The word is out that the Blue Jays are listening to proposals for Roy Halladay, who has few peers among starting pitchers. No team values starters more highly than the Angels. They have made inquiries, knowing how much Halladay’s talent and endurance would mean in a rotation that has been patched together all season as a result of injuries and tragedy in the form of the death of Nick Adenhart.
The obvious question is this: How high can, or would, they go to import a dominant starter at the top of his game, signed through next season? He’s making $14.25 million this season, $15.75 next year.
The Blue Jays reportedly would want a quality shortstop — the Angels are loaded there — and young pitching talent in exchange for a man who gives you seven to nine innings of high-level work every fifth day.
Probably the only commodity the Angels value as highly as starting pitching is young talent, and therein lines the rub.
Staying healthy for the first time, Erick Aybar has established himself this season as one of the premier young shortstops in the game. He could be featured in an attractive package. If the Blue Jays prefer power, Brandon Wood is one of the elite young mashers in the game, just waiting for his opportunity in Triple-A Salt Lake to show he’s the real deal.
The Angels are rich in young talent. They have youthful pitching (Sean O’Sullivan, Jordan Walden, Trevor Reckling, among others) that would have to appeal to Toronto. It’s conceivable but unlikely they would consider moving one of their established starters — Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders, most likely — in a Halladay deal.
The Jays are in a position of strength and don’t have to do anything. But they’re in a top-heavy division, chasing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in the AL East, and as great as Halladay is, it’s highly doubtful Toronto can put together a surge to catch them.
The Phillies are seen as the leading candidates to land Halladay, if he is moved. They have the youthful talent to get it done and clearly are in need of a front-line starter. The level of the Angels’ need is not as high as Philadelphia’s, but as they showed last July with Mark Teixeira, they’re not averse to making the big, bold move.
The Angels have a lot of decisions to make this winter, with Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Kelvim Escobar, Robb Quinlan and Darren Oliver all eligible for free agency. Taking on Halladay’s contract would be no issue with so much payroll potentially coming off the books.
When the Padres’ Jake Peavy was available over the winter, the Angels gave it serious consideration but never made a big pitch. There were concerns about how his shoulder and elbow would hold up over the long haul. With Halladay, who has been as durable as they come with superior mechanics, that is not an issue.
This is about as tempting as it gets. For Halladay, who has made it clear he wants to pitch for a winner if he leaves Toronto, the interest would have to be mutual. The Angels offer pretty much everything a player can want. Just ask Torii Hunter. He’ll talk all day about that.
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.
There will be no immediate relief for Angels ace John Lackey after his two-pitch nightmare on Saturday. The only thing manager Mike Scioscia was sure about on Sunday was his big ace wouldn’t be in the bullpen before he makes his next start.
When that start will be is the question Scioscia refrained from answering, mainly because he doesn’t know yet how quickly and how well Lackey’s arm will respond.
“We’ll probably fold him in earlier [than scheduled on Thursday in Seattle],” Scioscia said “It could tomorrow, the next day. We’ll see how he feels.”
Matt Palmer is scheduled to start the first of four games against the Mariners on Monday night. If Lackey gets the call, Palmer, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders each would be pushed back a day.
Lackey on Saturday said he’d volunteer to go to the bullpen if asked, but Scioscia doesn’t feel his relief staff is taxed to that point. Lackey has made one relief appearance in his career, in 2004.
Lackey said he was “shocked” when he got ejected after two pitches to Rangers leadoff man Ian Kinsler, the first behind his back, the second in his left side. Lackey said he was having trouble getting his two-seam fastball to reach the inside part of home plate after missing six weeks with his right forearm strain.
It has been obscured lately by the impending returns of John Lackey and Ervin Santana — both could be back in the rotation late next week — but Kelvim Escobar also is making strides in that direction.
Escobar was feeling good on Saturday after enduring a long bullpen session on Friday without a recurrence of the shoulder pain that surfaced after he got a little carried away with his mid-90s heat on April 3 in San Diego.
“I threw 30 pitches, sat down, threw 15 more, sat down, 15 more, sat down, 15 more,” Escobar said, describing his session on Friday at Angel Stadium. “That’s 75. I threw everything and felt good.”
