Friday, January 27, 2006

Climbing The Blog Ladder

The Halo Herald has been a lot of fun for me this past year. I have had a chance to interact with other Angel fans and write about a team I really care about. What some of you might not know is that I also have been a contributing writer for the Arizona Diamondbacks blog over at Most Valuable Network. When I started this blog I contacted Evan Brunell over at MVN and inquired about writing there about the Angels. Evan liked my stuff but had a couple of very good writers already covering the Halos. He offered me a chance to write about the D-Backs and as an Arizona resident I thought that would be a natural. The problem is, I spent far more time writing about the Angels on the Halo Herald then I did the D-Backs at MVN because I care a lot more about the Angels than the D-Backs. Well long-story short, the Angel writers at MVN moved on to a new site and Evan asked me to start writing about the Angels for MVN. So the Halo Herald has now moved over under the MVN banner. What will this lucrative deal pay? Well, the same as my last lucrative deal: nothing. Blog writers do this free of charge which supposedly is why we are so credible. I don't necessarily buy into that -- a few choice Spring Training tickets and I would write for a week about how critical the grounds-keepers at Tempe Diablo are to the overall success of the team.

But this remains a hobby for me. Something done strictly for the joy of doing it. That being said, I still want to maximize the number of readers of the Herald and over at MVN the odds of getting seen by more people will skyrocket. A year ago MVN had upwards of 14,000 users per day. While that is for all major sports teams, if only 1% wander over to the Halo Herald it would mean 140 people checking it out every day. At the Herald's peak it draws about 60 people per day while averaging just 34 per day over the course of a month. While I get a warm feeling when I see the hit ticker move steadily towards 20,000 I know that is very small compared to the number of people who will be reading MVN. So in the interest of gaining readers you can find the Herald over at MVN -- and for the time being -- right here as well. I am not sure if I will continue this page to mirror the MVN posts, put some edgier content over here or simply ditch it. But I hope those who have been faithful readers of the Halo Herald will follow me over to MVN as we start down the path of another great season of Angel baseball. I will place a link to the Halo Herald MVN page on the sidebar for your linking convenience.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Angels Legal Defense: "So What?"

According to today's LA Times, the entire defense of the Angels in it's suit with the city of Anaheim over the name "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" instead of "Anaheim Angels" amounts to "So What?". While critics of the team have lobbied that the 'intent' of the agreement was for the team to be named the "Anaheim Angels" the real issue according to the team's lawyers is the verbiage in the contract which does not explicitly say what the team will be called, only that the name "Anaheim" will appear in it somewhere.

This friends and neighbors is why we have contracts in the first place. In business I agree to or write several contracts every year. The reason is so that in the event of a dispute we can default back to the agreement to find a remedy. A good contract explicitly explains what is intended, there is nothing left to doubt. The city of Anaheim signed a flawed document and in my opinion that is why they will lose the case. They have no one to blame but themselves.

Anaheim's contention is that the clause in the contract regarding the name of the team was left 'flexible' for former team owner Disney so they could make changes if their marketing team ever wanted. At the time Disney owned both the Angels and Anaheim's pro hockey team, The Mighty Ducks. The official name of The Ducks is 'The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim' so it is not inconceivable that they figured Disney may, at some point, choose to call the team 'The Angels of Anaheim' or worse 'The Amazing Angels of Anaheim'. Whew, that is a lot of alliteration for a Wednesday.

But what was apparently inconceivable to the city was that the team would one day choose to put the name of a second city in the name. That oversight is the fault of Anaheim's legal representation and if anyone should be sued it ought to have been them. A simple line in the contract stating something to the affect of "The Angels will utilize "Anaheim" as their home designation within their official name and in all marketing and exclude any other city, state, municipality or unofficial geographic designations." Done deal, iron-clad, no doubt about what the team will be called. That would have left flexibility for ownership to call them "The Slamtastic Anaheim Angels" but it would have forbid Disney or any subsequent owner from inserting 'Los Angeles', 'California', 'Orange County' or 'Southland' into the name. Therefore the court can not and should not hold Arte Moreno or the Angels accountable.

