Results tagged ‘ Torii Hunter ’
The baseball gods are doing the on-field equivalent of trolling the Angels right now. It’s not just that they’re 11-20, with Josh Hamilton slumping and every facet of their team — starting pitching, relief pitching, baserunning, defense, production — in a rut through the first five weeks of the season. It’s that so many of the players they’ve discarded recently are, well, thriving.
See for yourself …
RF Torii Hunter (offered little more than a $5 million base salary, plus incentives, this offseason before he inked a two-year, $26 million deal with the Tigers): .361/.406/.479 slash line through his first 27 games in the No. 2 spot for first-place Detroit.
LF Vernon Wells (dealt to the Yankees for the financial relief of getting under the Competitive Balance Tax payroll, with New York picking up $13.9 million of the $42 million owed to him over the next two seasons): .280/.339/.486 with six homers team while batting mostly third — yes, third — for an injury-riddled Yankees team that’s somehow six games over .500.
SP Ervin Santana (essentially given to the Royals because the Angels weren’t going to exercise his $13 million option for 2013): 3-1, 2.00 ERA with 31 strikeouts and five walks in 36 innings for a Kansas City team that — of course — is 17-11.
SS Jean Segura (traded alongside Ariel Pena and John Hellweg for Zack Greinke last July): .333/.380/.523, with a league-leading three triples and one very interesting sequence on the basepaths.
RP Jordan Walden (dealt straight up to the Braves for Tommy Hanson in November): 2.92 ERA, with 14 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings.
RP LaTroy Hawkins (unsigned as a free agent): 2.77 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in 13 innings for the Mets.
SP Patrick Corbin (dealt — by then-Arizona interim GM Jerry Dipoto — to the Angels along with Tyler Skaggs, Rafael Rodriguez and Joe Saunders in exchange for Dan Haren in July 2010): 4-0, 1.85 ERA in six starts.
What does all this mean to the Angels? Well nothing, of course. In fact, in my mind, almost all of these moves were justified (you could certainly argue in favor of bringing Hunter back and using the additional funds on pitching). The fact anyone would take on that much for Wells was flat-out shocking; it made little sense to pay Santana $13 million for 2013 given how his 2012 season went; I’ll do Walden-for-Hanson any day of the week; the Greinke trade was a good one considering Dipoto didn’t have to give up Peter Bourjos and/or Garrett Richards, and he would’ve been applauded for it had they made the playoffs last year; and, well, there was little reason to give a 40-year-old Hawkins a guaranteed contract, or a likely shot at winning a bullpen spot, given the group the Angels had going into Spring Training.
But still …
Unrelated subject (well, sort of): Here’s a look at who’s shining, and who isn’t, in the Angels’ system so far …
INF Luis Rodriguez (AAA): .314/.344/.496, 4 HR, 24 RBI
RP Jeremy Berg (AAA): 1.65 ERA, 13 SO, 1 BB, 16 1/3 IP
SP Austin Wood (A+): 2.41 ERA, 4 GS, 17 SO, 9 BB, 18 2/3 IP
RP Mitch Stetter (AAA): 5.56 ERA, 11 1/3 IP, 12 SO, 10 BB
SP A.J. Schugel (AAA): 0-1, 6.21 ERA, 6 GS, 30 SO, 14 BB, 29 IP
OF Randal Grichuk (AA): .186/.262/.351, 2 HR, 7 RBI
Come Monday, Jered Weaver will be making his fourth straight Opening Day start, Josh Hamilton‘s reunion tour will begin and the Angels will (once again) try to cash in on the grand expectations they carry into the season.
Before that happens, here’s a station-to-station look at where they stand heading into what should be a very fun 2013 …
Position players: I don’t see a way this team won’t be among the top three in runs scored in the American League this season. From mid-May to the end of the season last year, when Mike Trout arrived in more ways than one and Albert Pujols remembered he’s Albert Freakin’ Pujols, the Angels led the Majors in runs per game. And that was without Hamilton, mind you. The Angels have three dynamic speed guys (Peter Bourjos-Trout-Erick Aybar) and three lethal power hitters (Pujols-Hamilton-Mark Trumbo) all conveniently lining up together. The rest of the guys (Howie Kendrick, Alberto Callaspo, Chris Iannetta) don’t need to be anything more than themselves for the Angels to be an offensive juggernaut. Defensively, Trout-Bourjos-Hamilton could be the best defensive outfield in baseball (which tailors perfectly to their flyball-heavy pitching staff) and the infield is solid at every position.
