Results tagged ‘ Jerry DiPoto ’

Do the Angels need to answer the A’s? …

Arte Moreno, Jerry Dipoto, Mike SciosciaAngels general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept his focus on the bullpen. He wants to acquire a situational lefty, and he wants to get another potential closer to solidify a game’s last nine outs. But the Angels haven’t seemed willing to part ways with a package of prospects — what little they have in a farm system they’re still trying to cultivate — and they haven’t sounded like an organization that wants to take on a high-salaried pitcher, a la Cliff Lee and David Price, because it would kill their payroll flexibility and leave them little or no room to address the ‘pen the way they want.

Did that thinking change on Independence Day?

As the Angels were wrapping up the second of a four-game series against the Astros at home on Friday night, the division-rival A’s set off fireworks, acquiring starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs for pitcher Dan Straily, a couple of nice prospects (shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney) and a player to be named later. A team that leads the Majors in winning percentage and run-differential just got a whole lot better. A pitching staff that’s second in the American League in ERA and WHIP got a whole lot stronger.

The Angels are playing very solid baseball lately, winning 11 of 14 after Mike Trout‘s walk-off homer and trailing the A’s by 3 1/2 games for the best record in the AL. But the A’s seemingly took a few more steps forward on Friday, and winning your division is crucial with the expanded playoffs that now include a Wild Card game; the last thing you want is for a 162-game season to ultimately come down to one elimination game.

So do the Angels need to scrap their initial Trade Deadline plans and go after an elite starting pitcher? Do they need to fortify their rotation — one with a solid 3.70 ERA, but also some uncertainties — to keep up with the A’s?

Arte Moreno, Mike Scioscia and Dipoto have some thinking to do.

***

I’ll be taking some vacation time these next couple of weeks. Matthew DeFranks will cover for me at home July 5-9 and 18-20, Lyle Spencer will cover for me in Texas July 10-13, and I’ll be back at it July 21, for the series opener against the Orioles. Be well.

Alden

Angels swap Ernesto Frieri for Jason Grilli …

Jason GrilliThe Angels took a step – and it’s probably only the first step – in trying to shore up the back end of their bullpen on Friday, sending struggling closer Ernesto Frieri to the Pirates for struggling closer Jason Grilli in what general manager Jerry Dipoto called “a classic change of scenery that I think will be good for all parties.”

Grilli, 37, posted a 2.74 ERA and saved 36 games for the Pirates from 2011-13, but has hit a rough patch this year, posting a 4.87 ERA, a 1.62 WHIP and a 1.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio while saving 11 games in 15 opportunities.

Frieri, 28, had a 3.07 ERA and 60 saves from 2012-13, but has struggled through a 6.39 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP and a 4.22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2014, which has seen him blow three of his 14 save chances.

Frieri is owed $3.8 million in 2014 and was arbitration-eligible for two more seasons, while Grilli is owed $4 million and is a free agent at the end of the year.

“At the end of the day, sometimes these types of address changes are just good for everybody,” Dipoto said in a phone interview. “Obviously, over the last couple weeks, it’s been a mighty struggle for Ernie. And he just needed a chance to clear himself out. This is probably best in that regard.

“We’re encouraged to get the opportunity to work with Jason Grilli, and see if we can’t get him back to where he needs to be. He still has the velocity, he still has the slider, he still has the ability to be the dominant ninth-inning presence that he was a year ago.”

But will he be the closer, like he was during that All-Star season in 2013?

“We’ll sort that through as he gets in,” Dipoto said of Grilli, who’s expected to join the Angels in time for Saturday’s game against the Royals.

“We’ll see where he fits in,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia added. “He’s pitched in the back end of games and has done a very good job in that role. We’re going to get his feet on the ground here, and then we’ll see where he fits.”

The Angels head into a weekend series at Kauffman Stadium on a six-game winning streak that has put them a season-best 11 games over .500. But they’ve suffered through 12 blown saves, tied with the Astros for the American League lead, and entered Friday ranked 26th in the Majors in ERA (4.46) and tied for 23rd in WHIP (1.38) from their bullpen.

Dipoto would still like to add a situational left-hander and perhaps another option for the ninth inning, which would free Scioscia up to use current closer Joe Smith in a more versatile role.

