Wells feels for Young

TEMPE, Ariz. – Vernon Wells and Michael Young have been buddies for 14 years. Wells, whose winter has gone more smoothly than Young’s, feels for his pal as his stalemate with the Rangers continues.

“We got drafted in ’97 by the Blue Jays and hit it off immediately,” Wells said. “He got traded to my hometown [Arlington, and the Rangers], and I got traded here {near Young’s home in the Los Angeles area]. I would love to have him, put it that way.”

Wells had been asked if he’d like to see the Angels deal for the All-Star third baseman now that he has become a man without a position for the Rangers. The big snag is the $16 million per year owed Young for the next three seasons.

“I dealt with it in a completely different way – in-house,” Wells said, referring to his trade to the Angels by the Blue Jays. “He is having to deal with it publicly. It’s been handled poorly on their [Rangers] end. It’s not just this offseason. It started a couple years ago. It gives me even greater respect for Alex [Anthopoulos, Toronto’s GM].”

 

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Brandon Wood was upbeat and looking strong and fit as he checked into camp on Friday in preparation for Saturday’s first full team workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium – weather permitting.

“I worked out all winter at the same place I’ve been working at since I was 15,” said Wood, a first-round pick in 2003 out of Horizon High School in nearby Scottsdale. Hoping to erase the memory of a disappointing 2010 season, Wood will be bidding to capture the third base job in competition with Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo.

Wood tied the knot with the former Lindsey Stratton on Dec. 4. They’ve known each other since February 2006. “It was a great winter,” said Wood, who recaptured his swing in the Arizona Fall League with a strong performance. “Now I’m looking forward to a good spring. One step at a time.” – Lyle Spencer 
 

Butcher back in his element

TEMPE, Ariz. – Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher, recuperating from surgery for the removal of a cancerous nodule in his thyroid gland, was back with his guys, back on the job, on Wednesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Butcher missed the first two days of camp as he was regaining strength following the surgical procedure on Thursday. He was studying deliveries and release points and offering suggestions, as always, as his pitchers began getting a feel for things.

“He’s still coordinating everything,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s feeling stronger. He’s staying in tune with where guys are.”

The team had been sending Butcher, entering his fifth season as the director of the staff, video of bullpen sessions for him to study from his home in nearby Chandler during his recovery.

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One of the biggest challenges for Scioscia and Butcher will be sorting through a dozen legitimate candidates for six or seven bullpen roles. What they don’t want is for borderline candidates to try to do too much too soon in order to make an impression.

“It’s always something in the spring you’re going to worry about,” Scioscia said. “When a guy pitches in the spring, he has to cover hurdles. If a guy’s stiff or struggling with 12-minute bullpens, you’re not going to pitch him in a game. You’re not going to put a guy out there when he’s not ready to pitch.

“Right now, it looks like 12 [pitchers total]. If guys have length, it might be 11. That depth chart is going to be real.”

Fernando Rodney, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi would seem to be locks, leaving Jason Bulger, Matt Palmer, Trevor Bell, Michael Kohn, Jordan Walden, Rich Thompson, Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Cassevah in competition for the remaining three spots.

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Howard Kendrick is a proud papa again. Kendrick, with son Owen in tow, arrived with the news that wife Jody presented him with a second son, Tyson, on Feb. 10. “Everybody is doing great,” Kendrick said. “I’m a lucky guy.” . . . Scioscia on Scott Kazmir’s early progress: “He looks good, nice and easy. What is impressive was his easy delivery and the ball was jumping out of his hand – which is what we saw in ’09.” The goal is to get Kazmir back to his smooth, relaxed delivery, rather than forcing it with max effort that disrupts his command. – Lyle Spencer

Butcher misses first workout

Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher was not on hand on Monday as the team opened Spring Training at Tempe Diablo Stadium in perfect weather. Butcher is recovering from surgery performed on Thursday for the removal of a cancerous nodule on his thyroid gland.

Manager Mike Scioscia said roving pitching coordinator Kernan Ronan and Triple-A Salt Lake pitching coach Erik Bennett would handle Butcher’s duties until he’s able to return.