Starters: Angels starters got their necessary work this spring, but just barely. Spring Training may not teach us much, but it certainly didn’t quell any apprehensions about this rotation. Everyone except the no-walks Joe Blanton struggled at some point, with Weaver, Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson all bringing temporary concerns that they wouldn’t have enough stamina heading into the regular season. But they do, and most importantly, they’re all healthy. Are they good enough to match one of the best offenses in baseball? No. Will they be adequate enough to eat innings (so the ‘pen doesn’t get worn out) and keep the Angels in games (with the lineup taking care of the rest)? That’s the plan. The key: C.J. Wilson, the $77.5 million No. 2 starter who should be a lot better than his 2012 second half.
Relievers: The Angels are deeper here, with or without Ryan Madson (who is still on track to return in late April or early May, barring another setback). They’ve added arguably the best free-agent lefty available in Sean Burnett, will have a full season of Ernesto Frieri, are banking on Kevin Jepsen‘s last three months being no fluke and, along with Scott Downs, seemingly have four formidable options to protect leads late in games. There’s also the high-upside Garrett Richards, coming off a great spring, the hard-throwing Mark Lowe, who the Angels have targeted since November, and the veteran Jerome Williams. Many will point to last year’s 22 blown saves as the biggest reason the Angels ultimately missed the playoffs, and this year, they’re better in the ‘pen. But that’s on paper. Relievers are a very unpredictable species.
Reserves: If all their everyday players stay healthy, this won’t be much of a factor, particularly in the AL. Chances are, though, injuries will happen. And given that, the Angels took a step back with regards to their bench (though if you’re going to pick one area to downgrade, this would be it). Without Vernon Wells, they don’t have any real power threat in reserve — besides Hank Conger, but he’s the backup catcher — and are pretty darn young. Andrew Romine takes over for the seasoned Maicer Izturis and Conger, awfully talented but coming off a spring soured by throwing woes, has spent most of the last three years in Triple-A. Contact-hitting lefty outfielder J.B. Shuck is the third player on this bench making his first Opening Day roster. The last reserve, veteran infielder Brendan Harris, hasn’t been in the big leagues since 2010.
Depth: The Angels’ farm system is dead last in all of baseball, according to ESPN and Baseball America. But those in the organization will tell you that mostly has to do with pitching; their position-player talent is just fine. Furthermore, the Angels’ front office is confident they’ve built more depth in the upper levels to serve as insurance in 2013. The Triple-A roster has several players with Major League experience, such as Luis Rodriguez, Tommy Field, Scott Cousins, Trent Oeltjen, Chris Snyder (possibly), John Hester, Luke Carlin, Mitch Stetter and Fernando Cabrera. But with Richards’ length shortened in the ‘pen, and Williams’ workload unpredictable as a swing man, where do the Angels turn if something happens to one of their starters? Barry Enright, Billy Buckner, Matt Shoemaker and the young A.J. Schugel figure to make up the Salt Lake Bees’ rotation.
Financials: The Angels’ payroll sits under $150 million, thanks to the Yankees taking on $11.5 million of Wells’ 2013 salary in the recent trade. The deal also bought them some luxury tax flexibility. Prior to the deal, the Angels’ Competitive Balance Tax payroll — which takes into account the average annual value of all 40-man roster salaries, plus benefits and performance bonuses at the end of the season — was $178 million, the threshold at which first-time offenders are taxed 17.5 percent by Major League Baseball. Now, it’s about $172M, giving them some flexibility to take on salary in an in-season trade. Last year, after acquiring Zack Greinke, their CBT payroll was at $178 million, which affected their pursuit of some necessary relief-pitching help.
Underlying theme: Expectations can do some funny things, and it’ll be interesting to see how the magnitude of it all will play into how the Angels go about — and react to — their second year under the microscope. Will it affect them out of the gate? Will it bring turmoil in the clubhouse, especially now that Torii Hunter is gone? Can it cause more tension between Jerry Dipoto and Mike Scioscia, who have their philosophical differences and were at odds at times last season? And what will it lead Arte Moreno to do if they miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season?
In addition to Trumbo at DH, how much time do you think he will get a first base and right field, giving Pujols and Hamilton a day to rest their legs? (Stephen H., San Luis Obispo)
Plenty. And if I had to pin a number on it, I’d say there’s a very good chance — even if everyone stays healthy — that Trumbo spends about half his time playing the field. If he’s hitting, he’ll be in the lineup for all the Angels’ Interleague games. For a good chunk of April, with Pujols in the early stages of his return from offseason knee surgery, he figures to play plenty of first base. With Wells gone, he’s also the fourth outfielder. And fundamentally, with so much money tied to Hamilton and Pujols long-term, Scioscia will get them off their feet as often as necessary now that he has a revolving door at DH (that wasn’t very feasible with Kendrys Morales there last year).
