Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Angels Sign Weaver at Deadline

In dramatic fashion the Angels signed 2004 first-round pick Jared Weaver to a contract prior to the 9 pm deadline yesterday. Had the Angels not signed Weaver yesterday they would have lost their rights to the 6-7 right-hander from Long Beach State and he would have re-entered the 2005 draft.

The Angels, per club policy, did not release any details on the minor-league contract but Weaver was reportedly seeking a $5.5 million signing bonus on a minor league contract. The major inducement to signing a minor league contract is Weaver's ability to collect the entire signing bonus up-front as opposed to a major league deal that would have allowed the Angels to spread it out over the length of the contract.

Mike Giovanna reported in today's LA Times that it was Weaver who "blinked" in the hard-ball negotiations between the Halos and Weaver's agent Scott Boras as the former Long Beach State standout agreed to what had been the Angels "final offer" of $4 million. It is expected that Weaver will report to the Angels Class A affiliate Rancho Cucamonga which is starting to look like a very interesting team with both Weaver and Kendry Morales. Though the Angels website reports that Weaver will only be sent there so team officials can "work him out and assess his levels of fitness and development". One good thing about Boras is he likely did not let the kid sit around and eat Cheetos while playing eight hours of Playstation a day. Boras operates a top flight conditioning center in Southern California and Weaver likely has spent a little time on the treadmill and throwing over the past 10 months. I would expect him to be sent to Arkansas to join the Travelers rotation unless he really is in need of conditioning. In that case send him over here to Arizona for a little "extended Spring Training" where the 105 degree temps will shed the pounds faster than Jenny Craig.

Boras, commenting on his expectations of Weaver's accent through the Angels' farm system:

"I have four or five players in this draft who are first-round picks, but none are as close to the major leagues as Jered Weaver,"

Boras estimates that Weaver was worth "$1.5 million to $2 million more to someone else." But with the Weaver family comfortable financially thanks to big brother Jeff pitching for the Dodgers there was little incentive for Jared to get greedy (other than pride and family bragging rights). From the start the pairing of Weaver and the Angels looked like a match made in heaven with the hometown kid being selected by the Angels, team long on talent but not noticeably strong in starting pitching. Weaver is a sinkerball pitcher who depends on solid defense to help get him outs and with one of the most talented middle-infields in baseball, the Angels are well suited to compliment Weaver's natural abilities.

The big question is why this negotiation took nearly a year, robbing both Weaver and the Angels of a chance to utilize him in 2005 and possibly 2006. Weaver's asking price last year was $10 million which dropped to $6 million in March and $5.5 million last week. Angel GM Bill Stoneman on the other hand did not budge in his negotiations and continued what has become the Angels business model of tough negotiations and not overpaying players for "potential". The ballclub has shown they are willing to pay market rates (or close) for players in their prime such as Vladimir Guerrero, the new regime in Anaheim seems to have set a ceiling of $4 million for players with big upside but no experience. Both Weaver and former Cuban player Kendry Morales signed $4 million deals to start their careers with the Angels. The tough stance on signing Weaver also dovetails with the Angels overall "team" philosophy that led to the suspension and eventual trading of Jose Guillen and reported harmony in the Halo clubhouse. As individuals the Angels may not like negotiating with Stoneman they seem to respond to the notion that what is good for the team will be, in the long-run, good for them as players.

Will the Angels be exchanging Jared for Jarrod (Washburn) in 2006? We can only hope so. With Jake Woods and Chris Bootcheck both getting extended looks in the majors this season (not to mention Ervin Santana) the Angels could have a number of options in 2006. Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar and Paul Byrd will all be under contract but both Washburn and John Lackey are pitching under one-year deals in 2005 and could be replaced by the youngsters. In particular, Washburn's $6.5 million per season price seems vastly out of step with such an inconsistent pitcher and if Byrd does not start putting a few wins together, his $5 million price tag is going to look a bit overburdening as well. Lackey only pitches well for about half the season but at $440,000 he remains a relative bargain. With $4 million already invested in Weaver, the Angels will likely try to get the kid to the big leagues as fast as his arm is ready. The Angels made news this spring by wrapping-up one of the best bullpens in baseball for a total payroll outlay of just $3.5 million. Now imagine a starting rotation by 2007 with Weaver, Santana, Bootcheck and possibly Steven Shell, Dustin Moseley or Joe Saunders for a total price (sans signing bonus') of around $3 million per season total? Unlikely? Yes, since the Angels will likely want and need to keep some veteran leadership around the young pitchers but even if only three of these guys make the team that leaves a lot of cash on the table to re-sign key sluggers like Anderson and Guerrero while still having enough left-over to bring in a free-agent hired gun. Of course, by then they will be paying their bullpen market rates unless they can replenish from the minors there. The bottom line is that by having so much talent in the minor leagues the Angels will have a lot of options going forward and a competitive team for the next decade.

