Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher was not on hand on Monday as the team opened Spring Training at Tempe Diablo Stadium in perfect weather. Butcher is recovering from surgery performed on Thursday for the removal of a cancerous nodule on his thyroid gland.
Manager Mike Scioscia said roving pitching coordinator Kernan Ronan and Triple-A Salt Lake pitching coach Erik Bennett would handle Butcher’s duties until he’s able to return.
Butcher laid out the groundwork for the spring during a meeting of the staff on Sunday morning.
“Butch did a lot of work with me over the winter,” Angels pitcher Matt Palmer said. “He was typical Butch, in a great mood, full of energy. I didn’t know anything was wrong with him until I went home after working out [Sunday] and got on the Internet. I was shocked.”
Butcher, a resident of Chandler, Ariz., also spent time over the winter working with Scott Kazmir, Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen.
Scioscia’s early-morning comments on Monday made it clear his preference is to have Maicer Izturis play at least 100 games, primarily at third base, and lead off, with Peter Bourjos holding down the center field job between Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter.
“Maicer is a guy who a couple years ago played  games,” Scioscia said. “It’s feasible for him to play in that range. I don’t know if he’s a 162-game guy, but hopefully we get him in enough games to take the pressure off other guys to be in that leadoff position. When he’s in the lineup, he’s going to lead off. If you project Izturis and [Bobby] Abreu 1-2, you’re going to have as good a 1-2 as you’re going to see.”
Izturis’ absence was felt last year when injuries limited him to 61 games and 221 at-bats. He was one of the club’s most versatile weapons in 2009 and is an exceptional clutch hitter.
As for Bourjos, who made a series of highlight-reel plays in his two months with the club last year, Scioscia said: “When we had Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right field, our pitching staff pitched at an incredible level. That wasn’t a coincidence.”
Scioscia on new lefty Hisanori Takahashi, who excelled for the Mets in a variety of roles in his debut 2010 Major League season after working as a starter in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants: “He’s a pitcher who’s going to be lengthened out for Spring Training. He has the versatility for multiple innings and is on the depth chart as a starter. He’s way ahead of where a lot of pitchers might be. He’s [throwing] off the mound, throwing all four pitches. He hasn’t expressed any preference to [GM] Tony [Reagins], Butch or me. He was a starter in Japan. His value is his versatility.”
All hands on deck. There were no absences on the first day of camp. – Lyle Spencer
Outfielder Mike Trout, the No. 1 prospect in the Major Leagues according to a survey of industry executives and scouts by MLB.com, heads a list of 25 non-roster invitees to big-league camp in Spring Training at Tempe, Ariz. Angels general manager Tony Reagins made the announcement.
The list includes nine pitchers, five catchers, seven infielders and four outfielders.
“This is a great opportunity for our young prospects to get a feel for what we do in the spring, our philosophies about how to play the game the right way,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “It’s been invaluable to our young players through the years.”
The pitchers are right-handers Ryan Brasier, Ryan Braun, Ryan Chaffee, Tyler Chatwood, Eric Junge, Garrett Richards and southpaws Matt Meyer, Trevor Reckling and Andrew Taylor.
Catchers Anel de los Santos, Jose Jimenez, Carlos Ramirez, Kevin Richardson and Alberto Rosario will enroll in Camp Scioscia. Infielders Alexi Amarista, Gabe Jacobo, Kevin Melillo, Efren Navarro, Darwin Perez, Jean Segura and Gil Velasquez and outfielders Trout, Tyson Auer, Angel Castillo and Travis Witherspoon round out the group of 25 invitees with dreams of reaching The Show. – Lyle Spencer
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
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
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.
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.
Gary Matthews Jr. views himself as an everyday Major League outfielder, so it came as no surprise when he stormed out of a meeting with the brass on Sunday at the team’s Spring Training facility and did not accompany the team for a trip to Surprise for a game against his former team, the Rangers.
“We just let Gary know where things stand at this point in the season, and that’s about all I can say about it,” manager Mike Scioscia said of the meeting also attended by general manager Tony Reagins. “We were honest with him, and he let us know how he feels.
“Gary wants to play, and that’s understandable. But the way things are right now, he’s the fifth outfielder, coming off knee surgery. We have Vlad [Guerrero], Torii [Hunter], Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera, and those are four good players. Gary needs to focus on getting completely healthy and contributing when he can.”
