Results tagged ‘ Diamondbacks ’
The All-Star Game and Albert Pujols were as much a summer tradition as beach balls and sunburns. Through his first 10 years, he went to nine of them, starting seven times for the National League while competing in the Home Run Derby on three separate occasions.
It’s now been five years since Pujols’ last invite to the Midsummer Classic, though. He’s been denied each of his first three years with the Angels, while starting 2012 on a miserable slump, battling injuries throughout 2013 and falling off the radar by 2014.
Now, he’s making his push.
Pujols’ sixth-inning two-run homer in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the D-backs gave him sole possession of the American League lead with 19. Eleven of them have come over his last 18 games, a stretch that has seen Pujols bat .368 with three strikeouts in 75 plate appearances. His slash line is up to .273/.326/.550. His OPS, .876, now ranks third among AL first basemen.
“If I get the call, great,” Pujols said of the All-Star Game. “If I don’t, then I guess I don’t. There are so many people in the past that deserve to be there. You can only have so many guys on the roster. It’s not like you get a hundred players on the roster. But I don’t think about that, to tell you the truth.”
It won’t be easy.
The Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera (1.043) and the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira (.942) lead in OPS among first basemen, but they aren’t even in line to start. That distinction belongs to Eric Hosmer, one of eight Royals players currently being voted in to make up the AL lineup. Pujols ranked fifth in fan votes at his position when the latest results were revealed, nearly five million shy of Hosmer.
His only real hope is to get voted in by his peers, who select a backup at each position, or the managers, who select eight additional players.
“I think first base is one of the toughest positions to grab a spot in the All-Star Game,” Pujols’ longtime teammate, David Freese, said. “It’s a position where guys are expected to bang. You can have 15, 20 at the break with a lot of damage and not make it. … But the guy is just unbelievable. I get front-row seats on deck a good portion of the time, just watching him hit. He looks healthy, man. His legs are powerful. He’s getting down on his stance and he’s ready to go every pitch.”
Pujols was batting .228 with eight homers and 17 RBIs through the Angels’ first 45 games, but he remained confident, because he was batting an unseemly .210 on balls in play and he was hardly striking out. He’s now on pace for 47 home runs, a number he hasn’t reached since 2009.
The year after that, he made his last All-Star Game.
“Would I like to be there? Of course,” Pujols said. “Everybody wants to be at the All-Star Game. But I can’t control that. All I can control is doing the best I can, hopefully helping this ballclub be in first place before the All-Star break.”
Desperate for continuity from his offense and looking to maximize opportunities for his two best hitters, Angels manager Mike Scioscia made a significant, highly anticipated change to his lineup Tuesday, batting Mike Trout in the prominent No. 3 spot and making Albert Pujols his new cleanup hitter.
Scioscia hopes “this is a lineup we can ride out for a long time.”
In his mind, it became a necessity.
“We’ve got five holes in our wall and enough spackle for three holes,” is how Scioscia described it. “Which ones do you want to fill? Right now we want to go solid one through five and look at it that way.”
Translation: The Angels’ offense hasn’t proven to be very deep this year, so Scioscia would prefer to bunch all of his best hitters up top.
That involved keeping Erick Aybar at leadoff and moving Kole Calhoun to the No. 2 spot to bat him directly in front of Trout and Pujols, as was the case when Calhoun batted leadoff all of last season.
The Angels entered Tuesday ranked 22nd in the Majors in runs per game, while Trout and Pujols were tied with Nelson Cruz for the American League lead in homers with 18 apiece.
Pujols had started in the cleanup spot just five times since 2003 and not once since signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels. Trout batted leadoff as a rookie in 2012, moved into the No. 2 spot a couple weeks into the 2013 season and batted third only on days when Pujols wasn’t in the lineup, which was especially the case when Pujols missed the last two months of 2013 because of a partial tear of his left plantar fascia.
Trout has a .323/.473/.511 slash line in 245 career plate appearances as a No. 3 hitter.
“I’m not going to change my approach,” said Trout, who entered Tuesday batting .297/.381/.577 for the season. “You can’t change your approach. That’s when you get in trouble.”
Since 1914, Pujols – riding a hot stretch that has his slash line up to .272/.323/.540 – ranks eighth in starts in the No. 3 spot with 1,851. The 35-year-old first baseman didn’t want to talk about the subject when approached by the media on Tuesday afternoon, but indications are that he really likes the move.
