Results tagged ‘ Hot Stove ’

An Angels Season Highlights Review – Don’t Leave 2011 Without It

So, 2011 is drawing to a close and it is my tradition to take a few moments and write up my top Angels Baseball moments for the 2011 season. It should be noted that, as this blog is now just over a year old, tradition means I am doing it for the second time. Hey, traditions have to start somewhere, right? …But I digress. These are not the Angels only highlights for the season or even necessarily the ones that folks who get paid to analyze this kind of stuff would point out. There are enough articles about that floating around out there already. No, these are the highlights, both Angels and personal, that made my baseball season, in no particular order:

Jered Weaver! Both the season he had – which, were it not for Verlander’s even more amazing season would have easily been a Cy Young season – and the fact that he signed a contract with the Angels through 2016. I loved every minute I spent watching this homegrown dynamo on the mound and look forward to many more in the seasons to come.

Being Wrong. Yes, sometimes being wrong is a great thing and I am thrilled that I was wrong to have worried about Mark Trumbo taking over at first base. My concerns were based on his rookie call-up outings and the issues he had getting into position for plays during Spring Training. But the AL Rookie of the Year runner up worked hard to improve quickly at first and was a bright spot in an offense that was otherwise anything but. None of this guarantees that Trumbo will also be good at third base, but he has more than earned my interest in seeing what he can do in yet another new position.

Ervin Santana’s No Hitter. A former on one season then wild as all get out the next pitcher, Santana showed he has gained considerable consistency following up on his excellent 2010 season with another quality season, and how! The no hitter was merely the most obvious indicator of thischange, but what an indicator it was.

Dan Haren’s 1 hit shutout. And we were there!! Having a full season with Haren on the team would have been a highlight in and of itself, but getting to see this game, live and in person, with a great view of every nasty pitch going over the plate was absolute baseball magic.

Young Angels’ feats. I said it many times throughout the regular season, the Angels rookies and practically rookies made my season. Whether it was watching Peter Bourjos’ dramatic plays in center, Tyler Chatwood’s development on the mound or Mark Trumbo slowly make opposing pitchers start to take notice, the Angels “kids” made the game a lot of fun to watch and gave me significant hope for future seasons.

Personal Game Attendance at an All-Time High! So I tallied it up and we went to 22 games this season, two of which were the Angels/A’s double header. Wow! So. Ummmm…Hon, when you read this, remember how that fact of that being absolutely (Wonderfully!) crazy is tempered by my folks and your boss giving us tickets. ;) Being at the game so often gave us the chance to catch a lot of season highlights. Bourjos’ first home run of the season. Trumbo’s first big league homerun. A couple of flying Bourjos catches. An I can’t believe he caught that Torii Hunter catch…and that was just during the Haren 1-hit shutout game, no kidding. There was even more than that over the course of the other 21 games. I only hope that tickets are not so expensive this season that we have difficulties getting to the game. I don’t have to go to 22 games (Though I will never turn it down!) but if I don’t get to the ballpark every couple of weeks or so, crankiness is likly to ensue. :)

Travelling for Baseball. Seth and I have talked about eventually seeing a game in every Major League stadium for years, but it has also been years since we’ve been able to do any real travelling. This season we finally got started on our plans and while we may have started small we started well, travelling up to the Bay Area to visit with friends and watch games at the Coliseum and AT&T Park. So. Much. Fun! This coming season, the way things look, I think we may only be able to make it down to Petco Park in San Diego, which is local but still progress.

And last but not least…I hesitate to include this winter’s signings only because at the moment Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson have not had the opportunity to take a single swing or deliver a single pitch for the Angels. We suspect they will be strong, difference making additions to the team but while it’s all still just on paper, it’s only highly probable, not actual. But I will add this to my list: last year at this time I was writing about Hot Stove Grief (Hey, this is a serious disorder. Wipe that smirk off your face!) and feeling like the front office was just phoning it in. Today I feel like the front office is really working to put the best team on the field they possibly can and I am hopeful and excited for the season to begin. What a difference a few months make!

The Long, Dark Time Without Baseball, Day 53

Fifty-three. Fifty. Three. Fifty-three days without baseball. I mean that’s an accomplishment. Now there are only sixty-*mumble, mumble, grrr* days left until Spring Training games begin. Yikes! It’s kind of like catching a glimpse of the clock during the middle of an especially punishing work out and realizing, Yay! This is almost half over…shortly followed by, Crap! I have more than half of this left to go.

I mean, I’m doing okay right now. Really. It’s not like I’m going stir crazy or anything. It’s the holidays. Christmas and New Year’s are easily my favorite offseason times of the year. And preparing for the holidays provides a never ending array of exciting distractions that completely…well, almost…okay kind of cover up the fact that Hot Stove goings on and random bits of news and rumors are great and all, but they don’t really fill the void so much as tease and remind one what one is missing.

