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Scioscia: Angels already made moves

Scioscia: Angels already made moves

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It appears the Angels will be leaving the Winter Meetings without a big-name acquisition, but that doesn't dim the enthusiasm of manager Mike Scioscia.

Addressing the media on Wednesday, Scioscia said he feels the club already made major home improvements with the Thanksgiving week additions of Torii Hunter and Jon Garland.

Asked if he felt the reigning American League West champions, swept by Boston in the AL Division Series, are significantly improved, Scioscia didn't hesitate.

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"Yes," he said. "There's already been a splash made with our organization. Jon Garland and Torii Hunter are two players who will add depth.

"Torii Hunter, he's a middle of the order bat that's going to allow us to free Gary Matthews up to play the corners in the outfield and to help Vlad [Guerrero] and Garret [Anderson] to get some time off and stay fresh.

"I think Jon Garland pitched much better last year than his [10-13] won-loss record indicates. If you go back a little further to the last three, four years, this guy has always been over 200 innings. He's won 18 games [twice] in the Major Leagues in a tough ballpark to pitch in."

Garland gives the Angels six proven starting pitchers, while Hunter brings his spectacular defense and a bat that has produced at least 26 homers six times and more than 90 RBIs five times.

While that might not be quite as loud as the one wielded by Miguel Cabrera, Hunter's presence in the middle of the order certainly is a significant upgrade in an offense that was fourth in the AL in runs scored with most of its weapons muffled by injuries for extended stretches of the season.

Asked about the club's inability to pry loose Cabrera from the Marlins, Scioscia said, "The cost was much higher to us as to where we were going to be. I think the balance of what they were looking for and what we could give up and still be the type of ballclub we feel we are was just something that couldn't be met.

"Our offense right now, if nothing else happens, is deep enough to do what we need to do."

Winter Meetings

Keeping first baseman Casey Kotchman and second baseman Howard Kendrick healthy -- injuries cost both players chunks of the 2007 season -- "can easily add up to more than one more big bat," Scioscia said.

Hunter's 28 homers and 107 RBIs in '07 after 31 homers and 98 RBIs in '06 also are viable cause for optimism. Those production numbers aren't that far removed from Cabrera's in Florida.

Scioscia indicated the Angels wouldn't be making any moves on the remaining big names in the marketplace -- headlined by Minnesota's Johan Santana -- as the meetings wind down.

"Right now," Scioscia said, "nothing's being proposed that's really exciting. If [nothing happens], I like our club where it is right now.

"If you look at our overall team, the depth of our starting rotation -- Santana's obviously a name out there -- I don't think there's a glaring need that's not going to let us get to our goal."

It appears that Erick Aybar will get the first crack at the shortstop position vacated by Orlando Cabrera, who took his Rawlings Gold Glove to Chicago in the Garland deal.

Steady Maicer Izturis will compete with the athletic, acrobatic Aybar for playing time, with Brandon Wood putting a coat or two of polish on his game.

"Erick Aybar is a guy who has the ability and talent to be a special player," Scioscia said. "Maicer Izturis is as consistent as any defensive infielder that we've seen. So, between the two, if it's one guy who takes the position and runs with it, or we have to use the two in a combination ... we'll keep that open in Spring Training and evaluate as we get into the season."

Wood, he added, needs to smooth out a few inconsistencies with his hitting approach but is "very, very close to competing for an everyday job in the Major Leagues.'

Hunter's injection into center field, where he earned seven consecutive Gold Gloves with the Twins, turns Matthews into a swing outfielder and designated hitter. But that doesn't mean Matthews won't have a pivotal role in the lineup and on the field.

"Gary's played the corners a lot, and he's not going to have any problem," said Scioscia, who has discussed with Matthews his changing role. "His preference obviously is center field -- that's home to him. But he's certainly on board with playing the corners and getting his 600 plate appearances.'

At the moment, Scioscia said, Matthews will see time at all three outfield spots and also DH and is projected at the top of the batting order with third baseman Chone Figgins.

Where they hit, first and second, probably will depend on matchups. Scioscia indicated that Vladimir Guerrero figures as the No. 3 hitter, but Hunter's versatility offers options as he can hit anywhere from third to sixth.

Garret Anderson, Casey Kotchman, Howard Kendrick and catchers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis figure to flesh out the lineup, with Aybar/Izturis likely to occupy the No. 9 hole -- an important spot in the Angels' running scheme.

Scioscia has not devised a plan on who will get the most turns in the DH spot, but he'd like to have Guerrero and Anderson spend a little more time there than in the past to save wear and tear on their legs.

As for concerns over the wear that showed on the bullpen late in the season, Scioscia said keeping Justin Speier healthy for the whole season would help ease the strain. Speier missed more than two months with an intestinal infection.

"That'll take a little of the burden to keep Scot Shields fresher, keep Frankie [Rodriguez] fresher."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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