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
The White Sox are the latest club to take a shot at former Angels third baseman Dallas McPherson, according to Baseball America.
Now 30, the once bright prospect is coming off a solid season for the Athletics’ Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento. McPherson batted .267 with a .541 slugging percentage, banging 22 home runs in 354 plate appearances while striking out 101 times. He played 84 games.
McPherson, who last appeared for the Angels in 2006, often is cited as Brandon Wood before Brandon Wood, unable to live up to expectations. The difference is that McPherson endured debilitating injuries, while Wood has been injury-free for the most part.
Wood clearly struggled offensively in 2010 and was a major disappointment. But he didn’t let it disturb his defense, which was solid at both third base and shortstop. Wood appears to have regained confidence in his stroke in the Arizona Fall League, where he’s third in runs batted in and fifth in total bases for the Mesa Solar Sox.
The White Sox also reportedly are in free-agent discussions with Hideki Matsui, who started and finished strong as the Angels’ primary DH in 2010. Matsui, 36, seems a perfect fit for Chicago and its cozy ballpark. The Sox needed a left-handed weapon, and Matsui is still productive at 36.
Angels fans clearly are restless about the absence of hard news related to their club, but they should keep in mind that this is an organization that deftly protects its privacy in the offseason, rarely letting morsels of news slip out. They like to move silently and then strike, so don’t be alarmed by the names being tossed around by the Rangers and Athletics. The Angels also are big-game hunting; they just won’t identify any targets. Club policy. – Lyle Spencer
OAKLAND — Kendry Morales’ surgery for a fracture in his lower left leg will take place on Thursday, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said before Tuesday night’s game against the A’s.
“I think he’s scheduled for surgery Thursday,” Scioscia said. “I think he’s over the shock of it. I think he’s disappointed but has come to grips with understanding the process, the surgery. He’s got to listen to the doctors. It’s going to take time. Right now he’s anxious to get the surgery and rehab aspect [started]. He’s obviously disappointed.”
Morales suffered the fracture landing on home plate in the celebration following his game-winning grand slam against Seattle on May 29 at Angel Stadium. The initial diagnosis indicated that he could be back in September, but Scioscia said that’s all up in the air.
“I’m sure after the surgery we’ll get word from Dr. [Lewis] Yocum, whoever is in there, on the extent of what they had to do and the prognosis,” Scioscia said. Dr. Yocum is the team orthopedist.
The Angels, using three first basemen to replace Morales, are 8-1 since his injury and have moved to the top of the American League West with six consecutive wins in Kansas City, Seattle and Oakland. — Lyle Spencer
ANAHEIM – Kevin Kouzmanoff has been there, done that. The terrible start. The mental strain and drain. He knows what Brandon Wood has been going through in his search for quality at-bats and line drives that find open spaces, not gloves.
For Kouzmanoff, now the third baseman for the Athletics, it happened in 2007, after he was acquired by the Padres from the Indians in exchange for Josh Barfield. His start with San Diego was every bit as discouraging as what Wood is enduring, lugging a .102 batting average into Sunday’s series finale against the Yankees with five hits in 49 at-bats.
Kouzmanoff was batting .108 in 93 at-bats on May 7. The Padres were close to demoting him, but when third baseman Russell Branyan left the team after a relative died, Kouzmanoff was kept in the lineup by manager Bud Black, former pitching coach for Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
From May 8 to season’s end, he batted .309 with 17 home runs in 118 games.
“It was very frustrating,” Kouzmanoff said. “I was afraid to go out in public. It was embarrassing. I was lucky to have teammates who were pulling for me and to have a manager who believed in me. But I knew I could play the game. It was just a matter of bringing it out.
“I’ve watched [Wood] and he’s a good player. He’s here for a reason. He just needs to stick with it.”
Wood delivered in a big situation on Sunday against the Yankees. With his team down by a run and the bases loaded with one out in the fourth, Wood sent Javier Vazquez’s first pitch, a curveball, on a line to left. It fell in front of a tumbling Marcus Thames for a two-run double. Wood had been hitting in bad luck, having been robbed on a number of occasions of hits and RBIs on diving plays.