Do you see the day when the Angels move Trout down in the batting order and put Bourjos, if he can cut it, in the leadoff spot? (Albert H., Los Angeles)
I do. Scioscia continues to say Trout profiles better in the middle of the order, the reason being that you want your best hitter to be in as many RBI situations as possible. The makeup of the Angels’ lineup right now — with Pujols, Hamilton and Trumbo in the middle of the order, and no clear solution in the leadoff spot just yet — means Trout is the best fit to bat first. You can argue that the Angels’ everyday lineup doesn’t figure to change much any time soon, with almost everyone in the books long term. But Trout is the kind of player you construct a lineup around, and his bat figures to eventually become too potent to not put in the 3 spot.
Is this the year the Angels finally get back to the playoffs and make a deep run? (Samuel M., Tempe, Ariz.)
Who knows. I do think that, on paper, they are the best team in the AL West and should win the division. Once you get in the playoffs, it’s a crapshoot. The sample size is too small. But 162 games is not a small sample size, and if the Angels stay healthy, there is no excuse for not taking the division crown. The Rangers’ lineup took a step back, replacing Hamilton with Lance Berkman, and the pitching staff won’t have Neftali Feliz, Colby Lewis or Joakim Soria to start the season. The A’s are deep, but will need a lot of guys to over-perform again. It’s nice to see the Mariners spending money, but they still have holes and concerns all over the place. And the Astros are a last-place team. But who am I kidding — predicting a baseball season is a foolish act.
Now, at last, we can see how it all plays out on the field.
The Angels, in case you missed it, had quite the turnover this offseason. I knew that. But it didn’t really hit me until today, when I decided to compile a list of all the guys who are on a new team this spring. Below are nine of them — with Jason Isringhausen still in limbo — to catch you up on how 2012 Angels look heading into 2013 …
RF Torii Hunter (DET)
Numbers: .207 BA (6-for-29), 1 HR, 2 RBI
SP Zack Greinke (LAD)
Numbers: 3.60 ERA (2 ER, 5 IP), 3 K, 1 BB
Notes: Greinke missed Sunday’s bullpen session with minor forearm tightness and missed Wednesday’s start because of the flu, but he had an impressive bullpen session on Friday. Earlier in the spring, Greinke went into his social-anxiety disorder and his decision to sign with the Dodgers.
SP Dan Haren (WAS)
Numbers: 0-1, 3.60 ERA (2 ER, 5 IP), 5 K, 1 BB
Notes: Haren felt “a lot of good stuff” came out of his last outing. Last year, he said, “I didn’t trust myself.” Haren was involved in a prank-call this spring. Somebody made Peter Bourjos‘ cell phone ring in a pre-workout meeting — he suspected Mark Trumbo or Jered Weaver, or both — and the person on the other end was Haren, who was put on speaker phone so he could briefly talk with all of his ex-teammates.
SP Ervin Santana (KCR)
Numbers: 1.80 ERA (1 ER, 5 IP), 6 K, 1 BB
Notes: At $13 million, Santana is the highest-paid player on the Royals this year. They’re counting on a bounceback year.
DH Kendrys Morales (SEA)
Numbers: .320 BA (8-for-25), 2 HR, 4 RBI
Notes: Now that he has a full season under his belt after that devastating ankle injury, Morales can finally just have a normal spring. That’s big, given that this is his walk year.
INF Maicer Izturis (TOR)
Numbers: .160 BA (4-for-25), 1 RBI
Notes: Not a good start for Izturis, since he’s going to be fighting for playing time.
RP Jordan Walden (ATL)
Numbers: 1 IP, 4 R (1 ER), 3 H, 0 SO, 0 BB
Notes: Walden hasn’t appeared in a game since Feb. 23 due to a bulging disk in his back. He received an epidural injection in Atlanta on Wednesday, and if he continues to progress, he could throw off a mound again this weekend.
RP LaTroy Hawkins (NYM)
Numbers: 1 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 1 SO, 0 BB
Notes: Hawkins is 40 years old and now, after signing a Minor League deal with the Mets this offseason, has a good chance to make an Opening Day roster with his 10th different team.
C Bobby Wilson (NYY)
Numbers: .167 BA (2-for-12)
Notes: Some of you may be surprised to see he’s even on the Yankees. Wilson was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays early in the offseason, but was released in late November and signed with the Yankees on a Minor League deal a couple weeks later. He’ll be in Triple-A, but with not much talent in front of him — Austin Romine, Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart — perhaps he can win playing time.