"I just don't know enough about him," Stoneman said, when asked how close to the big leagues Weaver is. "He hasn't pitched competitively in a year, and we're not sure what kind of shape he's in. We definitely don't want to rush things … but as soon as he's ready for a challenge, we want to give him one."

Bill Stoneman in today's LA Times


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Weaver's Long Beach State Career:

Record: 37-9
ERA: 2.43
Strikeouts: 431 (3 seasons)
Best year: Junior season 15-1 with 1.62 ERA and 213 K's, 21 BB over 144 innings

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Weaver Watch Ends Monday

Angels first round pick Jared Weaver was scheduled to start a simulated game for the Camden Riversharks of the Atlantic League on Saturday and his agent, Scott "El Diablo" Boras stated that the former Long Beach State 49er could make another appearance next week.

The LA Times reported that "about 20 teams" were expected to attend the simulated game and that Angels GM Bill Stoneman was "unaware" of the game. The Times further reported that Boras is asking for $5.5 million in a minor league contract or $6 million plus $750,000 in "appearance bonuses" in a major league deal. The Angels have offered $4 million in a minor league contract or $5.25 million for a major league contract. So roughly $1.5 million is separating the two parties with both having said they have submitted "final" offers.

In my opinion Stoneman must stand his ground or he will lose face with all future negotiations. When he says "final" he has got to mean it. You can make a similar case for Boras but if Weaver directs him to accept the deal then he will have no choice but to acquiesce to his clients demand. Clearly this entire deals falls on Weaver's shoulders and he would be wise to accept for a number of reasons. If he goes back into the draft he could end up being drafted by a less desirable team (call Mike Sweeney for some insight here). In addition there is the remote chance of injury. How would it look if in the middle of throwing a simulated game his elbow pops and he is faced with Tommy John surgery before signing a contract? He would then be looking at a severely discounted deal that would keep him out of the majors until 2007 at the very earliest.

In order to save face Stoneman could offer an extra incentive clause (like leading the AL in strikeouts) that would reward Weaver for hitting a highly unlikely goal. But even so, Stoneman would still risk losing some credibility in future negotiations.

Hopefully these stubborn individuals come to an agreement that results in the Angels signing him in the next 24 hours. If not, the Angels can always select Stephen Drew. Another Boras client and first-round pick of the Diamondbacks who is also holding out and is a teammate of Weaver's on the Riversharks. Perhaps the D-Backs could take a flyer on Weaver and these guys might get to play for the Riversharks for quite awhile.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Angels Have Options on Offense

Hopefully the Angels newly found production will continue, but if not they do have options. Owner Arte Moreno is "monitoring" the offense (as are we all Arte) and reportedly had set a deadline of "late June" to decide if a "fix was necessary".

Kendry Morales finally made it through immigration and reported to the Halos Class A affiliate: the Rancho Cucamonga Earthquakes. Morales has been shaking the ground since his arrival hitting a home run in his first professional at-bat and through six games is hitting .385 with two doubles, two HR and six RBIs.

Mike Sweeney, who has toiled for some woeful KC teams during his career is reportedly not opposed to coming to Anaheim. Duh. Sweeney has a no-trade clause to every team except the five California teams, Arizona, Seattle and the Cubs. That is one odd mix of clubs to be willing to join. Of course when you play for the Royals there are not too many destinations that would be wore. Sweeney should amend his no-trade clause to just Toronto, Pittsburgh and Colorado. Sweeney gets $11 million per season now but a trade would trigger a $1.5 million raise. Sweeney has said he would consider forgoing the raise to play for the Angels. But with KC reportedly looking for a top prospect the Angels are not likely to give up any of their promising talent for an $11 million DH though Esteban Yan might be available.

Flash Point!