Speaking of hot stoves:

Stay on target. Stay on target. Do not flinch. Five more degrees. It's almost brittle! December 18, 2011

One of the main holiday distractions in my house is candy making. The habit started a few years ago when we were really, really broke and still needed something to give everyone for Christmas. But it turns out that we’re pretty good at it, even to the point of starting to make up our own recipes, and folks who know us out right ask for it every year. Score!

Complete and utter Christmas candy making Loon-acy! Featuring, fluer de sel caramel, cinnamon marshmallows (the Mexican hot chocolate marshmallows were well and thoroughly nomed a few days ago), pine nut brittle, bittersweet chocolate truffles, holiday orange cranberry ginger bark and angry pecans. December 22, 2011

And there’s the added bonus that it is really, really distracting. When you spend every evening for a week, most of the weekend and then some boiling sugar, melting chocolate, wrapping caramels, slicing marshmallows, etc. and packing it all up to look pretty, you completely forget about missing baseball! …well, almost forget…kind of forg…yeah, you don’t actually forget at all. But you do have fun and reach the practical conclusion that if a game were on, you wouldn’t have time to watch it and that that fact would make you even more sad.

We need a bigger bowl! What did you DO, Ray? Can't, there's too many of them! And the like. Who knew marshmallows would provide so much fodder for quotes? December 18, 2011

Okay, I lied earlier. I am stir crazy. I think I may even be starting to crack up just a little bit. The candy making has gotten a little, well…  Tell me. Is this the product of a well mind? I think not:

Homemade peeps...er....quacks for a friend serving in Afghanistan who will love them. December 19, 2011

Help me MLBN. You’re my only hope. Air a game. Any game. I don’t care what game! Or marshmallow baseball peeps cannot be far behind!

…Hmmmm…baseball peeps. You know, it’s not like it’s terribly hard to improvise a round cookie cutter. In fact, come to think of it, I have biscuit cutters. And I could paint on the stitches…Yikes!! MLBN, put a game on already! ;)

Oh Nolan. Yu Stinker, Yu!

Hey, everyone else has a pun-ny Yu Darvish related headline going on right now. I was feeling left out. ;)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jon Daniels is the GM but the Rangers sneaking in under the radar to win negotiation rights with Yu Darvish when other teams were considered more highly favored was so sneaky clever that it reminded me of the Adrian Beltre deal last season, wherein I did say  Nolan Ryan, you stinker…or, you know, some colorful approximation there of. And, hey, I applaud sneaky. I delight in clever. The unexpected team signing the coveted player (as long as it isn’t instead of the Angels, mind you) makes me outright giggle in approving glee. I just wish those Rangers weren’t so darned good at it.

Of course everyone’s divided over whether the Rangers signing Darvish will ultimately be good for them or bad. Depending on who you talk to, Darvish will either be the second coming of the Phillies 2011 starting rotation, Nolan Ryan and Chris Carpenter rolled all into one pitcher…or Dice-K part deux. But, but, he’s going to have a hard time adapting to the MLB, say the latter contingent…we have a different mound…a different ball…we have different philosophies on throwing before a game…He’ll melt in the Texas heat…blah, blah blah. While most of that sounds like valid concerns, I just have a feeling that if Darvish agrees to terms with Texas it’s all going to work out just fine for them. Lately Jon Daniels seems to have a pretty much un-erring eye for picking just the right players to fit the Rangers’ needs each season and I have no reason to believe this will work out any differently…Grrrrr.

So, am I worried? Eh, I say bring it on! Even if they sign Prince Fielder too…though, understandably I am rooting for anyone who isn’t the Rangers and preferably who isn’t in the AL West to sign Prince Fielder, but still. Bring it. Not because I feel particularly assured of the outcome, mind you. Even if the Rangers sign an, I assume, stellar Darvish, I still say the Angels have the better starting rotation. Even with Albert Pujols on the Angels I still say that the Rangers have the stronger lineup. I think the outcome of each matchup between the two teams is anyone’s guess.

No, I say bring it on because the more this offseason takes shape, the more certain I feel that almost every game the Angels and the Rangers play one another in 2012 is going to be the sort of game that everyone is posting about the next day in heavily exclamation pointed italics peppered with phrases like “Wow!,” “Amazing!” and “I will tell my grandchildren about…”  Okay, maybe that last phrase is exaggerating a tad…but maybe it’s not. And I. Can’t. Wait!