There’s a delicate balance here, a tradeoff between potentially giving Trout and Pujols more opportunities with runners in scoring position while ensuring that they will come up to bat less frequently over the course of the season.
“That was weighed very heavily,” Scioscia said. “But the bottom line is everybody in the room when we were talking about it was unanimous about the need to try to readjust some things.”
There was a 16-plate-appearance gap between the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters in the AL last year, which would add up to about 10 fewer plate appearances for both Trout and Pujols this season. Scioscia hopes Aybar and Calhoun can help make up for that by giving Trout and Pujols more opportunities to drive in runs.
Aybar’s slash line is down to .255/.301/.301 after a recent 0-for-19 slump, while Calhoun – the cleanup hitter for the better part of the last month – entered Tuesday batting .273/.328/.398.
“Right now we all feel that we need to try something that’s going to get a little more action, especially early in games,” Scioscia said. “It’s not just the first inning. But if we get a little action and move the lineup, these guys are coming back up in the third inning and in the fifth inning, the same group. If you just do a statistical analysis of it, the chances of these guys hitting with a couple of guys on base is very real within the first five or six innings, either Mike or Albert, if this works out. We’ll see.”
Albert Pujols has never really had a bad Spring Training. He’s hit at least .286 and as high as .407 over the last 10 years, because he always shows up in shape and it never takes him long to find his timing.
He just seems, well, different this spring.
More specifically, his legs look healthier than they have in the last three years.
Pujols entered Spring Training 2013 recovering from offseason surgery to his right knee, then suffered plantar fasciitis around the middle of camp, a condition that didn’t allow him to play past July of that season. That was followed by a prolonged offseason that allowed Pujols to get healthy, but the Angels’ first baseman wasn’t able to strengthen his right knee like he wanted to until this past winter.
Now, it seems, he has a strong foundation at the plate again.
“You could tell the difference when you’re in good health, and he is right now,” Angels shortstop Erick Aybar said.
“He looks strong right now,” third baseman David Freese added. “His lower half looks strong; as strong as I’ve seen it over the last few years, watching him and obviously seeing it in person. I think he’s taking care of himself.”
Pujols entered Friday’s game batting .326 (14-for-43) with four home runs in Cactus League play. All of those homers have come over his last six games, with the latest coming Thursday, a towering shot to left-center-field on a high-and-inside fastball from Cubs reliever Jason Motte.
But the 35-year-old has been driving the ball to the opposite field all spring, an indication that his right leg is feeling better and a positive sign considering he was shifted on more than any right-handed hitter in baseball last year.
“I think he’s found ways to manage what’s been bothering him with the experience of going through it,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s certainly in great shape and he’s moving well.”
Some additional notes from Friday …
- Freese, who suffered a hyperextended left elbow on Tuesday, took batting practice and did some defensive work in the morning. He’s expected to return to the lineup on Saturday.
- Marc Krauss, out since Sunday with back spasms, was expected to play later in Friday’s game.
- Kole Calhoun, who exited Thursday’s game after taking a fastball to his right triceps muscle, played catch but stayed away from hitting. The Angels’ right fielder is expected to return to the lineup this weekend.
- Drew Rucinski was slated to pitch in a Minor League game on Friday, throwing five innings and 75 pitches.
- Mark Trumbo is in the lineup for the D-backs, marking the first time ever that he’ll face the Angels.
- The Angels are still stretching Jose Alvarez out as a starter, but not to the point where he’ll be throwing 100-plus pitches. They want to give him enough length to potentially serve as starting-pitching depth, but Alvarez is also in the running for a bullpen spot. “With he, with Rucinski, with some of the swing guys, you have to find a balance,” Scioscia said. “… You want them to get enough length to be depth in your rotation but still maintain their stuff to where you can have them in your bullpen. He’s on the depth chart in two spots.”
Most important thing: While giving up three runs on five hits and two walks in three-plus innings, Jered Weaver sat mostly 83-84 mph with his fastball, which is slow even by his standards. His average fastball velocity was 86.8 mph last year. But he usually doesn’t go full intensity until the end of Spring Training, so probably nothing to be alarmed about right now. Weaver has done pretty darn well without much velocity.
Second-most important thing: Matt Joyce went 2-for-3 to put his Cactus League batting average at .500. More importantly, one of those hits came off a lefty, a line-drive, opposite field single off D-backs starter Robbie Ray. If Joyce wants to start against lefties, and not get benched by Collin Cowgill in those situations, he’ll have to show he’s comfortable against them this spring.