May 27, 2005. The date that could be remembered as the day the Angels started to put it all together. After enduring 1/4 of the 2005 campaign with as much firepower as the Moroccan National Guard, the Angels finally are looking like the team that showed so much progress back in March. The Halos have counted themselves lucky to stay in first place as long as they have thanks in large part to an over-achieving starting pitching staff and a solid bullpen. But all along they have had to do without the run-producing machine that Angel fans (and pitchers) have come to expect. It bottomed out this past week when the Angels fell to dead-last in the majors in on-base-percentage. This coincided with the Texas Rangers, who have been able to both pitch & hit of late, pulled into a first-place tie with the Angels after reeling off seven wins in a row.

But in the ninth inning of their 48th game of the season the Angels stared down the barrel at a five-run deficit. A loss would drop them to second-place and in the minds of many Angel-faithful, a death-spiral down the American League West standings. But instead the Angels offense rose like Lazarus and posted five-runs to tie the score. Then, in the bottom of the tenth inning rookie third baseman (and promised phenom) Dallas McPherson hit a Glausian homerun to propel the Halos to an improbable 9-8 come-from-behind win over Kansas City.

The Angels followed that up with a 14-1 thrashing of the Royals on Saturday night as they welcomed Kelvim Escobar back from the disable list. Escobar went five innings, giving up 1 run on 4 hits while surrendering two walks and striking out seven. Chris Bootcheck finished-up the final four innings, holding the Royals to just two hits while walking a pair and striking out two. This was the whole enchilada. Quality starting pitching, sturdy relief and an offensive power-house that led to the Angels third victory in a row and a 1/2 game lead over the rained-out Rangers.

Yes, it was the Royals. But the story is not the Royals, it is the Angels. A team that looked equally pathetic with their bats against Minnesota or the Mariners. With 23 runs scored over the past two games the Halos matched their production in the previous eight games. After wrapping up tomorrow against the Royals the Angels will have to fly to Chicago and play a day game against the White Sox for Memorial Day (televised on ESPN 2). If the Angels can maintain their current level of play over the three game set with Chicago then they will be ready to take on the Red Sox at Fenway June 3 - 5. That is followed by six interleague games on the road against Atlanta and the New York Mets. That is followed by home games against the Nationals (and Jose Guillen), the first-place Marlins, the red-hot Rangers and a three game set against the Dodgers. The Angels then finish June with four games in Arlington that could go a long way to deciding the fate of the AL West.

That is a very tough June schedule and one that, without a resurgence in the offense, could bury the Angels five, six or eight games behind Texas. This scoring flurry comes at just the right time. Now the Angels have to build on their success and get through June with a winning record.

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

Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez is reported to be right on schedule to return to the Halo bullpen next week. The LA Times noted on their web site that the Angels plan to activate him next Wednesday. Not a minute too soon. Hopefully the Angels will release Esteban Yan and keep Chris Bootcheck in the majors.

While Vladimir Guerrero has not resumed baseball activities, the prognosis for him to return remains the first week of June.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Trade That Should Have Been

Back during the winter meetings of 2001 Angel GM Bill Stoneman had a hand-shake deal to send Darin Erstad to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Jon Garland, outfielder Chris Singleton and a couple of minor leaguers. But the suits at Disney refused to OK the deal and Stoneman lost face (and a good deal of credibility I would wager) when the Angels had to back out of the deal. In the three seasons that followed Garland was barely noticeable, earning 12 wins each year and losing 12, 13 and 11 games respectively from 2002 to 2004. A mediocre pitcher that maybe Disney execs were right to be wary of. Until 2005 that is. Starting the year 8-0 with a superb 2.41 ERA Garland suddenly appeared to be fulfilling all of the promise that so many people had been predicting for him since his Major League debut in 2000.

Erstad meanwhile has hit around .280 with 10 HR and 70 RBI. Not exactly superstar numbers even factoring in a couple of Golden Glove awards. But Erstad has been pulling down a superstar salary ($8.25 million in 2005) while Garland pulls down a far more pedestrian $3.5 million. Which means that the Angels by now could have either signed a free-agent first baseman or outfielder with the remaining $5 million.

