December 2012

WAR: Angels have improved this offseason …

Jerry DipotoI’ve made the mistake of believing the Angels were done before. So when general manager Jerry Dipoto, speaking shortly after trading Kendrys Morales for Jason Vargas, says “in all likelihood” he’s done making major moves this offseason, I’m naturally skeptical. But, yeah, barring a low-risk addition or two to the bullpen, probably via Minor League deals, this essentially puts a bow on Dipoto’s offseason. Seriously this time.

In my opinion, it was a very successful one for the Angels’ second-year GM.

With a very similar payroll (about $160 million), and a ridiculously expensive free agent market, Dipoto was able to add yet another weapon to an already-dangerous lineup, greatly improve a thin bullpen and build more starting-pitching depth. (Here’s an updated depth chart.) Granted, the rotation is nowhere near as heralded as it was at the start of last season, but it is solid and a lot more payroll-efficient.

We could go on forever about whether or not it was better to sign Zack Greinke (six years, $147 million) or Josh Hamilton (five years, $125 million). Frankly, I’m not sure. Greinke’s risk is greater, in some ways, because he’s a pitcher and it’s an extra year. In a vacuum, and if we’re factoring out that sixth year, it comes down to whether you prefer Greinke and Morales or Hamilton and Vargas.

But you can’t analyze offseasons like that because they never play out in linear fashion. It’s like the butterfly effect; each move is dependent on the other. Skipping out on Greinke allowed Dipoto to get Joe Blanton and Sean Burnett, adding them to the additions of Tommy Hanson and Ryan Madson. Then he got Hamilton, which allowed him to then flip Morales for Vargas. Had he delved into a bidding war with the Rangers and Dodgers for Greinke, perhaps he would’ve been stuck with nothing (look at the Rangers right now).

Basically, the 2012 septet of Morales, Greinke, Dan Haren, Torii Hunter, Ervin Santana, Jordan Walden and LaTroy Hawkins is being replaced by the 2013 septet of Bourjos, Hamilton, Blanton, Vargas, Hanson, Madson and Burnett. If we’re going by Wins Above Replacement, as interpreted by FanGraphs.com, the Angels improved this offseason.

Here’s a look at each player’s WAR from this past season …

2012 

Hunter: 5.3
Greinke: 5.1
Morales: 1.8
Haren: 1.8
Walden: 0.5
Hawkins: minus-0.1
Santana: minus-0.9

Total: 13.5

2013

Bourjos (from 2011): 4.5
Hamilton: 4.4
Blanton: 2.4
Madson (’11): 1.7
Burnett: 1.1
Hanson: 1.0
Vargas: 0.8

Total: 15.9

Alden 

What can the Angels get for Kendrys Morales? …

Kendrys MoralesThe ideal chip for the Angels’ next, seemingly inevitable trade for a starting pitcher is Kendrys Morales.

It’s hard to deny that. Morales is coming into his final season before free agency and — given his representation (Scott Boras) and his desire to be more than a full-time DH — will leave after 2013.

Trading him now would give the Angels an outfield foursome of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo (with Vernon Wells‘ contract probably still lingering). Trout, Bourjos and Trumbo are still in their pre-arbitration years and all four are under club control until at least 2016. Trout (probably left field), Bourjos (center) and Hamilton (right) would make up one of the game’s best outfields — offensively and defensively — and would give the Angels somewhat of a revolving door at DH. Trumbo would get the most reps there, but his versatility would allow Hamilton and Albert Pujols, who need to stay on the field to maximize their nine-figure contracts, can start there, too, when needed.

But what kind of starting pitcher can Morales bring back?

The Angels will seemingly be selling pretty high on the 29-year-old switch-hitter. He’s coming off his first healthy season since 2009, batting .273 with 22 homers, 73 RBIs and a .787 OPS. Morales, who missed almost two full seasons with a couple of ankle surgeries, even proved he can still handle first base. Then there’s the belief that he’ll be even better in 2013, with the motivation of an expiring contract and a full season under his belt. That’s a pretty good package for a guy who will make about $4 million next year, and teams desperate for power — particularly from the left side of the plate — would no doubt love to have him.

