Results tagged ‘ Rays ’

Takeaways from a couple of November trades …

Nick TropeanoThe Angels had a busy Wednesday, acquiring a cost-controlled starter (Nick Tropeano), a veteran lefty reliever (Cesar Ramos) and a Minor League catcher (Carlos Perez) by sending backup catcher Hank Conger to the Astros and pitching prospect Mark Sappington to the Rays. They’re also waiting to finalize an $8-million deal with Cuban middle infielder Roberto Baldoquin.

What does this mean for the 2015 Angels and an offseason that’s still in its embryonic stage?

Here’s a CliffsNotes version …

  • The biggest thing that comes to mind is that the Angels got more cost-controlled starting pitching. That’s what this was all about. Heck, that’s what this whole offseason is about, in a way. Tropeano now becomes No. 6 in their rotation depth chart, behind Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago. Behind him are Wade LeBlanc, Drew Rucinski, Jose Alvarez and (if he makes the transition from reliever to starter) Cory Rasmus, all guys who have a chance of contributing this season. I don’t want to make the Angels sound like some high-payroll version of the Rays when it comes to having cost-controlled starters, but Jerry Dipoto has done a pretty good job of it the last couple years despite a barren farm system and luxury-tax concerns.
  • The question is whether this trade means that the likes of Howie Kendrick, David Freese and C.J. Cron will not be traded in order to attain more pitching. I wouldn’t rule it out. The offseason is young, and it’d be very easy to part ways with Kendrick — because a lot of teams would be interested, because he plays a position the Angels are deep at and because he’ll be a free agent at season’s end. But the important thing is the Angels no longer have to trade Kendrick — or anybody, really. Dipoto was a little coy on the subject during a conference call on Wednesday, but he did re-iterate this: “The team that you saw at the end of the season is probably something similar to what you’ll see at the start of the next, as far as our everyday players go. There could be a subtle change here and there, but we don’t anticipate anything dramatic at this point.”
  • Ramos will be a “utility bullpen guy,” which means he can pitch multiple innings or match up against lefties. But he’ll remain in the bullpen, as currently their only lefty, and Dipoto didn’t sound like a guy who wants to go out and get a lefty specialist on the market. “I don’t think it’s a critical need by any stretch. We like the group of righties we have; we do have a couple of right-handers that are very effective against lefties, as well.” Once you get past Andrew Miller (pricey), it’s slim pickings anyway.
  • Perez — solid defensively, not so much with the bat — will be in the mix for the backup job behind Chris Iannetta, along with Jackson Williams, Jett Bandy and whoever else the Angels get this offseason (probably on a Minor League contract). Conger’s absence doesn’t mean Iannetta will take on more of a workload. “We’re pretty comfortable with Chris being in that 110-115 [games] range,” Dipoto said.
  • The money basically evens out, with Conger (first of three arbitration years) and Ramos (second of three arbitration years) slated to make a little more than $1 million this offseason.
  • Dipoto said he doesn’t need a utility infielder, pointing to a packed infield that currently has Gordon Beckham and Grant Green as backups. But if Kendrick and Freese stay, Beckham could get non-tendered (it’s hard to allocate $5 million for a backup infielder). And Green still has a long way to go defensively at third base, and isn’t necessarily a guy you can count on to play shortstop regularly. Baldoquin, meanwhile, would still need some seasoning in the Minors. I expect the Angels to keep tabs on free-agent utility infielders this winter.

Hank CongerTrade reactions …

Conger: “I was taken aback at first because it was so early in the offseason, but that was about it. Over the years I’ve heard all kinds of things. You get used to it. But I’m excited. I’m excited to try to get a fresh start. It’s just tough, because I just felt like the Angels organization treated me so well ever since I got drafted in ’06. It was tough, but at the same time, I’m excited. Everybody in the organization, from the front office to the coaches – the patience that they put in, the commitment to myself, I’ll always appreciate that.”

Tropeano: “Obviously it caught me off guard, just being so surprising, my first time, but I’m absolutely excited for the new opportunity, and I’m just privileged and honored that the Angels would trade from me and give me this opportunity to show my talent.”

