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
The Angels overrate their prospects. If that’s what you’re hearing or reading in the wake of their inability to swing a non-waiver Trade Deadline deal for a four-star pitcher, you don’t necessarily have to buy it.
I mean, seriously, how do you overrate prospects who have helped you win more games over the past 4 ½ seasons than any other team in Major League Baseball? That doesn’t make much sense.
You’d think lesser clubs would want to latch onto some of those kids who have helped drive manager Mike Scioscia’s troupe to 438 wins, heading into this six-game road trip, against 309 losses since the start of the 2005 season. Next best: Yankees, at 436-313, then the Red Sox, at 429-318.
Not bad, as company goes.
You’d think clubs languishing on the fringes of contention would welcome the opportunity to import some of this talent from an organization that plays aggressive, exciting, winning baseball from rookie ball on up.
Without full knowledge of what was offered and what was rejected, my sense is the Angels put together some very fair proposals – particularly for Roy Halladay and Heath Bell – and, for whatever reason, were simply rejected.
Maybe Toronto didn’t really want to part with Halladay. Maybe San Diego couldn’t live without Bell, when it was all said and done. I don’t know. But I have been around Angels players now long enough, organization-wide, to appreciate their skill, intelligence and will.
If Erick Aybar was a deal-breaker with Toronto, I’m good with that. He’s on his way to greatness, and Angels fans will be dazzled by his many gifts for years to come.
This whole business of desperately needing No. 1 starters to win in the postseason is an urban myth. If you’re looking for something that’s overrated, here it is. I don’t recall the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati needing a hand full of aces.
The Angels didn’t have a No. 1 in the classic mold in 2002. The Athletics had three legit No. 1s – Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson – that season and couldn’t win a postseason series. The Braves had three certified No. 1s – Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz — for a full decade. They claimed one Fall Classic.
Dominant starting pitching is great, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not a be-all, cure-all, end-all. It guarantees nothing.
Here’s what matters in October: momentum. Positive, upbeat, driving momentum generated by quality play, good pitching and a dash of good fortune here and there.
It looks wide open this season, from this laptop. The Angels have a shot at going all the way if things fall into place. They’re due for a break or two in October.
Halladay absolutely would have been a terrific addition. But not at the cost of the heart of your club.
As for Bell, he’s a shiny Cadillac parked in a dark garage. Would he have helped the Angels? Sure. But they might end up getting more production out of the players the Padres didn’t seem to want.
Who knows? Crazy stuff happens all the time. It’s baseball. Nobody is nearly as smart as he or she claims to be.
General manager Tony Reagins said the Angels came up empty in their efforts to make a non-waiver Trade Deadline deal when they were unable to match up with other clubs.
Reagins was not specific about which clubs he was talking with, but reports indicated that the Angels made concerted efforts to acquire Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays and Heath Bell from the Padres.
“It really came down to not being the best fit for either party,” Reagins said. “We had a comfort level that we could go in certain situations and were willing to be aggressive. [Owner] Arte Moreno gave us no restraints. We went in with the idea of improving the club. A lot of effort was put into the process. From that standpoint, you move forward. We have business to take care of. Our focus is on Minnesota tonight. Our 25 guys have a comfort level they are going to be here for the rest of the year.”
There was one report that the Angels were close to a last-minute deal for Halladay, but Reagins would not confirm that. The Jays reportedly wanted shortstop Erick Aybar, infielder Brandon Wood, starter Joe Saunders and a prime prospect.
“Utimately, you have to find a match,” Reagins said. “You may offer talented players, but if the deal doesn’t fit for both parties . . . that’s the situation we were in. From a personnel standpoint, we made proposals that were very competitive and made sense. But the other side has to feel they made sense as well.”
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.
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.
Brandon Wood realistically couldn’t have done any more to keep his spot on the 25-man roster, but he’s back in Salt Lake, getting the at-bats that were not available in Anaheim.
What the Angels have in mind for Wood, now and long term, I don’t know. I suspect he’s their fallback at third base if Chone Figgins departs via free agency, but I also think he could slide in on a daily basis there next year if Figgins is retained as an outfielder or an all-purpose player.
Trouble is, if Figgins thinks that he’s going back to being something other than any everyday third baseman, it’s doubtful he’d want to come back. He loves having a position and a role, and who can blame him? He has shown himself to be a quality third baseman and one of the game’s best leadoff hitters.
Manager Mike Scioscia acknowledged before Wednesday night’s game against the Blue Jays and the great Roy Halladay that the decision-makers had considered bringing up Bobby Wilson to back up Jeff Mathis, with Mike Napoli sliding into the DH role on a regular basis.
Apparently, they decided it wasn’t time for that bold move and recalled instead Reggie Willits, a versatile and highly underrated role player who can do many positive things for a club.
Personally, I’d find a place for Wilson and Willits, but Scioscia feels he needs 12 pitchers and will continue to carry 12 until the pitching staff comes together. That could happen in June, July, perhaps not at all.
Again, this is just my opinion, but Napoli should be in the lineup every day, and the only way that’s going to happen is as a DH who occasionally catches and/or plays first base. What he does with a bat is too valuable to risk with the kinds of injuries that have sent Napoli to the DL the past two seasons.
In his two starts as a DH, Napoli celebrated with six hits in seven at-bats, with two walks and three RBIs. The one out he made sent an outfielder to the wall at Yankee Stadium.
The guy is a lethal hitter. I think he could approach Miguel Cabrera’s numbers in Detroit as an everyday DH. Mathis and Wilson are quality defensive players, both capable of hitting in the .250 range. Mathis has shown that even though he doesn’t hit for a high average, he is clutch. We’ve seen him deliver big hits under pressure frequently, and there’s a reason for that — he’s an athlete who happens to catch. You’ll never see a more athletic catcher.
Wilson has paid his dues and is ready for a role in the big time, along with a half-dozen teammates in Salt Lake. Wood, back with the Bees, is an everyday Major League talent right now with no place to play in Anaheim with the Angels’ abundance of quality infielders.
Like Napoli, Wood, playing every day, has the ability to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs. He won’t hurt you at third or at shortstop, either. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
As they used to say in Brooklyn, wait’ll next year.