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Angels send Conger to Astros for Tropeano, Perez

The Angels traded backup catcher Hank Conger to the Astros in exchange for young right-hander Nick Tropeano and Minor League catcher Carlos Perez, clearing up some payroll space and, most importantly, acquiring some much-desired cost-controlled starting pitching.

Tropeano, 24, posted a 3.03 ERA, a 3.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 0.99 WHIP in 124 2/3 innings while serving mostly as a starter in the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate. Originally a fifth-round Draft pick by the Astros in 2011, Tropeano made four starts for the Astros this past season – 11 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings – and owns a 3.26 ERA in his four-year Minor League career.

Tropeano is listed at 6-foot-4 and will be under club control for six full seasons. The Angels went into the offseason targeting cost-controlled starting pitching that was ready to contribute in the Majors, and though Tropeano doesn’t necessarily boast a power arm, he can be an option for the back end of their rotation.

Conger, a product of Huntington Beach, was taken by the Angels with the 25th overall selection of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft and established himself as a backup and occasional platoon option with Chris Iannetta these last two seasons, posting a .235/.301/.364 slash line in 172 games from 2013-14.

Conger was set to make a little more than $1 million in his first year of arbitration.

Perez, a 24-year-old who has yet to make his Major League debut, was acquired from the Blue Jays in the 10-player deal that sent J.A. Happ to Toronto in July 2012. Perez was originally signed out of Venezuela, has good defensive tools and is a career .277/.359/.393 hitter in the Minor Leagues.

Alden

Five postseason free agents …

James ShieldsThe Angels figure to have less than $10 million of wiggle room below the luxury-tax threshold, which has pretty much been their spending limit the last few years, and general manager Jerry Dipoto has indicated his preference to avoid the free-agent market, particularly when it comes to starting pitchers (offseason preview here). But that doesn’t mean he’ll rule it out entirely, and it also means there are five players currently in the postseason who may be intriguing to the Angels this winter.

They’re listed below, along with a 1-through-5 score of the Angels’ potential interest (1 meaning they like him but realize they won’t stand a chance; 5 meaning they’ll go after him aggressively) …

SP James Shields (KCR): The Angels would love to get their hands on a guy like Shields, who has averaged 233 innings and a 3.17 ERA over the last four years. But he’s going to be way too expensive. C.J. Wilson‘s five-year, $77.5 million deal has been used as a comp. Even that’s too expensive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone gave him more.
Intrigue meter: 1

RP Andrew Miller (BAL): The Angels have navigated through the last couple seasons without a reliable lefty in their bullpen, and Miller, 29, has reinvented himself as one of the best lefty relievers in the game, posting a 2.02 ERA, a 14.9 strikeout rate and a 0.80 WHIP during the regular season. He’s good enough that someone will probably give him a chance to close, and if that’s the case, the Angels won’t be able to compete for his services.
Intrigue meter: 3

SP Jake Peavy (SFG): The 33-year-old right-hander is an interesting one to watch. He stayed healthy enough to throw 202 2/3 innings with a 3.73 ERA this season, and posted a 2.17 ERA in 78 2/3 innings with the Giants. He’s as fiery a competitor as they come, and he’ll be a lot more affordable than Shields.
Intrigue meter: 4

SP Ryan Vogelsong (SFG): If the Angels are looking for a cheap, back-of-the-rotation option, Vogelsong could be a perfect fit. He signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Giants for 2014, then posted a 4.00 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and a 2.60 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Not great, but as a fifth starter, an additional option along with Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Wilson? Not bad, either.
Intrigue meter: 3

3B/2B Kelly Johnson (BAL): The Angels need a utility infielder who can play shortstop, and Johnson can’t. He plays third and second, two positions the Angels have filled. But at some point, they may not be, if Dipoto is looking for avenues to free up payroll space. David Freese, set to make about $6 million in his last year before free agency, could be non-tendered. Same for Gordon Beckham, who plays second, third and short but will cost about $5 million via the arbitration process. Howie Kendrick, making $9.5 million in the final year of his contract, could be trade bait. And that’s when Johnson, who batted .215/.296/.362 in 106 games, could emerge as a cheap depth option.
Intrigue meter: 2

Alden

‘All hands on deck’ for the Angels tonight …

C.J. WilsonGame 3 is a big start for C.J. Wilson, which may make you a little uncomfortable considering how his season has gone (4.51 ERA, 4.4 walk rate) and who his opponent is (Royals ace James Shields).

