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
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
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
In the afterglow of a 3-1 triumph and three-game weekend sweep of the Blue Jays . . .
With two outs in the sixth, Erick Aybar still on second after a leadoff double, Hideki Matsui unloads on a Ricky Romero fastball and sends it rocketing one-hop off the center-field wall to snap a scoreless deadlock for Ervin Santana. Before the game, manager Mike Scioscia talked in some detail about how Japanese hitters spend hour after hour trying to gain a perfect balance at home plate. At times it appears Matsui is leaning back as he takes his swing, falling away, but he manages to keep his bat in the hitting zone and drive the ball. He did it again in the ninth, igniting what proved to be an important two-run rally. This is an amazing hitter, a man who thrives under pressure.
These sparse, disinterested Blue Jays crowds. I know it’s Stanley Cup time, and it’s cold, and the Jays haven’t been good for a long while, and they traded Roy Halladay. But this is not good. I’ve always defended Canadian baseball fans, and I truly miss Montreal, one of the world’s great cities. But the Jays aren’t that bad. These “Lyle” chants, zeroing in on the slumping first baseman, are not worthy of such an urbane city. The Jays drew for these three Angels dates what they once attracted for an average regular-season game. Sad.
Ervin Santana, when he’s on his game, is a tremendous pitcher. He was dealing with supreme confidence from the outset Sunday. Trouble surfaced twice in the early going, and both times he reached back and made quality pitches, leaving runners in scoring position. His fastball was sitting in the 91-93 mph range – not quite where it will be when he gets in a warm-weather groove – and his slider and changeup were dancing. He thought his change was his best pitch, and he should know. If he maintains his rhythm, flow and confidence, the Angels could have a rotation full of All-Star candidates after a rough first two spins through the cycle. – Lyle Spencer
TEMPE, Ariz. — After missing a rotation turn banging his elbow against a couch, inflaming the bursa sac, Angels right-hander Ervin Santana made up for lost time on Sunday.
Throwing 84 pitches and giving himself a stamp of approval, Santana put himself on track for a start against the Twins in the third game of the season at Angel Stadium. He expects to reach 100 pitches or thereabouts in his final spring tuneup on Friday against the Dodgers in Anaheim.
“I felt good — very good stuff today,” Santana said. “Good changeup, sliders, a lot of strikes. That’s the most important thing. My velocity was very good.
“One more, and then I’m ready for the season. Right on time.”
The Angels didn’t do much right in a 15-5 pounding by the Tribe, but something to feel good about surfaced in the angular form of Santana.
He lasted 4 2/3 numbers, and the raw numbers – six hits, two walks, five earned runs – were deceiving. He was in command through three scoreless innings, and if not for a few hits finding holes and the sun blinding center fielder Torii Hunter on a lazy fly ball, he’d have escaped with a better bottom line.
“Better it happens now than in the season,” Santana said, grinning.
He felt his slider, thrown at different speeds, was especially effective combined with his lively fastball and changeup.
Manager Mike Scioscia saw nothing but encouraging signs from his 2008 All-Star right-hander.
“Ervin actually threw the ball very well,” Scioscia said. “I was excited to see the ball coming out hot like that. It matches what he had earlier in the spring. He’ll be ready to go. That was a great outing for him.”
After Santana struck out the last man he faced, Shin-soo Choo, reliever Jon Bachanov yielded a double that cashed in a pair of Santana’s runners. Matt LaPorta followed with a homer, and the Tribe was rolling.
“I feel strong,” Santana said. “I just missed a start because I hit my elbow on a couch. It happens to everybody.”
The Angels are hoping he’ll be careful sliding into couches from April through October.
Santana missed the first five weeks of the 2009 season with forearm tightness and never really found a consistent groove. His fastball was down 3-4 mph, in the low 90s. At his best, it comes in at 94-97 — red-hot out of his hand.
“Last year he never really had his good fastball,” Scioscia said. “He was a little banged up in Spring Training. He’s moved forward. The ball’s coming out of his hand hot. You saw his stuff today.”
In his first two Cactus League starts, Santana didn’t allow a run and gave up only two hits in five innings, striking out five without a walk. He pitched in a camp game before the incident with the couch.
Fernando Rodney, the new setup man, had his worst outing of the spring. The hard-throwing right-hander walked three of the five men he faced and yielded four earned runs, earning his only out with a leadoff strikeout before losing command.
“He was just yanking it, pulling it out of the zone,” Scioscia said. “He’s fine.”