Butcher laid out the groundwork for the spring during a meeting of the staff on Sunday morning.

“Butch did a lot of work with me over the winter,” Angels pitcher Matt Palmer said. “He was typical Butch, in a great mood, full of energy. I didn’t know anything was wrong with him until I went home after working out [Sunday] and got on the Internet. I was shocked.”

Butcher, a resident of Chandler, Ariz., also spent time over the winter working with Scott Kazmir, Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen.

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Scioscia’s early-morning comments on Monday made it clear his preference is to have Maicer Izturis play at least 100 games, primarily at third base, and lead off, with Peter Bourjos holding down the center field job between Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter.

“Maicer is a guy who a couple years ago played [114] games,” Scioscia said. “It’s feasible for him to play in that range. I don’t know if he’s a 162-game guy, but hopefully we get him in enough games to take the pressure off other guys to be in that leadoff position. When he’s in the lineup, he’s going to lead off. If you project Izturis and [Bobby] Abreu 1-2, you’re going to have as good a 1-2 as you’re going to see.”

Izturis’ absence was felt last year when injuries limited him to 61 games and 221 at-bats. He was one of the club’s most versatile weapons in 2009 and is an exceptional clutch hitter.

As for Bourjos, who made a series of highlight-reel plays in his two months with the club last year, Scioscia said: “When we had Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right field, our pitching staff pitched at an incredible level. That wasn’t a coincidence.”

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Scioscia on new lefty Hisanori Takahashi, who excelled for the Mets in a variety of roles in his debut 2010 Major League season after working as a starter in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants: “He’s a pitcher who’s going to be lengthened out for Spring Training. He has the versatility for multiple innings and is on the depth chart as a starter. He’s way ahead of where a lot of pitchers might be. He’s [throwing] off the mound, throwing all four pitches. He hasn’t expressed any preference to [GM] Tony [Reagins], Butch or me. He was a starter in Japan. His value is his versatility.”

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All hands on deck. There were no absences on the first day of camp. – Lyle Spencer

 

A few words about Vlad, Young

Judging by comments I’m receiving from readers, I should apologize for writing a story about Vernon Wells — tying his football past into the Super Bowl in his hometown — rather than commenting on something that didn’t happen (the return of Vladimir Guerrero to the Angels) or something that in all likelihood won’t happen (a deal for Michael Young).

I won’t apologize for doing my job, but I will comment on Guerrero and Young.

As for Vlad, one of the best guys I’ve ever covered, when the Wells deal was made, any chance of the great slugger coming back to Anaheim effectively disappeared. There’s no way Guerrero was going to agree to come back and share the DH and swing outfielder role with Bobby Abreu. That’s what would have awaited him in Anaheim.

The Angels are committed to giving Peter Bourjos every shot at center field, and that is wise. His sensational defense will save dozens of runs over the course of the season. With Bourjos flanked by Wells and Torii Hunter, the Angels have a potentially great outfield – two wise veterans with Gold Glove histories guiding and tutoring a rising young star with the ability to be the premier defensive centerfielder in the game.

That leaves Abreu, a necessary component to the offense with his ability to get on base and drive in runs, as the primary DH. The only way Vlad could have come to the Angels in a meaningful role was to return Bourjos to Triple-A Salt Lake and play Hunter or Wells in center, with Abreu at a corner and Guerrero the DH.

At a cost of roughly $8 million, bringing the payroll to about $150 million, that would have improved the offense. But the defense would have slipped significantly — and one of the most exciting young talents in the game (Bourjos) would have been toiling again in the Pacific Coast League.

As for the highly respected Young, the three years and $48 million left on his contract realistically make him difficult to move. The Rangers would have to eat a chunk of that salary or accept a big salary in exchange.

At $16 million a year, Young would be an upgrade at third base for the Angels, obviously, but the truth is, this isn’t Mike Schmidt or Evan Longoria or Ryan Zimmerman. Young is a good player and a great leader. Maicer Izturis is also a good player. If he makes five starts a week to remain healthy, backed by Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Wood, it’s not going to cost the Angels a division title. If Wood relaxes and claims the job, performing to his talent level, the Angels will be in fine shape at third base.