Angels, Pujols, Kendrys, Trumbo + Other Brain Percolations from the Last Several Days

The Angels are on the tip of everyone’s tongue these days and it’s an awful lot of fun! Ever since that wild and crazy Albert Pujols/C.J. Wilson double deal day, the Angels, usually only an occasional mention at this point in the offseason, are in the thick of every discussion on MLBN, ESPN, west coast sports radio and the like about the best rosters, lineups, rotations, etc. in baseball. In truth a lot of these discussions are vehement denials that the Angels have the best anything but, hey, it’s just nice to warrant being in the discussions this far out from the season. And it’s exciting that so many existing Angels players are getting their just praise in the middle of these discussions along with the well deserved praise for the feats of our newest acquisitions.

However, while I enjoy all the talk, it is just talk at this point and ultimately meaningless except as a diversion from the fact that there is no actual baseball on. While it is the job of the analysts and sports writers to speculate about best teams in baseball early and often, I just can’t. Not until baseballs have been pitched, hit, thrown and caught with regular season intentions for a good month or so, and certainly not this far back in December when even Spring Training is but a glimmer on the horizon. All I know at this point is that my team looks darned competitive so far and that makes me one happy fan and even more eager for the season to begin. Thank you Arte and Jerry!!

Yes, I took this is basically a photo of my TV - Here they are, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, your newest Angels!

Trumbo and Kendrys Morales

The Angels tendered the injured Kendrys Morales, proving they are not ready to give up on him yet. The chatter about moving Mark Trumbo to third also seems to be increasing in more official sounding ways. I am highly in favor of both experiments. I think it’ relatively inexpensive to give Kendrys one more season to see if he able to return to anything like his former playing ability. Foot injuries suck, no lie. I tore my arch more than a decade ago and the thing still gives me a fair bit of pain from time to time and I’m not trying to play professional sports on it. So I’m not holding my breath that he will come back in any more than a DH capacity anytime in the next season or so, if he comes back at all. But the possibility of having Bam Bam back in the lineup in any capacity is worth another season’s experimentation.

As for Trumbo, he’s young. He’s cheap. He swings a hell of a bat. He’s team spirited and practical and willing to bust his ass to learn new positions. Remember, we drafted Trumbo as a pitcher. Then made him a corner outfielder when it looked like he was a blown out arm waiting to happen. Then made him a first baseman after Kendrys was injured and now it’s over to the hot corner. And every time he’s said sure thing Coach, busted out his glove and his notebook and practiced, practiced, practiced. And did I mentioned he swings a hell of a bat? I expect some growing pains at third throughout this experiment, but I think that the experiment is a worthwhile one.

One More Press Conference Thought

Over the last several seasons it has amused me to no end to watch MLBN and ESPN analyst after analyst call Jered Weaver, Jeff…sometimes realizing their error a short time later and correcting it…sometimes continuing to make the error. Apparently even millions of dollars can’t cure the curse of being a same initialed younger sibling. In fact, this offseason I have noticed a tendency to just refer to him as Weaver. I imagine a memo came down from on high saying that, now that Weaver the Elder has retired and there is but one of them still in the game, it’s just plain safer. Vin Scully is guilty of this as well, but I don’t think any memos will fix that. That’s akin to the teacher who had your older brother or sister first. It’s never going to change.

So, during the press conference when Albert Pujols began talking about his new teammates, you had to know what was about to happen…and sure enough it did. ‘…and with such a great pitching rotation with Danny Haren and Jeff Weaver…Jeff…Weav…Oh Mahn! I’m so sorry Mahn! I mean with Weaver…’ Albert never did actually say Jered. Apparently he agrees with that memo, sight unseen. Stick to the last name, it’s easier.

The Trevor Cahill Trade

I am not in the Billy Beane is a frickin’genius camp, nor am I in the Billy Beane is a frickin’ idiot camp. He’s a GM with a “surefire” method for beating the house at cards that, like most surefire methods, sometimes works out pretty darned well, occasionally very well indeed and, more often than not, doesn’t work out at all. Not so different from every other GM out there, really, except that his method has Hollywood publicity. Oh, and then there is the A’s dismal payroll to contend with but that is also not a unique problem in baseball.

Trading ace Trevor Cahill five entire years before free agency for a potential-ace-in-a-few-years and a couple of nothing-special-as-of-yet minor leaguers was certainly one of those head scratcher moves. I’ve heard a lot of speculation about the reasoning behind this deal. But tell me, am I the only one that thinks it’s less about the A’s current payroll and more about their desire to move to San Jose? An exaggerated, in your face, “this is what you’ve reduced us to” statement sure to garner enough attention that maybe, just maybe Selig will stop holding them in limbo and get the deal done already? Yes, I did spend my adolescence reading a lot of novels about intrigue, conspiracies and Machiavellian politics. Why do you ask? ;)