Howard Kendrick slammed a two-run double in the fourth and Brandon Wood drilled a pair of hits, driving in a run for the Angels. But the offensive highlight of the day was provided by leadoff man Erick Aybar when he scored all the way from first in the third inning on Hunter’s single to right center. Aybar, who walked and singled, has reached safely in 10 of his past 15 plate appearances.
“Erick, we’ve talked about his speed,” Scioscia said. “He ran through all the bases hard. That’s part of the package Erick brings. He’s had a nice week in the leadoff position and did the job today.” — Lyle Spencer
Angels infielder Maicer Izturis was feeling “much better, no problem” on Sunday after experiencing mid-back stiffness on Saturday swinging the bat and leaving the game against the Giants in the third inning. He is expected to play against the White Sox on Monday night in a split-squad game in Goodyear.
Scott Kazmir reported no stiffness – “all good, ready to go” – after unleashing a full-tilt power bullpen on Saturday. “I threw everything, including some good sliders,” he said of his 60-pitch session. “I’m feeling pretty good about my slider.” Kazmir will unload 75-80 pitches on Tuesday against the Brewers in Tempe and expects to be ready to take his turn first time around the rotation opening week.
Setup man Scot Shields, working consecutive games on Friday and Saturday to gauge his stamina, came away from his scoreless inning against the Giants with no ill effects. He said he is no longer thinking about his left, landing knee, subjected to arthroscopic surgery last June. “I’m good, ready to go,” said Shields, who is scheduled to pitch on Monday at home against the Royals.
Reggie Willits, limited to batting practice with a right hamstring strain, plans to run the bases “later in the day” on Sunday. “His next test,” manager Mike Scioscia said, “will be in the outfield, to see if he’s ready to play.” Willits is the club’s best option in center field behind Torii Hunter but might have to open the season at Triple-A Salt Lake. Unlike Terry Evans, Willits has Minor League options left.
Ervin Santana starts on Sunday for the first time since banging his right elbow against furniture in his residence here 10 days ago and sustaining a bruised bursa sac. Santana is in the 75- to 80-pitch range and hopes to be ready to take his turn, which comes up third in the season’s opening week behind Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders.
Reliever Jason Bulger, having a superb spring, pitched in a camp game on Saturday, his first back-to-back sessions. He looks ready to roll. – Lyle Spencer
Scot Shields and Kevin Jepsen, two valuable members of the Angels’ bullpen, stretched it out on Thursday in the warm sun of Tempe Diablo Stadium and came out of the session feeling ready for the next step toward the mound.
“Shiedsy and l got back for 10 minutes of long toss, and it felt great — for both of us,” Jepsen said. “I’m happy. The best part is I felt good after I’d stopped throwing for a while and went back out. No issues at all. This was a very good day.”
Shields, rebounding from left knee surgery, and Jepsen, who experienced some shoulder pain early in camp, have been delayed in throwing off the mound.
“I feel like I could throw right now,” Shields said, “but I understand them being cautious with me. You’ve got to look at the big picture.”
It was the first day of live batting practice, and starters Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro and Joe Saunders all threw effectively.
“I was focused on fastball command,” Saunders said, “and it really felt good to be out there. The second pitch I threw was a line drive right back at me, but I got out of the way.”
First baseman Kendry Morales remained absent as he goes through the final stages of acquiring his work permit. The Cuba native established residency in the Dominican Republic after defecting in 2004. He is expected in camp any day.
Scott Kazmir came to camp with a right hamstring “tweak” that he sustained, he said, in early January in his workouts at home in Houston.
But he managed to get in three mound sessions before coming to Tempe for Spring Training, and the Angels’ talented southpaw made it through a five-minute bullpen on the mound on Sunday despite damp conditions at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
“It went well,” Kazmir said. “I’m feeling good. They’re being a little cautious with me, but it’s early. No reason to push anything.”
Kazmir, a two-time American League All-Star who turned 26 on Jan. 24, was 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts for the Angels after arriving in an Aug. 28 trade with Tampa Bay last season. He finished the season 10-9 overall with a 4.89 ERA, missing about five weeks in May and June with a right quadriceps strain.
“If all our starters go through their progressions,” manager Mike Scioscia said, “all five should be ready [for Opening Day].”
The Angels opened last season with John Lackey and Ervin Santana on the disabled list, and they were devastated by the death of Nick Adenhart in the first week.
Because of the damp grounds, Scioscia limited some activities, but overall he was content with the workout.
“As long as we get our bullpens in, we’re fine,” he said.
