Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Twins Acquire Boone

The Minnesota Twins who have a scuffling offense, made a move this week to acquire Seattle Mariners' second baseman Bret Boone. Boone, 36, was designated for assignment by the M's and was hours away from being placed on waivers when the deal was struck. For the Twins is represents a very low risk deal as Seattle has agreed to pick up the balance of Boone's salary for 2005 ($4.6 million) and will receive a "low level" minor league prospect in exchange. Seattle had no other deals on the table so they took the Twins offer rather than see Boone leave and receive nothing in return.

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Twins are hoping that being in a playoff chase will reinvigorate Boone. The Twins trail the White Sox by nine games and have looked lethargic offensively. On that count Boone should fit-in immediately with a lethargic .231 average of his own plus 7 HR and 33 RBI so far in '05. The Twins have used six second baseman so far this season and they have combined to hit .279 with 4 HR and 20 RBI. So Boone does represent something of an upgrade in terms of power and he should do well in the Metrodome. "I love playing there. I really do" Boone said to more than a few raised eyebrows. In 27 games, Boone has hit .271 with 4 HR and 16 RBI at the Homerdome. Curiously, Boone's best numbers appear to be at Angel Stadium where he has hit .349 with 11 HR and 29 RBI in 41 games. Had AK not recovered so thoroughly from his knee surgery it is entirely possible the Angels may have made a run at Boone.

Wow, That Sucked

Four losses in a row to the Mariners was not the way most Angel fans (or probably players, front-office personnel or coaches) hoped to end the first-half. But that is exactly what happened as Angel pitching fell apart but generally in only one or two innings of each game. In game one Bartolo Colon could not settle down in the first two innings and gave up 7 runs. A 5-run fifth inning was the undoing for Washburn in game two and Lackey in game three. The final game saw rookie Ervin Santana lit-up for 5 runs himself though he did it in the fourth inning.

It was a remarkable lack of poise for a team that usually looks polished and professional. It was even more remarkable that it happened four times in a row. Apparently the Angels started their All-Star Break four days earlier than everyone else. But their is a silver lining here. If you are going to have a four game losing streak better to do it just before the All-Star Break than right after. The walking wounded should have a chance to recover as centerfielder Steve Finley played in a Class A game for Rancho Cucamonga where he went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and two runs scored this past Saturday. Per manager Mike Scioscia, Finley will be activated Thursday and pitcher Jake Woods optioned back to Triple A. Scioscia feels that Woods needs work, particularly on his breaking ball and he will not get the opportunity to pitch regularly in Anaheim. Scioscia thinks highly of the kid, saying "Jake has such upside" and that once he finds his breaking pitch "I think he's gonna have a prominent role on this staff." Woods was 1-1 with a 3.90 ERA in 27 appearances for the Angels -- not bad numbers at all. You have to like having Woods in the wings as a starter for the next five years or so.

Shortstop Orlando Cabrera is also edging closer to a return to the starting line-up as he will resume swinging a bat over the All-Star Break. In what appears to be an indictment of Maicer Izturis' defense, Scioscia said "If he's (Cabrera) ready to play defense, he's a part of our equation that we need". Of course, that could simply be praise of Cabrera's D as well. In any case it does not look like they plan to give OC any rehab starts prior to a return with the big club.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

McPherson Back on DL

Dallas McPherson, the young third base phenom whose huge upside promise prompted the Angels to forego re-signing Troy Glaus, is back on the 15 day disable list, this time for inflammation in his left hip. Just what in the name of Geritol is going on here? A hip injury? Just how old is this McPherson 'kid' anyway? Is it another 'Ramon Ortiz' episode where his true age was disguised to enhance his value? In a truly scary statement McPherson said Angel doctors "guaranteed" him that he "would be fine" and this would not be a recurring injury. Watch out for those 'guarantees' kid, it is the surest sign of trouble.

After Glaus was lost for much of the 2004 season with a shoulder injury the Angels thought they were making the prudent move is bringing in McPherson due in part to his durability and cheap price. There was also the fact that Glaus was a preening primadonna but mostly it was the gargantuan home runs that D-Mac launched in minor league parks around the country that excited the Halo brass. Oh, did I mention he plays for about $10 million a year less than Glaus?

