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Angels takeaways, Week 1 …

joshThe Angels just got swept! At home! To the team that swept them last October! And now they’re under .500! Another slow start! Why, God, why!?

Perspective is an invaluable trait this time of year. Six games have been played, which accounts for 3.09 percent of the regular season. Teams will get hot, then cold, then hot, then cold again. The season is that long. And the hope of every club, as Angels catcher Chris Iannetta likes to frequently point out, is to stay within reach for most of the year and get hot late. That’s what the 2014 Angels did, on their way to a Major League-best 98 wins. That’s what the 2015 Angels hope to do, at 2-4 entering a six-game road trip through Arlington and Houston.

Here are some takeaways from the first full week of real games …

Hamilton situation is getting ugly: For a while now, people around the team had been getting the impression that there was a strong chance Josh Hamilton would never play a game for the Angels again. Those sentiments were essentially confirmed on Friday, when owner Arte Moreno couldn’t guarantee that Hamilton would rejoin the team and talked about pursuing action against the high-priced outfielder for his drug-related relapse. Nobody from Hamilton’s camp — himself or his agent — has spoken up. But on Saturday, Angels starter C.J. Wilson expressed displeasure in the Angels’ comments, telling the LA Times, “It doesn’t seem like any bridges are being built,” and telling the OC Register, “If Josh was hitting .300 with 35 home runs a year, what’s the situation?”

From the outside, it seems as if this whole Hamilton saga — however it ends — is a huge distraction for the team, one that has divided the players from ownership. Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t think Wilson’s anger is necessarily felt by the rest of his teammates. They all love Hamilton as a person — how can you not? — but it’s not as if they’re clamoring to get him back, or are upset he isn’t being given a second chance. Sad as this may sound, it all comes back to production, and Hamilton hasn’t produced for them the last two years. Wilson is closer to Hamilton than anybody on the Angels, dating back to their days with the Rangers. He looks at it a little bit more personally. The rest of the team pretty much looks at it like this: We hope the best for Hamilton and his family off the field, but on the field, we’re fine without him.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t a contentious situation, however. Moreno clearly wants to negotiate some sort of buyout or trade here, but this could be a long, drawn-out battle. Hamilton is owed — no, guaranteed — $83 million through the 2017 season. So why would he take a penny less? Perhaps so he could join another team to continue his career, since Moreno has pretty much made it clear it won’t happen with the Angels. But how much is that worth, in terms of a discount for the Angels? Over the weekend, the Angels are in Houston, the city where Hamilton has been rehabbing from shoulder surgery since early February. The team doesn’t expect to see him. It’s awkward.

Weaver shaky: In his first two starts of the season, Jered Weaver has given up 10 runs on 15 hits (three of them homers) in 10 1/3 innings, prompting the national freakout that has pretty much become an April tradition. His velocity is down again, which is perhaps of most relevance. It’s 84.01 mph on his fastball, after being 87.5 mph in 2014, 87.3 mph in 2013, 88.7 mph in 2012 and 90.1 mph in 2011. Weaver has proven time and time again that he doesn’t need an overpowering fastball to be a reliable, top-of-the-rotation starter. And as Eric Hosmer pointed out to Lyle Spencer after Weaver’s rough start on Saturday, Weaver’s fastball plays up because of his length and delivery (even to a left-handed hitter, apparently).

The only thing you typically care about with Weaver — and the reason being three ticks down is a red flag — is that his right arm is healthy. He started slow last year, too, with a 5.79 ERA after three starts. And eventually he figured it out and turned in a very solid year. His velocity may not be debilitating, but it makes him have to be almost precise with his location and command. And because his delivery has so many moving parts, sometimes it takes him a while to get everything in sync with his release point and his landing leg. Eventually, though, he gets it. And when he does, his fastball velocity picks up a tick or two, like it did down the stretch last season. But the velo has never been as low as it has these last two starts. It’s worth monitoring.

Punchless out of the gate: So far, the same Angels offense that led the Majors in runs last season is 25th in the Majors in OPS (.577), tied for 25th in runs (16) and tied for 28th in batting average (.195). They have four hits in 23 at-bats with runners in scoring position and they haven’t stolen a single base. C.J. Cron is 0-for-13 after a hot spring, while Iannetta is 1-for-18 with 10 — yes, 10 — strikeouts. But hey, it’s really, really early. The Nationals have scored only 13 runs all year, and they’re going to be a juggernaut. The Angels’ offense should eventually be pretty darn good, too. A little slump coming out of spring is nothing six games in Texas can’t fix.

