January 2010

Izturis signing significant

The agreement the Angels reached with Maicer Izturis on Monday goes well beyond the standard settlement avoiding the sometimes difficult arbitration process.

Izturis signed for three years, taking him off the free-agency market for two winters. What this does is keep intact one of the Majors’ best young infields, assuring manager Mike Scioscia of virtually unmatched depth with Izturis in support of Howard Kendrick at second base, Erick Aybar at shortstop and Brandon Wood at third base, with emerging star Kendry Morales at first.

At 29, Izturis is the elder statesman of the group, one of the most respected players in the clubhouse. Maicer lockered alongside Chone Figgins, and Figgins never stopped raving about Izturis’ skills and commitment.

A smart hitter who thrives in pressure situations — he’s a .327 career hitter in 492 at-bats, almost the equivalent of a full season — Izturis can be a productive hitter in the first two spots in the order or from fifth on down.

Even if Wood has a great spring and flourishes as the third baseman, Izturis will get plenty of playing time. Scioscia will make sure of that. There are few hitters he’d rather have at the plate in a big situation.

Defensively, Izturis doesn’t have Aybar’s acrobatic style and is a half-step slower than the electric Aybar, but he’s the most sure-handed of all the infielders. Izturis made two errors at second in 68 starts in 2009, two errors in 28 starts at shortstop and no errors in five starts at third. That’s four errors in 390 total chances — a dazzling .990 fielding percentage.

Izturis had 13 steals in 18 attempts in 2009 and would like to double that total if he gets enough at-bats leading off or batting second.

“Stealing bases is part of my game,” he said. “I love to run the bases.”

He also loves to hit and defend, and he’ll be doing it for the next three seasons in an Angels uniform.



Familiar faces fortify division rivals

If you can’t beat ’em, sign ’em. Or deal for ’em.

That seems to be the shared philosophies of the Mariners and Rangers, who have been busy importing former Angels as they try to overtake the three-time American League West champions.

Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman have moved to Seattle, giving the Mariners superior defense, quality offense and a whole lot of desire.

Texas, meanwhile, has upgraded its bullpen with Darren Oliver joining Darren O’Day and given the offense another lethal weapon with Vladimir Guerrero bringing his bat to an Arlington playground he has made look very small in his six AL seasons.

All that’s left is for the Mariners, Rangers or A’s to sign free agent Garret Anderson, who’d look especially good in Seattle with best buddies Figgy and Kotchman.

The Mariners and Rangers certainly have improved with these moves. Seattle also added a second ace to its rotation, with Cliff Lee joining Felix Hernandez for what could be the best 1-2 punch in the division. Texas also brought in a potential ace in Rich Harden, but it surrendered one when it sent Kevin Millwood to Baltimore. It remains to be seen how beneficial that will be, hinging almost entirely on Harden’s ability to get through a season intact.

The Angels are looking primarily within to replace the departed, having thus far limited their acquisitions to DH/left fielder Hideki Matsui and reliever Fernando Rodney. It says a great deal about the depth of organizational talent that they can do this and remain confident that they’re still the team to beat in the division.

Their deal for Scott Kazmir at the Aug. 28 deadline enabled the Angels to let John Lackey go to Boston for a king’s ransom. They wanted the big Texan back, but not for five years and $82.5 million.

A fifth starter to complement Kazmir, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana remains a priority, and it’s likely the Angels will get their man – if not now, sometime this spring. There are at least al dozen legitimate candidates out there, a market glut that could bring prices down to a reasonable level.

Of the AL West clubs, Seattle has made the most dramatic moves, obviously. If they’re going to claim the division, they’ll do it in a style reminiscent of the ’60s Dodgers: dominant starting pitching, defense and speed. They don’t have anything close to the power of the Angels or Rangers, but their defense should be the best in the game.

It is remarkable, in a sense, that the Angels’ biggest advantage over the vastly underrated division is their offense.

For years, fans have fired off emails by the hundreds expressing disenchantment with a lack of clout. But this is an offense that should roll up big numbers again with Matsui driving the ball in the middle of the order and Brandon Wood, if he fulfills his potential, bringing another loud bat to the mix at third base.

Their overall balance and depth make the Angels the team to beat again. You’ll hear differently from insiders who want to be able to boast in October that they told you it would be Seattle’s year, or Texas’ year. They conveniently forget those predictions when the Angels prevail.

Recent history shows rather conclusively you’ll save face — and money – if you resist betting against Mike Scioscia and Co.

Rangers reportedly pursuing Guerrero

Having spent the past six years crushing Rangers pitching in an Angels uniform in their Ballpark in Arlington, Vladimir Guerrero could be on the verge of making it his full-time home.

The Rangers have offered the big bopper a one-year deal worth $7MM, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes.MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reported on Tuesday that Texas is interested in the 2004 AL MVP who was limited to 100 games in 2009 by assorted injuries.

Guerrero, hampered by a torn chest muscle and leg ailments and recovering from knee surgery after the ’08 season, slipped below .300 in ’09 for the first time in 13 years, batting .295 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs. He’s a .394 career hitter in Arlington with 14 homers and 33 RBIs in 50 games.

Brown signs Minor League deal with Texas

Matt Brown, who struggled at Triple-A Salt Lake in 2009 after a brilliant spring for the Angels, apparently has found new opportunity with the AL West rival Rangers.

A third baseman with some experience at first as well, Brown has signed a Minor League contract with Texas and will be invited to Spring Training, according to MLB.com colleague T.R. Sullivan.

The 27-year-old has a career Minor League line of .269/.349/.461 in parts of nine seasons.

Brown has 124 Minor League homers but did not launch one in 27 Major League at-bats, in 2007 and 2008 with the Angels. He was non-tendered this winter by the Angels, making him a free agent.

After crushing the ball all spring, Brown slumped to .245 in Salt Lake with 13 homers and 69 RBIs in 107 games. Teammates there felt he struggled heavily with the death of former teammate and friend Nick Adenhart on April 9.

Preston, Nick . . . and now Rory

It has been a very rough year for those of us who spend most of our days and nights in the company of Angels.

It began with the Jan. 13, 2009 death of Preston Gomez, the game’s classiest ambassador. He was 86 and lived a full, rich life, but it cut to the core nonetheless. To know Preston was to love him — and respect his wisdom and insights.

Then came the unimaginable Nick Adenhart tragedy in the early hours of April 9. Nick was 22 with everything in front of him. This was one of those blows from which some people — myself included — never fully recover. Nick was a gem, pure and simple, and a light went out with his passing.

Now it’s Rory Markas, a sweetheart of a man, only 54 when he left us last night. We’ve known each other for years, going back to his days calling Clippers games. He enlightened and entertained from behind the mike and was a pleasure to be around on the road, smart and quick with a one-liner, as his good buddy and boothmate Terry Smith pointed out in a heartfelt conversation this morning.

Rory and Terry were a team within a team. The Sunshine Boys of Baseball. You could always count on both men for a kind word, a smile or a comforting shoulder if you were having a bad day. They don’t make them any better than Rory. Or Terry, for that matter.

Like so many SoCal kids, Rory grew up in the San Fernando Valley wanting to be a sportscaster. With their magic over the airwaves, Vin Scully and Chick Hearn and Dick Enberg did that to so many of us, by the hundreds. I veered off in another path, following the words of Jim Murray and Melvin Durslag into print, while Rory chased his dream and nailed it.

He was good at what he did, and he loved the life. He is gone much too soon, leaving yet another major gap in those lives he enriched.