Results tagged ‘ C.J. Wilson ’

Pujols on leak of meetings: ‘It’s really embarrasing’ …

The prevailing sentiment in the Angels’ clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after a report detailed friction between the front office and coaching staff, wasn’t so much anger at what took place.

It was disappointment in the fact that it was made public.

“Whoever leaked that story, it’s really embarrassing,” Angels first baseman Albert Pujols said. “We’re supposed to be a family here.”

The report stated that “emotions simmered” amid a series of meetings revolving around the front office’s belief that the coaching staff was doing an inadequate job of relaying scouting information to players. In those meetings, occurring this past weekend, at least one coach “responded heatedly” to general manager Jerry Dipoto and Pujols issued “a pointed rebuttal” to the fourth-year GM.

A source said the report’s portrayal of the meetings was “verbatim,” though what it all means moving forward is still very much open for interpretation.

“I’m not going to comment on what happened or didn’t happen,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “but I can only tell you it will not be a distraction to these guys.”

Angels setup man Joe Smith believes it was no different from what goes on throughout the course of any season with any team.

“You have a bunch of men filled with testosterone in one little room, and we’re with each other every day and we’re all trying to do something,” Smith said. “Stuff happens, and I think it’s better when it’s kept in-house. Because it does happen; it happens every year in every clubhouse. You keep your mouth shut, you keep it in here, and you move on, with everybody performing in the right direction.”

But the report could also be yet another sign that Dipoto and Scioscia, baseball’s longest-tenured manager, aren’t on the same page. And it’s even more prevalent when considering that Scioscia can opt out of his 10-year contract at the end of this season, rather than staying through 2018.

Dipoto, who had his 2016 club option picked up earlier this season, didn’t respond to several requests seeking comment. The two bumped heads through Dipoto’s first two years, 2012-13, but Scioscia said he and Dipoto are “a good team,” adding that “the only real issue” was when they let hitting coach Mickey Hatcher go in May 2012.

We’ve moved past that,” Scioscia added. “We’ve moved way past that.”

Dipoto, according to the report, believes the coaches rely too heavily on “feel” and the coaches “seemingly do not trust the information they are given,” making them “not willing or able to translate it for the players.”

None of the roles in the Angels’ coaching staff or in-game scouting department will change, Scioscia said. A source added that the players will simply be receiving scouting information directly to their iPads from the front office, rather than have a coach filter through it first. The players can then choose to do what they want with it.

“The only difference is getting the scouting reports to players and then bringing it back to coaches,” Scioscia said. “It’s just a slight adjustment.”

The report said Pujols “challenged” Dipoto on Sunday, by “saying that the coaches are working as hard to prepare the players as they did last season, but that the roster is not as strong as it was a year ago.”

Asked about having words with Dipoto, Pujols said: “That’s none of your business. Whatever happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.”

The report comes at a time when the Angels are still trying to find their footing. They won a Major League-best 98 games last year, but they’ve had a .500 record on 18 separate occasions this season. And despite winning four of their previous five games, they entered Tuesday four games back of the first-place Astros in the American League West.

On the mound, the Angels sport the fifth-lowest ERA in the AL. On defense, a department where the Angels began incorporating a lot more defensive shifting at the start of 2014, they rank third in efficiency, according to Baseball Prospectus. Their offense, however, has scored the fourth-fewest runs per game in the AL.

“It’s been a tough year so far,” Pujols said, “but we’re only four games out with still [11] games before [the All-Star] break.”

Angels starter C.J. Wilson considered the heated discussions “a positive thing.”

“That’s the way I took it,” he said. “Like, ‘Hey, we’re going to work harder as a team overall, have more communication overall.’ I didn’t see anything wrong with it. The whole goal is not about ego; it’s all about winning.”


The Angels’ uncertain, costly future …

dipotoThe Draft starts today, and after going heavy-handed on pitching the last two years, the Angels are expected to target position players this time around. They — like any other team — want to set themselves up so that every time there’s a need on the Major League club, there’s a player in their farm system ready to take over. It’s too risky, not to mention expensive, to rely on the free-agent market to fill holes. Look no further than that brutal offseason heading into 2013, which saw the Angels sign Josh Hamilton, Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett. Ouch.

The Cardinals are the gold standard when it comes to organizational depth, as evidenced by a Major League-leading plus-70 run-differential without Adam Wanwright or Matt Adams.

The Angels? Well, they’re working on it.