Should the Angels have made the trade? Absolutely. Would the Angels still have won the World Series in 2002? Who knows? But given Erstad's numbers in 2002 (.283 10 HR 73 RBI) it is not hard to imagine the Angels finding a free-agent center fielder to fill the void for that magical season. But one thing is certain, Erstad never regained the form of his 2000 season when he led the league in hitting with a .355 average with uexpected power (25 HR) and 100 RBI. He looked like the proverbial 5-tool player. The Angels paid him like he would return to that form but he never had. Not even a sniff. Garland, 5 years younger than Erstad, now has so much more obvious upside that Stoneman has to be revered for his foresight. Both in the value of Garland and the overrated value of Erstad. At 25 Garland looks poised to enter his prime as a dominant pitcher while Erstad looks like he will be holding the door open for Casey Kotchman any day now.

Santana and Angels Hand Garland First Loss

Rookie phenom-to-be Ervin "Babyface" Santana tamed the red-hot Chicago White Sox on Monday night while handing previously undefeated Jon Garland (8-1) his first set-back of 2005, tossing an impressive 5 hit complete game shutout in just his second big league start. The Angel offense remains as anemic as ever and their devolution into a National League ball club appears to be complete. Using timely hitting and Scioscia's beloved "small ball" strategy, the Angels cobbled together 4 runs while limiting the Sox to just 4 hits. With Vlad Guerrero sidelined with a shoulder injury for the next two weeks and Garrett Anderson going 0-4, Bengie Molina was the only Halo with a batting average over .300 when the dust settled on Monday night.

It was a good night for ending streaks apparently as Garland's string of 8 winning decisions in a row ended on the same night Chicago's current eight-game streak was also halted. In addition Santana put an end to Scott Posednik's 15 game hitting streak, shutting down the Sox's left-fielder and lead-off hitter who suffered through an 0-4 night with a K.

The most hits came from unlikely sources as Darin Erstad and Orlando Cabrera each had 3 hits. But the four Halo runs came courtesy of Adam Kennedy and Bengie Molina. Kennedy had a 2-run base hit in the second inning with two outs to stake the Angels to an early lead. Molina padded that lead in the sixth inning with a towering homerun shot to deep center. It was Molina again in the eighth who came up with a bloop single to plate Dallas McPherson who was at third with two outs.

It was unclear if Scioscia was going to let Santana work the ninth inning as the Angels were batting in the eighth. Scioscia was shown on TV talking to Santana and Rex Hudler surmised that he was telling the kid he pitched great but he was going to let the bullpen finish it up for him. Scot Shields was warming-up in the bullpen but after the Angels increased the lead to four and made it a non-save situation, Santana was given the green light to finish the game. A throwing error by Dallas McPherson allowed Paul Konerko to reach second with two outs. But A.J. Pierzynski grounded out to Darin Erstad to end the game and light up both the Halo atop Angel Stadium and Santana's 500 megawatt smile that is destined to grace more than a few sports pages tomorrow morning.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Santana Gets the Call, Will Start Tuesday

One of the Angels' top pitching prospects, Ervin Santana, will be promoted from Double A Arkansas to start for the big club on Tuesday for injured Kelvim Escobar. The 22 year-old has risen steadily through the Halo organization since being signed as a free-agent in 2000. Santana is 5-1 with a sparkling 2.31 ERA for the Travelers.

Santana is seen by many as a 'sure thing' starter for the Angels at some point, but with the big club short-handed in both the bullpen and starting rotations Manager Mike Scioscia elected to keep Kevin Gregg in the pen and promote Santana. Scioscia's other option was to bring back Triple A pitcher Chris Bootcheck who already has pitched five innings of relief for the Angels, giving up 2 hits and 0 runs. With Escobar out at least two starts it figures that Bootcheck could still get a call back to the majors if Santana stumbles in his debut.

Santana is listed as 6-2 and 160 pounds and is known for having a very good fastball and slider. Seeing him pitch tomorrow could be a peek into the near future as several Halo pitching prospects are getting tantalizingly close to major-league ready. In addition to Santana and Bootcheck the Angels have Steven Shell and Joe Saunders and any of the four could break into the starting rotation in the next couple of years.

K-Rod Out Monday and Possibly More

The Angels web site reported today that closer Francisco Rodriguez has a strained right forearm and his status was "uncertain" in the near term. Scot Shields will take over the closing duties in K-Rod's absence. Shields converted his third save of the season on Monday, sitting down the Indians in order including two strikeouts.

