Results tagged ‘ Yankees ’

You can win in October without dominant starters …

Mike Scioscia, Dino EbelIt’s no secret. If the Angels — considering a three-man rotation for the American League Division Series — are to go far in the playoffs, they’ll have to rely heavily on their deep bullpen.

The question is: Will it work?

One of baseball’s dogmas says teams that are “built for the playoffs” are the ones that have dominant starting pitching. But in the Wild Card era, that hasn’t proven to be true. Consider: Since 1995, the Major League quality-start percentage has been 48.88 in the regular season, 48.88 in the postseason and 51.96 in the World Series; in terms of innings per start, it’s 5.91 in the regular season, 5.76 in the postseason and 5.88 in the World Series. That’s a very negligible difference, especially when you consider all the bad teams that are lumped into that regular-season category.

Now here’s a case-by-case look at each of the last 19 World Series champions, with the first stat being innings per start and the second being the amount of quality starts throughout the postseason …

2013 Red Sox: 5.81 IP, 8 of 16 QS
2012 Giants: 5.64 IP, 6 of 16 QS
2011 Cardinals: 5.11 IP, 7 of 18 QS
2010 Giants: 6.44 IP, 11 of 15 QS
2009 Yankees: 6.29 IP, 11 of 15 QS
2008 Phillies: 5.9 IP, 10 of 14 QS
2007 Red Sox: 6 IP, 6 of 14 QS
2006 Cardinals: 6.20 IP, 10 of 16 QS
2005 White Sox: 7.66 IP, 9 of 12 QS
2004 Red Sox: 5.61 IP, 9 of 14 QS
2003 Marlins: 5.66 IP, 8 of 17 QS
2002 Angels: 5.02 IP, 2 of 16 QS
2001 D-backs: 7.08 IP, 14 of 17 QS
2000 Yankees: 6.42 IP, 8 of 16 QS
1999 Yankees: 6.58 IP, 10 of 12 QS
1998 Yankees: 6.79 IP, 9 of 13 QS
1997 Marlins: 5.83 IP, 5 of 16 QS
1996 Yankees: 5.42 IP, 5 of 15 QS
1995 Braves: 6.64 IP, 10 of 14 QS

That’s nine of 19 champions that got less than six innings per start during the playoffs, and seven that won the World Series despite receiving a quality start in less than half of their postseason games. Look at the 2002 Angels. Stunning. Managers tend to have quick hooks in the playoffs, because it’s all hands on deck and because the off days tend to keep bullpens relatively fresh.

So, you can win in October with a deep bullpen, a good offense and a rotation that keeps you in the game. And the Angels have the potential for that. Since Garrett Richards went down, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago have allowed three earned runs or less in 20 of 23 starts (includes tonight).

Just something to think about.

Alden

A look at some starters who may be moved …

Mets Phillies BaseballAngels general manager Jerry Dipoto said he’s “open” to adding a starting pitcher this month, basically in the same way that I’m “open” to buying a timeshare at Turks and Caicos. I’d love to, but it’s hard; almost impossible (in my case, truly impossible). For as bad as the Angels need starting pitching in the wake of Garrett Richards‘ debilitating knee injury, the time of year makes it really difficult.

A refresher: The only way a player can be traded in August is if (A) the trading team works out a deal with the team that claimed him off waivers; (B) he clears waivers entirely, and is then able to be dealt anywhere. Waivers go in reverse order of the standings, per league. So, if an American League player is placed on waivers, he’ll have to slip through 13 other teams before the Angels have a chance. If it’s a National League player, 28 teams will have a crack at him before the Angels, who have a two-game cushion on the best record in the Majors heading into this weekend series at O.co Coliseum.

As a general rule, only players who either aren’t very good or have really bad contracts slip all the way through. And then there’s the fact that an AL team could very well claim a player to simply block the Angels from getting him.

“For all intents and purposes, picking up household names, top-of-the-rotation type guys, that’s not going to happen in August,” Dipoto said. “It probably won’t happen in August most years. We’re realistic about what may be out there.”