Moreno is a successful businessman and as such is very familiar with contracts. You can rest assured his legal team studied this prior to his purchase of the team and were satisfied that should they change they name and should the city sue, they had a case. Business people see much more clearly than politicians. They understand that the only thing that matters is the agreement that was signed between Disney and the city. Not their 'intent'. This quote from the Times article succinctly addressing the Angels position:
If the city relied on (former Disney Sports President Tony) Tavares' representations about the prominence of the Anaheim name in marketing and the limits on possible team names, Moreno said, the city should have negotiated those promises into the lease.
Duh. Put what you want in writing. Otherwise what is the point of having a contract? Further, Arte Moreno could not base his offer to buy the team on something as subjective as intent. He based his offer on what he felt the value of the team was and, more importantly, what he thought the potential value of the team could become and that is partly based on the agreements previous ownership has signed. Clearly the judge in this case, Peter Polos, does not want this to go to the jury. He tried to get the team to mediate their dispute and settle outside of court. So far without luck. Ultimately this trial is looking more and more like it will come to a resolution inside the court room. When it does it will then fall to Judge Polos to make a determination as to whether or not their could be more than one interpretation of the agreement. If he does than he would, according to the Times article "tell the jury whether it can consider that intent in determining whether the Angels broke their lease."

So for the city to come out victorious they will have to convince Polos that there are multiple ways to interpret the lease AND that the intent of the key negotiators in the agreement is valid. Two former Disney/Angel employees gave testimony this week and both sounded like they had Paul Bunyan size axes to grind. Tony Tavares, who was head of Disney Sports which ran both the Angels and Mighty Ducks during the Disney ownership days, had strong words for former boss Michael Eisner. When Eisner said his first inclination was to call the baseball team "The Mighty Angels of Anaheim" Tavares testified his reaction was
"I thought [that] was only the second-stupidest idea I've ever heard in the history of sports," Tavares said, surpassed only by the Mighty Ducks, the Disney hockey team Eisner named after a Disney movie.
I have to hand it to Tavares, the 'Mighty Angels' moniker was monumentally stupid. But at least Eisner did not paint himself into a box and force the name "Anaheim Angels" into the contract. Perhaps his motives were wrong but the idea was right. Disney wanted the Anaheim name anyway because they were trying to build brand awareness with the Anaheim name to bring more tourists to Disneyland. A venture far more profitable than baseball. Clearly Disney saw the Angels as additional marketing muscle to bring people to the resorts.

The Angels former Chief of Business Operations, Kevin Urlich also testified that when Arte Moreno presented him with the business plan to change the Angels name to 'Los Angeles Angels"he asked Moreno "whether the Angels might become like the Clippers, second fiddle to a more popular Los Angeles team. Moreno fired Uhlich four months later."

Way to suck up to the new boss Kevin. The Clippers sealed their fate by being losers for decades with a cheap-skate owner. I don't think Arte appreciated being put in the same class as Donald Sterling.

So the star witnesses for the prosecution are disgruntled former Angel employees? Should take Angel lawyers about 15 minutes to discredit their testimony. One thing is certain, should this go to jury there will be a bitter rift between the Angels and the city of Anaheim for many years. The good news is that politicians come and go so hopefully some sane people will take office before 2015 when Moreno has the option to get out of the lease and move the team.

Monday, January 23, 2006

No More Gettin' Shiggy Wit It

Former Halos reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa has announced his retirement from baseball. Shiggy spent five years with the Angels (1997 - 2001) before leaving as a free-agent and signing with the Seattle Mariners (great timing Shig, one more year and you coulda had a ring!). Hasegawa's best year as an Angel was 2000 when he went 10-6 with 9 saves and a 3.57 ERA. The Angels signed the Kobe, Japan native away from the Japanese leagues at a time when few teams ventured to the far east for talent. These days major league teams routinely have scouts in Japan all the time but back in the 1980's it was unusual for a team like the Angels (who were one of the last MLB teams to scout the Latin leagues) to find talent so far from home.

