Tagged: Mike Napoli

Michael Young, Young Catchers and Catching Angels  Events

Michael Young? No, thanks. None for me please.
So Michael Young has had all he can stand and he can’t stands no more and he’s asked to be traded. I can’t say that blame him really, not that I blame the Rangers either. The team is making good deals but I can only imagine what went through Young’s mind when they signed Mike Napoli after he had already agreed to move to DH for Adrian Beltre…the All-State Insurance commercial with Mayhem as the distraught, dumped teenaged girl, however, does come to mind. It sounds to me like he’s headed for the Rockies. Of course, the being the media’s front runner hasn’t meant a whole lot this offseason, so you just never know and there are other teams – and other teams fans – who want him badly.

I may be in the minority, but I don’t want him for the Angels. He’s a stand up, team player kind of guy and I would love to have a bat like his in the lineup. But defensively he’s no better and possibly not quite as good as what we’ve already – which is not to say that the Angels third base options couldn’t use some defensive improvement. For me, Young’s bat alone doesn’t justify the players we would have to give up -and then face again, and again and again in Texas – to get him. Another team could make the trade and be happier and better for it, but I just don’t think the Angels are the right fit.

Young Catchers Trend Continues in 2011
MLB.com had a great article today about the large group of talented young catchers who should see some major league playing time next year. It was nice to see that the Angel’s Hank Conger prominently mentioned and frequently quoted. Conger impressed me behind the plate last season. If he can find his bat against major league pitching this season and find it quickly, he could really go places. Conger was even one of four catchers included in the photo when the article was highlighted on MLB’s front page this morning, before the news lit up with speculation about Pujols and Young. The photo was actually a montage of four tall, skinny photos, one of each catcher in a different crouch or catching position. Of course, when I was trying to explain this to my husband this evening, what I came up with was that it looked very Charlie’s Angels, actually, but with photos instead of silhouettes and mitts instead of guns. Sadly this was apt and he knew exactly what article I was talking about from this description. We both laughed a lot.

Why must all of the fun events happen during the week?
The Angels open house? All of the press conferences? And now the Inland Empire 66ers Affiliation Celebration – celebrating the Angels new advanced A affiliation? (Basically, the Angels and Dodgers traded advanced A teams in the offseason.) I actually do get why so many of these things take place during the week but I would love to be able to go to one or two of them. Oh well, that’s one of the many beauties of baseball. There is always next season.

Baseball So Cal Style: Vernon Wells Is Ready for His Close-Up & Trades with Hollywood Endings

The Angels held their press conference to officially welcome Vernon Wells to the team today. It sounds like there was a great crowd gathered underneath the giant baseball caps in front of the stadium this morning. Only where the Angels are concerned do I envy my husband’s job location in Irvine, mere minutes away from the Big A, and the unfortunate 60 to 90 minute commute that goes along with it. I know that some of his coworkers, a fun bunch of diehards the lot of them, took an early lunch at the press conference and, while I like my job and my commute much better, it would be fun to be able to do that every now and then…or just to be able to get to weeknight games in time for batting practice. But I digress…

It was nice to read a little more positive press about the trade today. I am actually really surprised at the huge disconnect between the way some of the – admittedly local and Angels friendly – press views the Vernon Wells trade and the way the rest of the press views it. Apparently, this is the worst deal this offseason or any of the last few in recent history, the Rangers and the Blue Jays should erect statues in our honor and Tony Reagins should fear for his job. Wow. It’s so nice to know that no one is still falling back on hyperbole and other sports writing clichés. (Sarcasm, on the other hand, is a grand literary tradition as well as an important lifestyle choice. Why do you ask?) I have read a lot more about this trade since my post last weekend and I stand by my initial assessment of the whole thing – this is certainly not the best deal we could have made this season but it is a good one and the team the Angels are putting on the field in 2011 is better than the one that left the field in 2010. Are they good enough? Well, I guess we’re just going have to actually play 162 games and find out. I am excited to watch how it all plays out…and I am really excited about our outfield this season!

