ARLINGTON – A few hours before the start of a crucial four-game series with the front-running Rangers in the American League West, the three-time reigning division champion Angels moved to bolster their offense on Thursday.
Alberto Callaspo, a switch-hitting infielder expected to spend most of his time at third base, was acquired from the Royals in exchange for pitchers Sean O’Sullivan and Will Smith.
Callaspo, 27, is hitting .275 for the Royals this season after batting .300 in 2009 with a career-high 11 homers and 73 RBIs. He has eight homers and 43 RBIs this season. He signed with the Angels in 2001 as a teen in Maracay, Venezuela, and was trade to Arizona for pitcher Jason Bulger. The Royals acquired Callaspo for Billy Buckner.
“He’ll be a boost,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He can definitely play third base every day. We’ll see how some of the pieces fit. The work he does in the batter’s box is special. He can hit. He’ll help fill the void Kendry Morales’ departure created.”
O’Sullivan, 22, held the Yankees to two runs on two hits in six innings in a victory on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. The Angels were 9-2 in the big right-hander’s 11 starts over the past two seasons. The San Diegan was a third-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.
Smith, a 21-year-old native of Georgia taken in the seventh round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, is a 6-foot-5 left-hander in his third professional season. He has pitched for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Arkansas this season and is considered to have high upside.
“This was not by any means an easy decision on Tony’s part,” Scioscia said, referring to general manager Tony Reagins. “It’s not easy to put Sean O’Sullivan or Will Smith in a deal unless we were getting a player who can help us.”
Callaspo is expected to join the Angels on Friday night. O’Sullivan, who had been scheduled to pitch Sunday’s series finale, likely will give way now to Trevor Bell. Scott Kazmir (shoulder fatigue) is not eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list until Monday, and it is unclear when he’ll be ready to rejoin the rotation.
“It’s weird,” O’Sullivan said, minutes after being informed of the deal by Scioscia. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been traded. The goal is to go to a place where they need you, want you, so you can show you’re capable of playing at this level.
“I’m trading red for blue. That’s all I know right now.” — Lyle Spencer
NEW YORK – Two games in Yankee Stadium, then four in Arlington, in that lovely Texas summer heat. The Angels, sitting five games behind the Rangers in the AL West, are in jeopardy of fading out of the picture if they don’t hold their own.
Adding Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina represented a show of strength by Texas, one the Angels aren’t likely to match. The players other clubs would seek for a performer who can lift their chances likely are prime-time prospects the club does not want to move – notably Mike Trout and Hank Conger.
There’s no way the Angels move Trout. This kid has star qualities, and he’ll get to The Show quickly. He can fly – we saw that in the Futures Game at Angel Stadium – and he has superior instincts in center field and at the plate. He’s the confident face of the future, along with a handful of other talented young Angels in the low Minors who figure to follow Trout to Anaheim.
Conger is a rare commodity – a catcher who can hit with power from both sides. Moving him would be a high-risk decision. He’s local, from Huntington Beach right down the road from Angel Stadium, and he’s loaded with personality. Just can’t see it happening.
The Angels need to look within to get back in this race. They need proven talent – Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera – to start banging away in a big way. They also need Scott Kazmir to rebound from his shoulder pain and deliver strikes and innings.
There’s a report on ESPNLosAngeles.com that the Angels are targeting the Royals’ Alberto Callaspo, a solid infielder. But he’s no better than Maicer Izturis, who was back on Tuesday night after missing five weeks, driving in a run against All-Star Phil Hughes in his first at-bat. Callaspo wouldn’t make a significant difference in closing any talent gaps.
The Angels should have a better grasp of where they are with their chances this season late Sunday, after wrapping up the four-game series against the Rangers.
If they’ve closed any ground on Texas, they might get serious about making a move before the July 31 non-waiver Deadline. But giving up prime young talent for an athlete who might help doesn’t make sense. If they fall deeper in the muck, it might be wise to write this off as the year Kendry Morales went down in a bizarre spill – and took the Angels with him. – Lyle Spencer
ANAHEIM – With Boston’s Dustin Pedroia on the disabled list, there is a strong chance the Angels will have three All-Stars in uniform when they host the July 13 Midsummer Classic at Angel Stadium.
Torii Hunter and Jered Weaver certainly deserve to represent the American League, and Howard Kendrick also has moved front and center as a legitimate candidate.
Kendrick, who banged his 50th RBI with a first-inning double against C.J. Wilson and the Rangers on Thursday night, is the logical candidate to join the Yankees’ Robinson Cano on the American League roster.
Kendrick has been the most durable of the Angels, and one of the steadiest offensively and defensively. Only Cano among Major League second baseman have driven in more runs than Kendrick, who flourished in the leadoff role when Erick Aybar was out with a knee injury.
Kendrick went through a stretch when he was hitting in terrible luck, drilling balls at gloves on a nightly basis, but the hits started falling and he’s been on a roll, batting .342 over his past 18 games.