- There are basically three candidates: Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo.
- Spring Training will not be the judge of who primarily hits in that spot this season. They’ve each played long enough that Mike Scioscia knows what he’s going to get out of them, and a lot of the time this spring, they won’t even be hitting between Trout and Pujols (who won’t get in games until about mid-March).
- At the start of the year, Scioscia will match up. And if somebody grabs hold of it, like Torii Hunter did last June, even better.
- The most important thing to the Angels’ skipper is “passing the baton,” which immediately leads you towards Callaspo’s on-base ability — but it’s not necessarily that simple. “A guy like Erick Aybar is in that case, where his on-base percentage may not be off the charts, but he’s in scoring position a lot,” Scioscia said. “Same with Howie, with the amount of doubles he’ll hit. Callaspo has the best on-base percentage of the three, and that’s something that would give him a lot of looks in the 2-hole.”
Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons each of them brings to that spot (I went into it more extensively over the offseason).
Pros: Power (career OPS of .756), good fastball hitter, descent speed.
Cons: Splits show he’s much more comfortable hitting lower in the lineup.
Pros: Patience (takes a lot of pitches, allowing Trout to steal bases, and draws more walks than any of the three).
Cons: Not a lot of speed and not very productive in general (.252/.331/.361 slash line last year).
Pros: Good speed (combined 72 stolen bases the last three years), good strike hitter, great bunter.
Cons: Not patient (least amount of pitches seen per plate appearances — 3.28 — in the AL last season).
Now, about that whole matching up thing at the start of the season … Scioscia could do it simply based on their numbers based on who’s starting on a particular night, or perhaps who’s riding a hot bat, but here are some things to keep in mind, based on their splits …
- Callaspo probably shouldn’t bat second against a righty. The switch-hitter is a career .264/.331/.371 hitter against righties, as opposed to .306/.349/.418 against lefties.
- Aybar is a notorious slow starter, with a career .261 batting average during the first two months of the season.
- It may make most sense for Kendrick to bat second on the days Vernon Wells replaces Peter Bourjos in the lineup — that’s a whole other subject — because the Angels will have more power towards the bottom of the lineup.
“I think Howie can match up against guys and he’s going to be not as much a situational hitter, just the good matchup guy who’s going to hit the ball hard and take advantage of whatever Trout creates,” Scioscia said. “Callaspo’s got more of a situational component, as does Erick.”
To his mom, Debbie, this is the favorite.
It’s hanging in a frame downstairs, in the basement Mike has turned into his own personal “man cave,” and autographed with silver Sharpie by the two of them.
This is a snapshot of Mike’s first Major League game on July 8, 2011, taken just after Mike raced to the wall to make this running catch.
But the significance of this photo lies in the man standing to Mike’s right, Torii Hunter, who took Mike under his wing basically since the moment he was drafted and is now gone, signing with the Tigers to a two-year, $26 million contract over the offseason.
“I’m going to miss Torii,” Debbie said. “I really am going to miss Torii. He was just absolutely wonderful to Mike.”
“Not only did he help him with his approach to the game, but all the little things that people don’t realize when you get up there as a 20-year-old kid — how to behave in the clubhouse, what time to get there,” Mike’s father, Jeff, said. “He’s counseled Mike on nutrition, how to take care of his legs, how to take care of your body, how to handle fans, how to handle the autograph thing. He really has been a really, really positive influence on Mike.”
Hunter was one of the first players Mike met after being the Angels’ 25th overall pick in 2009. The Angels invited him to take batting practice at Angel Stadium, Hunter introduced himself and the veteran outfielder stayed in touch with Mike as he was coming up through the system. Hunter bought Mike a suit shortly after he came up to the big leagues, tipped clubbies for him and even paid for his parents’ dinner when he spotted them at a restaurant one night. The two still stay in touch.
Shortly after Hunter signed with the Tigers, Mike’s mom sent him a tweet (her handle: @DebbieTrout27) …
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!! Mike has learned from the Best!!!We will miss you but see you in Detroit!!!
Hunter’s response (via @toriihunter48) …
no mama! Thanks to u for raising such a great kid. He was easy to work with and talk to. @Trouty20 is a special kid
“He was a great mentor, and we appreciate everything he did,” Jeff said. “Hopefully some day Mike can do the same for a young player coming up.”
“That’s right,” Debbie added, “because that’s what it’s all about. But I’m really going to miss Torii.”
