Results tagged ‘ Athletics ’

An encouraging outing for Hector Santiago …

Hector SantiagoHector Santiago‘s Angels career started off 0-2, with eight earned runs in 9 1/3 innings through two starts against the Mariners.

He needed a change.

So he took the mound against the A’s on Monday with his socks up high for the first time.

“You gotta change it up sometimes,” Santiago said, trying to crack a smile despite a crushing 3-2 loss. “Actually, it was kind of scary, because the last two times I did that with the White Sox it didn’t go so well.”

The more tangible difference was that Santiago had much better command in the opener of a three-game series, while pitching seven innings of one-run ball in what ended up being a no-decision because of John Jaso‘s two-run, ninth-inning homer off Ernesto Frieri. Against an A’s team that came in ranked third in the American League in walks, Santiago — with his career walk rate at 4.6 — didn’t issue a free pass until the seventh inning and didn’t allow much hard contact besides Yoenis Cespedes‘ fourth-inning solo homer.

Santiago felt “more in control of myself,” and that was particularly obvious while working out of jams in the sixth and seventh.

The Angels’ defense extended Santiago’s inning in the sixth, when Erick Aybar had a tough time reading Craig Gentry’s liner off the bat and Albert Pujols threw high of second on an ensuing pickoff. But Santiago got Jed Lowrie to line out and struck out Josh Donaldson for his third punchout. The A’s put runners on first and second with one out in the seventh, but Santiago induced a flyout of Nick Punto and came back from down 3-0 to get Josh Reddick to pop out behind the plate.

This was the kind of outing the 26-year-old left-hander badly needed.

“Definitely; there’s no doubt,” Santiago said after lowering his ERA from 7.71 to 4.96. “Coming into today I was like, ‘I need some positive [momentum] moving forward. [First start of the season], I was antsy, man. I had a lot of adrenaline going. First game as an Angel. Last game I think I was just like, ‘OK, forget about it and let’s attack. Let’s go at ‘em, let’s go as hard as I can as long as I can.’ Today I was like, ‘Let’s attack, but let’s be under control.’ I took a little bit from each of those first two games and made it work in this game.”

And for next game, the high socks will return.

“Oh, there’s no doubt,” Santiago said. “I’m going to stick with it until it tells me not to. … I love the look, you know. I love the look for sure. And sometimes you just have to mix it up.”

Alden

Vladimir Guerrero retiring with the Angels …

vladVladimir Guerrero isn’t just throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Opening Day today.

He’s signing a one-day contract, so that he can officially retire with the Angels.

Guerrero is one of two players in Angels history to win an MVP, along with Don Baylor, who will catch the first pitch. Guerrero signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Angels in January 2004,won the American League MVP in his first year and spent six of his 16 seasons with the Angels, batting .319/.381/.546 with 173 home runs and 616 RBIs.

If Guerrero enters the Hall of Fame — he’s got a good chance, with a career .318/.379/.553 slash line, 449 homers, 181 stolen bases and one of the greatest arms in history — he could be the first to enter as an Angel. But he could also go in as a Montreal Expo (.323/.390/.580 with 234 homers in his first eight seasons).

Guerrero batted .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs with the Rangers in 2010, then .290 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs with the Orioles in 2011, which ended up being his last season.

Here are the Opening Day lineups …

Mariners (0-0)

Abraham Almonte, CF
Brad Miller, SS
Robinson Cano, 2B
Justin Smoak, 1B
Logan Morrison, DH
Kyle Seager, 3B
Michael Saunders, RF
Dustin Ackley, LF
Mike Zunino, C

SP: RH Felix Hernandez (0-0, -.– ERA)

Angels (0-0)

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

SP: RH Jered Weaver (0-0, -.– ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • Mike Scioscia is happy to report that he’s lost 40 1/2 pounds since Nov. 1, “and I’ve got 25 more to go.”
  • In case you missed it, the A’s signed Joe Blanton to a Minor League contract. In semi-related news, the Mets signed Bobby Abreu to a Minor League deal.
  • Dane De La Rosa (right forearm strain) threw an inning in a Minor League game on Thursday and Saturday and is slated to pitch in a sim game at Angel Stadium on Tuesday, just before venturing out on a rehab assignment. He looks lined up to be activated by the time the Angels return from a six-game trip, for the April 11 home game against the Mets.
  • Sean Burnett (recovery from August elbow surgery) expects to pitch in a sim game on Wednesday, then probably head to Arizona to appear in games there. On not being active for Opening Day, Burnett said, “Yeah, it’s frustrating, but we’re going in the right direction.”
  • Brian Moran (left elbow inflammation) is playing catch in Arizona, and Scioscia said he’s “close” to getting off a mound. Moran hasn’t since appearing in a game on March 12.

Alden

Door is open for a fast Angels start …

A strong belief in one’s roster is usually followed by a phrase like “as long as we stay healthy.”

Well, the American League West is anything but to start the season. The Rangers are littered with injuries, with starter Derek Holland (right knee), second baseman Jurickson Profar (right shoulder) and catcher Geovany Soto (knee) all out until midseason and Yu Darvish (neck) starting the year on the disabled list. A’s Opening Day starter Jarrod Parker will miss all of 2014 after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery and A.J. Griffin (right flexor muscle strain) is on the shelf. And the Mariners — in town the next three days — have two starters on the DL in Hisashi Iwakuma (right middle finger) and Taijuan Walker (right shoulder).

