December 2010

And Now We Return to Wednesday’s Originally Scheduled Broadcast

As I mentioned before, my original plan on Wednesday was to discuss some of the topics covered in Tuesday’s Winter Meeting interviews with Angels’ GM Tony Reagins and Angels Manager Mike Scioscia. That was before the Crawford deal, before the Angels signed Scott Downs, before…well, suffice to say a lot has happened in the four and a half days since those interviews, rendering much of what was said irrelevant at this point. However, a few pieces of news remain pertinent and interesting:

Kendry Morales
Since about late August or so, all reports have indicated that Kendry is making great progress at or slightly ahead of schedule and that he should be able to return for the 2011 season as good as new. On the one hand, this is what you would expect the front office to say but, on the other hand, if his progress was cause for concern I tend to think the easier route would just be to avoid giving frequent updates all together. During the Tuesday interviews, Scioscia and Reagins both reiterated that Kendry is making excellent progress and let us know he has been able to resume light baseball activities in addition to the regular rehab and workouts. Scioscia also said that while they will watch Kendry cautiously in the beginning, of course, based on his current progress he should be “full-go for all drills”* by the beginning of Spring Training.

Kendry Morales is one of my favorite players – a guy who can motivate the whole team with a swing of his mighty bat or a great play at first. Honestly, this news makes me happier than a big trade or signing announcement would make me…not that I didn’t want that big announcement too. I’m greedy like that. Having Kendry back in and of itself will be a huge improvement in the Angels offense, but all of the major players involved have promised us repeatedly that they would not be content with just having Kendry back in the line-up and would make one or two additional improvements for 2011. This promise has noticeably not been repeated since Crawford signed with the Red Sox and, while I sincerely hope this is not the case, I am left with one of Ash’s great lines from Army of Darkness stuck in my head. Oh that’s just what we call pillow talk, baby, that’s all.

Catchers’ Tango Turned Broadway Ensemble Dance Routine
Mike Scioscia said that with Kendry on the mend, Mike Napoli would be returning to his role as catcher in 2011 in the typically glowing way we have all come to expect when Scioscia talks about Napoli behind the plate. “I think he’s a catcher, and he thinks he’s a catcher. Now he needs to go out a catch like he’s a catcher.” Clearly by returning to his role a catcher, Scioscia meant returning to the two and occasionally three and even four way bare knuckled, albeit good naturedly so, brawl for a permanent position behind the plate. Of the catching position, Scioscia said, “It’s obviously an important position for us. Jeff is more skilled defensively. Bobby is a combination. Hank Conger is coming. We have some depth there.” Mike Scioscia, King of Understatement. Of course, this could also be so much pillow talk and Napoli could very well be trade bait for the bat we so desperately need. Given the fact that the Angels’ 2010 homerun leader is often, himself, the bat we so desperately need, albeit a very streaky one, unless such a trade brings additional sizable tangible benefits, this doesn’t make nearly as much sense to me as other deals might.

Scott Kazmir
According to Scioscia, Kaz’ new offseason conditioning program seems to be working. He is showing marked improvements in stamina and control and is still expected to be the 5th starter in 2011. This is the kind of news I really hope is true and not just the thing the team is expected to say. It’s hard not to respect and root for a player who is possibly more upset by his poor performance than even the fans and who busts his butt in the offseason to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If Kaz could be as good as he was for the Rays, as good as he started out for us in 2009…Wow! The Angels starting rotation would truly be a thing of beauty, wouldn’t it?

* All of the interview quotations were taken from Lyle Spencer’s articles “Scioscia Sees a Bright Future for Trout” and “Lee Joins High-Profile List Linked to Angels.”

Bring Me an Old Lefty and a Young Lefty?

The Angels made move number two today and signed another left handed pitcher – respected reliever and successful occasional closer Scott Downs. Downs is lights out and I am very pleased with this unexpected deal. Downs is 35 but doesn’t seem to be slowing down any – with an ERA well under 3 and a lower WHIP than and the same pitcher’s batting average as Felix Hernandez – and even improved over his 2009 season. The Angels could use another lefty and a senior presence in the Bullpen, especially one who could be another viable closer if it turns out that Fernando Rodney’s 2010 season was not an aberration. This second deal was a fantastic precursor to a really big third deal, right? Right?