Hasegawa's best year in the majors came with Seattle in 2003 when he had 16 saves and a microscopic 1.48 ERA. Always smiling, Shiggy will be remembered as a solid teammate who was well-liked by fans, players and managers. He will also be remembered for a forgettable play on the Will Smith song "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" which became "Gettin' Shiggy Wit It". The worst part were the legions of Caucasian Angel fans attempting to dance to the Will Smith tune in the stands. While the kids were cute the adults (usually inebriated) were just sad.

Shiggy was one of the good guys. Not someone who will ever be in Cooperstown or remembered in great Halo montages (though Halofan has a nice one here). Simply a good man who was a good pitcher. We need more Shiggy's in the game today.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Is This the Start of Angels Media Empire?

The LA Times reported yesterday that the Angels are closing in on an agreement to purchase Spanish language radio station 830 AM which they would utilize to broadcast their own Spanish-language game broadcasts. The team is currently without an outlet for their Spanish broadcasts while English broadcasts can be heard on 710 AM.

While the short-term benefits of the acquisition are obvious, it is the Angels' long-term media plans that are of particular interest. According to the Times article, the 710 AM English broadcasts have spotty reception, particularly at night. When the agreement with 710 expires in two years the Angels could convert 830 into an English-language station and make that their flagship station. With a strong 50,000 watt signal, 830 should enjoy strong reception over most of the Southland and the station could become a Angels-centric station or simply go to All-Sports. Of course, that would put the Angels back in the market for a Spanish-language station in 2008.

Even more intriguing is the possibility of the Angels starting their own cable/satellite channel ala the Yankees (YES) and Red Sox (NESN). According to a 2003 Forbes article, the YES Network alone generates an estimated $200 million in cable revenues and advertising. The sweetest part of the deal for Yankee Kingpin George Steinbrenner is that this money is not subject to revenue sharing so Big George's 60% stake goes right in his pocket. No wonder he has been spending with wild abandon the last five years.

When Disney owned the Angels they were involved in heated negotiations with Fox Sports Network and threatened to start "ESPN West" and use it to showcase the Halos. The Angels went so far as to put a big banner in right field proclaiming the new network would be coming soon. Alas, Fox capitulated and ESPN West died quietly in a boardroom. But the Angels have been expanding their reach ever since Arte Moreno took over the team in 2004 and a television network would seem right up his alley. As an out-of-state Halo fan I for one would love a network that showcased the majority of their games. Fox tried to get the Angels to sign a 10-year extension of their television contract for a reported $340 million which is in the same neighborhood as the Dodgers deal with FSN. The Angels declined the offer so in retaliation Fox has reduced the number of Angel games it will show to the minimum 50 games outlined in the current contract which would really piss me off if not for the fact that I subscribe to DirecTV and can therefore get most Angel games via their opposition's TV coverage. Failing that, does offer almost every game on the computer but I did not buy a 50" HD plasma television so I could squint at a grainy four inch box on my computer. Bastards.

After saying all that I hope Moreno does start his own network. Just like artists becoming empowered by selling their own music on the internet, sports franchises can control their own destiny's only when they also control their own broadcasts. While owners can fret over every detail of the 'game experience' for those 45,000 or so fans who attend on any given night. They have surprisingly little to say about how their team is framed within the television to the 400,000+ people who may tune in. While Fox does an OK job it is by no means the experience that Yankee fans get from YES or even the optimum experience fans should hope for from Moreno & Company. Potential programming can span the Angels universe from fan forums to player biographies to in-depth analysis. While the games would be the main meal, there are plenty of tasty appetizers and desserts that could enhance the overall viewing experience. Given that most fans get their information and derive opinions of the team directly from television broadcasts, should owners not have more of a say in how there teams are presented?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Well This Sucks

According to Josh at Pearly Gates, the Angels contract with Tim Salmon is nothing more than a sham to allow the long-time Angel a chance to make another team. The PG piece is derived from an interview Salmon gave the Orange County Register and in reviewing the article, things do not look good for the Big Fish to be sending any more balls 'upstream' in Anaheim. Consider this:

"The Angels basically told me there's not a job to win," Salmon said. "The team is moving on without Tim Salmon. I understand it. I don't blame them. I look around and, yeah, I'd like to think I fit into their plans, but from their standpoint, I'm probably not the first guy they're going to plug in."
-- Tim Salmon to OC Register

Considering the Angels just signed Juan Rivera to a two-year deal to be the 4th outfielder/DH and Kendry Morales will be competing for a bench job this spring (having already been awarded a fat contract last year) that pretty much leaves Salmon as a potential backup player buried deep on the Halos' bench. Unless Salmon is just crushing the ball in Spring Training it looks like the Angels and Tim Salmon will part company this March.