Take that into account as you peruse this list of guys who could be moved this month …

  • A.J. Burnett (PHI): Back in the offseason heading into 2012, the Angels and Yankees had a trade worked out that would send Bobby Abreu to the Yankees in exchange for Burnett. But Burnett invoked his no-trade clause and rejected the deal, because he didn’t want to pitch in the West coast. Will that change now? Well, it could, when you consider that he recently said he probably isn’t going to pitch next season (Burnett has a player option for 2015). The 37-year-old right-hander has struggled this year, with 14 losses, a 4.42 ERA and a 1.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio that’s his lowest since a miserable 2010 season in New York. But he has good stuff, and it’s tough to see him clearing waivers.
  • Bartolo Colon (NYM): The Angels stayed away from Colon over the offseason, in part due to his history with performance-enhancing drugs. But desperate times, right? Colon has a 3.85 ERA and an NL-best walk rate of 1.2, while racking up 161 1/3 innings. He’s set to make $11 million next year, his age-42 season. That isn’t necessarily a good thing — unless you consider the fact that it makes him more likely to slip all the way through waivers.
  • Colby Lewis (TEX): The 35-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., product has had a tough 2014 season (understandably) after missing nearly two full years recovering from elbow and hip surgeries, with a 5.52 ERA in 122 1/3 innings. He does have a chance of clearing waivers, though, and is a free agent at season’s end. He’d give the Angels depth.
  • Brad Peacock (HOU): The 26-year-old right-hander has struggled this season, with a 5.47 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP in 102 innings. He’s controllable for five additional years, though, and Houston might be willing to part ways.
  • Reds arms: Mat Latos (free agent at season’s end; 3.10 ERA in 12 starts), Alfredo Simon (controllable thru 2015; 12-8, 3.35 ERA) and Mike Leake (controllable thru 2015; 9-11, 3.65 ERA) could all be dealt as the Reds continue to fall off the race.
  • Yankees arms: The further the Bronx Bombers fall in the standings, the more likely they’ll be to part ways with impending free agents like lefty Chris Capuano and righty Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy has been lights out since going from Arizona to the Bronx, posting a 1.90 ERA and a 7.29 strikeout-to-walk ratio in eight starts. Capuano has a 4.15 ERA in five starts. Translation: Capuano is a more likely addition than McCarthy.

Alden

Frieri back in the 9th — for one night, at least …

Ernesto FrieriErnesto Frieri pitched in a save situation against the Yankees on Monday night, his first since being demoted from the closer’s role after a nightmarish ninth inning in the nation’s capital on April 23.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the closer again.

Joe Smith was warming up in the bullpen to pitch the ninth, but then he started feeling sick, and then he, well, disgorged his lunch. So Frieri, who started to warm up as Jered Weaver got in trouble in the eighth, got up again, checked into the ninth with a three-run lead and notched a 1-2-3 inning — striking out Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira, then getting Brian McCann to line out to end the game.

Asked about the ninth after the 4-1 win, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said: “Ernie’s got to be part of it. Joe Smith’s throwing the ball very well, and Ernie’s going to be a big part of it, for sure.”

The important thing is that Frieri is throwing better. He’s twirled 4 2/3 hit-less innings since his demotion, giving up only one hit by pitch and striking out four batters. On Monday, he used his trademark fastball to record both of his punchouts.

“It’s coming  back,” Frieri said. “I’m just letting it go, stop thinking about painting the strike zone and let the movement of my fastball take care of itself. I felt pretty good today. My fastball had a lot of life, and I’m getting more control with my breaking pitches. I threw a pretty good changeup today, too; elevated my fastball whenever I wanted to. If I can do that, I’m going to be fine.”

Alden

Cron replaces Ibanez at DH; will it continue?

Raul Ibanez, Yan GomesC.J. Cron was slated to bat cleanup for Monday’s series opener against the Yankees, which says a lot about how well the power-hitting prospect has fared against Major League pitching early on – but may say even more about Raul Ibanez’s struggles in general.