Reinforcements on the way: One aspect that was continually touted about the Angels heading in was their improved starting-pitching depth, and how they were no longer in deep trouble if one of their original five — or in this case, four — struggled. We may see that materialize pretty soon. Garrett Richards is slated for what very well could be his final step on Tuesday, a rehab start for Triple-A Salt Lake, and could return to the rotation by early next week. And the two rotation candidates of Spring Training, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano, have thrown well in Triple-A. Heaney pitched seven shutout innings, giving up two hits, walking none and striking out eight. Tropeano pitched six innings of three-run ball, giving up two hits, walking none and striking out seven.

On the Major League side, Wilson was great on Tuesday (eight shutout innings with less than 100 pitches), but really bad on Sunday (seven runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings). Hector Santiago pitched well in Friday’s home opener, but he needed 100 pitches to record 16 outs. The Angels’ ideal pitching staff has Santiago in the bullpen as a dynamic lefty weapon, but that will only be the case if Heaney or Tropeano force their way into the big leagues. They need to prove that with more than one start.

Matchup bullpen taking shape: So far, though, their two current lefty relievers, Cesar Ramos and Jose Alvarez, are getting the job done. A real difference maker for the Angels this season is having Joe Smith and Huston Street entrenched as the eighth- and ninth-inning relievers. It not only solidifies the last six outs of a lead; it gives Mike Scioscia the freedom to match up in the seventh or earlier. That’s when Ramos and Alvarez can come into play against lefties, with Mike Morin being the go-to guy against righties. The two have combined to hold lefties to two hits and no walks in nine at-bats, striking out three. Neither are traditional lefty specialists. Alvarez is a last-minute converted starter; Ramos has been used mainly in multi-inning roles throughout his career. But it’d be big for the Angels if they can be effective against lefties. There are a lot of dangerous left-handed hitters in the American League West.

Alden

Lineups and Notes, Game 4 …

Garrett Richards came out of his last start saying, “I feel ready to go.” The 26-year-old right-hander threw seven innings of two-run ball in an intrasquad game on Thursday, the fourth rehab start in Richards’ recovery from left knee surgery. But Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he’ll make at least one more start, for Triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday. My guess is he returns to the Angels’ rotation on April 21.

“He still has some hurdles to get over,” Scioscia said.

The Angels are hosting the Royals team that swept them in the ALDS last year.

“Those guys just beat us,” Scioscia said. “Those plays they made defensively were not only game changers, but series changers at the time were made. Those guys made plays at every level. Sometimes it’s not so much what you haven’t done that lost a series or a game. Those guys played at a very, very high level. I’m proud of the season that we had. The disappointment of not going to the playoffs was there, but our guys gave it everything they had.”

Lineups …

Royals (3-0)

Alcides Escobar, SS
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Lorenzo Cain, CF
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Alex Gordon, LF
Alex Rios, RF
Salvador Perez, C
Omar Infante, 2B

SP: LH Jason Vargas (0-0, -.– ERA)

Angels (2-1)

Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
David Freese, 3B
C.J. Cron, DH
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C
Collin Cowgill, LF
Johnny Giavotella, 2B

SP: LH Hector Santiago (0-0, -.– ERA)

  • Arte Moreno said the Angels had language in Josh Hamilton‘s contract that gave them recourse in the event of a drug-related relapse, even though that typically isn’t allowed. Asked if he can say Hamilton will play another game for them this season, Moreno said, “I will not say that.”
  • Matt Joyce, as you’ve probably noticed, is not in a lineup against a lefty for a second consecutive time.
  • The Angels are still “targeting” Drew Rucinski to start Tuesday’s game, which is the first time the Angels need a fifth starter.

Alden

Moreno: Angels have recourse for Hamilton relapse …

Angels owner Arte Moreno said prior to Friday’s home opener that Josh Hamilton has language in his contract that gives the team an avenue for recourse if he drinks alcohol or uses drugs. Moreno didn’t go into specifics as to what that recourse would entail, but he did hint that the team is pursuing action against their high-priced outfielder, who had a drug-related relapse late in the offseason and has been rehabbing shoulder surgery in Houston ever since.

Seven days ago, an arbitrator ruled that Hamilton did not violate the terms of his treatment program, leaving Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred without any power to levy a suspension. That noticeably angered the Angels, with president John Carpino saying in a statement that the decision “defies logic” and general manager Jerry Dipoto saying the club is “disappointed” in Hamilton.

