July 2010

So many possibilities . . . like Bourjos

ANAHEIM — The Angels didn’t get any more deals done by the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t make a move or two by the Aug. 31 waiver Deadline for postseason eligibility.

If they make a big move suddenly on the front-running Rangers in the American League West, the Angels could try to pluck a starting pitcher for the stretch run. The loss of Joel Pineiro was a huge blow, especially coming after Sean O’Sullivan had been included in the package shipped to Kansas City for Alberto Callaspo.

If the Angels don’t make a serious push in the next week or so, they could look to move chips of value. Among those who could pass through waivers and be dealt to contenders are closer Brian Fuentes and left-handed offensive weapons Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui. Other possibilities include right-handed thumper Juan Rivera – always dangerous this time of year – and a versatile infielder such as Maicer Izturis, who has two years left on his contract.

Fuentes has pitched superbly in the second half and would have appeal in a number of places. He’s unlikely to get the 55 finishes he needs to kick in his $9 million option for 2011; he’s not even halfway there with 26. Odds are he’ll be a free agent this winter, along with Scot Shields and Matsui.

Abreu and Matsui could be difference-makers in a place like the South Side of Chicago. The White Sox could use another left-handed run producer down the stretch. Abreu, especially, would have major appeal to his buddy, manager Ozzie Guillen. Abreu has $9 million coming next season and would be missed in a big way in Anaheim, but the Angels have a lot of decisions to make about their outfield in 2011.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Peter Bourjos summoned from Triple-A Salt Lake before too long — unless the Angels put some heat on the Rangers and manager Mike Scioscia likes what he sees from his outfield.

There are few players in the game as fast as Bourjos, who can outrun mistakes in the outfield and place enormous pressure on an infield if he makes consistent contact. He has been making progress offensively at Salt Lake, to the point where he might not be overmatched hitting in the No. 9 hole.

After a long season spent chasing down drives in the gaps, and having turned 35, Torii Hunter might welcome some time in right with Bourjos bringing those swift, young legs to center. Like Andre Dawson, one of his youthful idols, Hunter could be reaching a point in his illustrious career where a move to right is career-extending. The man has done all he can in center, with those nine consecutive Rawlings Gold Gloves as evidence.

It has been my view for a long time that the one impending free agent who would have the most dramatic impact on the Angels next season is Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford.

Like Hunter and Dawson, Crawford – whose speed is right there with Bourjos’ – could be at a point in his career where he sees long-range benefits in leaving behind the artificial turf of Tropicana Field for a grass field. A nice, refreshing place such as Southern California likely would have appeal to Crawford, who hails from Houston.

Leading off and playing center or left, the dynamic Crawford would transform the Angels, putting the juice back in the offense with Erick Aybar sliding into the No. 2 spot. Defensively and on the basepaths, Crawford has few equals. – Lyle Spencer
    
 

Trading Tony does it again

ARLINGTON – Tony Reagins might not look like a riverboat gambler, but that’s what the guy is. How does Trading Tony sound?

The Angels’ general manager once again has pulled the trigger on a potentially explosive midseason deal. That’s three in three seasons, Mark Teixeira and Scott Kazmir having preceded new Angels starter Dan Haren to Anaheim.

Teixeira is no longer around, but the Angels acquired some prime Draft picks for half a season of Tex at the cost of Casey Kotchman and Steve Marek. Kazmir also delivered a good half season but has been nursing a sore shoulder this season. If he comes back to something resembling prime form, the Angels could have the best rotation in the game.

Jered Weaver and Haren are legitimate aces. Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro and Kazmir — when he’s sound — are quality No. 2 or No. 3 starters. It doesn’t get much better, or deeper, than that.

Haren doesn’t come without a pricey tag. Joe Saunders has been a solid craftsman, and he’ll give Arizona quality work. If two of the other three arms in the deal deliver, it’s a smart move by the Diamondbacks. They can use the money they’ll save on Haren’s hefty contract to gather some of the parts they need to be competitive again.