Pitching coach Mike Butcher said Escobar looked comfortable and threw well, adding that when you add the eight warmup pitches before each of his 15-pitch simulated innings, Escobar threw a total of 99 pitches.
“I’m going to Arizona on Tuesday,” Escobar said. “I’ll be pitching in a camp game. I’m coming along. I’m not pushing it too hard this time.”
That camp game will be in extended Spring Training, where pitchers can perform under controlled conditions. The Angels are being careful with Escobar. Knowing he can’t come off the 60-day disabled list until June 4, there’s no reason to rush him — especially after he tried to do too much too soon that night at PETCO Park when he thought he was close to ready to get back in the Angels’ rotation.
It’s still a little ways off, but the Angels will have some tough calls to make when Lackey and Santana return to the rotation, to say nothing of Escobar.
Also in the mix is Dustin Moseley, who is a bullpen and a Minor League rehab outing or two away from rejoining the staff. Moseley is 1-0 with a 4.30 ERA in three starts.
Shane Loux and Matt Palmer have delivered handsomely. Loux going 2-2 with a 4.30 ERA in five starts, Palmer 3-0 with a 3.06 ERA in his three outings.
Like Moseley, Loux and Palmer could go to the bullpen. Loux is out of options, and the Angels would lose him if they removed him from the 25-man roster. Palmer has options left and could be sent to Salt Lake to stay stretched out as a starter.
Anthony Ortega, who is 0-2 with a 9.24 ERA in three starts, figures to be back in Salt Lake soon getting the experience he needs. The club is high on the 23-year-old Venezuelan’s future as a starter.
Another name to keep in mind is lefty Trevor Reckling, who turns 20 in 13 days. The Livingston, N.J., native, an eight-round Draft pick in 2007 out of high school in Newark, Reckling has been sensational this season after opening eyes in Spring Training with his high-octane stuff and poise.
Reckling is 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts at Double-A Arkansas after going 1-2 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga. Combined, he has 33 strikeouts against 12 walks in 38 innings.
Ervin Santana, rebounding from a sprained right elbow that sidelined him all spring, is set to make the next step toward rejoining the Angels’ rotation.
A 2008 American League All-Star, Santana is set to pitch four innings for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Monday. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the goal is to get Santana through four innings and 60 pitches, adding about 15 pitches in ensuing starts until he’s ready to go for the Angels.
John Lackey, a 2007 AL All-Star and league ERA kingpin, is set to make his first rehab start in his recovery from a right forearm strain on Tuesday for Triple-A Salt Lake. Lackey, like Santana, is expected to deliver four innings and about 60 pitches, Scioscia said.
“John looked good” in throwing 45 pitches and three innings in extended Spring Training on Thursday, Scioscia said. “We’re encouraged by how John and Ervin are both progressing. We’ll see where they are after these next outings and go from there.”
Brandon Wood’s eyes seem to brighten when he looks at the lineup card and sees he’s at shortstop. He put on another show at his natural position on Saturday in Tucson. Unfortunately, it went largely unnoticed, obscured by the events surrounding John Lackey’s forearm and Mike Napoli’s return behind the plate.
Facing Dan Haren, one of the game’s premier right-handers, in the second inning after Haren had set down the first five men he faced, Wood went with a slider on an 0-1 count and launched it over the wall in right field.
“I hit it on the sweet spot,” Wood said, his fourth Cactus League homer tying him with Jeff Mathis for the club lead. “Any time you can go deep on a guy like that, it feels good.”
But the best was about to come. Arizona catcher Miguel Montero hit a ground ball seemingly headed for left field. Wood got there running full-tilt, leaped and whirled in a motion that Derek Jeter has come to popularize, and gunned down the runner with a strong, accurate throw.
“I like defense,” Wood said when asked which of the two acts — the opposite-field homer or sensational play in the field — was more gratifying. “To get out there at shortstop and make a play, I really enjoy that. Normally, you want to try to plant and set for the throw, but in that case, moving as fast as I was, it probably would have taken four or five steps to get set. So I went in the air and let it fly.”
It was clearly a big-league play by a big-league shortstop. With Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Sean Rodriguez — great athlete, gun of an arm — also at the position, the Angels have an embarrassment of riches.