“We’re still open to improving and adding to our team in any way that will help us win,” Dipoto said. “We understand that the bullpen is something that needs to be addressed. I think this is a step in trying to address some of our needs down there, but I’d be surprised if it’s the only step.”

Grilli – a product of Tommy John surgery in 2002 – was originally taken with the fourth overall pick in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft but didn’t come into his own until spending the entire 2010 season recovering from a torn quadriceps muscle, when he joined the Pirates as a 35-year-old who had already spent time in five different organizations.

Grilli broke out in 2013, posting a 2.70 ERA and 33 saves while converting each of his first 25 opportunities.

His fastball velocity is basically the same this year – in the 92- to 93-mph range – but he missed 27 games because of an oblique strain earlier this season and has yet to see consistent results.

“He’s ready for a new challenge,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. “Jason has responded very well to a number of challenges in his life. He had a good run here, loves the city and the team, but he’s ready for a new challenge.”

The Angels believe the same can be said for Frieri, the affable right-hander who shined upon being acquired from the Padres in May 2012 but has been demoted twice from his role as closer this season.

“Ernie’s a tremendous young man,” Scioscia said. “He became part of our family. It’s tough to let go of a piece like that. Hopefully in the long run it’ll be better for Ernie to go there and get a fresh start.”

Alden

Santiago optioned to Triple-A …

Hector SantiagoThe Angels optioned Hector Santiago to Triple-A on Wednesday, 12 days after he was removed from the rotation, as the corresponding move to activate right fielder Kole Calhoun.

The Angels now have only an 11-man pitching staff, but will probably go back to the traditional 12 by Friday, with either Dane De La Rosa or Sean Burnett returning from the disabled list and a position player – likely Efren Navarro – going down to Triple-A.

Simply put, Santiago needs to pitch.

The 26-year-old left-hander had made only two appearances in nearly two weeks as a pseudo swingman and the Angels still view him as a starting pitcher long term. So he’ll get stretched out again with the Salt Lake Bees, with the hope of recapturing the command that will eventually bring him back to the rotation.

“Take it as a positive,” Santiago said, even though it was hard for him to. “They want me in the rotation; they want to keep me stretched out. But now it’s just time to work and get back into it.”

Santiago, acquired along with Tyler Skaggs in the three-team deal that sent Mark Trumbo to the D-backs in December, went 0-6 with a 5.19 ERA in the first seven starts of his Angels career. Some of it had to do with very little run support, or several instances of bad luck, or a back ailment he nursed through most of his first three starts. But mostly, Santiago was walking too many hitters (4.3 per nine innings) and letting too many innings snowball.

So early Wednesday afternoon, Santiago got called into manager Mike Scioscia’s office, where general manager Jerry Dipoto and pitching coach Mike Butcher were waiting with news the southpaw partly deemed inevitable.

“We were very open and honest about what we saw and what he needs to do, and Hector was very receptive,” Scioscia said. “I think he has a good frame of mind to work on the things he needs to work on, and I’d be very surprised if we’re not seeing him throwing the ball to his capabilities in a short amount of time, because he has a great arm.”

In the meantime, Matt Shoemaker will continue to fill Santiago’s old spot.

Shoemaker, a 27-year-old Minor League journeyman, has given up just three runs in 11 innings while beating Cliff Lee and David Price in two starts. He’ll take his regular turn on Saturday – the Angels are keeping their pitching schedule in order after the Thursday off day – and continue to start until either he struggles or Santiago gets it together or both occur.

“It’s a little bump in the road,” Santiago said. “Go down and work on the same thing we’ve been working on and take some positives out of the last outing and run with it.”

Some additional notes from a pretty newsy day …

  • Mike Trout was out of the starting lineup for the first time on Wednesday due to the left hamstring tightness he’s been experiencing for the last few days. The move was just precautionary, because Trout can take two days off with the Angels not playing on Thursday. He said the hamstring actually feels better today.
  • Pitching prospect R.J. Alvarez was placed on the seven-day Minor League disabled list due to some “elbow tenderness,” Dipoto confirmed. Alvarez flew back to Anaheim to get an MRI, which is pretty much standard operating procedure. Alvarez’s velocity was normal during his most recent outing on May 12 — five strikeouts in two perfect innings for Double-A Arkansas — and the Angels don’t have any reason to believe it’s anything serious at this point.
  • Calhoun batted sixth today, but will probably return to the leadoff spot when Josh Hamilton returns to the lineup (maybe Monday).
  • De La Rosa (Triple-A) and Burnett (Double-A) are both slated to pitch in a rehab outing today.
  • Ian Stewart (left hand contusion) is still experiencing some pain when he takes batting practice, but is hoping to go on a rehab assignment this weekend.