Hamilton hasn’t been with the team all year. He didn’t have a locker at their Spring Training facility and he doesn’t have one at Angel Stadium, either. Asked if he could say Hamilton will play another game for the Angels this season, Moreno said, “I will not say that.”

A buyout or a trade would be very difficult, given that Hamilton — entering his age-34 season, recovering from right AC joint surgery on Feb. 4 and coming off two unproductive season — is owed $83 million and has a full no-trade clause. The contract language Moreno mentioned could change everything, though.

Normally teams are not allowed to put any additional language to protect them against usage of drugs or performance-enhancing substances. That’s what the Joint Drug Agreement is intended to protect against.

Moreno said you can add additional language to a contract if all sides — the player, his agents, MLB and the MLB Players Association — agrees.

“We have a contract with Hamilton, and in that contract, there’s specific language that he signed, and his agents approved, that said he cannot drink and use drugs,” Moreno said”. So we have specific language in the agreement. … We have a couple of other players that have the same thing.”

Moreno said he hasn’t spoken to Hamilton. Asked why, Moreno said: “Probably disappointed. But I think more than anything, we look at accountability — with all of our players. … I think that’s probably the biggest word here. We understand that he’s had struggles, and obviously he’s still having struggles, but the reality is there’s accountability. When you make an agreement, you need to stand up.”

Alden

Richards’ return, MiLB Opening Day, new grub …

Garrett RichardsGarrett Richards pitched seven innings during an intrasquad game in Arizona on Thursday, giving up two runs on four hits, walking three, striking out 12 and throwing 96 pitches.

The 26-year-old right-hander is next slated to make a Minor League start on April 14 (the first day the Angels need a fifth starter, with Drew Rucinski likely taking the ball in Texas that day). If all goes well, the next step after that for Richards would be returning to the rotation.

My educated guess on when Richards returns to the rotation: April 21.

Another off day on the 16th creates a lot of flexibility, but I’d guess Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Matt Shoemaker pitch the three-game, weekend series in Houston April 17-19 on five days’ rest, then Hector Santiago takes the ball at home against the A’s on Monday, April 20, on the regular four days’ rest. That means Richards starts the next day (again, barring a setback). It would put Richards on six days’ rest heading into his first start, which is time to throw a longer bullpen session to make certain that he’s right.

The Minor League season began Thursday, while the Angels were off. Here’s a look at what the Triple-A Salt Lake roster looks like (this is as strong a group as they’ve had in a while; a testament to the depth the front office has built) …

Catchers: Jett Bandy, Charlie Cutler, Carlos Perez
Infielders: Travis Adair (2B)*, Marc Krauss (1B/LF/RF), Kyle Kubitza (3B), Josh Rutledge (SS), Ryan Wheeler (1B/3B), Alex Yarbrough (2B)
Outfielders: Grant Green (LF/2B/3B/SS), Roger Kieschnick (LF/CF/RF), Alfredo Marte (LF/CF/RF), Daniel Robertson (LF/CF/RF)
Rotation (in order): LH Adam Wilk, LH Andrew Heaney, RH Nick Tropeano, RH Alex Sanabia, RH Zach Stewart
Bullpen: RH Cam Bedrosian, RH Steve Hensley, RH Frank Herrmann, LH Edgar Ibarra, RH Ryan Mattheus, RH Jeremy McBryde, LH Atahualpa Severino, LH Scott Snodgress

And here’s a look at how each of the Angels’ Top 30 Prospects did in their 2015 debuts (the top prospect, Heaney, starts Friday) …

Angels Spring Baseball2: SP Sean Newcomb (Class A Burlington): 5 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 9 SO
3: SS Roberto Baldoquin (Class A Inland Empire): 0-for-4, 3 SO
6: Bedrosian (Triple-A Salt Lake): 1 2/3 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 SO
7: Kubitza (Triple-A Salt Lake): 1-for-3, 2B, BB, SO
8: SP Nate Smith (Double-A Arkansas): 6 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 6 SO
10: SP Chris Ellis (Class A Inland Empire): 5 IP, 3 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 7 SO
14: Yarbrough (Triple-A Salt Lake): 2-for-5, 2 SO
16: 3B Kaleb Cowart (Class A Inland Empire): 2-for-4
18: OF Natanael Delgado (Class A Burlington): 0-for-4, RBI, 2 SO
20: Perez (Triple-A Salt Lake): 1-for-4
23: SS Eric Stamets (Double-A Arkansas): 1-for-4
28: 2B Kody Eaves (Class A Inland Empire): 0-for-4, 2 SO

* on the 7-day DL

angel20stadium20outside20night

The Angels’ home opener is today, against the Royals team that swept them out of the ALDS last year. Mike Witt will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. In response to Major League Baseball’s screening mandate, metal detectors have been installed throughout the ballpark. To allow for more time, gates are opening two hours before game time this year, an extra half-hour.