Pujols and Wilson?!: Jerry Dipoto Announces His Presence With Authority

Ah, Hollywood teen flicks. Is there a more important repository of accurate truths and life lessons for our youth anywhere? …Okay, after the internet, that is? And if there is one truth they have showed us over and over again, it’s the steps the new guy in school must take to become a success:

  1. He must lose tragically/get the crap beaten out of him/have his sensitive little heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces or, preferably, some combination of the above. (Or, you know, fail to make the playoffs two years running while losing the AL West Division Title to the Rangers – okay, Dipoto wasn’t here for this but it still counts. It sets the stage.)
  2. Through pluckiness, guile and his overall superior character (read, lots and lots of money) he must overcome this set back, rise above the bullies/the cliquey in crowd/all of the mean nasty people who told him he couldn’t do it (Every big spending, clever maneuvering team in any given post season) in order to win the ultimate prize, acceptance (or, you know, Albert Pujols).
  3. And, along the way, win the heart of the prettiest girl in school (most eligible starting pitcher) away from the biggest bully (top division rivals, the two years running AL Champion Rangers).
  4. The wisdom of Hollywood also tells us that catchy soundtracks, clever catch phrases, blockbuster budgets and a cast of side character to provide rare moments of wisdom and lots and lots of comic relief have a vague but crucial role to play in all of this. (Hey, baseball has music for every occasion, a popular culture influencing language all its own, don’t even get me started on the budgets and a cast of characters fit to rival that of even a good Hollywood movie, so the analogy stands you hear?)

Based on this important metric Jerry Dipoto is clearly a smashing success! Oh, and the high, and growing higher by the moment, esteem in which Angels fans everywhere now hold him is a pretty good metric too. ;)

So the Angels sign Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. And don’t think I haven’t been itching to post about this all day!! But there was that work thing, and deadlines in two different time zones so it started early. But, finally, a late afternoon lunch and I can post at last! I went on record in a couple of places as being against the rumors of both of these deals but now that they have become reality I have to say I am pleased…and, for the purposes of today’s post, pleased shall be defined as bouncing all over the house with a big stupid grin on my face. Both are expensive, long term deals, the Pujols deal understandably considerably more so than the Wilson deal. And, based on the Angels old spending habits, I assumed that if we landed either player that deal would be the Angels’ only real deal of the offseason when we have quite a few more holes to fill, thank you very much.

The fact that, between Arte Moreno increasing the budget considerably and Dipoto’s wheeling and dealing, the Angels signed both Pujols and Wilson in addition to putting a potentially nice patch on our catching woes with the Chris Iannetta trade and signing another reliable seeming arm for our bullpen in LaTroy Hawkins? Well, consider my biggest concern laid to rest and then some.

I still have a few other concerns, though they are comparatively minor:

  • 10 years is a loooooong contract for a 31-year old, even for a guy known as the Machine. I am certain Pujols will be great for five of those years and possibly longer. And being in the AL with the DH helps but…well…we’ll cross that bridge when we get there I suppose.
  • Adjustment periods for Pujols and Wilson, both of whom were one-team players before today. This isn’t a huge concern for me. And there may not be an adjustment period, but I would caution fans not to panic if it takes a month or so for either guy (or both) to really get into the swing of things.
  • What about Mark Trumbo? We have a log jam at 1st now. While I don’t doubt for a second that Pujols is a better hitter than Trumbo, I really want to find a way to keep Trumbo in the lineup. It does us very little good to swap our one slugging bat in the lineup for a harder slugging bat. Even with Albert’s considerable prowess we need multiple slugging bats in the lineup. I hope the Angels explore the idea they’ve expressed a lot this offseason of Trumbo at third. I know he wasn’t a good third base his first year in the minors but look at how quickly the analytical, note taking player improved from being kind of bad at first to being pretty darned good. I think this could be a good move.
  • C.J. Wilson’s longevity. Wilson is a former reliever stretched out into a starter and, as such, he faded early in his first year as a fulltime starter…but then he faded even earlier the next season. Foreboding pattern or an aberration of the sort you often get with small sample sizes? Well now that he’s not pitching in Texas I sure hope it’s the latter! Fortunate mitigating circumstances: the weather and stadium dimensions are a lot kinder to pitchers in Anaheim and Wilson is closer to family here, which may be beneficial.

But then I think of our starting rotation to be with three legitimate aces and Ervin Santana and of our lineup with Albert Pujols in it (not to mention the wonderful teaching presence Pujols provides for our rookies) and all I can do is continue bouncing around the house, occasionally pumping my fits and cheering. And the fact of the matter is I like both players. I like their attitude and the way they play the game. I like how Wilson handled the press conferences today in a classy way that paid appropriate respect to both the team that raised him and the team that just adopted him. Yes, Wilson can be a bit of a trash talker, but I’ve always liked the fire and wit behind his comments even when I didn’t appreciate them being directed at my team and, well, I love that traditional aspect of the game. I’ll be interested to watch how Pujols handles his press conferences that are sure to come.

