The Angels signed contracts today, avoiding four of their six remaining possible arbitration cases, with Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Reggie Willits and Kendry Morales. Wait, Kendry? The Angels and a Scott Boras client reached a deal quickly and amicably? No snarling, gnashing of teeth or packing up of toys and running home swearing never to play with one another again? Apparently so, and amen to that I say. So, is this the dawn of a new era? Doubtful. I chalk it up to the classiness of the client (which as we all know, especially after watching contract negotiations this year, only goes so far) and an early Boras lull into a false sense of security before Kendry becomes a free agent. But for now we’ll take it…and it’s highly possible teeth were gnashed in private.
In other Tuesday Angels news, the team apparently traded dollar amounts with the other two arbitration eligible players, Jered Weaver and Mike Napoli. In terms of baseball dollars (you know, what’s an extra million give or take), the numbers being reported in the papers don’t look like the players asking prices and the Angels offers are too far apart. Personally, I hope the Angels just give Weaver and Napoli what they’re asking for. Weaver pitched an All-Star year and filled John Lackey’s vacated ace shoes like he’s been wearing them his whole career and meeting his request now might earn us some good will in negotiations when he’s a free agent…okay, he’s Scott Boras’ client so probably not, but it couldn’t hurt. Napoli did everything the team asked of him and more…okay his runners in scoring position clutch was a little broken, but when has that not been an off and on issue? He still had the most home runs of anyone on the team, a career high for him in a year where career lows ran rampant through the clubhouse, and he moved over to first base and played it admirably well when the team needed a first basemen.
Wow, did typing that ever bring on a flood of memories. (Yeah, yeah. I digress. You are all shocked.) Memorial Day weekend. My husband and I were in Cambria. Oh no, the whole home stand against the Mariners was blacked out on the Central Coast! No problem, we can catch bits of the games on our phones. Wait. Kendry did what? Naps is playing first? The next day we desperately platooned our Blackberries to “watch” the game on MLB.com Gameday intermittently with Cambria and Paso Robles’ notoriously sketchy cell phone signals and wound up jumping up and down like loons in the middle of a Giants territory bar while the Giant’s season ticket holder bar owner (great guy and a great bar by the way – been favorite of ours for years) chuckled at us when the Angels actually pulled it off. As long as everyone is healthy and hale this season, this officially becomes a good memory.
At any rate, the 2011 team is starting to take shape…and it’s pretty much the same shape as last year but, for whatever reason. Call it not losing any more key players this year? Call it Kendry’s back? Call it plain old fashioned excitement because I’m starting to see the barest glimpse of Spring Training on the horizon like that first glimmer of the beacon on top of the Luxor seen from just outside of Baker? For whatever reason, I am starting to feel just the tiniest bit of that preseason optimism.
And another potential Angels arbitration case bites the dust in short order. The latest player to ink a quick deal rather than attempting to bargain for more based on his 2010 stats – because, really, how many of them had 2010 stats you could present as a bargaining chip with a straight face? – is catcher Jeff Mathis. Two players down, six more to go. This whole process was a heck of a lot more painful last year. Funny that. Apparently the avoiding arbitration thing is a lot easier for a team after a particularly bad season.
Angels: The deal is the deal. You will take it and you will smile for your batting average stunk up the place and don’t even get us started on your WAR.
Angels player: No no, that’s okay. No need to start in on the WAR. I’ll take the deal and, look, I’m smiling.
(Okay, so somehow in between my brain and the blog that wound up sounding very Eddie Izzard. Tea and cakes, or death?)
I am not surprised about any part of this deal and I am not upset by it either. I am not a Mathis hater and, yes, I am well aware that merely typing that in a public forum may earn me hate mail ;). I am also not in the smaller camp that thinks he God’s gift to catching. Mike Scioscia thinks he’s a better defensive catcher than Mike Napoli. Most seasons the stats do bear that out, but not to such a huge degree that I think it justifies having Mathis’ historically weak bat in the line up more often than Napoli’s streaky but mighty one. Generally, I am happier when I flip the game on or show up at the stadium and hear that Napoli is behind the dish for the game.
Now I don’t claim to be able to pick up on all of the subtle ways each catcher influences the pitching staff from my sofa or stadium seats vantage. And Mike Scioscia clearly does know as much about the relationship between pitchers and catchers as anyone currently in the game, so I’ve got to defer to his opinion on this and am not upset when Mathis is catching, I just don’t typically hope for too much when he comes up to the plate. I was ecstatic when between the end of 2009 and early 2010 he suddenly developed a hot bat. Catching dilemma solved! Unfortunately, the broken wrist in late April did a lot more than just put him on the DL for two months. The Mathis who returned to play in June had an altered swing and committed a string of fielding and throwing errors. From my vantage, not looking to make excuses for the guy, it really looked like continuing weakness on the recently healed wrist. But who knows.