The kid was due for a break, and he finally got one to fall. — Lyle Spencer
The Angels have Jered Weaver pitching six innings in a camp game against the Athletics today to get him in a more controlled environment. He can continue to work on his two-seam fastball and cutter while bringing his pitch count up into the 90 range.
Taking Weaver’s place in Scottsdale against reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is Trevor Reckling, the Angels’ 20-year-old lefty from New Jersey. Reckling has impressed with his poise and command as well as his premium stuff.
“He has the whole package,” catcher Bobby Wilson said. “It’s just a matter of getting command of everything. He’s very confident in his fastball, breaking ball and change and can throw them in any count.”
With Scott Kazmir rebounding from shoulder tightness and Ervin Santana set to test his bruised right bursa sac (funny bone) on Sunday, the Angels are hoping to have all five starters ready to go in the opening week.
If any of the five is set back, Matt Palmer gets first call, followed by Sean O’Sullivan. But Reckling isn’t far removed from contention. He showed his poise in pitching out of trouble in the first against the Giants, getting ground-ball outs from Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff to leave Aaron Rowand stranded at third with one out after his leadoff double.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia believes criticism of the team’s celebration after its American League West title-clinching on Monday night at Angel Stadium is unwarranted.
By dousing the late Nick Adenhart’s jersey with beer and champagne and making a trip to the center field wall to touch his memorial, players brought the memory of their former teammate into the celebration. Adenhart was killed in an April 9 car crash by an intoxicated motorist charged with multiple murders of the pitcher and companions Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson.
Those who would contend the manner of celebration was inappropriate, given the conditions under which Adenhart lost his life, are off base in Scioscia’s judgment. He felt it was an honor and a tribute by the Angels players with respect to Adenhart, a 22-year-old right-hander who shut out the Athletics in six innings hours before he was killed in his only start of the season.
“You have to understand these players and the tribute it really means to pour champagne on them,” Scioscia said. “It’s not the alcohol. It’s like a whipped cream pie in the face.
“The whole thing with Nick was an extraordinary time for all of us. It was very sincere and special, and it was meaningful to the clubhouse.
“Last night was helpful maybe to a lot of players, being able to be at peace with it in honoring Nick in a special way. It will be a part of everybody here who experienced it.”
Scioscia said pitching coach Mike Butcher was in contact with Adenhart’s father, Jim, after the title clinching and was told the celebration was “very touching.”
ANAHEIM – Bobby Abreu sat at his locker before Sunday’s game at Angel Stadium against the Athletics, engrossed in a showdown between the Yankees, his old team, and the Red Sox on a flat screen TV.
Abreu reached another personal milestone in a season loaded with them on Saturday night: 100 RBIs for the seventh year in a row. Only Albert Pujols has done that, but Abreu was reasonably certain a former teammate – Alex Rodriguez – would be joining them shortly.
“Alex has 94,” Abreu said, nodding toward the wide-screen TV. “He should get there without much trouble.”
Abreu clearly was pleased – and relieved – to have reached 100 with a two-run homer, his 14th, in the fourth inning of what was to be a 15-10 loss to the sizzling Athletics on Saturday night.
“That’s a good one,” Abreu said, “Albert and me . . . and Alex coming.”
Abreu has been made aware of another milestone in his reach. He’s one steal away from 30, which would bring him in the company of Barry Bonds as the only players to combine at least 30 steals and at least 100 RBIs in five seasons.
Abreu last did it in 2006, the season he split with the Phillies and Yankees. In the Bronx, A-Rod coming up behind him, Abreu wasn’t encouraged to steal. With the born-to-run Angels, he has the green light to go when he sees the opportunity, and he has succeeded on 29 of 37 sprints.
“Bobby’s a very smart baserunner,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He knows what he’s doing out there.”
In terms of career numbers, what impresses Chone Figgins — who lockers next door and is usually immersed in baseball conversation with Abreu – is the fact that the right fielder has scored more career runs (1,265) than he has driven home (1,184).
“You can only score them one at a time,” Figgins said. “You can drive them in two, three, four at a time. That shows you how much Bobby’s been on base – and how well he has run the bases.”