Hot Stove proposed this lineup for the Angels. I'd try Trumbo at 3rd too, but still a lineup fit to bring tears of joy to the eyes of any Angels fan.

So, yes, even with reservations both laid to rest and lingering, I am excited by these deals. After earning two World Series berths in as many seasons, the Rangers are still tough, still absolutely frightening in the lineup department and still the team to beat. But with these Angels moves, forget the division race. I feel we have ourselves an honest to goodness, hotly contested division battle coming and I for one cannot wait!

Miami, the Life of the Winter Meeting Party + Baseball Fever, Catch it from Someone You Love!

So, how about those winter meetings? The agenda could be duller than a long Friday night in folding laundry and they would still seem pretty darned exciting at this point, mostly thanks to Florida…er…I mean Miami. Miami at the moment reminds me of that lightweight drinker who has overindulged beyond their usual prudent amount and suddenly finds themselves the life of the party. You’re thrilled that they have acquired a few missing pieces…er…learned that they do in fact love tequila. You want them to be competitive again…that is, to have a great time. But you can see the potential for hangover growing by the minute and if it hits this one is going to be uh-uh-gly…er…oh, wait. Nevermind. That one works for both analogies. ;)

And, while we’re on the party analogy, has anyone seen our escort? He brought us that lovely tropical drink – something catcher? – a little while ago and then left to get us another, but we can’t seem to see him in the crowd at the moment. Oh well, no matter. We’re feeling happy – no complaints. This is an awfully fun party and I’m sure he’ll turn up eventually with a big swingin’ bat or two (If there is no such drink, I swear I will make one up with spice infused bourbon to get some nice wood notes and other tasties!) or maybe even a pitcher of something. Oh, we can wait for that and even enjoy the waiting.

Editor’s Note/Update: Ummm…not so sure about some of the current rumored beverage offerings. I enjoy rum and Texas tea…but not in those quntities/for those contracts. Yikes!

*     *     *     *     *

My husband and I often joke that baseball fever is, how shall we say? Ah yes, a social disease. (Gee Officer Krupke!) It’s the only explanation for the speed with which two sworn non baseball fan friends acquired the disease once they started dating a baseball fan and the wondrous virulence of their lasting symptoms. It also explains why all of our other friends, non baseball fans in committed relationships with one another, will never catch the fever. Hey, baseball fans out there in love with non baseball fans. Wouldn’t it be great if it actually worked that way?

Anyway, my husband is a great baseball fan. But the true fanaticism is a newer thing, something that grew parallel to my returning fanaticism when my own baseball fever joyfully relapsed after way too long a remission. I like to think I helped him a little bit with that. He already definitely knew the rules and some of the strategies, players and such. But I got to teach him the finer points, or at least be there when he picked them up on his own and it’s been an incredibly fun journey. He is not as big a dork as I am, yet, but he’s getting there.

Coming home from work the other day, I walked in on him ranting at Hot Stove. That’s not an intangible. You can absolutely measure that. It’s called Wins. Above. Replacement. He snarked and tossed the remote on the sofa in amused disgust.

Wow, I laughed appreciatively. Look at you!

Seth paused, looked at me, laughed and said. It’s a social disease.

Amen!

Angels of Catan, a Holiday Induced Hot Stove Mash Up

Once we got the house put back to rights after Thanksgiving, Seth and I spent most of the weekend playing strategy games with headlines on MLBN and Bloomberg playing in the background…as you do, when you’re a couple of geeks who have decided that all of the responsible chores you had planned for the long weekend just really don’t sound appealing. So instead of plastering and painting the bathroom, we played a lot of Settlers of Catan among other things.

Oh, hey look. Blue won! ;) Settlers of Catan, November 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

For those of you who’ve never heard of it, Settlers of Catan is a continually variable resources management game. Think of it as Sid Meier’s Civilization unplugged. You shuffle the tiles and their numerical dice role assignments that make up the playing board at the beginning of every game, so rarely are any two games the same. Your goal is to get enough resources to build cities and other things that are worth points, oh and to keep your buddy from doing so. But in order to do this you have to trade with your buddy a lot because there is always a key resource or two you can’t access on your own.

Hey Kristen, this is highly entertaining and all. Sounds like another fun game. But isn’t this supposed to be, oh, I don’t know, a baseball blog? Oh. You again. Hey, I brought it back around to baseball the last time I went on a strategy game tangent. Just work with me for a minute here. I’m getting to that part!