The left-handed-hitting Ibanez sat against an opposing right-hander – in this case David Phelps – for just the fourth time all year, due in large part to a .144/.222/.289 slash line through his first 27 games. If that continues, the 24-year-old Cron – with five hits in his first nine Major League at-bats heading into Monday – could take away a lot more of Ibanez’s at-bats at designated hitter.

But Angels manager Mike Scioscia downplayed that notion pregame.

“Raul’s going to play,” he said. “We need him to find his way and hit. But on occasional days, we’re going to mix and match a little bit. We’ll let Raul exhale a little bit and relax and get back in there. C.J. is obviously swinging the bat well. We’re going to try to find room in our lineup for guys that are swinging the bat well, and right now he is.”

Ibanez, 41, is hitless in his last four starts and has already struck out 30 times, with a strikeout percentage of 30.3 that’s on pace to easily top his career high (25.8 percent, set last year). But Ibanez has never been all that good in April – his .756 career OPS in April is his lowest of any month – and Scioscia said he’s fine physically.

He’s just searching for some timing.

“He’s trying to find his rhythm in the box,” Scioscia said. “Sometimes he’s a little up front, sometimes he’s a little behind, sometimes he’s swinging at some pitches that are a little bit out of the zone. There’s probably a lot of factors to look at why he’s struggling, and all that being said, his production numbers are still good. The number of guys he’s driven in [17] is what you’re looking for. He’s hit some key home runs for us. It’s definitely in there. He’ll find it.”

Yankees (16-14)

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Brian McCann, C
Alfonso Soriano, DH
Kelly Johnson, 3B
Brian Roberts, 2B
Ichiro Suzuki, RF

SP: RH David Phelps (0-0, 3.86 ERA)

Angels (15-15)

Erick Aybar, SS
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Cron, DH
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Ian Stewart, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
Grant Green, LF
Collin Cowgill, RF

SP: RH Jered Weaver (2-2, 4.00 ERA)

Alden

Frieri demoted; Smith to close for Angels …

Ernesto FrieriIn the wake of Ernesto Frieri‘s ninth-inning meltdown in Washigton, D.C., the Angels have made a change in the ninth inning, with sidearm right-hander Joe Smith taking over closing duties while Frieri works in low-leverage situations, Angels manager Mike Scioscia announced prior to Friday’s series opener against the Yankees.

“We’ll go with Joe Smith in the next couple of opportunities and just get Ernie maybe off of that treadmill and let him get an inning or two where he can try to make some adjustments,” Scioscia said. “I think historically Ernie responds well to this. We need him. I think this is the best route to take to get to the final solution that we want.”

Frieri, who was charged with four earned runs in the walk-off loss against the Nationals on Wednesday, has two blown saves, a 9.35 ERA and five homers allowed in 8 2/3 innings to start the season. With Smith, signed to a three-year, $15.75 million contract over the offseason, taking over the ninth, the Angels will handle the setup duties by committee. Michael Kohn, who has a 1.54 ERA in 12 appearances, could handle the eighth inning off the bat.

The goal is for Frieri to find it again and re-emerge as the closer.

“I think he understands it,” Scioscia said of Frieri. “And I think that he understands the team’s need right now maybe outweigh where he is. He’ll get it back. Just as he’s worked his way into the ninth-inning role from when we acquired him a couple years ago, he’ll work his way back there. He had a great season for us last year, and he’ll find it.”

Over the previous two years, Frieri — acquired in the May 2012 trade with the Padres — has posted a 3.07 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, a 13.1 strikeouts-per-nine rate and 60 saves, while ranking eighth in the Majors in save percentages. But he’s also prone to giving up a lot of homers (1.1 homers per nine innings in his career), walking batters (4.3 career walk rate) and the occasional slump.

Last year, when Frieri gave up 12 runs in a 4 2/3-inning stretch that spanned from July 23 to Aug. 6, Scioscia changed it up in the ninth, put Frieri in less stressful situations, reinserted him later, and watched as he posted a 1.66 ERA in 19 outings the rest of the way.

He’s hoping for similar results this time.

