produced a division title in 1979 before slumping to sixth place last season.
With the exception of two position (left field and third base), and barring injuries, Manager Jim Fregosi should be able to go with a set batting lineup all season.
The guessing is that Burleson (179 hits for Boston in '80) will leadoff, followed by seven-time American League batting champion Rod Carew, who is usually good for 200 hits himself.
After that, unless somebody is traded, opposing pitchers will have to deal with the power of Lynn, Baylor, Thompson, Dan Ford, Bobby Grich, and Hobson, all of whom have had at least one big-league season with 20 or more home runs.
And two years ago catcher Brian Downing, who is expected to hit between Grich and Hobson, had the highest batting average of any right-handed swinger in the league. Downing will get backup help from free agent Doug Rader.
Even if Baylor's weak throwing arm in left field is too much of a liability, Fregosi can always bench Thompson and use Don as the Angels' designated hitter. And while Hobson reportedly has overcome the arm and shoulder problems that limited his playing time in Boston, the Angels have a more than adequate replacement in utility infielder Dickie Thon.
In fact, Fregosi's infield, with Carew at first, Grich at second, Hobson at third, and Burleson at shortstop, looks like one of the best in either league. Burleson, who has outstanding range, speed, and anticipation, can probably save the Angels 10 wins a year with his glove.
Lynn's bat will give California a dimension in the middle of its lineup that it never had before, and Fred also has the speed to run down anything within a quarter of mile of him in the outfield.
As for pitching, it is expected that Fregosi will go with a four-man rotation early in the season, then probably switch to five. Front-runners for starting jobs as of now are Dave Frost, Geoff Zahn, Bill Travers and Fred Martinez, although they are expected to be hard pressed by Chris Knapp and Steve Renko.
Frost, who is coming back from arm surgery, knows how to pitch and won 16 games in 1979. Zahn, who was 14-18 last year with Minnesota, and Travers, who was 12-6 with Milwaukee, were both signed as free agents.
Martinez, who showed a lot of potential his rookie year, is still only 23 years old. Knapp, who had good control of his breaking stuff until two years ago when he injured his back, is expected to be ready.
Renko, 9-9 with a 4.19 earned run average last year while pitching in Boston's Fenway Park, where the left field wall is only 315 feet from home plate , should benefit from working in Anaheim Stadium, where the LF fence is a much harder to reach 370 feet.
Also in training camp are veterans Jim Barr, Jesse Jefferson, who started 18 games last year with Toronto, and free agent John D'Acquisto, who has been both a starter and reliever with San diego and Montreal.
The first three openings in the bullpen seem certain to go to Don Aase, Andy Hassler, and Dave LaRoche, whose pitching styles Fregosi knows well. Since the chances are that D'Acquisto and Barr will be added to that group, that doesn't leave much room for Dave Lemanczyk or any of the club's rookies. Also waiting in the wings is Bruce Kison, a former member of the Angles regular rotation, who is coming off arm surgery and may not be physically able to throw big-league hard until midseason.
With the off-season addition of Gene Mauch to the front office, owner Gene Autry now has four former major league managers working for him -- Mauch, third base coach Preston Gomez, and special assignment scouts Bill Rigney and Herman Franks. The team also has a new pitching coach in Tom Morgan.
If having Mauch around (even though Gene says he doesn't want to manage right now) has made Fregosi uneasy, he doesn't show it. But if the Angels don't have an exceptional won-lost record in April and May, it could be a very short summer for Gentleman Jim.