Five questions: California Angels

Why did the Angels trade for Vernon Wells?

The Angels lost out on Carl Crawford, and they lost out on Adrian Beltre. In October, owner Arte Moreno had shot his mouth off about paying to bring in a big name, but the Jayson Werth dollarfest raised everyone’s price. Boston adjusted. Texas adjusted. L.A. of A gulped in nervousness.

General manager Tony Reagins is just not the creative type who would pull off a David DeJesus trade like Oakland did, so in search of headlines, Reagins not only acquired a previously waived and ignored player in the person of Vernon Wells, he traded the best offensive catcher in the organization (Mike Napoli) along with Juan Rivera, an outfielder who is the Venezuelan version of Wells: an early 30s mediocre glove and a league-average bat with some pop. There were conflicting reports as to how much salary relief the Angels might have gotten after shedding $11 million of Napoli and Rivera in 2011 for $86 million of Wells in the next four years. It might have been as much as $15 million and as low as zero.

But why did Reagins do it? Why did he trade Napoli and Rivera for “Overpaid Juan Rivera”? The gamble on Wells having a much higher ceiling than in his recent injury-laden years is all that could ever justify this trade. If Wells reaches an injury-free dream ceiling in 2011, the deal could be a pleasant sequel to that other monster Reagins leap, the November 2007 signing of Torii Hunter for $90 million. While visions of Gary Matthews Jr. are never too far away from any Angels fan’s eyes, the Wells trade indicates that the Angels front office seems blind to the reality that it will be paying Matthews $11 million this year for his second consecutive season of staying home.

It would have been nice for Reagins to keep his perverse trumpeting of signing Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahshi as his offseason theme song for his sake, because the Wells trade is as close to a slam dunk swan song as a general manager could compose.

Since they dumped Napoli, the Angels must have a great catching situation, right?

Wrong. Former first-round pick Hank Conger is going to need everyday playing time in Triple-A Salt Lake for at least another season. That leads to a battle for at-bats between the out-of-options league-average Bobby Wilson and Mike Scioscia’s delusional man crush, Jeff Mathis. Not only is Mathis historically below the Mendoza Line, he is close to surpassing Mario Mendoza in all aspects of futility.

Mathis is 502 career plate appearances behind Mendoza’s mark of 1,456. After 954 plate appearances, Mathis’ lifetime batting average of .199 is well below the final Mendoza Line of .215, and you can pencil in at least 300 plate appearances this season. Mike Scioscia’s delusional belief in the Catcher ERA stat is his continued rationalization for playing Mathis. This despite CERA being a smoke-and-mirrors statistic and even when accounting for the stat on a leap of faith, Mathis did not have a demonstrably superior CERA in 2009 and 2010 under Scioscia’s tutelage. As of this writing, Wilson is hitting .429 in Tempe, so hope springs eternal.

Is Kendry Morales anywhere near his 2009 form? What are the options if he is not ready?

Morales announced this spring that his name is actually Kendrys. He had time to do this because as of the Mar. 9 announcement, he had yet to appear in a spring game. He broke a bone in his foot in the freakiest injury of 2011: celebrating a walk-off grand slam, he leapt through the mob of his teammates waiting for him at the plate and came down with a season-ending thud. After surgery and rehabilitation, he is still gimpy in the field and on the base paths.

Fortunately, first baseman Mark Trumbo (the Angels’ minor league player of the year) is having a good spring and could be a decent substitute for Morales’ power, although not necessarily Kendry(s)’s all around near-MVP 2009 numbers. Look for the Angels to bring Morales back slowly, patiently, in the early months and Trumbo to be given all the rope he needs. A setback for Trumbo could open the door to one last shot at prime time for Brandon Wood, the former top prospect turned top flop.

The absence of Morales to start the season may deliver a rearrangement of the infield into a power-free, slap-happy defensive dream team with regular second baseman Howie Kendrick at first (where he has seen playing time in 2006 and 2010 under Scioscia’s misguided platoon mysticism). Alberto Callaspo would then slot in at second base with Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis getting the daily nods at third base and shortstop respectively.

Morales performing at 100 percent on the field would go a long way to helping the Angels’ chances this season. As a designated hitter, Morales forces Bobby Abreu to left field, pushing Wells to center and benching the sublime defense of the light-hitting Peter Bourjos despite his 2010 midseason wedging-over to right field of Torii Hunter. Suffice it to say whatever alignment the Angels field, the celebrations of walk-off home runs will be far more subdued if and when they ever occur again in Los Angeles of Anaheim.

How long do the Angels stay with Scott Kazmir? Who’s the fifth starter when he is cut?

In the third week of spring training, Scott Kazmir started off a game against the Rockies like this: four-pitch walk, four-pitch walk, pickoff throwing error advances the runners, wild pitch scores the runner. With 980 wins in the 11 seasons of Scioscia’s management, the Angels have built up a loyal cadre of suck-up yes-men in the media and teenage-fanclub-like blogs, so the fact that Kazmir yielded no earned runs will soon be transformed into signs from the heavens (but not at my SBN blog Halos Heaven that Tony Reagins acquiring this overpriced gimp from Tampa Bay late in 2009 can still be considered a great move.