Ah, but there’s the rub. When he announced this deal, Angles GM Tony Reagins said “I believe we are where we need to be at this point,” and “This is not the precursor to another deal.” In the Bullpen, right? We’re right where we need to be and don’t need another deal in the Bullpen, right? Tony? Mike? Anybody? Because, really, I don’t think we’re right where we need to be as a team. We need another bat…a big one…and a filler or two for some of the defensive holes I’ve been mentioning…

When I initially heard the Scott Downs announcement, before I read the article, I thought that signing Downs and declaring the bullpen complete instead of going after Soriano might actually be genius. It could add another strong reliever and potential closer to the Bullpen with enough of a savings to give the Angels more leeway to make a realistic – read, insane! – bid for Adrian Beltre, who could shore up the more than sketchy third base situation I mentioned in my last post. Oh, and Beltre can hit the ball too, just a little bit. Another strong possibility Tony Reagins should be considering with this signing is trading one of our coveted young relievers for a strong bat not currently on the free agent’s list. But it doesn’t sound like Tony is considering either option.

I realize that the off season is far from over. The Hot Stove is still bubbling away. What GMs say to the press and what they are actually planning to do may bear little if any resemblance to one another. So I am far from panicking at this point, but let’s just say Tony’s quotes aren’t doing a whole lot to make me feel good either.

And I Was Having Such a Nice Evening Too…

When the Nationals upset everyone’s plans by landing Jayson Werth, unexpectedly and so very, very early, I was worried this would happen. When the Red Sox signed Adrian Gonzalez I was somewhat relieved but still concerned. And, wouldn’t you know it, golly gosh darn it all to heck in a forking hand basket and other similarly lengthy strings of appropriate-for-the-family-show-that-is-MLBlogs swearing, the goram Red Sox went and signed Carl Crawford. Grrrrrr…er…I mean, well played Mr. Epstein. Well played. The Sox are going to be tough again this year. No, on second thought, grrrrrrrrrrr really covered it better.

Well then, moving right along. Mike Scioscia and Tony Reagins met with the press on separate occasions yesterday afternoon and my original plan for the evening was to blog about their – unsurprisingly similar – comments. Gotta love Hot Stove…and, actually I do. I’m just not particularly in love with it tonight. Although typically noncommittal, both Scioscia and Reagins did say that bumping up the Angels offense is the primary goal for the off season. Reagins indicated that this could be accomplished by either trades or free agency acquisitions or a combination of the two. When the subject of the Angels trying to land Crawford came up, he was evasive but didn’t outright say no the way he did with questions about the Angels making an offer to Cliff Lee. He later tantalizing said that signing one great free agent or signing two very good ones could be similarly beneficial.

Scioscia and Reagins said that the Angels would be perfectly comfortable heading into the 2011 season with third base as it stands now – manned by a platoon of primarily Maicer Izturis backed by Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Wood. I completely disagree with being comfortable with the third base situation, incidentally. Maicer really is the Rally Monkey. When he plays, he makes things happen, at the plate, in the field and on the base paths. It’s just the “when he plays” part that is the difficulty. He is plagued by injuries that leave him on the DL for significant stretches two and three times a season. Callaspo made some great plays for the Angels and had some fantastic plate appearances but his glove and his bat are inconsistent. And Brandon Wood? I am sure you already know all about his well publicized issues. I wish it were different, really I do. If only his major league success matched his heart and his desire, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But that just isn’t the case and he hasn’t worked out in spectacular fashion. But I digress…

Reading between the lines of all of these comments, which is always dangerous, I believe that signing Crawford and keeping the three-way third base platoon was Plan A. With Plan A off the table, I believe that signing Adrian Beltre and possibly one other person and sticking with an Abreu, Bourjos and Hunter outfield is Plan B. Lyle Spencer, MLB.com’s Angels beat reporter, seemed to be leading us toward these conclusions, though I’m hardly certain that’s any less dangerous than just reading between the lines for myself. But it’s fun to speculate and it’s not like they’re going to give us any more information to go on until the deal, whatever it is, is done.