Was the whole hot bat episode just one of those weird once in a career streaks that would have had him revert to form by the end of April or so if he hadn’t broken his wrist? I know what folks are saying, but seriously, who can really say. I sure hope that with the wrist completely healed, the Mathis who shows up to spring training hits like the Mathis we had on the team for most of April…and catches like him too, especially if the plan is for Mathis to catch at least half of the time.
This last weekend, my husband and I hosted our annual holiday party after the holidays, a gathering of friends who have too many other obligations to get together during the actual holidays. This is my favorite party we throw every year. Friends fill the house enjoying cocktails and wontons in quantities that can only be described as festive. Why wontons? Long story short, I started making them in addition to other things because I like dim sum. Our guests routinely hoovered them by the handful so years ago we just made wontons the focal point and our own peculiar holiday tradition. We have a “pink elephant” gift exchange where everyone brings a copy of a favorite book for one round and a DVD of a favorite movie for another. So there is lots of raucous fun as everone ohs and ahs over what each person brought and then “steals” the presents from one another. I don’t think we stop laughing the whole night and everyone leaves with a new book to read, a new movie to watch…and often a list of a few new ideas to put on Netflix or add to their reading list.
New among the guests this year? One baseball talk starved Red Sox fan. An old friend of my husband’s whose path we crossed again about a year ago. This is a gentleman who talks a heck of a lot of Red Sox trash and plays Shipping Up to Boston and Tessie on his cell phone “for” me when the Sox are in town. Not that I ever throw it right back in any way or do anything else to warrant such treatment, of course. *smiles sweetly and attempts to look innocent* But oddly enough there was less bravado about him this evening. He wanted to know my opinion about the deals and if I had heard anything new. He wanted to make sure my husband and I would take him to the game again when the Red Sox were in town because he had so much fun last year. This last was not the mocking comment I originally took it for, mostly. Ignoring, for a moment, the egregious stomping my team suffered at the hands of his team once three glorious innings of the Angels on top came crashing to a halt as Dan Haren took a Youk line drive to the pitching elbow (eh, that’s baseball) and turned the mound over to a string of side show acts, I actually had a good time too. I want the Angels to win this year, thank you very much, but yeah, I’ll take him to the game again. It’s fun to have someone else sitting with us who knows his stuff, even if he cheers at all the wrong times for my taste.
And then things got weird. This Angels fan suddenly found herself feeling like she was comforting the Red Sox fan about his team’s Hot Stove activities. But, you guys got Crawford and Gonzalez, I said, I hate to say it but you’re going to put a heck of a team on the field this season.
Meh, I know, he said. But I’m worried about Bon. They’re thinking of trading him you know, or just letting him go to another team next year. If Bon isn’t a Red Sock anymore then, that’s it, I just don’t think I can be a fan anymore… This lead to a retelling of how my friend became a Red Sox fan as an adult and of his first game, seen from the Fox Sports box at Fenway no less, and a squeaker of a Jonathan Papelbon save…followed by a lot more whining (because, seriously, if your team has had the offseason the Rod Sox have had, it’s whining) and downright wistful hope that all of this was part of some greater ploy to keep Papelbon’s demands reasonable so the Sox can resign him in 2012 as a free agent.
And then the realization hit me. Oh my God! The anger. The threats. The rationalization. All in one thought pattern no less. Could it actually be? And there you have it ladies and gentlemen, proof that the scourge of Hot Stove Grief can strike anyone, even that most unlikely of candidates, a Red Sox fan in the middle of 2010-2011 offseason!
In Angels news, the team signed Alberto Callaspo to a one year contract, avoiding arbitration. So that’s one 2011 arbitration situation nicely side-stepped and seven more to contend with before the season starts. Yikes! If we don’t have Adrian Beltre or another star at third base in our future, then I am happy with this decision. Callaspo plays a good third base, not a Gold Glove third base by any means, but he does get the job done. And Callaspo’s bat, streaky but respectable over the course of the season, was not the reason the Angels third base position produced a dismal .223 batting average last year. He and Aybar just need to get over their occasional bouts of detrimental oneupsmanship (as opposed to the good kind they also exhibit which spurs both to work harder) and call the GD ball for crying out loud!
