Justin Speier, the Angels’ veteran right-handed reliever, has been handed his unconditional release to make room on the 25-man roster for Trevor Bell, the 22-year-old right-hander who makes his Major League debut on Wednesday against the Rays.
Speier, signed to a free agent contract with the Angels after the 2006 season, was 4-2 with a 5.18 ERA this season in 41 appearances. He pitched 40 innings, yielding 44 hits and 15 walks while striking out 39 batters. Opponents had a .277 batting average against him.
“It probably caught him off guard,” Angels general manager Tony Reagins said. “It’s emotional. There was nothing but professionalism in the way he took it on short notice. He has sincere passion for this organization, and the feelings are mutual.
“You always hope a player continues his career and gets an opportunity. We know he wants to continue to pitch. He’s going to take a breather.”
Speier, 35, is the son of long-time Major League shortstop Chris Speier, now a coach on manager Dusty Baker’s staff in Cincinnati.
Speier began his Major League career in 1998 after he was taken in the 55th round of the 1995 First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs. He pitched for the Marlins, Braves, Indians, Rockies and Blue Jays before joining the Angels.
He’s 35-33 in his career in 613 Major League appearances.
“We felt from a baseball standpoint this decision at this time was the right decision to make,” Reagins said. “It’s something we’ve talked about for several days. It’s always a difficult decision when you have to go this route.
“From a baseball standpoint, it was something we felt that had to be done to allow us to do some other things.”
Bell gives the Angels two rookie starting pitchers, joining Sean O’Sullivan, with Joe Saunders on the disabled list. Middle relievers Matt Palmer and Shane Loux also are candidates to join the rotation, having had some success in that role.
For the record, the Angels say nobody on their roster is untouchable. But Erick Aybar is about as close as it gets.
Staying healthy and in the lineup after missing chunks of the past two seasons with hand and hamstring injuries, the 25-year-old shortstop from Bani, Dominican Republic is emerging as one of the game’s most exciting young talents.
Aybar grew up wanting to be like Rafael Furcal, and he is getting there in a hurry by combining superb and consistent defense with a sizzling bat and blazing speed on the basepaths.
With extraordinary range and only five errors in 79 games, Aybar’s .986 fielding percentage is surpassed by only three regular Major League shortstops. He’s batting .316 overall and in the clutch, with a .355 on-base percentage that represents huge improvement over his .298 figure coming into the season.
As Angels general manager Tony Reagins engages in dialogue with other clubs as the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches on Friday, Aybar is a popular topic.
You can ask for him, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get him.
Toronto apparently found that out when it demanded Aybar as part of a multi-player package in exchange for Roy Halladay. The Angels are believed to be maneuvering for the Indians’ Cliff Lee, but Aybar again could be a deal-breaker.
“It doesn’t affect me,” Aybar said on Tuesday night through Jose Mota’s translation. “I have a job to do. I can’t worry about my name being out there. It’s flattering teams want me, but it also makes me sad.”
He loves the team he’s with and the style it plays, which is perfectly suited to his skills. Manager Mike Scioscia realizes that there are few athletes in the game on Aybar’s level, having repeatedly expressed the view that Erick has star potential once he settles in and shows consistency with the bat and in the field.
Coming into Tuesday night’s game against the Indians, Aybar was leading Angels regulars with his .316 average, ahead of Bobby Abreu (.314), Juan Rivera (.311), Chone Figgins (.309), Torii Hunter (.305) and Maicer Izturis (.300).
It’s a deep and formidable lineup, and when Aybar is linked with Figgins on the bases, it can be a show. You’d be hard-pressed to find two quicker, swifter baserunners in the same lineup. It calls to mind the St. Louis days when Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee ran circles around teams.
“I feel confident,” Aybar said. “One thing I don’t feel is complacent. It feels good to be playing at this level. It’s a lot of fun.”
With an embarrassment of middle-infield riches – Aybar, Izturis, Howard Kendrick, Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez – along with other assets, the Angels could swing a deal by the deadline for a big-time starter or veteran setup man in front of Brian Fuentes.
Just don’t expect Aybar to be part of it.
If the Angels and Mariners are getting a little tired of seeing each other, you can’t really blame them. When they’re done this weekend, they will have faced off 13 times — more than 25 percent of each other’s schedule.
This is a trifle strange, given that the Angels haven’t even seen two American League teams — the Rays and Indians — and have encountered AL West leader Texas for only three games, while playing AL East power Boston six games, all in Anaheim.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been pleading for a more balanced schedule for a long time. All he can do is shake his head and, as he put it, “play the team they put in front of us.”
The Angels and Mariners have split their 10 games. After dominating the division last season, the reigning champions are 8-10 within the AL West.
“I think we’re beating a dead horse,” Scioscia said when the subject came up on Friday night. “But trying to get a little balance to the schedule and keeping Interleague Play is a daunting task.
“You should definitely see your division [rivals] early, middle and late. It doesn’t seem to work that way. When you’re playing your division in April, the middle of the season and at the end, no team can get too far ahead. You’ve got to earn it.”
The Angels will face reinging AL champion Tampa Bay on the upcoming road trip, the final leg of a nine-game journey that starts in Toronto and moves on to Detroit, where Kelvim Escobar figures to make his long-awaited comeback start next weekend.
Potentially, if all five remain sound, the Angels could have the deepest rotation in the game. John Lackey, Escobar, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver would be hard to match.
Escobar means more to this team beyond what he provides every fifth day. He’s a clubhouse force with his engaging personality and mental toughness. Santana, in particular, has benefited immensely from lockering next to the man from Venezuela.