Judging by comments I’m receiving from readers, I should apologize for writing a story about Vernon Wells — tying his football past into the Super Bowl in his hometown — rather than commenting on something that didn’t happen (the return of Vladimir Guerrero to the Angels) or something that in all likelihood won’t happen (a deal for Michael Young).
I won’t apologize for doing my job, but I will comment on Guerrero and Young.
As for Vlad, one of the best guys I’ve ever covered, when the Wells deal was made, any chance of the great slugger coming back to Anaheim effectively disappeared. There’s no way Guerrero was going to agree to come back and share the DH and swing outfielder role with Bobby Abreu. That’s what would have awaited him in Anaheim.
The Angels are committed to giving Peter Bourjos every shot at center field, and that is wise. His sensational defense will save dozens of runs over the course of the season. With Bourjos flanked by Wells and Torii Hunter, the Angels have a potentially great outfield – two wise veterans with Gold Glove histories guiding and tutoring a rising young star with the ability to be the premier defensive centerfielder in the game.
That leaves Abreu, a necessary component to the offense with his ability to get on base and drive in runs, as the primary DH. The only way Vlad could have come to the Angels in a meaningful role was to return Bourjos to Triple-A Salt Lake and play Hunter or Wells in center, with Abreu at a corner and Guerrero the DH.
At a cost of roughly $8 million, bringing the payroll to about $150 million, that would have improved the offense. But the defense would have slipped significantly — and one of the most exciting young talents in the game (Bourjos) would have been toiling again in the Pacific Coast League.
As for the highly respected Young, the three years and $48 million left on his contract realistically make him difficult to move. The Rangers would have to eat a chunk of that salary or accept a big salary in exchange.
At $16 million a year, Young would be an upgrade at third base for the Angels, obviously, but the truth is, this isn’t Mike Schmidt or Evan Longoria or Ryan Zimmerman. Young is a good player and a great leader. Maicer Izturis is also a good player. If he makes five starts a week to remain healthy, backed by Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Wood, it’s not going to cost the Angels a division title. If Wood relaxes and claims the job, performing to his talent level, the Angels will be in fine shape at third base.
From Texas’ end, unloading your unquestioned clubhouse leader by kicking in millions of dollars makes little or no sense – especially if it would mean improving the club you’ve spent five of the past seven seasons chasing. Young figures to emerge as the first baseman in Texas or the primary DH and all-purpose role player. In either case, he remains a vital part of their attack in the No. 2 spot in manager Ron Washington’s lineup.
Unless he has become extremely unhappy with the turn of events in Texas, starting with losing his third base job to Adrian Beltre, and wants out, Young should adapt yet again to another new role and continue to be a productive player — and hero to young kids in Texas. That’s really the way it should be, if you can look at it objectively. – Lyle Spencer
The initial trade held promise for Mike Napoli in the form of a potential steady job at first base in Toronto.
The second trade, not so much.
Napoli is on his way to Texas, where all good Angels lately (Darren Oliver, Darren O’Day, Bengie Molina, Vladimir Guerrero) eventually seem to land.
Granted, there are benefits from Napoli’s end to Texas over Canada. He’s still residing in the U.S. A native Floridian, he’s in warm weather. He’s with a team that can go a long way. He’s on natural grass in a ballpark where he’ll launch some big flies over the inviting wall in right center when he’s locked in and feeling groovy.
Unfortunately, I have my doubts that it will happen often enough to make him happy. That’s the rub from my end with this swap that sends reliever Frank Francisco to the Blue Jays. I don’t see how the Rangers can keep Napoli busy enough to suit him.
The Rangers have two promising young first baseman (Mitch Moreland and Chris Davis), two quality catchers (Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Treanor) and a new designated hitter in Michael Young.
Where, exactly, does Napoli find his playing time with this team? I’m unclear, and I’m guessing he has his doubts as well.
When the Angels face the Rangers, for example, it’s doubtful Napoli will get a start unless Scott Kazmir is pitching. He’ll probably get more opportunities against Oakland, with its lefties, but two or three starts a week will not be enough to satisfy him or keep his swing right.
One of the things I liked about the Angels’ deal for Vernon Wells, sending Napoli and Juan Rivera to Toronto, was that it held the promise of steady work for the two muscular hitters going to the Jays. Now it looks like a garden-variety Toronto salary dump from this laptop, and that’s too bad.
On a Canadian radio station after the trade, I talked up the idea of Napoli taking over first base. I felt it was the opportunity he’s been seeking, and he played surprisingly well there in Kendry Morales’ absence last season. I figured he’d win the job in the spring and run with it to a terrific season, making everybody happy.