Sappington: “The Angels have been the most amazing organization and I appreciate the opportunity. … They’re a first class organization. They’ve done so many things and given me so many opportunities. It’s been great, and I’m looking forward to a new opportunity with the Rays. I’m going to miss everybody. I love a lot of people with the Angels and I can’t wait to meet my new teammates. It’s an awesome opportunity and I can’t wait to get going.”

Ramos: “We’re still in shock to be able to be an Angel and also really call it home for us. Came from L.A., and just excited, and just really looking forward to meeting everybody in person – new organization, new teammates, new everything. I also want to thank Tampa for giving me the opportunity to become an everyday Major Leaguer and learning a lot there.”

Alden

Angels swap Sappington for LH Ramos

The Angels sent pitching prospect Mark Sappington to the Rays in exchange for veteran reliever Cesar Ramos on Wednesday, a deal announced moments after the club finalized a three-player trade with the Astros.

Ramos – a teammate of Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas at Long Beach State University – could potentially fill the Angels’ need for a lefty specialist, but he hasn’t been used in that role throughout his career.

The 30-year-old southpaw has posted a 3.90 ERA in 186 appearances spanning six seasons in the Majors, the first two of which came with the Astros. Ramos made 43 appearances (seven starts) for the Rays this past season, posting a 3.70 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP and a 1.69 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 82 2/3 innings.

Ramos was projected by MLBTradeRumors.com to make $1.3 million in his second of three arbitration years.

Sappington, a fifth-round Draft pick by the Angels in 2012, posted a 7.05 ERA in 17 starts to begin the 2014 season, then found success upon being moved to the bullpen. The 23-year-old power right-hander had a 3.38 ERA in 25 relief appearances in Double-A and high A down the stretch, posting a 1.09 WHIP and striking out 13.8 batters per nine innings.

“The Angels have been the most amazing organization and I appreciate the opportunity,” Sappington said after making an appearance in the Arizona Fall League.

“They’re a first-class organization. They’ve done so many things and given me so many opportunities. It’s been great, and I’m looking forward to a new opportunity with the Rays. I’m going to miss everybody. I love a lot of people with the Angels and I can’t wait to meet my new teammates.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Angels sent backup catcher Hank Conger to the Astros for young starter Nick Tropeano and Minor League catcher Carlos Perez.

Alden (thanks to Will Boor for tracking down Sappington)

Garrett Richards’ second inning: Immaculate …

nolanNolan Ryan and Garrett Richards.

That’s it.

Those are the only two guys in Angels history to record an immaculate inning, which consists of nine pitches and three strikeouts. Ryan did it on June 9, 1972, in the second inning against the Red Sox. Richards did it on Wednesday, in the second inning of a 4-0 win over the Astros.

“That was my guy growing up,” Richards said after eight shutout innings. “It’s cool. It’s cool to be put in a group with a guy like that. I didn’t even realize it until after the game. It was fun. It was a fun game to be a part of.”

Yes, Richards is way too young to grow up idolizing Ryan. He’s 26, which means he was 5 years old during the Hall of Famer’s final season with the Rangers in 1993. But his father was a big fan of Ryan, and that made Richards, raised in Southern California, a fan, too.

“I met him one time in Texas,” Richards said. “It was awesome.”

Here’s how the bottom of the second went (video here) …

Jon Singleton: 96-mph fastball (foul), 88-mph slider (swinging), 79-mph curveball (swinging).
Matt Dominguez: 95-mph cutter (looking), 97-mph fastball (swinging), 97-mph cutter (looking).
Chris Carter: 97-mph cutter (swinging), 79-mph curveball (swinging), 88-mph slider (swinging).

Three others have thrown an immaculate inning this season (Justin Masterson of the Indians on June 2, Cole Hamels of the Phillies on May 17 and Brad Boxberger of the Rays on May 8), and Richards’ is the 55th in Major League history. Thirty-three have come in the National League, twenty-two have come in the American League. Ryan also accomplished it with the Mets in 1968, and Lefty Grove did it twice in one season (1928, with the A’s). Nobody has ever done it more than once in the same game (here’s the full list).

“That’s just the type of stuff you rarely ever see,” catcher Hank Conger said. “But with a guy like Garrett, that’s the type of things that can happen, especially with his type of stuff.”