Their farm system was in need of a major replenishment right around the time Jerry Dipoto took over as general manager after the 2011 season, but major free-agent signings stripped the Angels of early-round picks and new CBA regulations limited how much teams can spend on amateur talent. It’s been a slow process. But over time, the Angels have at least done a good job of building some respectable starting-pitching depth. Some notables …

Triple-A: Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano
Double-A: Nate Smith, Kyle McGowin
Class A Advanced: Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis, Victor Alcantara
Class A: Jeremy Rhoades, Jake Jewell
Lower levels: Joe Gatto, Hunter Green

That brings us to the upcoming offseason, and why that starting-pitching depth could be so important. The Angels — losers of five straight games — could have up to five holes in their lineup once this season ends: catcher, second base, third base, left field, designated hitter. In the majority of those spots — perhaps all of them, if you’re being really cynical — the Angels don’t have players in their organization ready to come up and take over. And their big financial flexibility won’t come after the 2016 season, when C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and Erick Aybar, among others, come off the books.

Dipoto, with a contract that carries a lingering club option for 2016, knows he’ll eventually have to part ways with some of the precious starting-pitching depth he’s worked so hard to compile. He may have to trade some of it within these next two months, with his club in desperate need of some offense. And he’s almost certain to do so over the winter, given all their upcoming needs.

Here’s a snapshot …


Current option: Chris Iannetta, in the final season of a three-year, $15.55 million extension
In-house replacement(s): Carlos Perez, Jett Bandy
Free-agent options: Iannetta, Alex Avila, John Jaso, Dioner Navarro, Jeff Mathis (!), Matt Wieters
Probable outcome: The rest of this season could play a big part in deciding how the Angels handle this position. They need to find out if Perez, basically a throw-in in the deal that sent Hank Conger to the Astros for Tropeano, is capable of being a semi-regular. Bandy has made some pretty big strides in the last year and is solid defensively, and that free-agent list is pretty compelling. But I’d guess that if the Angels splurge on a free agent, it’s an outfielder, not a catcher.


Current option: David Freese, making $6.425 million in his final arbitration year
In-house replacement(s): Kyle Kubitza
Free-agent options: Freese, Aramis Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Casey McGehee, Alberto Callaspo (!)
Probable outcome: The hope – the initial plan – is that Kubitza is ready to be the everyday third baseman in 2016. The likely scenario is that Kubitza is paired with a right-handed-hitting veteran who doesn’t mind sharing the job and can help Kubitza make the transition to the big leagues. I think it’s unlikely that they make a run at resigning Freese, especially since he’ll probably make good money given the lack of talent in the free-agent pool at third base.


Current option: Johnny Giavotella, controllable through 2019
In-house replacement(s): Giavotella, Josh Rutledge, Grant Green, Taylor Featherston, Alex Yarbrough
Free-agent options: Howie Kendrick (!), Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy
Probable outcome: Giavotella has been a revelation of sorts and is out of options. None of the other in-house options are all that appealing, as Spring Training might have shown, but the free-agent market isn’t deep here, either. The Angels don’t really do reunions, but Kendrick was huge for their lineup these last few years and he loves playing in Southern California. This is a position where they may ultimately have to get creative again.


Current option: Matt Joyce, making $4.75 million in his final arbitration year
In-house replacement(s): Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Collin Cowgill, Efren Navarro, Alfredo Marte
Free-agent options: Joyce, Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward, Torii Hunter (!), David Murphy, Justin Upton, Chris Young, Shane Victorino
Probable outcome: As you can see, this is a major, major problem. Outfield is by far the Angels’ biggest organizationally need and they’ll most certainly have to get somebody from the outside. That may happen before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, though. Dipoto has been looking for a left-handed-hitting left fielder for quite a while, and for obvious reasons, he’d like to get someone who’s controllable beyond this season. Upton would be a very appealing option, though.


Current option: C.J. Cron, controllable through 2020
In-house replacement(s): Cron, Marc Krauss
Free-agent options: Chris Davis, Mike Napoli (!), Delmon Young
Probable outcome: This situation is strikingly similar to left field. For the last two years, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been scrounging for that ninth bat, going from Raul Ibanez to Cron to Navarro to Krauss to Green to Cron again. Most teams have this problem, though. Perhaps the Angels remain patient with Cron, but I see them getting two bats before August.


Hamilton meets teammates, ‘wants to play baseball’ …

Josh Hamilton isn’t with the Angels at Minute Maid Park, but he isn’t forgotten.

