Sunday, December 25, 2005

City of Anaheim Wants $300 Million for Angel Name Change

The LA Times reported that the amount the City of Anaheim is seeking from the Angels is $300 million due to the loss of "hundreds of millions of impressions" of the city name as a result of the Angels changing their name to "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" in lieu of "Anaheim Angels". The trial between the team and the city is due to go to court January 9th and the city is hoping that a jury will find the Angels have broken the 'spirit' of their agreement with the city to include the name "Anaheim" within their official name. If so, Judge Peter Polos would likely order the Angels to restore the "Anaheim" portion of their name to the forefront while dropping the Los Angeles designation altogether.

Is anyone else surprised this argument is still being carried on? Has the ship not sailed and everyone pretty much gotten over the clunky LA of A deal? Apparently not as Mayor Curt Pringle continues to push this issue into court is a desperate attempt to save political face.

A couple of points should be clarified however:

1. The City of Anaheim will never see one red dime from the Angels organization. The $300 million figure is complete blue sky and how anyone say with a remote amount of accuracy what the lost "impressions" are through 2029 (when the lease expires) is preposterous. Further, what is the cost and/or value of an "impression"? What if I, as a result of all of this, now have a negative impression? Does that detract from the value of having "Anaheim" associated with "Angels"? Does that lower the $300 million figure? If so then the Disney years probably put the city in a severe 'impressions deficit' in terms of negative impact.

2. The "real" numbers of the Arte Moreno era are far more impressive than the fantasy tripe dreamed up by Anaheim's attorneys. In court papers already filed the Angels say the city has received more than $5 million in revenue sharing over the past three years. Compare that to the Disney years when the city received just $400,000 over SIX seasons. But let's give Disney some due, the team did, despite Michael Eisner's best efforts, win a World Series in their last season of ownership despite the gaudy "For Sale" sign posted in front of Edison Field (now Angels Stadium) for most of 2001 & 2002. That definitely gave the Moreno team a boost heading into their first season but the last two years of ticket sales were because the Angels were putting a good product on the field in terms of a competitive ball club. But c'mon, a 1200% increase in revenue sharing in half the time and the city is complaining?

This begs the question, would the City be happier had the team stayed the course with the name but instead of investing in players like Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon they blew themselves up ala the Marlins? Or worse, the LA Dodgers? I, speaking as a fan, am glad they have decided to behave as a big market team by signing great players. Let Minnesota, Oakland and Florida auction off their expensive talent -- I want to keep my Vlad, Barts and K-Rods.

I guess what every tax payer in the city of Anaheim has to ask themselves is that if they had a client who pissed you off with a personal slight but they just earned you $5 million in half the time a previous client had earned you $400,000, how would they treat that client? Would you be like the city of Anaheim and sue them, calling them names or would you pick up the phone and say 'thanks'? Well, if you are a politician and you don't materially share in the windfall you sue. The only commodity politicos trade in is favors and how they look and nothing buys free newscast airtime like a salicious law suit. Money is a garish side-issue and whether or not something 'paid off' economically for the voters is beside-the-point --- if you don't look good.

3. Suppose for a minute the city wins their case (and it is a long shot). The Judge says the Angels must be called the 'Anaheim Angels' and Pringle & Co "win". What happens next? Does Moreno throw in the towel and go about business as usual? Doubtful. I would suspect Moreno would look into exiting the Angel lease early. There is at least one provision where he can do so around 2016 -- now a mere 10 years away. Just about the right amount of time to find a new location, purchase some property and develop an entire stadium, shopping center, entertainment complex and bedroom community. I for one would feel a bit awkward for Anaheim. Forcing your name on someone who does not want it is just a little creepy in this day and age. But Anaheim wants their money and the name too. It is not good enough to host a perennial playoff team whose associated glory brings untold positive 'impressions'. If the city of Anaheim wants to know what happens to a midling metropolis that loses such a tenant, just check in with Irving, Texas in about five years. The Cowboys will be moving to Arlington in the next couple of years after which the number of times the city of Irving is mentioned on a newscast, web page or print media will roughly match that of Ozark, Alabama. Not that Anaheim is a second-class city, they will still have Disney. But in sports terms they will fall behind Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Arlington and Omaha in media coverage and positive buzz. Anaheim will be a small convention city whose biggest performers will be college basketball and the Wiggles.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Festivus!

A festivus for the rest of us! May you enjoy this happy day with a beneficial airing of the grivances, an exciting feat of strength and of course a raising of the pole.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Evil Empire Strikes at Boston's Dark Heart

For pure drama, you have to love the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Personally I despise both of these teams and take pleasure in the pain they inflict on one another. The latest chapter came as beloved Red Sox hero Johnny Damon accepted a $52 million four-year deal from human ATM George Steinbrenner. This came after the Sox reportedly offered Damon $40 million over 4 years and publicly stated that was all they could afford. That was a red-carpet invitation for the Yankees to show-up at the last minute and overwhelm Damon with a substantially bigger offer.

While the Angels have had an incredibly mediocre off-season, it pales next to the Red Sox who have lost their most popular player while failing to improve their team with any significant free-agent signings. In addition their best hitter, Manny Ramirez, is demanding a trade. Now the stage is set for Theo Epstein to stage a dramatic return to try and salvage the Red Sox from completely imploding.

Mariners Claim Woods Off Waivers

The Angels waived left-handed starter Jake Woods Tuesday who was then claimed by the Seattle Mariners. Seattle continues their off-season of 'sloppy-seconds' picking up Woods just a day after signing former Halo starter Jarrod Washburn to a rediculous 4 year contract.

The unraveling of Woods is a mystery. The kid got his first shot in the majors last season when the Angels gave him a couple of starts where the lefty went 1-1 with a 4.55 ERA. When Woods was optioned back to Triple A Salt Lake he appeared in 11 games where his ERA ballooned to 5.89 despite going 3-1.

Woods is a finesse pitcher with a big curveball and a fastball that struggles to break 90 mph. But my gut reaction is that GM Bill Stoneman may have given up too early. I would like to hear the rest of this story.