Come on Mr. Reagins. Make a move please, a really good one…a move the player accepts even. Let’s not have all of the off season surprises coming at the Angels expense, shall we. Impatient? Who, me?

Happy 50th Anniversary to the Angels!

On December 6, 1960, the new Los Angeles Angels expansion team was awarded to Gene Autry and associates. That’s right, Los Angeles Angels. Although the current name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, is convoluted and sounds geographically challenged, people tend to forget that it’s also nostalgic. Or perhaps they never knew. Personally, I always preferred the California Angels name but the current name is legitimate even if it doesn’t roll off the tongue well.

In the beginning, the Los Angeles Angels played at California’s Wrigley Field. Now doesn’t that sound odd and wonderful? The same William Wrigley Jr. who owned the Cubs and for whom the original and better known Wrigley Field was named also owned the minor league Los Angeles Angels. So their stadium, later occupied by the major league Los Angeles Angels, was also named for him. I suspect that an additional reason for the name was California trying to establish strong, obvious ties to major league baseball, which at the time did not exist west of the Mississippi. Hey, as a sometime marketing professional, I think it was a brilliant idea. An amusing side note – when California’s Wrigley field was built in the 1920’s, Wrigley also owned a controlling interest in Catalina Island, off California’s coast, so the Cubs had a least part of their spring training there through the 1940’s. That had to be a lot of fun, but really isolated at the same time.

However, California’s Wrigley Field was downright tiny – “friendlier” even than the friendly confines of its Chicago namesake – so the major league Angels only played there for one season. Wrigley Field was demolished well before I was born, so I have only seen it in pictures and movies. But you can see parts of it in the movie Damn Yankees and, apparently, Pride of the Yankees as well as a few others. The Angels’ next stop? Chavez Ravine, where they for all intents and purposes couch surfed with the Dodgers for four seasons at the newly built Dodger Stadium. Like all too many roommate situations, this arrangement was pretty awkward for all concerned. The Dodgers had the better game times, dibs on use of the training facilities and attracted an embarrassingly larger audience – hey, it was their house after all.

The Angels were never going to establish themselves sharing the stadium, so Gene Autry looked for a home in Orange County. The Big A opened for the 1966 season and the Los Angeles Angels became the California Angels. Of course, success was a long, painful time in coming. Talking to the longtime fans, you hear some serious war stories. My grandfather used to simultaneously glow when he talked about the Angels and then shake his fist over the Arson Squad – think our 2010 bullpen but much, much worse – and other calamities. The Angels didn’t win a division title until 1979. They won two additional division titles in the 1980s and then none in the 1990s. I think this is why so many Angels fans rooted for the Giants in this year’s series – the Angels understand torture. But, with a World Series win in 2002 (the only all wild card series so far, for better or for worse) and five division titles in the last seven years, the last decade has been very good for the Angels. Hopefully, 2010 was an aberration and the winning trend will continue into the next decade.

Many of you already know this history but some of you may not – hey, a lot of Angels fans do not – and an anniversary is definitely the proper occasion for sharing the family stories, as it were. I made one of the Angels’ security guard’s day when we were shooting the breeze after the last game this season by knowing about the Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium days. He worries that most of the current fans only know about the Rally Monkey days. He may be right, but they would probably be interested in learning this history given the opportunity. It sounds like the Angels front office has a lot of different celebrations and commemorations planned for the 2011 season – More Than A Season! – so this is the perfect opportunity to learn.

My, That Was Unexpected

The Nationals signed Jayson Werth for a $126 million dollars over 7 years deal! On the day before the Winter Meetings begin! Holy out of the blue Hot Stove developments, Batman!

There I was, enjoying a leisurely late Sunday afternoon – the last game wrapped up at 3:30 this morning, don’t judge, LOL – putting the house back together from the evening’s festivities when I decided to quickly check out the Hot Stove blog to see if there happened to be any new pre-Winter Meeting rumors. It was unlikely, right, but I needed a distraction from the dishes. Boy was I in for a surprise.