Here’s a look at what’s new with Angels concessions, with information passed along by the Angels’ catering company, Legends Hospitality …

Smoke Ring BBQ Express: Located on Section 237, on the Terrace Level; previously a video game location; features their signature Smoke Ring BBQ Brisket Sandwich.

“A” Wine Cellar: Positioned next to the Oakley store in Section 111 on the main Field Level; features a wide variety of wine by the bottle, served in a souvenir Angels-branded wine decanter; Great American Wine and Woodwork wines offered by the glass; new lounge space located directly across, with three flat-screen TV’s showing the game.

SHOCK TOP Brew Pub: Previously Knothole Club; new items — beer-battered jidori chicken breast, with smoked jalapeño aoli and pickled cabbage slaw on a brioche bun; house-made Bavarian-style soft pretzel sticks, with sweet butter, meld on sea salt and SHOCK TOP beer cheese.

Battered Up: Located at the first- and third-base food courts; previously Jack In The Box; features OC Fair-type food, like funnel cake fries, corn dogs, churros, garlic and regular fries and chicken tenders.

Burger Bites: Previously Jack In The Box; now a destination for burger sliders, served on Hawaiian King Rolls with cheddar cheese and special sauce.

Acai Bowls: Located at Melissa’s window on the third-base food court on Field Level; healthy Brazilian power fruit dessert, with fresh bananas, strawberries, granola and honey.

Hand Dipped Ice Cream: Both club level concession stands, in Sections 317 and 334, will now feature hand-dipped ice cream on waffle bowls.

Nicky Enzo’s Italian Water Ice: Frozen dessert now available on the Terrace Level Concourse on Section 229.

Legends Dog: A foot-long hot dog topped with Smoke Ring BBQ brisket; it was a “secret” item last year that became a favorite, so they’ve added it to the Smoke Ring BBQ on Gate 1 and the Farmer John BBQ stand in Section 242.

Nacho Dog: Available at the Nacho Nachos stand on Section 424, View Level; a foot long hot dog topped with nacho cheese, guacamole and pico de gallo.

Ketel One Club: Previously HALO CLUB; new happy-hour pricing, with hand-rolled sushi station.

Diamond Club: New offerings — nachos with queso fundido, house-made chorizo, pickled onion, cilantro and avocado salsa; fried cashews; house-made potato chips; and carnitas tostadas, with pork cheek, pickled onion and salsa verde.

Alden

Lineups and Notes, Game 3 …

The Angels have been a target of heavy scrutiny of late, with many criticizing their response to news that Josh Hamilton wouldn’t be suspended and some even suggesting that they leaked news of Hamilton’s situation, which violates the collectively bargained Joint Drug Agreement.

But Commissioner Rob Manfred indicated Wednesday that Major League Baseball is not investigating the Angels for alleged leaks, saying, “I have no reason to believe that the Angels did anything inappropriate.”

An arbitrator ruled Friday that Hamilton would not be suspended for a drug-related relapse, mainly because he self-reported the issue before a failed drug test. A statement written under general manager Jerry Dipoto said the Angels were “disappointed” in Hamilton. President John Carpino said, “It defies logic that Josh’s reported behavior is not a violation of his current program.”

Asked if he believes those comments will make it difficult for Hamilton to play for the Angels, Manfred said: “I’m sure that the club and the player will find a way to work together going forward. I don’t think it’s as serious a problem as a go-forward basis as it might appear to some.”

The Angels don’t have any further updates on Hamilton, but they’ll be in Houston next week, where Hamilton has been rehabbing from shoulder surgery since the team began Spring Training.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia doesn’t know if Hamilton will even be around the team then.

“I think right now the most important thing for Josh is to make sure he’s getting the help he needs, getting the support,” Scioscia said. “That’s where our concerns are. Well touch base with him.”