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.
There are so many things to respect and admire about the Angels. Here are some that leap to mind in the afterglow of one of the franchise’s greatest triumphs:
The tireless commitment of Torii Hunter, who represents every day, in every way. A guy couldn’t have a better teammate. When you play with Torii, you know he’s got your back, without hesitation, no questions asked.
The quiet assurance and endearing presence of Bobby Abreu, who walked into a new room and won it over from day one with his style, elegance, humor and wisdom. I had no idea he was this good a player and this brand of leader. If the Angels can’t keep him, they’ll be losing much more than hits, walks, RBIs, runs and steals. They’ll be losing a whole lot of class.
The unique greatness of Vladimir Guerrero. He seems oddly undervalued and underappreciated in this era where so much value is attached to working counts. Sure, he takes some wild swings. But he has been one of the most feared and productive hitters of this or any era, and it was so sweet to see him deliver at the big moment on Sunday – right after Abreu, a clutch hitter with few peers, came through.
The astounding athleticism of Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar on the left side of the infield. It doesn’t get any better than this. Figgins and Aybar have more range and stronger arms than any left-side combo in the past 35 years.
That’s how long I’ve been covering the sport – too long, some would say – and I’ve never seen a better third-base coach than Dino Ebel. He does his homework, knows every outfield arm in the game, stays on top of every possibility and rarely makes a bad decision.
The way Figgins keeps improving, simply by being so dedicated. He is totally immersed in the game, driven to succeed. He struggled finding hits against the Red Sox – Jacoby Ellsbury robbed him of what would have been an inside-the-park homer – but Figgy worked a huge walk against Jonathan Papelbon during the big rally and has a history of delivering in New York. As with Abreu, Figgins’ many gifts would be hard to replace as he ventures into free agency.
Jered Weaver’s emergence as a sturdy, dependable top-of-the-rotation starter, smart, resourceful and – most of all – extremely tough under duress. He learned his lessons well from John Lackey, his mentor.
Lackey’s true grit.
The style and competitive natures of lefties Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir. Kazmir’s arrival on Aug. 28 from Tampa Bay made this team complete. He’s a keeper.
The very real and productive mutual respect catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli continue to display. In another environment, this could be a toxic situation, but these guys have been so close for so long, nothing could pull them apart – not even competition over who catches which pitcher and how often.
Along those same lines, the way Maicer Izturis and Howard Kendrick have handled their second-base platoon with such uncommon grace. Both are everyday players and know it, but they’ve created not a single ripple of discontent over sharing a job.
Kendry Morales’ intelligence. By wisely taking advice from his elders (Abreu, Mickey Hatcher) and controlling his aggression, he turned all that potential into production and accomplished the impossible in making fans get over Mark Teixeira’s loss.
Young relievers Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen holding up under a heavy workload and holding it together in front of Brian Fuentes.
Fuentes: 50 saves. How can you not appreciate that? He might not be a prototypical closer with premium gas, but the guy gets outs, and that’s the whole idea, right?
The strength and consistency of Juan Rivera, a rock-solid left fielder, and the manner in which Gary Matthews Jr. handled his very difficult role – and came through repeatedly in the clutch.
The enduring cool of Darren Oliver. Nothing rattles this guy. A pro’s pro.
The way Ervin Santana retained his humor while searching for the right stuff to come back after elbow issues made for some long nights.
The big, good-natured manner of Matt Palmer, who came out of nowhere to deliver much-needed innings and wins and went so respectfully to the bullpen, embracing any role handed him. Nobody appreciates wearing a big-league uniform more than this guy.
The willingness of Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Brandon Wood and Bobby Wilson to do whatever is needed to bring their team closer to a win. Even if it’s not something that will show up in a boxscore.
Shane Loux, Dustin Moseley, Kelvim Escobar and Justin Speier, who did their part until they parted, and and all the young pitchers who helped stitch this crazy-quilt pitching staff together over the long haul.
The inner strength of Mike Scioscia, who navigated the most turbulent of waters this season with remarkable calm. Manager of the Year, no doubt. Manager of the Decade? Absolutely.
The dedication of coaches Hatcher, Ron Roenicke, Mike Butcher, Alfredo Griffin, Ebel, Orlando Mercado and Steve Soliz. Wise is the manager who surrounds himself with strong, independent thinkers willing to put in long hours for the greater good.
The way everyone mourned respectfully and continually honored the memory of Nick Adenhart, one of the best and brightest, gone much, much too soon.