This is troubling. The Halo pen has been exemplary but if they lose Rodriguez for any length of time is will mean a lot more Kevin Gregg (5.85 ERA) and Esteban Yan (4.08 ERA) in the 7th and 8th innings. Shields is a stud and closing will be no problem for him. It's getting to Shields that is the worry. The starters are going to have to step-up their game in the short term to make up for this loss.

Byrd IS the Wyrd as Halos Win

The promise that was Paul Byrd is finally coming to fruition for the Angels. The veteran right-hander threw a 3-hit shut-out over seven innings and was visibly upset when Angel Skipper Mike Scioscia gave him the hook in eighth. Brendan Donnelly took over and immediately spoiled the shutout by giving up a run but escaped further damage to preserve the Angels' 2-run margin. Scot Shields, filling in for the injured Francisco Cordova, closed out the ninth with a K-Rodesque fastball (mid 90's) striking out two of the three batters he faced to earn the save (3).

The Angels offense is still stuttering, they manufactured three runs on just 7 hits Monday with Vladimir Guerrero providing the lone extra-base hit (an rbi double in the fourth). The only good news was that Guerrero and Anderson both seem to be seeing the ball extremely well, collecting two hits apiece. But Figgins, Rivera, Quinlan and Josh Paul all had 0fers to keep the Angels alleged high-powered offense in neutral.

LA has been getting some stellar pitching of late as the starters and bullpen have held opposing teams to 3 runs or less in their past four games. Unfortunately other than the anomoly that was the 9 run offensive explosion on Sunday, the Angel bats remain quiet. Whats worse, they are quiet against teams with questionable pitching such as Detroit and Cleveland.

So whose to blame? Well a quick perusal of the stats tells the story pretty quickly. The offense, as it is, is being carried by Guerrero and Anderson who are batting .317 & .302 respectively and are ranked #1 and 2 in RBI's, doubles and hits (tied at 45). Darin Erstad is an anchor at the top of the line-up, hitting an abysmal .237 with an even more abysmal on-base-percentage of .283. Steve Finley, who sat out Monday with a sore groin, is right on the Mendoza Line hitting .200 while third baseman Dallas McPherson continues to look lost, hitting just .214 with 1 HR. The reserves are also not picking up the slack with Jose Molina batting .186, Robb Quinlan flailing about with a .170 average and Josh Paul not even hitting Maicer Izturis' weight with a .130 average.

Is it time to panic? Not yet. The pitching (and a horrible division) is keeping most Angel fans and likely Mike Scioscia, from losing it completely. So there are two perspectives: (1) This team is barely hanging on and the end is near; or (2) When this team starts to hit, look out. At this point I opt for #2 though I am starting to get concerned. The Angels need to get the following three things done to remain atop the AL West:

1. Keep Bengie Molina healthy. That's Bengie, with a 'B' -- Not Jose (with a 'hosed'). Bengie, when healthy, is one of the elite catchers in the game. Yeah I know, when he gets a hit I can go all the way to my garage, get a cold beer, take a couple of swigs and still be back on the couch before Big Ben chugs around first base. But the man is hitting .282 with 2 HR and 11 RBI in just 13 games. For persective, Orlando Cabrera has 3 HR and 12 RBI in 38 games.

2. McPherson needs to become a big leaguer already. I'm not asking for 40 HR but I would expect our starting third baseman to hit .250 and have 20 HR's before the year is through. McPherson is not even close to being on track to do that yet. But there is hope as D-Mac has four hits in his last 16 AB's and raised his average from a dismal .190 to a pathetic .214.

3. Table setters need to set the damn table. Our #1 (Figgins) and #2 (Erstad) hitters on Monday are both hitting below .245. For his part Figgins did not even get a sniff of first base, going 0 for 4. Erstad had a hit and a walk while scoring two of the Angels three runs. Bottom line is we need more production out of these guys and more quality AB's.