So, as I was saying. *glares over her shoulder at the peanut gallery* There we were playing Catan. Making trades. Listening to MLBN and hearing about trades though nothing earth shattering. And, well, my brain tends to make weird connections between completely disparate things.

You’re telling me! Quiet, you.

Ahem. All the trading just started to seem hilariously parallel, especially the AA and AAA outfielders I’ve never heard of that some teams seem to be stockpiling. In Catan, if you’ve pissed off your buddy so much by thwarting him that he won’t trade with you (or you’re close to winning which we refer to as being “Cuba”) you have an option of stockpiling 4 of some useless resource and trading it “off the island” with the deck for one of something you actually need. So, how many no name minor league outfielders does it take to build a major league closer? Or a clutch hitting third basemen? Or anyone we would actually like to hear about…and by we, I mean I because, well, I’m baseball news selfish like that. But more than lightbulb-esque jokes about minor league players, my strange baseball/Settlers of Catan juxtaposition lead to an oddly accurate illustration of the Angels current player situation.

See, it totally relates. Well, it’s about bloody time!!

Here it is, presented for your gaming pleasure, just in time for the holidays, Major League Baseball Players of Catan: The Angels Expansion! Hey, they have every other theme and expansion under the sun for Catan, why not? Anyway, looking at my goofy creation and the board the Angels have been clearly playing with for the last couple of seasons, I think the problem is readily apparent, don’t you?:

This is the way our board looks? Now it all makes sense! MLB Players of Catan, Angels Expansion, November 2011. Concept, artwork and photo by This is a very simple game...

I mean if my dice roll options for hitting looked like that, you better bet I’d shuffle up the game board at the nearest opportunity. Strong starting pitching options with a few holes. Good and bad bullpen options based, seemingly, on a roll of the dice. Good fielding and throwing. Some speed. Some strong hitting for average but also some really poor hitting for average and almost no power hitting at all. I keep hearing all kinds of trade and signing rumors about the Angels, as we all do about our teams this time of year, but nothing that I like at all so far.

Catan, for real or as an illustration of the relative talents of Angels personnel, is all about balance and trying hard to compensate for lack of balance when it invariably occurs. Only rarely is pumping up one strength to the neglect of some or all of the others a good strategy. There is no shooting the moon, in baseball or in Catan. And, let’s be honest here, even teams with a lot of money still don’t have infinite money. Balance and prioritization are essential.

I do not want C.J. Wilson, one of the more consistent rumors. Not only do I not like the fact that the converted reliever slowed down earlier this season than last, but I think that it would be throwing entirely too much money at something that is already mostly a strength. We have a hole and a half, if you will, in our starting rotation. But we only have one power bat in our lineup…unless Vernon Wells and Kendrys Morales come back in typical shape, but notice I’m not counting on that. I might have liked the David Ortiz rumor. Say what you will about the Fenway toybox, he always kills it in Anaheim, unlike Vernon Wells which probably should have been a clue, but I digress… But we have such a glut of big contract lame duck bats, at least going by 2011’s numbers, in the DH spot that I can’t see a way for the team to get rid of so, really, what’s the point?

So far, the rumor I like the most is Aramis Ramirez, but that one isn’t perfect either even when you ignore his fits of bad attitude for the sake of argument. More power at third base would be really nice. Really, really nice. But people forget that Alberto Callaspo may not be flashy but he hit consistently for average all season long, our highest batting average in 2011 in fact. And while I would like some power, if we replace Callaspo, we would then need to make up his batting average somewhere else in the lineup somehow. How about a power hitting catcher…or, even, an average hitting catcher? Clearly the slumping bats need to step it up big time or be replaced. But is that possible? It’s a puzzle. A Catan worthy puzzle. Mike Scioscia has said he likes playing Civilzation. I wonder if Jerry Dipoto likes resources management strategy games? Because like it or not, he’s got a pretty tricky one ahead of him.

Mythbusters: The Angels Baseball Edition

Baseball reality is so often legendary that it shouldn’t be surprising when the opposite occurs and baseball myths, oft repeated, begin to take on an aura of reality. As an Angels fan, there were two such recent myths that caught my attention more than any others, as they were repeated throughout the regular season, the post season and on into November. Both myths “explain” Mike Napoli’s rising star post trade from the Angels.

Napoli: Texas Ranger. Yup. That one's going to hurt for a while, I think. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Myth 1: Of course Mike Napoli blossomed under the Rangers, the guy just needed to get some real playing time.

I actually fell victim to this myth myself for a little while. It certainly sounds plausible. And it’s been repeated so often that it really started to seem like Naps got a lot more playing time with the Rangers…until I started thinking about all of the games I attended where Napoli played. Hmmm…so I looked up some real numbers.

In 2011, for the Texas Rangers, Mike Napoli had: 369 at bats in 113 games and played a position in 96 games, 61 at catcher and 35 at first base.