Abreu was back in the No. 2 spot in the order on Sunday against Edgar Gonzalez, with Erick Aybar batting ninth in front of Figgins, giving him, in effect, two leadoff men to set the table.
ANAHEIM – Angels third baseman Chone Figgins has done several things this season better than anybody in the American League.
He has reached base 274 times heading into a three-game weekend series against the Athletics, and he has 98 walks. Leading the AL in both categories, he also is tied for the lead in runs scored (109) with Boston’s Dustin Pedroia.
Back-to-back three-hit games against the Yankees on Tuesday and Wednesday brought Figgins back over the .300 mark, to .301. His .399 on-base percentage has him tied for fifth in the AL with the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, the only leadoff man to get on base that frequently.
With a .471 stretch through his past 17 at-bats, Figgins has put a .188 stretch in 32 at-bats in his rear-view mirror.
“You’re not always going to get hits to fall,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Even thought hits weren’t falling, he was still getting on base, walking. That’s what makes him a dynamic offensive player. He can get on base even when he’s not swinging the bat well. He’s done that.”
It was Bobby Abreu, arguably the most disciplined hitter in the sport, who pointed something out to Figgins early in the season that his next-locker neighbor has not forgotten.
“Bobby said, `You’re a good hitter. Be more selective. Because you’re a leadoff hitter, that’s what’s going to set you apart.’ He said, `You may not get two hits in a game, but going 0-for-2 with two walks and scoring two runs, you’ve had a great game.
“He said I could do that without taking away my aggressiveness. You get a pitch to hit, go after it. It’s interesting what has happened this year. I’m getting a lot of first-pitch changeups, curveballs. They’re showing me respect. They know if I get a pitch I can handle, I can drive it.”
Figgins has five homers for the season, but two have come in the past four games. He is four runs away from matching his career high of 113 from 2005.
With 42 steals, third in the AL, he’s 20 away from his career high set in that same 2005 season when he played a career-best 158 games and batted .290.
Having played a team-high 149 games, Figgins could finish with 159. But it’s not likely he’ll continue to play every game in the aftermath of a third consecutive American League West title.
On top of his endurance and offensive productivity, Figgins is clearly a strong candidate for the AL Rawlings Gold Glove for his brilliant play at third base.
If past performance is a fair gauge, southpaw Scott Kazmir should have no trouble adapting to a steady diet of Major League Baseball, American League West style. He’ll make his Angels debut, if all goes as planned, on Wednesday in Seattle.
The Houston native has flourished against the Angels’ three division rivals. This is an important residual benefit of the deal that brings Kazmir – 25 and signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012 — to Anaheim at the cost of lefty Alex Torres, infielder Matt Sweeney and a player to be named later.
In 28 career starts against the Athletics, Rangers and Mariners, Kazmir is 15-5 with 173 strikeouts against 63 walks in 166 innings pitched.
The two-time All-Star is 7-3 in 13 starts against Oakland with a 3.16 ERA. He’s 5-1 against Texas with a 2.28 ERA in nine outings and 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA in six career starts against Seattle.
Kazmir is 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA in five starts at Safeco Field. He’s 4-2, 2.96 in eight trips to the post at the Oakland Coliseum and 2-1, 2.52 in four starts at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. That makes him 9-4 in 17 outings on foreign AL West soil.
In a season that has brought an uncommon number of struggles within the division, the Angels certainly can use Kazmir’s touch.
If the five-man rotation stays intact for the balance of the season, Kazmir should have seven starts for the Angels. He’s 8-7 with a 5.92 ERA in 20 starts, but his past three have been among his best of the year, with his velocity moving back into more familiar territory after a dip earlier.
Kazmir’s home debut — he lost his only start at Angel Stadium, three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings — figures to be on Sept. 8 against the Mariners. That would be followed by a Sept. 13 home start against the White Sox, a Sept. 18 challenge in Texas, a Sept. 23 home assignment against the Yankees, Sept. 29 at home against the Rangers and, finally, the Athletics in the season finale on Oct. 4 in Oakland.
That, mind you, is just one blogger trying to map it all out, subject to change along the way. But it would make five of his seven projected starts against AL West foes.