Alden

Division-by-division: AL East …

Red Sox Parade BaseballLeading up to Spring Training, I’ll take a look at each of the six divisions in hopes of providing an overview for what to expect this coming season. Next up, the AL East.

Yankees
Last year’s record: 85-77, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Masahiro Tanaka, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, INF Kelly Johnson, INF Brian Roberts, RP Matt Thornton
Key subtractions: CL Mariano Rivera, 2B Robinson Cano, OF Curtis Granderson, 3B Alex Rodriguez, SP Andy Pettitte, SP Phil Hughes, RP Joba Chamberlain, RP Boone Logan
Biggest strength: Outfield. They’re deep enough there that they can eventually use Brett Gardner as a chip to help shore up another department. For now, Gardner is expected to start alongside Ellsbury and Beltran, with Alfonso Soriano (129 OPS plus with the Yankees last year) serving as the primary designated hitter and Ichiro Suzuki (eventual Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki) off the bench.
Biggest question: Age. Four of their projected starting nine are 35 and older (Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Brian Roberts, Beltran), CC Sabathia is seemingly on the decline and Hiroki Kuroda is 38.
Most important player: Tanaka. He was signed to a seven-year, $155 million contract on Wednesday, and if he becomes the ace suggested on his price tag, or even just a very formidable No. 2, the Yankees’ rotation can compete in baseball’s toughest division.
In 25 words or less: The Yankees re-established themselves as a financial juggernaut, but can they be dominant again? That’s up to Father Time.

Red Sox
Last year’s record: 97-65, 1st place (beat the Cardinals in WS)
Key additions: C A.J. Pierzynski, INF Jonathan Herrera, RP Edward Mujica, RP Burke Badenhop
Key subtractions: OF Jacoby Ellsbury, SS Stephen Drew, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RP Matt Thornton
Biggest strength: Starting pitching. The Red Sox return all six starting pitchers from their World Series-winning team — Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront.
Biggest question: Their young players, specifically Jackie Bradley Jr., who will replace Ellsbury in center fielder, and Xander Bogaerts, who’s expected to replace Drew at shortstop after a stellar postseason.
Most important player: Clay Buchholz. The 29-year-old right-hander has shown flashes of brilliance, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout a full season. Last year, he had a 1.74 ERA but made only 16 starts because of shoulder fatigue that diminished his fastball velocity in October.
In 25 words or less: Once again, the Red Sox have a nice blend of accomplished veterans and talented young players, and look like a force.

Rays
Last year’s record: 92-71, 2nd place (lost to Red Sox in ALDS)
Key additions: CL Grant Balfour, C Ryan Hanigan, RP Heath Bell, INF Jayson Nix, RP Pedro Figueroa
Key subtractions: CL Fernando Rodney, OF Luke Scott, INF Kelly Johnson, RP Randy Choate
Biggest strength: Starting pitching, like it is every year. The Rays never seem to run out of it, no matter how little money they have to play with. The quintet of David Price/Alex Cobb/Matt Moore/Jeremy Hellickson/Chris Archer is as good as anyone.
Biggest question: Protecting Evan Longoria. It’s an annual question with this money-strapped bunch, but could cease being a problem if Wil Myers builds on his Rookie of the Year season.
Most important player: Balfour. The Rays signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal on Thursday, a month after his two-year, $15 million agreement with the O’s was taken off the table over issues with his physical. If he can be the guy the A’s have had the last two years (2.56 ERA, 62 saves), he’ll be a bargain and stabilize an otherwise uncertain bullpen.
In 25 words or less: If they keep Price, they’ll find a way to contend. If they trade Price, they’ll find a way to content. They don’t stop.

