Thursday, March 31, 2005

BA: Angels Farm System Ranked No. 1

Baseball America slots the Angels' farm system as the best in baseball according to their annual rankings released this week. The systems were ranked on the quality and quantity of prospects in each organization, including those still eligible for rookie status (i.e. Dallas McPherson, Casey Kotchman, et al).

Since the rankings were introduced back in 2000 the Halos have gradually risen to the top of the list. The 2000 list had the Angels ranked as the second-worst farm system in all of baseball. The Angels climbed to 25th in 2001, 17th the next year, 5th in 2003 and 3rd overall last season.

This is a team built for long-term success. Kind of makes me giddy for the care-free days of Buzzy Bavasi when prospects flowed like fine wine to other organizations willing to part with over-the-hill ballplayers looking for a warm climate to end their careers in.

The rest of the top ten....

2. LA Dodgers - Lots of talented youngsters controlled in the west now.
3. Milwaukee Brewers - They'll find a way to get rid of 'em.
4. Minnesota Twins - Constantly reloading Twinks have now out "Moneyballed" the Athletics. They are the masters now.
5. Atlanta Braves - How long can they keep this going in the ATL? Tremendous system for 14 years now (if you throw out '94 and Lord knows we should).
6. Colorado Rockies - Better start promoting those guys pronto.
7. Cleveland Indians - I think most of these guys will be with the big club this year.
8. Oakland Athletics - Ditto the A's.
9. Tampa Bay Devil Rays - Can't wait for '08!
10. Chicago Cubs - Another reason they are the toughest ticket in the Cactus League.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

City of Anaheim & Angels Urged to "Negotiate"

Justice David Sills is urging the City of Anaheim and the Angels to negotiate rather than proceed with a lawsuit whereby Anaheim is asking for injunctive relief to keep the baseball team from using the name "Los Angeles Angels" instead of "Anaheim Angels". But based on comments from the city and team things sound a little testy and unlikely to settle any time soon.

The city hasn't put forward a price tag for the name
- Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle
I don't see how we mediate it at this point
- Anaheim City Councilman Richard Chavez
(Anaheim Co-Council Andy)Guilford said the city is suffering irreparable harm with "LA" and not "ANA" on "every scoreboard across the country." (Angel Attorney George) Stephan said the Angels "don't want to be at war with the city," noting in part the effect of sellout crowds upon local businesses.
I guarantee you they would be very unhappy if we left...That's irreparable harm.
- Angel Attorney George Stephan


That was the money shot right there. Stephan was alluding to the "out" clause the Angels have in 2016 whereby the Halos could ditch Anaheim altogether. It is that threat that the Angels will likely pursue to put pressure on the necks of Pringle & Co. In particular, from those business' that rely on Angel games for the bulk of their revenue. I wonder if they took a poll of restaurants around the Pond if they would consider the hockey lock-out to be causing them irreparable harm? Now imagine no more baseball in Anaheim.....ever. Can you say "lights out at The Catch?"

************************************************************************************

Remember when the Dodgers were going to "show-up" the Angels by referring to them as the "Anaheim Angels" during the Freeway Series games at Dodger Stadium? Well apparently they have relented a bit on that. The spring training schedule as listed on the Dodgers official media guide (online for users of MLB Pressbox) shows the schedule as:

Friday April 1 LA Angels of Anaheim Anaheim R 7:05 P.M.
Saturday April 2 LA Angels of Anaheim Los Angeles R 7:10 P.M.
Sunday April 3 LA Angels of Anaheim Los Angeles R 1:10 P.M.


Maybe it's an April Fool's joke.

MacPherson Back

Third baseman Dallas MacPherson returned to Cactus League action yesterday in spectacular fashion. The Halo's hot corner specialist played in his first game since March 3 and went 2 for 4 with a double, triple, two RBI and two runs scored as the Angels DH. Manager Mike Scioscia said MacPherson will still likely need a week or two in the minors before he is ready to assume his duties at third base for the big club.
"It's good to see him drive the ball, but he needs at-bats, he needs to build up stamina, and he needs to work things out defensively," Scioscia said. "He needs playing time, and I don't know if we can get him enough to start the season."

This is excellent news as the Angels will be counting on power numbers from their third base slot. Something that was missed dearly last year in Troy Glaus' absence despite the huge effort from Chone Figgins.

Mike Sciocia let reserve shortstop Maicer Izturis play third base yesterday for much of the game. The versatile Izturis had no errors while going 2 for 5 with a double and two RBI. Izturis is competing with Casey Kotchman and Robb Quinlan for one of the final bench spots and his ability to play third base as well as short and second may give him the edge. Here is how the three compare so far this spring:

Izturis.....53 AB // .340 avg // .543 SLG // .453 OBP // 14 RBI // 3 2B // 4 3B
Kotchman..59 AB // .373 avg // .441 SLG // .413 OBP // 16 RBI // 4 2B //
Quinlan.....56 AB // .268 avg // .429 SLG // .379 OBP // 8 RBi // 3 2B// 3 3B

Interestingly, none of these guys have any HR's this spring but all three score runs (Izturis has 15 R, Kotchman 13 R and Quinlan 11 R). The primary reason Quinlan looked like the natural replacement for MacPherson to start the year were his power numbers from last season (.525 SLG in 56 games). But if Quinlan is not going to deliver on the power numbers than the 27 year-old may find himself back in Salt Lake and Izturis, like Chone Figgins before him, could be the Angels designated utility infielder.

Orlando Cabrera, who has been MIA at the plate this spring, is finally starting to get some hits. Cabrera had two singles yesterday with 2 runs scored and an RBI.

Angels Acquire Reliever Prinz for Nieves

The Angels shored-up their final bullpen spot on Tuesday by acquiring New York Yankees right-handed reliever Bret Prinz for minor league catcher Wil Nieves. The one-for-one deal allows the Halos to keep pitching prospects Jake Woods and Chris Bootcheck as starters in the minors. Both Woods and Bootcheck had been pitching as relievers during spring training in hopes of securing the final bullpen slot but neither was able to pitch well enough to keep the Angels from making the trade for Prinz. The Yankees entered training camp with an excess of relief pitchers and it was known that someone would have to go. Prinz was out of options and had he not made the Yanks big league roster would have had to have gone through waivers where New York would likely have lost the 27-year-old fire-baller to another team with minimal value in return. The Angels now face the same dilemma in that they must keep Prinz on the major league roster or risk losing him on the waiver wire. Clearly the Angels have already made the decision or they would not have pulled the trigger on the deal this close to Opening Day.
Brett Prinz

Nieves is a very good catching prospect but was mired in the Angels' organization behind three major leaguer catchers (Bengie Molina, Jose Molina and Josh Paul) as well as minor league catcher Jeff Mathis who is ranked by Baseball America s the Halos' third best prospect overall. By moving to the Yankees organization Nieves finds himself behind major league starter Jorge Posada and backup John Flaherty with no remarkable prospects in the minors. The Yankees traded away their one good minor league catcher, Dionar Navarro now with the Dodgers, as part of the Randy Johnson deal. An injury to Posada or Flaherty would likely mean a call-up for Nieves according to Yankee GM Brian Cashman.

Wil Nieves

Spring Stats

Wil Nieves........23 AB // .261 BA // 0 2B // 0 3B // 0 HR // 2 RBI

Bret Prinz........5.1 IP // 8.55 ERA // 5 BB // 6 K // 3 HR


In 2001 Prinz was considered by many to be the Arizona Diamondbacks 'closer of the future'. I had a chance to see Prinz pitch that season and the kid had a live arm and explosive fastball. The D-Backs designated closer that year was Matt Mantei but when he went down with an injury Prinz stepped up going 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA with 9 saves that season as the D-Backs went on to win the World Series. An injury prevented Prinz from playing in the post-season and opened the door for Byung-Hyun Kim to become the D-Backs closer. Kim almost became a New York folk hero after surrendering game losing HR pitches in the 9th inning of consecutive World Series games.

Injuries continued to sidetrack Prinz’s career and he seemed to lose command of his pitches. The Yankees acquired Prinz from Arizona in 2003 as part of a deal that shipped OF Raul Mondesi to New York. Prinz spent most of that season on the DL with a severely injured groin.

The derailing of Prinz's career is cause for concern for Halo fans and it is not immediately clear why he had so few innings pitched this spring. His 8.55 ERA would be daunting except for the fact that he has only 5.1 innings pitched. The kid has proven to be fragile and often erratic. Yet there is something about him in that the Yankees kept him in camp this long despite the fact he had a 5.08 ERA last season in 26 games for New York. No doubt it is the fact that he can still hurl 95+ mph fastballs with movement. He spent much of the season shuttling between the Bronx and Triple-A Columbus. When asked what he thought the Yankees got in return for him Prinz joked "Probably a six-pack of Coke." Prinz's fastball was clocked at 94 - 96 mph in his most recent outing against the Twins this past Saturday. Prinz gave up one hit, a walk and struck out three to close out the game and earn his first save of the spring.

This gives the Angels a little more thunder in their bullpen and means for the third straight year the Halos will break camp without a left-handed reliever. But Prinz has been effective against lefties. According to the Long Beach Press-Telegram:
Prinz, like bullpen mates Brendan Donnelly, Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez, is effective against left-handed hitters. In 40 at-bats against lefties last year, Prinz held them to a .150 average and they've hit just .220 against him the past three years.