The door is wide open for the Angels.

Mike Scioscia, Jerry DipotoThey’ve had the fourth-worst April winning percentage the last two years, crippling any chances they had of reaching the playoffs. But of the Angels’ 27 games through the month of April this year, only nine will come against teams that made the playoffs in 2013. Four will come against an Astros team that has lost 100 games three straight years (though, granted, they won 10 of 19 games against the Angels last year), and three will come against the Mets, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2006. But there’s one really tough swing — a three-city trip from April 18-27, which will see the Angels visit the Tigers, Nationals and Yankees.

The Angels will also be off in each of their first six Thursdays. Yes, you’d rather have the days off at the end of the year, but a fast start is crucial this year, and those off days certainly won’t hurt that cause.

In hopes of facilitating a better start, the Angels tweaked their Spring Training program. Position players took more swings and focused more on situational hitting. Starting pitchers were stretched out earlier. Relievers attacked their bullpens more aggressively. Live BP was re-introduced after a one-year hiatus. And more shifting is taking place defensively, after the Angels went from 2nd to 27th in Defensive Runs Saved over the course of one season.

One year after having by far the worst Spring Training record and ERA in the Majors, the Angels had a much better camp. Here’s a look at the numbers …

Record: 19-11-2, 2nd in the Cactus League
Runs: 190, 4th in MLB
OPS: .803, 3rd in MLB
SP ERA: 4.01, 11th in MLB
RP WHIP: 4.20, 4th in MLB

Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Kole CalhounPositives from camp: Albert Pujols looked light on his feet around the bag and on the bases. … Josh Hamilton quickly got his timing back after missing time with a strained left hamstring. … Tyler Skaggs was mostly sitting at 95 mph, after having a hard time touching 90 mph last year. … Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun — batting ninth and first, respectively, and ahead of Mike Trout — drew a combined 21 walks. … C.J. Wilson had a 1.88 ERA in 28 2/3 innings. … Ernesto Frieri didn’t allow a run in 10 outings. … Trout batted .414/.460/.828. … The Angels rid themselves of two potential distractions, releasing Joe Blanton and signing Trout to the much-talked-about extension. … Out-of-options infielder Andrew Romine was turned into much-needed starting-pitching depth in Jose Alvarez.

Negatives from camp: Sean Burnett is still working his way back from August surgery, but he’s expected to face hitters for the first time in a sim game on Tuesday or Wednesday. … Dane De La Rosa is starting the season on the DL with a right forearm strain, but he could be back as soon as the weekend series in Houston. … Brian Moran is working his way back from left elbow inflammation, leaving Nick Maronde (1.89 Cactus League WHIP) as the only lefty in the bullpen to start the year. … Skaggs and Hector Santiago had their occasional long innings, an indication that there will be some growing pains. … Newcomers David Freese (one extra-base hit) and Raul Ibanez (.218 batting average) didn’t have great results at the plate, but both were happy with the way they were driving the ball.

Now, what does all this mean for the regular season?

I have no idea.

***

The Angels’ depth chart can be found here.

Now, if you’ve followed baseball long enough you know that a team never goes an entire season with the same 25-man roster (or even the same five-man rotation). So, here’s a look at who’s next in line at every position …

Catcher: Luis Martinez
Third base: Luis Jimenez
Shortstop: Tommy Field
Second base: Grant Green
First base: C.J. Cron
Left field: J.B. Shuck
Center field: Matt Long
Right field: Brennan Boesch
Starter: Wade LeBlanc or Alvarez
Reliever: Brandon Lyon

***

Mike TroutOn that Trout contract

For months, many wondered how much Trout would be worth in the open market and speculated what it would cost to lock up the best all-around player in baseball. They put his three arbitration years at upwards of $60 million, had him pegged as a $35 million free agent and believed he could be baseball’s first $300-million player.

But three are three important things to keep in mind about Trout’s situation …

1. He isn’t in his free-agent years yet. He still needed to get through three arbitration years, which greatly limits how much a player can make.

2. Being a $300-million player would’ve probably required a 10-year, contract, and that wouldn’t have been ideal because Trout wants to cash in on another monster contract by hitting the open market before age 30.

3. There’s just as much incentive for Trout as there is for the Angels, no matter how great he is. Why? Because free agency is a whole four years away, a lot can happen in four years, and it’s hard to turn down that much financial security so early.

So, Trout’s contract is $144.5 million over the course of six seasons, from 2015-20 (with a full no-trade clause, basic incentives and no additional option years or opt-outs). And I think it gives both sides what they want. It gives the Angels three additional years of Trout and some cost-certainty. It gives Trout a chance to be a free agent again at age 29 and makes him the highest-paid player relative to service time at every juncture.