Friday, May 13, 2005

OK, Maybe THIS guy is the Dumbest Man in Sports

Minnesota Vikings running-back Onterrio Smith was detained last week at the Twin Cities airport as a tube of toothpaste set off alarms. In the ensuing search of his bags several vials containing a "white" powder were discovered. Smith already has two strikes against him in the NFL's drug program and a third strike would mean a season-long suspension. But when questioned Smith advised officials that they were just vials of "dried urine" that were part of a kit designed to circumvent drug tests. The kit is known as "The Original Whizzinator" and comes with a prosthetic penis which is attached to a jockstrap and plastic bag. The user apparently mixes up a batch of urine (with a precisely measured amount of water) and injects it into the Whizzinator with a syringe. The kit even "warms" the urine for you. How handy.
When the user takes a drug test in front of an observer, the water is released through the prosthetic with a valve (the instructions recommend the user cough to hide the sound of the valve unsnapping).

Predictably Smith said he was just bringing the kit to his "cousin". Yes, the gift that keeps on giving -- The Whizzinator. The pot-loving Smith apparently could not do without his grass and was planning to use his new toy for random drug tests by the NFL. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune "the NFL's testing guidelines include having the player take his shirt off and pull his pants down below his knees in front of an observer." Which for me begs the question (1) How do you know when to whip-up a batch of urine; (2) Does the player have to wear the Whizzinator from the time he arrives at the stadium until game/practice time? I mean, how comfortable can it be carrying around two units plus a bag of someone else's stinky urine? Then again what if it is so comfortable he forgets he is wearing the Whizzinator until he gets home and his wife/girlfriend/significant other undresses him to find two two flesh flutes? Is she repulsed or overjoyed? C'mon Onterrio, the world wants to know!

Escobar Back on DL

RHP Kelvim Escobar returned to the 15 day disabled list Thursday thanks to a bone spur in his right elbow. The Angel starter went five innings on Wednesday, giving up four runs on six hits and taking the loss. Escobar told reporters he first felt discomfort in his elbow during his last start and he was unable to gain his normal velocity on his fastball and lost some command of his pitches.

Escobar may need to have surgery to have the spur "shaved" down. That would put him on the shelf for at least six weeks. There is also a danger of the spur breaking into "chips" which would then have to be removed.

From the LA Times:
"I don't think this is a new growth or anything that just popped up, so we're going to give the inflammation in there time to cool down and get him out there again," General Manager Bill Stoneman said. "The thinking right now is that he could be back in 15 days."

This is not what the Halos needed. With their offense still scuttling the starting pitchers have had to pick-up the slack. Bartolo Colon (who starts for the Angels tonight in Detroit) seems to be the only starter the Angels can count on. Despite getting 10 quality starts in their past 14 games, the Angel starters appear to have a propensity to melt down at any given moment. The Jekyll-and-Hyde like seasons of Washburn and Lackey are enough to send pitching coach Bud Black diving for the Maalox.

Who will take Escobar's place is not yet determined but the Times hypothesized that it would likely be either Dustin Mosely or Chris Bootcheck recalled from Salt Lake to either take Escobar's start on Tuesday or replace Kevin Gregg in the bullpen so he can start. Either way it is a big downgrade for LA.

The Angels recalled outfielder Chris Prieto from Salt Lake on Thursday to immediately fill Escobar's roster spot. Centerfielder Steve Finley has a tight right groin and Prieto can take over in center should Finley not be able to play. Prieto is a Donnellyesque type player in that he has toiled in the minors for 12 years (he is 32) and this will be his first trip to the Show.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Stupidist Man in Sports

Kellen Winslow, Jr, the top TE selected in the 2004 draft by the Cleveland Browns was injured on Monday night when he crashed his motorcycle into a curb while riding it in a college parking lot. Winslow, Jr. was apparently thrown over the handle bars and according a polite Lt. at the scene, was "real evasive about what the injuries were". Gee, I wonder why. Could it be that riding a motorcycle was prohibited in the contract that Winslow signed last season after holding out? Now the Browns could (and should) force Winslow to repay the $4.4 million 'option' bonus he got this past March and he may have to forfeit the $2 million installment of his $6 million signing bonus that was to be paid prior to the start of the 2005 season. Talk about easy-come, easy-go. Consider also that Winslow played exactly two games last year before a season-ending leg injury cost him 14 games and eventually former-Browns coach Butch Davis his job.

In nature people are given very clear signals of when the "do not touch" rule applies. The rattle from a Diamondback, the quills of a porcupine or the fangs of an agitated doberman are all good examples. The professional athlete has his own warning signs and one is "whenever a college player gives himself a nickname, do not draft". While at school at the University of Miami, Winslow annoited himself "The Chosen One". What exactly Winslow has been chosen for is not immediately clear, but a long and fruitful NFL career does not seem to be the answer. Say what you will about NFL busts like Ryan Leaf, at least he got to keep his signing bonus.