Blue Jays
Last year’s record: 74-88, 5th place
Key additions: C Dioner Navarro, 1B Dan Johnson, 2B Chris Getz, 3B Brent Morel, RP Tomo Ohka
Key subtractions: SP Josh Johnson, RP Darren Oliver, OF Rajai Davis, C J.P. Arencibia
Biggest strength: Offense. With Jose Reyes at the top, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle, and Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie sprinkled throughout, Toronto has the makings of a potent lineup — if everyone performs to their career norms.
Biggest question: Starting pitching. The Blue Jays ranked 29th in starting-pitcher ERA last year, ahead of only the Twins, with R.A. Dickey having a rough first half and the likes of Johnson, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ and several others all struggling.
Most important player: The free-agent starter to be named later. The Blue Jays could target someone like Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. And if they get one of them, it’ll take a lot of the load off Dickey, Morrow and Mark Buehrle.
In 25 words or less: The same core that looked primed to win the division and grossly underachieved is back almost entirely. That’s both good and bad.

Orioles
Last year’s record: 85-77, 3rd place
Key additions: 2B Jemile Weeks, OF David Lough, OF Delmon Young, RP Ryan Webb, RP Brad Brach, OF Tyler Colvin, OF Quintin Berry, OF Julio Borbon
Key subtractions: CL Jim Johnson, 2B Brian Roberts, OF Nate McLouth, OF Michael Morse, SP Scott Feldman, SP Jason Hammel, SP Tsuyoshi Wada, RP Francisco Rodriguez
Biggest strength: Star power. In third baseman Manny Machado, center fielder Adam Jones and first baseman Chris Davis, the O’s have three of the best players at their respective positions.
Biggest question: Their assortment of young starting pitchers. Few have actually clicked, and if the O’s are to compete again, someone will have to emerge from a group that includes Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson and T.J. McFarland.
Most important player: Bundy, the 21-year-old who was ranked by MLB.com as the eighth-best right-handed-pitching prospect. Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery in June and could give Baltimore a much-needed boost in the rotation if he returns to form around mid-season.
In 25 words or less: A talented core exists, but this team needs more additions to compete in this division.

Predicted order of finish …

  • Rays
  • Red Sox
  • Yankees
  • Blue Jays
  • Orioles

Previous entries: NL East

Alden 

Angels’ competition getting tougher …

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

Here’s how it stacked up in combined wins …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does all this mean for the Angels?

Well, nothing. At least not now.

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

But their competition just keeps getting better.

Alden

Price Is Right? …

David Price

In August 2009, the Angels acquired Scott Kazmir from the Rays in a four-player trade.

In July 2012, Peter Bourjos was so close to being dealt to the Rays — presumably for James Shields, but that part is unconfirmed — that they basically had his uniform ready in St. Petersburg.

This offseason, perhaps the two can come together again — this time for ace pitcher David Price.

The two haven’t been linked heavily in trade talks — yet — but it’s a pairing that would seem to make sense for both sides. The Rays are believed throughout the industry to be shopping Price this winter. It’s the kind of thing they’d do. The starting-pitching market is thin, which would maximize Price’s value; the 28-year-old left-hander is projected to make about $13 million in his second year of arbitration; and Tampa Bay has a gluttony of young, cost-controlled starting pitching, which could free the front office up to trade Price for the offense that may finally balance out their roster.

Meet the Angels. They’ll spend all offseason looking for pitching via the trade market and are more than willing to dangle offensive pieces to get it. Price only comes with two years of control, which doesn’t exactly meet the profile of cost-controlled arms that Jerry Dipoto specifically targets. But here’s the thing: The Angels don’t just have to improve the rotation. They have to get a lot better. Their staff ranked 11th in the American League in ERA last year, Jered Weaver basically loses a tick or two off his fastball every season, C.J. Wilson can drive you nuts every five days, Garrett Richards is still developing and Jason Vargas (if resigned) is 64th in ERA over the last four years.

This rotation looks a whole lot better if you slide Price at the top and move everyone down a spot.

Heck, it may rival some of the best in the league.

Will it happen? Maybe; most likely not, given how difficult it is to pull off trades this big. But it’s an interesting one to think about at this point. (Even a little fun, no?) Who would the Angels have to give up to get Price, you ask? One guy the Rays may really want — perhaps even demand — is Richards, and I can see that being the difference between real dialogue taking place or this being nothing more than a pipe dream. Besides Richards, Mark Trumbo — who you’d hate to lose, but would probably be willing to give up if it means getting someone this good — is probably a guy who would go to Tampa Bay, since he’d be a perfect fit in the middle of their lineup and first baseman James Loney is now a free agent. Maybe Bourjos gets thrown in there again, perhaps second baseman Howie Kendrick — born and raised in nearby Jacksonville — gets added to the mix, maybe some prospects, maybe all of them.