It doesn’t look good for the Angels in the AL West at the moment, but there’s a lot of baseball left to be played, as Mike Scioscia likes to say. If this rotation starts spinning the way it can, and the offense picks up the pace, the Angels could make Texas aware of their presence.

Reagins said he might not be done shopping, and he has no financial constraints. If the right bat surfaces at the right cost, he’ll make a stealth move, as he always does. The guy moves in the shadows, BlackBerry attached to his ear, and when he emerges he tends to make things happen. The GM must like the organizational depth on the mound, having detached six arms to acquire Haren and Alberto Callaspo.

The Angels are going for it, responding to Texas’ acquisition of Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina. This is uncharted territory for most of the Rangers. I loved the response of Michael Young, their splendid leader, when someone asked if the series with the Angels this week had a playoff feel to it.

“I wouldn’t know,” said Young, who never has appeared in a postseason series.

The Rangers haven’t played meaningful October baseball since 1999. That was the year before Scioscia came to Anaheim and starting collecting titles. It wouldn’t be wise to dismiss the professor’s class just yet – especially now with this new guy showing up who knows how to win, and how to win big. — Lyle Spencer

 

Callaspo for O’Sullivan, Smith

ARLINGTON – A few hours before the start of a crucial four-game series with the front-running Rangers in the American League West, the three-time reigning division champion Angels moved to bolster their offense on Thursday.

Alberto Callaspo, a switch-hitting infielder expected to spend most of his time at third base, was acquired from the Royals in exchange for pitchers Sean O’Sullivan and Will Smith.

Callaspo, 27, is hitting .275 for the Royals this season after batting .300 in 2009 with a career-high 11 homers and 73 RBIs. He has eight homers and 43 RBIs this season. He signed with the Angels in 2001 as a teen in Maracay, Venezuela, and was trade to Arizona for pitcher Jason Bulger. The Royals acquired Callaspo for Billy Buckner.

“He’ll be a boost,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He can definitely play third base every day. We’ll see how some of the pieces fit. The work he does in the batter’s box is special. He can hit. He’ll  help fill the void Kendry Morales’ departure created.”

O’Sullivan, 22, held the Yankees to two runs on two hits in six innings in a victory on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. The Angels were 9-2 in the big right-hander’s 11 starts over the past two seasons. The San Diegan was a third-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.

Smith, a 21-year-old native of Georgia taken in the seventh round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, is a 6-foot-5 left-hander in his third professional season. He has pitched for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Arkansas this season and is considered to have high upside.

“This was not by any means an easy decision on Tony’s part,” Scioscia said, referring to general manager Tony Reagins. “It’s not easy to put Sean O’Sullivan or Will Smith in a deal unless we were getting a player who can help us.”

Callaspo is expected to join the Angels on Friday night. O’Sullivan, who had been scheduled to pitch Sunday’s series finale, likely will give way now to Trevor Bell. Scott Kazmir (shoulder fatigue) is not eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list until Monday, and it is unclear when he’ll be ready to rejoin the rotation.

“It’s weird,” O’Sullivan said, minutes after being informed of the deal by Scioscia. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been traded. The goal is to go to a place where they need you, want you, so you can show you’re capable of playing at this level.

“I’m trading red for blue. That’s all I know right now.” — Lyle Spencer

 

To deal or not to deal

NEW YORK – Two games in Yankee Stadium, then four in Arlington, in that lovely Texas summer heat. The Angels, sitting five games behind the Rangers in the AL West, are in jeopardy of fading out of the picture if they don’t hold their own.

Adding Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina represented a show of strength by Texas, one the Angels aren’t likely to match. The players other clubs would seek for a performer who can lift their chances likely are prime-time prospects the club does not want to move – notably Mike Trout and Hank Conger.