Unfortunatley for Winslow he has the proverbial 'ten cent head' to go with a multi-million dollar body infused with enough football talent for three players. But these mysterious injuries may have lowered his body's value a lot closer to his head's. For starters neither Winslow nor the Browns are saying much. Bad sign one. What they are saying includes the words 'damage' and 'internal injuries'. Worse sign. Now the notion of the Browns getting a refund of their signing bonus is all over the news and most people seem to be of the opion that they are entitled. Strike three perhaps?

To really understand the level of stupidity that Winslow engaged in you have to appreciate that when professional athletes sign big contracts it is generally known that they must give up dangerous activities for the duration of that contract. No motorcycles, skydiving, flying of any aircraft termed "experimental" and no dating Courtney Love. Sorry, that's what $6.4 million buys these days. Stick with your Playstations, golf and Katie Holmes types. So KW2 skips that rule as one that just does not 'fly' with him. He goes out and purchases a Suzuki GSX-R750, the motorcycle equivalent to strapping a rocket on your back and lighting it up while on a skateboard. This is a big boy bike. Winslow was an admitted novice and apparently was 'learning' to ride in the parking lot when this machine (which can go from 0 to 100 in 9 seconds) hit a curb going 35 mph. 35 freaking miles per hour is fast. It turned a 6-4 250 lb man into a human missile. Now Winslow is spending the night...again...at the Cleveland clinic where his right knee and shoulder are a concern. Once swelling is reduced the doctors will determine if and when surgery are necessary.

Yes, a 21-year-old man makes mistakes. But the "Chosen One" has chosen his life's path and so far he is taking his incredible talents for granted and may have blown his chance at a glorious NFL career. Uncle Rico would strap an internet-purchased-electricity-spewing-time-machine to his nads for 1/2 the chance that Winslow had. But that's another story.

Angels Sweep Mariners - Pitching Carries Team Again

The Angels were billed before the season started as a power-hitting offensive juggernaut that was going to blow through the mediocre pitching of the AL West. After the first month of the season the Angels are indeed leading their division but it has been dominant pitching that has propelled them there. While Paul Byrd was far from dominant today, he was good enough to hold the M's to 2 runs in 6.1 innings and then handed the ball to a bullpen that it hitting on all cylinders. Jake Woods, Brendan Donnelly and Frankie Rodriguez combined to pitch 2.1 innings and gave up just one hit, no walks and no runs while striking out three. Even Byrd, who scattered 9 hits, avoided walking any Mariners which went a long way towards his success today. In contrast Seattle issued 7 free passes to Halo hitters including 5 from starter Aaron Sele over 4.1 innings. The former Angel struggled for the second time in as many starts against LA and was hung with his third loss of the year (2-3).

Offensively the Angels were led, as usual, by Vladimir Guerrero who had two hits and two walks including a 2-run blast in the first inning that staked the Angels to an early lead. Timely hitting from Dallas McPherson, Garrett Anderson and Orlando Cabrera also led to runs for the Halos. While the Mariners matched the Angels with 10 hits, only 2 base runners scored. The difference for the Angels today and in the series as a whole has been their ability to move runners into scoring position with aggressive base running (including 2 stolen bases for Figgins today and Guerrero reaching third from first on a single to right that tested the usually-never-tested Ichiro's arm) and then timely hits to knock them in. While both Figgins and Guerrero were later picked-off and thrown out at home respectively, the constant pressure applied by Angel base-runners led to other runs. The Angels have also been getting production from their power hitters as Guerrero, Finley and Anderson have all homered in the series. In contrast Adrian Beltre went 0-12 against Angel pitching and the slugger stranded 3 base-runners today.

While sweeping the M's is comforting, most Angel fans will be looking ahead to May 20th when the Halos play the Dodgers followed by the team with the best record in the AL, the White Sox. The Blue Crew seem to be slumping a bit of late and hold a slim 1/2 game lead over Arizona in the NL West. But Chicago pitching should provide a good litmus test for the Angels to see just how good they are.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Halos Beat Santana, Salvage Final Game in Homerdome

Johan Santana, ace starter for the Minnesota Twins, had not lost a game since July 2004 prior to Sunday. That streak came to a skidding halt dispite another pitching gem from the star left-hander. Santana gave up just two hits in 8 innings but unfortunately for him they both left the yard. Vladamir Guerrero and Jose Molina both went deep on Santana and in the process supplied 100% of the Halo offense in a 2-1 Angel victory Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis.