Third-most important thing: Grant Green booted a routine grounder at second base and also couldn’t stop a short-hop throw from catcher Chris Iannetta, allowing the runner to take an extra base. Normally that’s no big deal this time of year, but Green can’t have these defensive issues if he wants to win the job as an everyday second baseman.
Fourth-most important thing: Albert Pujols went 1-for-3 with a hard lineout to first base and is batting .462 this spring. The Angels’ first baseman has hit at least .321 in Spring Training each of the last three years.
Fifth-most important thing: Jeremy McBryde, given a spot on the 40-man roster this offseason, gave up two unearned runs in the eighth inning and has allowed six runs four earned) on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings thus far.
Best defensive play (that I actually saw): Collin Cowgill made a nice diving catch on a sinking liner by Tuffy Gosewisch in the second inning.
Quotable: Mike Scioscia, when asked if Garrett Richards did his PFP at full intensity today: “For what he has, it’s enough. … He was never a burner anyway.”
Angels starter C.J. Wilson has been scratched from his scheduled Thursday start against the Cubs after tweaking his left knee during pitchers’ fielding practice a couple days ago, Mike Scioscia said. Sean Newcomb, the 21-year-old left-hander who was drafted 15th overall last June, will start in his place.
Wilson didn’t take part in agility drills with his teammates Wednesday morning, but did play catch.
Scioscia said Wilson is “fine; we just want to give him a couple days to get over it.” The Angels’ manager isn’t concerned about this holding him back in spring.
“I think [pitching coach Mike Butcher] has a flexible program of where these guys need to be and they start early enough to where you can absorb a little bump like this,” Scioscia said. “We can even push him back a full five days and he’ll be OK.”
Here’s Wednesday’s lineup against the D-backs, which is their first time facing a lefty starter (Robbie Ray) this spring …
Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
David Freese, 3B
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C
Matt Joyce, DH
Collin Cowgill, LF
Grant Green, 2B
SP: RH Jered Weaver
- This could very well be the Angels’ lineup against lefties, particularly with Freese at the cleanup spot and Joyce moved down to seventh. Scioscia said he’d like to get righties Cowgill and C.J. Cron at-bats against lefties, so Joyce could sit against some tough lefties. It’ll be up to him. His playing time against lefties could hinge largely on how he handles them this spring. “We’ll see how Matty handles it,” Scioscia said. “When he’s going well, you don’t want to take him out just because there’s two lefties in a row. You don’t want him sitting down for two days.”
- Closer Huston Street is not with the team today. He started feeling really sick right before game time on Tuesday, was scratched from his scheduled appearance and stayed back Wednesday, recovering.
- Setup man Joe Smith has yet to appear in his first game because of some “lower leg stiffness.” He was slated to throw a bullpen session on Thursday and should pitch in the next three to four days, Scioscia said.
- Here is the D-backs lineup (no Mark Trumbo).
It’s no secret. If the Angels — considering a three-man rotation for the American League Division Series — are to go far in the playoffs, they’ll have to rely heavily on their deep bullpen.
The question is: Will it work?
One of baseball’s dogmas says teams that are “built for the playoffs” are the ones that have dominant starting pitching. But in the Wild Card era, that hasn’t proven to be true. Consider: Since 1995, the Major League quality-start percentage has been 48.88 in the regular season, 48.88 in the postseason and 51.96 in the World Series; in terms of innings per start, it’s 5.91 in the regular season, 5.76 in the postseason and 5.88 in the World Series. That’s a very negligible difference, especially when you consider all the bad teams that are lumped into that regular-season category.