A quality athlete who has been timed at 6.7 in the 60, Kazmir was a quarterback at Cypress Falls High School in Houston his freshman and sophomore years before hanging up the pads to focus on his main sport.
Kazmir was taken in the first round, 15th overall, by the Mets in 2002 after being named Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year.
The Mets brought him along carefully for 2 ½ seasons before shipping him to Tampa Bay on July 30, 2004 – beating the non-waiver Trade Deadline – in a four-player swap. Veteran right-hander Victor Zambrano was the object of the Mets’ affections.
Zambrano was 10-14 with a 4.42 ERA in 39 games for the Mets across three seasons. Right-hander Bartolome Fortunato, also acquired in the deal by New York, was 2-0 with a 7.06 ERA in 17 appearances for the Mets.
Kazmir, meanwhile, has pitched in two All-Star Games (a scoreless inning each) and five postseason games representing Tampa Bay, where he was 55-44 with a 3.92 ERA in 145 games at the time of the deal.
Here, from the New York end, was a classic deadline quick fix gone awry.
In Seattle now with the Angels, feeling their pain and unimaginable sense of desolation over the loss of Nick Adenhart, I am trying to carry on, but I still am numb, disoriented, not entirely here. My coping abilities clearly have limits.
It’s been six days. Six decades won’t be long enough to get over this.
This is essentially what Shane Loux was saying yesterday after a remarkable performance against the Mariners on a frigid day at Safeco Field in front of a packed house that had come to welcome Ken Griffey Jr. back to his original baseball home. We use the word courage much too often in sports, but I feel it’s a courageous effort for the Angels to just take the field at this time, let alone play the game at a high level.
Loux expressed a sentiment shared, I’m sure, by every Angels player, coach, manager Mike Scioscia and the entire organizational staff when he said Nick was in his thoughts all day long – and hasn’t left his thoughts since the horrible news came on Thursday morning.
The reader response to my post on Nick was heartwarming, but it also served to drive home the enormity of this loss. He was just getting started. I can’t seem to get past that right now, how it was all in front of him.
Friends have called, expressing various reactions, and one question I’m asked over and over is this: How good would Nick Adenhart have been if his career had played itself out?
My response generally goes something like this: “He’d have been great. How great, obviously, we’ll never know.” And that’s just tragic beyond words. He should have been allowed to fulfill his destiny.
When I first started watching Nick seriously, in 2008 in Arizona during Spring Training, I saw a remarkable resemblance in manner to Bobby Welch in his early days with the Dodgers. I recall writing something about that and then discussing it with Nick. I was drawn to his easy, laid-back manner, how he was so interested in everything I had to say about the game he loved. A lot of young people are preoccupied, quite naturally, with their own lives, but I sensed that Nick really enjoyed hearing about players from earlier times, what made them tick.
I also told him all about Don Sutton, another pitcher I covered who made it to the Hall of Fame with tools very similar to those of Nick Adenhart. Sutton wasn’t overpowering, but he could put his fastball where he wanted it and had a big, over-the-top curveball that complemented it beautifully. Sutton was a serious student of the game as a young man, absorbing everything he could, and that went a long way in making him the durable craftsman he became across two decades.
Sutton, I decided, was the type of pitcher Adenhart could become. Nick also had a dynamic changeup to go with the 92-94 mph heater and the 12-to-6 curve, and he had the burning desire to be great. It was concealed by a relaxed, almost nonchalant personal style, but I saw it in his eyes and felt it when we talked.
I’ll cherish for the rest of my days those conversations we had over the past two springs, how thrilled I was to watch him in his final performance against the Athletics. He pitched his way through trouble like a veteran that night, confident and in command.
Before the game, I was talking with Chone Figgins and Howard Kendrick when Nick walked past on his way to the training room. We’d talked about how he’d matured, how ready he was – and he gave me a look and a grin that told me everything I wanted to know.
He was ready for the challenge, fully prepared for the challenges awaiting him. He had found all the answers he’d been searching for, and now it was his time.
So, here’s my answer: I think he could have joined Don Sutton in the Hall of Fame someday. That’s how talented, how driven, Nick Adenhart was as a baseball player. As a person, he was a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, about as good as it gets.