Jeff Weaver Next for Halos? reported back on the December 5th that Scott Boras was "thought" to be talking to the Angels about a contract for his client, Jeff Weaver. The right-handed starter who played for the Dodgers last season is the brother of Angel prospect (and 2004 first round pick) Jared Weaver. Jeff Weaver went 14-11 with a 4.22 ERA for the Blue Crew and has a career 78 - 87 record with a 4.44 ERA.

The Angels make a decent fit for Weaver, who is a Southern California native and a natural mentor for his brother Jared. But Angel GM Bill Stoneman can not overpay for a guy with an ERA north of 4 but with Scott Boras as his agent, that might be easier said than done. It is not clear what the market for Weaver is right now but the eight-year veteran who turns 30 this August is entering a crucial stage of his career. Weaver needs to prove he can excel at the Major League level, something he has never done. Partly it has to do with the fact that Weaver has played on some pretty bad teams including the Detroit Tigers (1999 - 2002) and the LA Dodgers last season. Inbetween he spent a couple of seasons with the Yankees where Weaver looked to be overwhelmed before being traded out of town in 2004 to the Dodgers after posting a 7-9 record with a horrendous 5.99 ERA.

If the Angels do sign Weaver the question becomes is he guaranteed a spot in the rotation? The Angels have promised Hector Carrasco that he could compete for a starting job in Spring Training but if Weaver is offered a contract it would figure to be his rotation spot to lose. Weaver set a career high in wins last season with 14 and walked just 43 batters compared to 157 strikeouts. While his ERA has been questionable, Weaver's control seems to be pinpoint. This could be a case where a pitcher just needs to learn to pitch smarter and confront less to become a truly outstanding player. If that is the case, then this is the opportune time to bring in the elder Weaver.

Josh Paul Traded to D-Rays

The Angels may have a bit of vengeful side. After Josh Paul's egregious fielding mishap in game two of the ALCS last season, many figured his days in Anaheim were numbered. The Halos traded the backup catcher to Major League Baseball's version of purgatory: Tampa Bay. Paul hit an anemic .189 with 2 HR in 34 games last season. In return the Devil Rays sent the Angels minor league infielder Travis Schlichting, a 21-year-old who spent last season in Single A where he hit .252 with 3 HR and 39 RBI in 111 games.

Don't be looking for your "Schlichting" Angels jersey any time soon. This very well could be the last time that name appears in print.

Angels Trade Finley to G-Men for Alfonzo

The Angels raised the white flag on their 2004 free-agent signing of Steve Finley by trading the 40 year-old centerfielder to the San Francisco Giants for the comparably youthful Edgardo Alfonzo. The 32-year-old veteran will be a utility infielder for the Halos, playing second and third. While Finley's struggles in Anaheim (.222 avg, 12 HR) are attributed to an injury he suffered in the second game of the season, the reason for Alfonzo's slump in 2005 is more difficult to identify. Giants GM Brian Sabean could not say for certain why Alfonzo hit 2 homers in April and no more for the rest of the season while batting just .241 in the second half of the season.
"I go back to that first year [2003] -- he performed pretty well, but for some reason, once he got to the West Coast, there was culture shock," said Sabean. "He left New York where he was so loved and lived in that area, and I don't know how he was able to break those ties or ever did.

"There was a combination of factors. I think he'd be the first to admit expectations didn't happen, but I don't hold that against the player. He gave the effort."

So the natural cure to Alfonzo's longing to be on the east coast was to trade him to the Angels? There is a reason Sabean's initials are B.S. While "culture shock" might be an excuse for a rookie, a 32-year old veteran from Venezuela is not likely to be that freaked-out by a move to Frisco. More likely is that Alfonzo was either dinged-up or struggled early due to a general degeneration of skills. He also may have lost some confidence -- particularly when Pedro Feliz played well at third in '05 and slugged 20 HR's and with 81 RBI. Alfonzo is a career .287 hitter who has seen his homerun production drop each of the past six years since 1999 when he slugged 27 for the Mets. In 2000 Alfonzo backed up his strong '99 campaign with a .324 average and 25 more HR's. After signing with the Giants in 2003 Fonzie's average dropped nearly 50 points and he had just 13 HR. In a study of the numbers, Alfonzo appears to be a player in steady decline offensively. This will be his first American League team and Edgardo will be an insurance policy on injury plagued Dallas McPherson.

Bottom line is that the Giants and Angels just traded a couple of guys that turned out to be busts as marquee free-agent-signings. I would give the edge to the Giants on this simply because if Finley was injured last year he at least has a chance to be better in 2006. Alfonzo on the other hand looks like a guy running out of gas. The contracts were a wash financially and this trade will do little to help the Angels other than give them another back-up infielder instead of a back-up outfielder. Worst case for the Halos is that they release Alfonzo in spring training to little fanfare instead of releasing Finley, in which case everyone would talk about what a bad signing it was. Thanks to blogs though, even if Alfonzo is released we will talk about what a bad signing Finley was which was topped off by a bad trade.

Alfonzo will likely have to compete in Spring Training with Robb Quinlan and Maicer Izturis for the utility infielder role with former utility man Chone Figgins now slated to be the Angels full-time centerfielder. Figgins more than deserves the opportunity to be a full-time starter after serving as the Angels uber-utility player for the past three seasons. Alfonzo does not figure to be an Angel long even he makes the team in 2006 with a bevy of young infielders primed to make the jump to the big leagues in the next year or two including Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick and Kendry Morales.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Eerie Quiet From Angels

One can jump to a lot of conclusions with regard to the Angels lack of action on the free-agent and trade fronts. After failing to sign first baseman Paul Konerko the Angels made a minor trade for a left-handed reliever with a questionable work ethic and released Jeff Devanon and Josh Paul while letting Jarrod Washburn and Bengie Molina leave quietly. They also failed to re-sign Paul Byrd by making the right offer too late. That is a lot of subtraction with very little addition. Clearly the Angels are not sitting idly back, believing their team is ready to compete with the White Sox, Red Sox, Yankees and A's with this severely weakened squad?

Of course not. The Angels appear to be working on two fronts with varying levels of complexity. Here are the two most likely areas the Angels are exploring.

