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
Torii Hunter always knows when he’s in Boston’s glorious old ballpark. His left ankle lets him know.
“Every time I come here,” Hunter said before Tuesday night’s series opener against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, “my ankle hurts. It remembers this place.”
What his ankle recalls is a terrible accident in the triangle in right center on July 29, 2005. Pursuing a long drive by his former Twins teammate and good buddy David Ortiz, Hunter got his ankle caught in the wall. The ankle was fractured, causing him immense pain and costing him the final two months of the season.
“It was nasty, man, really bad,” Hunter said.
The ugly incident came to his mind on Monday night when the eight-time Rawlings Gold Glove center fielder lost his left shoe trying to stab a drive by the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira – it’s something about former teammates and friends – at Yankee Stadium.
After the game, Hunter jokingly referred to himself as “Shoeless Torii.” But he understood how fortunate he’d been to shed the cleat on impact.
“It’s a good thing the shoe stuck in the padding and came off,” Hunter said. “If it had stayed on, the way my foot hit the wall . . . I don’t even want to think about what might have happened.”
That painful incident remains clear in his head, but it hasn’t all been bad for Hunter in Beantown. He actually has hit extremely well in Fenway Park: .327 for his career with eight homers in 220 at-bats, .361 last season with three homers in 36 at-bats.
Hunter also delivered handsomely in his biggest at-bat of his first season with the Angels. It was his dramatic two-out, two-run single against Justin Masterson in the eighth inning that brought the Angels even in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. Teixeira and Vladimir Guerrero scored on Hunter’s bullet, his third hit in 10 at-bats at Fenway in the series.
The Red Sox rocked the Angels with a run in the bottom of the ninth, claiming a 3-2 triumph that arranged an AL Championship Series showdown with the Rays.
The season over, Hunter found no solace in his own performance, batting .389 for the series to lift his career postseason average to .316 (along with a .510 slugging percentage) in 25 playoff games.
“I really thought we were going all the way,” he said that night, despair everywhere in the ancient clubhouse.
With renewed hope in the air, the Angels are back at Fenway. There’s a strong chance they’ll revisit the yard next month, once again as AL West champions facing the Wild Card Sox in Games 3 and 4, if necessary, of the ALDS.
Hunter, who has arrived as a rare six-tool player this season with his immensely popular blog on MLB.com, can’t wait for the big date, if it’s in the stars.
Here’s a guy who can hit for average, for power, run, field, throw – and write.
“Read all about it,” Hunter said, beaming.
Kendry Morales, MVP candidate.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia came out firmly in support of his first baseman in the American League’s Most Valuable Player derby,
“Absolutely no doubt,” Scioscia said when asked about Morales’ candidacy. “Look at his individual stats, what he’s meant to his team. [If you] look at what Kendry has meant to his club opposed to what other players have meant to their club, the only guy [in that category] is Joe Mauer in Minnesota.”
Scioscia alluded to Mark Teixeira, the man Morales has replaced at first base for the Angels, as a strong candidate as well. But Teixeira will likely get stiff competition from venerable Derek Jeter for MVP sentiment (and votes) on the East Coast.
As for Morales, batting .314 with 30 homers and 94 RBIs in his first full season as a regular, the campaign is getting a late start.
“It seems word travels from West to East a little slower in the game of baseball,” Scioscia said. “But I think the world of baseball knows what he’s meant to our club.”
With 274 total bases, Morales has 58 more than the next highest Angels hitter, Juan Rivera. Morales’ .598 slugging percentage trails only Mauer’s .615 in the AL, and the Cuban-born switch-hitter also is second in extra-base hits with 68.
While he’s not yet at Teixeira’s level defensively, Morales has improved by leaps and bounds with the glove, playing with visibly higher confidence as the season progresses.
Morales is coming off the best month of his career, making himself a strong candidate for AL Player of the Month for August. He batted .385, leading the league with his .734 slugging percentage and 33 RBIs while trailing only the Rays’ Tony Pena in homers with 10. Pena had 12.
By now, it would seem, pitchers would have found any serious flaws in Morales’ offensive game.
“It’s one thing figuring out what a hitter’s hole is and matching it with the pitcher’s ability to go out and [exploit] it,” Scioscia said. “Kendry’s at the stage where he’s had enough at-bats [502 plate appearances] that pitchers have an idea of his strengths, the things he can do.
“I don’t think there are a lot of secrets with what pitchers are trying to do with Kendry. Good hitters are going to have holes that are very small.”
Scioscia lifted Morales into the No. 5 hole in the order, dropping Rivera one spot, on Tuesday night against right-hander Doug Fister. This prevents righties from seeing three right-handed bats in succession: Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and Rivera.