From Texas’ end, unloading your unquestioned clubhouse leader by kicking in millions of dollars makes little or no sense – especially if it would mean improving the club you’ve spent five of the past seven seasons chasing. Young figures to emerge as the first baseman in Texas or the primary DH and all-purpose role player. In either case, he remains a vital part of their attack in the No. 2 spot in manager Ron Washington’s lineup.

Unless he has become extremely unhappy with the turn of events in Texas, starting with losing his third base job to Adrian Beltre, and wants out, Young should adapt yet again to another new role and continue to be a productive player — and hero to young kids in Texas. That’s really the way it should be, if you can look at it objectively. – Lyle Spencer     

Trout leads 25 non-roster invitees

Outfielder Mike Trout, the No. 1 prospect in the Major Leagues according to a survey of industry executives and scouts by MLB.com, heads a list of 25 non-roster invitees to big-league camp in Spring Training at Tempe, Ariz. Angels general manager Tony Reagins made the announcement.

The list includes nine pitchers, five catchers, seven infielders and four outfielders.

“This is a great opportunity for our young prospects to get a feel for what we do in the spring, our philosophies about how to play the game the right way,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “It’s been invaluable to our young players through the years.”

The pitchers are right-handers Ryan Brasier, Ryan Braun, Ryan Chaffee, Tyler Chatwood, Eric Junge, Garrett Richards and southpaws Matt Meyer, Trevor Reckling and Andrew Taylor.

Catchers Anel de los Santos, Jose Jimenez, Carlos Ramirez, Kevin Richardson and Alberto Rosario will enroll in Camp Scioscia. Infielders Alexi Amarista, Gabe Jacobo, Kevin Melillo, Efren Navarro, Darwin Perez, Jean Segura and Gil Velasquez and outfielders Trout, Tyson Auer, Angel Castillo and Travis Witherspoon round out the group of 25 invitees with dreams of reaching The Show. – Lyle Spencer

 

 

Angels, Weaver talking extension

Angels owner Arte Moreno, meeting with reporters on Wednesday during Vernon Wells’ introduction to media and fans, said that contract extensions talks have begun with Jered Weaver’s camp, headed by Scott Boras.

Weaver, an All-Star for the first time in 2010 while leading the Majors in strikeouts, has requested $8.8 million in salary arbitration, with the Angels offering $7.3 million. If they can’t come to an agreement, it goes to arbitration for a settlement.

Weaver won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2012 season. – Lyle Spencer

What will Texas do with Napoli?

The initial trade held promise for Mike Napoli in the form of a potential steady job at first base in Toronto.

The second trade, not so much.

Napoli is on his way to Texas, where all good Angels lately (Darren Oliver, Darren O’Day, Bengie Molina, Vladimir Guerrero) eventually seem to land.

Granted, there are benefits from Napoli’s end to Texas over Canada. He’s still residing in the U.S. A native Floridian, he’s in warm weather. He’s with a team that can go a long way. He’s on natural grass in a ballpark where he’ll launch some big flies over the inviting wall in right center when he’s locked in and feeling groovy.

Unfortunately, I have my doubts that it will happen often enough to make him happy. That’s the rub from my end with this swap that sends reliever Frank Francisco to the Blue Jays. I don’t see how the Rangers can keep Napoli busy enough to suit him.

The Rangers have two promising young first baseman (Mitch Moreland and Chris Davis), two quality catchers (Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Treanor) and a new designated hitter in Michael Young.

Where, exactly, does Napoli find his playing time with this team? I’m unclear, and I’m guessing he has his doubts as well.

When the Angels face the Rangers, for example, it’s doubtful Napoli will get a start unless Scott Kazmir is pitching. He’ll probably get more opportunities against Oakland, with its lefties, but two or three starts a week will not be enough to satisfy him or keep his swing right.

One of the things I liked about the Angels’ deal for Vernon Wells, sending Napoli and Juan Rivera to Toronto, was that it held the promise of steady work for the two muscular hitters going to the Jays. Now it looks like a garden-variety Toronto salary dump from this laptop, and that’s too bad.