1. Secure a back-up catcher to mentor Jeff Mathis. No disrespect to Jose Molina but he is not the answer. The most logical guy for the job is currently Mike Piazza. The venerable veteran catcher would likely welcome a return to the west coast, always a nice place to retire. He can play first and catch occasionally while helping acclimate a guy that could have very Piazza-like numbers in the next few years.

Obstacles: Money

2. Big Bopper to Protect Vlad. The guy they covet is Manny Ramirez but the Red Sox have been unreasonable in their trade demands. While contractually the Red Sox do not have to move Manny, it would be in their best interest to do so. The quirky left-fielder has let them know in no uncertain terms that he wants to be moved and his first choice is the Angels. If they do not trade Ramirez, the Red Sox could have a thermo-nuclear bomb waiting to go off in their clubhouse. It will likely cost the Angels a couple of high-end prospects and a starting hitter to replace Ramirez in the Red Sox line-up. That means a third-team will likely be needed to get the deal done. The Diamondbacks have shown a willingness to unload Troy Glaus but with the Boston acquisition of Mike Lowell, Glaus would have to play first and/or DH for the Sox. Of course, there is also the chance the Angels could simply reacquire their former third baseman and platoon him with the injury-plagued Dallas McPherson between third and DH or trade Erstad to the D-Backs and convert Glaus to a first baseman.

Another option is KC first baseman Mike Sweeney but he too is an injury risk and an expensive one.

When exploring the Angels' current needs you have to take a look at each position.

Starting Rotation: Colon, Escobar, Santana, Lackey, Carrasco. The #5 position is the wild-card and the Angels are apparently counting on competition for Carrasco coming from the minors. Chris Bootcheck, Joe Saunders and Jake Woods could provide some in spring training. Late in the year their is a slim chance that Jared Weaver could become available. One other possibility is starter Jeff Weaver though his representation by Scott Boras makes that a long-shot.

Bullpen: JC Romero was the left-handed assassin they needed and the Angels have to feel pretty good about keeping the pen intact. K-Rod will close with Shield and Donnelly setting up. Esteban Yan, Kevin Gregg and one or two of the losers in the starting job battle will fill-out the rest of the relievers.

Catcher: Bill Stoneman cleaned house, letting Bengie Molina walk away without offering him arbitration and designating Josh Paul for assignment. That leaves just Jose Molina and Jeff Mathis to catch with the idea being Mathis will be the opening day starter for the Halos. Defensively Mathis is ready, having been compared to Jason Varitek for his style of play and ability to handle pitchers. How Mathis handles things offensively is another question. Should he win the starting job in spring training Mathis would be an early Rookie of the Year candidate.

First Base: Erstad is the finest fielding first baseman in the league and Casey Kotchman is ready to take over should Erstad become injured or traded.

Second Base: After returning from a horrible knee injury last season, Adam Kennedy remained one of the finest #9 hitters in the league while providing solid defense. Howie Kendrick is tearing through the minors and should see a lot of time in Triple A this season and will be Major League ready either late in '06 or by 2007 for sure if he stays on pace.

Shortstop: Orlando Cabrera was steady at short and continues to develop as a hitter. Heavy hitting Brandon Wood is making a lot of noise in the minors and Arizona Fall League so should Cabrera get injured or become unproductive, the kid might get a shot. Wood should be the starter by 2007 barring injury or set backs in his development. Maicer Izturis was a nice surprise but the light-hitting shortstop would be a liability at the plate. Chone Figgins also can play short (and just about every other position save pitcher and catcher).

Third Base: The future was bright for Dallas McPherson. So much so the Angels let Troy Glaus walk. That did not work out so well as McPherson was dogged by injuries and missed most of 2005. Word is he has recovered and is ready for Spring Training. Maybe 2006 will be the real debut for the longball hitting kid at the hot corner? If not, Robb Quinlan is there to back-up D-Mac.

Left Field- Garrett Anderson was not the same hitter in '05, hitting under .300 for the first time since 2001 and slugging just 17 HR's while providing limited protection for Vlad Guerrero. Anderson did play in 142 games and will be looking to recapture his 2003 form when he hit .315 with 29 HR and 116 RBI. If Anderson struggles the Angels have Juan Rivera who hit .271 with 15 HR in 106 games last season. But for the Angels to succeed, they will need Garrett to play like the GA of 2002 - 2003.

Center Field - The Steve Finley experiment failed miserably last season. The 40 year old saw his average drop 41 points from 2004, a season in which it fell 12 points from '03. His HR production dropped from 23 in 2003 to 13 in 2004 to 12 last season. That is starting to look like the slipper slope of old age ending the career of a fine ball player. But Finley will have a chance to reverse that course in spring training and given their lack of options, the Angels may just have to suck it up in '06. With literally no prospects close to ready, the Angels only alternatives are Chone Figgins and Darin Erstad. Erstad's own age and brittle nature seems to preclude him from the job while Figgins is needed to back-up several other positions. If Erick Aybar or Brandon Wood prove themselves capable of backing up Cabrera, that would free Figgins for the center field gig. In any case, look for Finley to start the year in the outfield with a hook coming in May or June should he not be able to keep is average over .200.

Right Field - Vlad Guerrero. 'Nuff said.

DH - Juan Rivera has the inside track but Kendry Morales could give him some competition in spring training. If Morales requires some Triple A seasoning then he could still be a mid-season call-up for the Angels.

All-in-all the Angels do not have a lot of holes. But if they go forward with this team, they will be asking for Dallas McPherson, Steve Finley and Garrett Anderson to show a lot more than they did last season. In addition Jeff Mathis will need to develop very quickly to help people forget about losing Bengie Molina.

Dodgers Becoming Red Sox West

The Los Angeles Dodgers have reportedly come to terms with former Red Sox and Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra on a one-year, incentive-laden contract that could pay him up to $8 million. But with the Blue Crew having already signed Rafael Furcal to play shortstop, Nomar will likely see time at first-base and left-field.