“Kendry is in a good spot to hit behind Vlad and also to break up some of the righties,” Scioscia said. “We’ll tinker with some things. The way Kendry’s swinging, it’s nice to get him behind Vlad against right-handed pitchers.
“If you take Kendry out of our lineup, I think you’re looking at a different offense,” Scioscia said.
If manager Mike Scioscia needed any ammo to fire up his troops, it was grooved like a Doc Gooden fastball at the belt by stat maven Nate Silver in his PECOTA ratings for Baseball Prospectus.
Silver, it turns out, doesn’t think much of the Halos — specifically, what he sees as an aging offense creating more headaches for Angels pitchers than rival managers. PECOTA has the Angels finishing 16 games off their MLB-best 2008 pace with a mere 84 wins, barely managing to prevail in what it envisions as a weak AL West.
I can understand some anticipated slippage with Mark Teixeira and Garret Anderson departing; those are two high-quality offensive players. But Bobby Abreu has been a fairly consistent 100/100 man (runs. RBIs), and he should fit nicely between Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero in Scioscia’s projected top third. Of course, a big spring by Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar or Maicer Izturis could convince Scioscia to plant Abreu in the No. 3 hole, with Guerrero fourth and Torii Hunter fifth.
The rest of the lineup is deep and potentially much more explosive than PECOTA imagines. Mike Napoli has the tools to go 30/100 with enough at-bats, joining Guerrero on a surgically-repaired knee, and Hunter, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera all are capable of exceeding 20 homers with 80 to 100 RBIs. If Hunter bats fourth, behind Vlad, he could surpass his career high of 107 RBIs from 2007.
Call me an incurable optimist, but this shapes up as a pretty fair attack — and it has a nice blend of youth and experience, top to bottom.
It was last year at this time that a lot of snipers were relegating the Angels to second place in the AL West behind Seattle, with its new ace, Erik Bedard. Scioscia, I’m sure, got some clubhouse mileage out of that. I’m sure PECOTA and its views might surface in one of his pre-game chats with the players before too long.
The end, thankfully, is near to a long, sometimes difficult winter. As troubling as it is to so many fans, figuring out how this team can be as good as it’s been, or better, without Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Casey Kotchman, Jon Garland, Darren O’Day, Chris Bootcheck and, it appears, the great Garret Anderson. I’ve experienced enough springs with enough teams to realize that there are always new stories and new favorites on the horizon.
I somehow befriended Mark Fidrych when “The Bird” took baseball by storm in the Motor City, a story you find only in baseball. I was covering the Dodgers when Fernando Valenzuela came out of nowhere to energize a city and region, right on through an improbable World Series title in 1981. I was a columnist when Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant arrived in L.A. as confident teens, ready to claim their turf and write some history.
Personally, that’s always been the essence and joy of baseball, and sports in general — watching new athletes emerge, form their identities, take teams to unimagined heights. I’ve been incredibly lucky to cover a wide range of champions, from the John Wooden Bruins through Muhammad Ali through those Dodgers teams of the ’70s and early ’80s, the Lakers of the ’80s and early 2000s, and the 1986 Mets, the wildest bunch of them all. One thing they’ve all shared in common is a commitment to make every day count, to prove it all night.
In the words of my muse, Bruce Springsteen, everybody’s got a hungry heart. I am looking forward to seeing what’s in store when the Angels get together in Tempe on Friday and go through the early paces. I’ll be as curious as anybody to see how Kendry Morales responds to his opportunity, how Brian Fuentes fits in, how Dustin Moseley meets the challenge, if Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez and Nick Adenhart can begin to full their tremendous potential.
I know a lot of fans are upset that the club didn’t do more this off-season, but this roster is loaded with talent. I remember how it was last year at this time, critics routinely picking the Mariners to roll to the AL West title behind their new ace, Eric Bedard. I seem to recall the Angels doing OK with what they had, adding the superlative Torii Hunter to the mix. I would have welcomed Jake Peavy or Manny Ramirez or Adam Dunn this winter, and I would love to see Anderson in his familiar role as Mr. Consistency. But times inevitably change, and so do rosters.
I really mean it when I try to reassure fans that this team should be good enough to claim a fifth AL West title in six years, that perhaps 25 Major League owners, possibly more, would swap 40-man rosters with Arte Moreno in a heartbeat. I know I’m accused of being a homer when I write that — I do read the thrashings I get from fans — but I’m being honest here.
I realize I’m repeating myself now, a function of age, of course. But I like this team a lot, and I think you will too, if you give it a fair shot.
I look forward to hearing from all of you in this new forum. MLB.Com has moved away from the popular mailbag format to the blogosphere, for better or verse. Let’s have at it, and have some fun. That is, after all, the whole point of these fun and games. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, but finding out is always a new experience.