Now I’m not sure what the future holds for the big lug with the big bat.
The problem with my job is I tend to care about the quality people I cover. I have to admit, I grew close to Napoli. I like him a lot. I think he has the talent to do some great things in the game. But my sense is that he’s going to a role in Texas much too familiar to him – that of playing now and then and growing frustrated over time.
Because he has a big swing with power to all fields – much like Brandon Wood – Napoli needs to play on a steady basis to get and keep his swing in a comfort zone. This is not such a big deal with hitters with more compact strokes; they can sit a few days and slash a line drive somewhere. Big swingers tend to have big mood swings.
I’m having a hard time figuring out how this move will improve Napoli’s mood – unless the Rangers have bigger plans for him than it appears. – Lyle Spencer
The Angels appear to be interested in both Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero as free agents, according to a report by Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes. Citing sources, Rojas reports that both players are closing in on free-agent deals. One source suggests Ramirez is likely to sign by the beginning of next week.
The Angels, Twins, Rangers, Rays and Blue Jays have shown some interest in Ramirez, but Minnesota is out after signing Jim Thome. The Angels, Rangers and Rays appear to be pursuing him most aggressively. Rojas hears that Ramirez is determined to redeem himself after a disappointing season and money is not his primary concern.
Guerrero, according to a source, believes the Orioles have the inside track on signing him, but the Angels are another possibility. – Lyle Spencer
For argument’s sake, let’s say agent Scott Boras pulls another Jayson Werth out of his hat and convinces somebody – the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers — that Adrian Beltre is worth more than the $70 million across five seasons reportedly offered by the Angels.
Where does Team Moreno go from there? Is there a legitimate Plan B moving forward?
At the risk of once again alienating my growing anti-fan base, I have an idea that makes sense to me. Why not make a creative effort to bring back the 2009 Angels offense? You remember that attack, how it mauled opponents from top (Chone Figgins) to bottom (Erick Aybar) with speed and power. The amazing thing is that they continued to roll through the summer with their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, sidelined together for an extended period of time.
Figgins is now in Seattle, having endured a frustrating debut season with the Mariners, while Guerrero is a free agent after a blockbuster season in Texas, his big body healed after the multiple injury disruptions of ’09.
I could be wrong – it’s happened before – but it seems plausible that the Angels and Mariners could work out a mutually beneficial deal involving Figgins. It also is possible that Guerrero could be lured back to Anaheim with the two-year deal he is seeking that the Rangers don’t seem to have prepared for the man who made life much nicer for Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Co. with his presence.
With a need for power, Seattle could acquire power-hitting left fielder Juan Rivera and Alberto Callaspo, a versatile infielder, in exchange for the leadoff catalyst who was missed so badly by the Angels. Yes, Figgins is costly — $26 million guaranteed for three more years, with a vesting option for 2014. And there doubtless are some residual hard feelings that would need smoothed over in the Figgins camp over his exit in the afterglow of a career year in ’09. But couples reunite all the time, and if it serves to benefit everyone involved . . . why not?
If Figgins doesn’t reach 600 plate appearances in 2013, the $9 million vesting option for ’14 does not kick in. That’s a lot of at-bats; to get there, Figgy would have to remain healthy and productive.
Now, on to Guerrero. What would it take to bring him back? Perhaps something in thle $20 million range for two years. Given what he meant to the Angels, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. His return would quiet a lot of fans who are spewing invective these days.
Yes, Guerrero clearly benefitted from the comforts of Rangers Ballpark, and his second half wasn’t nearly as productive as the first. But a .300 batting average with 29 homers and 115 RBIs is a healthy season under any measure. During the American League Division Series against the Rays, Vlad told me his knees felt better than they have in four years, and it showed in the way he ran the bases.
Guerrero’s understated leadership qualities should not be overlooked. He had a lot to do with the emergence of Aybar, who clearly missed his big brother figure. It should be noted that Beltre, much like Guerrero, is a highly regarded clubhouse presence for his calm, easy manner and certainly is capable of filling that leadership role if he comes aboard.
A Beltre signing would be cause for celebration — even if it’s hardly a unanimous sentiment among disgruntled Angels followers who seemingly won’t be satisfied until the club reunites the 2002 offense or acquires Evan Longoria, Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols.
Beltre can play. Boston fans fell in love with him in 2010, but they realize that Adrian Gonzalez is younger with more upside and that Kevin Youkilis is now a third baseman. Otherwise, they’d be incensed in Beantown over Beltre’s departure after a brilliant season.