Several Angels players went to go see the 33-year-old outfielder prior to Friday’s series finale in Houston, where Hamilton has been rehabbing from shoulder surgery since early February. Manager Mike Scioscia and bench coach Dino Ebel had dinner with him on Wednesday night; C.J. Wilson met with Hamilton at Wilson’s friend’s house, where the Angels starter stays during trips to Houston; David Freese, Collin Cowgill and Kole Calhoun met him for lunch during the Thursday off day.

“It was good to see him,” Freese said. “I thought he was good in really good spirits. The fact is he wants to play some baseball. And he’s ready to roll.”

Freese, Calhoun and Cowgill came away shocked at how good Hamilton looked — 250 pounds, chiseled, in good spirits and ready to play baseball. That last part, of course, is complicated, with Angels owner Arte Moreno all but saying he doesn’t want the embattled slugger around.

Wilson, Hamilton’s good friend dating back to their days with the Rangers, said he’s “100 percent” in a state of mind to play baseball.

Based on their conversation, Wilson believes Hamilton’s latest relapse — which occurred late in the offseason and reportedly involved cocaine — was a “tame scenario” compared to what he went through as a Minor League player in the Rays organization. He said Hamilton is “100 percent functional,” “in the right place” and “ready to go.”

“It’s my 100-percent opinion that Josh is not a risk to himself or anybody else,” Wilson added. “That’s what I feel having known him for 8 years. That’s the closest thing I can get to a factual opinion.”

Scioscia didn’t want to elaborate on his conversation with Hamilton.

“He’s on his way with his physical recovery,” Scioscia said. “He’s getting into more baseball activities and we’ll just see when he’s ready to get out and really get after it and play. We’re not sure yet.”

The situation has put Angels players in an awkward spot, because they want to express support for Hamilton but don’t want to appear critical of upper management. For the most part, the players — and, to some extent, the coaching staff — don’t really know what’s going on.

Seeing Hamilton, at least, provided a little clarity.

“We still don’t really know what’s going on,” Freese said. “All I know is what I saw, a guy that’s smiling a lot. We enjoyed a nice lunch. He’s got a routine going on right now, and he really just wants to play some baseball.

“The lack of knowledge that’s going on can be frustrating, because this is a guy we care about. This is our team. Sooner or later, things will come out and we’ll all know what’s going on and whether he’s coming back with the Angels or he’s not.”


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.


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


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.


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. 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!


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.”


Josh Hamilton will not be suspended …

Josh Hamilton will not be suspended or otherwise disciplined after an arbitrator ruled that the Angels outfielder did not violate the terms of his drug treatment program, Major League Baseball said Friday.

Hamilton self-reported a drug-related relapse that occurred late in the offseason, then met with MLB officials in New York on Feb. 25 and remained in Houston thereafter, rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder and awaiting what was considered a likely suspension.

The decision not to levy any punishment – a product of Hamilton admitting to the relapse before a failed drug test – came as a surprise the Angels noticeably disagreed with.

In a statement issued by the club, general manager Jerry Dipoto said the Angels “have serious concerns about Josh’s conduct, health and behavior, and we are disappointed that he has broken an important commitment which he made to himself, his family, his teammates and our fans. We are going to do everything possible to assure he receives proper help for himself and for the well-being of his family.”

In a separate statement, Angels president John Carpino said: “It defies logic that Josh’s reported behavior is not a violation of his current program.”

In a phone conversation a couple hours after the statement, Carpino said: “Our focus now, based on the arbitrator’s ruling, is to get Josh the help he needs, for himself and for his family.”

A four-panel treatment board – consisting of two representatives each from MLB and the MLB Players Association – deadlocked on whether Hamilton violated the terms of his treatment program, requiring the need for an outside arbitrator that ultimately ruled in Hamilton’s favor.

MLB took the position that Hamilton violated his treatment program and would be subject to discipline by Commissioner Rob Manfred, but the arbitrator ruled that “Hamilton’s conduct did not violate his treatment program,” according to MLB, leaving Manfred without the right to impose any penalties.

“The Office of the Commissioner disagrees with the decision,” MLB said in its statement, “and will seek to address deficiencies in the manner in which drugs of abuse are addressed under the program in the collective bargaining process.”

The arbitrator considered Hamilton’s latest transgression a “slip” and not a violation, according to the Los Angeles Times, leaving the Angels without any additional salary relief in 2015. Hamilton’s agent, Michael Moye, could not be reached for comment and the MLBPA has no plans to issue a statement.