We ran a story today on Mike’s hometown of Millville — the impact it’s had on his life, the way it has rallied around him these last nine months and how, in some ways, things can never be the same again there. Here are some additional notes …
* The Angels have not begun talks with Mike and his representatives with regards to a long-term extension, sources have said. The club is past the point where it can get him to agree on an Evan Longoria-type deal — six years, $17.5 million, agreed on when he first arrived in the big leagues.
Big-market clubs, as a general rule, can opt to wait a little longer to sign controlled players to a long extension because they aren’t scared by looming arbitration. And by waiting, they minimize the risk for nine figures at such a young age. Normally it’s the small- to mid-market teams that do it in the pre-arbitration years (think Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton and Hanley Ramirez) because it’s one of few ways to assure a star player doesn’t leave via fre agency.
Also, the competitive balance tax accounts for the average annual value of a contract, not the year-to-year price point. So, for example, if Mike signs a 10-year, $200 million contract that’s typically backloaded into his free-agent years, the $25M AAV is factored into the “now payroll” for the CBT. So, even if that contracts pays him only $1M in 2013, the Angels are paying taxes as if that were a $25M deal. That gets to be very pricey when you have other massive deals (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, etc.).
In short, the Angels’ thinking is: What’s the rush? They’ll get there at some point. They’d sure like to.
* Mike isn’t too thrilled about being relegated to left field next season, several people close to him say. No surprise. (How would you feel if you were told to switch positions after being the MVP runner-up?) But Mike has made no mention of his displeasure to Angels management, simply telling them he believes he’s a center fielder but will do what it takes to help the team win.
The Angels remain committed to putting Peter Bourjos in center and Trout in left for a vast majority of the 2013 season – unless Bourjos struggles offensively again. They like the alignment because Bourjos is also an elite-level defensive center fielder – some would say he covers more ground than Mike – and Mike has more experience in left field. Also, staying away from center will only limit the wear and tear on Mike’s legs long-term. Being a left fielder, however, could cost Mike some money, especially in arbitration. It’s highly unlikely that Mike attains Super Two status, so he probably won’t reach arbitration until after the 2014 season.
* Here’s a running joke around Millville: The city doesn’t have any maternity hospitals, so every woman in this city gives birth in Vineland, which just so happens to be their heated, neighboring rival. That was no different for Debbie Trout on Aug. 7, 1991, when Mike was born. And because of that technicality, every Mike Trout baseball card and bio page lists his birthplace as Vineland, N.J. (The grainy picture below is from his freshman year of high school.)
“Yeah, but he never spent no time there,” Millville Mayor Tim Shannon bellowed. “Soon as he was born, we brought him back!”
* Jeff and Debbie point to the July 10 All-Star Game in Kansas City as the moment they realized their lives, and especially Mike’s, would never be the same again.
At about 2 a.m., while the Trouts were celebrating Debbie’s 50th birthday at one of The Capital Grille’s private rooms, fans were still parked outside waiting to hound Mike for autographs as soon as he stepped out. At that point, he and his family were led out the back – where Charlie Sheen was coming in, and sparked a short conversation with Mike.
“That’s when we realized things had changed forever, for us and for Michael,” Jeff said.
Added Debbie: “We no longer were coming in through the front door.”
I’ve made the mistake of believing the Angels were done before. So when general manager Jerry Dipoto, speaking shortly after trading Kendrys Morales for Jason Vargas, says “in all likelihood” he’s done making major moves this offseason, I’m naturally skeptical. But, yeah, barring a low-risk addition or two to the bullpen, probably via Minor League deals, this essentially puts a bow on Dipoto’s offseason. Seriously this time.
In my opinion, it was a very successful one for the Angels’ second-year GM.
With a very similar payroll (about $160 million), and a ridiculously expensive free agent market, Dipoto was able to add yet another weapon to an already-dangerous lineup, greatly improve a thin bullpen and build more starting-pitching depth. (Here’s an updated depth chart.) Granted, the rotation is nowhere near as heralded as it was at the start of last season, but it is solid and a lot more payroll-efficient.
We could go on forever about whether or not it was better to sign Zack Greinke (six years, $147 million) or Josh Hamilton (five years, $125 million). Frankly, I’m not sure. Greinke’s risk is greater, in some ways, because he’s a pitcher and it’s an extra year. In a vacuum, and if we’re factoring out that sixth year, it comes down to whether you prefer Greinke and Morales or Hamilton and Vargas.
But you can’t analyze offseasons like that because they never play out in linear fashion. It’s like the butterfly effect; each move is dependent on the other. Skipping out on Greinke allowed Dipoto to get Joe Blanton and Sean Burnett, adding them to the additions of Tommy Hanson and Ryan Madson. Then he got Hamilton, which allowed him to then flip Morales for Vargas. Had he delved into a bidding war with the Rangers and Dodgers for Greinke, perhaps he would’ve been stuck with nothing (look at the Rangers right now).