Much is made of Beltre’s perceived struggles in Seattle after his mammoth season with the Dodgers in 2004, but he didn’t perform that badly considering Safeco Field is notoriously rough on right-handed batters. Fewer home runs were hit there by righties (61) than in any park in 2010, and that’s a fairly consistent stat.
The Angels’ reported proposal for Beltre, at 32, seems more than reasonable. If it’s not enough, so be it. But landing Figgins and Guerrero for a total of five contract years at roughly $46 million – or six years and $55 million if the Figgins option vests – seems to be a viable alternative to five years and $70 million for Beltre.
I’m not saying it’s going to happen or even can happen. It’s just an innocent thought from someone who would like to see some much-needed holiday cheer extending into a new season. – 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
Angels manager Mike Scioscia is going with a new look starting tonight against the A’s and Mr. Perfect, Dallas Braden.
Here’s the lineup Scioscia plans to go with for now, with Maicer Izturis due to come off the disabled list (right shoulder tightness) next week and assume a larger role in the 1 or 2 spots:
1. Erick Aybar, SS
2. Howard Kendrick, 2B
3. Bobby Abreu, RF
4. Torii Hunter, CF
5. Kendry Morales, 1B
6. Hideki Matsui, DH
7. Juan Rivera, LF
8. Mike Napoli, C
9. Brandon Wood, 3B
The Angels were 60-35 last season with Abreu batting third and 27-19 when Hunter hit cleanup. These were their best records with those hitters in those roles. Only Vladimir Guerrero (43-39) batted fourth more often than Hunter. — Lyle Spencer
Kendry Morales made his spring debut on Monday at Surprise Stadium and picked up right where he left off last season — banging base-hits and driving in runs.
Morales singled home a run during a two-run first inning and singled home another in the fifth as the Angels erupted for four runs.
The reigning AL West champs saved their best offensive performance of the young spring for their division rivals, the Rangers, who were showing off new DH Vladimir Guerrero.
Maicer Izturis singled to right twice to send leadoff man Erick Aybar scurrying to third after a walk and single. Juan Rivera hammered a pair of run-producing hits, a single and double, and the big thunder came from Mike Napoli and Brandon Wood. Napoli launched one to dead center, his second homer of the spring, and Wood’s first hit landed on the grass beyond the 379 sign in right center.
Scott Kazmir, slowed by a sore right hamstring he brought into camp, will pitch two innings in an intrasquad game on Wednesday. The plan, if that goes well, is to get him to 45 pitches in a Cactus League game five days later.
Torii Hunter hopes to be able to play alongside Hideki Matsui, in his Angels debut as the DH, on Tuesday when the Padres send towering Chris Young to the mound at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Hunter felt a twinge in the area of his surgically repaired right groin on his first slide of the spring on Friday against the Rockies on a double.
“Right now, there’s no sense of urgency,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’ll play tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, a matter of days. We’re not concerned with him. If it was March 28, it’d be another story.”
Kevin Jepsen (tender right shoulder) and Scot Shields (knee surgery recovery) are down to throw 15 pitches each in simulated games on Tuesday. Fernando Rodney (sore shins) is progressing in bullpen sessions, Scioscia said. – 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.
Bobby Abreu’s contract option for a third year is well within his reach, if his durability holds up, likely tying him to the Angels through 2012.
After he draws $9 million for each of the next two seasons, Abreu has a 2012 option for $9 million that kicks in if he makes 550 plate appearances in 2011 or a combined 1,100 plate appearances in 2010 and 2011, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
If he doesn’t reach either of those numbers, the club can buy him out for $1 million.
Given that he has had at least 667 plate appearances for 11 consecutive seasons and keeps himself in prime condition, Abreu appears to be a relatively safe bet to fulfill the three years.
If that happens, factoring in the $6 million (with $1 million in incentives reached for plate appearances) he earned this season, Abreu will average $8.25 million for four seasons in Anaheim.
That, in today’s market, would appear to be a fair and equitable figure for a man with Abreu’s production and leadership.
With Juan Rivera in left and Torii Hunter in center, and Vladimir Guerrero yearning to return to right field, this probably means the end of Guerrero’s remarkable six-year run with the Angels.
There are those who are writing off Guerrero as over-the-hill, but he had no real chance this season to get his legs under him. With a winter to heal, there’s no reason why he can’t be a productive, effective player on the field as well as at the plate in 2010.
It’s highly possible Guerrero will be next season’s Abreu, emerging as a major bargain for the club that signs him. Never underestimate Vlad’s tremendous pride, which showed up during the postseason when he re-established himself as a force in the heart of a lineup.