On a Canadian radio station after the trade, I talked up the idea of Napoli taking over first base. I felt it was the opportunity he’s been seeking, and he played surprisingly well there in Kendry Morales’ absence last season. I figured he’d win the job in the spring and run with it to a terrific season, making everybody happy.

Now I’m not sure what the future holds for the big lug with the big bat.

The problem with my job is I tend to care about the quality people I cover. I have to admit, I grew close to Napoli. I like him a lot. I think he has the talent to do some great things in the game. But my sense is that he’s going to a role in Texas much too familiar to him – that of playing now and then and growing frustrated over time.

Because he has a big swing with power to all fields – much like Brandon Wood – Napoli needs to play on a steady basis to get and keep his swing in a comfort zone. This is not such a big deal with hitters with more compact strokes; they can sit a few days and slash a line drive somewhere. Big swingers tend to have big mood swings.

I’m having a hard time figuring out how this move will improve Napoli’s mood – unless the Rangers have bigger plans for him than it appears. – Lyle Spencer

 

Seriously, what’s not to like?

Predictably, the Angels’ acquisition of Vernon Wells at the expense of Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera has the critics howling. They do that largely because that’s what they’re paid to do, and you can’t really fault a person for that. It’s the carping of fans that is somewhat baffling.

The Angels just landed a three-time All-Star at 32, with four years on his contract, for two players who might not have had starting jobs but will get shots to play every day in their new environment. You have to be reaching hard not to like that.
 
The big talking point is Wells’ huge contract, which wouldn’t have been an issue back in the day when it was the game that mattered, not economics. If I’m an Angels fan, I ignore this aspect of the deal. Arte Moreno gave it his OK. If he doesn’t have to raise ticket prices, the bottom line should be of no concern.

The statistical focus has been on a decline in Wells’ metrics defensively, his struggles against left-handed pitching in 2010, his home/road splits showing a significant preference for Toronto cooking, and his career-long struggles at Angel Stadium.

These can all be addressed with logic and good sense, if that counts for anything in these stressed, high-anxiety times.

Center field and artificial turf are a deadly combination. Because of the nature of their position, with the constant stopping and starting and ranging deep into gaps, centerfielders suffer more than anybody else on turf. The demands on the extremities are extremely stressful.

Over time, the body feels the effects, and the player’s performance usually reflects the deterioration. This applies to his offense as well as his defense. This is a difficult game to play when you’re healthy; when you’re banged up, it’s a bear.

From 2004 through 2006, Wells was one of the three American League Rawlings Gold Glove outfielders, along with Torii Hunter, who was on his way to nine in a row. If neither man is the defensive player he once wals, it’s perfectly understandable – predictable, even. But both men are lucky in the sense that they have escaped the turf now and are resuming their careers on God’s green grass.

It is for this reason that I feel Wells will be best served moving to left, with Hunter in right, the two old pros surrounding a marvelous young talent, Peter Bourjos. Bourjos’ metrics in his two months with the Angels last season soared off the charts. He is capable of being the best in the game in center, and having the wisdom of Wells and Hunter off his shoulders will be immeasurably helpful.

If Bourjos relaxes and hits in the .250 range at the bottom of the order, he’ll be of tremendous value. And the Angels will have an outfield with few, if any equals.

Now, on to Wells’ statistical oddities in 2010.

He flourished at home, with a stat line (batting average, on-base, slugging) of .321/.363/.628 compared to .207/.301/.407 on the road. It happens to every player over the course of a career. His career numbers are closer: .286/.339/.505 at home; .274/.321/.446 on the road. He has hit 124 homers in Canada, 99 in the U.S. If he performs better in front of his family, that’s not necessarily such a terrible thing.

He definitely had a bad year against lefties: .195/.289/.354 in 113 at-bats. More representative of his prowess, it seems, is his career slash line in 1,485 at-bats against southpaws: .296/.359/.484.