Basically, the 2012 septet of Morales, Greinke, Dan Haren, Torii Hunter, Ervin Santana, Jordan Walden and LaTroy Hawkins is being replaced by the 2013 septet of Bourjos, Hamilton, Blanton, Vargas, Hanson, Madson and Burnett. If we’re going by Wins Above Replacement, as interpreted by FanGraphs.com, the Angels improved this offseason.
Here’s a look at each player’s WAR from this past season …
Bourjos (from 2011): 4.5
Madson (’11): 1.7
The Angels’ stunning agreement with free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton probably means that Peter Bourjos is once again on the trading block. Bourjos hardly played last season, after putting up solid numbers in 2011, but seemed primed to be the starting center fielder in 2013 now that Torii Hunter is gone.
That changed quickly on Thursday. A lot of options are still on the table, but the latest move may mean Hamilton plays left field, Mike Trout is in center, Mark Trumbo is in right and Bourjos, once again, is on the block for a starting pitcher (R.A. Dickey?).
Reached by phone, here’s what Bourjos said (he has not been informed of any trade just yet, by the way) …
On being on the trading block again …
“Obviously this game’s a business, and you know that going into it that you can eventually be traded. If you have an opportunity, from a management standpoint, to sign Josh Hamilton, I think you do it. And then, wherever the pieces fall with me or whatever they do, you handle that aspect.”
On planning to be the everyday center fielder again …
“You know, I really don’t plan on anything after what happened last year. Not that I didn’t believe what was said in the paper, I just know how quickly this game can change and how opportunities arise. I never really got my hopes up. Obviously I want to stay in Anaheim and play there. I’m not sure what’s going to happen now. But at the end of the day, from my perspective, I just want to play. I really don’t want to go through what I went through last year where I wasn’t playing. The last two months, I got like three at-bats. So hopefully, if I’m the odd man out, hopefully they’re willing to trade me and I’m able to go somewhere and play every day.”
If Hamilton signs, is your preference to be traded …
“If that’s the case. I don’t know what their plans are; obviously I want to stay in Anaheim. If it’s a situation where I can play every day, then I absolutely would love to stay there. I love everybody from Arte Moreno on down — John Carpino, Jerry Dipoto, all the guys in the team. That’s where I’d like to be. But if I’m going to be in the position where I was last year, then obviously I’d want to play every day.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia met with the media from the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, the final full day of the Winter Meetings. With the pitching market moving slowly — and likely staying that way until Zack Greinke chooses his destination — the Angels haven’t addressed their final rotation and bullpen need, and there are still no indications that they’ll do so before heading back West.
In a wide-ranging interview, Scioscia talked about the Angels’ pursuit of Greinke — who he hasn’t talked to since the end of the regular season, the addition of Ryan Madson, the new-look outfield, Mike Trout‘s future spot in the outfield and Vernon Wells‘ limited role.
Here are the highlights …
Any sense you guys will be able to do something today?
Well, you know, there’s a lot of things that Jerry [Dipoto] is working on, and I think the important thing about this time of year is really not only who you’re targeting but the contingencies. Those guys have put a lot of time in and a lot of effort into getting us ready to go whatever direction negotiations take you, whatever direction these Winter Meetings take you. We’re very, very comfortable and confident in the team that we’re going to have. I think there are already some things that were vastly improved on from where we were in September. We’ll see where this leads.
Any concerns from a rotation standpoint, numbers and maybe some of the quality, as we get through right now?
Well, we have right now a couple good guys to build around when you talk about Jered [Weaver] and you talk about C.J. [Wilson]. Obviously there’s some young guys coming up, guys like Garrett [Richards] that are obviously going to have opportunities, Jerome Williams. But when you talk about the Greinkes, you talk about a lot of the other pitchers that are still out there right now with some question marks as to are they going to be part of your team or not, you know, there are things you have to prepare for.
So yeah, starting rotation is obviously the heartbeat of your club, and I know that Jerry is putting a lot of time and effort into it. And I think as we’re waiting for that to hopefully develop and get solidified, there have been some great additions that we’re very, very excited about.
What dialogue, if any, have you had with Zack over the winter or maybe in the last week or two?
The dialogue is really going to be between Jerry and his agent. I think Zack was very comfortable here at the end of last year, pitched very, very good baseball for us. Free agency is complicated. Right now we’re at a stage where I don’t know if there’s as much clarity as there are in some other areas that are going on, but he’s certainly a guy that I know that they’re talking to.