Still, though, his market is limited, because you’d be hard-pressed to find a National League club willing to gamble on him as their everyday first baseman and because we’re at a point in the offseason when most teams no longer have big holes to fill. Of course, the Angels would love to move Wells, but I can’t imagine them getting back any significant starter for him, even if they eat the vast majority of the $42 million owed to him the next two years. They’ll also keep listening on Bourjos and Trumbo, and may pull the trigger if blown away by a top-tier, cost-controlled starter. But as Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com wrote on Twitter recently, the priority is to deal Morales for an innings-eater.

Who can they get?

Here are three potential (and purely speculative) AL fits …

Rays: I know, it’s the first place everyone goes. But Tampa Bay always seems like an ideal match because they’re (still) rich in starters and could always use offense. Right now the Rays have James Loney at first base, with somewhat of a platoon at DH with the right-handed-hitting Ryan Roberts and the left-handed-hitting Sam Fuld. Morales would give them a big upgrade, and someone who can protect Evan Longoria. But he wouldn’t get the Angels Jeremy Hellickson or Matt Moore, or probably even Alex Cobb. Maybe Jeff Niemann, who’s under club control for two more years and would cost about $3 million in arbitration in 2013? The Rays did pick up some flexibility for the rotation by signing Roberto Hernandez on Tuesday.

Orioles: They still seek a middle-of-the-order bat, have a spot open at DH and seemingly have some pitching they can afford to part ways with. Righties Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman, and lefties Zach Britton and Brian Matusz are all young with upside, but with the exception of Tillman, they all struggled last year. Would the O’s be willing to part ways with the 24-year-old Tillman, one of few bright spots in an eclectic starting staff that ranked ninth in the AL in ERA last year? And given his past inconsistencies, can the Angels do better?

Indians: They’re trying to woo free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher, but could always use more offense, and Morales could split time at DH and first base with the right-handed-hitting Mark Reynolds. What about Justin Masterson, who had a rough 2012 season but has topped 200 innings the last two years and is signed for two more years? Well, he isn’t an ace, but he’s listed as Cleveland’s No. 1 pitcher, so they’d probably be very hesitant to give him up for K-Mo. Here’s another intriguing name: Ubaldo JimenezHe’s been a shell of himself the last couple years, but he’s been relatively healthy, will make $5.75 million in 2013 and has an $8 million option for 2014. Perhaps working with his old catcher, Chris Iannetta, can get him back on track.

The important thing to ask yourself is whether any of these guys would be an upgrade over the 24-year-old Garrett Richards, who has yet to start a full season in the Majors but has a lot of upside. Adding another starter would likely push Richards to Triple-A, with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton making up the rest of the staff, and Jerome Williams likely returning to the long-relief role. The Angels’ front office will have some important decisions to make before Spring Training (and perhaps they’ll linger beyond that). Do they hold onto Bourjos and Trumbo, keeping their position-player roster deep but not improving the rotation a whole lot? Or do they trade one of those two — or both, or more — to land the impact starter they could still use?

Alden 

Aybar among Angels reps in winter ball …

Winter ball, at least the less-celebrated part, will soon come to an end. The schedule in the Dominican Republic ends Dec. 21, with Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela wrapping up on the 30th. Then, in early February, the champion from each nation plays in the ever-popular Caribbean Series, which will take place in Hermosillo, Mexico, in 2013 (and yours truly will attend).

Here’s a look at how some notable Angels players have fared in winter ball …

DOMINICAN

MLB SS Erick Aybar: .286 BA (14-for-49), 5 RBI
MLB OF Kole Calhoun: .236 BA (17-for-72), 3 HR, 13 RBI — finished 11/17
AAA 1B Efren Navarro: .185 BA (17-for-92), 1 HR, 15 RBI
AAA 3B Luis Jimenez: .248 BA (27-for-109), 1 HR, 12 RBI

MEXICO

OF Trent Oeltjen (signed to Minors deal): .227 BA (10-for-44), 1 HR, 3 RBI — finished 10/27
AAA RP Ryan Brasier: 2.45 ERA, 12 SV, 27 SO, 8 BB, 25 2/3 IP — finished 12/5