But keep this in mind: Mike Scioscia is not going to let Wilson be the reason the Angels are eliminated.

In other words, his leash will be very short.

Teams rarely carry a 12-man pitching staff in the five-game American League Division Series, but Scioscia felt he needed to because his rotation was such a big question mark heading into it. The fact he’s received good starts out of Jered Weaver and Matt Shoemaker means No. 4 starter Hector Santiago and long reliever Cory Rasmus are very fresh. Rasmus can go up to four innings, Santiago can throw 100-plus pitches. And at the first hint of trouble, Scioscia will no doubt go to them tonight.

“If it comes to a point where it obviously looks like he’s not getting it done, we’ll make a decision and try to get an arm in there to get us out of a jam if need be,” Scioscia said. “We’ll see. We don’t have a crystal ball for what’s going to happen, but I think we’ve all been very clear on what we’re looking for in this game, and it won’t be a game where your starting pitcher is into the second, third inning really struggling and it’s April and you’re going to let him work through some things. That’s not the time for that tactic right now.”

Some other highlights from Scioscia’s pregame press conference (lineup here) …

  • Josh Hamilton is in the lineup, as expected. Asked about it again on Sunday, Scioscia said Hamilton’s defensive presence is important, too.: “He’s important, especially on a big field like at our ballpark and here. He has a presence out there, and that’s important. On the offensive side, I think that it’s definitely worth getting him the at‑bats to see if he’s going to find it because when he does find it, he’s a difference maker. Josh is helping us to win games, even though maybe it’s not happened in the batter’s box, and there’s a lot of focus on that.”
  • Mike Trout is also struggling. He’s 0-for-8 with a couple of walks, and hasn’t really hit the ball hard yet. But Scioscia doesn’t believe Trout is “pressing,” saying: “There’s certainly some pitches that he’s put some good swings on and missed, and there’s some pitches that he’s taken that maybe he gets a little bit passive. He’s caught in between a little bit. Those guys have done a good job pitching against him, but I really don’t see him as tight. I just think sometimes you’re not squaring balls up like you can.”
  • The current Royals look like the Angels teams Scioscia used to manage. They don’t have a lot of power, but they also don’t strike out a lot and they’re a big threat to steal bases. The Angels are the opposite. “This is definitely the team we’ve had that is most structured in batter’s box offense and built on batter’s box offense in the 15 years we’ve been here,” Scioscia said. “It doesn’t mean the offense is worse or better. We’ve scored a lot of runs with batter’s box offense this year. … The cards that you have in front of you are the ones you’re going to play, and we’re very confident in our offense. Even though maybe the straight steal isn’t there, we do have enough team speed where we led our league in first-to-thirds. I think we create a lot on the bases that scored runs with outs, and that all adds up to the type of offense that we have.”

Alden

Scioscia is sticking with Hamilton …

Josh Hamilton admitted after Thursday’s loss in Game 1 of the American League Division Series that “the game was obviously moving a little fast.” It was to be expected, after playing in only one of the Angels’ last 23 regular-season games and hardly seeing any live pitching in the meantime. And it didn’t bode well for Friday’s matchup against Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura, who had the highest fastball velocity among starters this year.

But Angels manager Mike Scioscia isn’t ready to give up on Hamilton just yet.

“Right now, looking at all the alternatives, it’s definitely worth playing Josh out now to see where it’s going to lead; there’s no doubt about that,” said Scioscia, who kept Hamilton in the No. 7 spot and also elected to stick with the right-handed-hitting C.J. Cron at designated hitter, rather than going to the left-handed-hitting Efren Navarro.