So Prinz could be (or at least one of) the de facto "left-handed assassin(s)" if he proves to Manager Mike Scioscia that he can be effective in that role. But make no mistake, this is a reclamation project. However, with a 2005 salary of $342,000 it will at least be a relatively inexpensive one. Should Prinz regain his '01 form and gain control of his fastball and slider then he could be a welcome addition to an already stacked BP. Perhaps spending some quality time with the Angel relievers will rub-off on Prinz. It seems even Esteban Yan is gaining some Halo Mojo from the Angel relievers.

I am disappointed that Woods did not make the big club but his spring stats (3-0 with a 1.45 ERA and 12 K, 2 BB) should get him a ticket to Anaheim quickly should one of the Angel starters founder or become injured. He and Chris Bootcheck will likely start the year in Triple-A Salt Lake where they can face good hitting on a regular basis and continue to develop. If Woods can stay healthy and be successful there, there should be no stopping him from breaking into this rotation either later this season or next.

Friday, March 25, 2005

I'll Bee Back

This Can't Be a Good Sign


Game called on account of bee attack. Well as an Arizonan I can tell you confidently, it could have been worse: rattlesnakes, scorpions, Gila Monsters...

Angels Embrace 'Dearth of Walks'

In a CBS Sportsline article, there is yet another Angels vs. Athletics (Free Swingers vs. Moneyball) comparison. It is a good read, particularly the quotes from Darin Erstad, the poster-boy for anti-sabermetrics baseball.
"When you hit and run, certain percentages in your game are going to go down," Erstad says. "There are not going to be many walks because you're swinging early in the count. That's just the way it is.

"You know what? It's aggressive, but it's not crazy. You still understand there are parts of the game where you need to take advantage of certain situations. Compared to other teams, we sure don't walk much."

But compared to other teams, well ... the Angels won the World Series in '02 and gave themselves a chance to win again in '04. Whatever gets you through the night.

"There are different philosophies, but who's to say which one is right?" Erstad says. "You can analyze it until you're blue in the face, but this is the way Sosh wants to play ball. This is the way they set this team up.

"This is the way we're going to do it."

I have to agree with one thing, it is a different philosophy and it has proven successful. But I would further submit that there is no right or wrong philosophy - just different ones that work with different players.

The Angels won the World Series in 2002 because they were the hottest team going into October and they played well enough in the regular season to get them in the postseason. The Red Sox won last year because they began a run late in the summer that was one of the most incredible hot-streaks I have ever witnessed. That team was untouchable from August until near-elimination at the hands of the Yankees. But as you know, they quickly regained their momentum and never looked back. The Angels should make the playoffs, the question then will be how are they playing going into October? For my money, I'll take a free-swinging team that probably has a 50/50 shot at being hot at the right time over an even-keeled walk-happy club that will get on base at a .380 clip but likely won't have hot-hitting momentum to carry them to the next level.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Angels Off Today...Except for Colon

The Halos get their only off-day of Spring Training today but will resume play tomorrow at Tempe Diable against the Diamondbacks. I will be there and report back on how the club looks and how Arizona third baseman Troy Glaus looks as well.

Pitcher Bartolo Colon, who had to be removed from his last start due to "back spasms" presumably brought on by a long bus ride to Tucson, will start a minor league game today at the Brewer's Maryvale park according to the LA Times.
"He'll probably be able to get to 70-75 pitches, which will put him in line for where he'll need to be," Scioscia said. "He's got three more starts, so he shouldn't have any problem in getting to the 90-100 pitch range that he's going to need."


More Scioscia on Colon's "conditioning":
"Bartolo's regimen is very, very rigorous, from not only preparing himself on a daily basis through Spring Training, but during the season," Scioscia said. "He's getting work every day. They've added some treatment for his back, but he's fine. There's nothing that's showing up right now that's any indication that this is anything other than a little spring stiffness, and he'll work through it tomorrow."


I thought the only "rigorous preparing" Colon was doing were his meals. Ba, dump, bump!

Player Updates

3B Dallas McPherson is making strides to try and return to the team in time for opening day according to the SGV Tribune. Manager Mike Scioscia denies there is any rush to return McPherson to the lineup and insists that his injured back will determine when he returns.
Once his back allows him to participate in baseball activities, McPherson essentially must start over in his preparation for the season.



3B Robb Quinlan is not making the most of his opportunity to start the season with the big club. Quinn is hitting is just .222 and has make two errors playing third in McPherson's absence. Though Quinlan did have a late 2-run single yesterday to help the Halos beat the White Sox 4-3.

OF Steve Finley, who celebrated his 40th birthday last week, has been on fire and raised his batting average to .450. The center fielder has yet to find his power-stroke this spring however with one double accounting for his only extra-base hit. With two weeks worth of spring training games left Finley's power numbers figure to improve with the extra at-bats. Finley was stricken with the flu that has terrorized major league camps around Arizona this spring but expects to play Tuesday according to the LA Times.

2B Alberto Callaspo - Though newly acquired Maicer Izturis has been getting more ink, Callaspo has been quietly having a spectacular spring for the Angels. The 22 year-old is hitting .481 and shockingly has a .667 slugging percentage, second-best on the team to C Jeff Mathis. Izturis by comparison is hitting .257 with a .286 slugging pct. Which begs the question, why is Izturis automatically the guy to back-up Chone Figgins to start the year?


IF/OF Lew Merloni
- the versatile utility player has been raking of late, Merloni is now hitting .344 with a pair of doubles and triples to his credit.

C Bengie Molina - Molina started back-to-back games for the first time this spring and launched a ball deep to right-center on Sunday that landed on the Tempe Diablo lawn. It was Molina's first blast of the spring.

SP Kelvim Escobar - who got off to a slow start due to a tight right shoulder threw three strong shut-out innings Sunday against the White Sox in his second appearance of the spring. According to the Times Scioscia said that Escobar was right on schedule and should "get up to 75 pitches next time, and he'll be ready to go." Escobar will start the year as the number five starter.

"Anaheim" Being Expunged from Halo Vernacular

While looking up Darin Erstad's career statistics at mlb.com I noticed that all stats from the "Anaheim" years are now referenced as "Los Angeles Angels". In fact, the only name change according to this stat sheet came after the '96 campaign when the "California Angels" became the "Los Angeles Angels".

Over at the Angels official web site, angelsbaseball.com, it looks like they have backed off on their claim to not refer to themselves as the "Los Angeles Angels" (instead promoting themselves as just the "Angels". On the top-of-the-page banner it now proclaims in a very unassuming and small black typeface "THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM". Click over to any other page and the top banner changes a bit with "The A Team" logo on top but changed slightly with "The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" just below it in small white typeface.

Slowly but surely the change-over is being made and the Angels would like you to forget the "Anaheim Angels" ever existed. Though that is not correct either, they want you to remember they were World Champions but that was the "Los Angeles Angels". They just forgot to change back then. Thankfully Uncle Arte is here to set it all right for us. If only they could make me forget the 1986 post-season.

Kotchman's Time is Now

Mike Scioscia and Bill Stoneman made a tough call this past off-season when they let Troy Glaus walk as a free-agent to make room for their hot-shot third baseman of the future, Dallas McPherson. But another battle is looming at the other corner infield position between incumbant Darin Erstad and the Angels most productive hitter this spring, Casey Kotchman.

When Erstad inked a four-year extension for $32 million back in 2002 many scoffed, including ESPN's Rob Neyer who called the signing "monumentally stupid." Two years later Neyer is looking pretty sharp in his assessment. Erstad has been a decent player, hitting for average and playing excellent defense. But for $8 million per season I would expect power, speed and on-base-percentage in ADDITION to defense and batting average. In a nutshell, this deal has been a stinker for the Angels and their fans. With his degenerating hamstrings sapping Erstad of his once legendary speed, the move to first base is looking more like it would have been a necessity for the former center fielder anyway. At the very least a move to right field was in order. But with the outfield corner positions occupied by Vladimir Guerrero and Garrett Anderson for the foreseeable future Erstad’s options coming into spring training were down to two: (1) first base; or (2) DH. With the emergence of Kotchman however, those options should dwindle to one. But with a contract that does not expire for two more seasons on a deal that is virtually untradeable except to the most desperate of teams (damn the Red Sox for trading Mientkiewicz to the Mets!), the Angels seem to be stuck with Erstad. So now the Halo front-office has a couple of options of their own: (1) cut the first baseman ala Kevin Appier and eat the contract; or (2) they can keep him around as a utility player/DH. The Angels paid Appier $12 million to NOT play for them but Appier actually made the Angels a worse team just by taking the mound. Erstad on the other-hand has value (though clearly not $8 million worth) and could be a valuable weapon off the bench if he can get his head around not starting. That is the rub here and his attitude will likely go a long way to determining how the Halos can and will utilize him.

