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
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
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
For argument’s sake, let’s say agent Scott Boras pulls another Jayson Werth out of his hat and convinces somebody – the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers — that Adrian Beltre is worth more than the $70 million across five seasons reportedly offered by the Angels.
Where does Team Moreno go from there? Is there a legitimate Plan B moving forward?
At the risk of once again alienating my growing anti-fan base, I have an idea that makes sense to me. Why not make a creative effort to bring back the 2009 Angels offense? You remember that attack, how it mauled opponents from top (Chone Figgins) to bottom (Erick Aybar) with speed and power. The amazing thing is that they continued to roll through the summer with their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, sidelined together for an extended period of time.
Figgins is now in Seattle, having endured a frustrating debut season with the Mariners, while Guerrero is a free agent after a blockbuster season in Texas, his big body healed after the multiple injury disruptions of ’09.
I could be wrong – it’s happened before – but it seems plausible that the Angels and Mariners could work out a mutually beneficial deal involving Figgins. It also is possible that Guerrero could be lured back to Anaheim with the two-year deal he is seeking that the Rangers don’t seem to have prepared for the man who made life much nicer for Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Co. with his presence.
With a need for power, Seattle could acquire power-hitting left fielder Juan Rivera and Alberto Callaspo, a versatile infielder, in exchange for the leadoff catalyst who was missed so badly by the Angels. Yes, Figgins is costly — $26 million guaranteed for three more years, with a vesting option for 2014. And there doubtless are some residual hard feelings that would need smoothed over in the Figgins camp over his exit in the afterglow of a career year in ’09. But couples reunite all the time, and if it serves to benefit everyone involved . . . why not?
If Figgins doesn’t reach 600 plate appearances in 2013, the $9 million vesting option for ’14 does not kick in. That’s a lot of at-bats; to get there, Figgy would have to remain healthy and productive.
Now, on to Guerrero. What would it take to bring him back? Perhaps something in thle $20 million range for two years. Given what he meant to the Angels, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. His return would quiet a lot of fans who are spewing invective these days.
Yes, Guerrero clearly benefitted from the comforts of Rangers Ballpark, and his second half wasn’t nearly as productive as the first. But a .300 batting average with 29 homers and 115 RBIs is a healthy season under any measure. During the American League Division Series against the Rays, Vlad told me his knees felt better than they have in four years, and it showed in the way he ran the bases.
Guerrero’s understated leadership qualities should not be overlooked. He had a lot to do with the emergence of Aybar, who clearly missed his big brother figure. It should be noted that Beltre, much like Guerrero, is a highly regarded clubhouse presence for his calm, easy manner and certainly is capable of filling that leadership role if he comes aboard.
A Beltre signing would be cause for celebration — even if it’s hardly a unanimous sentiment among disgruntled Angels followers who seemingly won’t be satisfied until the club reunites the 2002 offense or acquires Evan Longoria, Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols.
Beltre can play. Boston fans fell in love with him in 2010, but they realize that Adrian Gonzalez is younger with more upside and that Kevin Youkilis is now a third baseman. Otherwise, they’d be incensed in Beantown over Beltre’s departure after a brilliant season.
Much is made of Beltre’s perceived struggles in Seattle after his mammoth season with the Dodgers in 2004, but he didn’t perform that badly considering Safeco Field is notoriously rough on right-handed batters. Fewer home runs were hit there by righties (61) than in any park in 2010, and that’s a fairly consistent stat.
The Angels’ reported proposal for Beltre, at 32, seems more than reasonable. If it’s not enough, so be it. But landing Figgins and Guerrero for a total of five contract years at roughly $46 million – or six years and $55 million if the Figgins option vests – seems to be a viable alternative to five years and $70 million for Beltre.
I’m not saying it’s going to happen or even can happen. It’s just an innocent thought from someone who would like to see some much-needed holiday cheer extending into a new season. – Lyle Spencer
The Angels have lost their sizzle. They’ve made a few nice splashes in the bullpen with lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi bringing balance, but that’s not going to appease the disenfranchised fandom. They’re craving some big-name recognition.
The Angels have to do everything possible to make a bold move in the wake of losing Carl Crawford to the Red Sox. The obvious target is Adrian Beltre, a gem defensively with a lively bat. He’s a tough sign, of course, with Scott Boras running the show, but this is important. The Angels need to make a statement, not only to their fans but to their own players. Beltre would do that.
But I wouldn’t stop there. I’d go get Johnny Damon.
Sitting out there in free-agent land, virtually unnoticed, is one of the game’s acknowledged winners and sparkling personalities. Yes, he’s getting up in years, and some Angels fanatics are weary of importing former Yankees in their sunset years. But Damon can still play. He had a solid season in Detroit – 36 doubles, .355 on-base percentage – and would solve the leadoff issue, at last.
Give Damon a one-year deal at fair market value and let him keep left field warm for Mike Trout along with Bobby Abreu, the two former teammates in the Bronx sharing left and the DH role. Damon is not a great defender, but he’s good enough – and, like Torii Hunter, he’d be enormously helpful to Peter Bourjos.