“I think it’s a feel thing with Ernie; it’s a release-point issue,” Scioscia said. “I think mechanically he’s fine. At times he’s overthrowing, and I think when he tries to overthrow, you see him miss some of the spots that he can normally get the ball to. He’s not really a fine control guy, but he definitely knows what area he wants to throw the ball into and is usually pretty good at getting it there. He’s missing anywhere from down and away to up and in to lefties and that’s not a good way to miss.”

Alden

Door is open for a fast Angels start …

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

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

The door is wide open for the Angels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have no idea.

***

The Angels’ depth chart can be found here.

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

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

***

Mike TroutOn that Trout contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Jered WeaverSome questions, answered …

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Here are some links to our Opening Day coverage …

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

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

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

Alden

Angels don’t have to wait until Opening Day with Trout

It turns out the Angels no longer have to wait until Opening Day for Mike Trout to put pen to paper on a long-term extension.

The Angels don’t want the average annual value of Trout’s potential new extension — still under negotiations — to affect their Collective Balance Tax payroll until the 2015 season, so that they don’t blow past the $189 million luxury-tax threshold in 2014. But the club recently found out, and confirmed through Major League Baseball, that they don’t necessarily have to wait until after Opening Day to have Trout sign (and subsequently announce) a long-term extension in order for that to be the case.

As soon as Trout’s compensation for 2014 is set, his AAV on a long-term deal automatically won’t count until the following season.

The rule changed shortly after Adrian Gonzalez signed a seven-year, $154 million extension with the Red Sox — a deal that was being talked about in December 2010 and wasn’t signed until the following April for CBT purposes — but it’s unclear when it was adopted.

The purpose for the change was to guard against teams going through an entire spring without having the deal get signed because their weary of the CBT, and then having the player be subject to potential injury and the contract getting nixed.

The Angels are currently in the process of agreeing with their zero to three guys (those who are pre-arbitration), and Trout’s could get done soon. After that, he can sign an extension at any point. Neither side would comment on a potential deal on Monday, but nothing is imminent — despite a Sunday report from Yahoo! Sports that the Angels and Trout are working on a six-year, $150 million contract.

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 fall short (OK, way short) on Tanaka …

MasahiroTanakaThe Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes are over, and after all the speculation and all the anticipation, he wound up with the team that seemed to make the most sense from the onset: The Yankees, who badly need pitching, can spend with the best of them, will hardly have to pay Alex Rodriguez in 2014 and have now abandoned any faint hopes to get under the $189 million luxury tax.

The Angels still hold on to those expectations.

They have roughly $15 million of wiggle room before surpassing that tax threshold, which is enough money to sign a free-agent starting pitcher but ultimately wasn’t enough to even compete for Tanaka. The Yankees got him on a seven-year, $155 million contract, with an opt-out after the fourth year, according to Ken Rosenthal.

The Angels knew Tanaka well and liked him a lot, but for them, any deal in excess of $100 million meant going over the tax. With Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton combining to make $196 million over the next four years, and Mike Trout one year away from making major dollars, another mega contract was just too much of a gamble for them. That’s probably why they didn’t bother to meet with him in California two weeks ago, or why they weren’t among the five teams to reportedly submit an offer; the chances were too slim.

So, what now?

In a word (or two), Matt Garza.

The Angels have targeted Garza ever since Jason Vargas signed with the Royals in late November. The two actually share the same agent, Nez Balelo, who also represents third baseman David Freese, who filed an arbitration number $1.9 million higher than what the Angels filed last week. Small world, right? Garza has always seemed a lot more realistic than Tanaka because the contract and the amount of suitors are smaller, but the Angels still aren’t expected to overpay. Agree with it or not, they don’t feel they have to add another starter after acquiring two young, cost-controlled lefties in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago for Mark Trumbo, a duo that joins Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards in the projected rotation.

I don’t expect the Tanaka signing to impact Garza’s price. They’re on two completely different stratospheres. But one potential ripple effect is that the Diamondbacks have liked Garza for a while, and they have money to burn after not being able to sign Tanaka or Shin-Soo Choo. A resolution could come soon (you know, since we’re like three weeks away from Spring Training).