Asked for an update on Hamilton’s injury rehab, Dipoto said in a text message that there is “nothing new to add.”

Hamilton had alcohol-related relapses leading up to the 2009 and ’12 seasons, but those weren’t punishable by MLB. His most recent relapse, reportedly involving cocaine and alcohol, was his first known drug use since October 2005.

Hamilton went from a can’t-miss, blue-chip prospect to a drug addict who was out of baseball for four years to a perennial All-Star, an inspiring story that captivated the nation and brought hope to addicts everywhere. But the demons of addiction remained a daily struggle for Hamilton, who had an accountability partner with him at all times during the season until he downsized the role in 2014.

“I’m a drug addict,” Hamilton told USA Today in an interview shortly after being reinstated in June 2006. “It’s not terminal, but there is no cure. It’s hell on earth. It’s a constant struggle. And it’s going to be like that for the rest of my life.”

Two years after being drafted first overall by the Rays out of a Raleigh, N.C., high school in 1999, Hamilton began to experiment with drugs and alcohol while rehabbing injuries from a traffic accident. That led to taking the 2003 season off, then being suspended from 2004-06 for multiple failed drug tests.

Eight months sober, Hamilton was reinstated in June 2006, then went unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft and ended up with the Reds, with whom he played his rookie season in 2007. He was dealt to the Rangers the following December, kicking off a five-year run during which he started in five straight All-Star Games, played in back-to-back World Series, hit a record 28 homers in the opening round of the 2008 Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium and won the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player Award.

The Angels signed Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract in December 2011, but didn’t get much in the first two years.

Hamilton batted .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 2013 and finished an injury-plagued 2014 season with a .263 batting average and 10 home runs in 89 games. Hamilton missed 10 weeks recovering from thumb surgery early in 2014, then spent almost all of September rehabbing injuries along his right side — shoulder, traps, chest, ribcage — and went 0-for-13 in an AL Division Series sweep to the Royals.

Doctors were hopeful that extra offseason rest would counteract the need for invasive procedures, but Hamilton’s arthritic right shoulder bothered him again once he started swinging full force, prompting surgery to repair his right AC joint on Feb. 4.

The recovery timeline was initially six to eight weeks, with Hamilton not expected back until May. Anticipating a likely suspension, the Angels didn’t issue Hamilton a locker at their Spring Training complex and didn’t have one designated for him at Angel Stadium on Thursday night, either.

Longtime teammate C.J. Wilson has been in touch with Hamilton and said, “I feel like he’s doing everything he can to get ready to play baseball again.”

The left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce is now slated to be the everyday left fielder and the right-handed-hitting C.J. Cron will get the majority of at-bats at designated hitter, with right-handed-hitting outfielder Collin Cowgill occasionally spelling Joyce against tough lefties.

“I think we’re deep enough on the offensive side that we should be OK,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Thursday. “But you can’t plan on using what you don’t have. We’re going to take this one step at a time with Josh.”

The next step will be the toughest – the Angels must figure out how to fold Hamilton back in.


Uncertainty remains for Josh Hamilton …

Josh Hamilton didn’t have a locker at the Angels’ Spring Training facility, and he currently doesn’t have one at Angel Stadium, either.

His old locker, tucked away in a back corner of the home clubhouse, now belongs to the new second baseman, Johnny Giavotella. The Angels said they didn’t assign Hamilton a locker because there are only 38 of them, and that’s the exact amount of players who needed one for the opener of a three-game, exhibition Freeway Series against the Dodgers on Thursday night.

The Angels were hopeful of getting clarity on Hamilton’s situation by the end of this week, but it looks like they’ll have to wait a little longer.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred recently told SiriusXM Radio that a decision on a potential suspension for the Angels’ outfielder will “probably” be made “shortly after” Opening Day, which means next week at the earliest.

“I think that we’ll have something on Hamilton in relatively short order — it probably has been a little slower just because he’s not available to play,” Manfred told SiriusXM Radio on Wednesday.

Thirteen days earlier, Manfred told the Associated Press he expected a resolution “before Opening Day,” but the timeline has been moved back, because a lot of factors still have to be weighed.

There are questions about how to account for Hamilton’s past transgressions, which occurred when he was a Minor League player and were not subject to the current Joint Drug Agreement. There may be leniency for a player who has done an admirable job of coping with an addiction since his reinstatement nearly nine years ago. And there’s involvement from the MLB Players Association, which seeks sympathy for Hamilton.