For a team in need of a personality implant, Damon has few peers. He’s universally respected and liked throughout the game as a standup guy, a winner. He’s tough and he’s smart. He would also give Hunter some breathing room in an Angels clubhouse that is not exactly brimming with exciting, articulate leaders.
There’s a reason why a dozen or so reporters mill around Hunter’s locker space for 162 games every year. He has something to say and doesn’t mind saying it. The Angels have some terrific performers, notably in the starting rotation, but they’re not exactly quote machines. They prefer low profiles.
Johnny Damon is high profile, and affordable. I say go get him while you’re busy trying to figure out how to land Beltre. I’ve heard Damon could be on his way to Tampa Bay, but he has to see how difficult and dreary it could be in the Trop this season with no Crawford, no Rafael Soriano, no Carlos Pena, a bullpen that needs reconstructed.
Come on out west, Johnny D. And bring that bright light that follows you around. This team needs to come in out of the darkness. It could use one of the most endearing “Idiots” ever to pass through a Major League clubhouse. – Lyle Spencer
The Brewers chose wisely. Ron Roenicke has the intelligence, background and inner strength to be a successful Major League manager. Given the right personnel resources, he’ll give Milwaukee fans a lot to cheer about, no doubt modeling his club in the image of the Angels at their best.
Roenicke’s philosophies mirror most of Mike Scioscia’s, but Roenicke is his own man. He will not be a Scioscia clone. When Scioscia, needing to replace Joe Maddon as his right-hand man with Maddon’s departure for Tampa Bay, asked Roenicke if he was interested, Roenicke’s response was telling.
“Sure,” he said. “But I’m not going to be a `yes’ man. I’ll tell you what I think.”
To which Scioscia replied, “Fine. That’s what I want.”
Their 2010 pratfall notwithstanding, it has been an era of excellence for the Angels. They have done things right. The past two years have been marred by a terrible tragedy (the death of Nick Adenhart) and the season-turning loss of Kendry Morales. But the Angels retain a lot of quality talent, and it was interesting how Rangers GM Jon Daniels responded on Monday a few hours before Texas was beaten in Game 5 of the World Series, touching off a wild San Francisco celebration.
Asked something to the effect about the Rangers now being in position to take over American League West control from the Angels, Daniels was deferential. He referred to the Angels’ 197 combined victories in 2008 and 2009 and pointed out that Texas “needs to get better.” His point was obvious: Daniels expects the Angels to come back with a vengeance in 2011.
Roenicke was a big part in those five division titles in six seasons. He has been Scioscia’s sounding board, and he has worked diligently with the outfielders, helping them refine skills and position themselves correctly.
Scioscia is as happy for Roenicke as he was when Maddon left to manage the Rays and pitching coach Buddy Black departed to handle the Padres’ reins. Their successes could not have hurt Roenicke’s chances, along with the endorsement of Scioscia, one of the game’s most respected voices.
So, now Ron Roenicke climbs into the hot seat. A challenging new life opens up for him. My sense is he’s about as prepared as a guy can be. On several occasions in recent seasons Roenicke has filled in during brief breaks by Scioscia to attend to family matters, and his command of the club in those circumstances has been impressive.
He’s also an insightful and articulate pregame and postgame interview, which will hearten my media friends in Milwaukee. Roenicke knows how to handle himself. The Brewers, it says here, are in good hands. – Lyle Spencer
CLEVELAND – Joel Pineiro is geared up for a return to the Angels’ rotation on Saturday at Tampa Bay, and it appears that he’ll get his night inside the dome at the Tropicana against the Rays.
“We’ll try to get him out there over the weekend – most likely Saturday,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’re still tweaking a couple of things.”
Pineiro hasn’t thrown a pitch for the Angels since sustaining a strained left oblique warming up for a July 28 assignment against the Red Sox at Angel Stadium.
His recovery went more quickly than anticipated – the original projection had him likely missing the rest of the season – and Pineiro was on his game throwing strikes for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga in a rehab assignment against Lake Elsinore. It came in the California League playoffs on Sunday, and he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before leaving having yielded two runs in six innings.
“I was throwing everything,” Pineiro said. “It went really well. It was exciting, the atmosphere for the game. Obviously, it was a bigger game for them than for me, but it was fun. They were very aggressive, swinging early in counts, and I had only 50 pitches after five innings.”
Pineiro finished with 68 pitches, shy of the 75 to 80 he’d anticipated. He said he came out of it feeling good and was set to throw a bullpen session as the Angels opened a three-game series against the Indians on Tuesday night.
“I’m looking forward to getting back out there,” Pineiro said. “It’s been a while.”
Trevor Bell, who showed promise as a starter with progressively better work in Pineiro’s absence, has returned to the bullpen with the veteran about ready to reclaim his role.