So have you talked to him at all?
I talked to Zack at the end of the season.
Even if you solidify the pitching staff the way you want, would you still consider it a disappointment if Greinke isn’t part of it?
I don’t know if you ever are going to say, well, this is disappointing and that’s disappointing. You want to see what direction negotiations take your team and what direction Winter Meetings take your team. I think we’re going to have a strong rotation with or without Zack. Naturally we’d like Zack to be part of it because we saw where he was and what he did for us last year, but if it plays out that way, then obviously that’s important. If it doesn’t go that way, I think there are some names that Jerry is certainly ‑‑ there’s some names that he’s in negotiations with that hopefully are going to take our rotation where it needs to be.
How do you feel about the bullpen right now?
I think it’s terrific. I think that when you look at a guy like Madson and you look at adding him to what [Ernesto] Frieri did and [Kevin Jepsen's] development, and you look at [Scott] Downs, there are so many situations where we didn’t hold leads the way we needed to last season. And I think going into this year, if everyone hits the ground running as far as our bullpen, we’re going to hold leads at a much better rate, and that’s going to definitely influence where we finish our standings.
If he’s healthy, is Madson the closer?
Well, there’s no doubt that he wants to be and has the potential to be. But I don’t think we have to make that determination right now. I think that where Ryan is is certainly one factor. Where Ernie is, if you look at Scott Downs who had saves last year, where Kevin Jepsen is, our bullpen is much deeper right now, and that’s encouraging. It’s always easier when that one guy emerges and can be the closer. If that is what materializes, great; if it doesn’t, then we’re going to hold leads in different ways and have the good arms to do it.
How will the loss of Torii Hunter impact your team on and off the field?
There’s no doubt it impacts our club. I think when you lose a presence in the clubhouse ‑‑ I think we have plenty of guys in the clubhouse that are a presence, and they’ll absorb that. I think what we have to carve out is that No. 2 spot that Torii just fit like a glove. He took that role and he just ran with it and got back to his roots of being a young player coming up and getting into a situational game and played at a high level for us. That’s what we have to, I think, be able to replicate, and hopefully we will.
What are you thinking for the 2-hole?
There’s a lot of guys we can revisit, but I think if you look at where Erick [Aybar] was and where Howie [Kendrick] was as they moved on in the season and got more comfortable, there’s certainly going to be some spots for that. Where we end up at the end of these Meetings and going into Spring Training will have a lot to do with who’s going to hit in the No. 2 spot.
Do you still have Trout leading off next year?
There’s definitely things that we’ve talked about. If you look at Mike Trout and where he can hit, he can hit anywhere from 1 to 4 in your lineup. Where you’re going to get the most production from Mike, he fell right into lead‑off hole and was just natural, but you certainly want to set the table for Mike, and I think as a lead‑off hitter, there’s certainly an argument to saying how much are your 8 and 9 guys getting on for Mike to be able to justify putting him in that spot. He might be suited to hit second in your lineup if you had the right combination.
I think there’s a lot of lineups that you can roll around right now. I think the one thing with Mike that was incredible was really the number of RBIs he had or really maybe not getting as many opportunities as some guys, and that’s something you would definitely explore when you’re putting lineups together.
What do you think [Peter] Bourjos can do offensively?
I think Peter had a good 2011 for us. If you look at how he did particularly in the second half where his on‑base percentage improved, I think you saw some power evolve. Pete’s obviously a presence in the outfield, but he still needs to bring us some offense, which he’s definitely capable of doing.
There’s some people that may not have seen a lot of Bourjos that go, ‘Hey, you have somebody that’s a better center fielder than Mike Trout?’
I think Mike has the tools to play an incredible level of center field, and with experience I think you’ll see Mike improve on some things as a center fielder. Not that he was really deficient, but you’re going to see some routes that are going to be cleaner. It just happens with experience. Peter had a little more time to play in the Minor Leagues and work on some things and is probably a little more polished in center field right now than Mike. And I think that says more about Peter’s ability than it does to say any deficiency that Mike has, because Mike Trout is a Gold Glove caliber center fielder. But Peter plays to a special level.
I’m assuming you will play him at left, Peter in center? What is the overall reason you would say, one or two reasons, and is there something to be said for exposing Mike a little less to some of the rigors defensively?
I don’t think that’s as much to where you think the pieces fit that give you the best defensive look you can have. You know, Peter is very polished on stopping at first and third, he’s got incredible range at center field he’s going to play, and there’s some things from a center fielder look that Peter is going to give you that gives you a chance to have a really dynamic outfield if that’s the way it plays out. Mike in left field and Peter in center, especially in our park, are going to give you range plus out there, and you know, we’ll see how things unfold.