Two things are certain …

  1. The Angels would face a whole lot of competition, especially if Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka isn’t posted. And the Rays will seek a significant return since they don’t really have to trade Price this offseason.
  2. The Angels may have to take on money, since a big reason the Rays would do it in the first place is to free up some payroll flexibility. (I estimate that the Angels have something in the neighborhood of $15 million of wiggle room for 2014. Parting ways with Trumbo saves about $6 million for next season, while Kendrick saves about $9 million and Bourjos saves about $1.5 million.)

***

Vargas — without the $14.1 million qualifying offer — officially joined the free-agent pool of starting pitchers at 9:01 p.m. PT on Monday, when teams were given the green light to start negotiating with all eligible free agents. The Angels would be interested in bringing him back. And though their best bet to bolster their starting rotation will come via the trade market, the free-agent list is worth looking at nonetheless.

So, with that in mind, below is a categorical look at the unimpressive-but-perhaps-useful pool. Off the bat, I eliminated Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Hiroki Kuroda, the three starters who were tendered the qualifying offer and figure to be out of the Angels’ price range. Also not mentioned are Far East stars Tanaka and Suk-Min Yoon (Korea), who have yet to be posted.

Have a look. (Warning: It ain’t pretty.)

Bartolo ColonProbably Too Steep

Matt Garza
Ricky Nolasco

The Next Tier

Bronson Arroyo
A.J. Burnett
Tim Hudson

Big Names, Big Reclamations

Roy Halladay
Josh Johnson
Johan Santana
Ryan Vogelsong

Reunion Candidates

Bartolo Colon
Dan Haren
Kazmir
Joe Saunders

Phil HughesSteady, Albeit-Uninspiring Veterans

Erik Bedard
Bruce Chen
Jason Hammel
Paul Maholm
Jake Westbrook

Coming Back From Injury 

Chris Capuano
Jeff Karstens
John Lannan
Colby Lewis
James McDonald
Clayton Richard

Potential Minor League Options

Freddy Garcia
Aaron Harang
Ted Lilly
Shaun Marcum
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Roy Oswalt
Barry ZitoTsuyoshi Wada
Chien-Ming Wang

Some Upside Left?

Scott Baker
Scott Feldman
Phil Hughes
Sean O’Sullivan
Mike Pelfrey
Greg Reynolds
Edinson Volquez

Anything Left? 

Jeff Francis
Jon Garland
Roberto Hernandez
Barry Zito

Alden

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

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

Barely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alden

‘[Heck] yeah it meant more.’

Dane De La RosaThat was Dane De La Rosa‘s response when asked after Tuesday’s 6-5 win if it meant more to get a save against this team. The word he used was more, well, R-rated than ‘heck.’ And he wasn’t joking.

It did mean more.

The Rays gave De La Rosa another chance. They signed him in November 2009, after he had spent three years toiling away in independent ball, and housed him (mostly in their Minor League system) for the next three years before parting ways with him (in exchange for Steve Geltz) just before the start of the 2013 regular season.

For De La Rosa, this was, as he put it, “full circle.”

“They gave me a chance,” he said after his second career save, both this year. “Stuff happens. But while I was here, I learned. This is a great organization, obviously, to learn pitching, just controlling the running game and stuff like that. Everything I learned, everything I did in this organization, I feel like it wasn’t a waste. It was for something. Now this is, I guess, what it’s for.”

It took him a while, sure, but this season — his age-30 season — the 6-foot-7 De La Rosa has finally established himself in the big leagues, with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in 60 innings. This month, he’s given up one run in 11 appearances (spanning 9 2/3 innings), basically becoming Ernesto Frieri‘s backup closer with the Angels.

De La Rosa made sure to keep the ball on Tuesday night. When you go through as much as he has, you tend to value moments like this a little bit more.

As Jason Lee said in one of my favorite movies, Vanilla Sky: “I know sour, which allows me to appreciate the sweet.”