Here’s a look at the year-by-year breakdown, and who Trout surpasses …

2014: $1M (Pujols in 2003 and Ryan Howard in ’07 with $900K for a pre-arbitration player)*
2015: $10.25M (Howard, $10M in ’08 for first-year arbitration)**
2016: $15.25M (Howard, $15M in ’09 for second-year arbitration)
2017: $19.25M (Howard, $19M in ’10 for third-year arbitration)
2018-20: $33.25M (Miguel Cabrera, $31M AAV in ’14 for a free agent)

* the $1M compensation was done before the contract
** $5M of that will be paid to Trout in 2014, as part of a signing bonus

***

Jered WeaverSome questions, answered …

Can the Angels stay competitive for the next seven seasons to keep Trout’s interest in the team? (@ryanwjsmyth)

One of the reasons Trout felt comfortable staying with the Angels long term is because he knows the owner, Arte Moreno, isn’t afraid to put his money into making this team competitive. One thing is for sure: The Angels will not be in rebuild mode over the life of Trout’s contract, or even while Moreno is around. But it’ll be harder and harder to stay below the luxury tax and put a World Series-contending product on the field as Hamilton and Pujols naturally decline. Jerry Dipoto has a tough task at hand — continue to build a contending team while also developing young pitching. Getting Santiago and Skaggs is a good start, though. Also, keep in mind: Trout’s decision to stay will be based more on how good the Angels can be after 2020, not necessarily what they’ve done leading up to it.

Will Albert Pujols hit 30+ home runs this season? (@adreamersview)

If healthy, I think you can bank on that. He hit 30 in 2012 even though he went a month and a half without hitting his first (and I don’t expect that to happen again). Plantar fasciitis didn’t just limit his defense and baserunning. It made his right knee, surgically repaired the previous offseason, swell up. And it sapped his power because a hitter is nothing without a healthy base. I’m never going to doubt Pujols’ ability to hit. He’s proven it long enough.

If the Angels make a run for the postseason what do you see them doing at the trade deadline? (@gizmosol)

Trying to get their hands on more starting pitching. Justin Masterson and Max Scherzer are heading into their final seasons before free agency, Cliff Lee and David Price may get shopped, and all sorts of other starters could become available in July. The Angels still have roughly $15 million below the luxury-tax threshold that they’re willing to use. Yes, the farm system is still pretty barren. But the list of teams in the market for a starting-pitching rental in July is usually very short, and the Angels could dangle Cron or Taylor Lindsey or Kaleb Cowart or some of their (few) good pitching prospects if they feel they’re close (and hope for a better result than the 2012 trade for Zack Greinke).

***

Here are some links to our Opening Day coverage …

The Angels 2014 Season preview
Jered Weaver gets franchise-record sixth Opening Day nod
Ibanez reflects on what Opening Day means to him
Broadcaster Jose Mota talks about the upcoming season

Some feature stories from earlier in the spring, in case you missed them …

Weaver leads rotation’s quest for redemption
Pujols, Hamilton facing more doubt than ever
Mike Scioscia eager to reclaim winning formula
John McDonald “a magician” with the glove
The odyssey of De La Rosa, and a lesson in never giving up
Trout can’t believe how fast this is all happening

Alden

ST Game 3: Athletics 3, Angels 2 …

Hector SantiagoMost important thing: Joe Blanton, entering in the fifth, started his spring by giving up back-to-back singles and a two-run double to Yoenis Cespedes. But he retired seven of the next eight batters, striking out two of them, and Mike Scioscia called it “a step forward.”

Second-most important thing: The Angels had most of their starters in the lineup, but they were shut out in the five innings they were on the field. Mike Trout walked to load the bases with one out in the fifth, but Albert Pujols (now 0-for-5 with a walk this spring) grounded into an inning-ending 5-3 double play.

Third-most important thing: Screwball master Hector Santiago was a little erratic to start the game — his first pitch sailed way wide of Chris Iannetta — but was able to navigate through two Angels misplays and his own two walks to allow just one unearned run in 2 2/3 innings.

Fourth-most important thing: Brennan Boesch, vying for a spot off the bench, had a couple of singles and is now 4-for-7 this spring.

Fifth-most important thing: Brandon Lyon, competing with several other relievers for two bullpen spots, pitches a clean ninth inning, recording a strikeout. Lyon, 34, is an interesting name to watch because he has a good track record and gets hitters out a different way (with offspeed stuff).

Best defensive play (that I actually saw): To start the game, Pujols ranged into foul territory and made a nifty, over-the-shoulder basket catch to record the out. It wasn’t necessarily spectacular, but it was the kind of play he may not have made while hindered by plantar fasciitis last year.

Best quote:  Pujols, when asked if Trout’s performance the last two years has pushed him to be at that same level to keep up with him: “I don’t need to keep up with anybody, buddy. Just look at my numbers. My job is to stay healthy and go out there and play. I don’t need anybody to motivate me. My job is to be out there and give 110 percent, and that’s what I’ve been doing [my whole] career.”

Angels’ record: 1-2

Alden

Division-by-division: AL West …

Billy BeaneLeading up to Spring Training, I’ll take a look at each of the six divisions in hopes of providing an overview for what to expect this coming season. Last but not least, the AL West.