Bartolo Colon outdueled Santana through 7.1 innings, allowing 2 hits and no runs while striking out 7. Colon also did not walk a batter in arguably his finest outing as an Angel. But the stellar performance was marred in the eighth inning when Colon came down awkwardly while leaping (ok, maybe leaping is not a word that should be associated with Colon. Perhaps fully stretched out and about enough air under his feet to slide a piece of paper) on a Metrodome single that Jacque Jones had bounced in front of the plate and over Colon's outstretched glove. From the Angels' web site:
"It's not as bad as I thought it was when I first came out of the game," said Colon, who landed awkwardly on the slope of the mound.
Scot Shields entered the game and gave up a single and a walk before Manager Mike Scioscia went for his closer, Francisco Rodriguez, with just one out in the eighth. K-Rod induced an inning-ending double play ball from Matt LeCroy. In the 9th Shannon Stewart led off the inning with a home run off Rodriguez but the Halo closer mowed through the next three hitters to earn his sixth save and help the Angels end a two game skid.

Most Angel fans (including me) probably figured this series would turn out exactly the opposite of the way it did. Santana was a prohibitive favorite to win on Sunday but the pitching match-ups favored the Angels in the first two games. One thing is certain, these are two well-matched teams that play very similar styles of baseball. Both are balanced and both enjoy playing small-ball, situational type baseball to augment strong pitching and solid defense.

In game one of the series on Friday the Angels were frustrated to not knock Minnesota starter Carlos Silva out of the game. After scoring 4 runs in the first three innings the Angels were held scoreless the rest of the way and lost the game 4-7. Depsite hitting the ball hard the Angels kept running themselves out of innings with stupid mistakes like Chone Figgins trying to turn a double into a triple in the first or Dallas McPherson misreading a fly ball and getting doubled off first in the 4th inning. Twice the Angels had runners on the corners with nobody out and twice they left them stranded. That lack of clutch hitting and absent-minded baserunning can clearly be pointed to as the reason for the Angel loss that night. For a team that claims to butter it's proverbial bread with solid defense and "small ball" execution they might want to add some "base running fundamentals" into the mix.

In game two Brad Radke looked like the ace he once was and held the Angels to 2 runs over 7.1 innings while scattering 7 hits. Kelvim Escobar allowed 4 runs over 7 innings while giving up 9 hits to the Twins on Saturday. In just his second start of the season Escobar did not look nearly as sharp as in his first, walking four and allowing a titanic home run blast to Justin Morneau to open the scoring in the first. All-and-all not a horrible pitching performance but people were more critical given the lack of offensive production from the Angel bats.

In three games at the most hitter-friendly park in the American League, the Halos managed just 8 runs and firmly shows that this team is in an offensive funk. In fact, the Angels have not really put together a strong offensive game since April 23rd when they took the A's to the wood shed 9-5. Since that point the Angels have averaged just 3.5 runs per game and have gone 4-3 and have done that well only because their starting pitching and bullpen were excellent in the victories. The Angels' opponents have averaged just 0.75 runs per game in their last four victories. The message here is that the problem with the Angels is clearly on the offensive side of the game. Steve Finley remains mired in his season-long slump, hitting just .227 with 12 RBI and 8 runs scored. Dallas McPherson, despite flashing some impressive leather in the Minnesota series, has suffered the aforementioned base running blunder and is hitting .238 with 0 HR and 1 RBI in 40 at-bats. On the defensive side Chone Figgins is playing his way back to the bench with 3 errors (he can thank Darin Erstad that it is just 3 errors) including one butchered double play that looked like Elaine's 'dance' from Seinfeld. Somehow Erstad rescured Figgins yet again by digging a ball out of the dirt. While I did compliment McPherson for his improving defense he does have two errors in just 12 games giving him a .935 fielding percentage to start the year. If the Angels are not going to score runs they certainly can not afford to give their opponents extra outs.

Next Up: Three games in Seattle against the third place Mariners (2 games back of LA at 12-13).

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