VENEZUELA

INF Luis Rodriguez (signed to Minors deal): .273 BA (42-for-154), 1 HR, 18 RBI
RP Brandon Sisk (acquired for Ervin Santana): 3 ER, 2 2/3 IP, 3 G — finished 10/18
AAA SP Matt Shoemaker: 1-2, 3.21 ERA, 7 GS, 25 SO, 8 BB, 33 2/3 IP — finished 11/17

Alden 

Bourjos trade suddenly seems likely …

The Angels’ stunning agreement with free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton probably means that Peter Bourjos is once again on the trading block. Bourjos hardly played last season, after putting up solid numbers in 2011, but seemed primed to be the starting center fielder in 2013 now that Torii Hunter is gone.

That changed quickly on Thursday. A lot of options are still on the table, but the latest move may mean Hamilton plays left field, Mike Trout is in center, Mark Trumbo is in right and Bourjos, once again, is on the block for a starting pitcher (R.A. Dickey?).

Reached by phone, here’s what Bourjos said (he has not been informed of any trade just yet, by the way) …

On being on the trading block again … 

“Obviously this game’s a business, and you know that going into it that you can eventually be traded. If you have an opportunity, from a management standpoint, to sign Josh Hamilton, I think you do it. And then, wherever the pieces fall with me or whatever they do, you handle that aspect.”

On planning to be the everyday center fielder again … 

“You know, I really don’t plan on anything after what happened last year. Not that I didn’t believe what was said in the paper, I just know how quickly this game can change and how opportunities arise. I never really got my hopes up. Obviously I want to stay in Anaheim and play there. I’m not sure what’s going to happen now. But at the end of the day, from my perspective, I just want to play. I really don’t want to go through what I went through last year where I wasn’t playing. The last two months, I got like three at-bats. So hopefully, if I’m the odd man out, hopefully they’re willing to trade me and I’m able to go somewhere and play every day.” 

If Hamilton signs, is your preference to be traded … 

“If that’s the case. I don’t know what their plans are; obviously I want to stay in Anaheim. If it’s a situation where I can play every day, then I absolutely would love to stay there. I love everybody from Arte Moreno on down — John Carpino, Jerry Dipoto, all the guys in the team. That’s where I’d like to be. But if I’m going to be in the position where I was last year, then obviously I’d want to play every day.”

Alden 

Angels positioning themselves for big move?

It seemed like the Angels were mostly done for the offseason, after acquiring two starting pitchers (Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton) and two back-end relievers (Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett) to push their payroll to about $140 million.

But maybe that has changed.

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney wrote via Twitter on Thursday that the Angels are “positioning themselves for a big strike in the market,” speculating that high-priced free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton could be the target. Joe McDonnell of FOXSportsWest.com attributed a Major League source in tweeting that the Angels are in serious negotiations with Hamilton.

On Wednesday, when the four new pitchers were introduced at the ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said: “I don’t feel like anything else is imminent, I don’t feel like anything else is pressing and I don’t think anything else is required.” And a source told MLB.com that if the Angels do make another signing, it’d probably be in January if the market dries up on a starting pitcher, prompting him to take much lower than expected.

But has owner Arte Moreno suddenly decided to stretch out the budget once more, like he did last offseason to acquire Albert Pujols? And is it a reaction to the big-ticket moves made by the Dodgers, as Olney speculated?

Perhaps.

– Alden Gonzalez 

Angels 12/10 tidbits …

Too long for Twitter, too short for a story …

* Joe Blanton and Sean Burnett are scheduled to undergo their physical examinations on Tuesday and their two-year contracts are expected to be official by Wednesday.

* Blanton’s deal will pay him $6.5 million in 2013 and $7.5 million in 2014, plus an $8 million club option (and $1 million buyout). The 31-year-old right-hander can also make an extra $500,000 each year for reaching 200 innings. Burnett signed a two-year, $8 million contract with a $4.5 million club option for 2015 (with a $500,000 buyout).

* Zack Greinke‘s six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers has been finalized. His press conference will take place Tuesday, at 1:30 p.m. PT, at Dodger Stadium. It’ll be streamed live on Dodgers.com, too.