Whatever; the Angels now have Chone Figgins at the hot corner which, given his hot bat and improved defense (Figgy made a sparkling dive-catch-throw 'em out play at third last night) is not all bad. But that means Figgins is not available to fill-in other holes in the Halo line-up like centerfield and shortstop or to give regulars like Adam Kennedy and Vlad Guerrero a rest. The All-Star Break is coming at an opportune time for the Angels as they have four key pieces of their team all cooling their collective heels in the clubhouse rehabing various injuries (Steve Finley, Orlando Cabrera, Kelvim Escobar and now McPherson). The 'B' team had been doing well until Thursday when McPherson said the pain from his injury "became steadily worse" and the Mariners rolled into town and took three in a row in convincing fashion from the suddenly bumbling, fumbling and unable-to-hit-in-key-situations Angels.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Weaver Rounding into Form

The Angels top pick from 2004, Jared 'Dream' Weaver, was a wee-bit rusty after taking nearly a year-off in a contract dispute with the ball club. But since signing a little over a month ago Weaver has been toiling for Class A Rancho Cucamonga with limited success (16 hits in his first 9 1/3 innings and a 9.64 ERA). But last Tuesday Weaver picked-up his first minor league victory after throwing five innings of two-hit ball for the Quakes. Despite his inflated ERA early on, Weaver has demonstrated his legendary control by walking just 3 batters in 14 1/3 innings while striking out 20.

Look for Weaver to make the jump to the bigs sometime in 2006 when the Angels and Dodgers will both sport Izturis' and Weaver's on their rosters.

Halos Take Two of Three from Twins

Garrett Anderson was Mr. Incredible yesterday, depositing a two-out two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh off Minnesota starter Johan Santana to give the Angels their first lead of the game. Then in the top of the eighth it was Anderson gunning down Michael Ryan at the plate to snuff out a Twins rally and help to preserve a tenuous 7-6 Halo victory. Ryan represented the tying run and was trying to score from third on a fly-out but Anderson threw a bullet just wide of the plate but catcher Jose Molina made a great catch-and-tag to complete the double play. It was Ryan's birthday but I don't think he appreciated the gift(s) that Anderson and the Angels bestowed on him and the Twins Wednesday.

Angel starter Paul Byrd was bailed out by Anderson after going 6.2 innings while surrendering 5 runs on 5 hits. Byrd has had a great month, not losing since a June 7th game against Atlanta where he gave up just 3 runs on 9 hits. Over the past month Byrd is 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA and one of the reasons the Angels have now opened a 8.5 game lead over second-place Texas. Of course one of the other reasons in Anderson who is having a memorable 2005 campaign. The Angel left-fielder is hitting .311 with 11 HR and 64 RBI in 80 games this season. Compare that with just 75 RBI in Anderson's injury shortened 112 games last year. GA in on pace for the most runs-batted-in in a season since his 123 RBI efforts in 2001 & 2002. Last week in a game against the Dodgers Anderson recorded the 1,000 RBI of his career and suddenly (at least to me) Garrett is within grasp of stats that no other Angel has dreamed of. Consider that Anderson celebrated his 33rd birthday last week and is putting-up the best numbers of his career and that in 2006 (barring injury) GA should record his 2,000 hit and 250th home-run. Further, if he can have, say, five more similarly productive years he could have 3,000 hits and 300 HR's. Instant first-ballot with those numbers. But five more productive years are certainly no given particularly with a guy already afflicted with arthritis. But then again, it could happen...

Sunday, July 03, 2005

M's Designate Boone for Assignment

Could Bret Boone be one of the first victims of MLB's tougher stance on performing enhancement drugs? Or could it be that the 36-year-old second-baseman's career has simply run it's course? Whatever the case Bret Boone was designated for assignment by the Mariners on Sunday morning and has played his last game in a Seattle uniform. The Mariners promoted second baseman Jose Lopez and outfieder Chris Snelling from their Triple-A affiliate Tacoma while placing outfielder Dave Hansen on the 15-day DL.

In essence Seattle is waving the white flag on the 2005 season just before the All-Star Break as they now sit firmly ensconced in the AL West basement, 15.5 games behind front-running Los Angeles. It has to be bitterly disappointing for Mariner fans who came into the season with high hopes after their team secured the services of two highly regarded free-agents in first baseman Richie Sexson and third baseman Adrian Beltre. The power-hitting duo gave Seattle arguably the best power-hitting infield corner combination in the majors. But both have been a disappointment with Beltre struggling with his power (just 8 homeruns) and Sexson struggling everywhere else (.238 average but still has clubbed 17 HR's). But as most baseball experts predicted, Seattle's woeful starting rotation was not up to the task and the entire Mariner pitching staff combined for 4.40 ERA, 19th in the major leagues.

The curious career of Bret Boone began in Seattle in 1992 when the young prospect played in 109 games over two seasons before signing to play for the Reds in 1994. Boone was a mainstay for Cincinnati for five years where he became known for good defense and mediocre offense while averaging 11 HR's over four seasons. But an interesting thing happened in Boone's contract year of 1997 when he suddenly exploded for 24 HR's and 95 RBI, far more productive numbers then in any previous season. Boone then played out three one-year contracts in a row for Atlanta, San Diego and the Mariners. For the Braves and San Diego Boone had virtually identical numbers hitting .252 with 19 HR's in Atlanta and .251 with 20 HR's for the Padres. But with Seattle Boone had another miraculous transformation of his game when he jumped his average by 80 points to .331 and his HR's production to 37. Boone was now officially in an elite class of power-hitting second baseman and commanded a big contract from the Mariners in 2002 for three years and $25 million. The M's picked-up his 2005 option and agreed to pay him $9.25 million this season, of which they still owe him around half.