If Garza’s price demands don’t go down, then the Angels will move on to the next tier, to the likes of Bronson Arroyo and Chris Capuano and Paul Maholm. Chances are, they’ll add someone this month. But I think they’ll wait for a fair price (and this is the month for fair prices). They still aren’t expected to give up a Draft pick in order to sign Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.

Nobody wants to hear this, but if they don’t feel comfortable with any of the free-agent-salary demands, they can always keep their remaining funds and wait ’til next year, when Max Scherzer, James Shields and Jon Lester will make up a much more talented free-agent crop of starters.

Alden

Clearing out the Winter Meetings notebook …

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

On being traded for the first time in his career … 

I think it’s all for the better. Hopefully for the better of all the teams and for the better of my career. It seems like the Angels are really happy to have me. And as long as they want me there, it’s nice to have that. As long as they want to have me, I’m happy to be there.

On whether it took him by surprise … 

I had an idea that was going to happen, with having four lefties in the rotation. It’s the first time I’ve been traded in my career, so I really didn’t know how to react and don’t know how to go by it. But I kind of felt it coming. I heard a bunch of rumors and just people texting, like, ‘Hey, it’s possible.’ I kind of had an idea it was possible. I didn’t know if it was going to go through, especially talking to the White Sox, planning ahead, trying to get ready for 200 innings next year as a starter in the White Sox rotation. And then a week and a half, two weeks later, it was like, ‘Oh, you just got traded.’ But it’s for the better, so I’m happy.

On his comfort level in bouncing around from bullpen to rotation … 

I’m really comfortable. I feel like I’ve done it all the time, through high school and college, Minor League Baseball and the big leagues. Forever. It’s to the point where it’s normal to me. Growing up as a kid in high school, playing summer ball, I would play center field for two innings and then pitch. It’s something I’ve done before, jumping all over the place. But it was definitely a fun experience, coming up from being a starter in the Minor Leagues and then the big leagues. I’ve had every role I think that you can have in the big leagues. It was definitely fun, because you came to the park not knowing what was going on. It was definitely a fun experience in coming to the field every day and not knowing what was going to happen.

On building off 2013 … 

It was definitely a different year — innings-wise, strength-wise, learning how to pitch every fifth day. It was definitely a new experience. I don’t know if I made this many, but I had a bunch of starts in the Minor Leagues in 2011 and it definitely wasn’t as difficult as this, between the big league level and playing great teams every day. But I learned a lot. This year, I definitely want to improve on going after guys  earlier in the count, get some earlier outs so I can get deeper in the game. It seemed like at the beginning of the game, in the first inning, I’d worry about starting the game with a zero instead of just pitching the same way later in the game. So, early in the game, if I attack the zone more, I felt like after the first, second inning, it was an easier inning for me. It was me putting pressure on myself to start off the game clean and making sure that I gave my team a 0-0 score, and hopefully we can get some runs early in the game. And I put a lot of pressure on myself with my stuff and with my command. That was a big thing of just getting used to the role of a starting pitcher. In the bullpen, you come in for one inning, so you have a little bit of leeway where you can waste a few pitches. But as a starter, you have to try to get as many early outs as you can.

On what he was told in his phone call with the Angels … 

It was short, brief. [Jerry Dipoto] was just saying, ‘We’re happy to have you. We had to make a move, and I felt like you were the right move for what we needed and you fill a spot that needed to be filled.’ … They seem very excited to have me, and it seems like I’m going to hopefully be filling one of the voids that they need.

***

trum

* Shortly after getting traded to the D-backs on Tuesday, Mark Trumbo reached out to the Angels’ PR department to ask about still attending the team’s annual Holiday Party at the ESPN Zone. They couldn’t believe it. And they were even more stunned when he actually showed up the next day, alongside Hank CongerChuck FinleyAdam Kennedy and others. (Photo on the left courtesy of Angels PR man Eric Kay.)

Angels broadcasters Jose Mota and Terry Smith left Trumbo for last during the introductions, and he got by far the loudest ovation.