If your question is taking pressure off of Mike going to be one of the reasons why we would go with that alignment, I’d say no. I’d say he can play center field every day. We wouldn’t shy away from that if that’s going to make us a better team.
What do you think you can get out of Vernon Wells this year?
Well, you know, Vernon is a guy that we’ve seen struggle for a couple years. I talked to Vernon over the winter about it. I think that for him to find his comfort zone and get into his game, he’s a guy that’s much more talented than he’s shown in the last couple years. Part of him was slowed a little bit with the groin injury in ’11, and then last season with the thumb. It’s been frustrating not only for Vernon but for us as a staff because of the talent. You still see the bat speed there. You see a guy that can play at a higher level, and you know, we’ll see where Vernon is. But he’s been very frustrated, also.
The Angels have made it clear — even though their roster configuration can do it for them — that pitching is priority Nos. 1, 2 and 3 this offseason. It has to be with only Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson returning from the 2012 rotation and with a bullpen that blew 22 saves this past season.
That’s why the Angels never had a chance with Torii Hunter, even though the veteran outfielder was willing to give them a hometown discount. On Wednesday morning, Hunter signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the Tigers, choosing not to wait on the Angels because they continue to scrounge for pitching (most likely via the free-agent market) and couldn’t offer more than a one-year, $5 million contract to a 37-year-old coming off a career year.
Question is: Are the Angels done with the position-player half of their roster?
It’s still early, and a lot can happen, but at the very least, it looks like they very well can be.
“It’s so early in the offseason that it’s impossible to say, but the reality is we are focused on pitching,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Right now, our primary focus is on pitching and we’re very comfortable with the position-player club that we have.”
Here are the 13 position players I’d have slated to join the active roster if the season started today …
OF: Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo, Vernon Wells, Kole Calhoun
INF: Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Albert Pujols, Andrew Romine
C: Chris Iannetta, Hank Conger
DH: Kendrys Morales
And as @GBenn823 asked via Twitter, here’s how I would do the lineup …
* Wells can start at DH (or perhaps right field) against a lefty, which were the days Morales sat in 2012.
The Angels would probably still deal Wells if they can find someone to kick in a little money on the $42 million owed to him the next two years, and they may look to shore other areas up to create more competition in camp. But their attention is turned almost solely to pitching, most notably Zack Greinke.
The Angels declined to tender Torii Hunter a $13.3 million qualifying offer today. It’s an expected move, yes, but it’s also a sign of how far apart the two sides are. Frankly, they’re far. Very far. And Hunter is starting to realize that it may not work out. But he’s also holding out hope.
Here’s what he said when reached by phone today …
On not receiving a qualifying offer …
I figured they wouldn’t. I’m not surprised. They have so much going on with Vernon Wells’ contract and they have to wheel and deal. I mean, all is not lost. There’s still a chance that I can be there, so we’ll see what happens. But right now, it’s the business side of baseball and my agent, Larry Reynolds, and I, we’re going to just come up with a game plan because it’s also a business for me. This is my business, this is my company, this is my job – me. And I have to take care of that company, so that’s what I’m going to do to the best of my availability.
On having to move on …
Moving on doesn’t mean I have to stray away from the Angels. Yeah, I have to move on. I have to go out there and see what’s out there for me. But as a free agent, the Angels are a part of that, too. Like I said, there’s still love in my heart for the Angels. Don’t get it twisted. But I have to be ready to take care of my company, which is me.
On how it’s gone …
Just individually – I love the Angels’ organization, I love the fans, I love my teammates, I love my manager. So, of course, I want to be there and you’ve been hearing about that all season. But it’s just not working out. It didn’t work out today. But all is not lost.
On the confidence level for a return …
It’s pretty low. … But you know, like I said, all is not lost and you never know. [Owner] Arte [Moreno] knows what he’s doing, he’s a business man, and when you think something’s not going to happen with him, it happens. I still think there’s a shot, but at the same time, there’s going to be a lot of teams with shots. I have to do that.
On playing on a winning team …
My plan is to win no matter what, and if I’m on a winning team, of course I’m going to try to get with a ballclub that’s trying to win. That’s the plan.
On playing center field …
I will be in shape for center field. … Don’t get it twisted, because a lot of people look into the numbers, I can play the outfield no matter where it is. I can play it no matter what. So any team asks me to play anywhere, I can play it, no matter what. And I’d probably be a lot better than normal.