Casey Kotchman just surpassed Dallas McPherson as the Halo's top prospect per Baseball America. So far this spring the Angels first baseman of the future is hitting .432 with 3 doubles while leading the team in both at-bats (37) and RBI's (12). Meanwhile Erstad has been sidelined much of the spring with bronchitis and other ailments that have limited him to 17 at-bats where he is hitting .059 with no extra base hits. I can hear Erstad fans complain "but it's only spring training! C'mon, Guererro is hitting .212 would you cut him too?" No, and I would not cut Bengie Molina for hitting .125 either. But when evaluating a player's future value you study their "arc". That is, you hope to see a pattern of improving numbers that looks like the path of a homerun ball with a nice plateau in the middle of extremely productive years. What you definitely hope not to see is the flat line death pattern Erstad's career has followed except for a brief spike in the middle that skews his career statistics and cost the Angels a lot of money. That spike was 2000 when Erstad nearly doubled his homerun and RBI total from the year before while compiling a mind-blowing 240 hits. Maybe it was the Y2K bug that juiced Erstad's numbers but it goes without saying that he has not approached those lofty heights since. Especially disturbing is the drop in power (11 homeruns in 2003 & 2004 combined after hitting 25 in 2000) and speed (25 stolen bases in '03 & '04 combined after swiping 28 in '00). Erstad was limited to just 67 games in 2003 and 125 in 2004, further testament to his growing fragility and the need for the Angels to allow Kotchman to continue his development by promoting him to the starting job in the majors. Last year in the minors Kotchman was a machine, hitting .368 in 46 games at double-A Arkansas and then after getting promoted to triple-A Salt Lake he actually improved his average by hitting .372 in 49 games. In a call-up to the Angels last season the 22-year old hit just .224 in 34 games, not an uncommon drop in production from triple-A to the bigs. But what Kotchman needs is more big-league at-bats, not minor-league ones, to improve and continue to develop. Kotchman is another in a long-line of power-free, slow-footed Angel first baseman (Wally Joyner, JT Snow, Mo Vaughn, etc) so the Angels would not gain a lot more power or speed wise by changing from Erstad to the rookie. But the upside for Kotchman is far greater than with the 31 year-old Erstad. Between double & triple A last season, Kotchman hit a HR every 9.625 games. Not great for a first baseman but significantly better than Erstad's rate of one HR for every 17.86 games last season. Kotchman also has much better plate discipline, drawing a walk every 5.58 at-bats last season compared to Erstad's rate of a walk every 13.38 at-bats.

Erstad's defenders will extol his leadership and "grittiness". That's great but at some point Erstad's teammates are going to want some production as well. If team spirit and pumped fists were all it took to win games then Rex Hudler would still be playing. Erstad has shown no inclination that his career is going to suddenly begin ascending again so if the Angels believe as I do that he will not be retained beyond 2006, why not start making the change now? Let Erstad help bring Kotchman in and develop the youngster over the next season or two. In return Erstad can continue to contribute by playing DH and filling-in when needed in the outfield or at first. This would also benefit Erstad by allowing him to preserve his legs for an eventual trade (miracles can happen) or free-agency at the end of 2006.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

To my fellow Americans of Irish descent...




On the front page of today's USA Today they had a "Snapshot" (one of those little factoid capsules for easy digestion) that shows:

US Residents of Irish ancestry: 34.0 million
Population of Ireland: 3.9 million

We Irish are a fertile lot....so long as you get us out of the homeland.

Ringolsby on Roids and Late Draft Pick Signings

Columnist Tracy Ringolsby gives his take on the steroid flap currently being bandied about in Congress. He criticizes Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va, for issuing subpoenas to seven current or former major-league players.
It was last spring Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker referred to "steroid McCarthyism" and Boston right-hander Curt Schilling compared the recent turn of events to "a McCarthy witch hunt all over again," which is not all that far out considering the way Davis and his buddies have responded.
Yes, interesting. But with the persepctive of history the Verona cables proved McCarthy was right, the US government WAS riddled with communists. I suspect that Major League Baseball was (if it still isn't) riddled with steroids. Now if you want to make an argument that Congress should have about ten thousand other issues more pressing, I can not really disagree with you. But the overriding issue is credibility and baseball has certainly lost a lot over this issue. When cracks start forming around institutions like baseball then people will begin questioning others pillars of authority like, oh I don't know, Congress! Yes, I know, politicians get questioned all the time. But there is an underlying security in knowing we have two sides battling it out and hopefully keeping the country blissfully in the center of most things. Most Americans do not feel emotionally taken-advantage of by their government like they might for caring about Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa's chase for 62 homeruns. This mild exploitation could further harden the hearts of taxpayers who might figure 'if I can't trust Mark McGuire than Howard Waxman must really be a crooked SOB!' Essentially I see Congress as doing two things: (1)applying some quick plaster to the cracks in one of America's dearest institutions and (2) getting a little face-time on ESPN for that next re-election campaign. Not to worry, it will all be over very soon.

Ringolsby also touches on the Weaver/Drew negotiations (or lack thereof). He notes that only two players who eventually signed with their clubs held out longer than these two. Here is a list of the longest holdouts of eventual draft signees Year

Year Player Club Round Signed

1994 Jason Varitek Mariners First April 20, 1995
2003 Steven White Yankees Fourth April 7, 2004
2002 Bobby Brownlie Yankees Fourth March 5, 2003
2002 Trevor Hutchinson Marlins Third Feb. 24, 2003
1998 Jeff Austin Royals First Feb. 20, 1999
2004 Philip Humber Mets First Jan. 11, 2005
1998 Kip Wells White Sox First Dec. 23, 1998
1997 Matt Anderson Tigers First Dec. 23 1997
2002 Mark Schramek Reds First Dec. 18, 2002

Hmmm, not too many superstars seem to come from draftee hold-outs. I would take may Varitek off this list and White is still considered an elite prospect. But even so, none of these guys is worth a guaranteed $10 million right out of the gate which was what Weaver was initially after before he "downgraded" his offer to $7 - $8 million depending on who you talk to.

Baseball Junk Food

MLB.com has a quick interview with Angels GM Bill Stoneman, Manager Mike Scioscia and RHP Jarrod Washburn. Nothing new here but if you are interested click here for the high speed feed.

To go with that fluff video here is an equally non-nutritious filler piece on the Halos also from MLB.com.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Halo Quick Hits

From the LA Times:

Bartolo Colon
was pulled from the Angels 4-2 loss to the Rockies on Wednesday due to "minor" back spasms. The culprit: a 2 1/2 hour bus ride from Tempe to Tucson. Memo to Angels-- spend the $499 RT fare to fly your ace in for a game or hold his chubby butt over to pitch in Tempe a couple days later.

Now the Angels know how Cuba feels. Kendry Morales remains stuck in the Dominican Republic, unable to obtain a work visa to come to the US until his Dominican citizenship is approved.
Rafael Perez, senior manager of the MLB office in Santo Domingo, said it takes five to six months to gain citizenship, but neither Perez nor General Manager Bill Stoneman could pinpoint when that process began. David Valdes, Morales' agent who is overseeing the process, has not returned several phone messages. Morales signed Dec. 1.
Uh, if he signed December 1st that might be a pretty good date to "pinpoint". That being the case we should see Morales in Anaheim somewhere around Memorial Day.

The Times further reports that Perez is trying to get Morales' paperwork moved "from the bottom of the pile to the top of the pile". Geez, what does it take to get things done in the Dominican? Send them a case of Angel swag (probably lots of that old 'winged Halo' gear from the Disney days laying around) and a couple donkeys and get this kid moving!

An MRI on Garrett Anderson's knee showed no structural damage but the Angels will keep him out of the lineup for a few more days due to tendonitis.

Weaver May Not be Only Boras Client Going Back to Draft

The Arizona Republic reported today that the Diamondbacks top draft choice, shortstop Stephen Drew (taken 15th overall) has yet to agree to terms with the club. The paper reports that Drew and Boras are seeking a "substantial contract package."

It is becoming more and more apparent that Scott Boras is at his best representing established big league stars. In just this past offseason Boras clients Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek all broke the bank. But if one is looking for weakness in the Boras machine it appears to be with draft picks where General Managers are quick to point out that no one is a "sure thing" (see: Mauer, Joe). People get injured, players fail to live up to potential or weird things just happen. There is too much risk to throw guaranteed money at a player with no major league experience when you can just as easily throw it at a guy who does.

What happens if Boras' top two amateur clients fail to sign with their clubs and go back into the draft? Well for starters many consider the 2005 draft to be deeper, so that instantly reduces their value which was already reduced by the fact they are Boras' clients. Some analysts had projected Weaver to go number one overall before he signed with Boras. Because of fears they would not be able to sign the Long Beach State hurler many clubs passed on Weaver who dropped to Assuming that does not change, both players figure to (1) lose out on one year's salary; and (2) drop even further in the next draft. Scott Boras does not want this to happen. He is betting that the pressure on Bill Stoneman and Joe Garagiola, Jr. (Arizona GM) will be greater than that placed on him by his clients and force the clubs to capitulate to his demands. Having seen both of these men work, I doubt it. First for the Angels, they could always use another top arm in the system but Weaver will not be that significant in how this team does over the next two years. The Diamondbacks already have Alex Cintron and Matt Kata at short and second-base respectively so they are not exactly desperate for the help either. After the Angels put Boras on the hot-seat with their take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum the Diamondbacks would be fools to acquiesce to his outrageous demands now. Particularly since the pressure is now firmly on the agent for baseball's elite class. Bill Stoneman took one for the team (the team of MLB General Managers that is) and now it is Garagiola's turn to put the squeeze on Boras and force him to lose a lot of face with prospective amateur clients by having two high draft picks both return to the draft. A second draft that offers no guarantee of more money than they were offered the previous year and since it is a given they will hold-out, likely burns the better part of two years of their professional careers.