So the Dodgers transformation into the 2003 Boston Red Sox continues as they have now hired the manager, third baseman and shortstop from that team this year to go with starting pitcher Derek Lowe signed prior to the start of last season. Perhaps the Dodgers think they can skip the Red Sox 86 year-long dry spell by recreating the team they fielded just before winning the World Series in 2004. But the way the Dodgers luck has run since 1988 (the last year they won a World Series title) the curse will now run in reverse and LA will get their next championship around 2090.

Seriously, their really is nothing inherently wrong in taking a flyer on Nomar, a once-great hitter who has quickly become a creaky relic of his own bygone age. By signing him to a contract built on achieving certain objectives, the Dodgers do not have to risk much. For Garciaparra it is a chance to play for his hometown team as both he and the Dodgers try to reach back for another taste of their previous glory. The odds however, are that neither will achieve the heights they once occupied during the tenure of this contract.

Another metamorphosis now seems complete as the Angels and Dodgers have exchanged all aspects of their respective personalities. The Angels are the team with a recent record of winning, superstar players and a rich farm system. The Dodgers are signing players past-their-prime, competing (or trying to) in the weakest division in baseball and struggling to find an identity. My how the times have changed in Southern California baseball.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Mariners Close in on Washburn

The Seattle Mariners are reportedly close to signing left-handed starter Jarrod Washburn to a deal worth $35 to $40 million over 4 years. The former Angel was not offered arbitration by the Halos and was allowed to walk-away as a free-agent.

And that my friends is why the Seattle Mariners continue to be no threat to compete in the AL West and how the Angels improve themselves without doing a thing. They waste their money on two sluggers last season, one of which had only one good year to his name (Adrian Beltre) and the other was coming off a major shoulder injury (Richie Sexson). Now the ever-busy Mariner brain-trust is going to sign the ultimate 'contract year' player in Washburn. The only really good season of Washburn's career came in '02 when he won 18 games with an ERA of 3.15. He then meandered through his next three seasons going 29 - 31 with ERA's of 4.43, 4.64 and 3.20. His best year of the three? Yup, his latest contract year when it became apparent the Angels were not inclined to re-sign him. His ERA would have been higher had Washburn not had a good bullpen to save him the past few years. But even with a bullpen, his ERA (other than '05) is not good.

So now Wash will take the big payday and build himself a nice hunting lodge up in Wisconsin, show-up reluctantly to spring training and ignore Seattle's fans. Then we gets lit-up at Safeco Field the fans can watch him nonchalantly waltz off the field, not a care in the world. I have not seen a player so immune to losing since Jim Edmonds left. I could forgive Rugburn for not showing emotion and even grinning stupidly when opposing batters launched his weak junk back over the fence. I could forgive him for being inconsiderate of fans. But the whole smirking package has just become too much to take recently. Washedupburn is the anti-Erstad and a surly ice-cube for a hot team. The Angels were right to let him and equally self-centered agent, Scott Boras, walk. Now the Angels should take away Boras' Dugout Suite because those seats are way too sweet for Satan.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A's Get Bradley from Blue Crew

In a move that probably came a year too late, the Dodgers unloaded centerfielder and perennial head-case Milton Bradley on the Oakland A's. The Dodgers got a pretty good outfield prospect from Oakland in the form of Andre Ethier who was the Double A pitcher of the year and smoked Arizona Fall League pitching hitting .366 21 RBI and a .495 OBP in 23 games. In return Oakland got injected with clubhouse cancer and also received reserve infielder Antonio Perez. In 98 games last season Perez hit .297 with 3 HR and 23 RBI while making just $320,500. Those are the kind of numbers that send sabermetrists like Billy Beane into fits of giggles.

Bradley's numbers from 2005, .290 avg with 13 HR, 38 RBI and a .350 OBP with extended time on the disabled list while making $2.5 million have to be less enthralling to Beane but the potential of Bradley hitting .321 with 61 runs scored and 73 stolen bases as he did in 2003 with Cleveland was just too good to pass up. Of course the one thing number crunchers like Beane usually do not take into account are Bradley's other accomplishments from the last season which included being accused of choking his pregnant wife and calling Jeff Kent a racist. Those came on top of 2004's highlight reel of off-the-field antics which included throwing a plastic bottle into the stands at a fan at Chavez Ravine, throwing a hissy-fit after getting ejected and then nearly fist-fighting with a sportswriter during the Dodgers brief playoff run.

As I and many others pointed out in 2004, the way the Angels and Dodgers conducted their business with regard to problem players spoke volumes. The Angels immediately suspended Jose Guillen for the season before shipping him off to the Nationals. The Dodgers endured another 14 months of Milton Bradley induced stress before finally dumping him on Oakland. They did get a decent prospect but giving up Perez may have shifted this deal firmly into the A's win column. Oakland's primary center-fielder will be Mark Kotsay but his history of back injuries makes Bradley a decent, if not expensive, insurance policy. With a $2.5 million salary the A's will find a way to keep Bradley in the line-up, either playing right or at DH. But the over-under on when Bradley destroys Oakland’s clubhouse chemistry currently stands at September 2006. While Bradley could be a fine ballplayer he is simply too much of wildcard emotionally and a perpetual injury risk himself.

I am not sure why Oakland would make this move unless they found something wrong with Ethier. Perhaps they thought his hot streak in the Arizona Fall League was a fluke and the time was right to move him. Time will tell on this one but anytime a divisional rival picks-up a lunatic like Bradley I have to smile.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Angels DFA Paul -- Twins Glad to See Romero Go

To make room for newly acquired reliever J.C. Romero the Angels have designated catcher Josh Paul for assignment for the purpose of giving him is unconditional release. And that my friends is what happens to bone-headed back-up-catchers-that-don't-tag-batters-with-low-called-strike-three-balls- in-the-ALCS-but-instead-toss-it-to-the-mound-and-jog-off-the-field. So let that be a lesson for young you little leaguers out there.