Alden

Decisions loom, but Ibanez probably safe …

Raul Ibanez, Yan GomesThe Angels will have a lot of interesting decisions to make in the next few days, but it appears Raul Ibanez’s standing on the roster will not be one of them.

Jerry Dipoto wouldn’t flat out say that the veteran designated hitter will not be released, but the Angels’ general manager did indicate that the club would continue to be patient with Ibanez – because he turned things around after a slow start last year, because they like his veteran presence, because he’s come through in late-game situations and because keeping him on the roster allows the organization to preserve depth.

“One of the real benefits about where we’re at right now is just the fact that we have unmasked some depth, and once you start peeling depth away, it’s not there anymore,” Dipoto said. “Raul has a track record. He has done this before. He has gone through cold spells, and he has gotten hot. There’s nobody here who believes Raul has had his last good days in the big leagues.”

The Angels’ current dilemma, no doubt, is a good one.

Efren Navarro, Grant Green, C.J. Cron and Luis Jimenez have come up from Triple-A and contributed in the last few weeks, and now several key position players are on the verge of being activated off the disabled list.

Third baseman David Freese (non-displaced fracture in right middle finger) and right fielder Kole Calhoun (sprained right ankle) are deep into a rehab assignment with Triple-A Salt Lake and could be back within the next couple days.

That would presumably lead to Jimenez (a right-handed-hitting third baseman) and Navarro (a left-handed hitter currently playing corner outfield) getting optioned.

But next week, when left fielder Josh Hamilton (sprained left thumb) and third baseman Ian Stewart (left hand contusion) are projected to return, is when things could get interesting.

The Angels would then perceivably have to make a decision between Green, a right-handed hitter who can play up to four different positions, and Cron, the slugging prospect who can spell Albert Pujols by playing first base and can be a right-handed-hitting complement to Ibanez at DH.

Stewart, who has batted .176 and struck out 31 times in 24 games, can be optioned to Triple-A.

“We’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in getting guys back,” Dipoto said. “And the guys who have come up and chipped in have done such a great job that it makes it tough to have conversations. But my goodness, when you look at the way the roster has been stacked, it’s been fun.”

Ibanez, 41, has a .148/.268/.269 slash line in his first 36 games, but he posted only a .511 OPS in April last year and then turned it around shortly thereafter, with a 1.031 OPS in May. The Angels believe he can do the same now.

“To be fair, you bring a guy in, you remain patient with him, you give him his opportunity,” Dipoto said. “Raul wasn’t brought in to jam into the 4-hole and hit cleanup for a month. It hadn’t been a great six weeks for him. We’ll get him where he needs to be.”

Alden

What to make of the Angels’ run-differential …

Jerry DipotoJerry Dipoto is very familiar with the exception.

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.”

Alden

Door is open for a fast Angels start …

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

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

The door is wide open for the Angels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have no idea.

***

The Angels’ depth chart can be found here.

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

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

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Mike TroutOn that Trout contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Jered WeaverSome questions, answered …

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Here are some links to our Opening Day coverage …

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

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

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

Alden

Trout gets ’14 compensation; long-term deal next

Mike TroutThe Angels agreed to terms on an unprecedented one-year, $1 million contract for 2014 with 22-year-old center fielder Mike Trout on Wednesday, setting a good tone for ongoing conversations regarding a long-term contract.

The $1 million compensation is a record for players with more than two years and less than three years of service time. The previous high was $900,000, attained by Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (2007) and then-Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols (‘03).

“It’s a landmark,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “It’s fitting. I think Mike’s earned that, and we’re glad to provide that for him. He’s certainly been an extraordinary player, and we have no doubt that he’ll go continue to be that player.”

For zero-to-three service-time players – Trout has exactly 2.07 years of service time – clubs can determine whatever salary they want, as long as it’s at least the 2014 minimum of $500,000. The Angels don’t want the average annual value of a potential Trout extension to count towards their Competitive Balance Tax payroll until 2015, otherwise they would blow past the luxury-tax threshold. So they needed to get Trout compensated for 2014 first.