The Nationals signing Jayson Werth potentially changes everything for the Angels. Everyone who had their sights set on Werth will now train them on Carl Crawford instead. Christmas certainly came early for the Crawford family – his price just went way up. This is also potentially an early present for Adrian Beltre and several of the other highly sought free agents. With so many teams’ Plan A off the table before the meetings even start, there is plenty of time for offers and counter offers on Plans B through D and so on. And the farther apart each deal happens, the harder it gets to sneak a contract signing in under the radar before five or six other teams dive into the fray. I don’t even remember the Nationals being mentioned in the list of Werth suitors. The Nationals GM is the new player transaction ninja, I think.

I wonder how this news went down as everyone arrived at the winter meetings today? Welcome to the Swan and Dolphin Resort. We hope you had a nice flight. Here is your meeting packet including your room reservations, the week’s iteniary, and agendas for tomorrow’s meetings. And oh, by the way, you might want to spend the next few hours fleshing out plans D through N because, while you were in the air, the Nationals just started the dominoes rolling in a completely different direction. Have a pleasant stay. I’m sure that isn’t how it actually happened, but the mental image amused me. In this day and age, all of the GMs probably knew the second the trade became official via electronic alert, a courtesy text or, you know, Twitter.

Oh yeah, and the White Sox signed Adam Dunn late Thursday and resigned A.J. Pierzynski on Friday, the Cardinals signed Lance Berkman on Saturday, the Yankees resigned Derek Jeter on Saturday and the Red Sox nearly lost out on their deal with the Padres for Adrian Gonzales Saturday only to lock it in today, which hopefully will take a little bit of the edge off of their quest for Crawford and/or to resign Beltre. That last development was announced a mere three hours ago. Has this been an inordinately busy early Hot Stove weekend or what? I can’t wait to see what news the next few days bring.

Angels Watched Pot Begins to Boil

The Angels first real move of the hot stove season was signing left handed pitcher Hisanori Takahashi, formerly of the Mets. After last year’s trades and free agency losses, we definitely needed a lefty. A quick skim of the roster yields one long string of Rs and Scott Kazmir and Kaz is more of a big question mark than an L we can count on. Which Kaz will take the mound?

I admit I know little to nothing about Takahashi. I know a lot more about American League players these days than National League players, for obvious reasons, and I have not been paying a lot of attention the Mets for the last several years. His stats look okay. Ten years as a successful pitcher on three championship teams with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, Matsui’s old team followed by a year with the Mets. It looks like he was great against lefties last year for the Mets – no homeruns, a .217 average and a .270 slugging average – with less impressive stats against righties. He was 10-6 last year with the better part of that record (6-2) coming as a reliever. Is this because he’s more effective as a reliever or more indicative of the fact that he was playing for the Mets, the Angels, of course, being in a unique position to understand what an unsuccessful team can do to a good pitcher’s record? I don’t know. Win record is an important but murky stat and I have never seen the guy pitch. But I am intrigued to find out.

He seemed like a much better deal at the $5.5 million for 2 years that was previously, unofficially, announced than the $8 million reported later on Friday. Terry Smith interviewed L.A. Times Sports reporter Mike Digiovanna during Friday’s Angels Tonight broadcast and DiGiovanna predicts that at that salary the Angels actually want Takahashi for the 5th starter position. That brings up all kinds of interesting possibilities, like moving Kaz to the bullpen where he might be able to rebuild his confidence and stamina – and hopefully regain his control in the process. Better for Kaz, better for the Angels. Of course, I did notice that in the press release, the front office kept hyping Takahashi’s stats against lefties over righties and, as previously mentioned, he has a much better record as a reliever. To me, this screams reliever. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Tony Reagins made it clear that he thinks this is good for the Angels first move this offseason. That “first move” line was one of the best parts actually. The fans all know that the Angels front office does not comment on potential trades and signings until they are official and we know they are trying to work some offseason magic for us, but it’s nice of them to throw us a bone and confirm this assumption from time to time.

