Angels face crucial off-season decisions

A season that began with an unfathomable tragedy did not end in the ultimate triumph.

What a story it would have been had the Angels won the World Series and dedicated the title to teammate Nick Adenhart, the 22-year-old pitcher who was killed in an April 9 automobile accident.

The New York Yankees tore up that script, ending the Angels’ season Sunday night with a 5-2 victory to win the American League Championship Series and earn a berth opposite the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, which begins Wednesday.


But the plot thickens for the Angels, who, with five key free agents, enter an off-season of intrigue and uncertainty and questions about whether they have -- or will have -- what it takes to knock off a Yankees club that could be a powerhouse for years.

“I don’t feel like we need to add anything,” second baseman Howie Kendrick said. “We had a great team, a lot of guys that are ready to compete. That’s what you need, guys who will get dirty for you and play the game the right way, compete to the 27th out. Hopefully next year a lot of us will be back going for the same thing, the World Series.”

Don’t count on it. Not necessarily the “World Series” part but the “a lot of us will be back” part.

John Lackey, the team’s ace, will be the top starter on the free-agent market, a right-hander who will probably command a contract of at least five years and $100 million.

Chone Figgins will be one of the top position players on the market, a speedy leadoff batter who should fetch a deal in the five-year, $50-million range, though his feeble postseason -- he hit .086 (three for 35) with three runs in nine games -- could cut into his value.

Right fielder Bobby Abreu was the steal of last winter, signing a one-year, $5-million deal and delivering huge dividends, hitting .293 with 96 runs, 94 walks, 15 home runs and 103 runs batted in.

The Angels are expected to make strong bids to retain Lackey, Figgins and Abreu, but they will face stiff competition for Lackey and Figgins, who will be courted by numerous teams, and will have to pay significantly more for Abreu.

Left-hander Darren Oliver, who was 5-1 with a 2.71 earned-run average in 63 games, is 39 and, like he did the last two winters, is contemplating retirement. There is a chance, but no guarantee, he’ll be back.

And then there is Vladimir Guerrero, the enigmatic slugger who, at 35, is not the force he was for most of his six seasons in Anaheim, in which he made $85 million and won an AL most valuable player award in 2004.

Guerrero can no longer play right field on a regular basis. His once lethal bat speed is slowing. He’s getting forgetful -- he jogged halfway to first base in the eighth inning Sunday, only to discover he had just taken ball three, not four.

But as futile as some of his swings can look, Guerrero was the team’s most productive hitter in the postseason, batting .378 (14 for 37) with one home run, three doubles and seven RBIs and delivering several clutch hits.

Guerrero, limited to 100 games because of a torn chest muscle and a knee injury, made it clear he would love to remain an Angel, but the team must decide whether it wants him back, and if so, at what cost?

“Every off-season is eventful,” General Manager Tony Reagins said. “We will make every decision to the best of our ability and have no regrets. We’ll tackle every decision, one by one, and we have a few. They’re not going away.”

In the wake of Sunday night’s loss, Lackey declined to speculate on his future.

“I’m not going there,” he said. “This season is over. I’m not thinking too far ahead right now.”

Figgins hoped Sunday night was not his last game as an Angel but also wouldn’t peer too far into the future.

“Let’s try to reflect on the good things that happened this season,” he said, “and worry about that stuff later.”

Like Guerrero, Abreu said he would love to come back, after a season in which he proved he was still productive at 35.

“I love it, I want to stay here,” Abreu said. “I really had a good time and really learned a lot here. This team has the ability, the heart and the potential to win the World Series, so I just want to be a part of that.

“We have some young guys with good potential, guys who can play the game. A nice chemistry on the team. It’s unbelievable. We’ve got the pitching staff, the relievers and a pretty good ballclub. We’ve got everything.”

Well, maybe not everything. Even if Lackey, Figgins, Abreu, Guerrero and Oliver return, the Angels could use some bullpen help. Closer Brian Fuentes was shaky at times, and setup man Kevin Jepsen is not quite ready to assume a closing role.

The team could use at least one more dominant short reliever, though if Jose Arredondo recovers from a shoddy 2009, he could help in 2010.

This may be the thinnest free-agent market in years, and if the Angels lose any of their top players, they will probably have to trade to fill holes.

They could also look to Brandon Wood for help. The team’s top power prospect, the infielder will be out of options next spring, meaning the Angels must keep him on their big league roster or risk losing him to a waiver claim.

Wood plays shortstop, third base and first base, positions where the Angels are very well set with Kendry Morales, Erick Aybar and Figgins if he returns.

But if the Angels lose Abreu or Guerrero, they could move Figgins to left field, move Juan Rivera to right field and open third base for Wood.

“I told the guys after [Sunday night’s] game that I’d like to get everybody in that clubhouse right now and go to spring training tomorrow and start over, because it’s a good group,” Manager Mike Scioscia said.

“Now, what happens in the off-season remains to be seen, but we love those guys. They have a lot of character, and they’re terrific players.”


Times staff writer Ben Bolch contributed to this story.