Angels (1-1)

Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Matt Joyce, DH
David Freese, 3B
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C
Efren Navarro, LF
Johnny Giavotella, 2B

SP: RH Matt Shoemaker (0-0, -.– ERA)

Mariners (1-1)

Austin Jackson, CF
Dustin Ackley, LF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nelson Cruz, RF
Kyle Seager, 3B
Rickie Weeks, DH
Logan Morrison, 1B
Mike Zunino, C
Brad Miller, SS

SP: Hisashi Iwakuma (0-0, -.– ERA)

Brooks Baseball had Jered Weaver averaging 83.5 mph on his fastball on Opening Day, which would be the slowest average fastball velocity of his career. Scioscia said he isn’t concerned: “It points more toward being in sync mechanically than anything else. He was missing up a lot, never really got his changeup into the game like he can. I wouldn’t say there’s any red flags. The way he finished up last year and the crispness he showed at times in the spring, hell get it.”

Alden

Lines and Notes, Game 2 …

Angels manager Mike Scioscia called Matt Joyce into his office early Tuesday afternoon to let him know he wouldn’t be in the lineup against Mariners lefty James Paxton, and perhaps also to ensure him that he isn’t a strict platoon player.

Joyce — heading into his final year before free agency — entered the season hopeful that he would be used in more of an everyday role, contrary to how he was used with the Rays, who gave him only 93 plate appearances against lefties. But he’s sitting against the first lefty of the season, with Collin Cowgill playing left field and David Freese moving into the cleanup spot. Scioscia explained to Joyce that he wants to incorporate his bench players more frequently early in the season.

Down the road,

“I wouldn’t say that I’m really surprised,” Joyce said of not being in the lineup. “For the last week, I haven’t really been dialed in. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. If I was squaring a lot of balls left and right and was feeling good this past week, I’d be a lot more surprised than I am. But that’s the way the game goes sometimes. It’s a tough game, and it’s even tougher to be really consistent at. But for me, I’m going to be prepared for later in the game, when the situation arises and he looks my way, to come in the clutch or whatever it may be.”

Joyce, a 30-year-old left-handed hitter, has a career .819 OPS against righties and a .573 OPS against lefties. It’s a double-edged sword: You’re not going to get at-bats against same-side pitchers if you aren’t good against them, but you can’t get good against them unless you see them often.

“It’s extremely tough,” Joyce said. “It’s extremely tough when you’re going well and you’re seeing them a lot. I don’t think it’s anything that I’m really frustrated with. I’ll take the at-bats from lefties as they come and just keep working, man. That’s all you can do. Keep preparing and keep grinding. It’s a long season, so I’m sure I’ll get plenty of at-bats against them.”

Here are the lineups …

Angels (0-1)

Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Freese, 3B
C.J. Cron, DH
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C
Cowgill, LF
Johnny Giavotella, 2B

SP: LH C.J. Wilson (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Mariners (1-0)

Rickie Weeks, DH
Austin Jackson, CF
Robinson, Cano, 2B
Nelson Cruz, RF
Kyle Seager, 3B
Justin Ruggiano, LF
Logan Morrison, 1B
Mike Zunino, C
Brad Miller, SS

SP: LH Paxton (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Huston Street didn’t want to talk about a potential extension on Monday, but was more than happy to take questions Tuesday and echoed the same sentiments Jerry Dipoto had prior to Opening Day: Talks have been good, and they will continue.

“We are close enough that I’m still engaged,” said Street, who was self represented but rehired his former agent, Alan Hendricks, to do the bulk of the negotiating with the team because the season has begun.

“I wanted to get it done before [the season], as every player does, for no other reason than it allows you to be singularly focused on your teammates. But the parameters are pretty clear based on timetables. The only thing that could shift anything is the amount of time it takes. Signing a contrat in April is a little different than signing in August. But we have a clear understanding of how timing of getting something done may or may not shift those parameters.”

Street wouldn’t go into specifics of how much of the deal is done and what the chances are that something will be done, but said, “I’m a blend of hopeful and optimistic.”

Alden

Lineups and Notes, Opening Day edition …

It sounds crazy, but this is the first time in seven years that Seattle — cool city, great ballpark, retractable roof — has hosted an Opening Day. On this day 38 years ago, Frank Tanana pitched a shutout in Seattle in a 7-0 win for the Angels. The Angels have won nine of their last 11 Opening Days, but lost last year. In fact, the Mariners swept the Angels at Angel Stadium to open the 2014 season, outscoring them by 18 runs in the process.