And then there was that was that completely unexpected twist ending to the trade yesterday…No, no one had a psychotic break or turned out to really have been dead the whole time (Juan Rivera’s 2010 left field performance to the contrary – sorry Morris, I had to.), but, no one expected the Texas Inquisition! Shocking yes, but I am even more surprised at the God-like qualities Mike Napoli’s batting prowess has recently taken on in some of the blog posts about his unfortunate trade by the Blue Jays to the Rangers (not to mention the unexpected presumption that he would have suddenly become the primary catcher). He’s got a great bat. I’m going to miss having him in the Angels line-up too and I’m really going to miss him behind the plate, for the little bit of playing time he was likely to have (let’s not forget that part!). I’m not looking forward to facing him in our division either. And I am also not thrilled that the Rangers got another power hitter – as if we didn’t know it already, those guys are definitely going to be tough again this year! But Napoli did not suddenly become one of the elite hitters in baseball just because he got traded to the Rangers.

I wish Napoli well except against the Angels, as I did when he was traded to the Blue Jays. But while his homerun total may go up slightly in Arlington, always hyped as a hitter’s ballpark, I really don’t expect his slash line stats to change that drastically. He’s been fairly even his whole career up until now. Yes, as a former Angels catcher, he knows our pitchers well, but that didn’t help him against John Lackey this year anymore than it did any of our other players. He is likely to smack a Weaver or Haren pitch or two out of the park over the course of a season – fly ball pitchers and all that – but, be honest, he’s also likely to keep stranding runners in scoring position even when he’s playing in Anaheim and going through three and four week long slumps too. He’s good. We’ll miss him. It’s going to suck seeing him in Rangers red…and blue…and red, white and blue…and whatever other uniform they come up with this season. But he is hardly the key to the Angels undoing. The Rangers line-up as a whole? That’s a lot scarier, but our starters had better be bringing their nastiest stuff anyway. Hmmm…if all else fails and the Angels really need a Plan B in terms of pitching to Nap, maybe they can just plan on walking the guy in front of him if no one else is already on base? 😉

Surprise! Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera Traded for Vernon Wells

Wow. I leave the internets alone for one day and our recently all too mild-mannered Tony Reagins turns into the Trade Ninja again. So intent was I on fun, gorgeous scenery and wine today that I wasn’t even checking my email (understandable given that reception up here is pretty hit and miss) and didn’t notice the trade announcement until a few hours ago. Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to the Blue Jays in exchange for Vernon Wells and an undisclosed amount of cash, or no cash at all depending on which reports you read. My, that was unexpected.

Admittedly, my initial reaction to the trade news was a little pouty. Mike Napoli is one of my favorite current Angels players and you always hate to see a favorite player move on even though it’s all part of the game. But then the trade started to grow on me. The truth of the matter is, Mike Scioscia prefers Jeff Mathis behind the plate and has said repeatedly that he considers Napoli too streaky to be anything more than an occasional DH. Whether or not I agree with Scioscia’s assessment, the bottom line is that barring injuries and with Kendry back at first (Yay!), at the absolute best Napoli was only going to split time behind the plate and see a couple of games as the DH anyway. If the Angels were going to underuse him, I’m sad to see a favorite player go, but I would rather trade him for someone the Angels will use. I wish Napoli all the best with the Blue Jays, except when the Blue Jays play the Angels. He’s streaky. Maybe he can have a brief slump those games.

On the other hand, I am not at all sorry to see Juan Rivera go. It’s uncharitable, I realize. He gave the Angels a few great seasons but he’s been sliding downhill since returning from the broken leg. He just seems to play with fear and hesitation now and the hustle is gone. I can forgive a player many things, including loss of mobility from aging or injury, but lack of hustle is something I’ve always found very hard to forgive. I wish him well in Toronto, I truly do (except when they play us, of course), but after last season especially, I will not miss him in Anaheim.

As for the other end of the deal? Yes, we overpaid. Whether or not we actually get cash out of this. I’m not even going to debate that. But, with the way deals have been going this offseason, free agency signings, trades or otherwise, I just don’t see very many ways for the Angels to have avoided overpaying and other teams already struck those deals. Yes, Vernon Wells is 32. But he doesn’t seem to have slowed down in the outfield since his Gold Glove years and, in terms of homeruns, OPS and batting average, 2010 was one of Wells’ best offensive seasons since 2006. When you ignore the money (and I am, because, really, how many deals didn’t involve insane money this offseason?) the Angels traded two players they were using as occasional utility players for a starting outfielder with a good glove and a dangerous bat. Between Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter and Wells, I am actually really excited to see our outfield in action this year and I am starting to worry less about the batting line-up…though we still really need a leadoff hitter. I also love how excited Wells sounded about coming to Anaheim in his interview. He sounded ready to win and certain the Angels could accomplish that. Maybe he can help bring some of the swagger and daring the Angels lost in 2010 back to the Big A. Optimism returning and growing.