In 2010, for the Angels, Mike Napoli had: 453 at bats in 140 games and played a position in 126 games, 59 at catcher and 67 at first base, significantly more playing time than he enjoyed with Texas in 2011.

In 2009, for the Angels, Mike Napoli had: 382 at bats in 114 games and played a position in 96 games, all of them at catcher, roughly the same amount of playing time as he enjoyed with Texas in 2011.

Prior to 2009, Mike Napoli did experience less playing time, making an appearance in 78 games in 2008, 75 in 2007 and 99 in 2006. But for the two season prior to his trade, Naps saw as much or playing time in Anaheim as he saw in Arlington.

As the Mythbuster boys would say, I call this myth busted.

Myth 2: Mike Scioscia is too hard on catchers.

I only have anecdotal evidence against this myth, but I feel it’s significant. While I have no doubt that Mike Scioscia is hard on catchers, I question the implication that this is universally detrimental. Yes, Mike Napoli played better for the Rangers and the current crop of catchers all need improvements in different ways but, come on, two out of three Molina brothers can’t be wrong, right? Especially when the third isn’t so much a dissenting vote as not included in the sample size. So, apparently, some catchers do just fine under Sosh. Myth busted.

Mike Napoli, showing off those improved defensive catching skills with Bobby Abreu at bat. Oh well. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And the reality?

Okay, if it wasn’t more playing time and Mike Scioscia isn’t a crippling influence on catchers, then why did Mike Napoli have so much stronger a season in 2011 than in 2010 or 2009? Well, in part, I would never underestimate the power of batting in the middle of that crazy good Texas lineup. Do they have a weak spot in their lineup? Because we sure never saw one. Talk about protection!

But, more than that, I suppose the greatest myth of all is that past performance is a guarantee of future performance, especially once you change any of the variables: new team, new manager, new coaches, new lineup, new clubhouse culture and so on. Some players in this situation adapt immediately and pick up right where they left off, give or take a little benefit/detriment from combining their talents with those of their new teammates. Adrian Gonzalez and Adrian Beltre, for example. Some players experience a (hopefully temporary?) set back in their new digs and perform well below expectations. Carl Crawford and Vernon Wells, for example. And others absolutely shine, like our current example Mike Napoli.

In Naps particular case, I think there is a slight, skewed truth to Myth #2. It’s not that Mike Scioscia is too hard on catchers, but that way in which Mike Scioscia handles catchers, be it hard or not, simply didn’t work for Mike Napoli, much like a particular teacher might be just the ticket for one student but ineffective at best for their siblings. So, significant lineup protection? New manager with whom he clicked better? Perhaps even added drive to prove himself after being traded twice in less than a week? Take your pick, but I think it’s a combination of all of these reasons and perhaps a few more. Interesting food for thought as Hot Stove heats up and GMs begin to throw large sums of money about banking, quite literally, on past performances.

Baseball So Cal Style: Vernon Wells Is Ready for His Close-Up & Trades with Hollywood Endings

The Angels held their press conference to officially welcome Vernon Wells to the team today. It sounds like there was a great crowd gathered underneath the giant baseball caps in front of the stadium this morning. Only where the Angels are concerned do I envy my husband’s job location in Irvine, mere minutes away from the Big A, and the unfortunate 60 to 90 minute commute that goes along with it. I know that some of his coworkers, a fun bunch of diehards the lot of them, took an early lunch at the press conference and, while I like my job and my commute much better, it would be fun to be able to do that every now and then…or just to be able to get to weeknight games in time for batting practice. But I digress…

It was nice to read a little more positive press about the trade today. I am actually really surprised at the huge disconnect between the way some of the – admittedly local and Angels friendly – press views the Vernon Wells trade and the way the rest of the press views it. Apparently, this is the worst deal this offseason or any of the last few in recent history, the Rangers and the Blue Jays should erect statues in our honor and Tony Reagins should fear for his job. Wow. It’s so nice to know that no one is still falling back on hyperbole and other sports writing clichés. (Sarcasm, on the other hand, is a grand literary tradition as well as an important lifestyle choice. Why do you ask?) I have read a lot more about this trade since my post last weekend and I stand by my initial assessment of the whole thing – this is certainly not the best deal we could have made this season but it is a good one and the team the Angels are putting on the field in 2011 is better than the one that left the field in 2010. Are they good enough? Well, I guess we’re just going have to actually play 162 games and find out. I am excited to watch how it all plays out…and I am really excited about our outfield this season!