This much is clear: The issue is out of the Angels’ hands, and none of the players have any idea what will happen.

“We’re always obviously thinking about him,” Angels center fielder Mike Trout said. “He’s our teammate. But until we know more information, we really can’t do much. You can’t really think about him too much because you don’t know what’s going on. He’s our teammate. We’re always trying to figure out what’s going on with him. Everybody wants to know, and nobody has answers. It’s kind of been like that the last couple of weeks.”

Hamilton met with MLB officials in New York on Feb. 25 over what sources say was a drug-related relapse that occurred late in the offseason. Hamilton then remained in Houston, staying with a friend while recovering from right shoulder surgery. Angels officials have checked in with Hamilton sporadically to check on his injury rehab, most recently saying that he’s been taking swings off a tee.

Angels starter C.J. Wilson, a friend of Hamilton’s dating back to their days on the Rangers, has been in touch with the 33-year-old of late and said, “I feel like he’s doing everything he can to get ready to play baseball again.”

“I was very surprised that there was news about this at all, just because I didn’t really see it on the horizon,” Wilson said of Hamilton’s relapse. “He doesn’t seem to be a mopy, murky person. Every time I talk to him, he seems fine.”

Players who violate the JDA for a drug of abuse are initially placed in a treatment program, with the first violation of the program resulting in a suspension of 15-25 games, a second being 25-50, a third being 50-75 and a fourth being at least a full season. Players aren’t paid while suspended, but they are eligible for full salary retention in the first 30 days of a treatment program.

The length of his suspension will have a big impact on the Angels’ financial situation, considering he’s owed $23 million. A potential extension with closer Huston Street, entering his final season before free agency, won’t be finalized until there is more clarity with Hamilton. Once there is, the Angels will have to figure out how to fold him back into a team that may be well into its season by then.

First, they’ll play without him.

“I think we’re deep enough on the offensive side that we should be OK,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “But you can’t plan on using what you don’t have.”

Hamilton was once a can’t-miss blue-chip prospect who spent four years away from baseball, fighting addiction. He made substantial strides, becoming a perennial All-Star in his five years with the Rangers and an inspiring story that captivated the nation and brought hope to addicts.

But he hasn’t met expectations since coming to the Angels on a five-year, $125 million contract in December 2012.

Hamilton batted .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 2013 and finished an injury-plagued ’14 season with a .263 batting average and 10 home runs in 89 games. He missed 10 weeks while recovering from left thumb surgery early in 2014, then spent almost all of September recovering from injuries along his right side — shoulder, trapezius, chest, ribcage — and went 0-or-13 in an AL Division Series sweep at the hands of the Royals.

Hamilton felt pain in his shoulder once he started swinging with full force again, requiring surgery on Feb. 4 to repair his right AC joint. The injury timeline was six to eight weeks, with the possibility of a return by May.

The fact he wouldn’t have been ready by now has made it easier to cope with the uncertainty.

“Josh isn’t ready to play baseball right now,” Scioscia said. “We’re just kind of business as usual and we’ll just take stuff one step at a time. You can’t answer questions until you’re really confirmed on exactly what they’re going to be. We’ll get the first step here shortly and just see what we’re dealing with.”


April Come She Will …

Erick Aybar, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout

The Angels are playing their last Cactus League game from Arizona on Wednesday, after which they’ll commute to Southern California for the three-way, exhibition Freeway Series that spills into Opening Day in Seattle on Monday. 

Spring Training began with 61 (active) players, and now we’re down to 34 who will not be starting the season on the disabled list. That list has to be whittled down to 25 by Sunday. So, the Angels still have some things to work through the rest of this week. 

Here’s a look … 

Clarity on Hamilton: The Josh Hamilton situation has been hanging over the Angels like a dark cloud all spring. It hasn’t necessarily been a distraction; he hasn’t been here, and they’ve been going about their business as if he isn’t even on the roster. But they won’t be able to ignore it much longer. Rob Manfred said recently that a resolution should come before Opening Day, with Hamilton likely facing a suspension for what sources say was a drug-related relapse. The news will have a big impact on the Angels’ financial situation, and it’ll force them to make a big decision about how to fold Hamilton back in (if at all).