Now here’s a case-by-case look at each of the last 19 World Series champions, with the first stat being innings per start and the second being the amount of quality starts throughout the postseason …
2013 Red Sox: 5.81 IP, 8 of 16 QS
2012 Giants: 5.64 IP, 6 of 16 QS
2011 Cardinals: 5.11 IP, 7 of 18 QS
2010 Giants: 6.44 IP, 11 of 15 QS
2009 Yankees: 6.29 IP, 11 of 15 QS
2008 Phillies: 5.9 IP, 10 of 14 QS
2007 Red Sox: 6 IP, 6 of 14 QS
2006 Cardinals: 6.20 IP, 10 of 16 QS
2005 White Sox: 7.66 IP, 9 of 12 QS
2004 Red Sox: 5.61 IP, 9 of 14 QS
2003 Marlins: 5.66 IP, 8 of 17 QS
2002 Angels: 5.02 IP, 2 of 16 QS
2001 D-backs: 7.08 IP, 14 of 17 QS
2000 Yankees: 6.42 IP, 8 of 16 QS
1999 Yankees: 6.58 IP, 10 of 12 QS
1998 Yankees: 6.79 IP, 9 of 13 QS
1997 Marlins: 5.83 IP, 5 of 16 QS
1996 Yankees: 5.42 IP, 5 of 15 QS
1995 Braves: 6.64 IP, 10 of 14 QS
That’s nine of 19 champions that got less than six innings per start during the playoffs, and seven that won the World Series despite receiving a quality start in less than half of their postseason games. Look at the 2002 Angels. Stunning. Managers tend to have quick hooks in the playoffs, because it’s all hands on deck and because the off days tend to keep bullpens relatively fresh.
So, you can win in October with a deep bullpen, a good offense and a rotation that keeps you in the game. And the Angels have the potential for that. Since Garrett Richards went down, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago have allowed three earned runs or less in 20 of 23 starts (includes tonight).
Just something to think about.
In 2007, he was the scouting director for a Diamondbacks team that made the playoffs despite having a negative run-differential. They ranked 17th in run-differential that year, at minus-23, but managed to win 90 games thanks in large part to a very deep bullpen.
Over the previous seven years, that D-backs team has been the only club to make the playoffs despite scoring less runs than they’ve allowed over the course of a full season. For the most part, the run-differential standings are a pretty good reflection of the winning-percentage standings.
So, what does Dipoto take away from a plus-40 run-differential through April from his current club, a mark that’s second only to the division-rival A’s?
“It beats the heck out of where we’ve been in recent years, that’s what I take out of it,” the Angels’ general manager said. “Run-differential is a real number. It’s the most basic way to look at in-season performance once you get past wins and losses. I think it’s fairly reflective of the talent of a team. … The overview of your team and of your season is simply how many runs do you score, and how well do you limit runs. Now what we’re working on is better sequence.”
The Angels finished April last year at minus-28 in run-differential, and finished the season at minus-4. They’re 14-13 now, but their Pythagorean record — used to estimate how many games a team should’ve won — is 17-10.
It sounds overly simplistic, but if they can keep up their current run-differential rate, there’s a very good chance they’ll be in the playoffs when it’s all said and done.
From 2007-13, 59 of the 60 teams that made the playoffs — all except that ’07 D-backs team — had a positive run-differential. In every single one of those years, the top three run-differential teams were playing meaningful games in October. In four of those years, at least each of the top five made the playoffs. In 2010, the top eight run-differential teams made up the eight playoff spots. In 2013?
Well, here’s a look at the top 10 run-differential teams …
1. Red Sox: World Series champs
2. Cardinals: National League champs
3. Tigers: Advanced to the American League Championship Series
4. Athletics: AL West champs
5. Braves: NL West champs
6. Reds: Won 90 games, reached the playoffs
7. Rangers: Won 91 games, missed the playoffs by one game
8. Indians: Won 92 games, reached the playoffs
9. Dodgers: Advanced to the NLCS
10: Pirates: Won 94 games, reached the playoffs
“You look at history, you look at the standings year in and year out, and the teams that matriculate to the top are usually the teams with the larger run-differentials,” Dipoto said. “I think it’s reflective of a more balanced team, and that’s what I take away from it. For a month, I think we’ve played pretty well, despite some injuries, and we’ve struggled through a very wobbly bullpen at times and came out of it with a positive run-differential, and I think that is reflective of the fact that we do have better balance. Despite the injuries, we’ve had some guys step up and do a nice job. It’s not been one player driving the train; it’s been a lot of contributors. And that’s a very encouraging sign.”
Obviously, the Angels’ run-differential is high because they’ve had a lot of blowout wins and suffered a lot of close losses. One of their most troubling stats of the first month is that they’re 2-7 in one-run games. That, essentially, points to their troubles holding leads at times. But Dipoto is among many who believes a team’s record in one-run games tends to even out over the course of a season, though there are some exceptions (like the 2012 Orioles, who had a ridiculous 29-9 record in one-run games).