* The first workout for Angels pitchers and catchers is Feb. 12. The first full-squad workout will take place Feb. 15. You can see the full Cactus League schedule here.

* Major League Baseball Advanced Media and StubHub.com announced a new five-year deal on Monday, but the Angels, Yankees and Cubs backed out of that extension. The Angels seek an alternative partnership in the secondary ticket market and are expected to announce a new deal soon.

Alden 

Scioscia talks Greinke, Trout, Wells …

IMG_3177

Angels manager Mike Scioscia met with the media from the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, the final full day of the Winter Meetings. With the pitching market moving slowly — and likely staying that way until Zack Greinke chooses his destination — the Angels haven’t addressed their final rotation and bullpen need, and there are still no indications that they’ll do so before heading back West.

In a wide-ranging interview, Scioscia talked about the Angels’ pursuit of Greinke — who he hasn’t talked to since the end of the regular season, the addition of Ryan Madson, the new-look outfield, Mike Trout‘s future spot in the outfield and Vernon Wells‘ limited role.

Here are the highlights …

Any sense you guys will be able to do something today?

Well, you know, there’s a lot of things that Jerry [Dipoto] is working on, and I think the important thing about this time of year is really not only who you’re targeting but the contingencies.  Those guys have put a lot of time in and a lot of effort into getting us ready to go whatever direction negotiations take you, whatever direction these Winter Meetings take you.  We’re very, very comfortable and confident in the team that we’re going to have. I think there are already some things that were vastly improved on from where we were in September. We’ll see where this leads.

Any concerns from a rotation standpoint, numbers and maybe some of the quality, as we get through right now?

Well, we have right now a couple good guys to build around when you talk about Jered [Weaver] and you talk about C.J. [Wilson]. Obviously there’s some young guys coming up, guys like Garrett [Richards] that are obviously going to have opportunities, Jerome Williams.  But when you talk about the Greinkes, you talk about a lot of the other pitchers that are still out there right now with some question marks as to are they going to be part of your team or not, you know, there are things you have to prepare for.

So yeah, starting rotation is obviously the heartbeat of your club, and I know that Jerry is putting a lot of time and effort into it. And I think as we’re waiting for that to hopefully develop and get solidified, there have been some great additions that we’re very, very excited about.

What dialogue, if any, have you had with Zack over the winter or maybe in the last week or two?

The dialogue is really going to be between Jerry and his agent. I think Zack was very comfortable here at the end of last year, pitched very, very good baseball for us. Free agency is complicated. Right now we’re at a stage where I don’t know if there’s as much clarity as there are in some other areas that are going on, but he’s certainly a guy that I know that they’re talking to.

 So have you talked to him at all?

I talked to Zack at the end of the season.

Even if you solidify the pitching staff the way you want, would you still consider it a disappointment if Greinke isn’t part of it?

I don’t know if you ever are going to say, well, this is disappointing and that’s disappointing. You want to see what direction negotiations take your team and what direction Winter Meetings take your team. I think we’re going to have a strong rotation with or without Zack. Naturally we’d like Zack to be part of it because we saw where he was and what he did for us last year, but if it plays out that way, then obviously that’s important.  If it doesn’t go that way, I think there are some names that Jerry is certainly ‑‑ there’s some names that he’s in negotiations with that hopefully are going to take our rotation where it needs to be.

How do you feel about the bullpen right now?

I think it’s terrific. I think that when you look at a guy like Madson and you look at adding him to what [Ernesto] Frieri did and [Kevin Jepsen‘s] development, and you look at [Scott] Downs, there are so many situations where we didn’t hold leads the way we needed to last season. And I think going into this year, if everyone hits the ground running as far as our bullpen, we’re going to hold leads at a much better rate, and that’s going to definitely influence where we finish our standings.

If he’s healthy, is Madson the closer?