Jered Weaver (seven) is tied for the third-most Opening Day starts since 2006, along with James Shields, Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay. The only two ahead of him are CC Sabathia (nine) and his Monday opponent, Felix Hernandez (eight). With Johnny Giavotella, 2015 marks the first time the Angels have had an Opening Day second baseman not named Howie Kendrick since Maicer Izturis in 2006.

The Mariners have been the Angels’ most frequent Opening Day opponent. They’re 6-4 against them to start the season, but were 7-12 against them last year. Weaver is 3-2 with a 2.31 ERA on Opening Day, 14-10 with a 3.37 ERA against the Mariners and 7-8 with a 4.49 ERA at Safeco Field.

Here are the lineups …

Angels (0-0)

Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Matt Joyce, LF
David Freese, 3B
Erick Aybar, SS
C.J. Cron, DH
Chris Iannetta, C
Giavotella, 2B

SP: RH Weaver (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Mariners (0-0)

Austin Jackson, CF
Seth Smith, RF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nelson Cruz, DH
Kyle Seager, 3B
Logan Morrison, 1B
Mike Zunino, C
Dustin Ackley, LF
Brad Miller, SS

SP: RH Hernandez (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

  • It’ll be interesting to see how the Angels use Taylor Featherston. They like his skills defensively, but he’s never played above Double-A. I think we’re going to see him play some second base late, with the Angels pinch-hitting Giavotella against a tough right-handed reliever. “I think what he lacks in experience, his athleticism and talent will make up for,” Mike Scioscia said. “We’re not going to be afraid to use him.”
  • Scioscia is leaning towards Drew Rucinski to start on April 14, the first day the Angels need a fifth starter. Jose Alvarez is not stretched out enough, and Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano are not on schedule for that day.
  • Garrett Richards is here to take part in the Opening Day ceremonies. He’ll then pitch in a camp game on Thursday and start a rehab assignment April 14, though he could make only one start and then be available the next time through the order.
  • The seventh inning “is going to be a matchup” with the bullpen, Scioscia said. I expect Mike Morin to get most of the time there, but we could see Fernando Salas being used against lefties. He was pretty effective against them last year.
  • Will Cron be an everyday player, or will he sit against tough righties (today being an exception)? “I think C.J. will get a lion’s share of at-bats at first base and DH,” Scioscia said. “We gotta get bench guys in games, too, to make sure they’re sharp, keep starters fresh, but the plan is to get C.J. in there a lot. No doubt this spring he swung the bat better than last year. We want to give him a chance to contribute.”

Alden

Extension with Street ‘still possible’ …

Opening Day is here, but a contract extension with Huston Street is “still possible,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said.

“There were no deadlines in place,” Dipoto said prior to Monday’s game from Safeco Field. ‘We’re continuing to discuss. He wants to be here, we want him here. We’re not in a rush to get to anything, and we never will.”

Street, self-represented, is entering his final season before free agency and has been in casual negotiations with the Angels about an extension since the early stages of the offseason. The veteran closer previously said he would only continue to negotiate an extension past Opening Day if both sides have the parameters in place, but there’s no indication if that’s the case.

Street, who declined to speak with the media prior to Monday’s game, was initially seeking a four-year deal between $36 million and $46 million. One of those years would ideally replace his $7 million salary for the 2015 season, and that can still happen, as long as he finishes the year making his new salary. A higher salary in 2015 would be more beneficial to the Angels because they have $10 million to $15 million of wiggle room below the luxury-tax threshold.

“We have all year to negotiate with Huston,” Dipoto said, “and as long as he’s going to remain open to the possibility, so are we. But it’s not something that we have predetermined is going to happen, nor has he. We’re staying open to the possibility.”

The Angels were previously in a holding pattern while waiting on clarity regarding Josh Hamilton‘s situation. The fact he won’t be suspended means they get no additional salary relief, which may impact how much they’re willing to pay Street. But both sides remain interested, and they seem willing to keep negotiating.

Dipoto said the talks have had a “friendly tone.”

“We’re not hard-core negotiation at a table staring at each other trying to find whether we will or we won’t,” he said.

Alden

And so it begins …

safeco-fieldOpening Day is finally here, and Safeco Field seems like a fitting place to start. It’s home to the team many have picked to win the American League West. And it kicks off with a matchup between Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver, the two guys who have made the most consecutive Opening Day starts in the Majors (Hernandez at seven, Weaver at six).