It’s Angels Contract Tuesday

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.

Two Down, Six More to Go

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.

Angels 2010 Top 10 – No I Don’t Mean This List Satirically

With only one day left in 2010, I believe it is customary to make a top 10 or some other sort of retrospective list. I don’t recall any actual written rule to this effect in the Big Book of Blogging Rules, wherever that may be, but it hey, the end of the year just cries out for such things, doesn’t it? So why buck tradition? If finding 10 things in this season of all seasons that make me happy to be an Angels fan makes me the unrepentant Pollyanna of Angels baseball, well, I did choose the handle Blithescribe after all *big grin*. In no particular order, here are my personal 10 favorite things about Angels baseball in 2010:

Jered Weaver – Angels fans were all so very worried about who could step up and fill the ace’s shoes with Lackey headed for the Red Sox. That seems so wonderfully silly now! I actually wasn’t that worried. I didn’t know he would step up so fully this season, but I did remember that post season game against the Yankees in 2009 when Weaver became the 8th inning set up man in a moment of need and he came in looking like a steely eyed gunslinger and sat them down one, two, three. I remember standing up and cheering in my living room and thinking future ace. And to be the AL strikeout leader in 2010, icing on the cake! Now let’s get this man some run support in 2011 shall we.

Signing Dan Haren – This was one of those, really, we got him? Way to go Reagins! moments. A second ace to add to the rotation, he was an absolute pleasure to watch in 2010 and finished his partial season here with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. I hope that these stats are indicative of what we can expect to see in 2011. The fact that we happened to be there for his first (Where he took the Youk line drive to the pitching arm, ouch!) and second starts made this extra fun for me.

7/31 and 8/1 against the Rangers – Both were absolute, bare knuckled brawls of a game, the Angels were in top form, and we had tickets to both for our anniversary – this lady demands diamonds on such occasions, natch 😉 The Rangers won the first game, but the second was Weaver vs. Cliff Lee, the Angels pulled it off and it was quite possibly the best game I have seen from a stadium.

Players Doing What’s Best for the Team – Torii moving to right field so the Angels could bring Bourjos into center; Napoli taking over first base and doing a darned good job at it really, after Kendry’s injury when he hadn’t played first base since the minors; both were selfless, team spirited moves and, to my mind, damn clutch.

The Month of June – Instead of crumpling in the aftermath of Kendry’s season ending injury, the team cowboyed up and played like, well, like the Angels for the month of June and it was a beautiful thing to see…and then they crumpled. Would that the June play had lasted the rest of the year.

Peter Bourjos – It was such a breath of fresh air to watch this young bundle of talent and enthusiasm move up to the majors. And you’ve all heard it hundreds of time by now, but oh my God is this kid fast. In the games we attended alone I saw him rob four homeruns and turn two sure thing out bloopers to the short stop into a base hits. And he’s smart on the bases and out in the field too. He’s not perfect. He’s definitely a rookie so there were a few issues, primarily with his offense but he seemed to be improving by small increments with each at bat and I for one really look forward to watching him blossom into a full blown All Star in 2011.

Getting to See the Rookie Call-Ups in Action – While it would have been better if the Angles were in contention for a post season and the rookie call-ups mostly sat on the bench, the way things worked out it was a lot of fun to be there at the Big A for to see so many of their firsts – Conger, Trumbo and Romine’s first at bats, their first turns on defense. As with Bourjos, it was a bright spot to see so much youthful enthusiasm on the field, and I think we’ll be seeing Conger and Romine again, Conger quite soon.

16 Games! – My husband and I managed to go to 16 games this year. We typically watch between 100 and 130 of the games in some fashion, mostly on TV but this is the first time we’ve made it to the Big A, which is oh so much better, for so many. No, this is not earth shattering for Angels baseball as a whole, but it was a big deal in terms of my personal fan experience.

The Growth of the Friday Night Ritual – this is another one that would only matter in my house. A good bottle of wine, a gourmet dinner from our own kitchen and Angels baseball became what we called the Friday Night Ritual. It’s fun, companionable, affordable and this year we grew to love it to the point where we turned down all other invitations…’tis such a fine, fine line between the fanatic and fan!