Agreeing to terms on his present-year salary is essentially a green light to sign for the 22-year-old sensation to sign an extension.

A recent report from Yahoo! Sports said the Angels and Trout’s representatives were working on a six-year, $150 million contract, but that report centered on a deal that would begin to pay Trout in 2014 and nothing is imminent just yet, a source told MLB.com.

Dipoto declined comment, as usual, when asked how close the two sides are to a long-term contract. Asked if the compensation would’ve been the same if the Angels weren’t trying to sign him to a long-term deal, Dipoto said, “Absolutely.”

Last spring, the Angels made headlines by giving Trout only a $20,000 increase from his Rookie of the Year season in 2012, a contract totaling only $510,000. Dipoto said then that the Angels were simply sticking to their system, but Trout’s agent, Craig Landis, responded with an angry statement in which he said the compensation was “not the result of a negotiated compromise” and that it “falls well short of a ‘fair’ contract.”

This time around, Trout’s representative “agreed” on the salary, instead of merely a “renewal,” a good sign that both sides are on the same page.

Asked why they made an exception this year, Dipoto said: “Honestly, because I think we felt like his performance was exceptional. There are players that force you to break a rule, and what Trout just did for two consecutive years forced us to break our own rule. There’s nothing in the game that’s hard-and-fast. We felt like his performance certainly merited treated him differently than the others.”

Trout doesn’t even turn 23 until Aug. 7, and already he’s widely considered the best all-around player in the game. He’s finished second to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera for the American League Most Valuable Player Award each of the last two years and was the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year in 2012. Over the last two years, he’s ranked second in the Majors in batting average (.324), second in OPS (.976), 14th in homers (57), second in steals (82) and easily first in Wins Above Replacement, with a cumulative score of 20.4 as calculated by FanGraphs.com.

Next up, the Angels hope to buy out some of Trout’s free-agent years.

Alden

Clearing out the Winter Meetings notebook …

hectorBelow is a Q&A with new pitcher Hector Santiago, and after that are plenty of other notes and links pertaining to the hectic four-day event that’s prone to make a lot of things fly under the radar.

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.

***

trum

* 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 CongerChuck FinleyAdam 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

Alden

Scioscia on Trout, the rotation, Pujols, etc. …

Mike SciosciaMike Scioscia addressed the media from the site of the Winter Meetings on Wednesday. Here are the highlights …

On Tuesday’s trade, in which the Angels acquired Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago for Mark Trumbo …

I think it’s a big step in the right direction. It’s always tough to ‑‑ when you’re trying to find pitching and to have to lose a piece as important to us as Mark Trumbo was.  It’s a little easier to sign a guy like Joe Smith, who we signed as a free agent. But our deficiencies, I think, were very evident, probably for the last couple of years on the pitching side, to be able to have starters that can get you to your game and have the lead and hold those leads. And we were very poor at that for the last couple of seasons and we paid a huge price for it.  Hopefully we’re working back for that direction.

On whether the Angels still need to add to the rotation via free agency …

I don’t think Jerry [Dipoto] is done as far as trying to find pitching depth and adding to the rotation. He has a lot of things on the table that he’s looking at. And if we’re able to acquire someone, it’d probably be important; if we don’t, I think we’re in a much more solid side on the pitching end than we were for most season last year.

On Albert Pujols’ progress …

He’s swinging the bat. He’s taking batting practice. He feels very strong physically. I really feel that he’s going to be the healthiest he’s been, certainly from what he’s been out here with us, probably a couple of years before that in St. Louis where he was banged up. I think the foot will be a non-issue.  And I think that he’ll take a lot of pressure off of his knee that kind of went hand-in-hand with having his foot issue. I’m going to be really surprised if he’s not the healthiest he’s been in a number of years.  And that obviously is an important piece of what we need.

On the expectations for Josh Hamilton …

I think Josh is going to move back to left field and just stay in left field. And I think he’ll be more comfortable with that aspect as opposed to switching him to right field. But I do feel, from the way he finished up the second half of last season and made some adjustments, that he understands what his role is a little more, what our team is about and what he can bring. And Josh is going to have a big year for us next year.

