Results tagged ‘ Jerry DiPoto ’
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.”
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.”
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.
They’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
Positives 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
On 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
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 …
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
The 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.
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
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.
As 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.
The Angels’ hopes of resigning free-agent starting pitcher Jason Vargas were squashed on Thursday, when the Royals announced they have signed the veteran left-hander to a four-year contract.
The average annual value of Vargas’ new deal, a reported $32 million, is $8 million. The Angels were willing to give him that much, but they weren’t willing to go four years (it would’ve been hard for them to even give him a third year).
And so, the Angels still have at least two holes to fill in their rotation.
Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards are returning, Tommy Hanson is likely to get non-tendered in December and Joe Blanton — if not released this offseason — will not go into the season as a guaranteed member of the rotation. General manager Jerry Dipoto did not tender the $14.1 million qualifying offer to Vargas because he was almost certain Vargas would accept it, and by accepting it the Angels would already be dangerously close to the luxury tax threshold of $189 million.
Vargas was acquired in a one-for-one deal with the Mariners that sent Kendrys Morales to Seattle last December. In his first year in Southern California, where he grew up and briefly attended Long Beach State University, Vargas went 9-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 150 innings in a season that saw him miss two months with a blood clot.
The Angels are expected to use the trade market to bolster a rotation that ranked 11th in the American League in ERA last season, but they may also turn to other free agents to fill Vargas’ void. And while they aren’t expected to go after the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Ricky Nolasco or Ervin Santana, names like Phil Hughes, Dan Haren, Bronson Arroyo, etc., etc., could be enticing.
– Alden Gonzalez
The Angels have announced the hiring of Rick Eckstein as their Major League player information coach, essentially a hybrid role that will be part-on-field coaching and part-scouting, per se. Eckstein lives with his wife and 6-month-old daughter in Central Florida and will be uprooting the family to Southern California for the summer. He already got a congratulatory text message from Albert Pujols, who he worked with briefly in St. Louis, and he’s already thinking about his brother, revered Angels shortstop David Eckstein, taking on more responsibilities with the same club.
Below is a partial transcript of a phone conversation with Rick Eckstein …
On his new role …
It’s kind of a multi-faceted role. The player information coach title, per se, has many, many arms to it. First and foremost, I’ll be taking advanced scouting reports and working through them, and then getting the information to Mike [Scioscia] and the staff, and just talking about tendencies or positioning of the defense. And anything. Matchups, whether it’s our pitchers against their hitters or their pitchers against our hitters. And just working with other members of the staff, whether it be Don [Baylor] or [Mike] Butcher or even Scioscia on a general tendency. They asked me just to set the defense and talk to each of the guys and put that into place. During batting practice, I’ll be hitting fungos and throwing batting practice and being with the team, and basically doing whatever Sosh or the staff members need me to do. When the game starts, I will actually go up top and I will watch us go through the game. I will watch not only our players, but who we’re playing against, look at tendencies, to make sure we’re defending the field the way we talked about defending the field, per each guy that we’re defending against. Sosh said, ‘I just want your insight. I want what you see, I want you to be an eye in the sky, and give me what you see of our club, what you think. We’re going to implement some of the computerized tendencies that you see.’ And that’s what I’ve been doing previous to this position. It’s exciting, because it’s a chance to be a little bit of this, a little bit of that, being able to work and assist everyone on the staff. I’m very excited about that opportunity.
On previous experience in a similar role …
When you come up through the Minor Leagues, as every coach has done, you do a little bit of everything. You’re the hitting coach, you’re the defensive coach, you’re the positioning coach. You’re doing a lot. But even with Team USA, when I was with Davey Johnson, making our way through the World Cups and the Beijing Olympics, all that, my job, my role, was to take all the advanced reports and break those down to understand our opponent, how we’re going to defend the field, to talk with our pitching coach, whether it be Marcel Lachemann, who’s with the Angels, and we would just talk about the opposing team and how we’re going to go about gameplan, per guy. It’s been a role that in several instances I’ve done before.