Angels
Last year’s record: 78-84, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Hector Santiago, SP Tyler Skaggs, RP Joe Smith, 3B David Freese, DH Raul Ibanez, RP Fernando Salas, SP Mark Mulder, 1B Carlos Pena, INF John McDonald, RP Brian Moran
Key subtractions: 1B/OF Mark Trumbo, CF Peter Bourjos, SP Jason Vargas, SP Jerome Williams, SP Tommy Hanson
Biggest strength: Offense, even without Trumbo. The Angels ranked fifth in OPS last year despite getting mediocre-to-bad seasons from Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols. Both should be better this year — Pujols because of health, Hamilton because of mindset — and they still have the game’s best all-around player in Mike Trout. They’ll be fine in this department.
Biggest question: Starting pitching, just like it was around this time last year. The Angels got the cost-controlled pitching they needed by getting Skaggs and Santiago for Trumbo. But they couldn’t resign Jason Vargas and couldn’t bring in Matt Garza, so they’ll be relying on three young guys — Skaggs, Santiago and Garrett Richards — to fortify their rotation behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
Most important player: Skaggs. He’s coming off a rough season in the Majors and in Triple-A, but he’s only 22 years old, still has good stuff and is returning to the organization that originally drafted him.
In 25 words or less: They no longer have the hype of the last two years, but the talent is still there to contend. It’ll come down to starting pitching.

Astros
Last year’s record: 51-111, 5th place
Key additions: SP Scott Feldman, CF Dexter Fowler, SP Jerome Williams, RP Chad Qualls, RP Matt Albers, RP Anthony Bass, INF Cesar Izturis, 1B/OF Jesus Guzman, RP Jesse Crain, OF Adron Chambers
Key subtractions: SP Erik Bedard, INF Ryan Jackson, OF Brandon Barnes, SP Jordan Lyles
Biggest strength: The future. The Astros’ farm system was ranked first by ESPN.com’s Keith Law recently. They have four prospects within MLB.com’s Top 25 (Carlos Correa, Jonathan Singleton, George Springer and Mark Appel) and they’ll have the No. 1 overall selection once again this June.
Biggest question: The present. There’s a reason — besides savvy Drafts, prospect-laden trades and a bigger presence in Latin America — that their farm system has become so good: Because their Major League team has been so bad. There’s no sugarcoating it. The Astros have lost at least 100 games three straight years, their big league club is still full of questions, and the division they’re still new to is much better.
Most important player: Springer. The 24-year-old outfielder, ranked 23rd by MLB.com, is expected to make his Major League debut at some point in 2014. And if his numbers at Double-A and Triple-A are any indication, he could make an immediate impact.
In 25 words or less: They’ll be a little better this year, with Fowler, Feldman and Qualls adding necessary veteran presence, and should be much better in a few more.

Athletics
Last year’s record: 96-66, 1st place (lost to Tigers in ALDS)
Key additions: SP Scott Kazmir, CL Jim Johnson, RP Luke Gregerson, RP Fernando Abad, INF Nick Punto, OF Craig Gentry, SP Drew Pomeranz, SP Phil Humber
Key subtractions: C Kurt Suzuki, OF Chris Young, SP Bartolo Colon, RP Grant Balfour, OF Michael Choice, SP Brett Anderson, RP Pedro Figueroa, 2B Jemile Weeks
Biggest strength: Pitching, as usual. Colon is a big loss — literally and figuratively — but with Johnson and Gregerson, the A’s could have one of the deepest and most dominant bullpens ever. Seriously. And if Sonny Gray is the same guy we saw down the stretch and in the playoffs, the rotation — with Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin and Kazmir also in it — looks outstanding once again.
Biggest question: Second base. Weeks didn’t necessarily pan out, Alberto Callaspo is out of position there, and it looks like it’ll be Punto and Eric Sogard in some sort of platoon.
Most important player: Kazmir. The 30-year-old left-hander parlayed a miraculous comeback season into a two-year, $22 million contract with a team that can’t afford bad contracts. If he’s the guy he was with the Indians last year (4.04 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.2 K/9 in 158 innings) the A’s will be in great shape. If he reverts to the guy who was out of baseball for a year, they could be in trouble.
In 25 words or less: They’ve won back-to-back AL West titles, only to be eliminated by the Tigers in back-to-back first rounds. They seem primed to take the next step.

Mariners
Last year’s record: 71-91, 4th place
Key additions: 2B Robinson Cano, CL Fernando Rodney, 1B/OF Corey Hart, 1B/OF Logan Morrison, C John Buck, INF/OF Willie Bloomquist, SP Scott Baker, OF Travis Witherspoon
Key subtractions: 1B Kendrys Morales, OF Raul Ibanez, SP Joe Saunders, RP Oliver Perez, RP Carter Capps, OF Carlos Peguero
Biggest strength: Second base. Well, they seem to have that position figured out pretty well. They better, with a $240 million investment for Cano.
Biggest question: Protecting Cano. Right now, they have Hart coming off knee surgery that put him out for all of 2013, which is no sure thing. If you spend that much money on someone like Cano, you ought to make sure someone actually throws him a strike every once in a while. Nelson Cruz could be a big help in the cleanup spot.
Most important player: Taijuan Walker. The Mariners already have a dynamic one-two punch in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. If Walker — 21 and the fourth-ranked prospect in the Majors by MLB.com — steps up, Seattle’s rotation can compete with some of the best teams in the American League.
In 25 words or less: It’s great to see them make a splash, but it’ll take lots more than Cano to take this from a 91-loss team to the playoffs.

