Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Lou Merloni Is Newest Angel

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (better get use to it) announced the signing of veteran utility infielder Lou Merloni to a one-year minor league contract on January 21st. Merloni will be a non-roster invitee to Spring Training but figures to be a good bet to make the squad based on Manager Mike Scioscia's penchant for veteran depth on his bench. Last season Merloni hit .289 with 4 HR and 28 RBI in 71 games with Cleveland. His career numbers include a .273 average with 14 HR and 123 RBI.

Merloni figures to come off the bench to face lefties who he punished with a .327 average and all four of his HR's in 2004. In his career, Merloni hits .280 against southpaws. Over the past three years Merloni has enjoyed tremendous success as a pinch-hitter, racking-up a .381 average (8 for 21 with 4 BB & 5 k). Lou could also see some time at DH against lefties. Merloni is a slick-fielding utility man who played second, third and left field for the Tribe in 2004 but spent most of his time at first (42 games). The versatile player will no doubt give Mike Scioscia more options late in games should he feel the need for either a pinch-hitter or a defensive replacement for either rookie third baseman Dallas MacPherson or the occasionally erratic Chone Figgins.

Merloni also provides the Angels with some veteran leadership in the infield where only catcher Bengie Molina and first baseman Darin Erstad have started for more than one season. Though before 2004 Erstad last played first regularly in 1997 and split time between first and the outfield the following two seasons. Starting second baseman Adam Kennedy is expected to miss at least the first couple months of the season which leaves the Halos with a rookie third baseman, defacto-rookie second baseman in Chone Figgins and the newly acquired Orlando Cabrera at short. Having Merloni available to help mentor the youngsters, pinch-hit and make the occasional spot start at second and third should give Scioscia tremendous added flexibility.

But what does this mean for those other infielders hoping to make the 25-man roster? Well, for Maicer Izturis, one of the prospects acquired in the Jose Guillen deal it likely means a a prolonged stay in Salt Lake City unless he absolutely tears-it-up in Tempe this Spring. This was a destination he was probably heading for even before the Angels signed Merloni due to his inexperience. Robb Quinlan would seem to be a lock to make the big club after hitting .344 in 56 games last season before tearing an oblique muscle against Tampa Bay last August. The Quinlan/MacPherson battle for third could be far more intriguing than most fans think. If that wasn't enough, Cuban defectee and newly halo'ed Kendry Morales also plays a little third base. One of the reasons the Angels felt so comfortable letting Troy Glaus walk was that they don't just have one potential 3rd base phenom, they have three and one of them has already been, to an extent, big league tested. Casey Kotchman would also seem like a natural to backup Darin Erstad though Merloni can play there as well. That would leave Kendry Morales and Izturis as the likely odd-men out of the infield. At least early in the season and with the caveat that a great spring could earn them a spot on the big club.

The Angels also have Alberto Callaspo, a 21 year-old second baseman who hit .285 with 6 HR and 48 RBI in 135 games with AA Arkansas. He is likely slated to return to Arkansas this season. Callaspo is from Maracay, Venezuela. Apparently the Angels are trying to even things up on the roster between Dominicans and Venezuelans.

Player Note: Merloni was the player the Boston Red Sox elected to hang on to when they released SS David Eckstein in 2000, enabling the Angels to sign Eck. The circle-of-life Halo style.

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