Perhaps in the '05 draft the Boras Clients will drop even further so that the Angels & D-Backs can select them again with the compensatory picks they will be given (sandwiched between the first and second rounds) for losing the rights to their top picks in 2004. Just to make things interesting maybe the Angels can take Drew and the D-Backs will get a shot at Weaver. Either way it would be great sport to see mega-multi-millionaire Boras twist in the wind for a change, instead of the countless GM's he has tortured in the past.

Increasingly it is looking like Boras will face a Kobyashi Maru scenario. If Stoneman and Garagiola hold the line, Boras will have to relent. Allowing his clients to re-enter the draft is too risky. If he were truly looking out for their best interests (as all agents claim they do) then Boras must secure the maximum amount of money he can for the first three years of their big league career. After they prove themselves over a few years he can do with Weaver & Drew what he did with Beltre, auction them off to the highest bidder. But he will need to get them into their respective big league camps. Stoneman and Garagiola will have to give in a little to Boras to keep him from looking a complete loser, but the victory will be theirs. If Boras' own ego gets in the way and he puts his own interests first he will gamble and let his young players go back into the draft where they could wind-up with the Yankees and Red Sox and get all the money they ever dreamt of or they could hook up with Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, finding themselves in an even worse financial hole. My best guess (and that's all any of us have at this point) is that both players will eventually sign, though because they gave an ultimatum it might be tougher for the Halos to lure back their top pick than the D-Backs. Hopefully a precedent has been set so that young players who were studs in college realize they have to prove they can do it on another level before being treated as baseball royalty.

Shame on the families of these players, especially Dodger pitcher and Weaver brother Jeff who should be advising his brother to sign the deal and get his career started. It is not like the Angels and D-Backs are trying to low-ball these guys. I don't think you will see either Weaver or Drew flipping burgers this summer to pay the bills.

Escobar Debuts and Vlad Goes Yard

Two firsts for 2005, Kelvim Escobar made his delayed spring training debut in Tucson with two innings of work against the White Sox and Vladimir Guerrero found his homerun stroke with his first blast of the spring. The LA Times reports that Escobar had been sidelined with shoulder tightness since early in camp and then had "severe flu like symptoms" on Monday night. But the right-hander made his scheduled start on Tuesday and gave up three runs on four hits in the first inning before settling into a one-hit, no runs second. Manager Mike Scioscia pulled Escobar after the second inning and said "His velocity was good, and I like the way the ball was coming out of his hand". Scioscia then added "The way he felt was encouraging."

I love those types of managerial quotes that say nothing. Yes, the ball was coming out of his hand wasn't it? Hurray! I would read into that comment that Scioscia was happy Escobar's arm did not fall off and his #2 pitcher did not yuke all over the mound. Other than that it is too early to get excited one way or the other.

Injuries

Matt Hensley, who the Times reports was the front-runner to win the sixth and final bullpen spot will be out at least a month because of shoulder discomfort and a strained left rib cage. The Times also says the right-handed reliever is considering surgery that could put him out for the year.

Darin Erstad missed his fifth consecutive game because of bronchitis. One reason the Angels are not hurrying him back is that Casey Kotchman remains mui caliente with three more hits Tuesday lifting his spring average to .394.

Garrett Anderson
is suffering from tendinitis in his knee that will keep him out of the next few games.

Scot Shields will also be out for a few days with shin splints.

Dustin Moseley, who the Times suggests would be the most likely "fill-in candidate should the Angels suffer an injury in their rotation" left Tuesday's game with a strained right forearm.

Monday, March 14, 2005

An Angel Looks at 40



Steve Finley turned 40 years old on Saturday, much to the chagrin of fans who preferred the Angels target a different, and younger, center fielder this past offseason. But Fin is hitting .444 so far this spring with a double and is one of only three expected Angel starters to have a stolen base (Erstad and Figgins are the others). Not bad for an old dude.

Living in Arizona I am very familiar with Finley from his Diamondback days. This guy is/was and always will be a fan favorite here in the desert. Besides keeping himself in incredible shape and always leaving everything he's got out on the field, there are the other little things that bond him to the fans. Case in point this last Sunday. Finley was trotting out to center early in the game when a fan sitting near me on the lawn in right-center screamed out "Happy Birthday Steve!" Now most ball players are conditioned to block the fans out for the most part, good or bad. But Finley, without looking, pointed a couple of knuckles towards the fan and gave a very small wave. It took about a second and a half but Finley did not just win over that one fan, he just added about 400 more to the club. Steve Finley is going to have a lot of fans in Anaheim before this year up and not just because he is likely to hit .280 with 25 HR but because he is a fan-friendly player that puts the game, and those who love it, first.

Cubs vs. Angels 03-13-05


 Posted by Hello

On Sunday the Halos played host to the Chicago Cubs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. As usual with the Cubs, the game was a sell-out and split fairly evenly between the fans of the 'Lovable Losers' and the Angels. In today's East Valley Tribune they ran an article on the appeal of the Cubbies in the Cactus League which seems to grow each spring. To give you an idea of Cub fan devotion, I was able to secure two seats behind home plate for three different Angel spring training games on the day they were first available via pre-sale. I also tried to secure tickets to the Angels -Cubs and the best I could do was past third base about half-way up the stands. Rather than sit there we optioned to sit on the lawn because with four kids under 12 in-tow it was unlikely we would ever see the fourth inning anyway (due in large part to having the kids show-up two hours early to watch practice and secure autographs).


 Posted by HelloDuring the pre-game autograph-hunt/practice-observation I had the opportunity to ask Bengie Molina if Kendry Morales had made it to camp. "Not yet" Molina answered. Then with a hint of a smile the Angels starting catcher added "He is swimming" -- a double entendre on the former Cuban star who defected last December (and signed a $6 million big-league contract with the Halos) but now finds himself trapped in the Dominican as he awaits delays in the issuance of the visa needed to play ball in the US. Today's Press-Telegram reports that Morales' is expected to receive his visa tomorrow and make his way to Tempe on Wednesday or Thursday.

It was good to see Bengie in full catcher's regalia (with his mitt balanced atop his head to allow for a better autographing technique -- see picture above) and apparently healthy given his limited action so far this spring (just five AB's thus far). Molina has been slowed since camp opened due to tightness in his right calf. Today's LA Times reports that the "perplexing injury" which was suppose to sideline Molina for a few days will actually turn out to be at least two weeks since the Angels primary receiver will not play for a few more days. Hopefully the newly svelte Molina can be 100% for Opening Day and reach that next level of elite player. I would wager the Angels patience with Bengie's injuries will be directly proportional to the development of one Jeff Mathis. The young catcher is considered one of the "crown jewels" in the Halo minor league system and so far this spring Mathis is batting .444 with a HR, triple and double in just 9 at-bats. That type of power will be hard for the Angels to ignore, especially if Molina continues to be hobbled with leg injuries.

 Posted by HelloWhen the game started it was John Lackey on the mound for the Angels. Curse my luck, I saw Lackey the last time I was out (when he got shelled by the Giants in the first inning) and I was hoping to see another starter. But Lackey was much more impressive this outing, holding the Cubs to one hit (from Jerry Hairston)over three innings. This was just Lackey's second appearance due to a blister that appeared on the index finger of his pitching hand after his first start. Lackey is a notorious slow-starter so it was good to see he was effective but there is a big difference in going three inning in March as opposed to six or seven in April. Take this for what it is, an encouraging sign, nothing more.

Frankie Rodriguez was impressive in his inning of relief, mowing down the side with a strikeout. Ervin Santana, the promising starter who has had his climb to the majors derailed by injuries, gave-up two runs over two innings but was the eventual winner with Kevin Gregg picking up the save by holding the Cubs scoreless over the final two frames despite giving up two walks.

There were a number of Angel starters getting a rest on Sunday including Darin Erstad, Garrett Anderson and Bengie Molina. Vlad Guerrero was one of the normal starters playing Sunday along with Steve Finley and Orlando Cabrera. OC had not started in the game I attended ten days earlier so it was good to finally get to see him play. Even more interesting was the clowning comaraderie between him and Guerrero. When Vlad came out on the field he received a pretty raucous welcome from the fans lining the third base line hoping for a picture or an autograph. Guerrero did not come over to greet them however, likely due to the fact that he was concentrating on starting the game in thirty minutes. But Cabrera had noticed the minor uproar and was pushing Vlad towards the fans. The two laughed but to my (and likely Mike Scioscia's) horror he pushed Guerrero off balance and the MVP right fielder stumbled towards the Angels dugout. With unpleasant visions of Mo Vaughn I almost choked on my hot dog before Guerrero righted himself and went back to warming up. It was clear though that these two are good friends and underlines one of the big non-baseball related reasons Cabrera was signed: keep the big guy happy. The more the Angels are able to make Guerrero feel at home the better in terms of re-signing him in the next 2 or 3 years. It is also clear that this has become Vlad's team and he is easily the most popular Angel in Spring Training.