In related news the LA Times had a report that the Minnesota Twins -- in particular manager Ron Gardenhire -- were not sad to see Romero go. Many had wondered why the Angels had acquired a front-line left-handed reliever for next-to-nothing and according to the Twins the Angels just bought themselves a head-case. Romero became more and more inconsistant and claimed he was 'disrespected' by the Twins. Gardenhire's response:
"That's bull," Gardenhire told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "If he wasn't being respected how did he get a two-year contract? Give me a break. I like J.C., but his mannerisms on the mound never changed. J.C. helped us get through a lot of things, but it is time for a change here."
So no love lost there. But to each story there is another side and Romero's is that he simply had an ill-defined role in Minnesota that left him out of sorts and not knowing when he would pitch.

"I never knew what I was going to do," said Romero, who will make $2.2 million in 2006. "One day I was a set-up man, one day I was a left-handed specialist, one day I was a long man, sometimes I didn't pitch for seven days. In 2002, my role was the seventh or eighth inning, I knew when I was going to go in, so I could prepare myself.

"The last two years, I had no clue when I would pitch, if I was going to pitch. I got out of my groove. I'm a guy who pitches better the more I pitch. I was inconsistent at times. That's my fault. My role changed. I couldn't adjust."
Presumably Romero's role in Anaheim will be extremely well defined. He knows he comes in as the #3 or #4 guy in the bullpen. Frankie closes, Shields and Donnelly set-up at the righties and Romero will set-up at the lefty. He may be used as a designated left-handed assassin from time-to-time but Romero should work regularly for the Angels and, I would guess, primarily in the 6th to 8th innings depending on the situation.

It sounds like the situation with the Twins was a communications issue. Minnesota managers are not known for their candor and I can see Gardenhire suddenly using Romero diffrently without feeling a need to explain it to him. Like his quote above says, in Gardy's mind the money showed that the Twins loved Romero and he should just be ready to pitch when needed. Period.

There are no more fragile psyches in sports than relief pitchers and as a former catcher I would expect Scioscia to be in tune with his pitcher's needs, even ones who need a little extra stroking. That is my Angel-fan wish anyway. It is possible that Romero will not work out any better for the Angels than he did for the Twins. But the potential reward of a season like Romero had in 2002 (9-2 with 1.89 ERA) is worth the minimal risk the Angels had to put forth.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Angels Acquire reliever J.C. Romero From Twins

The Angels pulled the trigger on a trade to bring left-handed reliever J.C. Romero to Anaheim in 2006. The Halos had to give the Twins infield prospect Alexi Casilla who started last season in Double A Arkansas before being promoted to Triple A Salt Lake on April 30th. Strangely, Casilla played just 13 games and was then bumped all the way down to Single A Cedar Rapids where he batted .325 with 11 doubles, 3 triples and 3 HR's.

Romero, who had a career year in 2002 going 9-2 with a 1.89 ERA, has been less effective of late compiling a 4-3 record in 2005 with a 3.47 ERA. More troubling was Romero's lack of control last season when he walked 39 batters in 57 innings of work. Compare that with his 2002 season when he walked just 36 in 81 innings pitched.

I originally balked at the idea of the Angels spending one of their top prospects to acquire Romero, but given the Twins took almost nothing (like the Angels really needed another light-hitting infielder) I have to give this move a thumbs-up. Romero is the left-handed reliever the Angels have done without (to their detriment) since 2003 when Scott Shoeneweiss was allowed to leave. Longer than that given the fact that Shoeneweiss was largely an ineffective reliever (or starter for that matter).

If the Angels can work with Romero to get him back to some semblance of his 2002 self, then they may have found a gem. If Romero is only has good as he has been the past couple of years he is still better than several other reliever hacks that have wandered through the Angels clubhouse in recent years. The $1.25 million Romero made last season makes him a bit pricier than most Angel relievers, at least until Scot Shields and Frankie Rodriguez's arbitration hearings.

Next up: Get a big bat for the middle of the lineup.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Stoneman Spinning Wheels

Bill Stoneman concluded his stay at the GM winter meetings in Dallas having accomplished very little. The Angels have not acquired a strong middle-of-the-lineup bat or a reliever and the deals that the LA Times reported were 'in the works' would not in my opinion make the Angels any better than they are now.

According to the Times these are the 'hot' deals Stoneman is pursuing:

1. C Javy Lopez - The Orioles are offering up Lopez whose knees will no longer make him a viable starting catcher. The O's are finishing up a deal for Ramon Hernandez which makes Javy and his $8.5 million contract for 2006 more than available. The proposed deal is an even swap for Darin Erstad with the idea being Lopez would become the Angels full-time DH and emergency catcher.

Analysis: What? Similar salaries, similar batting stats with the only real difference being the Angels lose a gold-glove caliber defensive first baseman. It does open up first for Casey Kotchman but if the Angels are intent on going that route why not shift Erstad back to center and let Finley DH? Will Javy Lopez give Guerrero protection in the lineup? They won't be able to walk Vladdy fast enough if that is what the Halo brass is thinking.

2. RP J.C. Romero - The long-time Twins reliever is apparently being shopped after he had some altercations with Minnesota skipper Ron Gardenhire. Cost: a prospect. How high is not known but presumably it would not be any of the Angels 'crown jewels'. While Romero was a top reliever in 2002 he has not been nearly as effective over the last three seasons with an ERA hovering just under 4.

Analysis: Romero's $2.2 million is a bit spendy but on the other-hand he is left-handed. But a deteriorating lefty with an attitude problem might not be the answer in the bullpen.

3. RP Ricardo Rincon - The A's lefty for the past three seasons is a free-agent coming off a fairly lousy 2005 season which saw his ERA jump from 3.68 in 2004 to 4.34 last season. He also had an ugly walk-to-strike-out ratio of 20:27 and made just under $2 million last year. On second thought, maybe that Romero trade is not such a bad idea.

4. 1B/DH Frank Thomas - The Big Hurt has been cut loose by the ChiSox after two injury-plagued seasons finished his career in the Windy City. I thought the days of the Angels signing washed-up sluggers to finish their careers in the quiet comfort of Orange County were over. Nothing good can come of this.

5. SS Nomar Garciaparra - When the Sox were shopping Nomar a couple of years ago I liked the idea of his coming to the Angels. But with Brandon Wood knocking on the door and Orlando Cabera holding down the fort -- there is no need or reason to sign him now.