Extension for Street: Huston Street, acting as his own agent, has been mum on a potential extension with the Angels for a few weeks now. Word is that an extension is still a very real possibility, but the Angels are in a holding pattern until the Hamilton situation is resolved. The 31-year-old right-hander was initially seeking a four-year contract (though perhaps with 2015 included) that would pay him between $36 and $46 million. The only way he would negotiate past Opening Day is if both sides basically have the logistics already worked out.

Making the unofficial official: Mike Scioscia doesn’t like announcing anything until he absolutely has to, and he’ll make a lot of declarations once the Spring Training schedule ends on Saturday. Here’s what we pretty much know already, though …

  • Jered Weaver will be the Opening Day starter, with C.J. Wilson and Matt Shoemaker pitching the other two games in Seattle, respectively, and Hector Santiago getting the ball for the home opener against the Royals next Friday. With Adam Wainwright getting the nod for the Cardinals on Tuesday, Scioscia became the only manager who hasn’t announced his Opening Day starter. I told you he’s good at this.
  • The Angels will start the season with four starters and eight relief pitchers. They’re off after that season-opening three-game series in Seattle and they won’t need a fifth one until April 14. That means Weaver, Wilson and Shoemaker will make their second start on regular rest. We’ll get into who makes that start later.
  • Johnny Giavotella is the starting second baseman. Look no further than the fact that all four second-base candidates were in Wednesday’s lineup, and he was the only one at second base. Giavotella is out of options, has hit well this spring and has made the plays he should make. That was enough to win the job.
  • Andrew Heaney and Josh Rutledge will both start the season in Triple-A. Heaney entered camp as the presumed favorite for the fifth starter spot and Rutledge looked like the favorite to win the second base job. But they didn’t help their causes. Heaney, who will start Friday’s Freeway Series game, struggled to keep the ball down and allowed 19 runs on 29 hits in 19 innings. Rutledge, also going with the team to California, struggled with the mechanics of his swing and entered Wednesday with nine hits in 49 at-bats. It’s still a possibility Rutledge makes the team as the utility infielder, but that would mean the Angels lose Taylor Featherston, a Rule 5 pick who would have to be offered back to the Rockies. I’d be surprised if that happens.
  • Prospects Carlos Perez and Kyle Kubitza will also be optioned to the Minor Leagues. Perez is a solid defensive catcher, but the more seasoned Drew Butera (out of options) is the backup. Kubitza’s bat really came on late in spring, but he isn’t expected to take over for David Freese at third base until 2016.
  • Cory Rasmus (core injury), Garrett Richards (knee surgery) and Tyler Skaggs (Tommy John surgery) will be placed on the DL, with Rasmus expected to return around May, Richards in line to return in the middle of April and Skaggs missing the entire season.

The last roster spots: One bench spot and two bullpen spots still look pretty open. Lefties Jose Alvarez and Scott Snodgress and righties Drew Rucinski and Ryan Mattheus are still in camp and vying for the last two spots in the ‘pen, along with Street, Joe Smith, Fernando Salas, Mike Morin, Cesar Ramos and Vinnie Pestano. Right-handed hitters Grant Green (2B, SS, 3B, LF) and Daniel Robertson (LF, CF, RF) and left-handed hitters Marc Krauss (1B, LF, RF) and Efren Navarro (1B, LF, RF) are also vying for a bench spot, along with Butera, Featherston and Collin Cowgill. … My guesses: Alvarez and Rucinski both lock down the last two bullpen spots, even though both of them are starters. One is length out of the bullpen, the other potentially makes a spot start April 14. And Navarro takes the last bench spot. The Angels could use a left-handed hitter off the bench, and though Navarro doesn’t bring power like Krauss, he’s a disciplined hitter who has had a very nice spring. Back spasms may have kept Krauss from winning a job — though I expect him to contribute eventually.

Richards’ progress: Richards had yet another strong outing against Minor League hitters on Saturday, his second straight impressive one. He’ll pitch again on Thursday, then take a week off to pitch on April 9 and start a rehab assignment on April 14, which means the soonest he can return is April 19, Scioscia said from Arizona today. It’s still possible that Richards simply returns to the rotation on April 14, but the Angels have exercised a lot of caution, and Scioscia has hinted in the past that an April 14 return may be a little too ambitious.

Last but not least, my final Taco Power Rankings for 2015 …

1. Los Taquitos
2. The Mission
3. Taquitos Jalisco
4. El Hefe
5. Tortas El Rey
6. Sombrero’s Mexican Grill
7. Fuzzy’s Taco Shop
8. Comedor Guadelajara
9. Senor Taco
10. Carolina’s Mexican Food



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