Today this usually lighthearted blogger must post about something serious. Hot Stove Grief or HSG, as the condition is known today, has been afflicting baseball fans for as long as there has been baseball and yet frank discussions of this serious illness have remained taboo until recently. In order to begin to bring comfort to HSG sufferers everywhere and heal the damage and upheaval this condition can cause in their relationships with uncomprehending friends and families, it is important for us all to learn to recognize the symptoms and stages of Hot Stove Grief:
Unrealistic Optimism – HSG sufferers experience a strong hope, bordering on and occasionally crossing over into belief, that their team’s front office will pull off increasingly fantastical free agency signings and trade agreements, often completely unsubstantiated by prior team behavior. Just to pull a completely random example out of thin air, the belief that the Angels were going to sign Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano and Adrian Beltre this off season, or any combination of two of them. In (also completely random) hindsight, owner Arte Moreno’s end of season comments that the Angels were going to spend big and do whatever it takes to improve the team just underscores the sad fact that Hot Stove Grief does not discriminate. Even baseball owners may suffer from this potentially debilitating condition from time to time.
Bargaining – HSG sufferers begin “bargaining” with the team of their affections, offering the team, its ownership or specific members in the front office the fan’s own services, heirloom jewelry, beloved vehicles, spouses and even theoretical first born children if the team will agree to fulfill the fan’s Hot Stove wishes. Of course, these bargaining conversations never really take place with the team. They are HSG delusions and usually take place in the form of conversations with friends and family, loud rants and begging directed at the television set/radio/newspaper/computer screen and, even, blog posts.
Anger – Eventually the HSG stages progress to anger. This may be the hardest stage for friends and family to deal with and every sufferer expresses it differently. It is important to remain supportive and allow the HSG suffering fan to express his or her feelings. If this becomes too difficult, you might subtly suggest that fan find other outlets to burn off their anger such as boxing, chopping wood or even blogging.
Threats – Many HSG sufferers begin threatening to carry out increasingly unlikely punishments if their team does not comply with the HSG sufferer’s Hot Stove wishes. Common threats include non-renewal of season tickets, never going to see a game again, renouncing one’s fanship entirely, burning prized team related possessions and even starting to root for the team’s most hated rival. As with the bargaining stage, the threat conversations never actually take place with the team in question.
Rationalization – In this stage, HSG sufferers begin to comfort themselves that the reason their team failed to make the Hot Stove move they were hoping for is part of some obscure, larger strategy and that surely an even better Hot Stove deal is imminent. Over indulgence in this stage can bring about a relapse where fans repeat the Anger and Threats stages. While there is some controversy among HSG researchers about whether Rationalization is its own unique stage or is simply one expression of the Unrealistic Optimism stage and the CDC has yet to validate either theory, I feel it warranted its own mention here.
Resignation – As HSG suffering fans begin to reach the end of their grief cycle, they become resigned to the idea that their team isn’t going to make any of the Hot Stove deals they had in mind. While friends and family might think the HSG afflicted fan is suffering less during this stage make no mistake, they are still experiencing a considerable amount of pain. Fans at this stage feel may a slight disconnect with their team and possibly even less passion for them. They may actually view the beginning of the new baseball season with a certain amount of apprehension and even dread. And what could be more painful than that?
Grudging Acceptance – At this stage the HSG suffering fan is still very unhappy with their team’s Hot Stove decisions or lack their of, but has accepted that there is nothing the he or she can do about said decisions and begins to move on. The fan is now able to enjoy interactions with their team again. This is the crucial breakthrough stage in HSG. Once the suffering fan honestly begins to look forward to Spring Training the new season again, the fan is cured. However, relapse is always a possibility.
While friends and family of the HSG afflicted fan should review this outline of the grieving stages carefully, it is important for them to understand that each fan’s grieving process is unique. If you have a friend or loved one who suffers from HSG, the most important thing is to remain loving and supportive. Listen when they want to rant and rave, even if you have heard it all hundreds of times before. Subtly try to involve the sufferer in activities that keep them from pouring over the trade rumors site all day long. But never, under any circumstances, should you try to sever the sufferer’s relationship with their team of choice. However much it may seem like you are doing them a kindness at the time, removing an HSG suffering fan from all contact with their team has been known to produce a severe catatonic state and sometimes even death.
Thank you very much for your time today. I now return you to your regularly scheduled MLBlogs programming.