Rangers
Last year’s record: 91-72, 2nd place (lost to Rays in Wild Card tiebreaker)
Key additions: 1B Prince Fielder, LF Shin-Soo Choo, C J.P. Arencibia, OF Michael Choice, 3B/1B Kevin Kouzmanoff, INF/OF Brent Lillibridge, SP Armando Galarraga, RP Jose Contreras, RP Daniel Bard
Key subtractions: C A.J. Pierzynski, DH Lance Berkman, RF Nelson Cruz, OF David Murphy, SP Matt Garza, CL Joe Nathan, 2B Ian Kinsler, OF Craig Gentry
Biggest strength: Offense. With an on-base machine in Choo at the top and Fielder protecting Adrian Beltre in the middle — not to mention giving them that left-handed power bat they lost with Hamilton — the Rangers’ lineup is a guaranteed juggernaut.
Biggest question: Health, particularly of their pitching staff. Opening Day starter Matt Harrison is coming off two back surgeries and an additional procedure to treat Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in his right shoulder. Colby Lewis is coming off hip surgery. Derek Holland won’t be ready until midseason because of knee surgery. And Neftali Feliz is coming off Tommy John surgery.
Most important player: Feliz. The Rangers no longer have a closer now that Joe Nathan is in Detroit, but Feliz was their guy when they went to the World Series in 2010 and ’11. If he can get back to being that, Texas is set for the ninth inning.
In 25 words or less: The Rangers look very good on paper once again, but that’s given the health of Harrison, Lewis, Holland and Feliz. And that’s a big question.

Predicted order of finish …

  • Athletics
  • Rangers
  • Angels
  • Mariners
  • Astros

Previous entries: NL East | AL East | NL Central |  AL Central | NL West

Alden

Angels’ competition getting tougher …

Robinson CanoThe American League West didn’t necessarily, well, impress last year.

Here’s how it stacked up in combined wins …

AL East: 433
NL Central: 421
AL Central: 400
NL West: 399
NL East: 391
AL West: 387

And here’s where it ranked in run-differential …

AL East: 235
NL Central: 219
AL Central: 0
NL West: -137
AL West: -138
NL East: -179

But AL West teams have been particularly aggressive in the early portion of this offseason — and yes, it’s worth reminding all of you that it is, indeed, still early — which could make for an interesting dynamic in 2014, and should make the Angels’ return to the postseason that much tougher.

The Mariners just reeled in the biggest free agent of the offseason, snatching Robinson Cano from the Yankees via a reported 10-year, $240-million, Albert Pujols-like contract. No, they aren’t an instant contender. And as the Angels themselves have shown, throwing the most dollars at the best free agent in no way guarantees success. But this is an important building block for a Mariners team that has always struggled to land the big names (see: Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder). At some point, you have to overpay to lay a foundation (the Mets thought the same thing with Curtis Granderson). This reminds me of the Jayson Werth deal the Nationals made three offseasons ago. It was a vast overpay at seven years and $126 million. But at that time, it was the only way the Nats were going to land a premier free agent. Adding Werth — even if he isn’t a star to the magnitude of Cano —  changed the expectations in Washington and ultimately helped make it a place where free agents wanted to play. Same can happen in Seattle, where the Mariners are showing a willingness to spend. And if they trade for David Price — they have the prospects to do it — watch out.

In the words of one executive, “The A’s may have one of the best bullpens in history.” It’s not much of an exaggeration when you consider that they added Luke Gregerson to a group that includes Jim Johnson, Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Sean Doolittle, etc. Their rotation — Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Sonny Gray, in whatever order — is darn good, as well. But here’s the most important part about the current A’s: After back-to-back exits in the Division Series, they’re going for it. You don’t trade for one season of Johnson, flip a talented prospect (Michael Choice) for Craig Gentry or give  Kazmir a two-year, $22 million contract if you aren’t.

Then there are the Rangers, who you just know have another big more or two in them. I actually liked the Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler deal for them (and loved it for the Tigers). They’re  paying Fielder $138 million over the next seven years, which is very reasonable for a guy whose home-run rate will inflate in Texas and who gives them the middle-of-the-order bat they’ve been missing since Hamilton left. Over the last four years, the Rangers have the third-best regular-season winning percentage in the Majors (.570, trailing only the Yankees and Braves) and have been to the World Series twice. They had the 10th-best staff ERA in baseball last year, and they surely aren’t done.

Even the Astros have made some moves. They reached agreement on a three-year, $30 million deal with starter Scott Feldman — a guy the Angels would’ve liked, but not for three years — and previously traded for former Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler. They were easily dead last in 2013 in winning percentage (.315) and run-differential (minus-238), so they’re a ways away. But they have the second-best farm system in the Majors, per Baseball America, and they’re on their way.

What does all this mean for the Angels?

Well, nothing. At least not now.

They have about $15 million and some trade chips — Howie Kendrick still chief among them — to fill two spots in their starting rotation. They still have baseball’s best player in Mike Trout, two premier superstars in Pujols and Hamilton, two legit starters at the top of their rotation in Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, and a bullpen that can be among the deepest in baseball if Sean Burnett returns to full health. If they can sign someone like Matt Garza, they’re no doubt a legit playoff contender, regardless of how bad this past season turned out for them.

But their competition just keeps getting better.