Firstly I hope Salmon hits about .450 in spring with a .750 SLG and forces the Angels to put him on their roster, but I would not bet the mortgage on that. My second selfish hope is that he signs with the D-Backs. Arizona signed Eric Byrnes to be their center fielder and have Luis Gonzalez in left and Shawn Green in right. But their depth after that consists of Luis Terrero, Scott Hairston and Chris Young. With highly regarded prospect Young almost a dead-lock to start the year in the minors, Salmon could be the 4th outfielder on that club and get substantial playing time as other players are rested and off the bench. As an added benefit, family-man Salmon could play home games near his off-season home in Arizona.

In any case, heres to hoping Salmon can end his career on his terms and with a bang. Donnelly Signs One Year Deal for $950k

The Angels brought their final arbitration-eligible player into the fold on Wednesday by signing reliever Brendan Donnelly to a one-year deal worth a reported $950,000. Donnelly more than doubled his 2004 salary of $420,000. The big right-hander had requested $1.05 million when exchanging arbitration figures with the Halos and the team countered with an offer of $850,000.

Donnelly was the last of seven arbitration cases the Angels faced this year. With all players now under contract GM Bill Stoneman can concentrate on putting together multi-year deals for players the Angels are interested in retaining long-term. Presumably that would include Frankie Rodriguez, John Lackey and Chone Figgins in the near-term.

The 34-year old Donnelly has become an important set-up man for the Angel bullpen though last season he may be best remembered for getting suspended by the league for having pine tar (an illegal substance for fielders) on his glove. Donnelly contended that as a 'big guy' he tended to sweat a lot and needed the pine tar to keep the ball from slipping out of his hand. Coincidentally, the Washington DC native was called to task for the illegal substance by Nationals manager Frank Robinson who had a short but bitter exchange with Angels skipper Mike Scioscia through the media with Robinson declaring he had lost some respect for the Angels manager.

Donnelly had spent ten years toiling in the minor leagues before the Angels promoted him in 2002. Donnelly led all Angel pitchers with five World Series appearances that year and did not allow a run in 7 2/3 innings as the Angels claimed their first and only World Championship.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Belated Happy Birthday!

With no fanfare, the Halo Herald quietly celebrated it's first anniversay back on December 29th. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to stop by for a read every now and then. While I do not receive a ton of feedback, what I have gotten has been very positive. A special shout out to Uncle Al (not my Uncle mind you but a frequent commentor) who wrote a particularly nice comment back in November when I was a bit spotty in my blogging:

Just a quick note to say how much I've enjoyed this website during the past 11 months or so. As I've noticed that your posts over the past couple or three months have gotten fewer and much farther in between, it has occurred to me that one day I might click on the link only to find that Halo Herald is no more. So, better to say my thanks now rather than after it's too late.

Most of us who write about whatever subjects interest us, do it for ourselves. It is our ability to vent frustrations, celebrate triumphs and get some sort of artistic expression 'out there' (Perhaps 'artistic' is not he right work but bear with me). When the real world puts the pressure on and we run short on time, energy or whatever, we rely on feedback for motivation so once again let me say thanks for the kind note Al, and thanks to everyone else.

You may have noticed that I have turned off the comments. It's not that I want to exclude anyone, I just was getting the crap spammed out of me. Some ingenious hackers apparently invented software to plant posts on blogs which were then automatically e-mailed to me. I was getting somewhere around 10 - 30 e-mails a day from these bogus posts and therefore would not read any posts sent to me. The posts would read something like "Hey nice blog. I really enjoyred your comments. If you could please see my blog on NORWEGIAN SEX WEASELS I will be sure to stop by again!" Now I see that Blogger has added some verification process to eliminate this so I will turn the comments back on and see if it works out.