On what appealed to him about this job …
This role opens up more doors. It shows people that I can think the game, it shows people that I’m more than just a hitting coach. Not to knock any hitting coach, but just to say my aspirations lie beyond just being a hitting coach. I want more. And when this opportunity came, Scisocia and Jerry [Dipoto] were both telling me, ‘Wow, we look at your background and we look at your resume, your experience and what you’ve done, this role, you’re still going to be on the field coaching, and you’re going to help us do things that we feel we need to do, and you’re also going to be our eye in the sky and take a look at our club and break us down.’ So I think it’s going to open up doors to show people what I can do. And I’m excited about that. And to be on such a proud organization – really, the way I see it, we’re right there. There’s a ton of talent in the system, and I’m just looking forward to being a piece of the puzzle to put it all together.
On why this sort of role is becoming a trend in baseball …
Because there’s so much information out there. When you’re watching a pitching coach prepare to be ready for a series, I mean there’s so much information out there, that for him to do it by himself, it’s tough. And so now, this player-information coach is a role that will allow people – it’s communication and trust, and you’re building a relationship to where if Mike Scioscia’s got his mind on one thing and Mike Butcher has his mind on something else and Don is over there working with a hitter and I’m in the background doing other type of work, to say, ‘Hey, this is what I think,’ whatever. It helps strengthn the system, and it gives you another pair of eyes on what’s going on and what they see. With how we’re going to communicate, and everybody’s opinion being brought to the table, it can only strengthen the system. And I think a lot of clubs are going to that.’
On being let go as Nats hitting coach in July …
It’s part of the industry. I put my heart and soul into it, I was with the organization for nine years, and going on five in the big leagues. To go through that experience is never easy, but at the end of the day, you come out of it a little wiser, a little stronger, and focused as to what you’re going to do. I appreciate everything Washington did for me. I want to show people that I can be a Major League coach, a Major League hitting coach, and a valued member of the staff. And we went from last place to first place in 2012 in our division. So to be a part of that process and that growth, I feel very blessed. And now, moving forward, I feel like this is an outstanding opportunity for me in my career, and I’m looking so much forward to that, I can’t even put into words how excited I am.
On his brother, David, being more involved with the Angels …
He definitely wants to get more involved. He has a lot of offers to do stuff. He’s committed to his wife, Ashley, and her business. … He’s been involved with Team USA for several weeks during the summer, but now his desire and commitment level is starting to ramp up a little bit. He’s talked with the Angels, they’ve expressed interest in him, so we’ll see what the future holds for him. … He’s just waiting for the dialogue with him and the club to come together and to form that agreement as to what exactly they want and what exactly they can provide.
On where offers for David came from …
From multiple teams, and the Angels. He’s been offered, and he’s stayed committed to his wife and what she’s doing with her business, HerUniverse.com, and doing all that they’re doing with that. But now his baseball coaching side is really starting to ramp up, and he’s excited to be doing more stuff for the Angels. But he’s turned down other jobs from other organizations. He’s just waiting for the right time and the right process, so to speak, to get involved, and I think this is getting real close to him.
Jerry Dipoto addressed reporters from Day 2 of the General Managers’ Meetings in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday, and our very own Ken Gurnick was there. Here’s what he had to say …
On Masahiro Tanaka’s upside …
“I don’t know about putting a cap on what he can be. He’s still so young and he’s faced the greatest hitters in the world on big stages. I’m not here to say he’s a No. 1 or No. 2. He’ll let you know. He’s attractive to lot of teams because of his ability. To get a young player with that ability can be attractive to lot of teams. We’ve scouted him, we know who he is. He’s tremendous. One of the best pitchers in the world, I’m sure. But it’s still to be determined if he’s coming over here.”
On the interest level in his hitters …
“There’s been a fair amount. We’ve got a talented group. Our offensive players are fairly accomplished, some at a very young age. There have been a lot of inquiries on a lot of them. We’ve not predetermined to move any of them. We are open to solve our needs that are more on the pitching side than the offensive side.”
On Jason Vargas …
“Obviously we have interest in bringing him back and the interest is mutual from him. Now we’ll let the process play out in free agency. He’s earned that. We’ll allow him to see what’s out there and we’re interested in him, and it seem that’s his preference, too.”
On Albert Pujols’ progress …
“Albert is doing great. He’s taking live BP tomorrow (in the Dominican Republic). He’s swinging aggressively; 60 to 70 swings every other day. No problem with the knee or the foot to the best of our knowledge. His rehab has gone very well. Part of the reason he didn’t play in September was to have the procedure to make sure he had a normal offseason to come into Spring Training with fewer questions. Last year he was coming into Training [following offseason] knee surgery. This year, he should come in feeling 100 percent. All indications are that’s possible.”