Not one of these players would make a significant difference to the Angels. Of the entire group I would probably say Romero makes the most sense. When the Angels said goodbye to Jarrod Washburn they lost their last lefty. While I am not sorry to see Washburn go I would like to see the Halos acquire at least one decent lefty for the pen.

Angels DFA Jeff DeVanon

The Angels said goodbye to a long-time bench player when Jeff DeVanon was Designated for Assignment Wednesday to make room for free-agent pitcher Hector Carrasco.

DeVanon has shown some streaks of strong hitting in the past but lacked the consistant bat to make him a full-time player.

Richard at Pearly Gates is a long-time DeVanon devotee but even he seems to realize that losing JD has essentially no effect on the Angels going forward. The Halos have a strong contingent of players ready to contribute from the bench including Juan Rivera, Chone Figgins, Robb Quinlan, Maicer Izturis and prospects such as Jeff Mathis, Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood though it is unlikely Kendrick or Wood would make the big club unless an injury opened up a spot.

Washburn's Angel Days Are Over

Thank God.

From the LA Times:

"They have to make business decisions, but I feel a little underappreciated for what I've done the last few years," Washburn said by phone from his Wisconsin home. "I wanted to be an Angel my entire career," so much so that last season he offered to sit down with Stoneman — and without his agent, Scott Boras — to negotiate an extension. Stoneman declined.

"It would have been nice to have a man-to-man talk [with Stoneman], for him to tell me we're going in this direction, and this is why," Washburn said. "That hurts. It's a lack of respect."

Really? I thought it a lack of respect the way you didn't seem to care when you lost. Or the way you blew off fans during Spring Training. Take your raggedy arm, home-run-surrendering smirk and lousy attitude elsewhere.

Angels Don't Offer Molina Arbitration

In a somewhat surprising move, the Angels did not offer salary arbitration to free-agent catcher Bengie Molina. Many (including me) thought this was a no-brainer given the Angels would only have to commit to Molina for one more year, giving prospect Jeff Mathis another year to develop. Worse for Molina, the market for veteran catchers is drying up quickly with both the Mets and Diamondbacks filling their needs via trade this week. That means Molina may have to take a job sharing the catching duties or as a backup. He could catch-on with a club like the Twins who have health problems with their rookie phenom Joe Mauer. But he will have to compete with Mike Piazza who is also looking to catch-on somewhere as a part-time catcher/DH. The Angels have been mentioned as a team that might be interested in Piazza and the dispatch of Molina would help clear the way for a deal there.

According to the LA Times, the company line is that the Angels wanted to create an opportunity for Mathis on the big club. While Molina is an excellent receiver, the Halo pitching staff is not exactly difficult to catch (with the noted exception of K-Rod). But the Angels are taking a bit of an offensive gamble at the catching position if Mathis does not win the starting job. Jose Molina as the primary catcher is not a pretty thought from a run-production perspective.

"We were leaning toward arbitration with Bengie, but with the emergence of Mathis and right behind him, Mike Napoli, I didn't want to throw up a roadblock that would impede them," General Manager Bill Stoneman said. "It wasn't an easy decision, because Bengie has been a great trooper, a good player, for a number of years."
The Angels can not offer Molina a contract until May 1st which means his days with the Halos are likely over.

The Angels continue to clean-out catchers as they attempt to trade Josh Paul to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. After the phantom strikeout in the ALCS when Paul tossed the ball towards the mound and ran off the field, it probably is best to remove Paul and all memories of that play. It also is easy to say goodbye to a very mediocre player.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

All Quiet On Manny Front

Officials from the Angels, Red Sox and Diamondbacks along with Peter Gammons all have thrown cold water on the Manny-to-Anaheim rumors. I have to agree, because of the sheer magnitude of the deal it is unlikely to get done but I remain hopeful. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated however believes that Ramirez will end up with a halo of his own before Spring Training. From today's SI Newsletter Verducci says:
Manny Ramirez's latest "trade me" request is by far the firmest he's given the club over the past three years. And the Sox are actively trying to move him. "My guess as to where he winds up: the Angels, his first choice, in a possible three-way trade that would bring the Diamondbacks' Troy Glaus to Boston to play first base," Verducci says. The potential of Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero in the same lineup would certainly take some of the buzz away from the Blue Jays, who continued their preholiday spending spree yesterday by signing free-agent righthander A.J. Burnett to a five-year, $55 million contract. (That's $102 million between Burnett and closer B.J. Ryan.)

Angel GM Bill Stoneman has also been in contact with Kansas City regarding Mike Sweeney but the Royals want Casey Kotchman AND Brandon Wood for a broken-down 32-year-old hitter who is averaging just 115 games a season the past four years. I think someone has slipped some crack into the barbecue sauce up there in KC. I would suggest leaving Sweeney and his $22 million contract for the next two seasons safely stashed in KC where neither can hurt anyone except Royal fans.

Juan Pierre was traded to the Cubs today so scratch #2 from my wish list. The Marlins received pitcher Sergio Mitre, two Double-A pitching prospects and a 2-for-1 admission coupon to the Sears Tower Observation Deck (not valid on holidays or weekends) for Pierre. This likely ends the latest Marlins team demolition and any hope for playoffs until 2009.

The Diamondbacks traded for catcher Johnny Estrada today, giving up promising reliever Oscar Villarreal and less promising reliever Lance Cormier. Estrada was an All-Star in 2004 but after a violent collision with Darin Erstad last June he was "not the same behind or at the plate." Viarreal had a phenomenal rookie season in '03 but injuries limited his effectiveness in both 2004 and '05. This good be a fairly even win-win trade if both players bounce back or could severely swing one way or another depending on who performs.

The Padres acquired Red Sox backup catcher Doug Mirabelli in a trade for second-baseman Mark Loretta. It is a great deal for the Sox who acquire a 'gamer' and fan favorite in Loretta. Mirabelli is considered to be one of the better back-up catchers in the majors and fills a void in San Diego made when Ramon Hernandez left. One person who will be concerned by this is Tim Wakefield who used Mirabelli exclusively as his receiver. So good luck to Jason Veritek who now gets to catch a knuckleballer once a week.