Stoneman Should Take Page From Bavasi's Book

The Angels success in the 1980's and early 1990's could be directly attributed to a cadre of core players including Tim Salmon, Garrett Anderson, Jim Edmonds and Troy Percival. Former Halo GM Bill Bavasi has the good sense to sign these young players to long-term deals that ultimately proved to be of significant cost savings to the Angels. It also had the added benefit of keeping some great players together through some of the best years of their respective careers while at the same time building a fan base that grew to know and cherish the players. It was a special time in that the Angel farm system produced some remarkable talent and the front office had the presence of mind to think of the future and sign them long-term.

Now history has a chance to repeat itself with a current crop of key players including John Lackey, Scot Shields, Frankie Rodriguez and Chone Figgins who all have signed one-year deals to avoid arbitration this season. If Angel GM Bill Stoneman can sign these key players to long-term deals it will provide the Angels, as Stoneman pointed out to the LA Times, a way to "predict our expenses" while offering the players security in the form of "guaranteed money". There is risk on both sides as the players face the possiblity that the market will pass them by (see: Molina, Bengie) while the team assumes responsibility to pay the players' contract even if he does not perform (see: Finley, Steve) or is injured (see: Salmon, Tim). I for one would lock these guys up early in 2006 to 4 year deals. As Bavasi cemented an All-Star caliber outfield for years, Stoneman could bring the same stability to the bullpen and rotation. On the field the Angels will no doubt try to extend the deal of Vladimir Guerrero but all bets are off for the rest of the batters. In particular jeopardy are the jobs of current Angel infielders. Last season Troy Glaus was sent packing in favor of Dallas McPherson at third base and that job may fall to Chone Figgins in '06 if D-Mac can not return from hip surgery. Bengie Molina was replaced this year by Jeff Mathis behind the plate and Casey Kotchman finally moved Darin Erstad off first base (though his demise was delayed thanks to Steve Finley whose moribund play facilitated a trade to the Giants and a move from first to center field for Erstad). At second base Adam Kennedy now has young Howie Kendrick breathing down his neck and Orlando Cabrera should be feeling considerable heat to start hitting before Brandon Wood supplants him at short. By this time next year we could be looking at an Angel infield comprised entirely of Halo farm hands with an average age around 24. Beyond the infield the Angels have Kendry Morales who can play first or outfield and young pitchers like Ervin Santana, Stephen Shell, Jared Weaver and Chris Bootcheck who could all play pivotal roles on current and upcoming Angel teams.

This group of promising young hitters (and Santana) would represent the second wave of potential long-term contract candidates that could stabilize the Halo line-up for many years. Of course these players, like the current crop of pitchers fishing for long-term deals, would have to prove themselves at the major league level over several years (and likely become arbitration eligible) before Arte Moreno will hand out his hard earned cash. But by bringing groups of players up together the Angels will have a 'team' mentality already branded into them and potentially a longing to stay together that Stoneman can use to his advantage in negotiating long-term deals. With the circus of their name-change trial and their lack of activity in the free-agent market this year, the timing is ripe for the Halos to appease their fans by securing the future of current players with the club. After losing fan favorite Glaus, the Angel faithful are itchy for some certainty with their club. All those people who dropped $125 on Steve Finley jerseys last year want some assurances before they plunk down another C-Note+ for a replica John Lackey jersey and K-Rod bobblehead.

Angels Sign K-Rod & Shields to One-Year Pacts

The Angels came to terms with closer Frankie Rodriguez and set-up man Scot Shields on Tuesday with contracts worth $3.78 million and $2.1 million respectively. The pitching tandem of Shields and Rodriguez are integral to the Halo bullpen and the signing of these two players puts to rest, at least for one year, the question of whether the team would keep one of the best bullpens in baseball intact.