Alden

Voters chime in on their AL MVP ballots …

MLB.com reached out to the 30 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America regarding their ballots for the AL MVP Award, which saw Mike Trout finish a distant second to Miguel Cabrera for a second straight year. Below were their explanations for why they sided where they did in the seemingly-never-ending Trout vs. Miggy debate (their full ballots can be seen here; * denotes those who voted on the AL MVP a second straight time) …

Evan Grant* (Dallas Morning News): 1 Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Josh Donaldson 

My feeling was that Cabrera and Trout stood above the field. Cabrera changed the way opponents approached entire games. Trout was a great offensive player, the better defender and the better fielder. In the end, after looking more at advanced stats than at traditional ones, I was left with two guys who I thought were pretty dead-even as I believed Cabrera’s offensive game-changing ability made up for what he lacked on defense and on the bases. And, so, I could consider WAR and take the formula’s word for it that Trout theoretically meant more to the Angels than Cabrera did to the Tigers or I could look at the standings and see actual wins and losses. So, yes, in that regard, I guess some folks could say I penalized Trout for playing for a bad team. I prefer to look at this way: In a close race, I rewarded Cabrera for helping his team realize its goals.

Ken Rosenthal (FOX Sports): 1. Trout, 2. Cabrera, 3. Donaldson

I’m just wondering, what is it going to take for Trout to win an MVP? Another writer said it well — he is this generation’s Mantle. I generally prefer my MVP to come from a contender, but why should Trout be held responsible for the failings of his owner, general manager, manager and teammates? I love Cabrera, but Trout is far superior as an all-around player and, when you put it all together, more valuable. 

Tim Brown (Yahoo! Sports): 1. Trout, 2. Cabrera, 3. Donaldson

In its simplest terms, my first-place vote went to the most complete player in the game. While Mike Trout did not necessarily hit with Miguel Cabrera, he was so far superior outside the batter’s box that I believed it more than covered that ground. The issue of “value” continues to be kicked around. My view is this: The best player carries the most value.

Bob Dutton* (Kansas City Star): 1. Trout, 2. Cabrera, 3. Donaldson

Tough choice — just like last year when I voted for Cabrera. I cover the Royals and few people punish them on a regular basis like Cabrera, but I saw him a lot down the stretch, and he just wasn’t the same. I know he finished with great numbers, maybe better overall than last year, but Trout does so many other things. It came down to this: If we were picking teams based solely on this season, and I had the first pick, who would I pick? For me, the answer was Trout.

Jeff Wilson* (Fort Worth Star-Telegram): 1. Cabrera, 2. Chris Davis, 3. Trout

Mike Trout can do things on a baseball field that Miguel Cabrera can’t. I’m not that blind. But for a second straight year, Cabrera posted fabulous offensive numbers, ones that please the traditional baseball crowd and ones that even Sabermatricians agree are pretty impressive. And he did so for a contender. I recognize that Trout wasn’t the least bit responsible for the Angels’ lousy season. Injuries, questionable signings and an owner who doesn’t get it doomed them. But he also didn’t play in meaningful games for all but a week or two in May. Cabrera’s Tigers won the AL Central, and he hit more homers and drove in more runs against their main rival, Cleveland, than any other team. I also believe, as do many baseball people, that Cabrera isn’t the defensive lump at third base that he’s perceived to be. Add it all up, and Cabrera was my MVP. The man who kept him from a second straight Triple Crown, Chris Davis, also played meaningful games all season and was my second pick. I had Trout third, though not without considerable thought of placing him higher.

Susan Slusser* (San Francisco Chronicle): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Donaldson

Cabrera was again the best hitter in the league and helped get his team to the postseason while playing through a significant injury. Despite the injury (later revealed to be a sports hernia that required surgery), Cabrera won the batting title again and topped the league in OPS. Trout is the best all-around player in the league, I agree — but I weigh offensive output higher than defensive metrics for MVP candidates, and Cabrera remains the better hitter. I do always consider how teams finish as a factor, too. It’s not always the deciding factor, but it’s a big consideration.

Phil Rogers (MLB.com): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Donaldson

You wouldn’t think somebody could be better than they were during a Triple Crown season but Miguel Cabrera found a way to raise his game, maybe because he had a little more help in the Detroit lineup. He was an easy choice over Mike Trout for me, in large because I think that the MVP should come from a playoff team, especially now that we’re in an era in which one of every three teams goes to the playoffs. Winning matters but records being equal I still probably would have taken Cabrera over Trout. You can’t replace a guy who hits day in and day out like this guy, even if he does have some rough edges.

Joe Posnanski (NBC Sports): 1. Trout, 2. Cabrera, 3. Donaldson

I voted for Mike Trout first, Miguel Cabrera second. I should say that, in my opinion, the MVP should be player who had the best season so other factors — such as how well the team played, which team was in contention, who played in more important games in September — do not factor into my decision. Cabrera had a fantastic offensive season and led the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage for the first time. I think he’s the best hitter in the game. But you know, Trout is an amazing hitter himself. And when you take into account the rest — defense, baserunning, the various contextual differences of their ballparks — it seemed pretty clear to me that Trout had the better season.