So is it just good fortune and hard work that made Bret Boone one of the great "contract year" hitters of our generation? Or could it be that a guy with proverbial "warning track" power dabbled in performance enhancing drugs just when he needed them most. Unlike someone such as Barry Bonds who apparently sprinkled steroids on his corn flakes each morning, Boone took a more proactive approach to preserve his health but still reel in the big bucks. If so, who is the bigger fraud -- the guy who only juices-up and plays really well in contract years or the guy who juices up, scores the big bucks and then gives the fans something to cheer about every year? Tough choice but I'm gonna half to say I'll take neither thank you very much. If (and it is only an 'if' for now) Boone did take PED's in contract years then he should be prosecuted for fraud and the Mariner's refunded their money. My guess is that you will see Bret Boone fade from being a player and re-emerge as a coach ala his Dad. Boone is smart enough to know that at 36 he can not compete (without help from his 'little friends') with younger more naturally talented players. He also is a family man who likely does not want to risk his long-term health in order to sign one more big contract. But letting go for athletes is never an easy thing and it will be interesting to see what Boone does now. In my opinion, if he goes quietly into the night then it is an affirmation of PED use. But then again, there really is nothing he could do at this point that would keep people from asking the 'steroid' question. Unless he were to simply slip out of sight.

Colon Dominates for 7, Angels win 5-3

For the second night in a row the Angels were cruising towards a 5-0 shut-out of the Royals with Bartolo Colon throwing a one-hitter. But Colon is not the complete-game animal he once was (9 CG for the White Sox in 2003 vs. 0 in '04 and 2 so far in '05) but Angel Skipper Mike Scioscia no doubt hoped his starter could give the Angel pen a respite and stuck with Colon. But a complete game was not in the cards as KC pecked away at Colon in the eighth inning with a double and three singles, scoring three and forcing Scioscia to bring in K-Rod for the final 1.2 innings to preserve a 5-3 win for the Angels ace. Thanks to two losses and a five-run win in the previous three games, Rodriguez had not pitched in four days and was the one guy in the pen who actually could have used some work anyway.

The Angels continue to take care of business against the teams that they must beat, i.e. the Kansas Royals of the world. They must continue this effort against two other struggling teams, the Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners who the Halos face at home to close-out the first-half of the 2005 campaign. When the Angels return from the All-Star Break they will hit the road and face the Twins again followed by two important series against the hot A's and the New York Yankees. The Oakland series will go a long way in telling just how good the A's (and the Angels for that matter) really are. The Yankees, though struggling as they are, could still be a post-season foe and if the Angels can put a whipping on them now it might serve them well come October.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Let's Not Get Carried Away with the A's

Yes, Oakland has been on a nice run. From the way sports radio was raving about the A's recent hot streak you would figure they must be just a couple of games out and ready to run away with the West. Reality Check: Oakland is 9.5 games back in a division that is not the NL West. The translation is that it will take more than a month of fattening up on lightweights like Seattle and San Francisco to catch the Angels.

I'm not saying Oakland is not a team that could get back in the mix, but I will reserve judgement until July 14 - 24 when they play eight against the Rangers and three against the Angels. By then we will know if this Athletics team has the staying power to contend for the AL West. I question whether they have the depth to withstand a little adversity when it comes a knocking as it always does.

Halos Take Care of KC 5-0

The Angels ended their two-game losing streak thanks to Paul Byrd who threw a two-hitter at his former employers, the hapless Royals. Byrd, who has had an up-and-down season thus far with the Angels, returned to his glory days (17 game winner for KC in 2002) and was treated to the "bird wave" by his former fans which he returned as he walked off the mound. If you are not familiar with this hip gesture, it resembles the effeminate 'halo wave' from the feature film "Angels in the Outfield". There is just no cool way to pull this move off and Byrd and the Royal fans looked like a bunch of dorks. But with Arte lowering beer prices at Angels Stadium there is still a modicum of a chance that some Halo fans will pick-up on this. We can only hope they are seated far, far away in the upper reaches of the View Section. Somewhere in Anaheim the original 'Watermelon Heads' may be having an emergency meeting to reconvene as the "Byrd Boys".

Back on the field Bengie Molina had three hits and an RBI while Adam Kennedy had a pair of hits. Vlad Guerrero continued his hot streak with a hit and two RBI's while Mr. Double Garrett Anderson hit his 18th two-bagger of the season.

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