Rodriguez converted 45 saves last season in his first year as the Angels' closer including his last 18 in a row. While K-Rod hit some rough patches that led to a 2-5 record, he overall had an excellent season with a 2.45 ERA. The new contract represents a significant upgrade over his 2005 salary of $440,000.

Shields is the most versatile pitcher in the major leagues who is able to pitch short relief, long relief, close, set-up and provide an occasional spot start. Shields was used primarily as a set-up man to Rodriguez in 2005 and likely will resume that duty in 2006. Shields will more than double his 2005 salary of $900,000 with the new deal. Along with fellow set-up man Brendan Donnelly, Shields and Rodriguez form a trio of pitchers that effectively bridge the gap between the 7th and 9th innings for manager Mike Scioscia and the Angel starters.

Donnelly now remains the only arbitration-eligible player and he is reportedly seeking a deal worth $1.1 million. The Angels have countered with an offer at $900,000 and it seems likely the two sides will work out a compromise prior to their scheduled arbitration hearing next month. With newcomer JC Romero now added to the mix as their designated left-handed assassin and fill-in set-up man, the Halo bullpen will be loaded and ready for 2006 once Donnelly is signed.

Lackey Signs One-Year Deal for $3.76 Million

The Angels signed starting pitcher John Lackey to a one-year deal Monday worth a reported $3.76 million according to CNN/SI. It was a tale of two seasons for Lackey who, sadly enough, led Angel starters with a 3.44 ERA last season. But it was Lackey's 8-1 finish to year with a sparkling 2.57 ERA in 15 starts after the All-Star Break that gives Angel management hope that he may finally develop into a full-season quality starter this year. Lackey was arbitration eligible so GM Bill Stoneman avoids that potential pitfall with the one-year deal.

The question remains, why have the Halos not offered Lackey a multi-year deal? There could be several reasons but likely they are not offering the kind of money Big John wants until he gives them a full season of quality pitching. Hopefully the Angels get a strong start from Lackey this season and hammer out a 3 or 4 year extension before the season ends. If '8-1' Lackey pitches he is firmly entrenched as the #3 starter behind Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar. If 'Sloppy John' is pitching he looks more like a guy competing with Hector Carrasco for the #5 spot. Lackey has the talent, he just needs to add season-long consistency to elevate his game and bring him the contract that deserves.

The CNN/SI piece also points out the Angels signed Jose Molina to a $2.1 million two-year deal to serve as Jeff Mathis' backup (assuming the promising rookie claims and keeps the starting job this spring). So apparently Jose is not holding any grudges against the Angels for not signing big brother Bengie who is still floating in free-agent limbo. In a CNN/SI 'Truth & Rumors' article they quote a New York News piece that points out that after spurning the Mets' 3-year $21 million offer, the former Halo backstop will now likely sign a one-year deal with the Blue Jays for considerably less (plus he gets to pay Canadian taxes). The New York paper goes on to say:
But now that Molina can probably be signed on the cheap, maybe the Yankees should consider signing him and releasing Jorge Posada.
Which begs the question, since when are the Yankees suddenly concerned with signing bargains? If that were to happen though the next logical thing would be for the Angels to sign Posada in an Orlando-Cabreraesque reshuffle of AL catchers. In reality though, if Mr. Mathis is good enough for the Angels to pass on Molina, they certainly would pass on Posada.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Erstad Returns to Center; Figgins Back to Third

Catching up on some older news, the Angels re-annoited Darin Erstad their center fielder and in doing so set some other balls in motion. With a newly minted 3-year deal in his pocket, Chone Figgins has been told to be ready to play third base in case Dallas McPherson is not quite ready. McPherson, who is rehabbing from hip surgury is said to be at "running a three-quarters speed, hitting off a tee and playing soft toss". How to you run at 3/4 speed? Is that anything like the Jimmy Buffett song "Living and Dying in 3/4 Time"? Well I hope D-Mac is up to 4/5 speed by the time Spring Training opens next month. Should McPherson either not be ready or play badly, Figgy will be there to start at the hot corner. Nothing like a little pressure cooker situation coming off serious hip surgery to get you running 100% right Big D?