The offseason coverage of Kazmir’s workout detail emphasized control and follow-through as ordered by Scioscia and pitching coach Mike Butcher. Keith Law tweeted that Kazmir’s fastball topped off at 87 in that outing against the Rockies. Was the Mike and Mike team prepping Kazmir for an audition with a ballet troupe? Expect Kazmir to be joining the Gary Matthews “Call of Duty 2” couch tournament by June and for Trevor Bell or Matt Palmer to get a shot out of Triple-A. That would cement the No. 5 slot in the rotation until Reagins goes “all in” again with a farm-draining trade for an overpaid former ace.

If many things click right for them and not much goes well for Texas and Oakland, the Angels might take the AL West division with a front four of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro. But it sure would be nice to get a little return on the three prospects Reagins sent to the Rays for Kazmir, let alone the $13 million-plus the Angels will be spending on him this season and next. The Angels are a little more advanced than teams like the Diamondbacks, who took Joe Saunders off Reagins’ hands for Haren and cited Hokie Joe’s career Ws as a factor. If Kaz actually takes a lead into the ninth inning this season he will not get blamed by the Angels brass when (not if, as this thing is sort of fated) closer Fernando Rodney blows the save. They know advanced stats like ERA. Just ask them.

After drafting baseball’s No. 1 prospect, how did scouting director Eddie Bane get fired?

The Angels run a close-knit operation. There are no leaks from within this organization. When word leaked last summer that the Angels were interested in Alberto Callaspo and the rumor came true, you can take it to the bank that there is a leak in the Royals front office. Beyond Reagins and Moreno, the circle might be as small as Scioscia and Butcher on pitching moves and assistant general manager Ken Forsch (over whom Reagins leapfrogged for the job, having excelled at corporate culture in lieu of ever having ever played the game). One gets the feeling that team president John Carpino and Chairman Dennis Kuhl still pay more attention to the Yankees, who they rooted for all their lives. Beyond that, it seems an oath of secrecy involving a ritual initiation, bloodletting and tattoos would be required to get a shred of information out of this tiny same-page front office.

But this striving for corporate excellence has sagged into behavior more in line with corporate culture’s basest instincts: suits and slacks, desperate dodging of responsibility for failures and gutless disloyalty to longtime employees (the list grows longer and more legendary each offseason, with longtime trainer Ned Bergert being shown the door this fall). Could the fall-guy firing of Eddie Bane may be the most insipid move of all?

The timing would indicate that there was no thought about it until someone had to go to save Reagins’ CEO ego. If Reagins was upset with Bane’s 2010 draft, there was nothing prior to it to indicate that the Bane cowboy strategy of drafting high-risk, high-reward toolsy high schoolers early and often was going to change; Reagins could have made his move at any time prior. He waits, gets exactly what Bane has been cooking up for years and then fires him for that? Sure, probably, but we will never know because of the corporate culture of silence. You don’t have to look too far beyond the 2009 dismissal of LAA’s Latin American scouting director Clay Daniel for allegations that his scouts “down there” were skimming to find a reason to dismiss Bane. But again, if you don’t like his drafts and the skimming scandal happens on his watch, you replace Bane after 2009. To leave Bane in his position after such a scandal, as Reagins did, only to sacrifice the scouting director as some sort of scapegoat a year and 80 wins later, is only going to make the end of the Sigma Reagins front office frat-house culture of Anaheim all the more joyous for fans who deserve better.

Prediction: 79 wins, third place AL West, no Mike Trout debut until 2012, a June draft featuring more college players taken in early rounds than qualify for this year’s Rhodes Scholarship, a panic late-summer trade for an overpaid “difference-maker” who blends in, performs well but doesn’t make a difference and then Reagins gets fired. Hey, a fan can dream can’t he?

Mat Gleason blogs about the Angels as “Rev Halofan” at Halos Heaven.com and about fine art at the Huffington Post under his real name.

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Comments

  1. Mike said...

    The way you write about Angels management, I would think that they as successful as the Pirates.

    I don’t think the bloggers/writers should be “suck-up yes-men”, but over a decade of averaging close to 90 wins means Scocia is doing something right.

  2. Phil J said...

    < blinks > So I take it you weren’t a fan of the Wells trade then? I would expect that since the division is pretty weak, then we SHOULD be able to compete for the title and while we know Kazmir is not going to give us a huge amount, we still have a pretty decent starting pitching core. And neither will we get ‘bang for our buck’ from some of our hitters, if Kendry(s) comes back in any way, we should have some decent pop to back up the rest of the offense.

  3. Rob McMillin said...

    Brutal, but deserved.

    One thing you didn’t touch on here (which I think you have mentioned elsewhere at HH) is whether Reagins is his own man. Scioscia has the ten-year (or whatever it is) deal, Reagins does not.

    It would be interesting to read the 2010 preview at this point and see what the consensus was about the Angels. A lot of this sort of carping is the direct consequence of losing.

  4. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    I love that you call them the California Angels.
    I still do too.