Scioscia’s alternatives for Hamilton were to start Navarro or the right-handed-hitting Collin Cowgill in left field, the latter of whom would’ve made more sense against soft-tossing lefty Jason Vargas in Game 1. Prior to Game 1, Hamilton had seen velocity only twice since Sept. 4 – during three plate appearances as a designated hitter on Sept. 16, and during a workout on Tuesday.

Hamilton, who rehabbed ailments in his right shoulder and right side in the meantime, took some early batting-practice in 100-degree heat at Angel Stadium early Friday afternoon, trying to find the hot stretch Scioscia keeps anticipating.

“He’s a guy that’s a game changer when he’s on,” Scioscia said. “There is nobody on the bench that we’re looking at that’s going to go in there and potentially do what Josh can do. If it comes to a point where it’s really going the wrong way, or we don’t see it happening, I think that’s a valid question and something you’ll look at. But we’re not there yet. He needs to get some at-bats.”

Here’s the full lineup …

Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Erick Aybar, SS
David Freese, 3B
Josh Hamilton, LF
C.J. Cron, DH
Chris Iannetta, C

Alden

Josh Hamilton struggles in return to Angels’ lineup …

Josh Hamilton, Gary DiSarcinaJosh Hamilton, who played in only one of the Angels’ last 23 regular-season games due to ailments in his right shoulder and right side, went 0-for-4 in the Angels’ 3-2, 11-inning loss in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday night.

He lined out to the left side of the infield in the third, grounded out to second base in his next two plate appearance and struck out swinging in the ninth, failing to come through with one out and a runner on second in his last two at-bats. Angels manager Mike Scioscia batted Hamilton seventh, because he figured he’d be rusty after so much time off.

He was.

“The game was obviously moving a little fast,” Hamilton said. “I went back and looked at a couple of at-bats and I was actually starting to load too early. So, tomorrow, try to slow it down even more.”

Hamilton banged up against the left-field fence while catching Salvador Perez‘s fifth-inning fly ball, but all he came away with was “a headache.” He expects his legs to be sore when he wakes up on Friday, but he’s also expected to be back in the lineup against Yordano Ventura and his triple-digit fastball.

“Physically I feel good,” Hamilton said. “I’ll be a little sore tomorrow. It’s been a while since I played nine innings. But I’ll come in, get treatment, things like that, and be ready for tomorrow.”

Alden

Hamilton seventh, Cron eighth vs. Vargas …

The Angels trotted out basically the same lineup they fielded down the stretch for Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday, with a couple of notable, expected tweaks: Josh Hamilton batting seventh and playing left field, and C.J. Cron batting eighth while serving as the designated hitter.

Hamilton played in only one of the team’s last 23 regular-season games due to ailments in his right shoulder and right side and has hardly seen any live pitching in the meantime, so Angels manager Mike Scioscia is batting him lower in the lineup to put less pressure on him. Scioscia also went with the right-handed bat of Cron against Royals starter Jason Vargas, a lefty who held opposing lefties to a .661 OPS during the regular season.

Howie Kendrick has been red hot since taking over for Hamilton in the cleanup spot on Sept. 5, batting .403 with 18 RBIs over that 21-game stretch. David Freese, batting fifth, finished September with a .315/.367/.562 slash line. Scioscia opted to go with Chris Iannetta’s high on-base percentage (.373) in hopes of turning the lineup over to Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout.