And, yes, he has not hit to his customary level in Anaheim, where his slash line for his career is .226/.267/.340. But he would say that has more to do with the likes of John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields and friends than the ballpark, which he happens to love.

Here are the numbers that should be the focus with respect to Wells’ 2010 All-Star season if you are an anxiety-ridden Angels fan: .515, ninth in slugging in the AL; 31 homers, 44 doubles, 304 total bases, seventh in the AL in each category; 460 feet, fifth longest homer in the AL; 1.000, his fielding percentage as one of two regular outfielders in the Majors (151 games played) to commit not a single error, Seattle’s Franklin Gutierrez being the other.

One more Wells fun stat line from 2010: 6-for-10, four homers, seven RBIs in three games. That’s what he did at Rangers Ballpark, back home in Arlington.

The man is a weapon, a pro’s pro. By all accounts, he’s a calm, generous individual who distinguishes his profession on and off the field.

My advice to fans who have endured a fitful, angry winter is to calm down and get ready to enjoy the show. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but it could be something to behold. It’s a lot healthier to take that attitude than to drive up your blood pressure needlessly. – Lyle Spencer

 

A very big deal

Here’s what I like about the Angels’ big deal with Toronto: everything.

It’s an old-fashioned baseball trade, two for one – a pair of sluggers in exchange for one slugger with a glove of gold. Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera should flourish in Toronto, where the walls are inviting, and Vernon Wells brings a distinguished star-quality talent to Anaheim.

Critically for Wells, he gets off artificial turf. He joins a good buddy, Torii Hunter, in an outfield that could be the game’s best if Peter Bourjos continues to show all the right stuff. Any way manager Mike Scioscia decides to deploy these three guys, they’ll make it work. And if Bourjos isn’t quite ready, Bobby Abreu moves into left or right on a full-time basis.

Like all players, Abreu wants to play, not just hit. It will be an adjustment if he becomes a primary DH, but he’s smart and wants to win. He’ll do whatever is necessary to make his team better, an attitude I’m sure Wells will bring with him along with his credentials as a full-service star.

He has played under the radar his entire career in a place that hasn’t given him a lot of exposure, but he’s the real deal. Players know, and they respect Wells immensely.

Wells hit fourth last season and has been a No. 3 or No. 4 man his whole career. I see him slotting in at cleanup, between Hunter and Kendry Morales, but those three could end up in any configuration and, like the outfield, it would work.

Napoli should get to play every day in Toronto, something he has been yearning to do. I hope he gets a crack at first base, because I think that’s where he can be most effective. He was surprisingly adept at first in Morales’ absence last season, and playing every day there, in that park, Napoli could contend for a home run crown. He has that brand of power.

The deal also works for Rivera, who should get to play every day. That was not going to happen with the Angels.

It works best for Wells, in my view. Moving on to a natural surface after nine years on fake grass should do wonders for him. I know it has for Hunter, who doesn’t ache nearly as much as he did during his Minnesota days.

Just as moving to right is a good thing for Hunter long-term, extending his career by several years in my judgment, Wells also would be well served by a shift to left. Less wear and tear would keep him fresher and stronger over the long haul.

This has the makings of a dream outfield. The Angels, at considerable expense, have made a bold deal. I believe it will work for them. As for the Blue Jays, who surrender their best player, they figure in time to take a liking to the two new muscle men on the scene.

The best deals work to the benefit of everyone involved. This could be one of those. – Lyle Spencer
  

 

Angels eyeing Manny, Vlad?

The Angels appear to be interested in both Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero as free agents, according to a report by Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes. Citing sources, Rojas reports that both players are closing in on free-agent deals. One source suggests Ramirez is likely to sign by the beginning of next week.

The Angels, Twins, Rangers, Rays and Blue Jays have shown some interest in Ramirez, but Minnesota is out after signing Jim Thome. The Angels, Rangers and Rays appear to be pursuing him most aggressively. Rojas hears that Ramirez is determined to redeem himself after a disappointing season and money is not his primary concern.

Guerrero, according to a source, believes the Orioles have the inside track on signing him, but the Angels are another possibility. – Lyle Spencer

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