Jeff Fletcher (Orange County Register): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Davis

I was a supporter of Trout over Cabrera last year, but this year I felt like the offensive gap was even wider, too big for Trout to overcome with his advantages defensively and on the bases. Also, I was impressed by Cabrera’s 1.311 OPS with runners in scoring position. (Trout’s was .993.) Regardless of the different number of opportunities each had, that’s a big gap in production at the times when games are won. While I don’t believe “clutch performance” is a skill or predictive, the MVP is about what you did, not what you can do again.

Jon Morosi (FOX Sports): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Davis

I’m very sympathetic toward the argument that Trout shouldn’t be penalized for the fact that his team had a losing record. But I don’t see this vote as penalizing Trout, so to speak. This is more rewarding Cabrera for what he did. He put together one of the best offensive seasons we’ve seen in generations, he did it while playing hurt for the past two months, and he was the difference in his team winning the division. To me, that’s what “most valuable” means.

John Hickey (Oakland Tribune): 1. Donaldson, 2. Cabrera, 3. Davis (Trout 4th)

To me, the key part of the award is “Valuable.” It’s not Most Outstanding Player, it’s not Player of the Year, in which case(s) Trout and Cabrera would dead heat. Both were terrific. As good as Trout was, the Angels finished 18 games out. There’s not much value in finishing third. Cabrera’s value was that the Tigers won their division. My first place vote went to the A’s Josh Donaldson, even over Cabrera, because Cabrera was surrounded by a much superior lineup than was Donaldson. Such was Donaldson’s value, in my mind, that without him Oakland would have been a middle-of-the-road finisher. Donaldson wasn’t the best player. He was the most valuable.

Wallace Matthews (ESPNNewYork.com): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Max Scherzer

As long as the word “valuable” remains in the name of the award, I’m always going to factor in how well a player’s team performed and how integral the player was to that performance. Both Cabrera and Trout had outstanding seasons, but you could make the argument that the Angels could just as easily have finished 18 games out without Trout in the lineup. Cabrera, on the other hand, played for a divison winner that relies heavily on his offensive contributions. And even if you want to go strictly by the numbers, with the value factor removed, Cabrera had better numbers in just about every category with the exception of runs and walks. So really, it wasn’t that tough a call for me.

Chad Jennings (Journal News): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Davis

Oddly enough, I think I would have voted for Trout last year. This year, I was simply overwhelmed by Cabrera’s offensive production. In my mind, the most important thing a position player does is hit, and Cabrera is the game’s best hitter coming off a remarkably productive year. Whether his hitting outweighs his lack of speed and his defensive struggles is hard to say. I believe it does. I also put less emphasis on his defense because he’s clearly playing out of position, and doing so strictly because it makes the Tigers better. The fact he played hurt and helped keep the Tigers in the division lead played some part in my decision, but a relatively small part. Ultimately, I’m glad my vote isn’t the only one that counts. I can’t pretend I have this figured out. I simply have an opinion. I’m skeptical of defensive metrics, and although I give the WAR stat significant consideration, I think it’s flawed and can’t be the end of the discussion. I guess the decision of Cabrera vs. Trout depends on what you value and how you view the award. I don’t think there’s a slam-dunk choice one way or the other.

Jose de Jesus Ortiz (Houston Chronicle): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Donaldson

I weighed the stats and seriously considered Trout at the top of my ballot. I used analytics for the first time since I’ve voted, but I also added extra points for playing on a playoff team. In that process, Cabrera barely edged out Trout on my ballot.

Tom Verducci (SI.com): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Davis

Mike Trout had such an amazing season it took another historic one to be considered a bit better. Miguel Cabrera’s overall and clutch hitting numbers were too good to deny. He became the first right-handed hitter to win the MLB slash triple crown (batting, on base, slugging) since World War II. 

Bill Ballou (Worcester Telegram & Gazette): 1. Davis, 2. Cabrera, 3. Donaldson (Trout 7th)

I am a strict constructionist re: “valuable”. If the award were Player of the Year, Trout would get my vote. I’m of the school that in order to have “value” you have to help your team be good, at least to the point of contending. The Angels didn’t truly contend. To fully develop that logic, players from non-contenders should not be listed on the  ballot at all, but the BBWAA insists that we fill out all 10 slots, so I did, even though I did not think there were 10 worthy candidates from contending teams.

Lynn Henning (Detroit News): 1. Cabrera, 2. Trout, 3. Davis

My choice was weighted by the division title, and 93 victories, and by Cabrera’s unswerving importance to a team’s playoff presence. He is the best hitter in baseball. He plays a critical position. But the transcendent value of his bat makes him, for me, the MVP. Trout is the best player in the league. Cabrera was, in 2013, in my view, the most valuable player. 

Alden

Angels’ streak of 3M fans could go down to wire …

ANGELSTADIUMThe Angels are on the verge of falling out of the playoffs for the fourth straight season, but it looks the organization will extend its streak of consecutive years drawing three million fans to the ballpark.

Barely.

The announced attendance for Friday’s game against the Mariners was 39,469, putting Angel Stadium at 2,823,874 for the season with five home games remaining (two against the Mariners, three against the Athletics). That means the Angels would have to average more than 35,225 the rest of the way to reach 3,000,000 fans for an 11th straight season.

Their average for the season: 37,125 (eighth in the Majors).

The last time the Angels didn’t draw three million fans during their 81 home dates was 2002, when they won the World Series and elevated the interest level of baseball in Orange County. When you consider how difficult it is for playoff teams like the Rays, A’s and Indians to draw 20,000 a night, it’s pretty impressive that the Angels would reach three million fans when they’ve been out of the playoff mix for basically the entire year.

