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 Rangers have eight, maybe nine legitimate All-Star candidates. Here they are: Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Michael Young, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz, Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz and Darren Oliver. Darren O’Day also has the numbers to be considered.
The Angels have two serious candidates for the Midsummer Classic they’ll be hosting on July 13: Jered Weaver and Torii Hunter. After that, you have to start reaching to make a case.
And you’re wondering why the Angels are chasing Texas in the American League West?
The only surprise is that they’re as close as they are. The Rangers could be running away and hiding.
Coming into Wednesday night’s middle game of the series, the Angels having held on to take the opener, the Rangers had outscored opponents by 80 runs in 76 games. The Angels had scored one fewer run than the other guys in 79 games.
The Rangers’ bullpen had the third-best ERA in the AL at 3.30. The Angels were second to last at 4.84.
It’s difficult to find an area where the Angels have been better than the Rangers. Mike Scioscia’s troupe was even running behind in steals by 14. Defense? The Rangers’ .983 team fielding percentage was tied for sixth in the AL, while the Angels were tied for 11th at .981.
The Rangers are batting .283, while their opponents are hitting .243. The Angels are getting out-hit, .264 to .259.
Rumors are swirling that the Angels are interested in Hank Blalock, Garrett Atkins, Adam Dunn. A quick-fix would appease fans, but would it really improve the club significantly? That’s the question management has to weigh.
The only player who could make a huge difference is out for the season: Kendry Morales. My view is that none of those names being tossed around in trade chatter would dramatically alter the landscape. I’d go with what they have and hope the athletes in-house catch fire in the second half.
They have been known to do that. And these Rangers haven’t yet demonstrated they can make it through the heat of September. – Lyle Spencer
If you can’t beat ’em, sign ’em. Or deal for ’em.
That seems to be the shared philosophies of the Mariners and Rangers, who have been busy importing former Angels as they try to overtake the three-time American League West champions.
Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman have moved to Seattle, giving the Mariners superior defense, quality offense and a whole lot of desire.
Texas, meanwhile, has upgraded its bullpen with Darren Oliver joining Darren O’Day and given the offense another lethal weapon with Vladimir Guerrero bringing his bat to an Arlington playground he has made look very small in his six AL seasons.
All that’s left is for the Mariners, Rangers or A’s to sign free agent Garret Anderson, who’d look especially good in Seattle with best buddies Figgy and Kotchman.
The Mariners and Rangers certainly have improved with these moves. Seattle also added a second ace to its rotation, with Cliff Lee joining Felix Hernandez for what could be the best 1-2 punch in the division. Texas also brought in a potential ace in Rich Harden, but it surrendered one when it sent Kevin Millwood to Baltimore. It remains to be seen how beneficial that will be, hinging almost entirely on Harden’s ability to get through a season intact.
The Angels are looking primarily within to replace the departed, having thus far limited their acquisitions to DH/left fielder Hideki Matsui and reliever Fernando Rodney. It says a great deal about the depth of organizational talent that they can do this and remain confident that they’re still the team to beat in the division.
Their deal for Scott Kazmir at the Aug. 28 deadline enabled the Angels to let John Lackey go to Boston for a king’s ransom. They wanted the big Texan back, but not for five years and $82.5 million.
A fifth starter to complement Kazmir, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana remains a priority, and it’s likely the Angels will get their man – if not now, sometime this spring. There are at least al dozen legitimate candidates out there, a market glut that could bring prices down to a reasonable level.
Of the AL West clubs, Seattle has made the most dramatic moves, obviously. If they’re going to claim the division, they’ll do it in a style reminiscent of the ’60s Dodgers: dominant starting pitching, defense and speed. They don’t have anything close to the power of the Angels or Rangers, but their defense should be the best in the game.
It is remarkable, in a sense, that the Angels’ biggest advantage over the vastly underrated division is their offense.
For years, fans have fired off emails by the hundreds expressing disenchantment with a lack of clout. But this is an offense that should roll up big numbers again with Matsui driving the ball in the middle of the order and Brandon Wood, if he fulfills his potential, bringing another loud bat to the mix at third base.
Their overall balance and depth make the Angels the team to beat again. You’ll hear differently from insiders who want to be able to boast in October that they told you it would be Seattle’s year, or Texas’ year. They conveniently forget those predictions when the Angels prevail.
Recent history shows rather conclusively you’ll save face — and money – if you resist betting against Mike Scioscia and Co.