“I’ve been attending these parties for as long as I’ve been here, 11 years,” Mota said, “but you know one thing — Trumbo has been going to these parties since he was in A ball, and that part doesn’t surprise me because he’s so invested in the community-outreach programs, which he’s done for so many years. And we’re talking about a guy who, because he’s local, he was accessible, good kid, the Angels felt comfortable calling him out of A ball and saying, ‘Come to this party.’ But to see a player who had just gotten traded, No. 1, putting away all the emotions, and then a guy that is not an Angel at that party, it was a bit strange.

“He didn’t put the jersey on, of course,” Mota added. “But he was Trumbo. He was just Mark Trumbo, that’s all you expected. And he had a huge ovation from the kids and all the adults that were there because they knew that this is quite a unique thing — a guy who’s not on the team, got traded, could’ve been mopy. He decided, ‘No, this is who I am.’ You talk about showing your true colors and who you really are, I don’t think it speaks any better than that action right there.”

* Trumbo, during a phone conversation with Lyle Spencer and I, admitted that he smiled when he realized he’d be ditching the Angel Stadium marine layer and was following Tuesday’s trade rumors via Twitter “more than I lead on, probably.”

“I knew that things were getting close from messages and phone calls I received,” Trumbo said, “but I did find out first on Twitter that things had become official, so that’s kind of some insight from a player’s perspective that, in this day and age, that’s how things work.”

* Spoke to yet another scout about Tyler Skaggs recently. Here’s what he said (and this guy knows him very well) …

People seem concerned about a loss of velocity. But if you go back to what you thought he was going to be, when you drafted, scouted and signed him, that’s exactly the fastball that he’s working with now. Maybe for a short time he peaked a little bit and worked at 93, 94 or whatever, but he’s 88 to 91, touches 92 occasional now. That’s plenty of fastball, when you consider his curveball and his changeup, and the belief that he’s been a strike-thrower. I know his strikeout numbers are all right. He’s got angle, he’s got plane, he’s got spin, he’s got some touch-and-feel, some back-and-forth with the changeup. This guy was well-regarded, highly regarded throughout the industry, had the numbers to match up. He had a mediocre year last year. … I think the comfort level of going back where he came from is going to help. He’s a Southern California kid. There’s going to be a comfort level, a familiarity level. 

* You think coaching the Yankees, Cowboys or Lakers is a pressure-filled job? That’s nothing compared to managing winter ball, and Angels bench coach Dino Ebel experienced that recently. Ebel, promoted from third-base coach shortly after the season, was managing the Estrellas Orientales of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. But that lasted only 18 games. He went 6-12, and then was let go, done in time to join Mike Scioscia and several other members of the Angels’ coaching staff at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

* Someone who is still playing winter ball — for the Leones de Escogido in the D.R. — is C.J. Cron, who’s batting .212/.250/.364 through eight games. That’s a lot of baseball for Cron, who played a full season of Double-A (.746 OPS) and tore it up in the Arizona Fall League (1.167), but he’s a first baseman/designated hitter, so it’s not like he has to move around too much. The Angels view him as a potential option for them late in 2014.

* Some additional minutia on the Angels’ situation at the moment: Matt Garza is still “the guy they really want” a source said Friday, but the perception is that they won’t go above a four-year contract. … The Angels still aren’t expected to spend much on a bat. Right now, they’re budgeting a one-year deal worth less than $5 million. Can they get Raul Ibanez or Kevin Youkilis for that? We’ll see. … Santiago and Skaggs  both have options left, but it looks like Santiago has a spot on the Major League roster (as a starter or a reliever) and Skaggs is more of a question. Either he starts in the Majors or in Triple-A. Both have options, nonetheless.

Winter Meetings stories …

Angels Notebook from Day 1, on Albert Pujols‘ health, Mike Trout extension talks and the evolving AL West
Phillip Wellman (this guy) will manage the Angels’ Double-A affiliate
Story on the three-team trade between the D-backs, White Sox and Angels
Spencer, on how the deal benefits the Angels
Trout’s cycle lands GIBBY for Hitting Performance
Trout likely to bat second again next season
Spencer, on Scioscia seeking chemistry on the field
Lefty specialist picked up in Rule 5 Draft
On what’s next, now that the Winter Meetings are over

Alden

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