A natural hitter with a stroke reminiscent of Derek Jeter’s, Kendrick has put in most of his work on the defensive end – and it is paying off with improved glove work, notably in turning the double play.
“Howie’s having a terrific season,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s certainly deserving of All-Star consideration.”
Hunter makes an even stronger case.
“Howard belongs on the team,” Hunter said. “He deserves it.” – 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.
Having spent the past six years crushing Rangers pitching in an Angels uniform in their Ballpark in Arlington, Vladimir Guerrero could be on the verge of making it his full-time home.
The Rangers have offered the big bopper a one-year deal worth $7MM, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes.MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reported on Tuesday that Texas is interested in the 2004 AL MVP who was limited to 100 games in 2009 by assorted injuries.
Guerrero, hampered by a torn chest muscle and leg ailments and recovering from knee surgery after the ’08 season, slipped below .300 in ’09 for the first time in 13 years, batting .295 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs. He’s a .394 career hitter in Arlington with 14 homers and 33 RBIs in 50 games.
Matt Brown, who struggled at Triple-A Salt Lake in 2009 after a brilliant spring for the Angels, apparently has found new opportunity with the AL West rival Rangers.
A third baseman with some experience at first as well, Brown has signed a Minor League contract with Texas and will be invited to Spring Training, according to MLB.com colleague T.R. Sullivan.
The 27-year-old has a career Minor League line of .269/.349/.461 in parts of nine seasons.
Brown has 124 Minor League homers but did not launch one in 27 Major League at-bats, in 2007 and 2008 with the Angels. He was non-tendered this winter by the Angels, making him a free agent.
After crushing the ball all spring, Brown slumped to .245 in Salt Lake with 13 homers and 69 RBIs in 107 games. Teammates there felt he struggled heavily with the death of former teammate and friend Nick Adenhart on April 9.
As he was packing his bag at Yankee Stadium late Sunday night, a long season over, Gary Matthews Jr. looked up and said, “It’s time.”
It was not the first time he’d said this, and his meaning was clear. It’s time, in Matthews’ mind, to move on. Time to find a place where he can play center field every day and take full advantage of his multiple skills at age 35.
Tired of being a fifth wheel in the Angels’ outfield, Matthews desperately wants to wear a new uniform with two years remaining on a five-year deal that brought him $50 million after his 2006 All-Star season in Texas.
He thinks there are teams that can see what he has to offer, and he hopes something can be done to make it happen. The $23 million owed him complicates the situation, but there are possible fits with clubs that have high-priced contracts they could move in exchange for a versatile switch-hitter who can play high-caliber center field.
Matthews had one superb half in ’07, leading off and batting cleanup and making all the plays in center, before a knee injury set him back and forced him to end his season in civvies while the Angels were getting swept by Boston in the ALDS.
They went out and acquired Torii Hunter that winter, a move not even Matthews could criticize. A smart baseball guy, having grown up in the game with a slugging father, Gary Sr., he understands Hunter’s tremendous value on and off the field. It just happened that Torii is one of the elite players in the game at Matthews’ natural position.
Life as a backup role player has been unfulfilling for the son of Sarge.
Matthews had a nice little run this season when Hunter was sidelined for a month with a groin injury sustained banging into outfield walls. During that time, Matthews was renewed, emotionally and physically, and it showed in his performance.
Carrying the momentum of a strong June finish, the Angels were 17-9 in July with Hunter missing all but seven games. During one memorable stretch with Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero both sidelined, the Angels were 17-3.
The Angels were 32-13 with Matthews starting in center field, and he batted a robust .358 with runners in scoring position, when his competitive juices were flowing.
Those numbers might be a more accurate reflection of what he can do than his pedestrian .250 batting average, .361 slugging and .336 on-base numbers for the full season, with an irregular work load.
It took him a while to find his stroke after Hunter went on the shelf, but once he did, Matthews carried it to the finish with strong performances in August (.290 average, .452 slugging, .389 on-base percentage) and September/October (.286/.457/.444, respectively).
His play in center field is far superior to what he does in left and right, where he struggles at times with the hooks, slices and angles. In center, Matthews ranks among the top third in the game in the studied view of Hunter, the master.
Teams with needs in center should seriously explore taking on a player who has plenty of game left and a hunger to show what he can do.
This certainly isn’t anywhere near the top of the Angels’ winter agenda, with seven free agent cases to weigh along with eight arbitration-eligible players to satisfy. But at some point, dealing with Matthews – and dealing him in a mutually satisfying manner – would seem to be the right thing to do.
If past performance is a fair gauge, southpaw Scott Kazmir should have no trouble adapting to a steady diet of Major League Baseball, American League West style. He’ll make his Angels debut, if all goes as planned, on Wednesday in Seattle.
The Houston native has flourished against the Angels’ three division rivals. This is an important residual benefit of the deal that brings Kazmir – 25 and signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012 — to Anaheim at the cost of lefty Alex Torres, infielder Matt Sweeney and a player to be named later.