Well, there’s no doubt that he wants to be and has the potential to be. But I don’t think we have to make that determination right now.  I think that where Ryan is is certainly one factor. Where Ernie is, if you look at Scott Downs who had saves last year, where Kevin Jepsen is, our bullpen is much deeper right now, and that’s encouraging. It’s always easier when that one guy emerges and can be the closer. If that is what materializes, great; if it doesn’t, then we’re going to hold leads in different ways and have the good arms to do it.

How will the loss of Torii Hunter impact your team on and off the field?

There’s no doubt it impacts our club. I think when you lose a presence in the clubhouse ‑‑ I think we have plenty of guys in the clubhouse that are a presence, and they’ll absorb that.  I think what we have to carve out is that No. 2 spot that Torii just fit like a glove. He took that role and he just ran with it and got back to his roots of being a young player coming up and getting into a situational game and played at a high level for us.  That’s what we have to, I think, be able to replicate, and hopefully we will.

What are you thinking for the 2-hole?

There’s a lot of guys we can revisit, but I think if you look at where Erick [Aybar] was and where Howie [Kendrick] was as they moved on in the season and got more comfortable, there’s certainly going to be some spots for that.  Where we end up at the end of these Meetings and going into Spring Training will have a lot to do with who’s going to hit in the No. 2 spot.

Do you still have Trout leading off next year?

There’s definitely things that we’ve talked about. If you look at Mike Trout and where he can hit, he can hit anywhere from 1 to 4 in your lineup.  Where you’re going to get the most production from Mike, he fell right into lead‑off hole and was just natural, but you certainly want to set the table for Mike, and I think as a lead‑off hitter, there’s certainly an argument to saying how much are your 8 and 9 guys getting on for Mike to be able to justify putting him in that spot.  He might be suited to hit second in your lineup if you had the right combination.

I think there’s a lot of lineups that you can roll around right now. I think the one thing with Mike that was incredible was really the number of RBIs he had or really maybe not getting as many opportunities as some guys, and that’s something you would definitely explore when you’re putting lineups together.

 What do you think [Peter] Bourjos can do offensively?

I think Peter had a good 2011 for us. If you look at how he did particularly in the second half where his on‑base percentage improved, I think you saw some power evolve. Pete’s obviously a presence in the outfield, but he still needs to bring us some offense, which he’s definitely capable of doing.

There’s some people that may not have seen a lot of Bourjos that go, ‘Hey, you have somebody that’s a better center fielder than Mike Trout?’

I think Mike has the tools to play an incredible level of center field, and with experience I think you’ll see Mike improve on some things as a center fielder.  Not that he was really deficient, but you’re going to see some routes that are going to be cleaner. It just happens with experience.  Peter had a little more time to play in the Minor Leagues and work on some things and is probably a little more polished in center field right now than Mike. And I think that says more about Peter’s ability than it does to say any deficiency that Mike has, because Mike Trout is a Gold Glove caliber center fielder. But Peter plays to a special level.

I’m assuming you will play him at left, Peter in center?  What is the overall reason you would say, one or two reasons, and is there something to be said for exposing Mike a little less to some of the rigors defensively?

I don’t think that’s as much to where you think the pieces fit that give you the best defensive look you can have. You know, Peter is very polished on stopping at first and third, he’s got incredible range at center field he’s going to play, and there’s some things from a center fielder look that Peter is going to give you that gives you a chance to have a really dynamic outfield if that’s the way it plays out. Mike in left field and Peter in center, especially in our park, are going to give you range plus out there, and you know, we’ll see how things unfold.

If your question is taking pressure off of Mike going to be one of the reasons why we would go with that alignment, I’d say no. I’d say he can play center field every day. We wouldn’t shy away from that if that’s going to make us a better team.

What do you think you can get out of Vernon Wells this year?

Well, you know, Vernon is a guy that we’ve seen struggle for a couple years. I talked to Vernon over the winter about it. I think that for him to find his comfort zone and get into his game, he’s a guy that’s much more talented than he’s shown in the last couple years. Part of him was slowed a little bit with the groin injury in ’11, and then last season with the thumb. It’s been frustrating not only for Vernon but for us as a staff because of the talent. You still see the bat speed there. You see a guy that can play at a higher level, and you know, we’ll see where Vernon is. But he’s been very frustrated, also.

Alden

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