On what kind of bat fits in the DH spot …

I think there’s a number of ways to go because we have versatility with a guy like Kole Calhoun that can play first base. It can be on the defensive side, a corner outfield and first base, to a player that might be just restricted to a DH spot or a leftfield spot.  And so as far as the bat being left‑handed or right‑handed, I think you’re always happy to add left‑handed depth in your lineup. But there’s also, as we go through the whole exercise of looking at rosters and possibilities, there’s also a role for a right‑handed bat that can fit very nice.

On whether Pujols will still need a lot of time at DH …

I think we’ll probably be proactive with that and do it on a hopefully preventative basis. Albert is at his best when he’s playing first base. We’re a better team when he can play first base and bring that defensive component to our team. We’ll look at that first and just try to manage the health issue of how he feels on a daily basis. I do think we’ll use him DH days just to keep him fresh, as we will a lot of our guys. But I don’t think that he needs to be pigeonholed. And it’s not in our best interest as a team to pigeonhole him in the DH, because I think he’s going to be healthy and ready to play first.

On where C.J. Cron fits in …

I think C.J. is a guy that is working his way on to our depth chart.  As far as breaking Spring Training and making our team, that might be a bit of a stretch.  But I think we’re very comfortable with the fact that at some point next year, if he makes the same improvement that he made this year in the Fall League to where he was during the season this year to the Fall League, and in winter ball he’s swinging the bat well down in the Dominican.  He will be in our depth chart, no doubt.

On whether the Angels can reach 93-94 wins …

If you analyze on the offensive side our season last year, although maybe we underachieved because maybe some guys were struggling a little. Still we scored enough runs to reach our goal. I think it’s real clear we’re going to be ‑‑ to go down very deep on the layers of our club to understand, our starters didn’t pitch at a certain point in the game, some of our starters, C.J. Wilson had a terrific season.  Some guys struggled to get us there.  Missed Jered Weaver for a long time. I think there are components on our club that will come together.  And we’re very comfortable in the challenge of bridging that gap that you’re talking about in getting there.  It’s definitely something we can achieve.  And I think what Boston did is a great indication, two years ago, of what they did last year.  I think we have the same potential to hopefully do what they did.

On Mike Trout’s first two years …

He’s done things that most players at that progression of Mike Trout are in Double‑A doing, and he’s doing them at a Major League level, or triple League level, getting their first taste.  He’s been around a couple of years, and realize he’s not even 23.  He’s ‑‑ this guy is just a kid. So I didn’t see Ken Griffey Jr. up close when he came up in Seattle when he was 19 and obviously had his Hall of Fame career.  So I can’t say a guy like this has never been around, because I think there are some instances of guys that did it. But I can only say from a personal perspective, I’ve never seen anyone this young that is this ‑‑ that has this much poise and the ability to do the things that Mike can do on a baseball field.  I just haven’t seen it.  It’s going to be hopefully fun to watch for the next 15 or 20 years.

On where Mike Trout fits in the lineup …

I think a number of things for Mike Trout, if you look at what his potential is and what is the potential of the team, he has the capability of scoring a hundred‑plus runs and driving in a hundred‑plus runs for the season if we set the table well enough for him. I think in the American League in the lead‑off spot, where in the National League if you’re always having pitchers bunting, he might get more RBI opportunities in the 1 hole.  That’s tougher to do, because your on‑base guys usually aren’t 8th or 9th in the American League. So you have to look at that, factor that in as far as who do you want hitting in front of him?  Some higher on‑base guys like Calhoun and [J.B.] Shuck at times in front of Trout last year, his RBI chances totally picked up when we moved him to the 2 hole, if you look at the raw numbers of it. So I think that his future is definitely anywhere 2, 3 or 4 in the lineup.  Where he ends up this year, I just think that from a leadoff spot it’s always sexy to talk about that type of leadoff hitter.  But I don’t know if it’s as functional for Mike or our team if you’re not setting the table for him.  So that’s probably why it bodes better for him to hit at least 2 and see where it goes from there.

On Masahiro Tanaka …

Yes, I have seen his video.  I think he’s a unique talent and you can see why he’s coveted.  And there will certainly be a lot of interest in Major League Baseball, if all the details are ironed out that he can come over.  I think much like a lot of the Japanese pitchers we’ve seen over the years, particularly in the recent past with [Yu] Darvish, there was a lot of talent in Japan, and he’s certainly on the top of the list.