The challenge now, of course, is keeping this run-differential thing going for the rest of the year. And that’s no small challenge. Small sample sizes can be tricky. And of the top 10 run-differential teams at the end of April last year, four — the second-ranked Rangers, fifth-ranked Orioles, sixth-ranked Rockies and 10th-ranked D-backs — did not make the playoffs.
Asked if he expects the Angels’ run-differential to spill out into the remaining five months, and eventually jibe a little better with their won-lost record, Dipoto said: “I don’t see why it wouldn’t. And honestly, I have every expectation that it will. I do believe that we have a better-balanced team than in recent years. And I do believe that run-differential is representative of a better-balanced team. I do believe that will translate into a more positive won-lost record. But to me, that’s baseball. Sometimes it works out in a 27-game stretch where it’s 14-13, sometimes it works out like it’s 17-10. And a lot of that is going to be reflective in those one-run decisions, and that’s where we have to get better. And it’s on us to figure out how. We can score runs, and we have. We can prevent runs, and we have. Now we just have to figure out how to bridge the gap in the middle of the game that will make those one-run games a little bit more of a positive thing for us.”
Last year’s record: 81-81, 2nd place
Key additions: LF Mark Trumbo, CL Addison Reed, C Henry Blanco, OF/1B Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B/1B Andy Marte, SP Alex Sanabia
Key subtractions: SP Tyler Skaggs, CF Adam Eaton, C Wil Nieves, 1B/OF Willie Bloomquist, 3B Matt Davidson, SP Daniel Hudson
Biggest strength: The bullpen. Kevin Towers has always had a reputation for building strong bullpens, and this year’s group should be much better with Reed added to the back end, J.J. Putz expected to be healthy, and the likes of Brad Ziegler, Josh Collmenter, David Hernandez, etc. coming back.
Biggest question: The rotation, though acquiring Bronson Arroyo would surely help. At 24, Patrick Corbin will be counted on to be the team’s ace, after entering last spring fighting for the No. 5 spot, while Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill need to bounce back from up-and-down seasons.
Most important player: Trumbo. The D-backs gave up two talented prospects in Skaggs and Eaton to get him. They need him to adequately adjust to left field and protect Paul Goldschmidt.
In 25 words or less: The D-backs look like a solid group all-around, but are at least a high-impact starting pitcher away from challenging the Dodgers.
Last year’s record: 92-70, 1st place (lost to Cardinals in NLCS)
Key additions: 2B Alexander Guerrero, SP Dan Haren, RP Chris Perez, RP Jamey Wright, OF Mike Baxter, C Miguel Olivo, INF Justin Turner, UT Chone Figgins
Key subtractions: SP Ricky Nolasco, 2B Mark Ellis, SP Chris Capuano, 2B/OF Skip Schumaker, INF Michael Young, INF Nick Punto, UT Jerry Hairston Jr., SP Edinson Volquez, RP Carlos Marmol
Biggest strength: Pitching. The rotation trio of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu is as good as anyone. In the bullpen, they have five experienced closers — Perez, Brian Wilson, Brandon League, J.P. Howell and their actual closer, Kenley Jansen.
Biggest question: Second base. The Dodgers signed Guerrero out of Cuba with a four-year, $28 million contract, but he’s only 26 and has not been exposed to this brand of baseball yet.
Most important player: Matt Kemp. He’s signed to big money through 2019 and needs to get healthy after being limited to 73 games and undergoing left ankle surgery. If he can return to his elite level, the Dodgers’ offense will be a force.
In 25 words or less: Their funds are unlimited, they have stars up and down the roster and they know how to win together. World Series or bust in Hollywood.
Last year’s record: 76-86, 3rd place
Key additions: LF Michael Morse, SP Tim Hudson, INF Brandon Hicks, SP/RP David Huff, RP Kameron Loe
Key subtractions: OF Andres Torres, SP Barry Zito, SP/RP Chad Gaudin
Biggest strength: The back end of the bullpen. Sergio Romo is coming off a 38-save season and has posted a 2.03 ERA since the start of 2010. Right-hander Santiago Casilla (2.16 ERA) and left-hander Javier Lopez (1.83) were lights out in 2013.
Biggest question: It appears to be the same every year — power. They’ll rely on Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval and Morse — each of whom carry varying levels of concern — to take some of the burden off superstar catcher Buster Posey.