Matthews, who has a full no-trade clause in his contract this season, would be owed a $500,000 assignment fee if dealt.
Matthews has said he would be more than open to a trade to a club that could use him on a regular basis, especially as a center fielder. He has three years left on a deal he signed after his 2006 All-Star season with Texas — $10 million this season, $11 million in 2010 and $12 million in 2012.
“As of today,” Reagins told reporters, “he’s going to be an extra outfielder. We gave him an update on his status. We were very forthright, but the details of the meeting will remain behind closed doors.”
Matthews changed into street clothes and left the facility, the team granting him permission to take the day off.
Matthews said he needed some time to “think things over.” After undergoing left knee surgery in late October, he “worked his butt off this” winter, according to Scioscia, and is in the midst of a strong spring, batting .258 with two homers, two doubles and a triple in 31 at-bats.
Gary Matthews Jr. is determined to play every day, preferably in center field. The Angels — overstocked with quality outfielders – do not appear to have a place for him to do so on a regular basis.
“There comes a time if a decision is made . . . ” manager Mike Scioscia said, not finishing the thought. “We’ve got a lot of bats here. We’ll address things in time. We’re not going to make a decision today.”
Recovered from late October surgery on his left knee, Matthews has been more than impressive in Cactus League play. He has been spectacular.
Matthews’ two-run homer against the Padres in Tuesday’s 10-5 Angels victory was a tremendous drive to right field that, he later reported, “came within six inches of hitting my Bentley” in the parking lot.
He crushed this one almost as far, he believed, as the one against the White Sox in the new Camelback Ranch-Glendale park that teammates estimated at 450 feet.
Matthews, who doubled in front of Maicer Izturis’ three-run homer in his first at-bat, is hitting .412 with 16 total bases in 17 at-bats.
“My play’s kind of doing all the talking for me,” Matthews said. “My play speaks louder than what I can say to anyone. I wasn’t supposed to be back until mid-May, late-May. I’m fine. I’m ready to go back to playing every day.”
With Torii Hunter entrenched in center field and Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera ahead of him on the outfield depth chart, Matthews has a hard time seeing consistent playing time coming his way no matter what he does.
He has gone to general manager Tony Reagins and Scioscia to express his desire to play regularly, and they have been candid with him, he said, about their point of view.
“You don’t play forever,” Matthews said. “I’m 34. Guys take such good care of themselves now. I’m 34. It’s not like I’m 24 and have time to sit around and waste years sitting around. That’s not what I’m going to do.”
That sounds very much like “play me or trade me,” a refrain as old as the game itself.
It’s a nice problem to have, of course, but you have to wonder what it’s like to be Matt Brown, looking around the Angels’ clubhouse, wondering where you fit.
You were a star on the bronze medal-winning Team USA outfit in the Beijing Games last summer. You crushed the ball at Triple-A Salt Lake — again. You added some versatility, learning how to play first base. No less an authority than Reggie Smith, Team USA’s hitting coach, touted you as a Major League talent — and Reggie is not a man to throw praise around randomly.
You know you can play, and yet you wonder where, and how it can happen. Chone Figgins is at third, your natural position, and behind him is Brandon Wood. One of Wood’s teammates coming up through the farm system with him assured me that this guy “will just blow up if he ever gets a chance to play every day.” So, if you’re Matt Brown, 26 and waiting for your time, you wonder if it will ever come.
Kendry Morales has been given first base, and the guy can rake. Behind him is Robb Quinlan, who has a .285 career average in the Majors and must also wonder where he’ll fit in as a role player yet again. Matt Brown: third at third, third at first.
There are others who work out every day, preparing for a long season, and leave camp every afternoon wondering what’s in store. Reggie Willits, for example. He was fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2007, a major contributor to the Angels’ success, and he’s sixth in line for a outfield job. Depth is a great thing if you’re a manager or a GM, but if you’re an athlete burning to play at the highest level, convinced you can make good things happen, and have names on top of yours on the depth chart . . . you sit and wait. And wonder.
Too many good players. A nice problem for Arte Moreno and Mike Scioscia and Tony Reagins, but not such a great thing if you’re Matt Brown, Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Freddy Sandoval, Terry Evans and all the others on the outside looking in.