Here’s the full lineup behind starter Jered Weaver (first pitch from Angel Stadium is 6:07 p.m. PT on TBS):

Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
David Freese, 3B
Erick Aybar, SS
Josh Hamilton, LF
C.J. Cron, DH
Chris Iannetta, C

Alden

Stories, Twitter handles leading up to the ALDS …

Royals Angels Baseball

The American League Division Series is finally here, and we’ve had a lot of content leading up to it. So, I thought it’d be a good idea to organize it all in one spot, in case you missed anything along the way and would like to give something a read …

Angels

A look at Mike Trout’s likely MVP season and who he’s evolving to as a hitter
On Jered Weaver — his success without velocity and why he may be at his best right now
Odds are against Josh Hamilton in the ALDS, and maybe that’s what finally gets him going
How “Win For GRich” became a rallying cry for the Angels this season
Q&A with Jerry Dipoto, on Mike Scioscia, ALDS chances and keeping the Angels relevant
Good friends Erick Aybar and Albert Pujols, guiding each other through their 30s
Five reasons the Angels won the American League West
Five reasons the Angels can win the World Series
A look at how the Angels were constructed
A look at the Angels’ postseason history
Finally, Mike Trout gets to play in the postseason
The Angels have a plan to counter a questionable rotation
The Angels’ 2014 season, by the numbers

ALDS

A preview for Game 1
Position-by-position breakdown of the ALDS
Royals-Angels Did You Know
Three Keys for the Angels to beat the Royals in the ALDS
Tale Of The Tape for Game 1
Angels face a big challenge taming the Royals’ running game
Will rust affect the Angels in the ALDS?

We have a great crew for the ALDS, and below are their Twitter handles …

Bill Hill (series editor)
Dick Kaegel (Royals beat reporter)
Lyle Spencer (columnist)
Phil Rogers (columnist)
Matthew DeFranks (Angels in Anaheim)
T.R. Sullivan (Royals)
AJ Cassavell (Royals in Anaheim)
Jesse Sanchez (covering both clubs)
Jackson Alexander (Royals in Kansas City)

Alden

Angels set ALDS roster …

The Angels announced their roster for the American League Division Series on Thursday morning, with Vinnie Pestano cracking the final spot of their bullpen and Efren Navarro making it as a reserve.

Pestano, a sidearmer who can be used as a righty specialist, made it over lefty specialist Joe Thatcher, who struggled since coming back from a left ankle sprain. Navarro, a contact hitter who plays first base and the corner-outfield spots, made it over fellow left-handed-hitter Brennan Boesch, who provides more of a power element.

John McDonald, the 40-year-old infielder used all season as a late-game defensive replacement at third base, didn’t make the roster because Gordon Beckham can be used in the same role. Neither did speedy outfielder Tony Campana, since the Angels’ 12-man pitching staff doesn’t allow space on the bench for a pinch-runner.

Another snub was veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc, who finished the season with 17 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

The Angels’ starting position players will remain the same, with Chris Iannetta catching, Albert Pujols at first, Howie Kendrick at second, David Freese at third, Erick Aybar at shortstop, Josh Hamilton in left field, Mike Trout in center and Kole Calhoun in right.

Navarro and the right-handed-hitting C.J. Cron will platoon at designated hitter, with Cron starting Game 1 against lefty Jason Vargas. Hank Conger is the backup catcher, Beckham is the backup infielder and Collin Cowgill is a backup outfielder who can also be used as a pinch-runner.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia announced on Wednesday that the Angels will go with a three-man rotation, with Jered Weaver in Game 1, Matt Shoemaker in Game 2 and C.J. Wilson in Game 3. That leaves Hector Santiago in a role of either providing length or matching up, as the only lefty now in the ‘pen.

Closer Huston Street, setup man Joe Smith and seventh-inning guy Kevin Jepsen solidify the back end, with Jason Grilli, Fernando Salas, Mike Morin, Cory Rasmus and Pestano rounding out the bullpen. Rasmus, used as a starter in Garrett Richards’ old spot down the stretch, can provide up to four innings of relief.

Alden

Shoemaker to start Game 2; Weaver on short rest …

The Angels will go with a three-man rotation for their American League Division Series matchup against the Royals, with Matt Shoemaker starting Game 2, C.J. Wilson starting Game 3 and Game 1 starter Jered Weaver coming back on short rest to start Game 4.

The setup, announced by Angels manager Mike Scioscia during a pre-workout press conference on Wednesday, gives Weaver and Shoemaker the potential to pitch twice in the five-game series. Hector Santiago, with a 3.75 ERA but a walk rate of 3.7, will be available out of the bullpen. Wilson, coming off a season in which he posted a 4.51 ERA, will only start one game.