Most important player: Matt Cain. The Giants’ ace needs to get back to being the Cy Young contender of 2009-12, not the guy who went a pedestrian 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 2013, to take some pressure off Tim Lincecum and make San Francisco’s rotation the strength it was a short time ago.
In 25 words or less: There are a lot of questions, from Cain and Lincecum to Morse and Sandoval, but also the ability to contend. It’ll rest on their pitching.
Last year’s record: 76-86, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Josh Johnson, OF Seth Smith, RP Joaquin Benoit, RP Alex Torres, RP Patrick Schuster, IB/OF Xavier Nady, RP Tony Sipp
Key subtractions: RP Luke Gregerson, INF Ronny Cedeno, SP Jason Marquis, INF Logan Forsythe, SP/RP Anthony Bass
Biggest strength: The bullpen, even with Gregerson going to the A’s in exchange for Smith. Benoit and Torres help make up a solid group with closer Huston Street and middle relievers Nick Vincent, Dale Thayer and Tim Stauffer.
Biggest question: Health. The Padres have had 43 DL moves over the last two years. Each of their infielders were on the shelf at least once last year. Four pitchers — Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland, Jason Marquis and Casey Kelly — have undergone Tommy John surgery, with news coming out recently that Luebke will require a second such procedure in 20 months. And two of their outfielders, Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin, are coming off their own surgeries.
Most important player: Johnson. The Padres appeared to get a steal by signing the 30-year-old right-hander to a buy-low, $8 million contract in mid-November. If he can recapture the form he had in Miami, the Padres’ rotation suddenly looks a lot better.
In 25 words or less: There’s a nice young core in place in San Diego — if only it can stay healthy.
Last year’s record: 74-88, 5th place
Key additions: 1B Justin Morneau, SP Brett Anderson, SP Franklin Morales, RP LaTroy Hawkins, RP Boone Logan, OF Brandon Barnes, OF Drew Stubbs, INF Paul Janish, SP Jordan Lyles
Key subtractions: 1B Todd Helton, SP Jeff Francis, SP Roy Oswalt, RP Rafael Betancourt, C Yorvit Torrealba, INF Jonathan Herrera, RP Josh Outman, SP Drew Pomeranz, CF Dexter Fowler
Biggest strength: Offense. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are two of the best players in the league, Michael Cuddyer quietly had a great 2013 season (.331/.389/.530), Morneau was a steal at $12.5 million over two years and Wilin Rosario (24 years old) and Nolan Arenado (22).
Biggest question: Pitching. The Rockies were active in addressing a pitching staff that ranked 28th in ERA last year, but I’m not sure how much Logan, Hawkins, Anderson, Morales and Lyles actually improve matters.
Most important player: Juan Nicasio. The 27-year-old struggled in his first full season, with a 5.14 ERA in 31 starts. But the Rockies expect big things, and if he improves, the rotation — with Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa at the top — may actually match the offense.
In 25 words or less: The Rockies made a variety of solid moves over the offseason, but spent little money and need a lot of help in the pitching staff.
Predicted order of finish …
The Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes are over, and after all the speculation and all the anticipation, he wound up with the team that seemed to make the most sense from the onset: The Yankees, who badly need pitching, can spend with the best of them, will hardly have to pay Alex Rodriguez in 2014 and have now abandoned any faint hopes to get under the $189 million luxury tax.
The Angels still hold on to those expectations.
They have roughly $15 million of wiggle room before surpassing that tax threshold, which is enough money to sign a free-agent starting pitcher but ultimately wasn’t enough to even compete for Tanaka. The Yankees got him on a seven-year, $155 million contract, with an opt-out after the fourth year, according to Ken Rosenthal.
The Angels knew Tanaka well and liked him a lot, but for them, any deal in excess of $100 million meant going over the tax. With Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton combining to make $196 million over the next four years, and Mike Trout one year away from making major dollars, another mega contract was just too much of a gamble for them. That’s probably why they didn’t bother to meet with him in California two weeks ago, or why they weren’t among the five teams to reportedly submit an offer; the chances were too slim.
So, what now?
In a word (or two), Matt Garza.
The Angels have targeted Garza ever since Jason Vargas signed with the Royals in late November. The two actually share the same agent, Nez Balelo, who also represents third baseman David Freese, who filed an arbitration number $1.9 million higher than what the Angels filed last week. Small world, right? Garza has always seemed a lot more realistic than Tanaka because the contract and the amount of suitors are smaller, but the Angels still aren’t expected to overpay. Agree with it or not, they don’t feel they have to add another starter after acquiring two young, cost-controlled lefties in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago for Mark Trumbo, a duo that joins Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards in the projected rotation.