Speaking of competition, Darin Erstad seems to feel he will have some for the center field gig. According to the gold glover "I've been told to be ready to play center. I haven't been told the job is mine, just to be ready. So, that is what I'm doing." Should young Mr. McPherson come out clubbing in Spring would Figgins have to compete with Erstad for the starting job in center? It is possible since Figgins will apparently be around until 2008 while Erstad's contract expires after this season.

One person who should be giddy this spring is Casey Kotchman. The highly touted first base prospect whose path to the majors has been blocked by Erstad and his bloated salary the past couple of years. Kotchman will finally have the Angels first base job from the get go this Spring and should have, in my opinion, had the job after last spring when he out hit Erstad but still found himself shipped off to Triple A when the Angels could not bring themselves to bench a guy they were paying $8,250,000. That kind of injustice can play with a young guy's head. When Kotchman was called up early in the season he went hitless over seven games and was demoted back to the minors. But a little time seemed to have given Kotchman the perspective he needed because when he was called back up to the big club in August he clubbed 6 homers and posted an OPS of .945. Kotchman topped that off by hitting .339 during the last month of the season. That was apparently enough to convince the Angels' brass that he should become the full-time first baseman. That and the fact that they could not sign Paul Konerko. So like Dallas McPherson last season, Kotchman becomes the latest prospect given a job prior to Spring Training. We can only hope this turns out better than last season's injury-filled fiasco.

For 2007, Angel fans can look forward to similar battles at second base (Howie Kendrick vs. Adam Kennedy) and shortstop (Brandon Wood vs. Orlando Cabrera). Unless injuries bring the prospects up early in 2006 that is.

Angels Ink Figgins and Rivera to Extensions

Update: According to ABC Rivera will actually earn a total of $3.25 million over the next two years. $1.25 million for '06 and and a cool $2 mil for 2007. I still give the signing a thumbs up.

The Los Angeles Angels took care of some internal business yesterday when they extended the contracts of utility man extroidinaire Chone Figgins and reserve outfielder Juan Rivera. Despite not being considered 'starters' for 2006, both will get plenty of playing time spelling starters, playing off the bench and filling in when starters go down with an injury.

According to Figgins will receive $10.5 million for an additional three years service while Rivera was extended for two more seasons for a much more economical $1.5 million. Both players made just $390,000 last year so the new contracts represent a significant upgrade, particularly in Figgins' case. As most Angel fans know, Figgins' contributions have been legion ever since he came to prominence during the Angels' Championship season of 2002, primarily as pinch-runner who gave manager Mike Scioscia speed on the base paths late in games. That led to many late-inning comebacks for the Halos and eventually their first ever World Series triumph. In following seasons Figgins' prominence rose as he displayed continued development with the bat and a penchant for being able to play virtually any position on the diamond save pitcher and catcher. After injuries sidelined Troy Glaus in 2004 and Dallas McPherson in 2005, Figgins became the primary third baseman. A role he could resume in 2006 should McPherson not be able to return from injury and reclaim the job. He also has extended playing time in centerfield, shortstop and second base (his 'natural' position). In all Figgins started at six different positions for Los Angeles, a feat he also accomplished in 2004. In addition to his defensive versatility, Figgins has developed into an offensive threat, raising his batting average from .167 in limited action during the 2002 campaign to .296 in 2003 & '04. While his average fell to .290 last season Figgins' other offensive categories continued on a positive trajectory with career highs in runs, hits, doubles, HR's and he led the major leagues in stolen bases with 62. Chone Figgins will turn 28 on January 22nd and his youth, durability and versatility make him a solid investment in the Angels' future.

Juan Rivera was something of an afterthought to many Angel fans. He was one of the guys the Angels got when they rode Jose Guillen out on a rail to Montreal/Washington. But Rivera set career marks for home runs (15) and RBI last season and was particularly impressive late in the year when he started each of the last 17 games for the Halos and hit .308 from August 1 until the end of the year. That helped propel the club to a 14-3 record to end the year and allowed LA a chance to clinch the division early with a comfortable 7 game margin over Oakland. Rivera's ability to spell outfielder and fill the DH role while making significant contributions with the bat have made him an important part of the club.

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