In 28 career starts against the Athletics, Rangers and Mariners, Kazmir is 15-5 with 173 strikeouts against 63 walks in 166 innings pitched.
The two-time All-Star is 7-3 in 13 starts against Oakland with a 3.16 ERA. He’s 5-1 against Texas with a 2.28 ERA in nine outings and 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA in six career starts against Seattle.
Kazmir is 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA in five starts at Safeco Field. He’s 4-2, 2.96 in eight trips to the post at the Oakland Coliseum and 2-1, 2.52 in four starts at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. That makes him 9-4 in 17 outings on foreign AL West soil.
In a season that has brought an uncommon number of struggles within the division, the Angels certainly can use Kazmir’s touch.
If the five-man rotation stays intact for the balance of the season, Kazmir should have seven starts for the Angels. He’s 8-7 with a 5.92 ERA in 20 starts, but his past three have been among his best of the year, with his velocity moving back into more familiar territory after a dip earlier.
Kazmir’s home debut — he lost his only start at Angel Stadium, three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings — figures to be on Sept. 8 against the Mariners. That would be followed by a Sept. 13 home start against the White Sox, a Sept. 18 challenge in Texas, a Sept. 23 home assignment against the Yankees, Sept. 29 at home against the Rangers and, finally, the Athletics in the season finale on Oct. 4 in Oakland.
That, mind you, is just one blogger trying to map it all out, subject to change along the way. But it would make five of his seven projected starts against AL West foes.
A quality athlete who has been timed at 6.7 in the 60, Kazmir was a quarterback at Cypress Falls High School in Houston his freshman and sophomore years before hanging up the pads to focus on his main sport.
Kazmir was taken in the first round, 15th overall, by the Mets in 2002 after being named Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year.
The Mets brought him along carefully for 2 ½ seasons before shipping him to Tampa Bay on July 30, 2004 – beating the non-waiver Trade Deadline – in a four-player swap. Veteran right-hander Victor Zambrano was the object of the Mets’ affections.
Zambrano was 10-14 with a 4.42 ERA in 39 games for the Mets across three seasons. Right-hander Bartolome Fortunato, also acquired in the deal by New York, was 2-0 with a 7.06 ERA in 17 appearances for the Mets.
Kazmir, meanwhile, has pitched in two All-Star Games (a scoreless inning each) and five postseason games representing Tampa Bay, where he was 55-44 with a 3.92 ERA in 145 games at the time of the deal.
Here, from the New York end, was a classic deadline quick fix gone awry.
Torii Hunter, gradually regaining strength in the area of his right adductor muscle, was not in the Angels’ lineup for Thursday night’s series finale against the Indians at Progressive Field, with Gary Matthews Jr. in center field.
Hunter also will take a day off in Toronto, where the Angels engage the Blue Jays in a three-game weekend series on the artificial surface at the Rogers Centre. Look for Hunter to be back in the No. 3 spot in the order in Toronto, between Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero.
“I’m good,” Hunter said, on his way to take batting practice in the inside cages. “They’re being careful with me, and even though I never want to come out, I understand.”
While the eight-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner rested, manager Mike Scioscia was joining the campaign for Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar, promoting the Gold Glove candidacies of his left-side infielders. Figgins at third and Aybar at shortstop have been brilliant and steady all season.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Scioscia said of Figgins’ worthiness of Gold Glove consideration. “There’s not a third baseman in our league playing at a higher level.”
Asked if the same view applied to Aybar, Scioscia nodded.
“Erick makes very tough plays look manageable, routine, with his arm strength,” Scioscia said. “There’s no shortstop who makes the 4-6 double play turn better than Erick, nobody.”
Scioscia had to reach deep in his memory bank to find names when he was asked if anybody else could have made the play Aybar delivered in Baltimore, robbing fleet Brian Roberts of a hit from deep in the hole with a leaping bullet to first.
Ozzie Smith, Garry Templeton and Shawon Dunston were shortstops of the past who crossed Scioscia’s mind as having the arm strength and athleticism to make a play like that . . . but “nobody” in today’s game.
Figgins, drafted as a shortstop by Colorado, has started at six positions in the Majors, finally settling in at third base in 2007 on a full-time basis.
“It feels good to get some recognition for what I’m doing defensively,” Figgins said. “It took a while before I really thought of myself as a third baseman, but that’s what I am now. I’d be flattered to be considered for that [Gold Glove]. Growing up, my man was Ozzie [Smith], and I’d love to get one.”
The Wizard of Oz won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves for the Cardinals. The two-time reigning Gold Glove third baseman in the American League, Seattle’s Adrian Beltre, has missed 39 games this season.
Aybar’s model at shortstop as a kid was the Dodgers’ Rafael Furcal, the player he most resembles. Michael Young, last year’s Gold Glove shortstop in the AL, was moved to third base this year by Texas to accommodate the arrival of Elvis Andrus.
Young succeeded Orlando Cabrera, who claimed the 2007 Gold Glove in an Angels uniform, with Aybar as his understudy.