There’s no way the Angels move Trout. This kid has star qualities, and he’ll get to The Show quickly. He can fly – we saw that in the Futures Game at Angel Stadium – and he has superior instincts in center field and at the plate. He’s the confident face of the future, along with a handful of other talented young Angels in the low Minors who figure to follow Trout to Anaheim.

Conger is a rare commodity – a catcher who can hit with power from both sides. Moving him would be a high-risk decision. He’s local, from Huntington Beach right down the road from Angel Stadium, and he’s loaded with personality. Just can’t see it happening.

The Angels need to look within to get back in this race. They need proven talent – Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera – to start banging away in a big way. They also need Scott Kazmir to rebound from his shoulder pain and deliver strikes and innings.

There’s a report on ESPNLosAngeles.com that the Angels are targeting the Royals’ Alberto Callaspo, a solid infielder. But he’s no better than Maicer Izturis, who was back on Tuesday night after missing five weeks, driving in a run against All-Star Phil Hughes in his first at-bat. Callaspo wouldn’t make a significant difference in closing any talent gaps.

The Angels should have a better grasp of where they are with their chances this season late Sunday, after wrapping up the four-game series against the Rangers.

If they’ve closed any ground on Texas, they might get serious about making a move before the July 31 non-waiver Deadline. But giving up prime young talent for an athlete who might help doesn’t make sense. If they fall deeper in the muck, it might be wise to write this off as the year Kendry Morales went down in a bizarre spill – and took the Angels with him. – Lyle Spencer

All-Star Phillips’ mind on P.J.

ANAHEIM – Heading into his first Major League All-Star Game at Angel Stadium, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips pointed to his brother, an Angels prospect, as his inspiration.

P.J. Phillips, a second-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, suffered a shoulder injury during Spring Training and is on the disabled list. He is on the Class A Rancho Cucamonga roster.

“This is for my younger brother, P.J.,” said Phillips, who leads the National League in runs scored with 66 and is hitting .294 at the break as one of four Reds playing in the Midsummer Classic. “I dedicate all my success to my brother. He’s really meant a lot to me. You never know what happens.”

A middle infielder when he drafted and signed out of Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., P.J. was playing center field this spring when he damaged the shoulder in a collision.

“He dove for a ball in the outfield,” Brandon said, “and the right fielder hit him and flipped him over. He broke his shoulder, the rotator cuff. It was pretty bad, but he’s a strong guy. He’ll come back.”

An All-Star in 2007 for low Class A Cedar Rapids, P.J. Phillips, a superb athlete, spent the past two seasons at advanced Class A Rancho Cucamonga in the California League. He batted .276 in ’08 but fell to .233 last season. He’s 23, 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds. — Lyle Spencer

 

Baffling All-Star selections

CHICAGO — Too bad Major League Baseball no longer showcases a second All-Star Game.

With Jered Weaver and, to a lesser extent, Howard Kendrick denied invitations to represent the American League in the All-Star Game in their home park, the Angels are not alone in their frustration and confusion.

So many qualified players were overlooked this season, MLB could stage a second Midsummer Classic with those neglected athletes and it would be almost as talent-rich as the one that will unfold on July 13.

I was dumbfounded when I learned Weaver, leading the Majors in strikeouts with a 2.82 ERA and 8-3 record, wasn’t chosen. I figured he was a dead-solid lock. You can make a strong case that he has been as good as any starter in the league, rising to the challenge of replacing good buddy John Lackey as the no-nonsense, no-doubt ace of the staff.

In fact, Weaver was that guy last season but nobody seemed to notice. This should be his second straight year in the All-Star Game, but he’ll be home with family members, pulling for Torii Hunter to represent his team with his customary passion, style and grace.

Hunter was visibly distressed when he learned that Weaver and Kendrick, who has been durable and productive, didn’t get the call. It stripped from Torii much of the satisfaction he took from earning the vote of his peers.

But even there, I was baffled. How could Jose Bautista of Toronto claim 10 more votes from the players than Hunter, who finished sixth in the players’ balloting? Sure, he’s hit a lot of home runs this season, but in no way, shape or form does Bautista compare with Hunter as a total performer.