But Opening Day is only a ceremonial thing. “One of 162,” as many say. The season is long and arduous. And by the end of it, what happens on Opening Day or even in the first series will be nothing but a distant memory (like last year, when the Mariners embarrassed the Angels with a lopsided sweep in Southern California at the start of April).

If the Angels want to win another division title, they’ll have to answer several questions over the course of these next six months. And below are the seven most prominent …

1. What becomes of Josh Hamilton?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the Angels aren’t necessarily in a welcoming mood with Hamilton, who’s still recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be suspended for a self-reported drug relapse. The tone of their statements after news broke — and what they’ve said privately leading up to it — made you wonder if they even want him around. He’s a very likable guy, but he hasn’t lived up to his massive contract and his latest relapse struck a nerve with the Angels’ brass (make of that what you will). He won’t be going away, though. He’s owed $83 million over the next three years, so the Angels have to see what they get out of him. How does he fit into the roster? What type of production does he provide in his age-34 season? And how does he mesh with a team that may be better off without him? It’ll be the most fascinating storyline this season.

2. How good is Garrett Richards?

Richards has yet to allow a run in three Minor League outings and could return to the rotation by April 19 if all goes well, which means he basically misses only two starts. How good will he be upon returning, though? As good as he was leading up to the season-ending left knee injury he suffered Aug. 20? If so, this Angels rotation — with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago set to open the season — is more dangerous than people think. If not, they’re very vulnerable. A lot rides on Richards’ 26-year-old right arm (not to mention that left knee).

3. What will the Angels get out of second base?

They aren’t fooling themselves into thinking they’ll replicate the production of Howie Kendrick. If C.J. Cron takes the next step in his maturation process (see: patience), David Freese stretches his last four months into a full season and Albert Pujols continues to look as good as he did this spring, they won’t need it. But replacement level production would be nice. Johnny Giavotella will get the first crack, but we may see many guys play second base this year.

4. Who gets the lefties out?

The Angels haven’t had a true lefty specialist since the 2012 version of Scott Downs, and Downs wasn’t really used as a lefty specialist. Last year, the Angels’ go-to reliever to get lefty hitters out was the right-handed Fernando Salas, who has a nice changeup that darts away from left-handed hitters. Ideally, they’d have that traditional left-on-lefty guy. Mike Scioscia has mentioned Cesar Ramos and Jose Alvarez as possibilities, but they’re multi-inning relievers who don’t have the big stuff that plays in that role. The next hope would be Santiago, but that would hinge on Andrew Heaney or Nick Tropeano developing well enough to warrant Santiago’s current rotation spot.

5. How do they upgrade the roster?

Even without saving any money on Hamilton’s contract, the Angels enter the season with $10 to $15 million of wiggle room. That’s what Arte Moreno said early in camp. It’s more payroll flexibility than they’ve had in a while, and they plan to use it. Question is, how? Do they get a second baseman, even though there aren’t many of them out there? (Chase Utley looks like a long shot, because of how intimidating his contract is and because of his no-trade clause). Do they get an outfield/DH bat? Do they get a starting pitcher (a lot of big names are entering their walk years)? Or do they add more bullpen pieces, like they did last year? June/July should be very eventful.

6. What kind of year does Mike Trout have?

You could reasonably expect a great one, considering he stays healthy. But how does he follow up a season that saw him win the AL MVP unanimously? We saw Trout transition into more of a power game last year, hitting more home runs and stealing fewer bases. But he’s only 23 years old, scary as that seems, and he’s still figuring out who he’s going to be in this game. My guess is he cuts down those strikeouts — I don’t know anyone who truly believes Trout is a 180-strikeout-a-year player — but doesn’t increase his stolen-base total by much. The Angels seem content with how often they sent Trout last year. Teams watch him closely and, far more relevant in this matter, steals cause a lot of wear and tear on the body.

7. Are the Angels better than the Mariners?

That’s probably what it’s going to come down to. The Mariners are a popular pick to win the division, because their rotation could be something fierce, their bullpen was one of the best in the game last season and their lineup got a big missing piece they needed in power hitter Nelson Cruz. But the Angels return the core group of a team that led the Majors in wins and finished second in run-differential last year. They’re starting a season with what should be a reliable bullpen for the first time since Jerry Dipoto came on board in October 2011 and they carry the confidence of succeeding with this group.

It should be interesting.

And to get you ready, here’s a look at our Opening Day content, in case you missed anything …

MORE LINKS! An updated depth chart is here, injury updates are here, pitching probables are here and a look at the top 30 prospects is here. You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And you can subscribe to my weekly Angels podcast with Richard Justice here.