Pineiro, signed to a two-year, $16 million free-agent deal after the ’09 season, is 10-7 with a 4.18 ERA in 20 starts. He hopes to carry a nice finish into the winter, looking ahead to 2011 as part of a rotation that figures to be among the best and deepest in the game with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir.
“Our rotation has always been our foundation,” Scioscia said. “We like what we have here. It’s a good mix, a good blend of talents.” – Lyle Spencer
MINNEAPOLIS – With infielder Maicer Izturis making his third trip of the season to the disabled list, this time with inflammation in the right shoulder region, the Angels have selected the contract of right-handed reliever Jordan Walden from Triple-A Salt Lake.
Walden, the club said, would be available in the bullpen for Sunday night’s series finale against the Twins at Target Field.
Walden, 22, hails from Fort Worth, Tex., and was considered the Angels’ premier pitching prospect before injuries delayed his progress.
Equipped with a hard, heavy fastball that can reach the high 90s on radar readings, Walden began the season at Double-A Arkansas, where he was 1-1 with a 3.35 ERA in 38 games, throwing 43 1/3 innings.
Promoted to Salt Lake, the 6-foot-5 athlete made six appearances with a 4.05 ERA in 6 2/3 innings, giving up five baserunners while striking out six hitters.
Izturis jammed the shoulder diving for a ball in Boston on Thursday night and reported that he felt some soreness in the lower area of the shoulder while taking batting practice on Friday at Target Field.
He expressed confidence that it was “nothing serious,” adding that he thought he would be able to play on Saturday.
But the pain persisted, and the Angels decided their versatile infielder needed to return to the DL.
He made his first visit there on May 6 with right shoulder inflammation – in a different location than the current injury – and missed 18 games. His second trip to the DL came on June 16 with a strained left forearm that caused him to miss 27 games.
Izturis is in the first year of a three-year, $10 million contract he signed over the winter.
He’s batting .245 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 56 games, committing only two errors in 53 games combined at third base, shortstop and second base.
Izturis is a .323 lifetime hitter with runners in scoring position and is batting .294 this season in those situations.
Izturis’ absence could create more playing time for Brandon Wood on the left side of the infield and also at first base. — Lyle Spencer
MINNEAPOLIS – Angels fans are bailing left and right. I hear it every day in emails. They can’t take it anymore. They can’t watch. They can’t even listen to the games. It’s too frustrating, too distressing.
This is what happens when a team goes from really good to so-so virtually overnight. You want to know, you demand to know, if this is a temporary blip or a preview of dark times ahead, a return to the dead-ball era in Anaheim.
I’m no prophet, but I’ll take the blip route until I see or feel something that leads me to believe the organization is in the freefall imagined by so many doomsayers.
What makes this season so difficult – no, impossible – to accurate gauge is the loss of Kendry Morales. This man was the centerpiece of the offense, fifth in the American League MVP balloting last season. His loss has had an impact on the entire lineup, to say nothing of the attitude in the clubhouse.
The Angels had three players they couldn’t afford to lose – Torii Hunter, Jered Weaver and Morales – and they lost one of them. They simply haven’t been the same with seven different bodies trying to fill the Morales void at first.
Would Morales’ presence – he had developed into a quality defender at first — have been enough to make up the difference between the Rangers and the Angels? Hard to say. But I think it’s fair to say they’d be much closer than they are to Texas – maybe three, four games off the lead. And well within striking distance.
The Angels players and staff know this, but they can’t talk about it. It would sound defeatist, and that’s the last thing you want with so much season left on the schedule. But it’s the truth, and sometimes the truth needs to be expressed.
As for the future, if I’m an Angels fan – my job description doesn’t allow for that – I’d be excited. Peter Bourjos is on his way to being one of the game’s most exciting players, and Mike Trout is coming right behind Bourjos: incredibly swift, developing power with the confident bearing of a young Pete Rose at age 19.
Bourjos has pretty much owned Target Field today with speed, power, arm, instincts. On his first Major League homer, a laser into the left-field seats against Kevin Slowey, Bourjos was at first base when the line drive hit the seats. That was amazing to see. On his triple to right center? Simply flying.
All those fans — you know who you are — who were ready to quit on Bourjos after 20 at-bats, as they did Brandon Wood, don’t understand that nobody conquers this game instantly. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, arguably the two greatest athletes to play the game, wanted to go home after failing in their first months in the bigs.
Bourjos and Trout in the outfield someday with Torii Hunter as the veteran anchor is a vision thrilling to ponder.
Eddie Bane and his scouting staff have had two consecutive intriguing drafts. If the kids from the 2010 Draft group – headed by position players Kaleb Cowart, Chevez Clarke, Taylor Lindsey and Ryan Bolden and pitcher Cam Bedrosian – show as well as the ’09 crop, the Angels are in the process of restocking their system with premium talent.
It’s easy to get depressed and negative, turn off the lights. But if you leave them on and give it a chance, you just might have some fun at the party. – Lyle Spencer
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