Personal Firsts – Kendry’s exhibition game grand slam against the Dodgers was the first grand slam my husband had ever seen live at a stadium – he didn’t go to as many Dodger games as I did as a kid ;). This was the first year I timed the tickets such that I got to see Weaver pitch at the stadium and honestly, you can’t really appreciate the sheer amount of ground this 6′ 7″ talented stork of a man covers and the deceptiveness of his delivery until you’ve seen it at the game. The first time either of us was there for an entire series – the last homestand against the A’s, many, many thanks to D for his generosity in just handing my husband the season tickets, this game and so many others. And the list goes on…

Suffice to say, yes it was a dismal season. But there were bright spots and enjoyable times for me at least and I for one am ready to call clean cup move down and see what the 2011 season brings…ideally Adrian Beltre but, if not, I am still eager to see what the Angels can do.

And Now We Return to Wednesday’s Originally Scheduled Broadcast

As I mentioned before, my original plan on Wednesday was to discuss some of the topics covered in Tuesday’s Winter Meeting interviews with Angels’ GM Tony Reagins and Angels Manager Mike Scioscia. That was before the Crawford deal, before the Angels signed Scott Downs, before…well, suffice to say a lot has happened in the four and a half days since those interviews, rendering much of what was said irrelevant at this point. However, a few pieces of news remain pertinent and interesting:

Kendry Morales
Since about late August or so, all reports have indicated that Kendry is making great progress at or slightly ahead of schedule and that he should be able to return for the 2011 season as good as new. On the one hand, this is what you would expect the front office to say but, on the other hand, if his progress was cause for concern I tend to think the easier route would just be to avoid giving frequent updates all together. During the Tuesday interviews, Scioscia and Reagins both reiterated that Kendry is making excellent progress and let us know he has been able to resume light baseball activities in addition to the regular rehab and workouts. Scioscia also said that while they will watch Kendry cautiously in the beginning, of course, based on his current progress he should be “full-go for all drills”* by the beginning of Spring Training.

Kendry Morales is one of my favorite players – a guy who can motivate the whole team with a swing of his mighty bat or a great play at first. Honestly, this news makes me happier than a big trade or signing announcement would make me…not that I didn’t want that big announcement too. I’m greedy like that. Having Kendry back in and of itself will be a huge improvement in the Angels offense, but all of the major players involved have promised us repeatedly that they would not be content with just having Kendry back in the line-up and would make one or two additional improvements for 2011. This promise has noticeably not been repeated since Crawford signed with the Red Sox and, while I sincerely hope this is not the case, I am left with one of Ash’s great lines from Army of Darkness stuck in my head. Oh that’s just what we call pillow talk, baby, that’s all.

Catchers’ Tango Turned Broadway Ensemble Dance Routine
Mike Scioscia said that with Kendry on the mend, Mike Napoli would be returning to his role as catcher in 2011 in the typically glowing way we have all come to expect when Scioscia talks about Napoli behind the plate. “I think he’s a catcher, and he thinks he’s a catcher. Now he needs to go out a catch like he’s a catcher.” Clearly by returning to his role a catcher, Scioscia meant returning to the two and occasionally three and even four way bare knuckled, albeit good naturedly so, brawl for a permanent position behind the plate. Of the catching position, Scioscia said, “It’s obviously an important position for us. Jeff is more skilled defensively. Bobby is a combination. Hank Conger is coming. We have some depth there.” Mike Scioscia, King of Understatement. Of course, this could also be so much pillow talk and Napoli could very well be trade bait for the bat we so desperately need. Given the fact that the Angels’ 2010 homerun leader is often, himself, the bat we so desperately need, albeit a very streaky one, unless such a trade brings additional sizable tangible benefits, this doesn’t make nearly as much sense to me as other deals might.

Scott Kazmir
According to Scioscia, Kaz’ new offseason conditioning program seems to be working. He is showing marked improvements in stamina and control and is still expected to be the 5th starter in 2011. This is the kind of news I really hope is true and not just the thing the team is expected to say. It’s hard not to respect and root for a player who is possibly more upset by his poor performance than even the fans and who busts his butt in the offseason to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If Kaz could be as good as he was for the Rays, as good as he started out for us in 2009…Wow! The Angels starting rotation would truly be a thing of beauty, wouldn’t it?

* All of the interview quotations were taken from Lyle Spencer’s articles “Scioscia Sees a Bright Future for Trout” and “Lee Joins High-Profile List Linked to Angels.”