It was funny to see the Angels name listed among the offers for Mariano Rivera. The front office had to know that was never going to happen. And would it have even worked out if it did happen? Rivera’s considerable prowess vs. the Angels curse with high priced closers – which one would prevail or would they cancel each other out? But I do understand making an offer. It’s like buying a lottery ticket when the jackpot is up to $100 million or so. You don’t actually expect to win but you’d feel awfully foolish if you didn’t at least try. Then again, when you shell out $5 bucks or so for a lottery ticket it doesn’t drive the price of lottery tickets up for everyone else prompting the lottery commission to retaliate. Oy, this could get expensive, more so than originally planned I think.

* * * * *

While I wait for more news on that front, it’s time for my favorite way to while away the offseason. No Saturday night baseball? No problem, time to have folks over for a game night of the board and build your own board variety. I will defend my Catan title with fierce trade negotiations. Bwa ha ha. All your brick and wood are belong to me.

Hot and Cold Stove

As much as I would like to be posting this evening with stellar Angels signing/trade news, there is still no real news to report. Granted, the reports of all the guys we’re supposedly in talks with are coming faster and faster on each others’ heels – Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre, even Rafael Soriano. Yes please. Yes please. And, hey, if we can afford him too and he doesn’t succumb to the usual Angels closer curse – well, he had career seasons for the two years before Tony signed him, I just don’t know what happened – yes please to him too. Why not. If you’re going to dream, dream big. And those are just the reports we have a reason to take seriously. Depending on who you’re reading, supposedly, we’re also talking to Jayson Werth, A.J. Pierzynski (because we really need another catcher), and Cliff Lee, among others. Heck, if you looked hard enough, someone probably has a “hot tip from an MLB insider” that Tony Reagins is in talks with Big Foot as a potential 3rd base option… Although…he probably swings a pretty big bat wouldn’t you think? Anyone know what his stats are against lefties?

None of this is to say that Hot Stove hasn’t been interesting so far…for a variety of definitions of interesting. I am very happy for the Dodgers. The Dodgers are kind of like an amiable ex-boyfriend for me. We weren’t right for one another but we parted ways on good terms and I always wish them well…except during the Freeway Series, of course. I was worried that in the middle of the ongoing divorce proceedings between Mommy Dearest and the king of all deadbeat baseball dads, the Dodgers would be left out of the trading season all together. Quite the contrary, they have been very busy so far. I think Uribe will be a great addition to the team, at 2nd for now with today’s trading of Theriot and with great options down the road for short and/or 3rd if Furcael spends another season on and off the DL and/or when Casey Blake’s contract is up. He wasn’t cheap, but it’s not like there are any great bargains out there this year.

I was surprised the Tigers were able to pounce so quickly on Victor Martinez, I expected that one to be more drawn out. They wanted another big bat and they certainly got one. I am interested to see what if any moves they make later in the off season.

I am perplexed at the way the Yankees are dealing with Derek Jeter. Of course they were going to negotiate. Players always want more than teams want to pay – this is true of employers and employees everywhere. But does anyone honestly believe that the Yankees want to let Derek Jeter go any more than he wants to leave? So what happened here and who thought the front office arguing this out in the media would be a good idea? The front office comments sound childish and pouty. Yankee fans don’t like it. Non Yankees baseball fans don’t seem to like it much either and it can’t be good for team morale. They will probably settle for the same amount they would have settled for without all of this upheaval so what was the upside here? Obviously bad PR decisions catch my attention.

The courting of Cliff Lee, on the other hand, amuses me to no end, partially because of how coy many of the suitors are trying to be and partially the degree to which the media are being anything but. Cliff Lee watch day 27! Breaking news: Cliff Lee signs…up for DirecTv. It’s definitely my own imp of the perverse, but if I were Cliff Lee I wouldn’t be able to resist messing with folks at this point. You know, show up at the grocery store in a D-backs ball cap or something. I predict the Rangers will make a strong offer but that Lee will be in Yankee’s pinstripes next year.

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