    It covers both Los Angeles and Anaheim

  5. Bharv1 said...

    Who the hell are the California Angels? How do you expect anyone to take your site seriously if you can’t get the name of a team correct?

    “OH but they’ve changed it SOOOO many times…” WHINE. Fact-check, buddy. A little work goes a long way with credibility.

  6. ettinone said...

    You really use the name ‘RevHaloFan’?

    Frankly Mat, putting the Bane firing discussion aside, you seem to have a real malice towards the Angels in your writing (including the organizational rankings)?

    Reagins certainly hasn’t been perfect but he hasn’t been horrible either?

    79 wins? Really? Have you been watching the Angels the last 10 years? Have you even watched the ST games to get a better feel for the development of certain key players? Bourjos’ at-bats have been mature and professional. He currently, as of today, has a .492 OBP and over .500 slugging? Of course those number probably won’t last but even with live MLB games the regression won’t be that huge?

    I think you are a little to “deep” in your negative thoughts about this team. It would not surprise me in the least to see the Angels win the division (mostly on their superior pitching) and post 90+ wins.

    Bourjos, Aybar, Izturis, Callaspo, and Trumbo have all looked good in their at-bats this Spring and I think you should go back and take a look at that because you are missing out on what is really happening with this team at the moment.

  7. Jon said...

    Mat Gleason knows his stuff about the Angels. I was ribbing him about the CA Angels thing because he suffers the same pain most of Halo fans do, but his handle at Halos Heaven is not only appropriate (religious overtone, REVEREND Halo Fan), it has no impact on his ability to talk Angels baseball.

    I still think he’s being pessimistic, though. I don’t think this team is going to win 92 games like I thought it could last year, but I think it could win 85-88 and take the AL West.

  8. ettinone said...

    Actually that was my point to Mat, John. His name is well known in Angels circles but I am a bit surprised at his negative view of the 2011 Angels team.

    There have been some aggravating things that happened over the off-season but to look at this team as it currently stands and say 79 wins is just shocking to hear in my mind. Which makes me wonder how many of the games he has really watched during ST and the solid, mature at-bat’s a majority of the Angel’s players have been taking?

    Even you agree on his pessimism, John, so I don’t think I’m off the mark on this one. I believe Kendrys will be back by the end of April, mid-May at the latest and in the meantime Trumbo will be a serviceable replacement for him, albeit with a higher SO total.

    Most importantly our rotation is definitely above-average and will be supported by an improved bullpen. That is what wins championships. Rev knows that and that is why I am so surprised by his vitriol…

  9. Frank in LAA said...

    I think Mat is right on here.  The (W-L) breaks have fallen in the Halos favor on many occasions in the last 10 years.  Time for the breaks to go against the Angels. 

    I think they don’t win more than 82 with these key “doomsday” failure predictions:
    * Morales struggles to regain his 2009/2010 form
    * Kazmir is left in the rotation too long
    * Rodney single-handedly loses 5 or more games
    * No strong leadoff hitter emerges
    * Too much stock is placed in Trumbo
    * Bourjos’ bat improves, but is still another liability in a punchless slap-hitting lineup
    * Aybar is never going to reach the 300+ BA level he had two years ago; that data point was a statistical flyer
    * Wood continues to splinter, etc, etc.

    The 2011 Angels Baseball season has disaster written all over it.

  10. Bob said...

    How stupid is it to call a team by its wrong name.  You may not like it, but you should respect it.  After all, you’re the guy who is missing a “t” from your first name, so you should really not be talking, at least until you add that t back in, “Mat”.

  11. carlos feliciano said...

    If you’re looking for blind optimism, go read the propaganda on team’s official site. Sometimes the truth hurts.

  12. Lefty said...

    I do believe that the 2010 World Champion Giants won the World Series with a pretty punch-less lineup and some really good pitching.  No need to be so negative.  The Angels are 0-0 like everyone else right now.  You can preach previous year’s stats for days, but come 3/31, it just doesn’t matter.  Have faith.  We’ve got a better shot than the majority of teams out there, it’s Opening Day tomorrow, and baseball is back.  GO HALOS!

  13. NESN Exec said...

    self-loathing is a MF. Anyone who says a team got statistical breaks for ten years in a row is dumber than dumb. In a world ran by Yankees and red Sox fans, its interesting to see how the little people beat themselves up so no one else has to. Its irresponsible to speak of a team built and coached the way that team is, the fact that so called team experts do it is unspeakable. Some of it is good, harsh criticism. Too much of it unfair, vindictive, and worthy of disassociation. It’s that serious. It’ll be fun to see how these babies creep themselves back on their teams bandwagon once they perform the way most of us suspect they will.

  14. Linux Linus said...

    I was a little surprised by the tone of this article, as well, though I do think it’s true that this is the worst Angels team in a while. I think the problem is more to do with one of expectations—Mat’s been rooting for one of the 2-3 most successful clubs in baseball for the last decade, last year was a rough one, this one could be too—than anything else. Angels fans are used to winning this division. After finishing third last year, there’s some understandable bitterness.

    And to the people who are complaining about calling the team the “California” Angels—lighten up. Life’s too short to get gas pains over a little joke.

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