I don’t expect the Tanaka signing to impact Garza’s price. They’re on two completely different stratospheres. But one potential ripple effect is that the Diamondbacks have liked Garza for a while, and they have money to burn after not being able to sign Tanaka or Shin-Soo Choo. A resolution could come soon (you know, since we’re like three weeks away from Spring Training).
If Garza’s price demands don’t go down, then the Angels will move on to the next tier, to the likes of Bronson Arroyo and Chris Capuano and Paul Maholm. Chances are, they’ll add someone this month. But I think they’ll wait for a fair price (and this is the month for fair prices). They still aren’t expected to give up a Draft pick in order to sign Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.
Nobody wants to hear this, but if they don’t feel comfortable with any of the free-agent-salary demands, they can always keep their remaining funds and wait ’til next year, when Max Scherzer, James Shields and Jon Lester will make up a much more talented free-agent crop of starters.
On being traded for the first time in his career …
I think it’s all for the better. Hopefully for the better of all the teams and for the better of my career. It seems like the Angels are really happy to have me. And as long as they want me there, it’s nice to have that. As long as they want to have me, I’m happy to be there.
On whether it took him by surprise …
I had an idea that was going to happen, with having four lefties in the rotation. It’s the first time I’ve been traded in my career, so I really didn’t know how to react and don’t know how to go by it. But I kind of felt it coming. I heard a bunch of rumors and just people texting, like, ‘Hey, it’s possible.’ I kind of had an idea it was possible. I didn’t know if it was going to go through, especially talking to the White Sox, planning ahead, trying to get ready for 200 innings next year as a starter in the White Sox rotation. And then a week and a half, two weeks later, it was like, ‘Oh, you just got traded.’ But it’s for the better, so I’m happy.
On his comfort level in bouncing around from bullpen to rotation …
I’m really comfortable. I feel like I’ve done it all the time, through high school and college, Minor League Baseball and the big leagues. Forever. It’s to the point where it’s normal to me. Growing up as a kid in high school, playing summer ball, I would play center field for two innings and then pitch. It’s something I’ve done before, jumping all over the place. But it was definitely a fun experience, coming up from being a starter in the Minor Leagues and then the big leagues. I’ve had every role I think that you can have in the big leagues. It was definitely fun, because you came to the park not knowing what was going on. It was definitely a fun experience in coming to the field every day and not knowing what was going to happen.
On building off 2013 …
It was definitely a different year — innings-wise, strength-wise, learning how to pitch every fifth day. It was definitely a new experience. I don’t know if I made this many, but I had a bunch of starts in the Minor Leagues in 2011 and it definitely wasn’t as difficult as this, between the big league level and playing great teams every day. But I learned a lot. This year, I definitely want to improve on going after guys earlier in the count, get some earlier outs so I can get deeper in the game. It seemed like at the beginning of the game, in the first inning, I’d worry about starting the game with a zero instead of just pitching the same way later in the game. So, early in the game, if I attack the zone more, I felt like after the first, second inning, it was an easier inning for me. It was me putting pressure on myself to start off the game clean and making sure that I gave my team a 0-0 score, and hopefully we can get some runs early in the game. And I put a lot of pressure on myself with my stuff and with my command. That was a big thing of just getting used to the role of a starting pitcher. In the bullpen, you come in for one inning, so you have a little bit of leeway where you can waste a few pitches. But as a starter, you have to try to get as many early outs as you can.
On what he was told in his phone call with the Angels …
It was short, brief. [Jerry Dipoto] was just saying, ‘We’re happy to have you. We had to make a move, and I felt like you were the right move for what we needed and you fill a spot that needed to be filled.’ … They seem very excited to have me, and it seems like I’m going to hopefully be filling one of the voids that they need.
* Shortly after getting traded to the D-backs on Tuesday, Mark Trumbo reached out to the Angels’ PR department to ask about still attending the team’s annual Holiday Party at the ESPN Zone. They couldn’t believe it. And they were even more stunned when he actually showed up the next day, alongside Hank Conger, Chuck Finley, Adam Kennedy and others. (Photo on the left courtesy of Angels PR man Eric Kay.)