The players’ infatuation with the Blue Jays, currently one game below .500, was puzzling. Vernon Wells is having a terrific season, but he’s not in my view the player Carl Crawford is. Yet Wells collected 64 more player votes than Crawford to finish third, ahead of the Rays’ star.

And don’t even get me started on the catching outcome. Toronto’s John Buck was third on the players’ ballots, ahead of Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki, arguably the most underrated player in the game. The only area of the game where Buck compares with Suzuki is in lifting big flies.

By taking Suzuki, rather than Buck, to replace injured Victor Martinez on the AL roster, manager Joe Girardi could then have taken Weaver rather than right-hander Trevor Cahill, the Athletics’ representative. A promising right-hander, Cahill is having a solid season, but he is not in Weaver’s class yet.

In Suzuki and Weaver, the AL would have two truly deserving, no-doubt All-Stars.

Yes, Weaver is due to work on the Sunday preceding the All-Star Game, making him ineligible to pitch in the game. But that didn’t prevent Girardi and the AL decision-makers from selecting CC Sabathia, whose spot was awarded to Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte. If Nick Swisher, running second behind Kevin Youkilis in the Final Vote, joins the party, that would be eight Yankees All-Stars, if you’re counting.

Hunter, as the lone All-Star from the Angels, clearly must be the league’s MVP at this point in keeping his team in the hunt for what would be a fourth consecutive AL West title.

As for the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler getting the call over Kendrick, the players could not have been paying enough attention to what these two second baseman have done this season. Kendrick clearly has been the more productive performer, given all the games Kinsler has missed.

The lack of respect shown the Angels was just as glaring with their neighbors to the south. Padres manager Buddy Black, Mike Scioscia’s former pitching coach, has done a masterful job with that club. The Padres had at least three richly-deserving pitching candidates for the big show and none got the call.

Judging by the performances of their teams, San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez, like Hunter, must be the MVP at the midway point of the season. The first baseman is the only representative of the club with the NL’s best record.
 
One final thought, regarding the phenom: Stephen Strasburg should be in this game. The whole point of elevating the importance of the All-Star Game in attaching home-field advantage in the World Series to the winner was to make sure that the best players competed at a high level and didn’t coast through the game.

If you’re the NL, and you’re serious about ending the AL’s run of dominance, you want Strasburg on the mound for an inning or two. You can’t tell me there are 13 better pitchers in the National League than this kid. I’m not sure there are three better than Strasburg. – Lyle Spencer    

 

Kendrick has All-Star look

ANAHEIM – With Boston’s Dustin Pedroia on the disabled list, there is a strong chance the Angels will have three All-Stars in uniform when they host the July 13 Midsummer Classic at Angel Stadium.

Torii Hunter and Jered Weaver certainly deserve to represent the American League, and Howard Kendrick also has moved front and center as a legitimate candidate.

Kendrick, who banged his 50th RBI with a first-inning double against C.J. Wilson and the Rangers on Thursday night, is the logical candidate to join the Yankees’ Robinson Cano on the American League roster.

Kendrick has been the most durable of the Angels, and one of the steadiest offensively and defensively. Only Cano among Major League second baseman have driven in more runs than Kendrick, who flourished in the leadoff role when Erick Aybar was out with a knee injury.

Kendrick went through a stretch when he was hitting in terrible luck, drilling balls at gloves on a nightly basis, but the hits started falling and he’s been on a roll, batting .342 over his past 18 games.

A natural hitter with a stroke reminiscent of Derek Jeter’s, Kendrick has put in most of his work on the defensive end – and it is paying off with improved glove work, notably in turning the double play.

“Howie’s having a terrific season,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s certainly deserving of All-Star consideration.”

Hunter makes an even stronger case.

“Howard belongs on the team,” Hunter said. “He deserves it.” – Lyle Spencer

 

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