MLB.com compiled dozens of predictions on who will win each division, how the postseason will play out and where all the major individual awards will go. Below were my picks, if you’re interested …

NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Dodgers
AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: White Sox
AL West: Angels
NL Wild Cards: Marlins, Pirates
AL Wild Cards: Mariners, Indians
NL champion: Nationals
AL champion: Angels
World Series champion: Nationals
NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer
NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant
AL MVP: Josh Donaldson
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
AL Rookie of the Year: Steven Souza

Feliz Opening Day!

Alden

Angels react to Josh Hamilton news …

Josh HamiltonAs you’ve probably heard by now, Josh Hamilton will not be suspended for a drug-related relapse that occurred late in the offseason and, based on public statements, the Angels are not happy with the ruling. Jerry Dipoto took questions in a press conference for 15 minutes Friday, Mike Scioscia spoke about it pregame and several other players took questions, too. Not much is known right now, and this story will continue to evolve.

The Angels made it known that they’re disappointed in Hamilton, but their brass also said they’ll do whatever it takes to support him and the players expressed sympahthy. There’s no word on when Hamilton will rejoin the team, and there still isn’t much clarity on where he is with his rehab. He’s still in Houston working back from shoulder surgery, and he still hasn’t gotten into full baseball activities.

Below are some of the comments.

Jerry Dipoto, on how much responsibility the Angels hold …

“When Josh signed with the Angels in the winter of 2012, he came with a very well known and public story of addiction, a battle with addiction. We understood the complications that sometimes travel with that. We are not here to short sell the troubles or the reality of addiction. There is a responsibility, professional responsibility, to do the job you’re asked to do. Every player is going to be held to that standard, much in the same way every player is held to a standard to do my job. That’s just life. That’s the way it works. We have built an infrastructure that is very similar to what Josh had in Texas. We have brought with Josh the same people that he had in Texas. … We have had someone there with Josh, we have followed the same blueprint that was laid out for him with the Texas Rangers and that seemed to be so successful at the time. Don’t know what else we can do to accommodate his needs, as we’ve done with every other player. Every marriage that I know of is 50-50. I don’t know another way to do it. If you would like us to absorb 90-10 of the blame, then I think you’re wrong. … When we enter into these types of agreements with any player, whether it’s five years and $125 million or deals we’ve done with other high-profile players or the lowest-service-time rookie on the staff, you’re entering into a marriage with that player, and an agreement that he will be responsible and accountable for his actions — to his teammates, to his manager, to his staff, to his front office, to his organization to his public. Whatever happens off the field — with your family, your god, whatever you do — we all have those responsibilities. We have done what we can, in the moment, to support Josh. We have built infrastructures that are there to support him, and we feel no regret for anything we’ve done in that regard. And we will continue to do those things. We will continue to put systems in place that will aid both Josh and other players.”

Mike Scioscia, on today’s news …

“We’re going to take this process one step at a time. The most important thing is Josh, and getting himself where he needs to be. Addiction is a terrible thing and he’s trying to deal with that. Any time frame for when he’s going to be back in baseball activities, we don’t have. He’s going to still recuperate in Houston, see when he gets back in baseball activities, and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

C.J. Wilson, on the Angels’ statements …

“The statement had multiple phases, and I’m just going to focus on the last part of it which is we’re concerned with what’s best for Josh and his family. That’s the part that I agree with; it’s the first thing I said when this came out, that my concern is with Josh and his family. From a performance standpoint, a super healthy Josh Hamilton is a great thing, a productive Josh Hamilton is a great thing, from an offensive and defensive standpoint. As well as a clubhouse standpoint. I feel like he’s a great guy. People like him. I don’t know how much I should read into prepared statements from other people at this point. Josh came forward, he admitted fault, and I think that’s a very manly thing to do in this day and age, when everyone’s trying to cover stuff up and buy people off. I think that just shows that Josh understands he’s under the microscope, and even if he makes a mistake he’s not going to hide anything.”

Albert Pujols, on the Hamilton situation lingering …

“Our main focus is to get to the playoffs again. We can’t bring distractions outside of this clubhouse. Obviously Josh is a big part of this organization, this ballclub. But whatever decision that Major League Baseball makes is their decision. It’s not our decision. Our decision is to try to stay focused and get ourselves ready for the season and make sure we don’t bring any outside distractions.”

Alden

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