Well that was a little longer in between posts than intended! No, the reason was not actually Hot Stove Grief. I have managed my personal bout with this illness admirably – made it to work every day, attended social functions and everything! Besides, I am coming to the end of my personal Hot Stove Grief. Barring any unforeseen set backs *glares at Angels Front Office* grudging acceptance is just around the corner. No, I have been putting in late nights and wee hours of the mornings all week finishing the latest stage in a policy writing project for work. Work – curse of the drinking (and apparently blogging) classes and all that. 😉
I guess I’ll let Nolan Ryan off on a technicality. I mean there isn’t a whole lot that’s remote in the 48 hour distance between that statement and a signed contract now is there? No, that pretty much is just imminent. What was it I was saying a few weeks ago about the different front offices playing a little too much Diplomacy this off season? If I were actually sitting in on this particular game of Diplomacy I might say well played in addition to growling less sportsmanlike comments but, as it is, I’m just growling.
So Adrian Beltre is a Ranger and the Angels missed the boat again. I understand that the free agent market got outrageously expensive again this year. Under normal circumstances, I think sticking to one’s principals is laudable but, right now, claiming to stick to their principals just looks like the Angels front office is making a piss poor excuse for terrible performance. We didn’t strike out this off season, we barely even bothered to step up to the plate. And they better not start carting out Takahashi and Downs again like those signings make for a fine off season on their own and anything else would just have been gravy. Those signings were a great start, alas apparently on a road to nowhere. When nothing else followed, just admit that you messed up. That way you only look really stupid instead of abysmally stupid.
If I am being rational, I know this isn’t the absolute end of the world. If I am being rational, I know that there is no one player who is the answer for us in a vacuum without any other changes. If we had landed Beltre and, defying all reason, the rest of bats went missing for most of the season again, a season with only Beltre and Weaver consistently performing to expectations isn’t going to be any prettier than one where Weaver more or less consistently performed to expectations alone. If the bats actually show up, I think the team that hits the field in 2011, as it stands right now, is a better team than the one that hit the field in 2010. Rationally though, I really don’t know if that is enough.
Again, if I’m being rational, it’s a long season and we haven’t started Spring Training yet. Everybody has to play 162 games, blah, blah, blah and all of the other clichés. But, seriously, a lot can happen in that amount of time, especially in California baseball. My sister and I have always said that no one, but no can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (or, sadly, defeat from the jaws of victory but let’s not go there right now) in the most unexpected of ways like California baseball teams. Angels, Dodgers, Giants, A’s and Padres fans, you all know what I’m talking about. And tomorrow…okay maybe by next week, I will probably truly believe all of this and the other hopeful posts I have made on this blog again.
But tonight I don’t feel like being rational. I am angry, enough so that I didn’t so much type this as I beat and pounded it into the keyboard. Whether or not Beltre was the answer, I just wanted something, anything to point at and say, look, the front office is really trying this off season instead of well, just being trying.
The Rangers signed Beltre, except for the fact that they didn’t. That was totally a rumor. No wait, new rumors from more credible sources say that it’s the second rumor that was only a rumor. Beltre is signing on the Rangers’ dotted line right now. But wait, no. The people who are responsible for the rumor that the rumor about the first rumor being only a rumor was really just a rumor too, are now also guilty of spreading a rumor. Moose bites hurt. A lot. And now for something completely different…
This is the Hot Stove news I read on my Blackberry as we left a family holiday party this evening. And, yes, because I came in on the tail end of all of the rumor and counter rumor, to me it really did sound that Python-esque. The final word on all of the rumors? According to MLB.com, the Rangers do not have a deal with Beltre, nor is a deal imminent. The article goes on to quote Nolan Ryan this evening saying “As of right now, Michael Young is our third baseman. We haven’t done anything.” While I tend to think that, with Young’s bat and glove at third base, the Rangers wouldn’t really be interested in Beltre at this price, I did notice that Ryan’s no isn’t exactly a long term no and it’s not like the Rangers haven’t asked Young to switch positions for someone else before. I believe that MLB.com’s article is the final word on Beltre and the Rangers today but Monday? Tuesday? Wednesday? Next week? Who knows.
The family holiday party this evening was our annual post Christmas get together with my mother’s side of the family. The Giants cousins come down from Merced and Fresno and the Dodgers cousins come from all over L.A. and Orange County and then there are my husband and I. Surprisingly, baseball is not usually a big topic of conversation. This year, of course, it was not to be avoided.
I was pleased to see one cousin from Merced whom I have not seen in about two years because he’s been very ill. He’s recently recovered almost completely. “Oh I’m feeling so much better and it’s the strangest thing. Do you know what the turning point was? Game 6!” I had to laugh and congratulate him, of course. And that was pretty much the tone for the evening. My cousins are still so ecstatic and cute over the Giants win that I can’t help but be happy for them all over again. Of course, they’re still a little chip on their shoulders over the Giants’ champion status. Mentions of the Angels or 2002 still bring about hissing – yes, literal hissing – and a chorus of too soon, too soon. They’re a little sensitive about the Dodgers rivalry too, all of which kept me in stitches for large portions of the evening.