Scioscia also announced that Josh Hamilton will start in left field and bat seventh in Game 1, after playing only one of the Angels’ last 23 games due to pain around his right shoulder and ribcage. Right-handed hitter C.J. Cron will start at designated hitter against lefty Jason Vargas, and Scioscia will have a 12-man pitching staff.

Shoemaker, who won 16 games and posted a 3.04 ERA in a surprising rookie season, has been rehabbing from a mild strain in his left oblique, but threw bullpen sessions on Sunday and Tuesday and is “doing remarkably well,” Scioscia said.

“We’re expecting Matt to be fine and pitch as deep as he can into the game,” Scioscia said. “That is one consideration. The other is we really like the matchups. We like the way Matt has been pitching, and I think Weaver getting out in Game 1, followed with Matt, gives us the best look here in the first couple games. C.J. will pitch in Kansas City [on Sunday].”

Weaver has started on three days’ rest only twice before, both times in 2011, when he gave up seven runs in six innings on Aug. 28 and two runs in six innings on Sept. 18. But his last three starts, including the ALDS opener on Thursday, will come on six days’ rest, five days’ rest and five days’ rest, respectively.

The Dodgers pitched ace Clayton Kershaw on short rest for the National League Division Series last year.

“[Pitching coach] Mike Butcher feels really good at the prospects of how Weaver was throwing his ‘pens in between starts, how he was bouncing back, and really feeling that if he had to pitch at all on three days’ rest, he’s ready for it,” Scioscia said. “Most importantly, our medical staff feels really good at where Jered is, and Jered feels 100 percent behind the fact of coming back on three days and being effective. That’s what we’ll look at doing, and we don’t have any reservations at all about wanting to get Jered out there again in Game 4.”

Alden

Shoemaker is ready; can he start Game 2? …

Matt Shoemaker said after Tuesday’s bullpen session that he has “no doubt” he’ll be available to start for the Angels in the American League Division Series – and don’t rule him out for Game 2, either.

Starting Game 2, after ace Jered Weaver, would allow Shoemaker to also pitch in a potential Game 5 and would mean C.J. Wilson starts only once, after his worst regular season as a starter. Shoemaker threw his second bullpen sessions in three days during the team’s first mandatory workout from Angel Stadium, and came out of it with no pain in the left oblique that has put him on a rehab program for the last two weeks.

“Everything felt great,” Shoemaker said. “I’d say great, but it felt normal, which is great.”

Shoemaker threw an estimated 40 pitches, with a break in the middle to simulate the time between innings in a game, and didn’t feel the slight tightness that was still present when he got off the mound from Safeco Field on Sunday.

“A few days ago, it was a little tight,” Shoemaker said. “Now, I don’t feel it at all.”

The 27-year-old rookie is coming off a surprising, breakout season that saw him go 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA and a 5.17 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Mike Scioscia won’t reveal his rotation after Weaver until Wednesday, and he has Wilson lined up to pitch Game 2 on five days’ rest.

But Shoemaker would be their ideal choice if he’s ready. And the fact he only missed two turns through the rotation means he may still have his normal length.

“I haven’t thrown 100 pitches yet, but I definitely feel I’m capable, for sure,” Shoemaker said. “Just the way my arm feels, my body feels, definitely feels doable.”

The Angels, it seems, dodged a bullet with Shoemaker.

His left side grabbed on him in the eighth inning of yet another brilliant start against the Mariners, the day the Angels became the first team to clinch a spot in the postseason, and Scioscia feared the worst. But a next-day MRI revealed what Shoemaker said was a “very mild” strain, and he’s been making steady progress every day since.

“It’s definitely a pleasant surprise,” Shoemaker said. “But also, going in when it happened, the very positive thing, that was a blessing, was that it was just mild. It wasn’t anything more than that. Given its mild state, we were able to heal and knock it off really quick, which I’m definitely really happy with.”

Alden

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