Wood wasn’t quite done. Later in the game, he appeared to break his bat launching a 340-foot foul drive into the left-field corner. It turns out he’d actually broken the bat on an earlier pitch in the at-bat.
“I hit a line drive on a 2-0 pitch, and that’s when I broke it,” Wood said. “When I hit the ball down the line, it didn’t travel as far as I thought it would. I looked at the bat, and the handle was cracked.”
Solid glove, strong arm, awesome power. Nice tool kit Brandon is carrying around.
The wind is blowing out for the Royals, too. With blasts by Alberto Callaspo and Mike Jacobs in the fifth inning, K.C. caught the Angels, four bombs apiece, and John Lackey departed with a 10-7 lead after facing six men in the fifth without getting an out. David Herndon quieted the Royals.
Lackey’s line — seven earned runs on 10 hits in four innings — will bloat his ERA, but that’s why numbers in the spring sometimes don’t mean much. He had good life on his fastball and got his work in, as they say. Big day for Lackey’s batterymate, Jeff Mathis: homer, two singles, a walk, three runs scored. His buddy, Mike Napoli, also will have something to talk about. His smash to right center would have left the yard with the wind blowing in. He crushed it.
The Angels brought their hitting shoes to Surprise, obviously. They got here for early batting practice, and it clearly is paying off. They produced nine runs on 10 hits in two innings against southpaw Horacio Ramirez, with Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli going back-to-back with bombs to right center following a Robb Quinlan homer in the first inning. (Quinlan looks sensational, by the way). Jeff Mathis joined the homer party in the third inning with a near replica of Quinlan’s bullet to left center.
Scorching Matt Brown already tripled in a run and singled, joining Rivera with two hits. Rivera also singled home two runs in the first inning. Juan seems to have found his groove. On Saturday, in Tempe, he launched a ball so high and so far, the third-base umpire (Jim Joyce) was left to guess whether it cleared the foul pole in fair or foul territory. It was so far above and beyond the pole, there was no way to tell. From where he sat, Mike Scioscia obviously thought it was fair, prompting him to do a full-tilt sprint to Joyce to voice his disapproval.
Scioscia, I can report from personal experience, still can throw hard. He asked me to warm him up before throwing BP, and he zinged a few. I bounced a few throws back to him, to make sure he could still get down and dig ’em out as in the days of old. The last time I did this probably was right about the time he was breaking in as a young catcher with the Dodgers in Dodgertown. I’ll see how my arm feels in the morning, but I’ll be icing the shoulder after the game just in case.
John Lackey yielded a solo homer to Ryan Shealy but got out of a jam in the third when he struck out Jose Guillen to leave two runners stranded. Apparently, a handful of Angels fans in the crowd haven’t forgiven Guillen for his indiscretions in his final days with Team Scioscia, serenading him with boos and catcalls in his plate appearances.
Looking like the ace he is, John Lackey’s spring debut in Tucson was flawless: six up, six down, including a strikeout of Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Lackey’s command was sharp, and he appeared to have lively stuff for the first time out.
Lackey’s batterymate, Jeff Mathis, was having a pretty fair day too: homers in his first two at-bats against southpaw Franklin Morales before a walk third time up.
Angels catcher Jeff Mathis wasn’t kidding about coming to camp ready to hit after a winter spent working on his swing in his barn in Marianna, Fla.
Mathis unloaded homers in his first two-bats on Monday agianst Rockies southpaw Franklin Morales. The second blast, in the second inning, was a mammoth, no-doubter that would have left any yard in America. He had two doubles in his previous six Cactus League at-bats.
Keeping in step with Mathis, Brandon Wood hammered an RBI double and launched his first homer of the spring, way over the 410 sign in left center. Wood had two drives in the spring opener flagged down by outfielders crashing into walls.
“I feel good with my swing,” Mathis was saying the other day. “I spent a lot of time with my brother in my barn, where I have a batting cage next to my living quarters. Then I did some work with [hitting coach] Mickey [Hatcher]. I’m comfortable with where I am now.”
Mathis, a .195 career hitter in 512 at-bats, has been productive (15 homers, 71) in spite of his low average. He is behind the plate for the first time this spring, catching John Lackey.