Alden

Dipoto, from Day 1 of the Winter Meetings …

DipotoAs reporters waited in the hallway for their scheduled session with Jerry Dipoto, the Angels’ general manager walked towards his suite while chatting with D-backs GM Kevin Towers. “Just friends talking,” Dipoto said. Maybe. But the D-backs are one team that could be interested in someone like Mark Trumbo, and may have some cost-controlled starting pitching they’re willing to give up (more on Trumbo’s potential availability in a trade here).

In any case, Dipoto said he doesn’t expect the Angels to make any moves on Monday, Day 1 of the Winter Meetings from the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort. But he did get the sense that more teams appear willing to access pitching via the trade market, rather than a free-agent market that has seen prices skyrocket.

Here are the highlights from Dipoto’s session with the media (with outstanding camera work provided by the iPhone of Angels PR man Eric Kay) …

On the most likely scenario to address the two holes in the rotation — free agency, trades or both …

I’m not really a prognosticator in that way. Any of them are all still possibilities. We’re open to the trade market, we’re open to free agency, we’re open to any combination of the two. Like I’ve said throughout, especially these last couple of weeks, we know what our needs are, they’re pretty clearly defined, and we’re going to go out and fill them the best we can.

On whether the Angels are a match with the D-backs …

Still trying to figure it out, like with a lot of teams.

On whether not signing a top-tier starter can impact who is available via trade …

Everything you do in a roster, all 25 players, work hand-in-hand. Often times one will define the next move, or what kind of flexibility you have available to make the next move. But in this particular case, as I’ve said throughout, we’re not particularly excited about the idea of losing our first-round Draft [pick]. That’s not Plan A. We’re going out, we’re looking at the rest of the market, we’ve not closed the door on any candidates specifically, we’re open-minded to how we’re going to fill our needs. And if that comes in some combination of trade or free agency, then that’s what we expect.

On whether he’d be willing to part ways with prospects …

If it makes sense in doing a deal, sure. With Major League players, with prospects in the system, you have to go in open-minded and see where it leads you. Obviously we’re not looking to unload our Minor League system to achieve anything in the big leagues, but you have to be open-minded to all the different ways you can access what you’re looking for. In this case, we know what we’re looking for – we’re looking for starting pitching, and however we get there, we’re going to learn a lot about that in these next couple of days.

On whether it’s easier when your needs are so clearly defined (starting pitching) …

We really do have a short shopping list, but that can change. As we’ve all talked about before, every move opens up a whole new avenue. Your roster looks one way today, it can look another way tomorrow. The same is true of 29 other teams. We’re trying to stay in tune with what’s happening in the market, even outside of what our specific shopping needs are, and be abreast of where it goes should our dynamic change, because it’s possible it could.

On if teams and free agents are generally waiting for Masahiro Tanaka to be posted/sign …

Not really. Just the conversations we’ve had today with other teams, it’s business as usual. I don’t think there’s any one person or event holding up the market.

On whether he has a sense he can get something done during the Winter Meetings …

Not yet. We haven’t been here 24 hours yet. But the way the Winter Meetings are now, you do so much prep work before you get here, dating back to well before the GM Meetings – conversations with teams, the discussions of what may or may not be out there trade-wise. Free agency has been open for quite some time now. We’ve had at least some exchange in rhetoric with free agent groups on their desires, what they’re looking for, both in contract and term for their player, and then the fit – the city, the team, the ballpark, etc.

On if teams still view the Angels as a ‘championship contender’ …

For the players out there, they know they’re getting into a competitive situation. This is the same team that won 89 games the year before last, and like I said, the talent that you can roll out there on paper, that just so happened to not be out there all the time in performance last year, whether it be due to injury, struggle, what-have-you, there’s still players that are respected with what they do presently, what they have done in their careers, and we are I think a very attractive destination for free agents as a result.

On if it’s safe to say Trumbo has been the most-inquired-about player …

We’ve been hit a fair amount on a number of our players, and particularly Mark. Mark’s been a popular name, Howie [Kendrick has] been a popular name, and there have been others. We’ve been asked in context about most of the players on our roster, which is not uncommon. It’s very similar for a lot of other teams. But I would say there’s been fairly heavy traffic on guys like Mark specifically.

On a potential Mike Trout extension …

It’s something we’re definitely aware of, I know it’s something Mike’s aware of, but it’s nothing that we’ll talk about publicly. Those are private conversations that we’ll have with Mike and his people at the appropriate time.

Alden

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