Vlad Fan Posted by Hello

Casey Kotchman had two more hits Sunday and now is hitting .355 while continuing to lead all players with 27 at-bats. With Darin Erstad held to just 8 spring at-bats (and hitless in those) and admitting to needing a brace to secure his ailing right hamstring, one has to wonder about his health and effectiveness early in the '05 campaign. This underscores the importance of Kotchman who is looking like a stone-lock to make the club out of camp.

OF Jeff Devanon is second on the team with 25 AB's while hitting a sparkling .320. Those who are 'slow starters' this spring include Chone Figgins (.200 in 20 AB's), Orlando Cabrera (.200 in 15 AB's), Vladimir Guerrero (.211 in 19 AB's), Garrett Anderson (.214 in 14 AB's), Juan Rivera (.250 in 20 AB's) and Robb Quinlan (.250 in 20 AB's). All of these players will make the club and likely are simply taking it easy early in camp and/or working on mechanics. Look for these players to start zeroing in in the next week or so.


Angels vs. Cubs 3-13-05 Posted by Hello

Non-starter on Sunday, Robb Quinlan gets a lift past the gauntlet of fans on his way to the practice fields at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Player Updates

In anticipation of attending tomorrow's Angels/Cubs game at Tempe Diablo I thought I would give a quick update on a couple of players today (and more to follow) who are either new to the team or fighting for a roster spot--or both.

P Paul Byrd - When signed this offseason, Byrd was essentially handed the 5th starter's spot that was filled by committee in '04 (usually quite ineffectively by Ramon Ortiz or Aaron Sele). Last year with Atlanta Byrd went 8-7 with a 3.94 ERA in 16 games.

But the real story with Byrd is the fact that he had "Tommy John" surgery in 2003 which sidelined him the entire season and prevented him from making his debut with Atlanta until June 19th. Byrd's best year was 2002 with KC when he went 17-11 with a 3.90 ERA. The following spring training Byrd pitched one inning before being put on the DL with elbow tendonitis which led to the eventual TJ surgery.

As often happens with Tommy John surgery, Byrd has experienced renewed strength in his pitching arm. Last season Byrd's fastball averaged 85 mph but he now believes it will be more in the 90 mph range for the Halos. Over his past five innings this spring Byrd has given up zero runs and mixed in a sinker pitch that has given the former "fly ball pitcher" the ability to induce a grounder when he needs it. In a start this past week against San Diego, Byrd coaxed two double-play balls using the sinker and now has a repertoire that, in addition to the fastball and sinker also includes a sharp slider and an excellent change-up. For added effectiveness he can change speeds and throw from a variety of arm angles to keep batters on their heels.
"His stuff keeps picking up with every outing," Manager Mike Scioscia said of Byrd. "He mixes deception with command, and that adds some life to his fastball.


2005 Outlook: Byrd could easily be the #3 pitcher on this team if he can continue to utilize deception and hit his spots. In that regard he could look a lot like another former Atlanta pitcher, Greg Maddux.

What you may not know: Byrd is a pretty solid hitter who makes consistent contact and had a .200 average last season. Look for him to get plenty of starts during interleague play.

IF Maicer Izturis Izturis could get some early season action in Anaheim due to the injury to third baseman Dallas McPherson. With Izturis on the roster it gives Scioscia the flexibility to start Izturis at second or shortstop to spell starters Chone Figgins and Orlando Cabrera respectively. In addition, Figgins has the ability (somewhat) to play third allowing more mix-and-match opportunities for the ever-tinkering Scioscia.

Izturis came to the Angels as part of the Jose Guillen trade and was thought of by many as an afterthought. But Izturis has long been thought of as a slick-fielding infielder albeit, a light hitting one. This spring the slight Izturis has been impressive at the plate hitting .400 in 20 spring AB's. The only player with more at-bats than Izturis is Casey Kotchman (23) which shows the Angels are taking a good hard look at the infielder and seriously considering him for one of the final roster spots. Most important to the Angels, Izturis has 7 runs scored to lead the team. His offensive role on the club would be similar to Chone Figgins and former shortstop David Eckstein: get on base and find a way to score. If Izturis can manage to coax a walk or slap a single he has the ability to steal a base or take an extra base.

2005 Outlook It is looking more and more likely that Izturis is gaining traction to make the big club, at least for the first few weeks of the season. Scioscia's ability to go to the bench and put speedy Chone Figgins into a game late was a huge weapon that helped the Angels on their way to their only World Championship in 2002 and that weapon was sorely missed last season when Figgins was pressed into starting duties at third. There is no doubt that Scioscia would love to have the option to instantly insert speed into a game again this year with Izturis early in the season. Once second baseman Adam Kennedy returns from his knee injury (probably in May or June), Figgins could resume that role. Look for Maicer to be in AAA by June unless he proves too valuable in an early season audition in Anaheim.

What you may not know: Izturis hit .338/.428/.423 in Triple-A last season. Though he lacks power, Izturis has proven he has the ability to find his way to first.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Halo Quick Hits

Notes from Today's LA Times:

McPherson Back in Arizona
Third baseman Dallas McPherson returned from a southern California consultation with Dr. Robert Watkins on his herniated disk. McPherson reported that the good doctor informed him he has "tight hips, and that puts extra stress on my spine when I swing." Dr. Watkins designed a training regimen that McPherson will start when his back inflammation subsides. Teammate Jeff DeVanon is on the same program due to a stress fracture in his lower back which he suffered in 2002. DeVanon credits the program for preventing any recurrence of the injury and describes it as "an hour's worth of abdominal exercises every other day". I personally recommend a few beers every day, that helped to loosen my hips considerably over the years.

Surprisingly McPherson had already been prescribed the therapy after his 2003 ruptured disk injury but according to the Times "hasn't followed it religiously since." Seeing as how the Angels committed a huge gamble letting Glaus walk to give the job to this kid, look for him to get religion real quick.

Morales by Monday?
IF/OF Cuban Refugee Kendry Morales remains stuck in the Dominican but Manager Mike Scioscia says the heretofore unseen Halo should have his travel documents in order and arrive in Arizona by Monday. We'll believe it when we see it Mike.

Erstad's Tendon & Hamstring "not stable"
First baseman Darin Erstad will be wearing the "bulky" knee brace he donned last season after being sidelined with a strained hamstring for a month. Erstad had hoped to ditch the extra protection but says "The tendon behind the knee and the hamstring are not stable, and they need support." Erstad also made the bold proclamation "If I'm going to blow it out, I'm going to blow it out with it on". That's always been my motto. Should Erstad indeed "blow it out" then Casey Kotchman moves into the starting first baseman role and the need to have Kendry Morales in-camp and ready to offer depth at first and the outfield is magnified tremendously.

Favre to Return to Lead Pack in 2005

Getting a bit off the Halo track a bit....

The Green Bay Packers look to have their leader, quarterback Brett Favre, back for the 2005 season. The Packers website is reporting that Favre informed Head Coach Mike Sherman of his decision to return for one more season, at least, in a two-hour telephone conversation this past Wednesday night. There had been questions about Favre returning due primarily to the fact his wife, Deanna, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. But Deanna Favre is apparently responding well to treatment and according to Sherman "It came down to his wife and she's doing well in her recovery...She wants him to play. He said he's looking forward to playing -- hopefully without any off-the-field situations and 'enjoying the journey."

For Packer fans it has become an annual right-of-passage to worry about the return of, perhaps, the greatest Packer of them all. This is because the media invariably asks him if he will return next year about fifteen minutes after he has suffered a playoff loss and is likely feeling the pain of 16 weeks worth of beatings to his beleaguered body. Naturally, the world looks a lot different to Favre in March than it does in January. Of course, this off-season was especially worrisome given the incredible string of tragedies that have befallen Favre over the past 18 months. Favre's father, Irv died from a heart attack during the 2003 season while his 24-year-old brother-in-law died in an ATV accident on Favre's property last October, just a week before Deanna Favre's breast cancer diagnosis.

As Colin Cowherd said in his ESPN Radio morning show today, there is no superstar in sports today like Favre. "Country guys love him, city guys get him" said Cowherd. In comparing him to one of the NFL's other more popular quarterbacks, Tom Brady, Cowherd attested to Favre's greatness by saying that Brady has become popular because he plays on the most dominant team in the league located in a major city in the northeast. Favre plays in Green Bay for a team that has been good but not great the past five years. But still Favre is the most well-known and popular athlete in football and perhaps sports. There is no one like Favre in baseball or basketball. Only Michael Jordan was as well known and admired as Brett Favre. Today only Tiger Woods rivals him for national attention in all of sports.

It is a good day for all sports fans to know that Brett Favre will be back because one of the good guys is still out there to watch and admire. For Packer fans like me, it is a great day.

City of Anaheim Fumblin', Bumblin', Stumblin'

The LA Times reported that the Angels have countered the city of Anaheim's request for a speedy court date, citing the fact that the city waited five weeks to file the appeal. That five week delay belies Anaheim's contention that they should, as the Times puts it, "jump to the head of the appeals line because its case is so urgent." Yes, I'm certain the courts have nothing better to do than try and save face for some suckered politicians. But since Congress is busying themselves with steroids in baseball I suppose it follows that the appellate courts have little better to do than decide the name of a baseball team.