So what does all this activity with catchers mean for the Angels? The likelihood of Bengie Molina returning just skyrocketed. The Angels will offer Molina arbitration tonight and he will undoubtedly take it. It insures a nice fat one-year deal for the veteran and gives the Angels another year to prep young Jeff Mathis. Likely Mathis will start the year in the minors but given Bengie's health the past few years the odds are good that the kid will get called-up at some point in 2006.

In other arbitration news the Angels will also offer arbitration to Paul Byrd. Why would they do that you ask? Because Byrd has to deny it (having already signed a deal with Cleveland) and it will then insure the Angels of a high draft pick as compensation. The Angels will likely NOT offer arbitration to Jarrod Washburn. With Burnett signing and Javier Vazquez about to be traded by Arizona, the next tier of pitchers will likely start to sign and that will include Washburn.

The LA Times is reporting that Boston is now regretting the signing of human-error machine Edgar Renteria and have inquired about the possibility of a trade for Orlando Cabrera. The Sox are probably a year early to ask since Brandon Wood will likely not be ready to join the big club until 2007. However the Angels could start either Chone Figgins or Maicer Izturis at short in the interim. I would not think the Angels would move Cabrera for the simple fact that he is one of Vlad Guerrero's best friends and one thing the Angels have going for them is team harmony. Don't rock the boat.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Winter Meeting Musings

As Bill Stoneman settles in for the General Manager's meetings in Dallas, let's take a look at the moves the Angels have made so far in the off-season and the Halo Herald's wish list for this week.

Angels Miss Konerko

The Halos made no secret of their covetous pursuit of Paul Konerko and went after him hard. The Angels presented Konerko with a 5 year, $60 million dollar deal up front. The White Sox scrambled and matched the offer late for an 11th hour re-signing of their slugger. But when asked how close he was to signing with the another team (the Angels) Konerko replied "you wouldn't believe how close."

HH Grade: A for effort. The Angels offered the right contract to the right player and he simply opted to go elsewhere. Fresh off a World Series victory it is hard to blame PK for re-upping with the home team.

Angels Cut Ties With Paul Byrd

Unlike with Konerko, the Angels apparently took their time making and then upgrading subsequent offers before asking him to make an immediate decision. Reportedly the Angels original offer of a one-year deal for $5 million was quickly bested by the Indians (2 years at $14.25 million with an option on a third year that could push the deal to $22 million) and the Royals (3 years at $22 million) after the Angels exclusive negotiating period with Byrd ran out. The Angels eventually increased their offer to two years at $11 million before finally offering two years, $14 million. But unlike Konerko, Byrd felt no home town loyalty to a team that only employed him for one year and took the Indians offer instead.

HH Grade: C According to Byrd, negotiations with the Angels were slow and he was being courted by six other teams. "That made me feel very wanted by other teams" and "it made me think that the Angels might be going in a different direction." Sort of. The Angels were actively purusing Hector Carrasco and wanted an answer from Byrd immediately so that they could concentrate on Carrasco if necessary. "Money wasn't an issue" said Byrd. "It was the deadline. I didn't want to make decision that would affect my family for the next three years in minutes, in hours. There was a lot of pressure. The Angels didn't give me the time." Yeah, Ok, whatever Paul. Convenient out for you but everyone knows you would prefer to be closer to your home in Atlanta. Gee, should I make $14 million and live in Southern California? What a tought choice between freaking Cleveland, OH and Orange County. Take it from a guy who has to live in Arizona, that was a no-freaking brainer Paul. So be it. I'm not all that excited about a starting pitcher who gets flustered "under pressure". After Byrd could not answer by their deadline, the Angels cut ties with him, rescinding their previous offer. According to Byrd the Angels could have re-signed him to a one-year deal at the end of last season. If that is true then shame on Stoneman & Co. for missing that bargain opportunity.

Angels Make No Effort to Re-sign Washburn

What a shock. The man best known for giving up a towering home run to David Ortiz to end the Angels playoffs in 2004 and a towering home-run to Barry Bonds in the World Series can now give up towering home-runs somewhere else.

HH Grade: A+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
From a report on the Angels website: "It really didn't surprise me or upset me," Washburn said of hearing that the Angels were not going to attempt to re-sign him. "I knew we had not been contacted. I wasn't really ever given an explanation. As soon as the year was done, it was 100 percent in my mind that it was my last as an Angel." Really? After David Ortiz ended the Angels '04 season it was 100% in my mind that you shouldn't be an Angel.

Angels Sign Pitcher Hector Carrasco

In a move that may have surprised some, the Angels gave relief pitcher Hector Carrasco $6.1 million and a two-year contract plus a shot at the starting rotation.

HH Grade: B Stoneman was decisive when he figured out what he wanted. Carrasco at $6.1 million instead of Byrd at $14 million. So kudos for clipping coupons and finding a 'bargain'. But Carrasco is only a bargain if their gambit to turn him into a #5 starter pays off and he can match Byrd's numbers of 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA. With the Nationals last year Carrasco went 5-4 with a 2.04 ERA in 64 games which included five starts in September. He did not go past 6 innings in any of those outings and went 1-1 with 4 no-decisions. Carrasco as a starter will likely tax the Angel bullpen but probably not much more than Byrd did once he is able to build-up his stamina.

Interestingly, Carrasco pitched in relief against the A's, Mariners and Rangers in interleague play but not the Angels. Carrasco pitched 6.1 innings against the Angels' divisional rivals and gave up 0 runs on 4 hits. Overall a bit of a gamble for the Angels but there seems to be more upside with HC. Best possible scenario is he turns out to be a 15 - 18 game winner. Worst case - Hello long-relief duty. As Jeff Howe at League of Angels mentions, the key difference between Byrd and Carrasco is the number of walks. Carrasco has been more wild over the course of his career with a 1.65 K/BB ratio. Stat geeks love to tell how many walks a guy gives up per 9 innings. Well, Carrasco is not going to give you 9 innings so it does not matter. He is going to give up a walk every 2 innings according to his stats last season. A changeup and cutter Carrasco added to his repertoire has changed his style of pitching and made him much more dangerous. This guy is a good risk at the right price. He will have to beat out minor league prospects Joe Saunders, Chris Bootcheck and Jared Weaver as well as anyone else the Halos invite to camp this spring.