And then there was that was that completely unexpected twist ending to the trade yesterday…No, no one had a psychotic break or turned out to really have been dead the whole time (Juan Rivera’s 2010 left field performance to the contrary – sorry Morris, I had to.), but, no one expected the Texas Inquisition! Shocking yes, but I am even more surprised at the God-like qualities Mike Napoli’s batting prowess has recently taken on in some of the blog posts about his unfortunate trade by the Blue Jays to the Rangers (not to mention the unexpected presumption that he would have suddenly become the primary catcher). He’s got a great bat. I’m going to miss having him in the Angels line-up too and I’m really going to miss him behind the plate, for the little bit of playing time he was likely to have (let’s not forget that part!). I’m not looking forward to facing him in our division either. And I am also not thrilled that the Rangers got another power hitter – as if we didn’t know it already, those guys are definitely going to be tough again this year! But Napoli did not suddenly become one of the elite hitters in baseball just because he got traded to the Rangers.

I wish Napoli well except against the Angels, as I did when he was traded to the Blue Jays. But while his homerun total may go up slightly in Arlington, always hyped as a hitter’s ballpark, I really don’t expect his slash line stats to change that drastically. He’s been fairly even his whole career up until now. Yes, as a former Angels catcher, he knows our pitchers well, but that didn’t help him against John Lackey this year anymore than it did any of our other players. He is likely to smack a Weaver or Haren pitch or two out of the park over the course of a season – fly ball pitchers and all that – but, be honest, he’s also likely to keep stranding runners in scoring position even when he’s playing in Anaheim and going through three and four week long slumps too. He’s good. We’ll miss him. It’s going to suck seeing him in Rangers red…and blue…and red, white and blue…and whatever other uniform they come up with this season. But he is hardly the key to the Angels undoing. The Rangers line-up as a whole? That’s a lot scarier, but our starters had better be bringing their nastiest stuff anyway. Hmmm…if all else fails and the Angels really need a Plan B in terms of pitching to Nap, maybe they can just plan on walking the guy in front of him if no one else is already on base? ;)

Surprise! Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera Traded for Vernon Wells

Wow. I leave the internets alone for one day and our recently all too mild-mannered Tony Reagins turns into the Trade Ninja again. So intent was I on fun, gorgeous scenery and wine today that I wasn’t even checking my email (understandable given that reception up here is pretty hit and miss) and didn’t notice the trade announcement until a few hours ago. Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to the Blue Jays in exchange for Vernon Wells and an undisclosed amount of cash, or no cash at all depending on which reports you read. My, that was unexpected.

Admittedly, my initial reaction to the trade news was a little pouty. Mike Napoli is one of my favorite current Angels players and you always hate to see a favorite player move on even though it’s all part of the game. But then the trade started to grow on me. The truth of the matter is, Mike Scioscia prefers Jeff Mathis behind the plate and has said repeatedly that he considers Napoli too streaky to be anything more than an occasional DH. Whether or not I agree with Scioscia’s assessment, the bottom line is that barring injuries and with Kendry back at first (Yay!), at the absolute best Napoli was only going to split time behind the plate and see a couple of games as the DH anyway. If the Angels were going to underuse him, I’m sad to see a favorite player go, but I would rather trade him for someone the Angels will use. I wish Napoli all the best with the Blue Jays, except when the Blue Jays play the Angels. He’s streaky. Maybe he can have a brief slump those games.

On the other hand, I am not at all sorry to see Juan Rivera go. It’s uncharitable, I realize. He gave the Angels a few great seasons but he’s been sliding downhill since returning from the broken leg. He just seems to play with fear and hesitation now and the hustle is gone. I can forgive a player many things, including loss of mobility from aging or injury, but lack of hustle is something I’ve always found very hard to forgive. I wish him well in Toronto, I truly do (except when they play us, of course), but after last season especially, I will not miss him in Anaheim.

As for the other end of the deal? Yes, we overpaid. Whether or not we actually get cash out of this. I’m not even going to debate that. But, with the way deals have been going this offseason, free agency signings, trades or otherwise, I just don’t see very many ways for the Angels to have avoided overpaying and other teams already struck those deals. Yes, Vernon Wells is 32. But he doesn’t seem to have slowed down in the outfield since his Gold Glove years and, in terms of homeruns, OPS and batting average, 2010 was one of Wells’ best offensive seasons since 2006. When you ignore the money (and I am, because, really, how many deals didn’t involve insane money this offseason?) the Angels traded two players they were using as occasional utility players for a starting outfielder with a good glove and a dangerous bat. Between Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter and Wells, I am actually really excited to see our outfield in action this year and I am starting to worry less about the batting line-up…though we still really need a leadoff hitter. I also love how excited Wells sounded about coming to Anaheim in his interview. He sounded ready to win and certain the Angels could accomplish that. Maybe he can help bring some of the swagger and daring the Angels lost in 2010 back to the Big A. Optimism returning and growing.

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