The Angels, who have remained publicly mum for the most part during this process, finally took a shot back at the city:
The city contends it wouldn't have paid $20 million for stadium renovations without an understanding the Anaheim name would be featured prominently.

The Angels counter that the city did not pay to name the team but did get "quite a bargain" for its contribution — Disney paid the other $98 million in renovations and signed a 20-year lease to keep the Angels in "the city's own aging stadium" one year after it had been abandoned by the NFL's Rams.

First off, when did professional teams start accepting naming rights for the teams themselves? What's next, the Nintendo Mariners of Seattle? How about the Mutual of Omaha Cornhuskers? Once their new stadium is built we could have the Crisco Cowboys of Arlington! Sounds more like a team from San Francisco though. In any case, No matter what the city of Anaheim thought they were buying, they should not have been under the assumption that they were buying the right to name a team. If Tony Tavares (former Angel President under the Disney regime) convinced the rubes at Anaheim City Hall that they were buying the right to name the Angels, then I suspect he threw in the deed to the Golden Gate Bridge as well. Psst, Curt Pringle, I have some ocean-front property here in Arizona I will give you the naming rights to -- and for a lot less than $20 million! The bottom line is the city of Anaheim owns the stadium, it was one of the worst in baseball and they only had to pay 17% of the cost to turn it into one of the best. On top of that the Angels agreed to play there for 20 more years. Yet all they do is whine and complain like Paris Hilton at a T-Mobile kiosk. They could end this nonsense and build harmony with a team that is bringing them tremendous prestige by graciously allowing the Angels to rid themselves of the "of Anaheim" moniker and to be known simply as the Los Angeles Angels. The naming of teams should be a simple process and likely one handled by the league. The team could be given the choice of a state or city geographic association. If they choose a city than they should naturally be associated with the market they serve. In the Angels case, they clearly are representative of the Los Angeles media market (i.e. television broadcasts are on LA based KCAL, radio broadcasts are on LA based ESPN 710, etc). They could be the California Angels again but as I have written previously, that was a mistake by Gene Autry given California has five MLB baseball teams - more than twice as many as any other state. Taking the name "California" for a single team is a bit presumptuous.

The city of Anaheim could be staring a much worse fate than having a first-place team locked into a 20-year lease in their ballpark. If the renovations had not happened and Angel Stadium still looked more like a Mexican Jai Lai Stadium than one of the top ballparks in America, I would surmise the city of Anaheim would be staring down a $150 million "renovate or were going to Vegas" ultimatum. Arte Moreno just won a similar battle with the City of Tempe for a $20 million renovation of their spring training facility.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

UPDATE: D-Mac Out, Mighty Quin In

Dallas McPherson, super-prospect and presumed starting third baseman for the Halos in '05, has had a further setback with regard to his "protruding" disc back injury. According to the LA times, the injury is now being called a "herniated" disc and the Angels expect him to miss 2 - 4 weeks at least. Emphasis on the "at least" part.

Manager Mike Scioscia was quoted in the Times story thusly:
"His symptoms regressed…He thought he was better, then he did some light rotational stretching [Tuesday] and got stiff and sore. We're going to shut him down until he's pain-free. Hopefully, that won't be too long."

Wise Angel fans should probably not count on seeing McPherson in Anaheim for awhile. If he has some sort of remarkable rebound in health, great, but generally back injuries do not just go away and can usually be counted on to take significant time to recover from. There are always exceptions but given this is McPherson's second significant back injury in two years, look for the Angels to do just what Scioscia said, shut him down until he is pain free (or at least until he can convince the Halos he is pain free).

Domino Effect

With McPherson's injury shelving him in the short-term, an immediate opportunity opens-up for 28-year-old Robb Quinlan. The University of Minnesota alum converted from first base to third base last season because of the perceived log-jam behind Darin Erstad and Casey Kotchman. Why Quinlan did not perceive a similar log-jam behind Troy Glaus and Dallas McPherson is anyone's guess (perhaps Glaus’ imminent departure was general knowledge among the players) but the move certainly paid off. Quinlan was very impressive last season when initially called-up to replace the injured Glaus hitting .344 with 5 HR and 23 RBI in 56 games before suffering a season-ending rib cage injury. All of this makes one wonder what the Angels are doing to their third baseman that three have suffered moderate to severe injuries in less than a year. Yesterday Quin had a triple and two singles in a split-squad game against the Padres but he also lost a ball in the sun which underscores the biggest concern critics have with him: defense. To be fair, McPherson was not going to make anyone forget Scott Rolen either so it should not be a massive defensive downgrade switching to Quinlan whose range has been unfavorably compared to that of a Daisy Air Rifle. Of Quinlan's defensive abilities, Scioscia was quoted as to saying "What he lacks in range and arm strength, he makes up for with guts and glory." Come again Mike? When your manager comes out and admits there is something lacking in little things like "range" and "arm strength" it does not instill a lot of confidence in either the player or the fan-base. Especially when we have to trade off these critical skills for "guts and glory". Huh? How exactly do "guts and glory" manifest themselves in a baseball game? Still, in 56 games last season (32 at third), Q had just one error. Just when I rationalize that Quinlan will be fine to start the year at the hot-corner, Scioscia goes and pops my bubble by saying that Chone Figgins will play "at third a few times [this spring] just to get him reacquainted with the position". Wait a minute, is this the same Chone Figgins that played 96 games at third last season and had eleven errors? ELEVEN! The same Figgins that turned Darin Erstad into a human highlight real on virtually every throw to first (and by extension helping him win a Gold Glove)? Every right-handed pull hitter in the AL will be circling the Angels on their collective schedules. How about we DON'T reaquaint Figgy with third and say we did.

What the Angels will really miss is McPherson's power. The slugger belted 40 HR's in the minors last season and was expected to give the Halos some extra punch in the bottom third of their batting order. Quinlan has some power but nothing like the potential that McPherson brings to the table. The fact that McPherson returned from his first back injury in 2003 and still put up strong power numbers in '04 bodes well for his eventual return to the Halos this season. The only question is, when?

Should Scioscia play Figgins at third then the door cracks open for Maicer Izturis to make the club, primarily for his defensive skills. Izturis could help fill the void at second until the injured Adam Kennedy returns, presumably in May or June. Utility fielder Lou “Ben Affleck Sucks” Merloni can also play some third should Scioscia need him to. Izturis has hit well so far in Spring Training games (7 for 16 with a double and 5 RBI) but that is due in large part to opposing pitchers going after him with fastballs and very little respect. Once the season starts, Izturis will likely not see nearly as many hittable balls and he will revert to the low-average slap hitter that he is.

The Angels depth is being tested early but as it stands, the Halos are one significant injury from having to play either Lou Merloni or Maicer Izturis on an everyday basis. A scary thought for the Halo faithful who must now hope that this patchwork defense gels and is able to hold it together until McPherson and Kennedy return.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

McPherson Has 'Protruding Disc' in Back

The Angels presumed starting third baseman, Dallas McPherson, has left camp to see a back specialist for a protruding disc discovered in an MRI exam yesterday but the Angels are spinning the injury as "not out of the ordinary". At least that was the quote from Manager Mike Scioscia in the LA Times.

McPherson had a ruptured disc injury in 2003 that caused him to miss two months of action. The Angels website reports that McPherson rates the current injury as far less severe as the '03 one, noting that the ruptured disc from two years ago caused so much pain that it "sometimes made it difficult to get out of bed without assistance." With the current injury, McPherson has "experienced tightness and soreness in his lower back, but he's been able to do most activities outside of swinging a bat or throwing." But as the Chronicler humorously notes, "Oh, good. Very reassuring. We sure don't need him to swing a bat or throw this year."

While the Halos put maximum spin control on this injury and Angel fans wring their hands, the truth is no one knows what the severity of the injury is. But the fact that McPherson can be quoted on the Angel website saying something like this when comparing his two back injuries is troubling:
"There are definite similarities, but this is not as severe," McPherson said, adding that his back has improved since last Friday and does not have any sciatica pain down his leg, a possible indicator of a greater problem.
Sciatica what? Why does a 24 year-old kid even have that word in his vocabulary? Hopefully McPherson bounces back in his self-projected recovery time of 1 or 2 weeks. But my experience is that anytime a ballplayer has a discussion that includes the words "bulged" or "protruding" and it does not relate to some attractive women in the stands, it is not good. This is the type of injury that can appear and reappear any time during the season and generally is only finally healed with long periods of inactivity (explaining why my back is in fine shape).

This also begs the question, did we bet on the wrong third baseman? Troy Glaus is being eased into his role as the starting third baseman for the Diamondbacks while he continues to recover from a torn labrum that caused him to miss much of the 2004 campaign. According to Manager Doug Melvin, Glaus is scheduled to "play the field every other day for the next week". When Glaus does play however, he is batting .500 so far this spring for Arizona (3 for 6 with 2 RBI, 1 R and a 2B). The Angels have a split-squad game today in Tucson against Arizona and since Glaus had a day off yesterday, look for him to start at third for the D-Backs. On March 22nd the Angels will host Arizona in Tempe and I already have my two tickets behind home. I shall endeavor to remember my digital camera and report back here on the Angels as well as Glaus.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

So Much for Fan Outrage: Angels Sell Record 26,000 Season Seats

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, whose off-season name-change from "Anaheim Angels" sparked debate and vitriol from fans, media and bloggers, are in the midst of their most successful season-ticket sales campaign in history. The Angels have sold more than 1,000 season tickets than they did in 2004, despite the threat from some fans to boycott if they went through with the name change. So far the Angels have sold a total of 2.3 million tickets (season seats plus individual game tickets) which means the Angels should easily draw 3 million fans for the third year in a row and likely the most in club history.