Halos Stay on Sideline with B. Molina

The New York Mets presented Bengie Molina with a $24 million three-year deal before abruptly taking it off the table and completing a trade with Florida for catcher Paul LoDuca. That takes the biggest spender out of the market and leaves Molina with two options: (1) Sign a less lucrative (and likely shorter) deal with a second-tier (spending wise) team such as Arizona, Houston or San Diego; or (2) Accept arbitration from the Angels and sign a nice one-year deal, pushing this free-agent stuff to 2006-07. If he does opt for the one-year deal it will be fantastic for the Angels. It gives Jeff Mathis another year to mature, likely in the bigs as a #3 catcher and takes a level of uncertainty out of the 2006 catching position. After the McPherson debacle of 2005 the Angels have got to be a little gun-shy turning over a major league job to a rookie. For Molina a one-year deal can help him continue to develop as a hitter and prove he can remain healthy all season.

HH Grade: A If they lose him then at least the Angels did not have to make a long-term commitment to a guy with a short-term Angel future. If he comes back, even better as it will be on the Angels' terms.

Angels Sign Tim Salmon to Minor League Contract

Everybody wants this to work. After missing the entire 2005 season with injuries, Salmon has a chance to comeback and leave the game with his head held high. Salmon agreed to a $400,000 minor league deal and likely was happy to do it after fleecing the Angels for $10 million last season. Salmon needs 10 HR's for 300 in his career and 11 RBI for 1,000 in his career. If Salmon can make the team he will clearly be a DH/bench player. But given the touchy nature of Vlad Guerrero's and Garrett Anderson's backs he would likely see plenty of playing time.

HH Grade: A - Class move by both organization and player.

So what work needs to be done? Plenty. Here is my wish list for Bill Stoneman at the winter meetings:

1. Manny Ramirez -- Not asking much, just a $54 million left-fielder with a 'quirky' personality. The very private Ramirez is a perfect fit with the Angels, a team already inhabited by hermits such as Vladimir Guerrero, Garrett Anderson, Adam Kennedy and Darin Erstad. Guys so low-key only dogs can hear them. Manny can take the family shopping at Fashion Island and odds are he won't get a second glance as opposed the rabid 'Red Sox Nation' fans who stalked the slugger like Amy Fisher. If the Angels can make the economics work out they could send Erstad out east with him. But likely they will need to get a third team involved and rumors involving the Arizona Diamondbacks are starting to heat-up again. The D-Backs would not mind unloading Troy Glaus' salary and could package him in as part of the deal heading to Boston. In return, the Angels would likely have to send a couple of prized prospects to Phoenix. Arizona has a glut of corner infielders and outfielders but a severe shortage at centerfield and catcher. The D-Backs will likely be looking for help along the lines of a Chone Figgins to fill their centerfield slot which would be a steep price. Maybe we could coax them into taking Steve Finley back? If not a starter for center then a couple of highly placed prospects will likely be needed. This is a trade possiblity that should be monitoried closely (and I shall).

2. Juan Pierre - If the Angels do have to package-up Figgy in a Ramirez deal how about stopping by the Florida Marlins fire-sale and picking out a late-model centerfielder? Blazing speed and a prototypical lead-off hitter -- Pierre would be a nice addition.

3. Johnny Damon - The caveman is a free-agent but it would take a boat-load of cash to get him out of bean town. The suicide rate in the northeast would skyrocket if the Sox lost both Ramirez and Damon in the same off-season.

4. Jeff Weaver -- According to the Ventura County Star Weaver's agent, Satan, err -- Scott Boras, was seen talking with representatives of the Angels. Interesting. Big brother could mentor little brother Jared while throwing to the brothers Molina. Only hitch would be explaining to Hector Carrasco how we now seem to have a complete set of starting pitchers. We only said you could 'compete' to start in the rotation Hector, now go to Tempe and compete with these five established big league starters. This could dove-tail with a potential Manny Ramirez trade should the Angels have to ship off a starting pitcher to Arizona (John Lackey perhaps?).

Some rumors I would like quashed: Angels are interested in Frank Thomas (can he still walk?).
Angels are interested in Mike Piazza (does that mean we get Lo Duca in 2 - 5 years?).

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Letter to Santa

With Paul Konerko re-upping with the White Sox this week despite a nice offer from the Halos, I have decided to go directly to the Big Guy with my Angel wishes for this offseason.....

Dear Santa,

A lot of my friends have been telling me lately that you do not exist and that I should grow-up already. But after seeing the last four World Series championships going to the Angels, Marlins, Red Sox and White Sox it seems clear to me that you have indeed been answering some pretty audacious requests from desperate baseball fans around the country. So before your inbox overflows with letters from Cub fan, I thought I better get my humble requests in for the Angels 2006 team.

1. A healthy hip for Dallas McPherson that will let us, finally, be able to forget Troy Glaus.
2. Barring that, can we have Glaus back?
3. An epiphany to Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle that he would be far better off politically to join forces with the Angels rather than goad them into making veiled threats to move the club because "Anaheim" is placed last rather than first in their name.
4. A free-agent power-hitter to give Vlad some protection in the Angels line-up.
5. Please send Jarrod Washburn far, far away.
6. A new Angel contract for Paul Byrd that will keep him in Anaheim until 2007.
7. If not Byrd, how about Jeff Weaver so he can smooth the transition for baby brother Jared?
8. A smooth trip to Spring Training with no month-long lay-overs on Caribbean islands for Kendry Morales. I really want to see this kid play!
9. Either arbitration from the Angels for a nice one-year deal or a big fat free-agent contract for Bengie Molina to play elsewhere. The Angels are too deep at catcher to give him a long deal but Bengie deserves it from someone.
10. For the Angels to give Tim Salmon a one-year deal so we can see the Big Fish go out healthy and helping the club to another championship.
11. Great seats in June when the Angels play the D-Backs in Phoenix.

Your Pal,


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