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?