My dad picked up on this, I think, because during a discussion about baseball announcers, he pounced. One cousin mentioned that he likes the Giants radio announcers so much, he will gladly put up with the delay in order to hear the radio broadcast while he watches the game muted on TV. My father got this mischievous twinkle in eye and said that, over the years, he’s done the same thing with Vin Scully’s broadcasts…after the Dodgers beat the Giants and head into the post season. My cousin started to sputter angrily about the Dodgers bad season and how he expects the same from them next year and so on, until he realized everyone else was cracking up on both sides of the fan divide, including my father. Then the conversation became playful and teasing again. You simply can’t let family get your goat that easily.
I may have been laughing the loudest of anyone. I don’t think I have ever seen my father talk trash before. But he and my mother were high school sweethearts so he has known all of these cousins, her cousins, since they were in high school and, in some cases, much, much younger. I think I just got a tiny glimpse of what they were all like getting together as kids and that was neat to see. Family and baseball both have the power to take even the most grown up among us back to the carefree silliness of our childhood and thank Heaven for that!
The Sports Lodge, our Orange and Los Angeles County morning sports radio show (broadcast from KLAA out of Angels stadium, for full disclosure) turned the daily One on One segment over to the listeners today. This is a semiweekly occurrence, as host Roger Lodge sees fit, where a usually divisive question is posed and listeners ad invited to call the show and weigh in. Today’s question was prompted by Arte Moreno’s comments to the Los Angeles Times that if he increased the Angles offers for high end free agents to the levels other teams have paid, it would necessitate raising ticket prices and he is unwilling to do that. So, Lodge’s question to the listeners: Would you rather raise ticket prices, land a big name free agent like an Adrian Beltre and have a real shot at being championship team? Or, keep ticket prices the same as they are right now and watch the same below .500 result you watched last year?
I wish I was able to hear the listeners responses but my car has the wimpiest antenna known to man and, per its usual, it refused to pick up am radio from the point in my commute when Lodge finished his funny Devil’s advocate spiel until moments before I pulled into the parking lot at work. Gee, thanks car. Had I a chance to call in I would have teased Lodge about the question itself (which was probably part of why he phrased it that way, truth be told) which I think was based on three pieces of false logic:
1) The 2010 Angels were a bad, sub .500 team that cannot improve without a big name free agency signing. Last year was bad, really bad. But all that bad was the result of bad performances, not a bad team (an important nuance to my way of thinking) and more than a little bad luck on top of it. Bad performances from otherwise good players, even season long bad performances, can improve. With bad players, this would be far less likely. Can this season’s bad performances improve without outside help? Yes! If the entire roster had just batted at their normal batting averages this season, for one thing, we would have won a lot of the games we lost this year. Will performances improve without outside help? God I hope so. There are no guarantees, but it doesn’t seem too farfetched to expect most of the players to return to playing to their normal capability, which would be a big improvement. And we get Kendry back, which is another improvement in and of itself and mitigates the bad luck factor.
2) Small changes addressing specific problems will not do anything to improve that situation. I think we need a few more changes to address additional weak spots on the team, of course, but one of our bigger problems last year was the Arson Squad Bullpen part deux. Signing Downs and Takahashi will definitely improve that situation and, while I don’t think this is the entire fix by a long shot, it’s an important improvement all the same.
3) A single big name free agency signing can turn a bad sub .500 team into a championship team. I had the most issues with this question premise. I do not believe that one player can elevate a truly poor team into a great team. Does anyone really think that with the Jayson Werth signing the Nationals are going to take the NL East next year? No, but for a team like the Red Sox who were so close, but not close enough last year, signing Carl Crawford might make enough of a difference to justify the expense.
I see the Angles, playing at the level the current roster is capable of playing at, as being a lot closer to the Red Sox example than to the Nationals example and, in that sense, I think a big name free agency signing could definitely help us rise back to the level of championship team. But I take issue with the idea that without such a signing, nothing else matters and we’re back to a below .500 performance in 2011.
So . What are your thoughts on the possibilities of a single big name free agent turning a bad team around? Or on my musings on bad team vs. bad performances as it relates to the Angels or just in general?
And on the Adrian Beltre front? Well, it’s the Angels rumor mill hokey pokey – We put the right bid in, we pulled it right back out, wait we put a new bid in, no we threw the whole thing out. The rumor mill hokey pokey sure turns stuff all around. Darned if anyone knows who really knows what it’s all about. 😉