Angels broadcasters Jose Mota and Terry Smith left Trumbo for last during the introductions, and he got by far the loudest ovation.
“I’ve been attending these parties for as long as I’ve been here, 11 years,” Mota said, “but you know one thing — Trumbo has been going to these parties since he was in A ball, and that part doesn’t surprise me because he’s so invested in the community-outreach programs, which he’s done for so many years. And we’re talking about a guy who, because he’s local, he was accessible, good kid, the Angels felt comfortable calling him out of A ball and saying, ‘Come to this party.’ But to see a player who had just gotten traded, No. 1, putting away all the emotions, and then a guy that is not an Angel at that party, it was a bit strange.
“He didn’t put the jersey on, of course,” Mota added. “But he was Trumbo. He was just Mark Trumbo, that’s all you expected. And he had a huge ovation from the kids and all the adults that were there because they knew that this is quite a unique thing — a guy who’s not on the team, got traded, could’ve been mopy. He decided, ‘No, this is who I am.’ You talk about showing your true colors and who you really are, I don’t think it speaks any better than that action right there.”
* Trumbo, during a phone conversation with Lyle Spencer and I, admitted that he smiled when he realized he’d be ditching the Angel Stadium marine layer and was following Tuesday’s trade rumors via Twitter “more than I lead on, probably.”
“I knew that things were getting close from messages and phone calls I received,” Trumbo said, “but I did find out first on Twitter that things had become official, so that’s kind of some insight from a player’s perspective that, in this day and age, that’s how things work.”
* Spoke to yet another scout about Tyler Skaggs recently. Here’s what he said (and this guy knows him very well) …
People seem concerned about a loss of velocity. But if you go back to what you thought he was going to be, when you drafted, scouted and signed him, that’s exactly the fastball that he’s working with now. Maybe for a short time he peaked a little bit and worked at 93, 94 or whatever, but he’s 88 to 91, touches 92 occasional now. That’s plenty of fastball, when you consider his curveball and his changeup, and the belief that he’s been a strike-thrower. I know his strikeout numbers are all right. He’s got angle, he’s got plane, he’s got spin, he’s got some touch-and-feel, some back-and-forth with the changeup. This guy was well-regarded, highly regarded throughout the industry, had the numbers to match up. He had a mediocre year last year. … I think the comfort level of going back where he came from is going to help. He’s a Southern California kid. There’s going to be a comfort level, a familiarity level.
* You think coaching the Yankees, Cowboys or Lakers is a pressure-filled job? That’s nothing compared to managing winter ball, and Angels bench coach Dino Ebel experienced that recently. Ebel, promoted from third-base coach shortly after the season, was managing the Estrellas Orientales of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. But that lasted only 18 games. He went 6-12, and then was let go, done in time to join Mike Scioscia and several other members of the Angels’ coaching staff at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
* Someone who is still playing winter ball — for the Leones de Escogido in the D.R. — is C.J. Cron, who’s batting .212/.250/.364 through eight games. That’s a lot of baseball for Cron, who played a full season of Double-A (.746 OPS) and tore it up in the Arizona Fall League (1.167), but he’s a first baseman/designated hitter, so it’s not like he has to move around too much. The Angels view him as a potential option for them late in 2014.
* Some additional minutia on the Angels’ situation at the moment: Matt Garza is still “the guy they really want” a source said Friday, but the perception is that they won’t go above a four-year contract. … The Angels still aren’t expected to spend much on a bat. Right now, they’re budgeting a one-year deal worth less than $5 million. Can they get Raul Ibanez or Kevin Youkilis for that? We’ll see. … Santiago and Skaggs both have options left, but it looks like Santiago has a spot on the Major League roster (as a starter or a reliever) and Skaggs is more of a question. Either he starts in the Majors or in Triple-A. Both have options, nonetheless.
Winter Meetings stories …
Angels Notebook from Day 1, on Albert Pujols‘ health, Mike Trout extension talks and the evolving AL West
Phillip Wellman (this guy) will manage the Angels’ Double-A affiliate
Story on the three-team trade between the D-backs, White Sox and Angels
Spencer, on how the deal benefits the Angels
Trout’s cycle lands GIBBY for Hitting Performance
Trout likely to bat second again next season
Spencer, on Scioscia seeking chemistry on the field
Lefty specialist picked up in Rule 5 Draft
On what’s next, now that the Winter Meetings are over