But that’s four straight years without a playoff gate, after back-to-back blockbuster offseasons. And keep in mind that the attendance figures are bloated because of the season tickets that were purchased before the start of the season (that’s why paid attendance and actual attendance doesn’t always seem to match up). Next year is when the Angels could really see a drop-off.

Here are the year-to-year averages during the three-million-fans-a-year streak, with the Major League rank in parenthesis …

2003: 37,791 (5th)
2004: 41,675 (3rd)
2005: 42,033 (4th)
2006: 42,059 (5th)
2007: 41,551 (5th)
2008: 41,194 (6th)
2009: 40,004 (5th)
2010: 40,133 (5th)
2011: 39,090 (5th)
2012: 37,799 (7th)

Alden

Another step forward for Garrett Richards …

Garrett RichardsYeah, the Angels lost — 2-1 on a walk-off — but it’s been all about the future for a long time now.

And Garrett Richards continues to be a reason for optimism in 2014.

On Tuesday night, he limited the A’s — with their .280 batting average and 55 homers in their previous 37 games — to just one run in seven-plus innings, putting his ERA at 2.90 in 11 starts since taking Joe Blanton‘s spot in the rotation. He scattered seven hits, walked two, struck out six and made a pitch every time he really needed to.

With Brandon Moss on second after a two-out, RBI ground-rule double in the first, he used a cutter to force Yoenis Cespedes into a groundout. With men on first and second and two outs in the fourth, he got Alberto Callaspo to chase a 3-2 slider in the dirt for a punchout. With runners on the corners and two outs in the fifth, he struck eventual hero Josh Donaldson out with a cutter. And after giving up a leadoff double to Moss in the sixth, he retired Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Callaspo in order to keep the score knotted at 1.

The A’s had eight at-bats with runners in scoring position against the 25-year-old Richards, and they got only one hit.

“I’m just worried about the next pitch and one pitch at a time,” Richards said of his approach with runners in scoring position. “Just trying to execute pitches. I don’t really get discouraged when guys get on base. I believe in myself and know that I can work through it.”

Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked if he’s noticed a “tougher” Richards this season, particularly in his third stint as a Major League starter.

“I don’t think ‘tough’ is the right word,” Scioscia said. “He’s maturing. He was tough last year. He goes after guys. But the confidence keeps building as you have success. He understands if a guy gets on, he walks a guy, if they find a hole, he can still make pitches and minimize damage and get out of a jam. He gave up a two-out hit to Moss in the first and outside of that, when guys were in scoring position, he made pitches. It’s not so much about him being tough; its his confidence level.”

And his repertoire.

Richards relies heavily on his fastball-slider mix and goes from there. Today, he scrapped his changeup — even though it felt good coming out of his hand in the bullpen — and threw a lot more breaking balls than usual. Per pitchF/X, 11 percent of Richards’ pitches (11 of 100) were that nasty, 12-to-6, mostly-high-70s breaking ball — and a lot of them came in critical situations. Heading in, only 3.7 percent of his pitches this season had been curveballs.

Just another example of how Richards continues to evolve.

“I feel like I made some major strides this year in a positive way,” Richards said. “That comes with just getting experience up here and working with [pitching coach Mike Butcher]. I feel good about where I’m at right now.”

Alden

 

Game 151: Angels-Athletics …

Angels (73-77)

CALJ.B. Shuck, DH
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Mike Trout, CF
Josh Hamilton, LF
Mark Trumbo, 1B
Kole Calhoun, RF
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C
Andrew Romine, 3B

SP: RH Garrett Richards (7-6, 3.91 ERA)

Athletics (88-62)

OAKCoco Crisp, CF
Daric Barton, 1B
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Brandon Moss, LF
Yoenis Cespedes, DH
Josh Reddick, RF
Alberto Callaspo, 2B
Stephen Vogt, C
Eric Sogard, SS

SP: RH Sonny Gray (3-3, 2.63 ERA)

  • Chris Nelson‘s season looked finished when he suffered a strained hamstring on Aug. 28. Today, he was activated off the disabled list. Mike Scioscia said he’ll initially be available as a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter, and may work his way back towards playing third base regularly. “With hamstrings you never know,” Scioscia said. “But when he came off the field, you were thinking man, this is not good on the timing of the season, how long it will take. He’s worked really hard; definitely available to play defense and ran well enough that hopefully he’s day-to-day before he can get out there and start playing and get some at-bats.”
  • Luis Jimenez, however, is still “a ways away” from getting back, Scioscia said. His right shoulder remains sore, and he has a ways to go before being able to throw again. So, he’s probably done for the year.
  • Trout’s home run was initially thought to be 420 feet. But after coming back up from the clubhouse, ESPN’s Home Run Tracker put it at 452 feet. That distance was still not enough for Scioscia. “At 452, that ball is still in the air past that fence. I’m sorry. That ball is 500 feet.”
  • Cool stat from the game notes: Trout is one double and one triple shy of being the first ever member of the 10-20-30-40 club (10 triples, 20 homers, 30 steals, 40 doubles) in Major League history. Trout is at 9-24-33-39.

Alden

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