Joe [Maddon] used to talk about the levels of being a big leaguer,” De La Rosa said. “And I think, right now, I’m at that last level, which is knowing I should be here and building on each outing as a big leaguer – not as a Triple-A guy or just a guy who’s a fringe guy. Just knowing that I belong here and throwing the way I usually throw.

“Coming back into baseball, affiliated baseball at least, being with them, working my way up to there, then coming back here and getting the save, it’s cool.”

Alden 

Angels blow up plan, sign Ricardo Sanchez …

The Angels went into the international signing period, which began on Tuesday, with a bonus pool just below $2 million. The thinking was that they’d do what they’ve done the last few years — hand out bonuses of a couple-hundred-thousand dollars and try to hit on as many guys as possible with their minimal allotment.

But then the opportunity to sign Ricardo Sanchez came along.

Sanchez is a 16-year-old left-handed pitcher, and the Angels consider him one of the top pitching prospects in the baseball-crazed nation of Venezuela. Tuesday afternoon, they signed him to a reported $580,000 bonus, which is more than they’ve handed out in a few years but less than what they were worried Sanchez would go for.

“If we were going to do something a little bit different, it had to be the right guy,” Angels international scouting director Carlos Gomez said. “It was probably a little bit more than we thought the biggest bonus was going to be this year, but he kind of fit all the things that we were looking to do.”

Sanchez is only 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, but his fastball can reach the low-90s and he has a good feel for his changeup and breaking ball, general manager Jerry Dipoto said. Others have compared him to Rays starter Alex Cobb.

“And I know the one thing we like more than anything is just his makeup — how he competes, the way he goes about his business,” Dipoto added.

Sanchez was most notably named MVP of last August’s Under-15 World Championships, pitching Venezuela to a win over Cuba in the title game. After the contract is officially approved by Major League Baseball, Sanchez will report to the Angels’ new academy in the Boca Chica area of the Dominican Republic, and Gomez believes he can soon go to the United States to pitch in the Arizona Summer League.

Sanchez isn’t ranked among MLB.com’s Top 30 international prospects, and Baseball America ranks lists him 27th. Gomez, who’s been following him for the last couple of years, believes he should be in the top 10.

“I will wear you out with what I think of Ricardo Sanchez, not only as a player but the human being himself,” Gomez said. “Phenomenal kid. Trainer’s phenomenal, fantastic family. It’s a nice face of the international world.”

Sanchez was added shortly after the First-Year Player Draft, which saw the Angels use their first selection (in the second round) on high school left-hander Hunter Green and take a pitcher with each of their first seven picks.

“It gives us something to look forward to in talent coming down the pike in terms of our pitching,” Dipoto said. “Nothing more than that. There’s no elaborate plan. We’re trying to add as much talent as we can to the system, and it just so happens that we’ve focused on pitching in the here and now.”

Alden 

Angels in search of a backup catcher …

The Angels, feeling a little uneasy about Hank Conger‘s throwing woes, are in search of a veteran backup catcher as Spring Training winds down, an industry source confirmed to MLB.com on Saturday. Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com first reported the Angels’ interest.

Conger, 25, came into camp as the clear-cut favorite to back up catcher Chris Iannetta and has hit well, batting .381 with two homers and 11 RBIs. The Angels like the switch-hitting Conger — who has always hit and has come a long way with his footwork and receiving skills behind the plate — but they need him to correct his throwing issues, which led to three errant throws on Sunday to up his spring total to at least five.

With rosters being pared down this time of year, the Angels will look to the waiver wire to add a steady, inexpensive, veteran presence behind the plate. They have an open spot on the 40-man roster after slipping Bobby Cassevah, now with the Rockies, through waivers. They’ll have some competition, though, with the Phillies, Pirates and Rays also looking for catching help, according to MLB.com’s Peter Gammons.

The Angels still believe in Conger. So in the event of an acquisition, they’re likely to option him to Triple-A to start the season so he can find the consistent release point that has eluded him. Conger has one option year left. John Hester (on the 40-man) and Luke Carlin (a non-roster invitee) are the other two catchers technically vying for the backup job, but both have had very inconsistent time in the Majors throughout their careers.

Alden

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