In a closely related story, the Angels lead the Dodgers in the battle for ticket sale supremacy by approximately 300,000 seats. Last year the Halos and Blue Crew combined for 4.3 million in ticket sales and if both teams remain competitive in their respective divisions, should come close to equaling or surpassing that figure in 2005. Baseball rules supreme in Southern California and the Angels can confidently say, LA is plenty big enough for two teams to thrive in.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not crediting the name change with this surge in ticket sales. Ticket sales and TV revenue are two very different animals and success with each are both intertwined and independent. The equation starts with winning which the Angels have done now for two out of the past three years. Really the key year was '04 after they stunk it up in '03 following the Championship Season. Two losing seasons in a row would likely have erased a lot of the good will fans were feeling after 2002. But Moreno brilliantly came in and not only signed star players (Guererro, Colon, Escobar) but cut beer prices. The team then went on to win their first division title in 18 years and the fans are now solidly behind this team.

While ticket sales are essentially a straw poll on a team's popularity today, TV revenues are more like the stock market in that they try to project the popularity and value of a team in the future. The difference is, only a handful of entities will get to purchase the "stock" of Halo TV coverage. Channel 9 has taken themselves out of the bidding, instead betting on the tradition and history of LA's other team (the Dodgers). As recently as three months ago when this deal was announced, members of the media and a lot of fans probably agreed that this was the prudent move. Especially if you hypothesize that Channel 9 knew of Moreno's name-change plans and flat-out bet against him. But now in the bright Arizona sunshine of March things are starting to look a bit different. Consider:

* LA Angels has seeped into baseball's vernacular and the mindset of the Angels as a big-market team does indeed seem to be changing. As a personal example, I was perusing my USA Today Sports section today and was temporarily befuddled when "Anaheim" was not at the top of the "AL" baseball column. After gathering myself I gazed lower to find "Los Angeles" and there they were. But more interestingly, I continued scanning the page lower past "Minnesota" and then "New York" and for the first time I thought of the Angels as being more in league with the Yankees than the Twins. This was tied directly to seeing the words "Los Angeles" and nothing else. Only my own, inexact to be sure, experiment but I challenge you to think about how you are viewing this team and what other teams you liken them to. Cincinnati or Chicago? The Dodgers or the Diamondbacks?

* The Angels have stood-up to the biggest bully in sports: Scott Boras. The man who single-handedly destroyed the Texas Rangers for the better part of three years was trying to hold the Angels hostage for their first-round draft pick. Instead, GM Bill Stoneman walked away and will force the kid nick-named "Dream" to eat a year's salary. What's more, people have now cast the fair-hair kid from Long Beach and his Evil Agent (or is it, 'Agent of Evil'?) as the villains while the Angels are now the heroes. Heroes to fans, other owners and sane people from all walks of life. This was on the heels of the Angels shipping off their second best hitter because he was not an "Angels" guy. In contrast, the Dodgers coddled their malcontent player (Milton Bradley) which sends a very different message to the other players. Quality men like Steve Finley are now attracted to Anaheim where they know they will be surrounded by teammates with similar ethics and goals.

* While the Angels have either stayed at a level similar to '04 if not outright improved, their division has gotten weaker with top rival Oakland losing their two best starting pitchers. The Dodgers have definitely taken a step back talent wise and every other team in their division has improved.

* While Angel ownership has a defined vision to increase revenue and maintain the team at a very high level with a balance of free-agents and quality prospects, Frank McCourt's only apparent strategy is to see how long he can keep 3 million fans buying tickets while he turns the Dodgers into a southern version of the Oakland A's (without the stud pitching, prospects or Billy Beane).

Over the past three months the Angels have further defined themselves as an organization by what they have done and what they have refused to do. Arte Moreno is crafting a team that was plagued with an image of being "chokers" (even after the '02 World Series win, the Angels were picked by most everyone to not make the playoffs in '03...and they didn't) and second class citizens to the Dodgers into a team expected to win. The transformation is not complete but the story of LA's two baseball teams is a contrast in styles that could not have been written by any Hollywood studio. Channel 9 bet on the favorite but the long-term outlook for the Angels calls for high dividends in the years to come for Halo fans and the broadcast partners smart enough to join-up with them now.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Angels "B" Squad Dismantles former Halo Etherton & A's

In a 17-4 thrashing of divisional rival Oakland, the Angels notched 17 hits from a team of players comprised entirely of minor leaguers or back-up players. With rainy weather canceling most early workouts in Arizona, manager Mike Scioscia presumably elected to give his starters the afternoon off rather than risk injury on a slick field or due to not being properly warmed-up. In fact, the only projected regulars on the field for the Angels Sunday were starting pitcher Bartolo Colon (2 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K) and relievers Esteban Yan and Brendan Donnelly.

Staff ace Bartolo Colon was effective in his first start of the spring, a sharp contrast to his 2004 spring debut, also against Oakland, when Colon needed 41 pitches to record the first two outs. Taking the brunt of the abuse from the Halo JV team was former Angel first-round pick Seth Etherton (himself a cautionary tale as to why the Angels refused to capitulate to Jared Weaver & Scott Boras' ridiculous contract demands). But Etherton was not helped out too much by his defense as second baseman Keith Ginter committed a two-out error leading to four unearned runs. Etherton did not help himself out with a wild pitch on his way to giving up a total of five runs on four hits.

Players to Watch: OF Juan Rivera, acquired in the Jose Guillen trade, has been raking at the plate, hitting a blistering .444 over the past three games including another double Sunday and a HR on Saturday. First baseman Casey Kotchman had a single, double and drove in five runs Sunday. Kotchman is hitting .400 so far this spring. Of course, Alberto Calaspo is hitting .600 so you can not read too much into statistics at this point.

Notable Spring Trend: The Angels are 2-2 in Cactus League play but both losses came as a result of ninth inning rallies off of pitchers with almost no chance of making the club. The Angels in contrast are scoring well against pitchers who, if not already assured a spot on their respective clubs, are in the thick of a fight for one. Early prognosis, take-off around the 7th inning if you want leave the park happy.

Power Outage

One negative trend to keep an eye on are the Angels lack of HR's. Two HR's in four games (Juan Rivera and Michael Napoli each have one). Nothing to panic about as I suspect over the next week we will see the normal long-ballers (Guerrero, Finley, Anderson) start airing them out. Once fully recovered from his back spasms, Dallas McPherson is another guy that should distribute some souvenirs to the fans on the lawn. Again, statistics are misleading this early but something worth keeping an eye on.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

McPherson and J. Molina Sidelined, Cabrera Makes Halo Debut

While none seem serious, Angel players seem to be plagued with a variety of injuries in the first week of Spring Training games. Uber-prospect and assumed starting third baseman Dallas McPherson is experiencing "tightness" in his back that has caused him to miss two straight games. McPherson said he expects to be back in the starting line-up on Monday. Manager Mike Scioscia, reflecting on the slugging youngster's 2003 minor league season that was shortened by a ruptured disc in his back said "Anytime you have a guy who has had a history with [an injury] you are concerned, it's not anywhere to what it was a couple of years ago, but we're holding him out of baseball activities for a couple of days." Ugh. Remain cautiously optimistic about McPherson ability to recover and move-on from this setback. But thank your lucky stars the Angels still have Robb Quinlan available.

Shortstop Orlando Cabrera, the second-half of the Angels brand-spanking-new left side of the infield has also been slowed this spring. Cabrera's right-upper arm has been sore, a condition the shortstop says bothers him every spring. But after missing the first two games of the spring Cabrera started the game on Saturday and came through with a 3-run double.

Second-string catcher Jose Molina strained his oblique muscle and was held out of his second game in a row Saturday. Like McPherson, the club expects Molina to miss a short amount of time before returning to action in spring games.

Of course if it comes down to injuries happening now or in June, we'll gladly take them now. So far everything sounds like pretty much standard-fare for Spring Training with guys working out the kinks as they prepare for the grind of 9-inning games four or five days a week for the next six months.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Reflections on First Game of Spring....part 2

Angels mousepad
Angels mousepad,
originally uploaded by richnick1.
In addition to my purchased swag I also received the lovely mousepad pictured here. While I always appreciate getting free crap at ball games I always wonder why LA based companies like, say, 1020 KTNQ radio, would sponsor a give-away in a different state where no one can hear their product? This is common practice during Spring Training and I assume these were left over from an Anaheim give away last season. But seeing as this is a Univision station and I don't speak any Spanish I don't suppose I am their target demographic anyway.

I was hoping John Lackey might demonstrate some control which he usually masters around mid-August. Naturally he walked the first batter on his way to staking the Giants to a 3-0 advantage in the top of the first.

Later in the game the Angels battle back thanks to some solid doubles from Garrett Anderson, Vlad Guerrero and Steve Finley. This lineup has some serious potential to score runs.

Some other key observations:

* Steve Finley does not look like he is about to turn 40.
* Guerrero's thumb appears fully recovered.
* Jeff Devanon's hair is out of control. My wife asked who the chick in the dugout was.
* The Angels have assembled quite a group of 'lil guys to replace Eckstein including Maicer Izturis, Lou Merloni and Orlando Cabrera. The Angels musical director better get Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" cued up.
* Jake Woods looked dominating against the heart of the Giants starting line-up. Of course Woods is pitching on a long-shot opportunity to make the club as the final member of the bullpen or to get called up later in the season if one of the starters goes down.
* Lackey pitched like a guy who knows he has a spot in the rotation and probably was thinking about get his tires rotated rather than pitching.

We had to leave the park early to pick-up the kids from school so, fortunately, we missed the Giants comeback late in the game. Overall this team was impressive and this first game was a nice introduction to a team that should provide a lot of entertaining moments this year.

Reflections on the First Game of Spring

What a tremendous day for baseball yesterday was. Unfortunately I dropped my car off to get serviced and left my digital camera in it so no pictures this time but I will try to give a flavor of the game and stadium in this post with more detail on the players performance later on. Our seats were excellent, third row behind home place (section 9 for those of you familiar with Tempe Diablo). Angel GM Bill Stoneman was seated in his customary spot, front row directly behind the home plate umpire (about six people away from us) and seemed to be enjoying the game intently. A number of people around me toyed with the idea of asking him about the Jared Weaver negotiations (or lack thereof) but apparently not enough beer was consumed or the overwhelming need to remain in the ballpark simply won out. Ergo, Stoneman and his trademark hat were left to enjoy the game in peace.

Having visited the ballpark on a "drive by" a couple of weeks ago I noticed that some new signage had been added since then. Due to Tempe Diablo Stadium’s (TDS) scheduled $20 million renovation at the end of Spring Training, all of the new signs were temporary. They looked to be canvas draped over the old signs. It sounds bad but they really did not look too shabby. I will get some pics for the blog when I return for the Cubs game on the 13th (if not sooner). The old signs said something along the lines of "Tempe Diablo Stadium - Spring Home of the Anaheim Angels". The new signs simply say "Angel Spring Training". The "Angels" name is far more prominent than it was in years past and I suspect that the team's ability to market itself this way was part of the new accord reached with the city of Tempe. Along several Tempe streets around the stadium the street lights have pole-signs with the trademark Angels "A" logo and "Angels Spring Training 2005" written below. It gives the area a very festive atmosphere and is similar to what they have done in the past. However, many times the previous signs featured pictures of Angel players but not this year. The marketing of the team as “Angels” with no player or city affiliation is apparent and striking. I suspect the Angels will utilize their stars to advertise their brand but they are clearly making an effort to showcase themselves as “Angels” first.

On the drive in to the stadium ESPN Radio's Dan Patrick was broadcasting live from the game and interviewed new center fielder Steve Finley who confirmed that it was the first day a team could test for steroids. At that point Finley had not been tested and did not know if he would be tested. I’m sure many people across the country were waiting with baited breath to find out if Fin was on the juice but he wasn’t talking. Speaking of juice, Patrick informed us that Barry Bonds likely did not even bother to make the long trek (about six miles) from Scottsdale to Tempe as he is still “rehabbing”. Of course, a cynic could argue that a guy who is not there can not be tested. I don’t suppose Barry Bonds’ first steroid test of the year would draw a reporter or two. Patrick further informs us that Pedro Gomez, a well respected former columnists for the Arizona Republic and current reporter for ESPN, has been given the assignment to follow Barry Bonds from now until the end of his season. It is the first time ESPN has put a reporter on a single personality. I wonder how long it will take before Pedro starts feeling the urge to slit his wrists from this mind-numbing excursion that is “all Barry all the time”? From the parking lot I could see the ESPN broadcast booth positioned in the right field bleachers.

The stadium had a very good crowd. Back in 2001 I remember walking up to the gate without a ticket and being able to sit right behind third base. Walk-ups today were probably relegated to the far ends of the bleachers or the left field lawn. Though one jerk sitting behind me was loudly telling someone on his cell phone that he walked up in the bottom of the 1st and they GAVE him fourth row seats behind home. That sucks if true. Kinda like finding out the guy in the seat next to you on a plane bought his ticket for a third the cost of yours.

The local CBS news weatherman wandered by and asked if he could ask me a few questions. Apparently he was lured to me by the large plate of nachos resting on my lap as he told me not to put it down. They mic'ed be up and he asked my opinion on the team staying in Tempe (love it), the name change (hey, they're the same Angels no matter what they call themselves), nachos (c’mon buddy, this isn't the Giants ballpark - I'm not eating a tofu burger at my first ballgame of the year) and my prediction for this year (Angels, but as my lovely bride then pointed out - "of course, we say that every year." True, true). So later that evening I reviewed my Tivo recording of the news and found that the only thing they showed of my interview was me shoveling nachos in my mouth as part of a montage of fans at the game! Bastards! This is Rather-Gate all over again! But CBS avoided my potential boycott (though when I think about it I’m already unwittingly boycotting CBS other than CSI -- Do they have a show WITHOUT CSI in the title? With Rather gone maybe they can make it the "CSI Evening News with David Caruso) by including my comments about the team staying in Tempe during the 5:30 broadcast.

We also had a little time to peruse the new swag at the team store (or as it is curiously known at TDS, the "Novelties" shop). A new cap is available with an old logo. The small "a" with a tilted halo over it. Kind of a 'chick' hat in my opinion but it might be nice for my daughters. The new Spring Training shirts are slick, I bought two. Other than that it is pretty much the same merchandise as last year. There is also the conspicuous absence of "Rally Monkey" paraphernalia. Thankfully that fad seems to finally be fading a bit. One senior citizen at the game had a horrible giant Rally Monkey on his shirt that was given three dimensional qualities thanks to his prodigious belly. I can only describe this as unnerving.

After further enriching Arte Moreno we headed back to our seats and waited for John Lackey to deliver the first pitch of the year.

**** Analysis on the game and how each player looked in their 2005 debut later today.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Plaschke is Gold

Dove-tailing a bit with my post on the Angels-Dodgers marketing battle, LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke compares and contrasts the Angels and Dodgers clubhouses and how each team handled their respective "anger management" problems. The Halos suspended and then traded their second-best hitter, Jose Guillen last season while the Dodgers coddled and forgave Milton Bradley. Now, the Dodgers already have some acrimony erupting between Bradley and new outfielder JD Drew while the Angels' clubhouse is so quiet "you can hear Vladimir Guerrero smile."

A few choice quotes:

While the Red Sox preen and the Yankees grumble, the team that could be better than either says little and grins steadily, its lineup strengthened by several acquisitions, its personality shaped by one giant cut.


The Dodgers must dance around Milton Bradley. The Angels dance around no one.


On Manager Mike Scioscia:
"Best manager I have played for at any level in this game," Erstad said. "No offense to anyone else I've been with, but this is a guy who has it all figured out."


It starts at the top, indeed. Scioscia has long been one of the best managers in baseball. With Moreno's support, he has now become one of the most powerful.

Invisible Player: Kendry Morales

As the Chronicles of the Lads notes, "debacles aplenty" plague the Angels heading into their Spring Opener tomorrow. But none more so than the disappearing act of newly signed Cuban defector Kendry Morales. The power-hitting first baseman/outfielder has had "visa troubles" and can not seem to get out of the Domenican Republic. Fingers are being pointed all over but generally in the direction of Morales' unnamed and unseen "lawyers". This begs the question, why have the Angels not sent a legal team down there to try and pry him out of the country? How complex an issue is this? Why do I keep envisioning Lionel Hutz as lead council for Morales?


Simpsons' Attorney Lionel Hutz Posted by Hello

Hutz: I move for a bad court thingy.
Judge Snyder [modeled on Robert Bork]: You mean a mistrial.
Hutz: Right!! That's why you're the judge and I'm the law-talking guy.
Judge: You mean the lawyer?
Hutz: Right.

Baseball Season Starts Tomorrow for Me

Tomorrow, March 3, 2005, is one of the best days of the year for me. I have two tickets behind home place to watch the Angels Cactus League opener against the Giants at Tempe Diablo Stadium and in slighly more than 27 hours I should be sitting in the sunshine with my wife, cold beer in hand watching baseball. Life is good. John Lackey will get the start but no doubt a lot of the younger players will see significant time as well.

What I hope to see before and during the game tomorrow:

1. 40 healthy players (before, during & after). Well, maybe 39 per #3 below.
2. Lackey demonstrating control starting strong so that maybe, just maybe, he could start to pitch well before July for a change.
3. Morales? Morales? Morales? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?
4. Jarrod Washburn not being an arrogrant butthead to fans (especially kids) waiting for him to scribble his name on a ball.
5. Brendan Donnelly NOT shagging fly balls.
6. Winter snow-birds not piling up the 60/I-10 interchange making Tempe look eerily similar to the I-5/22 interchange.
7. Some decent Halo swag in the gift shop.
8. Some inspired pitching from the youngsters (Hensley, Dunn) looking to take the last spot in the bullpen.
9. Barry Bonds having a hissy-fit when people keep asking him about the 'roids.
10. Arte Moreno discounting beer prices in Tempe too.

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